Chapter 40:

Ch 40: Cravings- maker of invalids, criminals and fools. So many bright fools

Castaway Isle

It was like looking at a little family.

There was a tall speedy bike, made for a full grown adult male. An electric motor built in for any bursts of extra speed or whenever the rider was too tired or lazy to pedal. That one was Mattie's. The big bike.

There was a big bulky medium bike. The color was a lot brighter but the bike was wider. A true mountain dirt bike that could take a beating. A hybrid engine to supplement any needed pedaling with the touch of a handle grip. This pretty baby was June's. The medium bike.

Then there was the baby.

June desperately tried not to laugh out loud, snorting unflatteringly in her attempts.

The smallest and cutest bike was obviously Sophie's. It's pedals juuuust short enough for her itty bitty wittle legs to reach.

"June, breathe"

"I can't Mattie *hiiiiic* , it's just *wheeze*, so wittle. Oh look at the pwetti wittle basket it comes with *wheeze*."

There was a front wicker basket yes. While the rest of the bikes had an attachable luggage rack, the smallest bike had a classic front basket along with the usual back space. Out of all the bikes, it looked the most urban. A compact moped ready vroom and cruise down the main street carrying groceries. It also didn't help that the thing came in a shade of daisy fresh green.

"So adoowrable."

"Okay we get it, stop baby talking like that."

"So tinies, wait wait wait how come Sophie gets the cutest model and we get the rough and toughing it mountain bikes?"

Sophie didn't bother with talking, she just half climbed up June's bike, her much shorter limbs dangling. At that point, June couldn't hold back her tears, busting out in squealing laughter.

"Sooooo pathetically tiny!!!"

"They all have electric motors and dual capacities. This one just suits me the most." Sophie shrugged, getting her legs off the bike and righting it back up properly. "Mattie is the tallest and fastest, and June gets into more reckless accidents so thus your bikes."

"Hahaa- hey!"

"Sophie's right. You're more likely to break shit. You get the heavy one, I get the fast one."

"I don't break that much stuff..." June grumbled.

"Oh so you don't want the bike? What a shame, it really cost me so much. I suppose I could try to trade it off? There's not really a return center here but the airline crew would have a lot of use for-"

"No no no I am very good with this, love the bike. Thank you so very much Sophie <3!

"You are so full of shit"

"Omg look, Mattie didn't even say thanks. Sophie, you should take his bike away instead."

"You little piece of-"

Of course, none of them meant it, especially Sophie. They were joking but it was no laughing matter. This was their advantage. It didn't take a time traveler to see just how useful the sets of wheels were. At this point in time about everyone was stuck on an uninhabited island with no modern facilities. There were no cars, no subways, or anything of the sort. People who were used to such daily conveniences to the point they took them for granted were now stuck on foot.

Even a child's skateboard would be an improvement, though how well it rolled around the island jungle was another matter.

The bikes though were perfect for getting around this sort of terrain. They were sturdy things made for the outdoors and rough elements. Bikes would definitely up their daily productivity and reduce travel time by leaps and bounds.

Who else had something so useful!

"We're not alone actually," explained Sophie.

Other parties had shipped such things on the plane. A more surprising variety of things than the average flyer would think. That's where Sophie got the idea in the first place.

There was a man who paid to ship his vintage motorcycle but the thing had no fuel here to start and power it. They had taken the beautiful vehicle parts for its engine and spare parts.

A health conscious businessman and another family with young children had packed up and brought their personal bikes with them on this trip. Not only Sophie, everyone could see the difference these devices afforded to those lucky few.

Until they were either murdered or the wheels stolen. A natural procession of events after enough time. Even the kids were not spared, their childhood bikes far too small to fit the average adult but were stolen and scrapped anyways.

There was another vehicle but that thing was also useless without gasoline fuel.

Having something as seemingly common as bikes were far more useful in these times, the pedals were manual. This was an important thing for Sophie to consider when she selected the bikes at the outdoors supply store. The green electric motors on all the models could be charged with their generators. Worst comes to worst they could still pedal through things.

A certain wealthy man had brought a shiny hybrid golf cart. In the first few years, when the generators were still working, he reigned as a funny sort of obese lord. The only man with a workable vehicle. Fasted man on the island, tottering along on his fat ass in the tiny thing without tiring.

Amazing how long it took for his bodyguards to turn on him. You could only promise to pay someone for so long. There was a limit on abuse and use without true power. When your power was money, there was nowhere to deposit checks on the island.

"So it's cool then? That we have these out and in the open?" asked June.

What was to be kept secret? What was not? And for what reasons. The young girl was not stupid but these were scenarios she never thought she would have the account for. There was a lot of pressure, the staring. She would be a fool, not to notice the looks, a mixture of intentions and not all good.

"Hmmm it's fine. They'll know these are ours. Even if they want to steal them, everyone knows they are ours. It would explain some things better if people wonder where we've gone or how we disappeared."

"Because we're faster." finished Mattie, catching the clause that directly benefited him.

Sophie nodded, an excuse for Mattie's abilities was among not her original intentions. How could it be? An ability to manipulate time was impossible. But now it all worked out.

"Everyone's scouting and squaring up their neighbors and whoever else is around. It's normal, it just means people are waking up to this reality. Don't give them all our cards, don't give away our secrets, but you can't let them think you're completely helpless either."

Leverage shows of power, all these were integral parts of any war. Here on this little island was no different. Reduced down to a simple primitive state the longer they were out here, but no less desperate nor horrific.

War was a game with lives at stake and the board was all set up. Over 200 players, willing or not, were gathering up their pieces.

This time they would make it, she would win. No winner ever played fair in this game of no rules. So this time Sophie will sit on a throne of cheats and lies. This time it won't take 6 cursed years for her to gain a crown, a metaphorical seat at the big names, the leaderboard on this tiny island.

The siblings loaded their luggage up evenly, a balancing act on each bike. A little tricky given the size of each luggage but not impossible. It wasn't so much that was split up among the three of them. Besides, it wasn't their baggage that stood out, not when so many others had so much more of them.

It was the bikes that carried them. Even those who were preoccupied with themselves couldn't help but steal a glance. Soon they were off, their blurry figures speeding through the middle lands and tiny camps to the deep edges of the jungle.

That very speed was earning the envy of all those they passed, whether people knew it or not. For the most part, it was just that, simple envy. A whistle of how nice it would be to have that sort of tool or anything more than what they currently had. It wasn't serious, not yet.

But it started planting something in people.

It wasn't fear yet nor respect or anything close. Something different in each person, what kind of seed took root. Sophie could be patient. Could wait for seeds to sprout and even longer till they bore fruit. It was only the question of if this fruit was good as food or poison?

But seeds took a long time to grow.

For now, they finally had a good bulk of their personal items delivered into their hands. Clothing and various supplies Sophie had meticulously rolled and packed tight. Now it was just getting their belongings up to a safe place.

The bikes definitely cut down on travel time, but that was only to as far as the shore.

At that point they had to leave the bikes behind, hidden somewhere safe among sea rocks and cliffs. Then it was up the grotto, lugging along the heavy rolling packages.

Mattie was right, Sophie's strength has greatly improved over the days since first getting bitten by the snakehead. At this age, she would normally struggle walking a long distance with one medium luggage let alone carry up two extra large ones.

"Are you sure you guys don't need more help?" offered June, feeling a bit awkward watching her much shorter sister.

But the oldest two both smoothly shot her down. June's shoulder was still healing at a normal rate. They were the ones with venom once pumped through their veins, and it did something to them. Something awful or wonderful was yet to be seen, but they weren't going to take these little advantages for granted.

It was certainly a struggle going uphill through narrow caverns and over rocky barriers, enhanced anything or not. It was only another reminder to eventually do something about this inconvenient shortcut of theirs. Some way to make it just a bit easier to climb up.

"Okay so maybe not stairs but petition to carve something. Little rest stops every 12 steps or something!?" June panted, her siblings echoing her breaths.

"Great petition, how we gonna fucking do it?" huffed Mattie, bracing the extra weight against the wall for a water break.

"Save your breath. We'll figure it out later."

When they finally pulled themselves out of the darkness of the cavern, Sophie gave them no more than under an hour to rest up, put things away and grab whatever they wanted. Then it was back the hell down again.

There was no time to linger and unpack properly. June didn't even get to see a quarter of the goods Sophie managed to pack. Just accepted the change of extra clothes and feminine sanitary supplies like a good little child being nagged at.

"I am saving your life here. Literally."

"YES! I know and I'm very thankful. Thank you Sophie-jie now if you could please just...let it go."

"In case you don't know how to use the cup there are-"

"Oooooh my god SOphiE nooooooo. Just give me the pads and shit and I'll be good."

"It's downloaded on your phone if you find the file I-"

"Sophie pleeeeease I got it. I can figure out my own period, thank you."

All packed and ready to go, first as always, Mattie dared to turn around.

"Can I take off my headphones yet are you two still talking female blood rites?"

"Fucking shut it Mattie or I'll make you see your own blood!"

"Um yeah no, see as a guy that's not what my blood is supposed to do. It's supposed to stay nice and safe inside me, and oh oops too slow. Try again?"

Sophie sighed as she dragged an irate June back by the collar. So she could pack her own damn bag, instead of chasing after their brother like an old slapstick cartoon. It was a whole different level of unfairness if Mattie was using his newly founded abilities to roadrunner style tease their younger sister.

June will feel better after some pain killers. Sophie had packed a hell lot of pain killers for this very reason and much more to come. Packed a lot of shit even though she knew it couldn't possibly last them all 8 years.

Still, it was a lot more than what they had before, a lifetime ago. This was already a big change and the little tucked away pile of mundane supplies pleased Sophie greatly. Like an imaginary dragon with its treasure hoard.

But they weren't all Mattie, there just wasn't enough time to waste. They had to be on site below, they had to see the move and all the events leading up to the disaster. Where she could, Sophie would interfere, just enough to turn enough of the tide to their favor.

At least going down was a lot easier.


Breath in. Let it burn. Breathe out. Let it flow. Repeat.

It was a long day, a busier day than most when people were used to doing a whole lot of anxious nothing. But it was another good night of food. Those with provisions cracked them out with their unzipped luggage. Snack bags, regional souvenir goods, and just plain old familiar food passed around into waiting mouths and bellies. People were in a better mood, continuing the vibes from the previous night.

That's good, less stressful that way. People were already hard enough to read when they were 'normal' and full. Leave them hungry and they turn into feral grumpy versions of themselves. Or maybe this is just the way people naturally were.

Who knows, he's not a psychologist. May have studied a bit of it but really, not his department.

"That's a bad habit."

Ryo blew out a smooth swirling stream of smoke, barely looking up at the new voice approaching. He does not stop smoking. Not after this long. Besides, he did the socially polite thing of considerately moving away to a much less crowded place.

"So it is....Miss Sophie Quan was is? How goes the recovery on that snake bite of yours?"

"Nice memory. It's good as it can be Dr...I'm sorry. I never properly caught your name."

Breathe in. Breathe out.

The wisps of smoke float around, lingering above their heads, though he is polite enough to aim his breaths away from the former emergency patient. She doesn't show any signs of displeasure though. He can't see any reason to answer, but neither does her petite figure and calm presence displease him in return. She knows he knows she's lying, that much was clear.

"Don't know how much the doctor title holds up out here, so I just let people call me Ryo."

"Ryo it is then. Easier for your co-workers to pronounce?"

"Easier for everyone Miss. Quan. I don't suppose your parents named you Sophie out of convenience for the nice white American nurses writing your certificate."

"They did, read somewhere in that nice little English baby book that it meant wisdom and hoped the namesake would stick."

"Did it?"

"I'm not qualified to answer that for myself now am I? Is it just Ryo then...which character is it written with?"

He blows the afterburn up in the air, still needing to breathe, and shrugs. Mood better than it's been in days. Turning around he crouches low to the ground in a way his colleagues would call unbecoming. But it was comfortable, especially as he draws the character onto the sand.

"Cool, cold ....or desolate."

"It's whichever way you want to read it. "

"I don't think any parents want to name their child to be lonely."

"Maybe so, but then again, they could just be unaware. Can you read kanji? Or the Chinese root?"

"Mmm a little, but Chinese is easier to me. Parents are weird. They place such odd hopes in names and their children. Pass down all sorts of things, good and bad, hoping we do better than they did. Like we aren't just as likely to fuck up worse....Cool then. I think they named you after the kanji for cool and refreshing. "

She smiles in a polite manner, subdued but a little mirthful. As if she already knew but taking her time. Like she knew how to play the people game but at the same time, knew it was even a game in the first. Most people didn't. They just lived it, breathed it like it was natural.

So this one was another fake, a comrade in arms.

He offers her a cigarette.

Doesn't know why, when he has only so much of the good stuff packed away. Kept an electric one for more subtlety, for the environment, but damn it never scratched the craving quite right.

"It's a bad habit." she repeats.

"So it is."

It doesn't surprise him in the least when the cute seemingly little girl dips down to drag one of his precious cancer sticks out of the fresh box. It doesn't surprise him at all when she pops it between her peach-pink mouth and waits in silence, dark eyes staring straight up at him.

It's not an uncomfortable silence.

He lights her up, steady hands not trembling even a bit. A surgeon's hands. Then lights a new one for himself, the last one burnt to the stub. Fuck it, he deserves this much after the week he's had.

"You look older like that" she breathes smoothly, not choking even once.

"As if you can talk. At most people may call me kid but in an insulting way. They most likely legitimately think you're a grade schooler like that."

She tilts her head and hummed in response. The contrast of an overly childish expression doesn't match up with the flow of her neck, the easy breathing of smoke and fire, but it's her blank eyes that give her away. They were very familiar.

"Hmm they'll see what they want to see."

"That they will."

Ryo only started smoking because he never felt as grown up as everyone made him out to be. Prodigy, genius, something prestigious like that. Made his parents 'proud' of him, made him worth something measurable. Made his teachers and mentors beam with something he could never relate to.

He kept smoking because it felt like something. Anything. Even if it was a type of poison. So was alcohol. So was a lot of things. Took the edge off anything, including that thing people called stress.

Besides, he didn't have to bother talking. Trying to play nice with a stick in his hands, his mouth.

"I hear you're busy looking over the rotters."

"I am. Not much else to do out here."

Inhale. Exhale. It doesn't get much easier than this.

"Not unless I want to make medical Uber calls to everyone who cries stomach ache."

"It is a very real issue. Dysentery could be spreading."

"Who knows what people are trying to drink. I hear you and your cute little brother and sister are the vegetable dealers."

"It's nothing. Foraging where people won't look. They're looking for coconuts and bananas like it's a cartoon island. I don't know how we're dealing when we're not getting any payment back."

"Not yet at least. Hiding the lasting tree roots and good stuff for yourselves?"

"Ding ding ding. Where do you find the time to figure it all out Ryo?"

He chuckles after she does, not finding talking too much of a bother. Maybe it's the smoke. It was easier to break past the awkward bullshit in the smoke room. The company wasn't always better but it was something a little rawer, a little closer to being real.

"Have to take a break sometimes, other things to see and dig besides bodies and graves. There's only so much I can do when they're already dead. Nothing much I can do for the living and hungry, not my department"

"What is your department then? Fixing people? Finding what's wrong with them"

"Easier said than done."

When she giggled, it sounded dry and velvet, revealing her true age rather than the one she was playing in front of most others.

He gets it, gets how it's far just easier to play a part. Keeps the real you safe, it's smarter that way.

The young woman in front of him was looking much healthier, better each time he saw her. She was healing well then. Whatever effects that snake bite had was taken care of in time. It would be a shame if a girl like her lost an arm or her life.

" I hear you're looking for a murderer."

"Not my department. But I do advise, what I see, what I can construct from the evidence. I hear you...are riding some very good stuff."

"This..." she takes the stick, tapping off the excess ash into the light night wind "this is good stuff."

" This" he exhales back "is a stupidly difficult brand to import. But it's no bike, let alone what 3? One for each of you? "

"One for each of us. To deal all those vegetables after all. "

"I'm going to have to ask for a ride sometime as payment " Ryo half teased, it would be useful.

"Hmm it will depend on your fare- then we'll call it even?"

"Pleasure doing hypothetical business with you Miss. Quan."

They don't shake on it or any binding formalities. He thinks the smoke is enough, swirling up and around like little snakes. Hard to tell where one stream started and ended.

"I do worry though Mr. Advisor, if the culprit has been caught. My neck is a rather delicate thing."

He would disagree with that statement. It was a pale slim thing, looked easily breakable, but her cervical vertebra was no weaker than the average person in their age range.

"I wouldn't worry, the victim was an older gentleman, as you must have heard. You're entirely the wrong demographic."

"Perhaps...but I am statistically very much at risk being a young female."

"Big hands big man, at least that's what one would guess looking at the strangulation marks. Unless they're a certain type of pervert called serial killer, I'd say you're as safe as a girl can be in the dark with a man she doesn't know."

She laughs again and it's a little dark. He finds he doesn't mind the sound, the way it rings without grating on his sensitive ears. Her scent through the smoke neither too strong or pungent despite being trapped without any hot showers for weeks. In fact, it smells rather nice, how women always magically seemed to make themselves smell decent, sweet even.

"Did the gentleman have family with him?"

"Yes, does it matter?"

"I'm no Sherlock but according to the classics, you always suspect the ones closest to the victim."

And he does, there's something awkward about the daughter, about her reaction. That's not the way the human game goes, how one is supposed to react when they find out their father is dead, no matter how sour their relationship might have been. But it's not his department, Mrs. Cruz and her crew are handling that. Big hands, big man, that's who they're looking for.

"An adult daughter, the suspect they're looking for is male."

"Does she have a boyfriend? Someone, to reach the tall part of the shelf, open tough jars, and take away the dirty trash?"

She plays with the still burning stick as if it were a lollipop and as rigid as he may be around living talking people, he's man enough to admit it looks cute. She'd make a nice picture somewhere, maybe one of those Tokyo fashion magazines.

"Says she doesn't. But sure is close to a particularly big guy."

"Some baldie that likes his black muscle tees too much? I've seen them too. Pretty sure more people can hear them when they go at it. "

"What is that you wish to gain from me, Miss. Quan?"

For some reason, he gulps when she turns to stare at him. It's not like she's the most intimidating sort of person he's ever encountered, but maybe that's what made that tingle, that warning go straight up his spine.

She looks at him like one looks upon a silly child, and he doesn't know if it's his false senses or something else. He can't ever read people subtly when it's directed to himself. Put him in a room of strangers and he'll guess their every motive. Ask him why this or that person is bad at him and he has no idea, he can only follow a pattern of social behaviors and lucks out on the routine most of the time.

His hands itch to light another cigarette and he does. Palms sweaty but from what? Anxiety? There was nothing triggering, nothing that deep.

"It's a bad habit." she finishes, flicking the used up cigarette into the sea.

"So it is." Ryo agrees once again, falling back into easy. Inhale, exhale. Breathe in, breathe out.

"More bad things are going to happen. In a place like this, if help doesn't come. There's only going to be more bodies to burn."

"Yes, statistics and common sense would say that would be the case."

"What are the chances something will go wrong then, the day they try to move those broken planes?"

"Not my department.....but judging from the state the first carrier landed in. Chances are high."

"You say that a lot, like you're not terribly intelligent in more ways than a few concentrations."

That's all he's good for. That's the trade-off. All eggs in one basket with little variations. He graduated highschool before puberty even hit. All his peers were decades older than him. People admire him, they admonish him. He doesn't know what else he is or why it matters. People only want what benefits them, and luckily for him what he concentrates in is a benefit to the hospitals and organizations that sponsor him. Smart in all the right ways, the rest could be overlooked.

"You're more than smart. Trust those around you a bit more, those security looking vests hang on your every word you know. Even if they can't understand you at first. If you say so, they'll listen, at least consider and chase your statement."

Not a lot surprises him anymore, not even people. They followed patterns, give or take the culture. Tokyo was very different than New York which was different than Paris and so forth. Like languages. People spoke in irregular rules that could be memorized and regurgitated.

So it takes his brain a bit longer to process the surprise when this strange girl steals the cigarette between his lips. Just slipped and pulled the lit thing away, her soft fingers felt warm where they brushed.

"So let's use each other."

His throat feels dry even without him doing anything. By themselves, he comprehends her words but together they make little sense. Like listening to a language he has yet to master, to practice using.

What he can process is the smoke blown into his face and the soft condescending pat on his shoulder as she rights herself up and walks away. It burns from the outside. His stolen cigarette now filling, poisoning, her lungs.

"Pleasure doing hypothetical business with you, just Ryo."

When his throat releases, when he can breathe again he gets up to yell out toward her retreating form. Lines to their script reversed, his mouth now feeling far too empty.

"It's a bad habit!"

"So it is!"

Sophie agreed with that, it really was a bad nasty habit. A part of her relishes the short-lived drag and burn of it, him, anyways.

When it's burnt too low, she crushes the dying embers under her boot.

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