Copyright 2014 © Noor A Jahangir
There is nothing remarkable about the boy sitting in window seat C1 of Flight X4573. Not in
his plain South-Asian features, nor in his common clothing. He is just some kid.
He is a middle child, which means he’s missed out on being a defining moment for his
parents, an honour singly owned by first-borns. His ‘needs to try harder’ and ‘has potential
but needs to apply himself’ report card will never measure up against his sister’s ‘exceeds
expectations’ and ‘best student I’ve ever had’ epitaphs. Even his position as ‘the family’s
baby’ has been usurped by his younger sister, born two short years after him.
Worse, he doesn’t even have a ‘thing’, a talent or gift that makes him unique.
He is the one whose name the teachers always have trouble remembering. Even his own
parents seem oblivious to his existence.
Yet this very boy is about to embark on the most unlikely adventure a person can
experience in the twenty-first century. When it’s all over and his classmates read about him
in the national newspapers, they will have great difficulty in believing that it actually
happened to him. You see, nothing ever really happens to this kid; that is until now.
1. MIDNIGHT FLIGHT
Things started to go pear-shaped for Zach Caan when a Madrid airport security officer
mistook him for an infamous baby-faced terrorist.
The teachers who had accompanied his class on the trip to Spain waited until the last
minute before boarding the flight home. Getting the rest of the kids home was apparently a
bigger priority than preventing Zach from being incarcerated in the Spanish equivalent of
Guantanamo. Mrs Stevens, a parent governor who had come along as a chaperone, agreed to
wait with her thick-necked daughter, Erica, for airport security to clear Zach.
It took the authorities five hours to realise that he was just a terrified thirteen year old called
Zach Caan from Affrington, rather than a threat to national security. But his booked flight
had already arrived in Manchester and his classmates were probably sitting in the comfort of
their homes. After a great deal of exasperated sighing, the airline agreed to transfer them onto
the next flight, which would start boarding in another hour. Erica and her mum glared at Zach
as if it was his fault that he had been interrogated for five hours in a room small enough to be
called a cupboard, by an overzealous airport security guard.
Erica pointed at him and smacked a meaty fist into an open palm. Zach gulped. Erica had a
twelve inch height and twelve pound weight advantage over him. Rumour had it that she
spent three nights a week training in Brazilian Jujitsu, and that she had broken her last
sparring partner’s wrist with an arm-bar. Zach on the other hand had clocked a couple
hundred hours of Tekken on his PSP, though he doubted his virtual experience would amount
to much in the real world. Zach thought it prudent to hide in one of the larger duty free shops
that sold books, dvds and video games. He browsed half-heartedly, knowing he didn’t have
enough Euros to buy a chocolate bar, let alone a full-priced game.
Half an hour later, the worst storm ever recorded in Western Europe blotted out the skies.
Zach watched in horror as the word cancelled clattered down every destination on the
departures monitors. To make matters worse, the batteries on his PSP went dead at about the
With all flights out of Madrid grounded, Zach spent the day avoiding Erica and browsing
through the selection of newspapers and magazines abandoned by fellow travellers. Most of
them just happened to be in Spanish, a language that he sucked at despite three years of
classes. In the end, he lay down across a set of grey seats and dropped off to sleep.
He awoke a few hours later when an airport official announced that he had found seats for
Zach and the Stevenses on a small charter flight. The plane was headed to London instead of
Manchester, but it was the only flight going out tonight.
‘Esta en England, no?’ responded the official when Mrs Stevens tried to explain the
geography to him.
‘Yes, but it’s over two hundred miles from where we live.’
‘Puede montarse este avión, o puede esperar hasta que mañana y ver si hay un disponible
entonces.’ You can get on this plane, or you can wait until tomorrow and see if there is one
available then. Take my advice, get on the plane.
Zach sighed; he didn’t want to spend the night in the terminal with only a grouchy Spaniard
and the Stevenses for company. Apparently, they felt the same way about him. And so he
came to be seated in a plush leather-upholstered seat, with a large port-window and teak
panelling, a short distance from the man who had enough money to charter a private jet and
enough clout to convince the officials to allow them to take off.
He craned his neck in an attempt to memorise as much detail as he could. No one he knew
had ever been in a luxury jet before. Perhaps the coolness of the experience would grant him
a few hours of popularity back at school. Zach was resolute that he would forego sleep just so
that he could enjoy every minute of luxury he could take in.
Sitting towards the front of the cabin was the money. A tall athletic man in a burgundy
turtle-neck and a sharp, black suit jacket and pants was stabbing out an email on his
smartphone whilst barking out a staccato of dictions to his assistant. All he could see of her
from his seat were a slim set of legs sticking out into the aisle with a tablet computer
balanced on her knees. The other passengers were a few scary looking, square-shaped guys
that had to be bodyguards, and one other man who was sat towards the back of the cabin, his
face mysteriously hidden under a wide-brimmed hat.
Outside his window large dollops of rain pounded the blade-shaped wing like a powershower.
The ground-crew looked thoroughly miserable, their fluorescent coats plastered to
their skin, as they rushed about to make sure that all the baggage was loaded and the plane
was fuelled and ready to go.
Finally, the seat-belt light came on and the engines powered up with a thrum that vibrated
deeply through Zach’s body. The plane began to tax along the runway, but all he could see
was the grey of the rain against the black of the night. An invisible force pushed him into his
seat as the plane accelerated. The cabin floor tilted back as the plane shook with the effort to
get its bulk off the runway, like an obese chicken trying to catch some air. The aircraft
juddered a couple of times before it levelled out. Zach waited for his ears to pop like they
were supposed to but nothing happened.
‘Ladies and gentleman, I am Leopold Nicadimus, your Captain today,’ came a nasal drone
over the plane’s PA system. ‘Flight X4573 is now under way. We will be arriving at our
destination, London Stansted Airport, in approximately two hours. Please remain in your
seats for the duration of the flight. Thank you.’
The plane banked until the wing on Zach’s side dipped towards the grid of lights far below
them. That must be Madrid, thought Zach. The inbound flight had been on a larger jumbo jet.
On this little executive jet, Zach thought he could actually feel the shifting pull of gravity as
the plane levelled out. The view turned to grey on black.
Zach yawned. There were a number of large television screens around the cabin but nobody
had thought to switch them on. With his PSP still dead there was nothing for him to do. In a
couple of hours he would be stuck in another airport. He wondered what his dad would say
when he found out that he would have to drive down to London to pick Zach up. His dad was
a taxi driver. He worked most nights of the week and slept during the day. He clocked a
couple hundred miles a night, but would grumble like a man in torment if he had to give his
family a ride anywhere. One thing was certain. He wouldn’t be saying, ‘No problem, kiddo,
I’ll set off straight away.’
* * *
For someone who’d planned to stay awake for the duration of the flight, Zach slept for an
awful long time. So long, in fact, that it registered even in his dream state. Someone should
have woken him up by now. Oh no, they’d forgotten him again. Zach’s eyes snapped open. He
unbuckled his belt and anxiously glanced around. The cabin was empty. Arggghhh.
He grabbed his backpack from the overhead storage compartment and stumbled along the
aisle toward the light that was flooding in through an open door. Still feeling thick from
sleep, he squinted as he scrambled down the steep metal steps.
‘Wait for me,’ he called blindly, shading his eyes with an arm against the glare.
His eyes finally adjusted and he looked about.
This wasn’t London Stansted.
This wasn’t even England.
Thick foliage and trees competed for every inch of space that Zach could see. Wild animals
called to each other as strange birds shrieked amongst the trees. No; this was definitely not
The air was undulating with flying insects and the heat felt like big hand pushing him down.
He could feel his eyes bulging in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening. This isn’t happening,
he tried to convince himself. A mosquito landed on his nose and helped itself to some of his
blood. Zach screamed and ran back up into the plane, down the aisle, threw his backpack into
the overhead storage, jumped into his seat and closed his eyes. Clearly he was still asleep,
experiencing a frightfully realistic nightmare.
‘You need to wake up, Zach. For God’s sake, wake up,’ he told himself. His heart was
playing jungle drums and he was struggling to breath. Oh god, he was having a panic attack.
Come on, Zach, he told himself, long deep breaths.
The sound of many feet running up the steps reassured him that he had indeed overslept.
The airport people had realised their mistake and had come back to collect him. He would be
gracious and thank them politely and apologise for being a nuisance. Maybe they’d give him
a free connecting flight to Manchester.
‘Are you alright?’ asked a nice voice.
Zach opened his eyes and found a pretty face hovering over him.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep, ‘ he began explaining.
‘I thought I heard a girl screaming,’ said a male voice.
‘I . . . ‘ began Zach before realising that the woman wasn’t dressed like an air hostess. This
was the rich guy’s assistant. Why had she come back to the plane?
‘We shouldn’t have left him here alone,’ said the pretty assistant, turning to whoever was
She smells great, thought Zach.
‘It’s alright. I just had a strange dream . . .’
‘The kid’s had a nightmare? That’s what all the fuss is?’ said a third voice, this one with a
‘I thought the plane had somehow crash-landed in a jungle and I . . .’
Realisation arrived like an unwanted, sloppy kiss from an aunt you never knew existed until
a moment ago. The guy behind the lady was another passenger, one of the square-shaped
dudes. Zach turned his head and looked out through his window. Tarmac, planes and grey
airport buildings. All the things that were missing from the view. Most of the jet’s wing was
also missing, a ragged stump telling of a violent amputation.
Green, green, green. It was everywhere. Zach groaned. He was going to throw up.
The assistant lady, Pauline Tate, sat beside him, glossy legs crossed at the knees. She really
did smell good, like sugar and spice and all things nice. Zach’s eyes were riveted to her face;
glossy baby-pink lipstick and deep-blue eyes.
‘. . . and there’s no sign of the pilot either. So we have no idea where “here” really is,’ said
Pauline. ‘But Mr Glory will know what to do. He’s really good in high pressure situations.
When everyone else was panicking at the start of the financial downturn, Mr. Glory knew
exactly what to do to make sure the company didn’t go under.’
Theodore Glory, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Power and Glory Sports and
Outdoor Gear. He was like, only one of the richest men in Britain. Everyone knew Theodore
Glory from his television adverts, grinning like some mad Scandinavian mountain man,
dangling single-handed from a rock face, or snowboarding on the back of an avalanche or
surfing a tsunami-sized wave. Zach hoped he wasn’t really the insane extreme sports junky
he appeared to be in his marketing campaigns.
‘Are you feeling better now?’ asked Pauline.
Zach nodded. For some reason his tongue had swollen up to fill his mouth from when
Pauline had sat down with him. Pauline offered him a hand, which he took eagerly into his
own. Her hand was cool and soft. His was warm and sweaty.
Zach followed Pauline out of the plane and onto the jungle floor. The ground was heaving
with cockroaches, beetles and ants, but Pauline didn’t seem too bothered. Zach winced as
things crunched under his trainers with every step. The two heavyset guys, one black and one
white, were unloading luggage, whilst Erica and her mum sorted through them for anything
that could be useful. Theodore Glory had found himself a rock to stand on and was calling
out instructions to the others. The last passenger, the man with the wide-brimmed hat, was
building a fire. He was wearing a beige trench-coat despite the humidity.
‘Mr Glory, this is Zach Caan, the boy who was left behind,’ called Pauline.
Mr Glory turned his leonine head their way and flashed a brilliant white smile at them.
‘Pauline, I’ve told you to call me Ted. Out here, the formalities of our busy corporate world
are redundant. The trials and ordeals of the coming days will draw us all together in a bond
closer than family, forged by hardship, despair, pain, and yes, perhaps even death,’ said Ted
Great, thought Zach, the boss-man thinks he’s out here on a corporate team-building
‘Okay, Ted,’ said Pauline, smiling shyly up at her employer.
‘Well, Zachy boy, what do you do?’ asked Ted, focusing his intense gaze on Zach.
‘What do you mean? I’m thirteen. I don’t do anything. I just go to school,’ replied Zach.
‘Yes, but what skills do you have? Are you good with a bow? Do you know how to tie a
knot? Are you a climber?’
‘Erm, I got a killstreak of ten once on Horizon Commando 2,’ said Zach.
That had mostly been a fluke. He had accidentally pressed a button on his game-pad against
his thigh and dropped a grenade into a huddle of enemies that had just respawned.
Pauline laughed, making Zack feel like he had swallowed a mouthful of butterflies. He
would do anything to hear her laugh again.
‘Right,’ said Mr Glory, ‘well, why don’t you collect some firewood and take it to Swift
Zach glanced over at the man in the trench-coat, who raised his head at the mention of his
name. Mr Swift nodded, his dark eyes catching the light and twinkling mysteriously. The
man had the longest chin Zach had ever seen. It was grizzled with brown stubble and had a
dimple in the middle. It looked wide enough to dig a hole with. Zach looked away quickly.
He didn’t look like the kind of guy that wanted to be stared at.
‘Erm, where shall I get wood from?’ Zach asked Mr Glory.
‘We’re in a jungle, boy.’
‘Right?’ said Zach, it wasn’t as if he had a chainsaw in his backpack.
‘Try looking around the back of the plane. We hit a few trees when we landed,’ said
Zach plodded toward the back of the plane, keeping a safe distance away from the scary Mr
Swift. He could swear that the man was watching him from under his hat. Hopefully, he
wasn’t some psycho killer or worse, a paedophile.
The plane hadn’t just hit a few trees. It had cut a two hundred and fifty foot wide swathe
through the jungle, leaving a trail of devastation for half a mile back. Huge primordial giants,
now reduced to splintered stumps, sprinkled the jungle floor like a giant bowlful of Shredded
Wheat. Zach felt like throwing up again. How had he managed to sleep through that? He had
been secretly hoping that they had just overshot London by a few hundred miles and crashed
into one of the Eden Project’s tropical bio domes. Fat chance of that being the case now. So
where were they? The only jungles he could remember off the top his head were the Amazon
and the Congo. Geography wasn’t one of his good subjects at school.
Zach got an armful of branches together and then trekked back to the camp to deposit them
near Mr Swift, before heading back for more. It was hot work. Either his clothes had melted
or they were already soaked through with sweat. All he wanted to do was get back on the
plane and have a glass of cola to cool off. Why on earth did they make him collect wood for a
fire in this heat? They could cook eggs on what was left of the jet’s wings.
‘When night falls, the fire will keep most of the animals away from here. Plus the electricity
is down in the plane, so if you want hot food, this is how you’re going to get it,’ said Mr
Did that guy just read his mind? Creepy or what? Mr Swift had some sort of American
accent, but he couldn’t narrow it down to a particular state.
‘I’m Canadian,’ said Mr Swift.
‘All right, stop doing that. Stop reading my mind,’ said Zach. Did he just say that out loud?
‘I don’t need to read your mind, son. Your ignorance is written all over your face. Sit down
here – or Ted will find you something else to do.’
Zach found himself obeying without knowing why. Up close, he noticed that Swift had a
scar that ran diagonally from just beneath his right nostril and across his lips along the left
side of his grizzled face. Swift smiled conspiratorially.
‘You know, not one of us was awake on the plane when it crashed,’ said Swift, ‘The pilot
must have bailed out whilst the plane was still in the air.’
‘What are you saying? This wasn’t an accident?’ asked Zach, the horrible sickly feeling
growing in his stomach.
Swift just carried on smiling.
‘Whatever,’ said Zach, pushing himself back up onto his feet.
‘Whatever indeed,’ mumbled Swift.
* * *
By the time it started to get dark, all the useful stuff had been extracted from the luggage
and the rest put back in the hold. Pauline and Swift were heating foil encased food packages
over the fire. Television dinners for the stranded. Everyone had gathered around and watched
the foil parcels with hungry eyes. The jungle noises had lessened, a change of shift perhaps,
as the day predators turned in and the night predators roused themselves for their evening’s
work. Zach was sitting between the two heavies, Isaac, the black one, and Sven, the white
one. He figured that they could probably take down a bear together, so this was the safest
spot in the jungle.
‘Steak and beans,’ called Swift, throwing two silver parcels at Sven and Isaac.
‘Pasta with grilled vegetables. Sorry, Zach, there’s no Halal meals on-board,’ said Pauline,
placing it before him and pressing a steel fork into his hand.
There was more pasta for Pauline and the Stevenses, a steak and beans for Swift and a cold
tin of caviar for Ted Glory, which he ate with a mini dessert spoon. They all ate in silence,
content to keep their thoughts to themselves for the time being. Zach glanced at the others,
the light from the fire creating strange shadows on their faces. Ted Glory cleared his throat.
Another rousing speech, thought Zach, or more likely something that’ll send us to sleep.
‘We have a decision to make. Normally, I would expect everyone to do as I say, but this
situation calls for a little democracy. We are, after all, stranded together in an unknown
location. By now, I am sure, the company will have alerted the Home Office and started to
pull together a search and rescue operation. The obvious and most logical course of action,
therefore, is to stay by the plane. It’s easily the largest visible object from the air. The onboard
homing beacon has its own power source and is probably already transmitting our
location. I suggest then that we stay close to the plane and wait for rescue.’
Mrs Stevens clapped her hands in agreement. The others made less dramatic signs of
approval; except Swift.
‘There are a few problems with that plan. This is an old plane and is likely still carrying an
older doppler system, which relies on a low-level satellite passing over our location. That
could take a while. Also, judging from the heat and the kind of plants out here, we must be
near to the equator, which means we’ve flown hundreds of miles off course. We must have
been unconscious for at least seven to ten hours, whilst our flight was being diverted. Now,
I’ve been to Africa, and I’ve lived in South America and in Indonesia. The kind of critters I’ve
seen here are from none of those places. In fact, they all seem to be new species, at least as
far as I can tell,’ said Swift.
‘What are you saying?’ asked Pauline.
‘I’m saying that by my reckoning, we’re pretty much off the map of the ‘known’ world. I’d
say somewhere in the South Atlantic.’
‘Anything else you’d like to add, Swift?’ asked Ted Glory, not pleased with being secondguessed.
‘It’s like you said. This plane is the biggest thing for miles around. If there are any natives in
the region, well, they would have to be deaf and blind not to have seen the plane coming
down. We may have visitors by tomorrow morning.’
As if on cue, drums began to beat in the distance.
3. MEET THE NATIVES
Zach felt his stomach turn to water, his recent meal threatening to come out one way or
another. Everyone was on their feet, glancing around anxiously. Sven and Isaac had guns in
their hands. The Stevenses were hugging each other, well, at least Mrs Stevens had her arms
around Erica – she was trying to push her mother away.
‘Calm down, everyone,’ said Ted Glory, ‘we’re fine until the drums stop. Right, Swift?’
Swift nodded, but didn’t look convinced.
Swift and Sven took the first watch as the rest retreated back into the plane. The reclining
leather seats and couches were more comfortable than Zach’s bed at home. Plus, Ted Glory
reckoned the plane was a better defensive position, meaning he didn’t think the ‘savages’
would be able to get in once the door was locked.
Everyone was on edge, so Zach wasn’t alone in struggling to find sleep. The only
exceptions being Erica, who was snoring the minute she lay down her square head.
Eventually, Zach grew used to the steady beat of the drums and drifted asleep. In his
dreams he was still on the plane but no one else was on-board. He looked out of the window
and found that they were airborne again. Zach unbuckled his seatbelt and wandered around
the passenger cabin looking for something to do, before trying the door to the cockpit.
Air rushed in through the broken windscreens, pushing against him as he forced his way in.
Someone was sitting in the pilot seat, a captain’s hat sitting jauntily on a head of curly hair.
‘Where is everyone?’ asked Zach. The pilot turned in his seat and looked back at him. Zach
felt like his eyes were about to bug out of his head. It was his dad. ‘What are you doing
‘This is the thanks I get for driving out all the way here to pick you up?’ replied his father.
He stood up and belted on a white parachute bag then began to climb out of the broken
‘What are you doing?’ shouted Zach running forward to pull him back into cockpit.
His father’s reply was lost in the noise of the wind, but he pointed towards the back end of
the plane. Then, before Zach could ask anything else, his father leapt off the nose cone and
disappeared from sight. Zach backed out of the cockpit and turned to return to his seat. It was
then that he realised that the rear of the plane was shredding away leaving a gaping white
maw in its place. Suddenly, the carpeted floor disappeared from beneath his feet and Zach
found himself in free-fall . . .
Zach lurched in his seat, momentarily weightless as his body transitioned from sleep to
wakefulness. The drums were still beating and but otherwise the cabin was quiet. It was dark
but for the few bars of moonlight filtering through the windows. Swift was back in his seat so
the watch must have changed, which meant that he had slept for at least three hours.
Zach felt strangely alert and unwilling to go back to his weird dreams just yet. He rose from
his seat and crept along the aisle to the door. It had been left open to allow for air to circulate
through the cabin.
Pauline was sitting on a camp stool by the fire. She was swaddled in blankets and had her
back to the blaze. Her face was turned up towards the heavens, raptly watching the last star
disappear as the sky grew lighter. Clearly he had slept for a lot longer that he thought he had.
Isaac was walking around the perimeter of the clearing created by the plane, wielding his
gun and a torch with one hand crossed over the other, just like in the movies. Zach thought
about joining Pauline but felt too intimidated by her beauty to approach her. Instead he went
over and joined Isaac.
‘Hey, Isaac, what’s happening?’ asked Zach, in the most nonchalant voice he could muster.
Isaac had taken off his suit jacket and shirt, revealing his thick, muscular arms and ripped
chest beneath a white vest. He had one of those faces that were scary and friendly at the same
time, depending on what his lips and heavy brow were doing. Right now his brow was
bunched up in knots over wary eyes, his senses focused on the job, whilst his lips pulled back
in a toothy smile to let Zach know that he wasn’t going to shoot him for approaching.
‘Stay to my left side and keep your voice down.’
Zach felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It was a first for him and he didn’t like
it. He stared wide-eyed into the shadows that resided beneath the jungle canopy.
‘What’s up?’ asked Zach.
‘Nothing, I thought I heard something, that’s all,’ replied Isaac, his face relaxing a little,
though his shoulders remained tense.
Zach hated it when adults lied to make him feel better. His mum and dad did it every time
they got a bill that they couldn’t afford to pay. He was just about to tell Isaac as much when
he found himself staring at a painted face, almost completely camouflaged against a tree
trunk. The face blinked in surprise. Zach shrieked.
‘Back to the plane,’ roared Isaac, firing off a couple of rounds into the jungle.
‘What’s the matter,’ said Pauline jumping up in fright.
‘Cannibals,’ yelled Zach, grabbing her arm as he ran by her.
Animalistic screams filled the clearing as the undergrowth parted to reveal a large number
of painted bodies, wielding bows and an assortment of hand-held weapons. Pauline suddenly
dropped, pulling Zach down with her. She had a feathered dart sticking out of her left
shoulder. He got back to his feet and tried to drag her forward, but she was too heavy for him.
Isaac was just a few steps behind them.
‘I’ve got her. You just get up them steps,’ said Isaac.
The big man hauled Pauline on his shoulder with one hand and carried on running. Now
Zach was the one trailing. Something zipped by his ear, Zach bent down low and pumped his
legs as fast as they would go. He could hear sharp things whistling towards him. He climbed
quickly into the plane as darts and arrows clattered against the scuffed white hull. The door
slammed shut behind him.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Erica, rubbing her eyes, looking annoyed.
‘We’re under attack from cannibals,’ shouted Zach in reply.
Ted Glory, Sven and Isaac all had guns in their hands and stood with them aimed at the
door Zach had just come through. Swift was bent over Pauline, who lay on a couch, still
unconscious. For a while they listened quietly to sound of the natives trying to smash their
way in, clambering all over the plane. A loud crack from the front of the aircraft sent Isaac
running to lock the cockpit door. The screams of their attacker’s reached a crescendo and
then suddenly fell silent.
‘What are they doing?’ whispered Mrs Stevens.
‘Nothing. They’re just standing there. Don’t worry, we’ve got enough food to wait these
savages out for a few days and by then my team will have located us,’ replied Glory.
‘What we don’t have is the antidote to the toxin that is making its way to Pauline’s heart,’
said Swift quietly. ‘I’m betting that they do. So, we either sit tight and let Pauline die, or we
go out and meet the natives.’
‘We have to save Pauline,’ said Zach without considering what that would entail.
‘The kid’s right,’ said Isaac.
‘You don’t have an opinion, understand? You work for me. Whatever I say goes. Now it’s a
shame about Pauline, I really liked her, but there’s no point in the rest of us dying too,’ said
‘Stop talking like she’s already dead,’ shouted Zach. ‘She’s lying right there. If she dies it’s
going to be our fault as much as theirs.’
For a while, everyone looked at each other, some with fear, some with anger. Ted Glory
didn’t look convinced, but Swift stood up and put a hand on Zach’s shoulder.
‘Come on, Ted. Do you really want Pauline’s death on your conscious? Those are people
out there too. They can be reasoned with.’
‘Yeah, then why did they attack without warning? If they’re not savages, why is Pauline
lying there dying?’ countered Glory.
Isaac sucked in a noisy breath.
‘Boss, I fired first. Maybe if I hadn’t they wouldn’t have attacked.’
Ted Glory rubbed his forehead with his free hand, the gun pointing to the floor. Zach was
afraid of what the millionaire would say next. He knew Isaac was on his side, but Ted Glory
was his boss and still their ticket home. But what if Ted changed his mind? That would mean
opening the door and going out to meet with the painted men – savage or not – armed with
swords and poisonous darts. Was Zach ready for that?
‘The longer we wait, the less time Pauline has left,’ said Swift.
‘Okay, fine, but you’re doing the talking, Swift; after all, you’re the linguist,’ said Glory.
Everyone sighed, whether in relief or despair, Zach couldn’t tell. At least he knew that he
himself had been willing to do the right thing.
‘I need Isaac and the kid with me. The rest of you can stay on-board. They don’t know our
numbers yet. Let’s keep it that way for now.’
‘Why do I have to go?’ asked Zach, feeling the need to go to the toilet again. He wanted to
help Pauline, but hadn’t considered that he would be included in any plan to do so.
‘They’re warriors. They’re less likely to attack women and children,’ replied Swift. It
hadn’t done Pauline much good, thought Zach.
Sven opened the door wide enough for Swift to stick his hands out to show he was
unarmed. He clambered down to the ground followed by Zach and then Isaac, with Pauline
held in his arms like a child. The natives moved back to give them some room, their bows
held half-drawn, ready to fire at the slightest provocation. Swift kept his hands high and
lowered himself into a sitting position. Isaac lay Pauline down on the floor beside Swift and
the stepped back.
‘I need to speak to your leader. This woman needs help,’ he said in a slow and even tone,
not betraying fear, anger or any other emotion.
One of the painted men stepped forward. He wore a pleated kilt like the other natives, and a
sling beaded with an assortment of gruesome trophies. His hair was pulled back tightly into
an intricate knot, away from his angular face that was marked with matching scars running
down either cheek, from eye to chin. He spoke in a language that Zach was unfamiliar with,
but then Zach wasn’t exactly strong in other languages.
‘It’s an old Portuguese dialect,’ said Swift, as if reading his mind again.
Swift began to speak fluently with the leader, gesturing with his hands when he seemed to
be struggling with a description. Then it was the leader’s turn to speak and his gestures
seemed kind of aggressive. The conversation continued for a while longer before Swift stood
up and bowed to the chief and began to back away from Pauline.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Zach angrily.
Swift placed an arm across Zach’s chest, preventing him from moving towards Pauline.
‘Just shut up and start walking. Don’t look them in the eyes, but don’t turn your back either.’
The leader signalled to some of his men and they came forward and hauled away Pauline,
by her arms and legs, between them. Then the rest of the natives melted back into the jungle.
‘They’ve taken Pauline,’ said Zach, his anger threatening to make him do something stupid.
‘You let them take her.’
‘What’s going on?’ asked Ted Glory from inside the plane, ‘where are they taking her?’
‘They’re going to help her,’ replied Swift, ‘The group leader said it’ll take their holy man a
day. She’s going to be well looked-after, but there is a condition.’
‘We’ve got to do something for them or they’ll kill Pauline and come back and kill us too.’
‘Why do I get the feeling that I’m not going to like this? What have you gotten us into,
‘They want us to steal back, or take by force, something that was stolen from their village.
Something that is sacred to their people,’ said Swift, grimacing like he’d just swallowed some
funky berries. ‘They want us to steal back an artefact from some pirates.’
The response from the others was unanimous in its disbelief.