After taking a shower and changing into some warm, dry clothes, a luxury most of the others didn’t have, Belinda sank into one of the chairs in her and Kyden’s living room, taking the beer Faxon offered her. Her hair stuck pretty much straight out due to still being slightly damp.
“So,” Rook said, leaning against the door with the wind and rain still attempting to batter it down. “What’s this ‘story’ you promised us?” There was a ring of water around his feet where it had dripped and fallen from his clothing. His hair was sticking out in every direction from the swift toweling he had given it, and his clothes were mostly dry as he had gone into the bathroom and wrung them out.
Belinda pulled the device Spenser had given her from her bag and held it flat in her palm in front of her.
“What is that?” Iliana asked. Kyden lifted his glasses and balanced them above his forehead, leaning in to get a closer look.
“It’s a bomb,” Belinda said. She cackled with laughter as everyone recoiled from her, trying to get as far away as possible.
“What are you doing with that?” Elisha yelled.
“Are you insane?” Faxon said.
“Get it out of here,” Rook barked.
“Where did you get it,” Kyden asked, eyes still locked on it from across the room.
“I got it from Spenser. It’s been deactivated. The government engineers removed all the explosives from it.” Everyone slowly moved back to where they had been sitting or leaning. “He told me that some of his people found this on the remains of Gautier.”
“Wait. What do you mean the ‘remains of Gautier?’” Rook asked, stepping toward her. Rook’s sister, Erity, lived there with her boyfriend. He saw the look on Belinda’s face and sank into the last empty chair in the room.
“What I mean is that Gautier is gone.”
“Gone? How could an island be gone?” Iliana asked.
“It’s gone like the supports are all still there, but the island itself is gone.”
Elisha, who was perched on the side of Rook’s chair, a hand on his shoulder looked up and asked, “Were there any survivors?”
Belinda’s head dropped, her chin on her chest as she shook her head. “Not unless they learned to fly.”
“Okay, I think you may want to start at the beginning of all of this,” Faxon said, taking Rook’s place against the door, arms folded over his chest, his brow furrowed in thought.
Belinda took a deep breath before launching into the story of seeing Gautier missing and having trouble hitting it with the launcher. Of how she finally hit a target and took the zipper down. She described what was left of the island and she saw a tear roll down Rook’s cheek. He picked up a beer and drank the whole thing in one go.
Belinda continued, telling them about her delivery to Hadley and the meeting with Spenser. Kyden sneered at Spenser’s name. He thought going to Fairchance to work for the government, and eventually become President of the Appalachian Islands made him a sellout.
“So something like that took out Gautier?” Kyden asked when Belinda had finished, pointing at the bomb in her hands.
“No. Many somethings like this.” Belinda handed the metal box to Kyden. “Spenser gave me this because he wanted you to take a look at it.”
“What?” Kyden scoffed. “The government scientists and engineers aren’t good enough?”
“No, They’re good enough, but he wants you to look at it, see what they missed.”
“Wait a second,” Faxon said. “If someone can blow up, or destroy the islands in some way, then how do we know we’ll be safe if we keep on with the delivery stuff?”
“Obviously we won’t,” Iliana replied, “but we need money. We still need to eat, so we deal with the danger. Occupational hazard.”
“No. Fax is right,” Belinda said, stepping back into the middle of the group. “It’s too dangerous to make deliveries knowing that the island we’re on may fall out of the sky at any time.”
“Does Spense have people looking for more of those things?” Rook asked. His eyes were bloodshot as he looked up at her from his chair.
“He does, but there are so many islands that it will take weeks.”
“So what do we do?” Elisha asked. “After all the time and energy we put into this we give up the deliveries?”
“No,” Belinda said.
“But you just said it was too dangerous,” Faxon said, standing up from the door. The storm had abated outside, and the wind was now barely audible.
“I did. It is too dangerous to deliver packages while someone is blowing up the islands.”
Faxon groaned, rolling his eyes. “No. No. No. That’s insane. No. We can’t do it.”
“Do what?” Rook asked.
“She wants us to figure out who’s doing this and stop them,” Faxon said.
Belinda’s face simply split into a grin from ear to ear in response.
“I’m in,” Rook said, standing from his chair. “I want to find this bastard. I want to hold him out over the edge of an island and watch his body drop into the poison below us.”
“No,” Faxon said yet again. “Look, I love you guys. I’m sorry about what happened to Erity.” Rook nodded in appreciation. “But, this is insane. We’re not the government. We’re not the army. We’re just a group of people with too much time and too few brain cells who wanted to work for ourselves, so we found a way to do that while flying over certain, excruciating death below us.”
“Is that really what you think about this?” About what we do? About all of us?” Belinda asked. She sniffled a little as all eyes in the room turned toward Faxon. They all stood in silence, glaring at Faxon.
“Maybe you should go.” Rook’s voice was grating as it cracked the silence around them.
“But there’s a storm,” Faxon complained.
Rook just looked at him and shrugged before saying, “Like I said.”
Faxon search each of their faces again, trying to find even a patch of acceptance, but it was as if there were five statues carved from the hardest of stone staring back at him. “Fine,” he said, throwing the door open and storming from the house. Even though the wind had died down a considerable amount, the rain had not abated in the slightest. Elisha pulled the door shut behind him.
“So what’s our first step here?” she asked.
“I think it all starts with Ky. He needs to examine the device, inside and out, to see if he can give us any clues as to who is capable of building these things. While he’s working on that, the rest of us should keep our ears open. Listen for anyone mentioning anything about the ground, or anything that could be related to destroying the islands.”
“Did Spense say anything else about these?” Kyden asked.
“No. Only that it had explosives inside and they found it early in the morning on Gattman, right where all the people there were standing when looking for Gautier.” Kyden nodded at her before Belinda continued. “Now, we knew Spenser before, but I’m not sure how much he’s changed since leaving Hailey. He didn’t seem any different, but I couldn’t be certain he wasn’t hiding something.”
Kyden walked the device over to his workbench where he sat down, snapped on an overhead light, and started to open the device with a small screwdriver.
“What are some assumptions we can make about this person?” Rook asked.
Everyone looked at him, unsure of what to say.
“Well, what can we assume based on what we know already? That may help us narrow down who to look at for this.”
“Well, Belinda started, “they probably live on this end of the Appalachian chain. I don’t think anyone would travel too far with these things.”
“They’re very smart,” Kyden chimed in from his bench. “I’ve never seen circuits or anything designed quite this way. It’s really rather beautiful. If, that is, you ignore the whole ‘bomb’ thing.”
“Probably a loner, or someone would have mentioned something by now,” Iliana added.
“Right,” Belinda said. She grabbed a marker from Kyden’s bench and started writing everything they said on the wall of the living room.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” Kyden asked her.
“We need to repaint the walls in here anyway, and I want to have a way to see all of this stuff up together. It may help us figure out something else.”
The group continued throwing out ideas for another twenty minutes with Belinda writing every one of them up on the wall. After a certain point, their ideas just seemed to be growing more and more implausible as time passed, so Belinda took a step back to see what they had come up with so far.
Southern island. Smart. Loner. Wealthy. Has Help. Wears Glasses. Can get to supports. Not Crippled.
The last few really weren’t all that helpful, and that was discounting everything Belinda had flat out refused to write down at the end of their brainstorming session.
“Okay, I guess this kind of narrows it down,” Elisha said.
“Yeah, but it also makes things more difficult.” Rook tapped three of the items on the list. “There are at least fifty southern islands. A loner is going to be next to impossible to find based on their nature, and almost everyone wears some form of glasses to counter the constant wind. Plus, it’s not like they keep the supports guarded, and I don’t think I’ve seen a crippled person in over a year.”
“Granted, this seems like it’s impossible, do we really want to live in fear of Hailey or any other island disappearing? Finding this asshole is the only sure way to make sure they stop,” Belinda said. “For now, I say we just continue on with our deliveries, like normal, and try to keep an eye and ear out. We travel around more than any else I know, so we have the best chance of figuring this out.”
“Wait, what’s in it for us?” Iliana asked, standing from her chair. “I mean, I get that we don’t want to die. At least I don’t. I can’t really speak for Belinda here.” Belinda scowled at Iliana before she continued. “But are we really going to do all this work for the government and get nothing out of it?”
“I’m disappointed in you,” Belinda said, fists planted on her hips. “You think I didn’t consider that already? I got Spense to agree to allow us to install permanent zipper lines on any island we want. His only restriction is that we install them next to the basket lines.”
“Really?” Rook perked up. “I always hated those damn launchers. I could never get the hang of them like some of you could.”
“First thing’s first,” Belinda said. “We need to make sure there are still islands left to install lines on before we get too excited about that. Does anyone have any deliveries that need to be made?”
Everyone around her shook their heads no.
“Alright, then we need to get out there and look for some orders or deliveries. Stop and talk to people. Knock on their doors and explain what we do. Give them an order patch. Maybe we’ll see or hear something in passing. We need to start somewhere if we’re going to catch this bastard.”
“I think I’ll wait here for the storm to finish passing,” Iliana said, dropping back onto the couch.
“We were just out in way worse than this,” Belinda said, her hand pointing toward the door as if doing so would conjure images of the past storm on the wooden surface.
“Exactly. The rest of us are still drying out,” Rook said, sitting down next to Iliana.
“Fine. You guys stay here and comfortable. I’m going to stop this guy.” Belinda snatched her bag off the hook on the wall and threw it over her shoulder, patting the pouch on the side to make sure her zipper was still there before storming from the house, slamming the door shut behind her.
The wind outside was no more than what was normal for the Appalachians, and the rain was really no more than a drizzle by this point, but the clouds above in the sky still looked as angry and pissed off as they had when the storm began. Belinda headed off, not really paying attention to which island she was on. Her eyes were constantly scanning the doors of every building she passed, but there were no patches to be seen, pick-up or order. Belinda jumped from another island, her bag still empty and listened to the sound of the rope whizzing through her zipper, a spray of water shooting from the back as the wheels threw up the water from the saturated rope. She didn’t activate the motor this time, and let her momentum run out just beyond halfway across. The zipper started to roll backwards and settled in the middle of the run. Belinda hung from the zipper, island in front of her, island behind her. Nothing above or around but open sky. And certain death below.
Belinda grabbed her bag from behind her with one hand and yanked it around front. She snapped open a large pocket on the back of her bag and pulled out a wooden board that was normally used to keep the bag stiff on the side that rubbed against her body. On the bottom side of the board was a pair of clips.
Belinda pulled herself up by her right arm and centered the board over the rope, the clips snapping shut over the rope right in front of the zipper. Belinda grabbed the rope behind the zipper with her left hand and released the zipper, grabbing the rope with her right as well. She started to swing forward and back, using her legs to help build momentum. She swung out and suddenly kicked her legs straight up. Her body followed and swung up and over the rope.
Belinda drew her knees in close to her body and they struck the wooden board. The second they made contact she let go of the rope and spread out her limbs so she was balanced on her stomach, the greenish clouds swirling below her.
She slowly shifted her weight around until she could safely sit upright on the board. Looking around her, she could barely make out either island to her left or right. There was absolutely nothing around her except for the open sky and the soft breeze. The sun had come up in force once the storm clouds dissipated.
Belinda didn’t sit out on the lines very often, but she did whenever she needed to clear her mind. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose. She held the breath for a few moments before letting it hiss out between her lips. She heard a chirping noise and opened her eyes to see a small black bird with a white underbelly and a red streak separating the two colors alight on the rope next to her.
Belinda smiled at the bird which tilted its head, looked at her, and hopped closer on the rope. Belinda laughed and dug into her bag where she always kept some crackers and small snacks. She broke up one of the crackers and held it out in her hand. The bird chirped once before hopping over on the rope and up into her hand. She could feel the eight tiny points of each of its claws pressing into the skin of her hand as it bent down to peck at the crushed cracker crumbs.
The bird continued pecking away at its small snack until every crumb had been eaten from Belinda’s hand. “Have you ever gone down into the clouds?” she asked it. “What’s down there?” The bird just looked at her, head tilted to one side, then the other, eyes blank. It hopped a few times on her hand, but when it realized there was going to be no more crumbs, it spread its wings and flew off. The bird circled around Belinda once before turning and flying off toward the island she had just come from.
The sun was starting to climb its way down the sky, so Belinda grabbed the rope with her right hand and swung off the board. She swung a few times before unclasping it from the rope and stowing it back in her bag. Belinda released the rope and dropped for a moment before she grabbed the zipper and bounced on the rope. Pressing the button with her thumb, Belinda slid the speed selector up and the zipper started off, gradually building speed until the wind whipped her hair about her ears. It had been a while since she cut it, and some of the hair was now getting close to in her eyes in front and touching her collar in back, so she decided to cut it again that night.
Belinda made it back to Hailey just as the giant fire ball of a sun dipped below the horizon. The sky was lit up a bright and angry red. She pushed open the door to her and Kyden’s house only to see everyone still there. They were huddled on the couch and chairs, all of them having been pulled close to the large square coffee table in the center of the living room. Looking over at the workbench, Belinda saw the defused bomb casing opened and abandoned under the bright work light.
“I cast Ray of Frost!” Rook crowed and the others cheered. Kyden rolled a die behind a cardboard wall that separated his part of the table from the main portion, which was covered with a large sheet of paper that had a map drawn on it. He looked at the die before consulting a stack of papers,
“An icy beam bursts from your hand and strikes the big cat right in the eye.” Kyden rolled a second die. “You do three damage.” Rook, Iliana, and Elisha cheered again, clinking their beer bottles together in the air over the map as Kyden rolled a few more dice and looked at some papers behind his little wall.
“Rook,” Kyden said, not looking up from his papers, “the cat jumps on you and swipes its claws at your chest. You take eight damage.”
Belinda had been standing just inside the front door, watching them, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging slightly open in disbelief. She changed her expression to a scowl before saying, “What in the hell are all of you doing?”
“Oh, hey Bell,” Elisha said. “Why don’t you come join us. Ky made a character for you too.” Elisha was patting the open spot on the couch next to her as they all looked at Belinda.
“Let me get this straight. There is someone out there who is trying to destroy the islands, and you guys are sitting in her playing a game?”
“Yeah,” Iliana said from the same couch that Rook was sitting on. “We started playing while waiting for the weather to go away, but by the time it did, the sun was going to be setting soon, so we decided to just keep playing.”
“You guys have no idea where to start looking for this guy,” Kyden said from his chair on the opposite end of the room.
“Well why aren’t you still looking at the bomb? That’s our only clue right now.”
“I’ve already looked at the entire thing. A bomb is really a very simply device. It’s just some form of power, something to start the explosion, and an explosive compound. The entire inside portion of that was nothing more than a way to hide the wires from the outside and an empty space to pack with the explosives. Whoever this was knew what they were doing. They didn’t leave anything that could potentially identify them.”
“I can’t believe you guys aren’t taking this seriously!” Belinda yelled as she stormed into her room. She grabbed a blanket and small pillow from her closet and shoved them into her bag before stomping back into the living room. “You know what?” she asked, taking her now dry coat from a hook on the wall. “Why don’t you all keep playing your little game and I’ll go save all our lives.” She threw the door open, letting the light from inside spill out into the darkness.
“Belinda, why don’t you stay and play with us?” Elisha called to her from the doorway, but Belinda ignored her, walked determinedly off into the darkness.
The man powered on his magnetic gloves after ensuring that his bag was securely fastened to his back. He lay down on the edge of the island he was on and reached under its surface. His hands moved back and forth until they fastened themselves against pieces of metal with a clunk. The man threw himself over the edge and swung down under the island. When his body had stopped swinging, he kicked his feet up and fastened the magnets on the toes of his boots to the metal under the island as well.
The man started to climb down the island to the main supports underneath. This was an older island, so some if it had been constructed from wood which he could not use to climb on, and the metal was not scraps, but actual beams designed for construction. He would have to be very meticulous in the way he placed his devices.
The man continued to descend, passing from one support beam to the next as little more than a shadow in the night, already shielded from the light of the moon by the island that stretched out above him like an umbrella.
Looking below him, the man saw a large deck built into the support structure of the island. He headed there, figuring it might be a good place to begin removing the devices from his bag and arranging them for installation. As he got closer to the second deck, the man could see that there were a few things arranged on it, which revealed themselves to be a couch, a few chairs, and a box shaped object that could be either a small cabinet or refrigerator.
The man stepped onto the deck and looked at the objects around him. He saw a mass of rectangular batteries all wired together and then connected to a thick wire that lead off the edge of the deck to a spinning shape out in the darkness. He smiled and nodded his head in appreciation of the work when he saw it. The man started silently upon looking at the sofa and discovering the lumpy shape of a person under a blanket on it, only their head exposed. Luckily, their face was directed toward the back of the couch and they had not moved since he touched down on the deck’s surface.
He quickly and quietly made his way back to the supports and began to climb again. The man reached into his bag and placed a device on every metal support her passed, and on about one of every four wooden supports just to be sure.
The man finished attaching all of his devices and made his way back over to the deck to check on the sleeping form on the couch. He breathed a sigh of relief to see that they had not moved. The man began his ascent once more, hundreds of angry glowing red lights below him like those of predators watching him from the darkness of foliage.