Miles Sutherland and Gideon Sterling,
with mention of Carter (Gil) Gillespie, Lyle Ashley Tate, Aiden Parker and Flynn Archer
25th January 6.00am, Mystery Island
“We’ll be landing soon; you better go back and tell everyone to strap themselves in.”
Gideon’s words roused Miles from his semi-doze. About bloody time. The seaplane flight had taken fucking forever. Apparently it was Tuesday the 25th — again — their own personal Groundhog Day. Hopefully this version would be an improvement on the last one: they’d done nothing but fly over water; lots of water, in fact a fucking endless amount of water.
After conveying the message, Miles returned to his seat in the cockpit. By his calculations, they’d been flying almost non-stop for thirty hours since leaving Japan. Their “minders” were sure pushing the schedule here, even the crew were getting tired. Having spent ten hours asleep during the flight in the Gulfstream and another ten during the first leg in the seaplane, Miles had been happy to switch places with the co-pilot and let the man stretch out and get a rest break.
Anyway, sitting up front killed two birds with one stone: he could pump the pilot for information and avoid having to talk to Gil and the others. They were probably still shirty with him for not keeping watch when he was meant to. Problem was, flying bored him shitless. Anyway, as far as he was concerned, if Eidolon wanted to harm them, they would have done so by now. That didn’t mean he trusted the organisation or its minions. Far from it. Too many things didn’t add up.
Gideon hadn’t exactly been chatty during the flight, refusing to answer any direct question about where they were going or what they’d be doing when they got there. Miles had started to wonder whether the pilot had any more knowledge of what was in store for them than he had.
The dour man had been happier to talk about the plane he was flying. Apparently Eidolon bought it from the Japanese manufacturers for amphibious search and rescues. While it wasn’t as luxurious as the Gulfstream, it must have still cost a bomb. The inside was equipped with tiers of stretchers lining the sides of the slender pressurized cabin, acting as bunks. That’s where his companions had spent most of the flight. Even that hadn’t been enough to convince Miles that there was any truth in the disaster relief cover story they’d used to explain their sudden departure from Haven Falls. The equipment on board seemed excessively sophisticated for a humanitarian effort, especially compared to what he’d experienced previously. Apart from state of the art medical equipment, sonar screens and other tracking devices were packed into a couple of cubicles next to the cockpit.
At each of the refueling stops, they’d also been told to stay inside, their minders only allowing him and Aiden out when they kicked up a stink about exercising their dogs. Miles had tried to work out where they’d landed, but their surroundings hadn’t given them any clue. The whole time they were outside, Gideon stood guard with a loaded automatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
Protecting them or stopping them from escaping? The gun just made Miles even more suspicious of what was going on.
“Fuck.” Gideon’s quietly muttered expletive startled Miles.
“Is there something wrong?”
“There’s more damage than when I was here before.” A few taps of his fingers on the semi-circular steering wheel were the only visible signs the man was concerned.
Dark aviator glasses may have protected Gideon’s eyes, but Miles had to squint against the glare of the early morning sun as their final destination came into view. Lucky he hadn’t taken any bets on the issue. It looked like at least a category three storm had hit. Nearly all the trees had been stripped bare, though most of the coconut palms had survived reasonably well: fronds hanging drunkenly from their trunks, connected only by the thick central fibres, broken but not yet dead enough to fall off.
“Steady girl,” Gideon muttered as he struggled to keep the plane on track in the face of the strong wind.
Girl? Miles smiled. He’d christened the seaplane ‘Storm Boy,’ as soon as he’d seen it, because it reminded him of a book he’d read about a pelican back in fifth grade. Gideon had certainly added to the impression, skimming the plane only metres above the wave tops at times, just like a bird coming in to land and then rising slowly to a more normal cruising height. Miles suspected Gideon was testing the plane, seeing what it could do.
As soon as the seaplane was tethered to a bollard, Miles settled Darren’s hold-all onto his shoulder, picked up Roofie and clambered down onto the floating pontoon and then up onto the fixed jetty. The tide was out now, so it was a bit of a scramble. As soon as Roofie’s feet hit the deck, the dog bounded over to one of the railing supports and immediately relieved himself.
While he waited, Miles stretched and grunted in satisfaction as all the kinks popped in his back. A sign saying Welcome to Wherever would have been a help in identifying their location. But, nope, nothing but a long white jetty attached to a coral atoll. The fact that they’d re-crossed the dateline meant they were somewhere to the east of New Zealand. Seeing there were over seven hundred islands in Polynesia, that still didn’t tell him much. They definitely hadn’t come to any of the major islands of Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti or Noumea. He’d been to all of those with his parents as a kid. This place was different.
It was strange that there was no-one here to meet them though. Usually whenever the Medecins sans Frontieres team arrived, they were greeted by locals, anxious to get their help.
Miles turned and checked out the opposite side of the lagoon. There was another island there, larger than the one they were on. From this distance, it looked a bit like a sphinx resting with its forepaws stretched out in front. One half seemed almost flat and then rose quite steeply to a rounded off peak. Rapatoka.
A quick tug of the lead told him Roofie was finished and impatient to be off. His dog grinned up at him as if to say: “Bet you wish you could do that!” then sniffed the air, taking in all the new scents. Miles took a deep breath. The familiar tang of saltwater was overladen with the smell of rotting seaweed.
Oh, what the heck, there was nothing to harm him here. Miles unclipped the lead and Roofie took off. Miles let him go; his mutt was probably dying to take another leak, a dump and stretch his legs in no particular order. Although the plane had been equipped with a head and a hand-held shower, Miles wanted to do the same.
As he followed his dog along the wooden structure, Miles studied the beach area. Broken branches and leaves were piled up with the seaweed. It was like a broom had come along and swept up the mess for them. Splashes of color: plastic bottles, white styrofoam segments mingled with the rubbish at the high water mark. Coconuts littered the beach area and some bobbed in the water like apples in a barrel. A few were covered in brown fibre, indicating they were ripe, but many were still green. At least they wouldn’t starve.
Roofie gave a startled yelp as he jumped off the end of the jetty and landed in shallow water, the spray flying up around him. Miles laughed; the look on his dog’s face was priceless. He’d obviously never seen that much water before. Not warm water at any rate. Droplets glistened in the early morning sun as his dog shook himself off, then headed to one of the pier’s supports. His tail wagged after he christened it as if happy to claim the island as his own.
There was still no sign that anyone else was here. Surely the locals weren’t too injured to seek help.
Miles took off his loafers, shoved them in the top of Darren’s emergency kit bag and stopped for a minute to bury his feet in the warm sand before walking along the water’s edge. Coming to a Pacific Island had always meant meeting up with Darren again. He stared at the low-lying bushes lining the edge of the beach, half expecting to see a dark-haired teenager running out to greet him, talking non-stop, boasting about the fish he’d already caught and the great times they would have. Miles swallowed back tears and tried to chew a chunk out of the inside of his cheek. From the time Sandra Pierce had handed him the glossy brochure about a resort called Mystery Island, Miles had tried to blank his mind, refusing to think about what it might be like.
Gil had tried first to cheer him up, then snap him out of his funk, but disaster or no disaster coming here was a mistake. He had too many memories, good memories… no, great memories, of places just like this. Darren would have been in his element. He hated the cold and the snow and loved running around with next to nothing on, getting more tanned every day. Miles just got sunburned and freckled.
Still there was no sign of habitation. Not in this section of the island at least. The beach of pure white sand stretched in a gentle uninterrupted curve as far as the eye could see.
A loud bark drew his attention back to the plane. Miles turned to check out what was going on and was surprised to find that while lost in his memories of Darren, he’d walked further than he realized. Dante had joined Roofie, and the two dogs were chasing each other round and around in the shallow water near the jetty. They seemed quite happy with their new surroundings, not fazed by the heat or the difference from the place they’d left forty-two hours earlier.
Gideon was unloading crates and boxes, handing them across to his companions who dutifully stacked them in a pile. There wasn’t much room on the jetty and everybody seemed to be getting in each other’s way. None of them seemed too interested in checking that there were no injured people around, surprisingly not even Gil.
Should he go back and help, he wondered briefly. Nah. He started walking again. One more pair of hands won’t make much difference, and someone has to check the place out.
He sighed. Admit it, mate, you’re avoiding Gil. For a while he’d thought maybe he was finished grieving for Darren. Coming here had proved that wrong.
He ducked onto a narrow path leading inland. After a few gentle turns, a clearing stood before him. On one side were some native style bures like the ones in every Polynesian resort he’d ever stayed in. Most of their traditional woven-leaf exterior walls had been shredded off by the storm, leaving only the skeletons remaining, but a couple must have been protected by a couple of large above ground water tanks as they were more or less intact.
To his left was a long low building, modern and also apparently undamaged, its roof covered in solar panels. Miles tried to open the door, but it was locked. Peering through the narrow glass inserts in the ornately carved wood, he could see a reception desk and beyond that a few sofas and chairs. Again no sign of people.
Where was Flynn when you needed him? Although he’d never been able to prove it, Miles had a fair suspicion that his missing friend was pretty good at lock-picking. Miles could bash the glass in, but why bother? There didn’t seem to be anyone needing his help here.
He headed towards the closest of the two bures that looked habitable and pushed open the door. A green lizard scuttled up the far wall and hid behind a tall bookcase. Even though the walls were still there, the roof obviously wasn’t watertight. Discoloration of the bed coverings showed where they’d been saturated and dried out. Little puddles of water still remained in places.
The other bure was in better condition. Miles used the toilet and was somewhat surprised to find it still worked. Washing his hands, he stared at himself in the mirror. He’d been to the barber about a week before all the shit hit the fan back in Haven Falls, so he didn’t look too ratty. Just as well, because from the looks of things there wasn’t much in the way of facilities here.
Miles ran his finger over the top of the bedside table and wiped off the dust he collected. Strange. Either housekeeping was slack or these buildings had been empty long before the cyclone hit.
He slung Darren’s bag over his shoulder again as he walked back outside. A few more minutes of wandering around confirmed that the resort, for want of a better word, was deserted except for some wildlife that scurried away when he walked inside the damaged buildings.
Definitely no sign of villagers or locals, injured or otherwise. Maybe they were further down the island. The sound of engines startled him. He looked up to see the seaplane climbing back up into the sky and heading off in an easterly direction. Now he could see it in flight, the resemblance to a pelican was even more marked.
Another path led off from the clearing. Should he go back to the others first? They were probably wondering where he was. Miles hesitated for a second then set off to check it out. Seeing the bures had set his thoughts racing back into the past again. Memories of furtive gropes and stolen kisses as he and Darren tried to find places they could escape from the prying eyes of his sister, Siobahn. Running down paths like this, trying to lose her, laughing their heads off and stopping as soon as they realized they were alone.
Each year it had been the same. No matter how many letters they’d sent to each other, nothing matched that first touch, that first press of lips against lips. The playful touch turning into something more serious as they got older. Eventually when they turned eighteen, they’d stayed behind when their parents went to a traditional island feast, pleading exhaustion from swimming and fishing all day, undressing each other slowly and finally making love.
He’d thought he was ready to move on, but how could he cheapen that memory by having sex with someone when his heart wasn’t involved?
He should go back and apologize to Gil. As far as the young man was concerned, he’d been as bad as a starving dog with a piece of meat, snarling at anyone who came near. And didn’t that say a lot about how low he’d sunk, to objectify Gil like that? Thinking of him as a piece of meat not a person. He deserved to be treated better than that… a lot better.
Miles stared blindly at a clump of pandanus lining the edge of the sand. A dark shape was pulled up in the shade. The image swum in the tears gathered in his eyes. Was that some sort of boat?
He stumbled towards it, catching his foot slightly on one of the exposed roots. Something hit his head and the world went black.