A/N: After a delightful feast, some of the contest winners head for the satellite uplink in the hopes of trying to contact home. Can they make it to the uplink or does La Huerta have more surprises in store for them?
I’m back and you wouldn’t believe where I was! I was actually at the football stadium at Hartfield University! I’ll admit, not really a football fan but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to support my school. The crowd roared as the quarterback lined up under center for the snap. There was Sean yelling something about Omaha and a ninety-six double and my school’s stadium was packed to the brim for the weekend of freshman orientation. In the stands, I cheered alongside my new dormmates. Diego said that, if every game around here ended up like an inspirational sports movie, he might actually have to keep showing up. This felt so wrong and yet so right. Like I wanted to be here but I shouldn’t. So I told Diego that I have no idea what’s happening. Actually I shouted it deliriously into the sky, drowned out by fifty thousand other voices. Just seconds remained on the clock. Freshman Sean Gayle surveyed the opposing defense and tapped the shoulder of his left tackle and fellow freshman. Sean told the man to watch the weak-side, claiming that the linebacker’s on a delayed blitz. Craig insisted that he saw him. Then Sean gave a few huts. Massive bodies collided like forces of nature! Gayle sprinted left and the linebacker hurtled toward him for the tackle and so did the free safety! Sean claimed that there was two of them. Craig insisted that he can block them both and told Sean to follow him. Craig summoned all of his strength and pancaked the linebacker into the safety! Then he bragged about how he told everyone that he would… something but he never got to finish his sentence as he tried to get Sean’s attention. Sean already ran the other way, going totally on his own! Gotta say, Sean doesn’t give up. He stiff-armed a cornerback, hurdled a linebacker and leapt toward the goal line! A defender blindsided Sean in mid-air, cracking his back as Diego told me to come find him. I asked Diego what he was talking about. Then I looked to my side to see that Diego was gone! Everyone was gone! The stadium was empty except for Estela who told me to come find her! Suddenly, I was in the sprawling rainforests of La Huerta. Vines wrapped around Estela, dragging her back into darkness. I called out to Estela, asking her to wait for me but it was too late! The ferns swallowed her and an animal’s paw came to rest on my shoulder! I looked back and saw the claws emerging from the massive paw. Claws that belonged to that vicious Sabertooth tiger from earlier!
I snapped awake, sweating through my bedsheets not knowing what that dream was but I knew that I didn’t like it. I looked at my shoulder and found a paw still there, a tiny blue one. Then gave a sigh of relief as I saw that the paw belonged to a concerned Todd.
I told Todd not to worry, that it was all a bad dream. At least, I hope that’s all it was. Todd nuzzled his nose into my neck, and I felt a chill emanate from his soft fur. It cooled me down, and I felt my heart slow. Outside, it was still dark. The horizon was only just beginning to tinge orange with the dawn. I thought outloud about how Estela’s been gone for two days now. I really hope she’s okay out there. Todd gave a concerned noise. I admitted that I don’t think I’m getting back to sleep after that dream and asked Todd if he was up for a walk. Todd made a happy little noise.
I wandered down the halls, half-awake. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure where my feet were carrying me but I heard a rustling coming from an ajar suite door. I opened the door and asked for Sean who looked up at me. On the bed was a backpack nearly full of supplies! God I hope he’s not about to do what I think he’s about to do. Sean just gave me a hey but I asked him where he was going at this hour, immediately guessing that he’s not hitting the gym. Sean confessed that he’s going to the Observatory to see if we could call for help with the satellite uplink. Then he insisted that he go alone and was hoping to head out before anyone could stop him. Well, looks like that plan failed. I asked Sean why he was going out alone. Sean told me that it was because he didn’t want anybody else getting hurt out there, so it was better that he just get this done himself. He slung his bag over his shoulder and tried to pass me but I blocked the doorway. Sean stood close as I looked up to meet his eyes. I told Sean that I can’t let him do this alone because it’s too important to rely on one person. Sean insisted that he knows it’s important but it’s risky too. He said that he can do this and that there was no reason for more of us to be in danger.
I pointed out that, just yesterday he was p!ssed because nobody was doing their part,and now he’s trying to take on the whole load by himself? I asked Sean to why not let people help if they want? Sean looked back through the window. In the distance, the massive volcanic cone of Mount Atropo was silhouetted by the warming sky. Somewhere high up in the shadows, the La Huerta Observatory waits… and not just for Sean. Sean finally saw my point and told me that I can call the play. I took that offer and told Sean that, first play, he goes back to bed and he forgets this suicide run.
The sun was up by the time I gathered everyone outside the hotel’s grand entrance. Many of my classmates rubbed their eyes tiredly. Craig gave an exaggerated yawn and claimed that it was way too early to wake up after a meal like last night. Raj agreed and insisted that he needed at least 14 to 18 more hours of sleep before he’s out of this food coma. Zahra remarked that she’s either incredibly hungover or she’s dying, one of the two and said that it was a total coin toss. I agreed that it’s early but we’ve got a big day ahead. I reminded them that, last night, we pieced together that the La Huerta Observatory has a satellite uplink. Sean added that the uplink was strong enough to get through whatever interference was keeping us from calling for rescue. I admitted that I know we voted to stay put on the resort instead of looking around aimlessly for a way off the island… but now we’ve got a destination and it’s not far.
Lila pointed out that it’s about seven miles away, through the rainforest, over a mountain pass, and then up the side of a volcano, so about four or five hours. I admitted that this was going to be extremely dangerous but we’ve been over the risks. I told everyone that anybody who goes should know what they’re getting into. Lila asked me if I was trying to frighten everyone. I told her that I’m not going to lie to my friends. If they want to come with us, they need to know what we’re up against. Sean said that I was right, it’s safer for everyone here. Then he insisted that, if he goes now, he can get back well before nightfall and that we really don’t need more than one person to go. Seriously, Sean, haven’t we already been through this? No suicide missions! Zahra asked Sean if he even knew how to operate a satellite uplink. Sean asked Zahra if she did. Considering she’s gotten us into the VIP room and helped us with an elevator, I’d say yes. Zahra told Sean that she’ll let the F.B.I. answer that one for him, but she’s coming because, otherwise, it’s a d@mn waste of time. Grace volunteered to go too. Aleister asked if she was really going. Grace explained that she interned at a Hawaiian observatory sophomore year, so she might be able to help us find our way around. Sean asked if she was sure. Craig said that she is and he’s coming with us. Diego asked Craig when he started wanting to help get us out of here. Craig said that it was since his bro, Sean, decided on this craziness. Craig told Sean that, if he’s putting his life on the line, then he’ll be there clearing the way, always. Sean thanked Craig for that. Michelle said that she guessed that she’s going too. I said that it was great and we’re glad to have her, and told her that I know she’ll be a big help. Michelle narrowed her eyes and said that sarcasm wasn’t clever but then stopped when she realized I was serious and thanked me. Sean asked Michelle if he was sure that she wanted to hang back, since he didn’t think there was much she could do to help. Michelle pointed out that I believe in her and asked Sean why he couldn’t do the same. Lila said that it looked like we have our group and that it was excellent. Then she told everyone to gather our things and that we’ll leave in five minutes. As Lila walked away, Zahra approached me and nodded toward the guide. She told me to ditch the hummingbird. I asked who she meant and she said that she was talking about Lila, that she doesn’t want her coming with us. I asked Zahra why she didn’t trust Lila and Zahra pointed out that Lila worships Rourke and his whole company. According to Zahra, whatever happened here was bad news for them and, if Lila has to choose between us and him, guess who she’ll pick.
I have to admit, Zahra does have a point. Lila’s pretty much the president of the Rourke fan club. That and Zahra thinks that Lila’s too happy. I asked Zahra what that had to do with anything. Zahra claimed that no one’s that happy naturally, no one. Lila skipped back toward me, carrying a bag. I asked Zahra what I should tell Lila. Zahra remarked that she didn’t really care. Lila greeted us and asked if we were all set. Now came the hard part, telling her that she wasn’t going. I told Lila that I needed her to stay here with the others. Lila asked why and I quickly told her that I needed her to figure out Rourke’s password. Then explained that it was at the desk in his office, nobody has any idea what it is. I told Lila that she’s the only resort employee here, so she might be the only one who can figure it out. Lila bought it and said that maybe she can and she would go work on that. She turned and scurried inside excitedly. Zahra asked if I really thought Lila could guess the password. I admitted that I don’t think anybody’s figuring that out any time soon, but it’d keep her busy. I headed over to where the others were gathering. The ones staying behind saying their goodbyes. Raj told us that he packed a bag of lunches and that it was leftovers from the feast, something to remember him by. Sean reminded Raj that we’re only going to be gone for ten hours. Apparently, for Raj, ten hours is too long. Aleister told Grace not to perish. Grace smiled and assured him that she’ll try not to perish. She hugged Aleister, her head only coming halfway up the tall man’s chest. Aleister blushed a bit and said that he appreciated the embrace. A hand touched my arm. That hand belonged to Quinn and she asked me to be careful out there. I told Quinn that I would try. Jake lied on an outdoor bench, nursing a hangover with a black coffee. He raised it in a salute. Then he wished us luck for not getting ourselves all killed which made Todd angry. A sparkle of ice shot out from Todd and froze Jake’s coffee solid just as he’s about to sip it. Jake told Todd that the joke’s on him, because he likes his coffee iced. I noticed Sean surveying the group, which was Craig, Michelle, Zahra, Grace and me. I asked Sean what was wrong, saying that I thought he’d be glad that they’re trying to help just like he wanted. Sean admitted that he wanted them to help each other out but this was different, this was lives on the line. I asked Sean if he trusted us to take care of ourselves. Sean admitted that he didn’t and said that maybe it was overconfidence but he wasn’t worried about himself going alone but a group this big? Sean pointed out that we might need someone with a few more… survival skills to get us through.
Sean’s eyes fell on Jake, who was in a tug-of-war over the coffee mug with Todd. Had the circumstances been different, I’d be giggling. I asked Sean if he was talking about Jake. Sean admitted that he can’t stand that guy, but Jake’s got more training than the rest of us combined. Sean said that Jake wouldn’t listen to him, but maybe Jake would listen to me. I agreed and decided to bring Jake along. I walked over to Jake just as Todd wrestled the coffee mug away from him and scampered off. Jake was about to go after Todd until I stopped him. Jake asked me if I wanted him to sign up for our little Suicide Squad and then asked if Captain America (Sean) knew I was asking him to crash his party. I admitted that Sean was the one who wanted me to ask him. Jake teased that I was a bad liar and asked if I knew that. Then he said that I could’ve just said that I’m going to miss him. I teased that I could have, but I’m a bad liar. Jake admitted that he walked into that one. Jake said that he’d come and remarked that this place wasn’t dangerous enough, so why don’t we go climb an active volcano. As long as he’s coming with us, I’ll take any remark he makes.
A couple hours later, our expedition trudged through the sweltering rainforest, passing by the emergency shelter on our way toward the mountains. Jake said that it was hotter than a Turkish bath out here. I asked Top Gun if he hung out at Turkish baths a lot. Jake teased me with the classic, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” I teased back by telling Jake that, if he’s hot, he could always just take off his shirt. Jake asked if I brought him out here just to ogle him. I just gave a teasing maybe. Jake joked that he’s not that easy and I have to wine and dine him first. I said that I could do that. Sean asked us how everyone was holding up and suggested that we should break to eat. Grace opened up the bag of leftovers Raj gave our group and then screamed, throwing the bag on the ground. I asked Grace what it was. She explained that everything’s all moldy which grossed Craig and me out! Todd sniffed at the plastic-wrapped food and backed away in disgust. I pointed out that we just left and the food’s not even a day old! Then I asked how it could get so moldy so quickly! Sean said that he knows it’s humid as hell out here, but… that doesn’t seem possible! Craig said that there was no way he was making it another eight hours of hiking without lunch! I suggested that we might find something at the Observatory, but made it clear that we shouldn’t risk eating any berries or fruits we find… this island is too weird. Though what we are going to eat, I have no idea. Groaning, our group pushed on. The sounds of birds, mammals, and insects formed a lively chorus in the jungle. It was like listening to one of my Nature Sounds tracks back home. Except, at home, I had the luxury of the sweet indoors. Sean thanked me for backing him up and getting this team together but I have to understand that he wasn’t doing this to be a hero and that he hopes I know that. I told Sean that I do know which he was happy to hear. Then I said to Sean that he doesn’t need anything to be a hero and, from what I heard, he already is. Sean claimed that newspapers need a narrative but that’s not him. Then I asked Sean what the real reason he wanted to go it alone was. Sean explained that it’s just how he’s always been. He said that, his whole life, he’d been taught the only person you can count on is yourself. Sean admitted that it’s the way he plays too, he has great teammates but, when things go bad, he scrambles, he improvises, and when it’s just him, that’s when he feels most at ease. Sean told me that he doesn’t have to worry about getting anyone else hurt. Craig said that it’s Sean Gayle for you, always going it alone even to the draft. Sean asked Craig what he was talking about and that he’s a top prospect, that they’re going to get drafted by the same team and live it up! Craig remarked that Sean almost sounded like he believed that. I asked Craig if he didn’t believe it. Michelle asked me why Craig would trust anything Sean says. According to Michelle, Sean ends up leaving everyone behind.
How could she even say that when she cheated on him? Something I couldn’t point out unless I wanted to admit that I spied on them. Thankfully, Sean pointed that out for me by asking Michelle if he really hoped that she wasn’t talking about herself, because he really didn’t think that she’s qualified to talk about trust. He’s right, she’s not. An awkward silence fell over the group. Even the forest seemed to grow still. Zahra laughed and remarked that it’s what us “losers” get for believing in human beings. She even said that her first rule was trust nobody, they only end up betraying you. Jake remarked that trust is great, so long as it’s other people’s. Then said that you’ve just got to be the one doing the betraying. Honestly, both ways sound too cynical for my taste. Sean remarked that it was a real healthy outlook Jake had. Grace said what I was thinking, that it was so sad, being so scared of getting hurt that you never open up to anyone. Zahra asked Grace what she was talking about, pointing out that Raj burped last night and she screamed. Zahra accused Grace of being scared of everything. Grace insisted that she’s scared of heights and snakes and clowns and crustaceans, maybe, but not of being vulnerable with someone. Grace admitted that she hasn’t ever really have… but she wants to. Michelle told Grace that she doesn’t want to put her faith in other people. Wow, talk about having a victim mentality. Grace admitted that she knows it’s a statistical inevitability that one day she’d get hurt, but she won’t let that stop her from searching for love. I told Grace that it was brave of her to say. Grace thanked me but said that it was probably foolish. Suddenly, Jake stopped, rooted to his spot as he raised a fist. Zahra asked what he was doing. Craig asked if this was some sort of protest. Jake told us that it’s the “stop moving” signal! Then explained that someone’s here, watching us. Michelle asked Jake what he was talking about. I immediately told everyone to get down! Jake agreed with me and I said that we should hurry behind those ferns over there! Everyone hesitated, panicked. Jake asked them what the h!ll they were waiting for and said that they heard me! All of us ducked down and scurried behind the large ferns alongside the path. I asked Jake where it was and he said it was there. I followed his gaze… and saw it, eyes of glowing gold. They blinked as I heard my heart pound in my chest. Suddenly, I felt like I could see myself, my whole group cowering there… obvious as day. I whispered to Jake that it could still see us. Jake insisted that it didn’t, it’s too… I interrupted Jake, saying that I’m serious and I just know it can see us. Jake looked at me strangely. Sean asked Jake if it was some kind of animal. Grace suggested that maybe it’s just curious. Jake remarked that it’s curious about what we taste like and said that he was going to loop around behind it and get the drop on it. I insisted to Jake that I go with him. Jake just told me to suit myself.
Together, Jake and I moved through the jungle, hiding behind a tree before darting to the next one. I told Jake that he seemed like he’s done this before. Jake said that I could say that. I asked Jake how he learned. Jake claimed that it was by watching the people hunting him. There was a cold detachment in his voice as he said it. I asked Jake when he was being hunted. Jake told me that it was back during his service, everything hit the fan and, suddenly, he was on his own. Then he corrected himself by saying that, at first, he wasn’t. Jake told me that the point was, if I don’t learn how the people tracking you are doing it, then it’s only a matter of time before they get you. Finally, we reached the spot where I had seen the gold eyes. Jake wanted to know where the hell it was, saying that he didn’t see it anymore. I looked around sensing danger in every shadow and then that feeling came back! As if I was watching myself! In my mind, I saw my left side. I told Jake that I think the creature’s somewhere to our left. Jake asked if I was sure and I said that I think so. Jake lunged in that direction, pulling apart the ferns and a flash of pale blue blurred into the treetops! Jake asked what that was. In a split second, it was gone! Jake told whatever it was that it better run. Then he asked me if I was okay saying that, whatever that was, he didn’t think it wanted any part of us. I asked Jake what that thing was, telling him that I’ve never seen any animal move that fast. Jake said that he wasn’t so sure it was an animal and told me to take a look. He kneeled down beside a clear impression in the earth. I asked Jake if it was… When I couldn’t get the words out, he said that it was a human footprint. Then he claimed that maybe we’re not alone here after all.
Jake and I made our way back, linking up with the rest of our group. The slope of the forest increased, and we rose higher and higher. The tree canopy thinned until finally it went from day to night! Michelle asked how it was nighttime when we left at the @$$-crack of dawn and we’ve only been gone for, like, three hours! I told Michelle that my phone said it was 9 PM right now, but it should only be about 9 AM!
Jake remarked that he’s not nearly drunk enough to have just lost twelve hours. Sean insisted that we stay focused and that what mattered was getting to the Observatory. He said that we can call for help, get rescued and go home. Then Sean insisted that this had to be the mountain pass and that, once we get past this, we should be at the volcano. Zahra kicked a small rock over the edge of the cliff and watched it drop down into a churning river far below. She whistled. Zahra asked Grace if she said she was scared of heights and told her to check this out. Grace insisted that she wouldn’t. Zahra laughed as she leaned over the edge, the wind blowing through her hair. Zahra teased Grace, saying that the best way to overcome her fears was to face the— Suddenly, a massive, red claw appeared from behind the cliff, its sharp pincers moving toward Zahra’s head! I told Zahra to look out! She looked and saw the claw about to close on her. Then she scrambled back just before it snapped shut, nearly decapitating her! Something that gave her quite the shock! Grace demanded to know what that was! An enormous red shell, four feet across, rose over the cliff’s edge, carried by spindly armored legs! Several pairs of dead, black eyes gazed upon us and a grotesque mouth gnashed its fangs. Michelle screamed that it was too big, claiming that she’d eaten crab before, and crabs are not that big! Craig admitted that, right now, he missed the sabertooth. The crab’s legs clicked as it drew closer, snapping its colossal pincers. Sean told Grace to get back. Grace froze in terror, staring up as the crab lifted itself high on its legs. It swung an open claw towards her and recoiled as a rock struck it in one of its eight eyes! Jake picked up another rock and threw it, his aim true once more! He shouted at the Seafood Special that there’s more where that came from! Distracted, the crab snapped at Jake, giving Sean time to pull Grace back, out of harm’s way! Todd leaped forward and fired a blast of ice at the crab! A thick ice crystal formed around one of the crab’s mighty pincers but the crab easily shattered it to nothingness as it opened its claws once more, leaving a confused Todd. Jake hurled another rock, but the crab blocked it using a pincer as a shield! Jake freaked out and said that it achieved sentience! Grace told Jake that that was not what achieving sentience meant! The titan crab loomed closer. I could see my own reflection many times over in its eyes. Michelle asked what the h@ll we were supposed to do. Sean stepped forward, arms wide to attract the creature’s attention! Then he told us to run and he’ll lead it away from us! Craig said no, demanding to know what Sean was doing! Sean said that he was scrambling! Michelle asked Sean why he always had to be the hero and called him an idiot! Sean told her that it was because someone had to do something and he doesn’t have any better ideas! Zahra said that it looked like she did! A shadow passed across the moon and the “she” Zahra was talking about was Estela! She leapt from high up and drove a rudimentary spear down into the base of one of the crab’s legs, causing it to scream out in pain! Estela twisted the spearhead and snapped the leg from the carapace! The crab staggered back in obvious pain! I called out for Estela! Grace told her to get out of there! Estela ignored us, squaring off against the monster. She whirled the spear in her hands, the shaft blurring with speed. The crab scuttled toward her, claws raised. Estela only said to the crab, “Let’s dance,” and, with that, I leave you. Here’s to hoping Estela can save us from the giant crab monster.
A/N: Can Estela save them from the giant crab, or will it be too much for even her? Let me know what you think in the comments. Also, if you’d like to make a request, feel free to leave one in the comments, email me, or friend me on Discord by sending the request to suburbantimewaster#8733.