Sheriff Johnson had a terrible night. He awoke stiff from the ride the day before and stiffer still from his night out under the stars, laying on the ground for chrissakes! They didn't even have a tent. The only thing that cheered him up at all was the smell of fresh coffee bubbling in a smoke blackened pot that sat in a small fire. He drank a few cups, black just as it comes, and began to feel at least part human again.
"Okay, I guess we better get this thing done", said the Sheriff miserably, stubbing out the cigarette that he had smoked and getting to his feet. Nathan led the way on foot this time and they soon reached the wrecked camp. Something had been at the Brad's body since Nathan had first seen it and it looked even worse now with lumps of flesh chewed away. All of the men felt a bit green at the gruesome sight, but nobody threw up, although it was a close call. The Sheriff was none too keen to spend too long there. He looked around and then said, "well okay. It was obviously a Bear, just like you said it was. More damn reports to fill in. I'm all through here."
Two of the men wrapped Brad's body in some heavy fertiliser bags they had brought and slung it over a saddle. Another man gathered up as many belongings as he could find and what was left of the backpack. Daniel and one other man set off on the track of the Bear which, if it was still alive would be even more dangerous now, and the rest of the party returned to the ranch. While Lauren was recovering from her ordeal, Nathan and Todd, the ranch hand who stayed with him, were tracking the Grizzly. They followed the trail for two days, well into Northern Maine, and eventually cornered the bear in a cave near Flagstaff Mountain. By then the Bear was very weak through loss of blood, and it was almost a kindness to finish him off. Nathan was sure that it was the same one that had spooked him, his photographic memory shallow victory and not one that he was proud of - more a job that needed doing. Nathan skinned it himself and then he and Todd blocked off the small cave entrance with rocks as a makeshift tomb for the Bear's remains. It was more a hollow that a cave, just big enough for the Bear to have hidden in. They took the pelt back to the ranch.
It took them from sunrise to sunset to make the journey back, unhampered by the need to track and able to take the easiest and most direct route. Lauren was up an about and looked like a totally different girl to the one that Nathan had brought home a few days earlier. She had called her parents who knew nothing of her trip and were shocked when she told them what had happened. Then she called Bradley's parents, who lived in San Diego, and explained what happened all over. After that she cried some, grieving for Brad and for his parents too. Brads' parents said that they would arrange to have their son brought home and bury him there. They told Lauren she was welcome to come to the funeral, if she could, but they would understand if she did not make it. Nathan was quite smitten by Lauren, and was sad when she had to go, but they promised to keep in touch with each other and Nathan told her that he would look her up when he got to Princeton. Caroline insisted that the helicopter take her back to University, and when she arrived, Lauren felt quite like a movie star. A number of her friends there asked her about her grand arrival and she had to tell them about the trip, and of course Brad. There were a lot of sad faces around the campus and a special service was held in the chapel to remember Bradley Cole. It was packed out.
Nathan settled into the rest of the year at school, looking forward now to finishing next year and then leaving high school. He finished his twelfth grade in 1987, and after another Christmas at the ranch, was ready to start at Princeton in the new year. With Nathan at University the security issue was a much bigger problem. There would always be somebody who wanted to make a fast buck by ransoming a ‘rich kid'. On the other hand, Tyler knew he could not protect his son forever and he also knew that Nathan could look after himself. At sixteen and half (true age) he was six feet of well toned muscle with skills that a Navy Seal or a Delta Force soldier might envy. That he had courage was beyond question, with his heart in his mouth, left him to it. At Nathan's insistence, he arrived in New Jersey to start his undergraduate schooling not by helicopter or limousine, but by Greyhound bus. He was to live in Forbes College, one of the many residential colleges that make up Princeton. On his first day, he gathered up the books he had already begun to read - those from the long list he had been sent, and walked to the building that housed the Campus administration. The first person he met was Lauren, who much later admitted to him that it was no accident - when his last letter to her said that he was coming at last, she made sure that she was there to greet him.
Lauren was Nathan's personal guide for the first few days, showing him how to find everything he needed. There was a strong mutual attraction and by the end of the first month they were an ‘item', rarely out of each other's company. The age difference now that they were both students as the same faculty had become irrelevant. By the end of the third month Nathan and Lauren were lover's, he for the first time. Nathan's was economics primarily, but was good at languages too and so was also studying French and German. With his special memory capability he could have studied anything that took his fancy. In contrast, Lauren was studying mathematics.
The first two years at Princeton went by in the blink of an eye. Nathan and Lauren had hardly been apart and a year after they met they moved into a small apartment together, off Campus. Nathan had a very healthy income from his father in any case and could easily afford to rent. Lauren wanted to pay her share and in the end they compromised and she picked up the tab for services to the apartment which were not included. They had spent vacation time together but so far Nathan had not told her about the Pacific Island, and he had not been there since he was in High School. There were two sad events on the Island during the second year, Mrs Wekonu, the Hawaiian cook/housekeeper, died in February of nothing more than extreme old age, and her husband died of a broken heart, two months later - he just gave up on living. Tyler did not replace them because most of the people he rented the island too took their own staff in any case.
Nathan had taken Lauren back to the ranch a number of times and they had spent a vacation there too. Tyler and Caroline both liked Lauren and always made her welcome, although Tyler was rarely there. In the Spring of 1990 Lauren was in her final year and Nathan would graduate a year later. She was already planning to stay in the apartment and maybe find a local job until Nathan graduated. After that, who knows, buy both had thoughts of marriage. They were sitting on the floor, cuddled together watching HBO one evening when Nathan sprung his surprise on her.
"I was thinking about our vacation this summer", he began, his hand playing with her hair.
"Do you want to go back home again or shall we go to my home ?"
"I thought maybe somewhere a bit further", he teased.
"Further ? how much further ?", she asked him with sudden interest.
"Have you ever been to the Pacific Ocean ?"
"Oh yeah, from Arizona its no big deal to get over the California, been down the Baja too", she replied off hand, flipping the TV channel with the remote control.
"No, I don't mean to the Beach, I mean, aw hell! My family have a place in the Pacific, its a small island about a thousand miles out from LA, its like a paradise - you would love it."
Lauren turned to look at him in surprise. "Let me get this straight. I have been living with you for nearly three years now, and you never told me that your family own an Island ?"
"Well, no. It never came up", he said weakly.
"I guess not. Hi, I'm Nathan, by the way, we can go on vacation to my family's very own Island in the Pacific. So tell me, what is this place like, and why didn't you ever mention it before ?"
"I guess I didn't want to show off. My dad had been so busy that he hasn't been down there either for a while. Well this year he has made the time and asked me to go too, said to bring you along."
"Its going to be expensive. You know I won't freeload, its bad enough dating a rich kid as it is."
"I'm sorry, but we have no choice there. My dad owns the plane that takes us."
"I should have guessed that myself, what with the ranch and the fact that he already has a helicopter."
"He has two actually. Anyway, when we get married you won't need to worry about money then, so let's not talk about it, okay ? That's just how it is. Can I tell him we are going?"
"Oh you bet!", she said excitedly.
The plane flew in low as the islands came into sight. To Lauren looking out of the window, they looked like three jewels set in an azure glass tiara - the sea was almost still with the depths showing up in different shades of an astonishing blue like the sea contours of a map in an atlas. She saw the two shimmering green island first, emeralds in the blue sea, and then the third barren naked rock island. Lauren had only ever seen something like this at the movies and it took her breath away. The aircraft dropped lower, heading towards Grand Augusta to land. She saw the ribbon of golden sand that ran along one side and the smaller beach on the other island. "Oh wow!", she said, "does anybody live on the other island ?"
"We...uh...own all of them. Theses three islands are the Saint Augusta Islands", said Nathan.
"Yeah, figures", replied Lauren with a wry smile, "it just looks so beautiful down there."
"Oh it is".
It was nineteen years since the terrible time that Tyler had to defend his family on the island. Since then the security team he hired had changed many times; so people left, one was fired when he was found drunk one night on the island, and one sadly had died in an accident when a training exercise went badly wrong. Of the original team only Charles (Chuck) Mitchell remained employed by Tyler but he was now Chief of Security for Crown Inc and roved the world attending to the security needs of the whole company. Complacency, the biggest sin for a security risk, had caused Tyler to scale back slightly, mainly because he did not want the security people to overshadow his high profile guests when they rented the island. The eight man team that used to patrol the island and the sea around it had, over the years, been reduced to four men. There had been no modern day pirate activity in that part of the Pacific since Tyler wiped out the last gang on his island. The radar station was still very much part of the system had had been upgraded time and again as technology advanced at a staggering rate. The last upgrade had taken place just two month ago when an IBM PC had been hooked up, putting the station under direct computer control for the first time. The radar was now accessible from the house and the guards quarters by the runway. This was also the very dawn of the Internet and the three PC network on the island had connections to CERN (the European internet) and other networks in Australia and Asia as well as the USA.
The plane had landed and was met by two of the security men, men only ten years older than Nathan who had never fought in any conflict but were trained to the highest levels. Nevertheless, Nathan could outshoot any of them and could more than match them in unarmed combat too - in some respects Nathan had received better training than they had. Tyler was still very fit at fifty-five, but he had to admit that he was not as capable as he had been ten years ago. With the sad loss of the Wekonus, it was down to the guest staying on the island to look after themselves, although for the past few years Mister and Mrs Wekonu had really been retired rather than employed, retained by Tyler as people who had seen Nathan grow up, and anyway, Tyler always had a soft spot for them.
"Look at the size of this house!", exclaimed Lauren as the Jeep drew up at the end of the road, "how did you get all this stuff out here. It must have cost a fortune", she said quite naturally because of course, it did, and that kind of detail would be the first thought of anybody seeing the island the first time.
"It did that", answered Tyler.
"The smaller island is really amazing", said Nathan, "we left it alone, it has never been touched, well for as long as we know. I like to swim over to it just to wander around a spot on this earth that is untouched by human hand. It is truly awesome over there."
"You swim over ?", said Lauren, surprised "how far is it ? It looks a long way."
"Its less than a mile, not so far."
"For you maybe, superman .Too far for me!"
"I'll take you over on the boat then".
"Yeah, I'd love to see it. What was that funny looking building on top of the hill ? I saw it as we came in to land."
"That was our radar."
"You have your own radar set-up?", she said, her eyes open wide in astonishment.
"Yeah, there was an...incident", Nathan paused as he thought of the best way to explain, "I was born here and mum and dad stayed on the island for a while afterwards."
"You were born on a Pacific island. What an amazing thing to be able to put on a form that says ‘place of birth'. Impressive! So what was this, incident you said ?"
"Ah that. Well not long after I was born, some pirates attacked the island".
Lauren burst out laughing. "Pirates! Oh come on! You're putting me on. Who was it then, Blackbeard with a parrot on his shoulder ? Come on!". Then she saw that Nathan wasn't laughing, "Oh my god! You're serious aren't you ?"
"Yes, I am. Back then there were a lot of gangs that plagued the Pacific, attacking boats and robbing tourists. One gang came here, but they chose the wrong place."
"Why ? What happened ?"
"Dad happened. Its one of the reasons I do all this martial arts stuff, so that he can be sure that I can look after myself, and I like it anyway. I've been skiing since I could walk, riding too. My grandfather was in the second world war and he taught my dad a lot of stuff that saved all our skin's when those bastards came here."
"How many were there?", she asked, shocked now that a place as peaceful and beautiful as this could be a place of terror too, and a place of what exactly ?
"There were six. I was just a baby of course but Chuck - you haven't met him yet, he is now Crown head of security - he told me all about it. He was the first guy dad hired, after it happened. I guess the only people who know exactly what happened are mum and dad, and he doesn't like to talk about it. He just did what had to be done to save us all."
"What had to be done ? He killed them, is that what you mean ?"
"Yeah. They would have killed us. The Police had been chasing that gang for over a year. They killed a lot of people before dad got them."
"My god!", she said, her hand to her mouth, "did you have no security at all back then ?"
"We had guards, but the pirates killed all but one. Anyway, that was a long time ago. Pirates just don't happen now, well not in this ocean anyway. C'mon, I'll show you around the place and then we can go swim by the reef."
"This just gets more amazing! You have a reef, real coral, like in Great Barrier Reef ?"
"Sure we do, out there look, that's how come we have the shallow lagoon. The coral and the fish down there are fantastic."
"Pinch me, I'm dreaming, she said with a smile, then, "ow! That hurt!", when he did.
Nathan took Lauren up to the radar station in the Jeep. He had not seen it for a few years now, but the reason he went there was for the panoramic view of the whole island. He opened the unlocked door - it had never been locked since it was built and the key was long lost, just to take a peek inside. "Hmm. I see it has its own computer now", he said noticing the PC.
"So what's it for ?", asked Lauren with idle curiosity.
"Well, when the pirates came, dad said he saw their boat coming - it was broad daylight for god's sake. With this, we get an alarm if anything on sea gets anywhere near us. Sometimes the press try to get in close for pictures, that kind of thing, but with this we just send out our guys and send then packing. Those guys will do anything for a story."
Back outside Lauren drank in the view. It was more than a holiday brochure, much more, more than any TV travel program or documentary, more than a movie location, no, this was paradise, and she was standing there. She could hear the birds calling in the trees, the monkeys chattering, other sounds she could not yet put a name too. She could taste the air that was so clean and pure that it tasted sweet. Nathan led the way on foot, leaving the Jeep there for the time being. There was no trail and he had to push through heavy undergrowth but he knew where he was going and it wasn't very far. Lauren thought she could hear the sound of water, and a few minutes later they broke out of the jungle at a clear pool that was fed by a waterfall that was about ten feet high. The pool looked bottomless and the waterfall tumbled into it creating a fine mist that floated across the surface.
"You can't surprise me anymore after this", she said in awe, "you really can't."
"There is a small cave behind the waterfall but you have to swim over to reach it", he said, then dived, fully clothed as he was, into the pool. She followed him a second later and as she hit the water was surprised how cold it was. The pool was not very wide and she swam across with ease, following Nathan who had swum right through the waterfall.
The cave floor was sloping, submerged about a foot into the pool which made it easy to get into. Nathan was already out of the water, and Lauren joined him. They both took of their wet clothes, silly really because although they would dry quickly, they would get wet all over again when they swam back. With the sound of the clear water cascading down like a curtain across the front of the cave, Lauren and Nathan made love. It was another hour before they finally released each other, dressed, and swam back from the cave. Lauren knew she had found paradise. Nathan showed her all over the island, the north end where she was frightened when a wild pig came crashing out of the jungle, the monkeys and the colourful birds. They swam to the reef and chased the fish that live there, trying to catch one with their hands and failing every time. When night fell the sky was lit with a million stars. The sky was like a rich velvet cloth in which millions of pinpricks shone white starlight and a bright yellow moon painted dappled light reflections on the water of the lagoon. Lauren fell asleep in Nathan's arms.
It was around three in the morning when Nathan woke up. The night was perfectly still, the glass doors and windows of the main house open. From somewhere very far away he thought that he heard an engine. Any man made sound would carry for miles in that silence. He strained to listen and then thought he was mistaken, or that if he had heard such a noise then it must have been going away. All the same, he listened some more before he went back to bed, but even as he was falling back to sleep the noise he thought he heard was disturbing him. High above the island at 30,000 feet, a small aircraft had opened a door. The underside of the aircraft was painted in matt black and even though there was clear visibility that night to the height of the aircraft and beyond, it would have been impossible to see with the naked eye. Equipped with an oxygen mask, a single black suited jumper left the plane which immediately turned away, heading back for the US coastline.
The jumper was an expert HALO (high altitude low opening) parachutist, a man trained by one of the best military units in the world, a man for hire to anybody who could afford the price. The man allowed himself to free-fall for twenty five seconds at which time he was falling at speed in excess of 200mph. He carefully repositioned his body into a horizontal plane, using the greater wind resistance to begin to slow his descent. With great skill he was able to glide, almost fly through the air, towards his target. At the lowest possible moment, timed precisely by the altimeter and Omega Skymaster watch that he wore, he deployed his parachute. When he reached the ground, two feet away from the exact spot that he was aiming for, he was moving at more than twice the standard landing velocity of a civilian skydiver. Even with his expertise, he let out an involuntary grunt as he made impact, then rolled away to absorb the shock, but he was down, on target and uninjured. He went into the radar station, which was where he had landed. Inside a pocket on his combat suit he carried a floppy disc which he inserted into the computer. Since he had been a member of the team that had carried out the recent upgrade, he was completely familiar with the system. He entered a few commands once his disc had loaded, and then removed it, replacing it back in his pocket. The system was now configured to ignore all signals - it would continue to scan and display targets but it would no longer log those targets or send alarm messages. In three hours time the program would end and the system would revert to normal operation. There would be no trace of the program that had disabled the system. He checked his watch and saw that he had completed his key task, five minutes ahead of schedule.
Two Rigid Assault Craft (RACs) bobbed on a gentle swim, away out of radar range. The RACs had been dropped off earlier in the night by a motor cruiser. Like the aircraft that had just dropped the skydiver, they were painted matt black. At a precise time the specially muffled engines were started and the RACs set off for the island. If the skydiver had failed then they still had an element of surprise, and numbers. There were four heavily armed men in each RAC. Nathan woke up again. He had had a troubled sleep since he last awoke, only a few minutes ago, He dreamed things he could not possibly know, dreams of pirates that a baby's mind had recorded, images imprinted at an age when he could make no sense of them but now they haunted him in dreams and nightmare, and all because he thought he heard a noise that was out of place. He had awoken this time with a start, and got out of bed a second time. Lauren stirred and mumbled groggily, "what time is it lover?".
"Its just after three, go back to sleep", he said softly.
"mmm...'kay", she said and was asleep again.
Nathan wandered down to the beach. What was it he felt ? Something was not right ? He did not appreciate at that time, just how well he had learned the skills that been taught. What he was feeling for the first time was the very special sixth sense that highly trained fighting men develop. Some call it a nose for danger, gut instinct, a premonition, but whatever it is, it exists and has saved men's lives time and time again. He scanned the sea and saw nothing, but still, he was now convinced he had heard something, that it was not paranoia or childhood dreams coming back to frighten him. He looked over to the green island, then let his gaze rove across the sea to the empty rock of the third island, and then he heard a noise that carried all the way across the water to his ears, and this noise was much more awful that the engine drone he thought he heard earlier - it was the unmistakable sound of a weapon being cocked. A dull metallic click. To an untrained ear it could be a door bolt or a car lock, but to a trained man the sound is like no other. It seemed to come from the direction of the barren rock. Nathan slipped into the sea. With long powerful stroked he cut though the water, his arms entering the sea with hardly a ripple. He kicked with his feet, barely breaking the surface, like a silent predator of the deep. When Nathan reached the rock he paused and listened again, than pulled himself up and out of the water. There were no sandy beaches around this forlorn scrap of land.
Looking up and down the face of the rock, Nathan could see nothing out of place. He had swum here many times simply because it was there and provided a spot from which he could dive, fish, or sometimes read a book that he took over in a waterproof bag. He climbed the rock face with great care. He had ascended this side many times and it was only twenty feet to the top. He knew that even if he lost a footing (which he had done twice when he was younger), that he would fall back safely into the sea. This time, he must not fall. When he reached the top he stopped again and was about to go over to the other side when he heard a lot more soft noises - sounds that alarmed him. The top of the rock was more or less flat with dips and hollows that had been carved by the wind and sea. It was no more than a 100 yards across and he ran across, keeping as low as he could, until he reached the far edge. Suddenly, Nathan heard the sound of two engines starting, very quiet engines that sounded as if they had been fitted with sound deadening covers. He pressed himself flat to the rock and edged forward until he could see down the other side. The two RACs had just pulled away, one going left and one right. Nathan knew at once what they were.
Raiders! How had they escaped the radar system ? It had not long ago been upgraded and tested. It worked better now than when it was first installed, although not much of the original system was left after nearly twenty years of upgrade and replacement. The RACs were moving very fast, skimming over the waves. Nathan knew he could never beat them back to shore. The one that went right was clearly heading for the security base at the airstrip, but the other, the other...
The second RAC was already on the beach. In the moonlight Nathan could just make out four black shapes that left the craft and spread out along the beach, forcing a baby's confused images to replay in his mind, like a half remembered movie. Nathan ran back across the rock and jumped into the sea with no effort at silence this time - he didn't need to because any noises he made would be lost underneath the much louder sounds of automatic gunfire. He swam back to the main island, changing his course so that he could arrive at the boat jetty, away from the house and, and the guns. He felt physically sick as he thought about what was happening in there and fought for the calm he knew he needed if he had any chance at all. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the terrible gunfire stopped and all was quiet once more.