After devouring the rest of my MRE, which, for the record, Bruno was right, the chicken and dumplings weren’t bad, I change clothes into a long-sleeved black cotton shirt and a pair of blue jeans. They’re both pretty big on me. I roll up the legs on the jeans and the sleeves on the shirt and decide it will be good enough for now.
Instead of allowing myself to dwell too long on the idea Bruno has come up with, I choose to settle down for a little nap in the back of the plane. We don’t have long before arriving at Pirate Island, but I figure a little bit of rest might help, considering all I’ve been through over the past weeks.
Of course, my mind can’t help but continue to reel over the prospect of jumping out of a plane, so rest does not come easy and before I find my brain willing to shut down, Bruno is already yelling back at me to suit up.
I open my eyes and find I must have managed to rest for at least a brief period of time. When I had laid myself down on the bench, it was still early evening, now it’s completely dark out. I walk up to the front of the plane to see where we have gotten to, and note a series of tall poles sticking out of the earth and pointing skyward, each with a blinking red light atop them. These things must easily be a few hundred feet tall.
“Welcome to Pirate Island, Cyrus,” Bruno says, pointing to the same spot I’m already staring at.
“Down there? With the poles?”
“Yep. Looks like you’re going to have to be extra careful on your way down, kid.”
“Um,” is all I can manage in reply as I am immediately overwhelmed with all of the reasons I know this is not a good idea.
Look, it’s not that I’m afraid of heights. I am afraid of heights, but I’ve already managed to face that fear a few times over on this trip across the country. It’s just that this is my first time jumping out of a plane, not to mention my first time being in a plane, and I’m landing somewhere we don’t even have a map for. Oh yeah, and it’s covered in dozens of parachute-piercing posts I’m supposed to somehow manage my way around.
I think about why I would be so stupid as to agree to an idiotic plan like this, and am instantly reminded this is all for Eve. My resolve returns.
I strap on the parachute and make my way to the location Bruno says I should jump from. My resolve quickly weakens when I open the door at the time he suggests. And I’m in absolute terror as I climb out the door onto the leg of the plane. I picture Eve in my mind, the sound of Bruno urging me to move quickly dissolving into the background. Finally, I take a deep breath and jump into the open air to begin my plummet toward a small slice of green in the midst of a large area of blue. If this is going to work, I have to land right on the green, if I hit the blue, I have a hard time believing I’m going to be able to get on shore. And, of course, no matter what: don’t hit the poles.
Bruno called this a low-altitude jump, but considering how small everything is below me, I can’t help but wonder what is considered high-altitude.
The wind rushes across my face loudly as I hastily fumble for the cord for my ‘chute. I had it in my hand as I jumped, but at some point around the time where I leaped into the air, I must have lost track of it. Bruno said I needed to pull the cord as soon as I was airborne. In a panic, I twist and turn as I try to figure out what happened to the stupid little pull cord which stands between me and continuing to live.
And then, as I begin to resort to prayer, I feel myself being pulled upward, or, more accurately, I feel my plummeting become something more like a float, as the ‘chute opens on its own.
“Guess it’s a good thing I put an altimeter failsafe in the chute,” I hear through my headphones. It’s Bruno. I’m not sure how he got patched through to my device, but it feels good to have an eye in the sky once again. “Now, remember what I told you, use the strings on each side to work your aim toward the center of the island. Not only do you need to avoid getting speared on your way down, but you’re a floating target out there. Keep your fingers crossed that no one’s looking up.”
I groan inwardly, not for lack of trying to do so outwardly, but my breath is still caught in my throat as I slowly make my way to the not-nearly-as-close-as-I-would-like-it ground. It’s quiet out here, not that I’m really able to notice. I’m too focused on attempting to use strings to guide me toward the green stretch of land ahead of me. As I get closer, I find the posts aren’t quite as close together as I had feared. There’s probably 20 yards or so between each of them. Of course, at the speed I’m nearing them, it doesn’t really make much of a difference.
I work the cords wildly as I try to situate myself in the way least likely to cause my chute to get caught. Once I get myself aimed in a direction which seems relatively safe, considering I’m falling from the sky, I begin to notice how little else there is on this island. Outside of the poles, there’s nothing more than a couple of relatively small buildings populating the area. There aren’t even any trees.
“What is this place?” I ask no one.
“No clue. What are you seeing?” Bruno asks. I had forgotten he could hear me.
“Outside of the hundreds of TV antennas, nothing much. Are you sure this is a power plant? It looks a lot more like a communications grid or something.”
“Don’t look like any communications array I’ve ever seen,” he responds confidently.
“I’m just saying it doesn’t look like there’s anything here which could be producing power.”
“Just because you’re not seeing anything on the surface doesn’t mean anything. They could be pulling geothermal energy or something else out of the earth. We’re pretty close to Niagara. There have been rumors for years about tunnels under the falls for hydroelectric—“
“Right now, I’m more interested in if you have any tricks on how to land.” The ground is coming up to meet me much faster than I feel comfortable with. Before Bruno can answer, my feet hit the grass and I fall forward onto my face hard.
“Yeah, hit the ground running. Should keep you from face planting.”
“Too late,” I say through the dirt in my mouth.
“Don’t forget to hit the chest button,” Bruno says urgently.
“Oh yeah,” I mutter. I quickly hit the big button in the middle of my chest. The ‘chute flies off and gets caught on one of the nearby poles.
“Alright,” I say, surveying the area, “what now?”
“What do you see? I couldn’t see much as I made my flyover.”
“Like I said, a bunch of TV antennas. And a couple buildings. Neither of them looks much larger than a tool shed though.”
“Might as well start there. Maybe they’ve got a staircase down into the complex.”
“Okay.” I trot toward the building on the east side of the island. It’s red and wooden and looks like it is in desperate need of a paint job. There’s a small metal lock on the door. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any tricks up your sleeves for busting locks, do you?”
“Not that’ll be of any use to you now,” Bruno answers. “Unless you want me to fly back over and drop some bolt cutters on your head.”
“Let’s leave that as option B,” I say, tugging on the lock to make sure it’s not open.
“What you got for option A, kid?”
“There is another building.” I run to the west side building. “I thought you said there would be guards here.”
“There’s nothing here, man. Absolutely nothing. Do you think we got the wrong island?”
“It’s possible. It was a rumor after all.”
“I may have no clue what the deal is with all these poles, but it doesn’t look like any power plant I’ve ever seen.”
“How many power plants have you seen?”
I reach the building on the west shore and it looks exactly the same as the east one, down to the simple metal lock.
“Locked too, huh? Want the bolt cutters now?”
“I think I’d rather you come pick me up,” I grumble. “I don’t think there’s any reason we need to risk you caving my head in so you can get a good look at their supply of pole polish.”
“Whatever you say, kid. Only thing is, once I hit the water, the noise cancellation tech will shut down and we’ll be spotted immediately. It’s not as big of a problem if the power’s out, but with the way things are now, we’ll be their main concern.”
“Do you have any other options?” I ask. I notice a light hum has begun to emanate from the building.
“I don’t know. I could land a bit downstream and you could let the current take you to me. This is a river after all. We still run the risk of being spotted, but—“
The humming turns into a loud thrumming and suddenly my audio cuts out into a blitz of static. I feel the ground beneath me vibrate.
“Bruno!” I shout, hoping he can still hear me.
I run away from the building, feeling the air between the poles charge with some sort of almost tangible energy while the ground shakes even more violently before a loud zap sounds all around me and the poles light up with a bright white energy which shoots off into the sky.
The vibration ceases and the entire island becomes silent once again.
“What the–?” I look around to see if my surroundings have changed at all. Then I notice the air get dark. I feel a drop of wet hit my head as the sky turns a dark shade of green.
“Kid, you’re going to want to get to cover!” Bruno yells over my headphones. I run back toward the building, hoping I can use it for some sort of protection. I make it two steps before an amazingly bright column of light strikes the post directly in front of me incredibly hard, joined immediately by a deafening crack of thunder. Not even a full second later, four more bolts hit the ground around me as I make my way toward the building. Each one causes the island to tremor in reaction.
By the time I make it to the limited cover of the shed, lightning is crashing all around the island. I look out toward the river and see blue skies. The storm seems to be isolated to this island. Ten more thunderbolts crash in immediate succession.
“Cyrus!” I hear crackling through my headphones.
“Bruno!” I yell in return. “I’m okay!”
Thirteen crashes of light and noise follow my attempt to contact my companion. The building I’m leaning against is starting to feel warm. I place my ear against it and notice the whirring I had heard earlier get louder. Something’s going on in there. Something connected to this storm.
The brief silence is cut with a non-stop torrent of blinding flashes and deafening crashes. For approximately twenty minutes, I feel as though the world is ending as it crumbles around me.
And then it stops.
It’s silent, until I become aware, once again, of the loud whirring coming from the shed behind me and the heat escaping its confines. The clouds clear and a beautiful rainbow appears across the sky.
“Cyrus!” Bruno yells through my headphones.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” I answer with labored breath. “I’m still here.”
“What was that?”
“I’m not sure. But I think the island made it happen. Almost like it wanted the thunderstorm to hit only here.”
“If that’s what it wanted, it’s definitely what it got. I’ve been flying around the island for the last 30 minutes while this storm went on. Blue skies everywhere except for immediately above where you’re at.”
“What does that mean?”
“They did say this was a power plant, right? You think it’s possible they’re using lightning as a power source?”
“Is that even possible?” I look up to the giant television antennas. “Or safe?”
“No clue, kid. Science was never my strong suit. But if I had to guess, I’d say you’re in exactly the right spot. Now we’ve got to figure out how to turn the machine off.”
“Turn off a machine which runs on thunderstorms. Right. And how do you suppose I’m going to do that?”
“You said you’ve got two buildings down there, right? Looks like you’re going to have to break into them and see what they’re hiding.”
“And I suppose the only idea you’ve got is for me to use the bolt cutters you’re going to throw down at me, huh?”
“Incoming,” Bruno yells. A few seconds later I hear a thud about ten feet away from me.
“Could you have gotten it any closer?” I ask sarcastically.
“How’d I do?”
“Let’s say I’m feeling pretty lucky right about now. And wishing I had brought a helmet.”
“As long as you’re still alive, why don’t you crack one of those doors open and see what you can find.”
Go to Chapter Seven