Separation Words: 7,900 A speedboat came around the curve of the cliffs as Zyanya watched marine iguanas snort salt. Warnings popped up on her retinal display, overlaid on sea, sky, and rock. The vessel wasn't supposed to be here. It had a fuzzy, fragmented signature on the net, as if trying to cloak but not quite succeeding. The boat raced toward them, spraying white foam. "What you do make of this?" she asked Jie, who swam beside her. Jie's body tensed. "Should we dive?" Zyanya couldn't get any clear data on the pilot. A terrorist? He looked Ecuadorian. Probably from the island, perhaps someone she'd met. She didn't feel threatened. Though the thought made her spine tingle, she knew the authorities were watching, scanning the full spectrum. The speedboat stood starkly visible against the water. If it were a danger, drones would intervene, lasers would fire. They'd never allow her to come to harm, not with where she was headed. "It's okay," she said, taking Jie's hand. They kept themselves upright with gentle kicks, efficiency increased by flippers. A fat male iguana slid into the sea with a splash. Two brown pelicans few above, necks tucked in. The boat slowed. Zyanya waved, figuring she might as well be friendly. "Hey," the pilot said, standing and waving back. "Remember me?" She did. Mauricio. He led tours for the few people who liked having a flesh-and-blood guide. They'd met outside the lodge in Puerto Villamil and smoked a bowl together. She smiled, cheeks growing rosy. Jie glanced at her and laughed. "Bueno." Mauricio strode precariously to the front of the boat, hands on hips. "I have a question for you, Zyanya." "Have you come to wish me a pleasant trip, amigo?" "Perhaps he's here to facilitate more professional conduct," Jie interjected, placing a pair of fingers by her lips and inhaling. Zyanya slapped the water and squeezed Jie's hand. "I want to see the space elevator," said Mauricio, bending down. "¿Puedo ir contigo?" "I'm sorry." Zyanya felt the intensity in his dark eyes. "You know how things have gotten lately. They don't even want you here." "I've got a genie on my side, sister. I'm invisible. Con tu ayuda, everything will go smoothly. I just want to see it, okay?" "You're not invisible on the net. Not at all." Mauricio withdrew slightly, almost losing balance. "Wait and buy a ticket," Jie said. "They aren't that expensive. The heightened security won't last forever." "My past." He staggered backward and slumped into the boat's single seat. "Couldn't buy a ticket even if I had the monos. I did crazy things in college." "You should leave," said Zyanya. "They're picking me up soon." "I thought this would work." "Don't worry about it," Jie said. "We'll pretend this never happened." Zyanya winced, knowing that wouldn't be possible. She tried to focus on the cliffs, on the penguins and flightless cormorants. Mauricio didn't speak or look at them as the boat rocketed away. Out by the horizon, an orca came to the surface and opened its blowhole. Frigate birds displayed inflated throat pouches and called. Eventually, Jie and Zyanya regarded each other. "I feel bad for him," Zyanya said. "Purge your records. We can prevent him from getting trouble. I've been searching for the right genie." "It doesn't matter. Do you know what kind of AIs the United Nations uses? They saw everything, they know everything." "Come on, indulge my pretensions." Jie paddled close and placed a finger by Zyanya's navel. "I used to be a hotshot hacker, a wizard, a nahual. I thought so, anyway." "Don't do anything illegal." Jie's eyes twinkled. "With genies, who can say?" They embraced, holding, caressing. Legs intertwined awkwardly as they kicked to keep afloat. Zyanya considered how much more distant intelligent security systems had grown over the years. The process used to be interactive. With warnings came requests for input, specific instructions and suggestions. Now they simply watched, aloof and self-sufficient, confident in their own judgment. Law enforcement for minor offenses functioned similarly. The digitally delivered citation could come immediately, later, or never. "Galapagos has been magnificent," she whispered. "The flora, the fauna, the air, and the land. Call me a primitivist, but I'm glad I experienced it this way." "We're blessed to have the opportunity." "Walking in Darwin's footprints." The struggle to preserve the ecosystem here against climate and demographic change had made headlines for decades. Rising temperatures and sea levels, an unending flood of humans. At one point, prospects had looked bleak. Populations of certain species recovered only recently. Current policy allowed few tourists to come in person. "I'm going to miss you." Jie hugged tighter. "It's almost time." "Venus isn't so far." Both of them cried softly, tears mixing. Despite the spoken bravado, Zyanya knew communication across the void would transform their relationship. A delay of over two minutes under the best circumstances, over fourteen at the worst. Accustomed to instant interaction with anyone on the planet, that fact made her grasp the distance she would be traveling. Space so vast that even light crawls. "Let's go under for the finale," Jie said. They dove, masks sliding place automatically, hands firmly clasped. They'd spent hours beneath the waves earlier, advanced rebreathers allowing them to stay as long as the pleased. Brightly colored fish darted amongst the rocks. A green sea turtle floated lazily some thirty meters away. King angelfish, regal in yellow and purple, swarmed around the turtle to pick algae from its carapace. Zyanya spotted a camouflaged octopus hiding on the sea floor. And then her ride was there. A sort of submarine, poised still and silent near the surface. Neither the sensors in her wetsuit nor connection to the net had displayed any hint of the craft's approach. An unobtrusive message invited her to board as soon as convenient. "Goodbye," Jie sent. Masks opened to accommodate a bubbly kiss. With that, Zyanya swam toward the vessel. The entire vacation had been an extended farewell. She couldn't bear anymore. "To Venus," she muttered once inside.