Chapter 26:

Slide headfirst- a body in motion is faster. Safer

Castaway Isle

Miles below of a peaceful cave, to the coastline, the situation was only getting worse.

Food was getting low, even as they subsidized with what people could scavenge. People were getting tired, restless. All communication attempts were falling, failing. The crew was getting anxious, becoming normal scared people rather than the professionals they were trained to be.

The rescue wasn't coming fast enough at this rate.

Worse yet, if the upcoming weather schedule was to be believed, a storm was coming. Not just one storm.

The monsoons were coming.


"I told you guys, going down is easier than going up. Don't lag."

Fumbling around in the dark wasn't too different anywhere you go. It was dark and there were things in your way. It also did not help if you were sleepy as June and Mattie were.

Sophie had gotten them up by 4:30am in the god damn morning, stuffed some filling oats and fruit down their faces, and marched them back to their not so secret cavern path.

"Yea but we're still carrying stuff! It's heavy!"

"It's not that much."

"It's still stuff!"

While Sophie and Mattie carried their usual hiking backpacks it barely contained their supplies. Instead, it was mostly loaded with a variety of other mountain tubers and vegetables, with some empty grass baskets attached.

Even June was loaded down in the plain backpack she carried. Her pack was smaller and contained lighter fruits but it was still filled to the brim.

"Ok but why?" questioned Mattie, at least they had their hand free this time.

Going down really was easier but it also felt easier to slip. He gripped along the walls to reassure himself. Their flashlights shining the way over and down.

"We're being nice and bringing a little food down to the main group. We can even save and share a special portion for the shelter, you know as thanks for June." said Sophie curtly.

"Um...not that I disagree or anything but...." started June, unsure of what she was saying.

"But why? Sophie we know you, what are you up to?" filled in Mattie, suspicion rising.

There was no issue with simply sharing some food but with Sophie's odd silence, Mattie knew very well when his sister was plotting something.

Their time on the mountain valley yesterday showed to be more fruitful than they expected. The wild land produced more than they could possibly eat if they didn't mind a vegetarian menu. They weren't prepared to hunt nor did Sophie had any time to make traps yet. There was no short term fear of them going hungry though. Since it was mid-summer, the earth was ripe with fruits and edible plants. One just had to know where to look.

They had found a good variety of things, from small wild peanuts to squash pumpkins and gourds larger than their heads. Herbs were everywhere while the edible roots and tubers, while small, were plentiful.

Of course, Mattie and June didn't miss when Sophie threw seeds and tuber roots in certain spots, replanting them.

There was even a bamboo grove full of young fresh sprouts and mature possible building material.

Yesterday they had gathered, prepared and eaten past their limit in ripe nutritious vegetable dishes. Cooking them required some creativity but they handled it, no need to touch into Sophie's prepared rations except for some seasonings. Those things would need to stretch.

But it would only last for a season warned Sophie. They would still be able to gather through autumn but come winter and there would be little nothing to successfully forage. Sure they could save things away but they could not rely on their mountain valley alone.

"So that's it then? You scratch my back I scratch yours? We share some food now and they help us back later on? I know that can't be it, Sophie."

"Can't we just be nice Mattie? What do you think June?"

"I think this is a trick question and that Mattie is right. Look can you just let us in on the plan? We're not psycic like you here."

"I'm not really psychic June, and be careful about saying that from now on. Actually, stop saying it all together, it can be dangerous if someone thinks you're serious."

"Oh yeah, right sorry."

Overall though Sophie approved. Her siblings were sharp and improving, they could not stay as simply good as they were. You could never just take someone at just their word or do things 'just because'. What they didn't understand they should clearly ask Sophie.

"I wasn't kidding about sharing, we do need to network. We need to gain their trust, at least just enough to listen."

"Who? The attendants? I don't know what kind of trust we need to gain from the people crowding the shelter area." reasoned Mattie.

June subtly agreed, she had stayed with those people for a few days and nights. They weren't bad people but they were rather useless, either too old and too weak to go out and really work. To be fair she was one of them and would still be there if not for her older siblings picking her up.

"Yes and no- we need to cozy up to the attendants to get to the flight crew. But there's no harm in returning the favor at the shelter to those who helped us."

"There's someone or someones useful at the shelter isn't there Sophie?"


Once again Mattie was a quick reasoner, figuring out his older sister's motives. While June had somewhat of an instinctual feeling, she wasn't as quick or blunt as Mattie. It felt rude.

"Don't yell at Matt- he's not wrong. "

"But you can't just label people are useful or not useful!"

"And why is that?"

June's throat felt tight at the calm blank stare her sister turned towards her. The glare of the flashlight in the dark making her look all the more intimidating. She felt like a child trying to answer a question she didn't know in class.

"It''s just not right."

"Why? What is right or wrong? Being nice, fair and open to everyone? Not judging others? Something moral?"


"Think about it further June. What it would mean here, in a place with no laws or anything to keep you safe? Think about the thieves at the shelter that night, or how scared you felt the first few days. Did anything, or anyone, make you uncomfortable? Scared and uncomfortable? What does that mean?"

Sophie didn't raise her voice, not even once. It was plain and flat, bored even. But June could feel her pulse race. She was confused but rightfully fearful of recalling what Sophie prompted. Right, she must be more cautious and less naive or she would be taken advantage of, especially as a young girl. That must be what Sophie was trying to remind her of, she concluded.

"Alright, I got it."

"Do you? It's alright to keep chewing on it but as long as you get the gist of the idea. I'm sorry, this isn't a children's story."

"No, no I get it. Sorry."

Mattie patted June's shoulder in a bit of comfort but kept silent on the matter as they moved along. It's good if his little sister would be more aware. She was a young and pretty girl, and he would not be able to protect her at all times. Now if only Sophie were more aware of herself, he would truly be less worried.

Moving one.

"Alright, so the rundown is that we're raising favorability points on these two sides, am I right? But what's up with the flight crew? What do they need to listen to us for?"

Sophie considered her words carefully, what to answer Mattie in a way that was truthful but wouldn't panic him too much.

"They're going to try moving the planes and everyone further inland soon- the rainy season approaching is too much of a risk. The seas will get turbulent and wash up to shore- but something goes wrong."

"Oh god it always does. How wrong?"

"The more damaged plane. Something will blow. It's going to kill and injure a lot of the flight crew and some volunteers. Not being sexist here but, they were mostly adult men."

"Okay, that is awful regardless of however you wanna say it so just tell it to me straight. What happens if or when these guys die?"

"No captains no command. Control falls down the line, panic ensues. More bodies and injured but less salvageable resources when that engine explodes. Then there are fewer grown men around in general. What do you think the guys left, the ones who stayed on the sideline, are going to do?"

"Oh god no I don't want to think about where this is going."

"The remaining flight crew and attendants hold order the best they can, but it's a slippery slope. The captains are their commanding leader. And without the experts and engineers, I just don't know how badly that impacted our attempts at rescue communication. I don't know what will happen if we prevent this or if we can but, the longer the flight crew and captains live, the better. The more people in actual control of themselves keeping order, the better."

And then it was silent because what could either Mattie or June say to that? It was like watching a horror movie and they were just waiting for the characters to die. What could they do against something like this?

After they crossed the tide pool area, Sophie suddenly stopped walking, and turned back to ask them solemnly.

"Do you trust me? Even when I do or say something crazy? Will you trust me?"

She was no miracle worker, but being back in time was a miracle in itself. She wouldn't hesitate to use whatever advantages she could, even if that meant being the bad guy, or being seen as just plain crazy all over again. She just needed to know where her siblings stood if they were going to be weights rather than help on this.

June sniffed, but answered immediately when she could regain her senses again.

"Of course, of course, we trust you!"

Mattie sighed to that outburst but also agreed.

"Well, you know way more than us. I won't try to backseat drive here but please can we just not get into anything dangerous. Or try not to? The snake thing was not good for my blood pressure and I am too young for that."

With that Sophie could relax, just a little bit. She didn't want to tell them everything yet, she didn't think that she could. They would just have to take it a day at a time.

"Great, well let's slide down then. It's faster."

"Wait what?!" exclaimed Mattie.

But it was too late, Sophie had already sat down at a particular hole then disappeared.

"What! No you can't just pull shit like this out of nowhere, Sophie! Sophie? No June what are you doing?!"

"Um following Sophie-jie? We said we trust her, didn't we? So let's go. Also, I wanna test out the slide!"

"June you can't just go down strange dark-"

"Wheee!!!!!!! Oh my god it's really a sliiiiiiide"

Watching as the light from June's flashlight flicker and fade along with her voice, Mattie truely had to give up. He wasn't staying in the dark cave that's for sure. With no Sophie to guide the way, there was little to no choice left.

"....And they're gone....and I can't believe I'm doing this. Here goes nothing. "

The exit to the supposed slide was just a sort of sea cave, eroded and funneled over time. Perhaps it was once a vent to something more. But now it was just empty space, too smooth and slippery to climb up but suitable for humans to slide down. They landed not in the hidden grotto but somewhere to the side within viewing distance to it on the coastal rock.

By the time June and Mattie had gotten out Sophie was already up, gear out and waiting for them. The sun had not yet risen, but it was much brighter outside than in the caverns. The sky was lightening from darkness to shades of twilight blue and greys.

"What.....was that?" huffed Mattie."

"I told you going down was much easier," responded Sophie with a slightly raised eyebrow. It saved time, something they would always be short on. They would get used to it soon enough.

"Oh man that was awesome. I like going down a whole lot more, definitely following you wherever Sophie. "

Well, Mattie would, June had fun at least.

In the early morning, the tide was receded, making it easier to walk over rock and sand. Their previous path of wading through water was now just damp sand.

When all their gloves were on, Sophie instructed June to pick what shellfish and crustaceans she could find along the shore. Then she took Mattie with her towards the water, holding a thin-looking mesh net.

"Why are you dressed like that?" Mattie gulped as Sophie started taking off her outer layers and shoes. Underneath was just her swimwear, a practical surf suit but her legs were bare.

"If I'm stung by anything I'm fine. You, however, are not." she gestured to his rubber boots, those stayed on.

Between them, Sophie took one end of the net and entered the chilly water, going deeper and deeper till she was swimming. The seine net stretching between them.

Even through his boots, Mattie shivered, more from the thought than the actual cold. With the net they moved along the shoreline for a small distance before Sophie swam round, dragging the net in a circular shape. As she got closer to shore the net pulled in, showing squirming movement and splashing.

Fish! They were actually catching so many fish so easily! Most were small in these shallow waters but in the receded tide there were many of them stuck up here. The truly too small ones could escape through the holes in the netting.

In this way, they had caught over a dozen small to medium-sized fish as well as 3 sizable fat ones. Their catch went into the empty baskets with a bit of seawater to keep them fresh. Now Mattie understood why they brought them.

"That's amazing!" June called from the distance, viewing the show from where she was gathering.

Mattie and Sophie repeated this swim and fish method two more times.

"You okay there?" asked Mattie worriedly, towel already out and wrapping around Sophie when she deemed them finished.

She nodded. The water was cold before dawn but it was not so bad to her, it was still summer. Of course, it felt better to be dry and warm.

When the catch was organized, the netting folded back up and put away, and Sophie reasonably dried, the morning sun was half out. June herself had gathered a nice amount of mussels and various clams.

A portion of the good fish and all the clams were poured into the upper tide pools. hidden around the rock. This was their share that they could come back for. The shellfish also needed time to spit out sand to clean themselves. The rest were distributed into the baskets. Whatever was not fish or useful was washed out and thrown back to the sea.

"Do we have everything?" confirmed, Sophie, putting on her socks and shoes.

"Yeah....uh yeah. Oh wow that's a lot."

Mattie and June were still gaping at the sheer amount they were able to gather. It wasn't easy work but for what they got out of it, it was almost magical.

"You can't fish that way all the time, it would diminish the population. But since there's no one else but the birds getting to them, it's fine for a while. You should see what the fish look like in autumn."

"Yeah we got it, more fishes a coming."

June gave an awkward but excited thumbs up. She had seen how people tried fishing for the first couple of days. Most people were hungry amateurs with no experience, only ideas they had seen on television. For the most part, they turned up empty.

She could at least gather the shellfish on the shore to give those at the shelter a little something to eat. It wasn't much but it was better than the empty efforts of the wannabee fishers. What she has just witnessed Sophie and Mattie gather was much more than she had seen gathered in all the days she was on the beach in the shelter.

Oh yeah, she was so following Sophie everywhere. Her elder sister was already their hearts and minds of the household but now it was further cemented. With Sophie around, they really will be ok.

They left more than half the morning catch in the tide pools. To deliver so much food and freshly caught fish was just too suspicious, they couldn't risk it nor were they so generous. Mattie especially, he was already worried about how to explain this amount.

It took them about 45 minutes to walk from their shore, weighed down as they were, through the jungles and to where the planes were parked. However Sophie made them walk even further to round about, looking like they were coming from the other side of the beach rather than walking straight out the jungle.

By then the sun was up in the sky, around like that around 8 AM.

They were up so early and it was only around 8 in the morning. They were tired, heavy, and even still a bit damp in Sophie's case. Their faces partially covered in flu masks, hats or sunglasses, Sophie's orders. They made a bit of an odd sight but on an island of castaways, who didn't?

But to those awake, dry-mouthed and desperate, they looked like heroes.

The looked like prey.

The airline staff, stressed as they were, greeted them gladly as they approached straight towards the plane. Not only were these kids still okay but they had found and returned with provisions! The fish baskets were presented there and then but the siblings were soon herded to somewhere with a bit more privacy. Somewhere they could take out the vegetables in their packs and talk.

Those who were watching from afar with greedy eyes could no longer see a thing. But they had seen the fish, the possible food, and they were hungry.

It was all going according to plan.

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