36. Duct Tape

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All the bruises I got while fleeing from and fighting Bruna healed over the next few days. I spent my time swimming and basking in the sun, but most of all hunting.

Hunger was my constant companion, and sating it was foremost.


High morals took no part in my career. I was a hunter, and that was all.


As I got stronger, killing birds became easy. My reflexes were lightning fast, and my muscles never failed me.

I also caught fish. Standing in the water, hands submerged, I waited for them. When one arrived—curious, attracted against their dim wits by the skin on my legs—it was just a matter of speed.

And I was faster.

Another thing that had changed was my thinking. It was hard to pinpoint the nature of the changes, but my thoughts were crystal clear, focused, and sharp. And memories swarmed me. I recalled details of my childhood that I had deemed long forgotten. I felt the texture of the suit of my wedding dress. I could cite most of Titus Alone and the rest of the Gormenghast Trilogy.

That torn world of towers.

And I remembered the password. The whole fucking password for the memory stick that Farid had given me.

The password that would unlock the secrets stored there. Secrets that would wreak havoc on the Syndicate if I ever got off this island.

Secrets that would bring down the killers of Farid and all my other companions.


~~~


I was one with the island. It had become my mountainous home. Its rocks, plants, and animals were my familiars.

The chant of the birds was varied, changing with the weather. The rustle of the leaves told me of storms approaching. The smell of sulfur heralded the oncoming night.

It was the island, too, that told me of the arrival of something new.

I was stalking a rat when the leisurely chitchat of the blue-headed sparrows and the cooing of their larger, gray cousins turned into a nervous exchange of short, irritated tweets and screeches. The sense of urgency in the chant made me look up.

I was on the west coast, with the sea to my left. The sky was serene all the way to the horizon—it wasn't an incoming storm that had made the birds nervous.

When I looked back at the ground before me, the rat was gone.

But I wasn't in the mood for hunting, anyway. The large, gray birds uttered high-pitched cries, ratting about something they disliked. A flock of them took to the air.

Where they had perched in their thousands, the twigs and boughs lifted themselves a little in the bird-made darkness.

Fuelled by curiosity, I ran up the slope towards north peak. I gave the site of Bruna's death a wide berth. Her decaying body was the one thing on the island I shied way from. Her remains were for the rats and birds.

They were not for me.

My muscles welcomed the exercise, and I gained the summit within minutes. Below me, the island sprawled in all its splendor.

I took in every detail, pristine and focused, any vestiges of my myopia gone.

The only thing marring the beauty of this spot was the void where Farid had stood when we had been up here together.

The reason for the island's unrest was to the north. There, bobbing in the waves, a white ship was anchored offshore. And an orange inflatable was pulled up at the beach, near the weather station.

People!

The mere word made me smile. Company and companionship, talks and faces.

I left my perch and darted downhill, north, heading straight for the site where I knew them to be.

It wasn't easy to slow my steps as I approached the weather station, to reign in my eagerness. The doors of the station stop open, and a figure in shorts and a white shirt had its head in the wooden box. I didn't want to scare the person, so I took a deep breath and cleared my throat.

"Hello," I said. My voice was sandpaper from lack of use.

The figure jerked, tried to stand straight, and banged its head on the box's ceiling in the process. "Ugh."

The man was at least a head taller than I was, wide in the middle, with curly dark hair topping a round head.

He took a step back. "Oh."

My heart was thumping and I wanted to hug the guy, but I didn't want to scare him. So I raised my hands, palms facing him. "Sorry, I didn't want to scare you. Do you speak English?"

"Yes... Hello, you gave me quite a fright there." His words were quick, heavily accented by an idiom I wasn't familiar with. He flashed a broad smile of white teeth surrounded by dark skin.

A frown replaced the smile as he took me in. "Are you all right, Miss?"

"Sure." I nodded and looked down at my once blue shirt. It was torn and stained. Most of the stains were brownish red.

I shrugged and grinned at him. "Apologies, my days here were kind of... rough, and I don't have a change of clothes with me. I'm Megan, by the way."

His smile came back, and he took a step towards me, wiping his hand on his pants and offering it. "I am Napo."

His palm was soft, humid, and warm. I held on to it for a moment, reveling in its normalcy and humanness.

"And what are you doing here if I may ask?" He briefly placed his other hand on mine. Then he broke the contact.

"I..." I hesitated. Should I tell him about the airplane crash? The people who had killed Farid, Chris, and Nita might still be on the lookout for survivors, eager to erase the virus and any witnesses of the events.

"I was shipwrecked," I finally said.

"Oh. What happened? And how long have you been here?"

"We were on a fishing boat," I said, "some friends and I. We were clueless tourists, I'm afraid. Then there was that hailstorm, some days ago." I remembered the ice pelting down on me while I had been sick. "I got washed overboard. I swam. And I ended up here."

"And the people on your ship?"

I shrugged. The commiseration settling in his face made me regret my lies, but I kept silent.

"Oh, I'm sure they are fine." He smiled again. "Anyway, you must be starving. Let me finish here, and we'll get you back to my ship. I'll take you to Saipan. We can be there tomorrow evening." He fiddled with the equipment in the box, undoing the mess that Chris had caused.

"Sorry about that," I said. "But I thought that making your machines stop would bring someone here."

"And so it did. No problem." He stood back and closed the doors. "That was a smart move. And it's been easy to fix." He retrieved a duct tape from a bag at his feet, cut off a piece, and used it to secure the door. "Done. Duct tape fixes everything. Next time I'm here, I'll bring another padlock."

He scratched his cheek, studying his handiwork. "What did you say? How many days have you been here?"

"A couple of days?"

"Strange." He looked at me. "The radio signal failed two weeks ago."

I shrugged. "I may have lost count. I was sick for some time."

His warm smile returned. "It doesn't matter." He motioned me towards his inflatable waiting by the water. "Let's get back to my ship and feed you. You look starved. I've got some coconut titiyas that my wife prepared. They are the best in the whole Pacific."

Yes, hungry—that's how I felt as we walked down to the shore.

The copper-hued skin on his shoulders gleamed silkily in the sun.

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