A tropical paradise may look very picturesque from a distance, but it is in fact the site of a brutal ecosystem. It’s all very well being untouchable and immune from psychic control by nefarious parties, but that doesn’t count for much if something slithers up your trouser-leg and lays eggs in your arsehole.
There is always another threat to be wary of, is my point.
The ship approaching the island would take a while to get here. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the means to use that time to effect an escape. Island life had me trapped.
But, I had need for a ship, and one was being delivered. That counted for something. All I needed to do was take it away from its owners, and I had an army of bloodthirsty savages to do it with.
On the other hand, the boat people had Laney and Biadet with them, so we were about even on the savagery scale.
If those two were onboard, who else was on that ship? No point wasting time speculating, is what I thought to myself just before I started speculating.
“Friends of yours?” asked Richina. She was standing next to me, staring out to sea. She didn’t have a telescope, but I got the impression she could see the ship just as clearly as I could. Maybe more so.
I turned to look at her. She was a young woman in a single layer of clothing — not even that, just wrapped in a sheet. Innocent and vulnerable, you would think, if you were an idiot.
“You work for Arthur, right? You’re his daughter or ward or whatever.”
She nodded. “He is my guardian.”
“Okay. Then from now on you do as I say and don’t attack anyone without my permission. Check with him to make sure he agrees, if you want.”
Her face narrowed. “What makes you think I would ever attack anyone?”
She was cute. She had the guile-free openness of a girl who had never met a guy she couldn’t charm. It wasn’t sexual, she wasn’t offering me a good time with those large eyes, it was more of a soft, disarming-quality she had. Who, me?
What she failed to take into account was the fact she was queen on an island of cannibals. I may not have the sharpest pair of eyes when it comes to spotting the darkness in people’s hearts, but even I could spot the signs of an uber-bitch powered down to standby mode.
“You’re not going to attack anyone, I thought I just made that clear.” We were dancing around the nub of the issue. This wasn’t about what she was going to do or not, it was about her understanding that being the special kid wasn’t going to carry water with me.
“I am under your command,” she said, meaning it not at all.
“Great. If you disobey my orders, I’m going to keep you alive. Understand?”
It was an odd threat, but whatever her power to resurrect herself, I was guessing she needed to be all the way dead. No arms and legs, and healed up so she wouldn’t die, would nip that shit in the bud.
There was a slight flinch, a mild paling of the skin, and then the inscrutable smile returned. “I understand.” It wasn’t a guarantee she’d play ball, but it would do for now.
I turned to Captain Somya. “That ship is going to be our way off this island. We’ll get the natives to help us, but I don’t want the ship too badly damaged, so I’m going to let them come ashore. You need to be ready to deal with the crew left onboard.”
“We’re going to take the parts we need to repair the islanders’ craft from that ship?” asked Damicar.
Of course, there are some special kids who not only needed their water carrying, they also needed it in a sippy cup.
“No, we’re going to take the whole ship and sail it back,” I explained.
Damicar looked a bit confused. “That ship? We can’t sail around in that ship. What if someone sees us?”
I had no idea what he was going on about. “If who sees us? What’s wrong with that ship?”
“It’s a Council ship,” he said, like that explained everything.
“Do you know what he’s talking about?” I said to Captain Somya.
“It is flying the flag of the Council of Four. No one in their right mind would dare attack them.” His voice was flat, his eyes cold and devoid of emotion. He still somehow managed to indicate he thought I was a colossal dumbass.
“What about you?” I asked him. “Will you follow my orders.”
“Yes,” said the Captain. “I will follow your orders to the end.” His words would have been reassuring if he didn’t make it sound like the end was going to arrive sometime this afternoon. “The other sailors, though…”
“Great, glad to hear it. Don’t worry, about the others, I’ll deal with them.” It’s fun making promises you have no way of keeping. Very liberating. “Damicar, go tell the islanders to wait on the shore. Take Richina with you, I’m sure they’ll be happy to see her. Captain, prepare your men to capture the ship.”
The Council of Four was a name I’d heard before. It was the joint committee put together by the four major cities, and it was they who had sent that first party, led by Grayson, to meet us when we first arrived in this world. If they had sent a representative to talk to me, I’d be very interested in what they had to say, before I stole their ship and left them to the cannibals.
“I’m going to go have a think about things. I mean, meditate on phase two of my plan.” It made it sound more like I knew what I was doing if I was already on phase two. I just hoped no one asked me what phase one was. “I’ll meet you down on the beach when I’m ready.”
They all went off to do my bidding. I wandered into the jungle to be alone, although I had no intention of doing any meditating. What was I going to do, try to achieve nothingness? I was already fully qualified in that area, I had been achieving it my whole life.
Wesley was finally out of my head, I was alone with my thoughts and my body. There was only one destiny I was interested in fulfilling.
It’s strange how the idea of self-abuse is addressed in society; even naming it as a form of abuse is very bizarre. Clearly, half the population understand it very well. Very well. And they’re the ones who generally make the rules and set the tone, so it’s odd how puritanical they can be about it.
It wasn’t always like that. Onanism was considered quite a revered act by the ancient Egyptians who believed the god Atum created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation. I wouldn’t claim anything quite so grand myself, but I’d seen stars occasionally, after like the third time in an hour.
Sure, women like to smack the pony, too, but they don’t really understand the effect of constantly producing this stuff and storing it in the limited space we have. It can make you act all sorts of crazy. But once its out, you can think a lot more clearly, feel more relaxed, watch sports without getting aggressive. It’s a win for everyone.
I found a nice secluded spot, far from the maddening crowd (I know what I said), and made sure there wasn’t anyone following me.
“Wesley? You there?” Just checking. Finally, I was alone. Maybe not for long, but I wouldn’t need long.
I undid my belt and unbuttoned my fly.
“So, it’s like that?”
It was a good thing there weren’t zippers in this world, I’d have amputated my own penis.
“What the fuck?” I yelled as I put myself away. “Can’t a guy even take a piss around here?” Pretty quick thinking, but then terror is known to sharpen the reflexes.
Biadet, standing a metre or so behind me, looked up at the tree I was under. “Were you aiming to urinate on one of those coconuts.” There was no hint of mockery or amusement in her voice, just flat disappointment. Classic Biadet.
“What are you doing here? How did you get off the ship?”
“I swam,” she said.
“You’re not very wet.”
“I swam very fast.”
There was no one with her. She was dressed in black, simply, no weapons; not that she ever needed one.
“Don’t mind me. Please, continue with your male ritual.” She looked mildly bored, like she might be waiting for a bus.
“What do you want?” I asked, somewhat pulling myself together. “Who’s on the ship with you?”
“Don’t worry, none of your former friends. I came to warn you, the princess is here.”
“That’s what you’re warning me about? I can handle Laney.”
Biadet didn’t say anything in reply to my claim, but the long cold stare spoke of a doubt of substantial depth and weight. “The ship arrives with an offer. The world is changing and certain people think you can help them shape it the way they would like it to be.”
“I look forward to disappointing them. It’s something of a speciality of mine. Two questions, Biadet. First, why are you here? Second, no.”
“No is not a question,” she said.
“Are you sure? Because everyone seems to have a fucking answer every time I say it. How did you know I was here? How did you know I was even alive.”
She tilted her head to one side. “People have been watching you for a long time. People you don’t know.”
“The Council, you mean? They sent you?”
“They are here, on the ship. They want to meet you.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re like you,” said Biadet, not altogether in a flattering manner.
“Yes, but not just that. They have no interest in ruling people’s lives, so they banded to keep balance and tranquillity between the cities and powerful entities.”
“Oh, well, I look forward to letting them know what a terrible job they’ve made of it. Have they always been this shit?”
“There has been some internal strife lately, which allowed Peter to act unopposed.”
“You will meet them soon, you can judge for yourself. It’s okay, they mean you no harm, not intentionally. Not yet. Just be careful. But be most careful of the princess. She has designs on you.”
“Um, okay, thanks for the heads up. You know cannibals live here, right? Your crew of armed men won’t do you much good.”
“The island people won’t attack us.”
“Because you will tell them not to.”
She seemed to be very sure of herself. If anyone could tell me what was going on, it would be her. If she felt like it.
“Explanations will come. As most things do.” She made an odd face I couldn’t really interpret. Or didn’t want to. “I just wanted you to know I haven’t forgotten I owe you a debt. I will honour it. I have to go back before they miss me.”
And then she wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t even see her leave, she just vanished. I did a quick look around, but there was no sign of her. But then, there never was.
I sat down with my back to the tree. Was I supposed to trust her? Consider her an ally? No, she had just given me fair warning, the way a decent enemy would. And also like a worthy foe, she had disrupted my plans. I was far too agitated to ease myself out of my concerns. Not about the impending arrival of an enemy force, just that the evil minx might still be spying on me.
The jungle made its noises, blithely unaware of my existence, lucky bastard. I decided to wait for a few minutes to make as sure as I could there would be no more interruptions, and then I’d take care of nature’s call, which was deafening at this point.
Instead, I fell asleep.
It had been a busy night, and I was knackered. I woke with a start, not knowing how long I’d been out. It was still sunny and warm, not more than an hour or two, I guessed, if that. I was no longer in the mood for self-maintenance (that’s what it should be called). The body was willing, but the mind was flustered.
I made my way down to the beach to check on the carnage that had probably occurred in my absence. I hoped to find some driftwood and float out to sea. Maybe I could get five minutes alone before I drowned. Probably be accosted by some voyeuristic penguins.
The beach was crowded with islanders. My timing was phenomenal, as usual, the ship was anchored in the bay, just beyond the wreckage of the two others, and a boat was being rowed in our direction. There was a girl standing in the prow, crimson hair streaming in the wind and a deranged look plastered across her face. Her outfit was ridiculous, neon blue with lime and orange trim. If the ship ever got into trouble, they could fire her into the air and help would arrive in minutes. Who had sent her on this mission? Biadet’s warning echoed in my head so loudly I was tempted to turn around to see if she was behind me.
Richina and Damicar were near the water. The islanders greeted me as I passed through them, calling me Mr President and asking me to fix various civic and social issues.
“My toilet’s blocked.”
“The water pipe in the east village is broken.”
“My neighbour keeps cooking offal in the middle of the night. Could you have a word?”
They seemed to think politicians were there to serve their needs; not just primitive, naive, too.
The men in the boat had their backs to us as they rowed, but I could still tell they were nervous. The island had a reputation. Apart from them, there was also Biadet, and a tall man — Commander Grayson, unless he’d been promoted again.
“Where is Captain Somya?” I asked Damicar.
“Waiting for your order further down the coast. He set up a chain of islanders to relay your message.”
A young tanned man nodded at me. They wanted me to send instructions via Chinese whispers — I’d tell them to attack the boat, and by the time it reached their ears, it would say, “Attach a goat,” and we’d get complaints from PETA.
“Can we come ashore?” shouted Laney. “I promise not to kill you all.”
“If this turns into a fight,” I said to the gathered islanders, “eat her first.”
“I heard that,” shouted Laney. “I’m all muscle, I hope you choke on me.” She jumped in the water, which was nearly to her neck, and ran splashing to the shore, sword held high. “Follow me, men!”
The other occupants of the boat remained where they were, with Grayson looking ready to give the order to row back to the ship. What if their whole plan was to dump Laney on me and leave? Fucking diabolical bastards.