This story is by Colleen M Johnson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“The jungle’s vibrancy never gets old.”
Xavier Hornsby, COO, COC and Master Officer of Death Isle stood at the helm of the medical barge as it floated through the deceptively calm water of the thin river that circled the outer sector of the Isle.
“Why do you stand at the wheel, sir? All barges feature controls located inside the underwater railway. I do not comprehend why you come out. It is dangerous to be amongst the criminal population of the Isle.”
“I enjoy the pretense. I’m not a man to ride a desk. Nor am I a fool. I know what lurks beyond this waterway.”
“Of course, sir.” The biomechanical unit eleven responded in the guise of a twenty-something young man.
“You know, the technology they used in your creation intrigues me. You could be my son.”
“There is, in our development, a pretense of structure with your DNA, sir.”
Xavier sighed. No matter what he said, he always received the same robotic ‘sir’ reply. It mattered not since the darn droids were programed to react to him in a subservient role. “Our current task?”
“Individuals which have sustained a nearly fatal wound.”
Xavier studied the machine masquerading as a man. “Perfect.”
Hours later, Xavier walked past three healing pods, each filled with a human body. He stopped at the fourth unit where he watched the serene face of a beautiful woman covered in a bright, blue light.
An instant connection re-ignited between them.
Xavier shoved his hands into the pockets of his heavy protective suit, “List wounds.”
“A single wound located on right hip. One deep gash. Severely infected.”
“Oral report on subject within.”
Unit eleven stepped in between Xavier and the pod. “Hold report,” the nearly human male invaded its captain’s personal space. “Sir? You do not sound like yourself. I believe you should go below and rest.”
One hand shot out, fingers tight around the AI’s throat. “Delete all information pertaining to this pod. Leave me.”
He released his hold on the android’s throat, and it backed away. “Yes, sir.”
Xavier braced his hands on the clear lid of the pod as he stared into it.
The woman within opened her eyes and a smile spread upon her dry, cracked lips.
Familiar, green eyes stole his soul on contact.
“Deliver oral report. Delete after presentation.”
“Subject is Katherine Deville, rank four. Tracking code one-six-two-nine-three. Arrived two days ago, crime free. Details purged from system.”
“I know the rules. Once on Death Isle, a person, guilty or not, must remain on the Isle.” Xavier muttered to himself. He’d worked in this air of death for nearly thirty years. Not once had he broken a rule. Until today. His eyes locked with the woman’s. “Hello Katherine, do you remember me?” Xavier read her lip movements when she spoke.
“You stole my heart a long time ago.”
“As you did mine. You don’t belong in this hell. I know your plans. You have the single-minded plan of a civilian. Reach the center of the Isle. Survive. Win. Return to your country, three billion dollars richer.” Death Isle was the world’s largest and only island created to contain individuals judged to be deemed criminals. Petty thieves to mass murderers peppered the treacherous landscape.
Rules splintered as he shared confidential data with Katherine, hoping to help her see the danger surrounding her. He wanted desperately to dispel her fanciful misgivings about the truth that lived hidden in the dense jungle. “The Isle is composed of four sectors. This is the outer sector, the fourth, the place of beginning. The third sector is heavily populated with minor criminals who keep to themselves. They’re lifers. Never try to win. The second sector is nearly as terrifying as the first sector. Those who have committed the most vicious crimes keep this sector and the first well patrolled. If you get to the five-foot steel barrier which surrounds the center of the Isle, you must climb over it. Once inside, there is a hovering medical pod. The moment you lay on it, the clear top covers it. Total protection. End game. The ground panel located in the underwater mountain underneath the pod opens and you’re taken straight to the med bay. Full medical care right down to the fibers inside your lungs. Three billion dollars immediately hits your bank account. But listen to me! No one ever makes it to the center. No one is expected to survive!”
“Your heterochromia eyes cannot be forgotten, Xavier. You know me. I’ll survive. I promise, for you and myself, I will make it.”
More rules fractured as Xavier continued sharing with Katherine.
“Every human contained to this Isle have a tracking chip embedded near their heart. This placement ensures that the chip isn’t removed as it would result in immediate death.”
“I have one inside me?”
He could see her facial muscles tighten with fear.
Xavier nodded his head. “Yes. Forget it.”
The heavy tome filled with hundreds of rules and protocols he had sworn to uphold, disintegrated within his mind. The life he had carved out for himself slowly began to dissolve as he made the choice to ensure this woman’s freedom, no matter what the cost. He glanced at the floor near her pod.
“Where’s your gear?”
The vibration of his wrist communications device caught his attention. With a flick of his wrist, he silently read the digital message. “Incoming tomorrow. 13:00 hours. Dock four. Two rank zeros. Five rank ones. Three rank twos.” He puffed a single breath into his com, acknowledging receipt of the message.
He returned his attention to his past love. Her eyes were closed, and he missed the intense green, so full of intelligence and determination.
Additional rules turned to dust as well as his honor when he shared the news with her. “Ten killers arrive tomorrow. Two ranked zero.” He saw her cringe but continued, believing knowledge would prove fruitful. “Remember, these crims’ll be handcuffed. They’ll be given a backpack of limited supplies. Speaking of which, you should have at least one max pack. You know, night goggles, food packets and water filter straws.”
Katherine raised her hands to her once glossy hair, now a tangled ebony mess.
“Gone. Won’t you get in trouble?”
Xavier ground his teeth together. He glanced around, ensuring no one watched. “Only your survival matters now. I’ll get you out.”
“I look forward to it.”
Her pod dinged. The clear cover slid open. The pod rotated to a vertical position, bringing Katherine to stand before Xavier.
He pulled her into a hug, and then pressed a kiss to her full lips. A kiss she returned with equal passion.
AI unit, number thirty-seven, came to stand by the pod.
“Wait here.” Xavier held his hands in front of him.
“Sir.” It held Katherine by her upper arm as it helped her stand.
Xavier took a quick run down into the storage area of the barge where he grabbed three max packs. He raced back to the surface, and shoved the packs into Katherine’s hands. “Be prepared for your extraction. While I prep, I will monitor you. Be careful, trust no one.” Xavier tore off his jacket and wrapped it around Katherine’s shoulders, covering her tattered T-shirt.
As Katherine held the packs tightly to her chest, AI unit thirty-seven dropped her arm, and stepped in front of its captain.
“Sir?” It questioned but Xavier put his finger against its lips.
“Escort her safely to sector two. Erase knowledge of this conversation and all recordings of this woman. Return to me upon completion of ordered task.”
Katherine’s smile trembled upon her lips as their eyes met once more. She blinked away tears. Letting her muscles go lax, she let the android lead her away.
Xavier quickly keyed the frequency to Katherine’s chip into his com before he deleted its code. He made clandestine arrangements to provide Katherine with life-saving supplies while he set about stealing everything they would need to not only escape the Isle but live out their lives in comfort. His utilized his ability to stealthily erase his own activities from the main computer which kept the Isle’s records.
With his help, Katherine had reached the steel barrier in sector one after only fourteen days. Due to his hacking and the secret monitoring of Katherine’s presence, more than sixty AI units were recalled in those two weeks. By this point, Xavier had dishonored his position.
Xavier’s eyes were glued to the screen of his wrist com.
Nearly there! Katherine was keeping her promise!
As his fingers flew over his keyboard, finalizing their departure, Xavier’s eyes watched as Katherine’s grime covered fingers grasped the top of the shiny barrier. He prayed his actions wouldn’t be discovered before he could escape with this astonishingly brave woman.
Suddenly Katherine’s right shoulder jerked as it was pierced by a long, metal object.
“No!” Fear dried his mouth as Katherine’s body was dragged away from the barrier. His eyes narrowed.
Savages had his Katherine!
Channeling his anger into motion, he ran in search of the nearest medical barge being sent out to the inner region.
Two days later, Xavier stood on the deck of a medical barge, watching the desolate landscape which was sector one. His eyes could find no rest as he searched for any sign of Katherine. The wrist com indicated she was here but his eyes failed to see.
Through his lies, cheating, stealing and the killing of several men, Xavier had completely shattered the rules he had lived his life by. He knew he would do whatever it took so long as he could take Katherine away from this island of hell.
As two AI’s dragged a rough sack onto the barge, Xavier rushed over, knocking the twin units out of his way. His fingers shook as they worked through the series of knots until the bag lay open. What he found within horrified him.
Two bodies were mashed together.
“Get them to the pods!” Xavier ordered, gagging on the smell of rotted meat permeating the air.
His head jerked when he heard his name whispered, though it was badly mangled. Xavier ignored the blood, slick on his hands as he rushed over to the two AI’s who were trying to move the lump of flesh to a medical pod. “Wait!”
He scrutinized the details of the horror before him. Katherine’s body was attached to another woman with a metal rod pierced through their bodies.
Desperately grasping Katherine’s body in his arms, he kicked at the stranger until Katherine’s still form was free.
Xavier lifted what was left of Katherine’s body into the open pod next to him.
As the bright blue light filled the pod, he hacked into the two onboard AI units, seventy-two and sixty-three, erasing their recordings.
The metallic voice of the medical unit reported, “Multiple parasite removal complete.”
“Full report,” Xavier demanded, pacing the tight space between the pods.
“Voice print confirmed. Visual description sent to captain’s wrist com.”
As his eyes scanned the report, fat drops of blood fell from the corners of his mouth. In his horror filled rage, he had nearly severed his tongue with his teeth. The information bounced around painfully in his skull. Absentmindedly he swiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Missing hands. Breasts mutilated. Left eye removed. Both legs below the knees have been determined to be chewed off.”
“Who did this?”
“The Isle’s most heinous criminals. They rule the first sector.”
“Remove and destroy her chip. Assemble a team of AI’s to eliminate known group. Purge this trip’s documentation.”
“Done, sir.” The unit went dark.
Xavier spoke into his wrist com, “Twenty-one, prepare for personal departure in one hour.”
Sixty minutes later, Xavier Hornsby, Chief Operating Officer, Captain of Command and Master Officer departed Death Isle with Katherine’s body tucked safely in an unregistered healing pod.
With his own tracks wiped from the system, the life he had dedicated himself to was shed like snake skin as he embraced his crimes and piloted the hijacked air ship towards his new life with what remained of the woman who had claimed his soul.