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STEMfest Sci-Fi Writing Competition- First Place Winner!

Pacemaker by Andy Sima

It was the phone call that started it all.  Humphrey Beaumont, the business tycoon and controversial public figure, was out of office on the day his partners in Hawaii called for an emergency conference on Maui. 

It was the phone call that started it all.  Humphrey Beaumont, the business tycoon and controversial public figure, was out of office on the day his partners in Hawaii called for an emergency conference on Maui.  His personal secretary took the call, and hearing the urgent news about resources being snapped up quickly by rival businesses, quickly directed the call to Beaumont.  He accepted it impatiently, as he was just at that moment sitting down for his three-course lunch.

            “What’ll it be this time?” he asked angrily, eyeing his platter of prime rib eagerly as it was placed in front of him.

            “The other businesses have realized the profits to be made in the island-and-oil business, and if we’re to beat them out, you need to get down here fast to discuss the purchase of land for development,” the businessman on the other line said.

            “Land for development?  It’s in the middle of the ocean!  What is there to develop?” Beaumont spat into the phone.  “If you didn’t know, I’m not in the mood for trash business.”

            “Sorry, sir,” the businessman stammered.  “I’m just relaying the message from the boss.”

            “Well, get him on the phone, then!” Beaumont commanded.

            “He said it would be difficult to explain on the phone.  He told me to ask you to take a quick vacation down here talk about making a deal.  He promised it would be worth your while,” the businessman finished.

            “It had better be,” Beaumont rumbled, hanging up the phone to tackle his enormous lunch.  As he ate, a spattering of au jus sauce dripped onto his suit, which just barely covered his more-than-generous stomach.  Somewhere beneath the mounds of fat, however, lived the machine that kept one of America’s richest men alive.  There was, inside Humphrey Beaumont, a pacemaker.

 

            The jet engines rumbled as the turbulence struck the plane again.  Beaumont was not having a pleasant trip to Hawaii.

            “Sir, there’s been a bit of a problem,” his assistant said, running up suddenly from the pilot’s cabin.  “We’ve flown into the middle of a major storm, and we aren’t quite sure if we’ll be able to make it all the way to Hawaii in this type of weather.  Do you want us to turn around?”

            “Are you crazy?” Beaumont said, his wine glass teetering precariously on the edge of the private jet’s arm rest.  “We can’t turn around!  Business, no, money is at stake!  To turn around would mean to lose business, and to lose business would be very, very bad for you, Mr. Hargreaves,” Mr. Beaumont edged.

            The assistant, Alfred Hargreaves, gulped, but only said “Yes, sir.  I will instruct the pilot.”

            “Good, Mr. Hargreaves.  I wouldn’t want anything, unfortunate, to happen.  I rather like you.  You’re the best traveling assistant and right-hand lackey I’ve had in a while,” Mr. Beaumont confided, swishing his wine in a thoughtful way as he talked.  It was nearly empty.

            “Oh, and by the way,” Beaumont continued, “let Stella know that I’m almost out of wine.”

            “Yes, sir,” Hargreaves said, and left for the pilot’s cabin.

 

            “How’s the weather, Captain Rogers?” Hargreaves asked as he entered the cabin up front to relay Beaumont’s instructions.  The second pilot, Mr. Edward Smith, looked up nervously from the weather radar.

            “Not good, Alfred,” Smith said.  “The storm we’re in just gets worse and worse.  We could easily turn around now and make it back to land with plenty of fuel.”

            “Sorry, Edward.  Beaumont instructed that the plane not turn around,” Hargreaves responded mournfully.  “We’re going to have to hope the storm breaks or we get really lucky.”

            “Not turn around?  That’s just like Beaumont.  Watch, we’re not going to even make it to Hawaii,” Captain Rogers snorted, not looking away from the window of the plane as he carefully maneuvered through the dark clouds.  “Beaumont’s finally going to get us all killed.  But of all the places I’ve had to fly him, this was probably the one I was going to enjoy most.”

            “Well, let’s just hope this doesn’t get out of hand,” Hargreaves commented as he turned to leave the cabin.  He had to tell Stella that Beaumont needed her assistance.

 

            “Evening, Stella,” Hargreaves said as he arrived in the kitchenette at the back.  The private jet was equipped with all the luxury of a four-star hotel suite.  Beaumont spared no expense when it came to his own comfort, especially in-transit.  There were small, personal rooms at the back of the plane for Hargreaves, Beaumont, Stella Picardi, who was Beaumont’s servant, and the resident doctor that Beaumont never left the country without.  Dr. Neil Ackerman preferred to keep to himself in his room, and rarely left unless Beaumont called him.

            “Evening, Alfred,” Stella said as she sat, tiredly, on a stool in front of the small kitchenette.  She rubbed her eyes drowsily as the plane lurched again.  Stella didn’t even seem to notice, but Beaumont certainly did, as there was a large burst of anger from Beaumont as he evidently spilled the last of his wine. 

“Stella!  I need more wine!  And a handkerchief,” Beaumont called.  Stella sighed.

            “Long day, huh?” Hargreaves said.

            “You have no idea.  Beaumont made me stay with him through the whole night as he prepared to leave.  ‘Stella, get me this.  Stella, bring me that.  Snap to it, hurry up, girl!  I’m not paying you to lollygag.’  He made me run almost to Hell and back just so he could take this ridiculous trip to Hawaii for some business that won’t matter in a year.  Have you ever wondered why he has all of you guys refer to me as Stella?”  Stella responded.

            “No, actually.  But now that I think about it, why is that?” Hargreaves inquired.

            “Because he says ‘Picardi isn’t very proper for a woman like you.  Go by Stella, that sounds better.  And, it’s easier to shout!’  And there, he laughed like he’d made the best joke in the world.  What a pig,” Stella said wearily.

            “Stella!” Beaumont cried again.

            “You better help him or he’ll have another of his episodes.  He sent me back here to tell you about the wine, anyway.  I suppose I finished that, then,” Hargreaves said, trying his best to make a joke at the situation.  Stella just rolled her eyes.

            “You better check on Ackerman, then.  You know how he gets in bad weather.  He could use the company,” Stella responded, standing up to try and retrieve the wine bottle without spilling its contents.

            “You’re right.  I had better see how he’s holding up,” Hargreaves agreed.  Dr. Ackerman, though brilliant, was known for his biting sarcasm and acute motion sickness, which was ironic considering how much Beaumont made him travel.  This was the doctor that had saved Beaumont’s life, however, and he needed him if an emergency arose, so Dr. Ackerman went wherever Beaumont did, though mostly when he left the mainland.

            Hargreaves went to the personal rooms in the back, and checked on Dr. Ackerman.  “Doctor?” He asked as he knocked on the thin door. 

A quiet, pained voice said from inside, “Come in, come in.  What is it?”

Hargreaves stepped into the bare room and tried to not feel pity for the man curled up on the small bed.  He was wearing casual clothes, something only he could get away with, as the only one who consistently escaped Beaumont’s wrath and the only staff member who couldn’t be replaced.  This, of course, caused the other staff members to feel jealously and a bit of hatred towards the man, who flaunted his impunity whenever he could.   However sure of himself he normally was, though, his rumpled and ripped clothes gave it away now.  Dr. Ackerman clearly had had a rough trip.

“Are you actually sick?” Hargreaves asked the doctor.

“Yes, of course I am!” he moaned.  “Very motion sick.  I don’t handle planes very well.”

“Well, I hope you feel better, doctor,” Hargreaves said, “Because once we land, you know Beaumont is going to want you by his side at all times.”

“Be as that may, he pays well,” Dr. Ackerman said.  “None of us could ever find a better-paying job that requires so little effort.”

“So little effort for you,” Hargreaves responded angrily.  “Beaumont has me crunching numbers, making appointments, making phone calls, and filing papers day in and day out.  Stella’s either cleaning his house, making his food, or doing anything he asks her too, all the time.  Captain Rogers doubles as his chauffeur and body guard, and has to be on call all day; he can’t go to the movies with his kids without being interrupted.  And Edward does all the technical work.  Computers, cars, mechanics, secondary pilot, you name it, the engineer can do it.  And to top it all off, the rest of us go almost everywhere with him, from the supermarket to Tokyo.  You only have to be here when he calls, or when we go on his business trips.  And if you ask me, he’s into a little more than upstanding business, if you catch my drift,”

“Fine, fine, you guys do a lot for him, the man can’t function on his own, he’s got some shady deals, what do you want me to say?  He still pays better than anything else you guys could find,” Dr. Ackerman repeated.  Hargreaves was angry, but he sighed anyway.  Dr. Ackerman was right, after all.  Beaumont, for all his many, many, faults, paid handsomely.  However, the possibility of getting fired at a moment’s notice was high.

The plane shook again, and Dr. Ackerman moaned.  Hargreaves took his leave and returned back to Beaumont in case his boss needed something else. “Goodbye, Dr. Ackerman,” Hargreaves said. “Goodbye, Hargreaves,” Dr. Ackerman mimicked childishly.  Hargreaves rolled his eyes.  Secretly, sometimes Hargreaves wasn’t sure who was worse, Dr. Ackerman or Beaumont.

 

For once, Beaumont didn’t have any urgent instructions for Hargreaves.

“No, nothing I need from you.  I have my drink, I have my blanket, and I have my chair.  I think I’ll rest here for a while, maybe retire to my room.  You could work on the pros and cons of that hostile takeover I’m planning, but I won’t need that for a while,” Beaumont said contentedly.  The plane shook, and a bolt of lightning lit up the night sky for an instant, eerily illuminating the cabin and wings outside.  Hargreaves imagined he saw something on the wing, but he knew there wasn’t anything there.  The storm was still getting worse.

“Are you sure you don’t want to turn around, sir?” Hargreaves asked again.  He was beginning to get worried about the nature of the weather.  No pilot in their right mind, especially Captain Rogers, would fly through a storm like this.

“Now?  No, of course not!  You asked me ten minutes ago, and my answer is not going to change.  I ask you now to leave me along, Hargreaves.  I need my sleep,” Beaumont said indignantly.  We all need our sleep, Hargreaves thought angrily.

“Yes, sir.  Goodnight, sir,” Hargreaves murmured.  Turbulence shook the cabin again.

“Wish Rogers would fly this thing properly.  I could use a bit less-” Beaumont never even finished his sentence.  Lightning struck the wing of the plane, and the engine burst into flames, drowning out anything he could have said.

The emergency lights of the plane turned on, and the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.  Hargreaves heard Stella scream from the other room.  Beaumont was wide awake now.

We’re losing altitude, sir,” Captain Rogers said over the intercom as the plane roared downward, towards the dark ocean below.  Hargreaves felt a sensation he thought similar to weightlessness as the nose of the plane dipped downward at an unnaturally steep angle.  The fire outside lit up the cabin even more as if the entire wing was about to rip off.  The plane felt like it was going into a tailspin.

I don’t think we can make it, sir.  Prepare for an ocean landing, prepare for impact.  Angling the plane for best impact, sir.  I don’t think it’s enough, though,” Captain Rogers continued.  He was quickly losing his cool demeanor, and I could hear the panic in his voice.  Stella was crying in the back.

“I think I know that, Rogers,” Beaumont said quietly as he shuffled to the emergency release door.  “I’m not dying today, Hargreaves!  Help me get the parachute-” again, Beaumont was cut off, as the plane hit the water suddenly.  Captain Rogers had been able to angle the plane enough to stop them from going too deep in the ocean, but not from hitting the roof.  As the plane crashed into the water, and everything went dark for Hargreaves.

 

The sound of ocean waves was what woke up the crew of Beaumont’s private plane.  Hargreaves’s head was pounding as he opened the eyes to the bright, tropical sun over his head.  The storm had clearly passed, and it must have been the next day.  Boy, Hargreaves thought, Beaumont was going to be furious about this delay- Beaumont!  Where was he?

Hargreaves sat up quickly, not thinking all too clearly.  It never crossed his mind to ask, “Why am I sitting on a beach in the middle of plane wreckage,” or, “What happened yesterday?”  All that mattered at that moment was Beaumont, or more importantly, the paycheck that was signed in his name.

Hargreaves stood up, but nearly fell over as his head exploded in pain.  He had to sit back down, and felt the side of his skull.  It was caked in dried-up blood and sand, but he didn’t think his skull was broken.  His clothes were soaked, and bits of metal and burning hunks of unidentifiable objects littered the beach.  That was when he thought, ‘Where am I?’

“Where am I?” Hargreaves said aloud.  The beach stretched for a while into the horizon before turning sharply in on itself.  A lush, green forest of palm trees grew behind him on the island.  Somewhere, deep inside Hargreaves’s mind, he knew that palm trees meant fresh water, and that was promising.  But for now, his focus was finding the rest of the crew.

He didn’t have to walk far to find Captain Rogers, lying face down in the sand.  His heart skipped a beat, as the Captain wasn’t moving, but he saw that his back was rising slowly.  Hargreaves approached him quietly and tapped him on the shoulder.  The response was volatile.

Captain Rogers leapt up from his position on the ground, and proceeded to put Hargreaves in a head lock that could have snapped his neck in an instant.  Captain Rogers held him like this for only a second, before he realized just what he was doing.  He hastily released the startled butler.

“My apologies, Alfred.  Old habits die hard,” Captain Rogers said.

Hargreaves cracked his neck and dusted off his shirt, and said, “No harm done, my good man.  Now, where, exactly, are we?”

Captain Rogers shrugged.  “I honestly don’t know.  Last I saw we were smack dab over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but we could have drifted anywhere at this point.  It’s miraculous the two of us landed on an island at all, not to mention most of the plane.  Speaking of that, what do you say we try and find the rest of our crew?”

“I think that might be a proper course of action, yes,” Hargreaves agreed.  The two men then went up and down the beach, combing the wreckage in their soaked clothes, looking for their companions, not once considering that they might never be found.

They searched for a while, eyeing both the ocean with its burning plane parts and the dense jungle, before Captain Rogers exclaimed loudly and headed towards the inside of the island.  Hargreaves wanted to know what had excited the man so.

“Look at this, Alfred.  Do you see this?” Captain Rogers exclaimed.

“I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at, Captain,” Hargreaves replied honestly.  There was a trail that led through the jungle to someplace Hargreaves couldn’t see, but it clearly excited Captain Rogers.

“It’s a trail, Alfred!  Trails are made by people, or large animals.  That means there is someone else here!  It has to be the rest of the crew,” Captain Rogers said excitedly.

“Let’s go, then!” Hargreaves said eagerly as the news of this sank in.

They dashed down the trail, breaking branches, snapping twigs, and tearing their suits in a mad dash to find other people.  They had the frenzy of men who had thought themselves dead but were just now finding life, even though they had only been conscious from the wreck for about an hour.

They didn’t have to go far to find the person that had created the trail.  Beaumont, Stella, Smith, and Dr. Ackerman sat around a flat rock, arguing loudly.  A small spring flowed from the ground nearby.  That must have been the source of fresh water for the trees.

“No, we need to cut down this forest!” Beaumont roared.  “Cut it down and burn the logs!  The fire will attract somebody!”

“How do you expect we cut down these trees?  With a herring?” Dr. Ackerman said sarcastically.

“Even if we could cut the trees down, burning them would only waste the wood!” Stella argued.  “We need to use the materials to build shelter!”

            Smith said nothing.  He only sat and watched the three others argue.

            “What are you all fighting about?” Captain Rogers broke in.

            “The best course of action to survive,” Dr. Ackerman responded.

            “But they won’t do as I ask!  I am your boss!” Beaumont thundered.

            “You’re not my boss while we’re dying on a desert island!” Stella cried.  The three started to argue again, and Smith only got up and went to the small spring.  He put his hand in the water, and brought them up to his mouth for a drink.  He sipped the water silently, watching the group.

            “Calm down, all of you!” Captain Rogers finally said.  “There is a time and a place for everything.  Chopping down the forest is not our first priority, and neither is leadership.  Food is always our first priority.  Food and water, but I see we already have water.”

            “We actually have food, too,” Smith finally spoke up.  The rest of the group quieted down to hear what the engineer had to say.  “I found some of the supplies from the kitchenette on the plane.  I’d wager we have enough food for two to three days here before we have to find our own.”

            “That’s not nearly enough,” Beaumont said irritably.  “We’ll starve before we’re rescued.”

            “Not necessarily,” Smith responded.  This surprised everybody.  “Would rescue be our next priority after food, Captain?”

            “No, I was thinking shelter would be, but I want to hear what you have to say,” Captain Rogers responded slowly.

            “Well, I was able to salvage a portion of our radio as well, and perhaps we could use that to tell a passing plane of our location.  But...,” Smith breathed.

            “But what?  Well, get on with it!” Beaumont chided.

            “But, we don’t have a battery.  I was only able to salvage the major parts of our emergency radio and some parts of the plane’s radio, enough to tack them together to transmit a simple SOS beacon for a couple of miles.  However, we’ve got the transmitter, the receiver, the antenna… Everything for communication, but nothing for power,” Smith finished shyly.

            “Can’t we just make a coconut radio, like in Gilligan’s Island or something?” Dr. Ackerman asked.

            “I doubt that would actually work.  You’d need some sort of acid, like a citrus, or something like the chemicals found in potatoes.  I don’t know if coconuts have either of those,” Smith responded logically.  Dr. Ackerman looked rather annoyed, but said nothing.

            “We need a battery, but have nothing of the sort…” Captain Rogers brainstormed aloud.  Everyone sat in thought for a while.

            “This might be a Catch-22 of a kind, but I have a solution... maybe,” Hargreaves said.  He was probably going to regret even mentioning this, but he might not have any other choice.  “Beaumont, you have a pacemaker, right?”

            “Why, yes, I do, but how would that help any of us?” Beaumont retorted.

There was a bit of confusion, and Dr. Ackerman eyed Hargreaves suspiciously, then his eyes went wide.  “You don’t mean to suggest…” he started.

            “Yes.  Let me suggest this.  Beaumont has a pacemaker.  Pacemakers are, more or less, a battery and a wire, right, Edward?” Hargreaves continued.  Smith’s eyes were huge, and he only nodded.  “Well, would it be possible to, maybe, I don’t know, use the pacemaker as a battery?”  He suggested it carefully and slowly, like he was traversing a minefield.  Which, in a way, he was.

            The forest clearing was silent.  Beaumont was stunned, but quickly regained his formidable attitude.  “Are you suggesting you kill me just to get to the machine on my heart?”

            “Not at all!” Hargreaves responded hastily.  “We have a trained surgeon here with us.  Dr. Ackerman, couldn’t you perform the surgery?”

            The doctor was quiet.  “Well, not safely.  It would break almost every oath I’ve ever taken as a doctor, and goes against my conscience,” he Dr. Ackerman seemed to wink, as if saying, ‘not really,’ but it was gone in an instant.  He continued, saying, “I would have to fashion my own tools, or scavenge them from the crash, and there would be no way to keep Beaumont alive through the whole operation.  It would be fatal without proper machinery.  And then, how do we know the battery would even work?”

            “We don’t,” Smith responded solemnly.

            “But it’s a risk we may have to take,” Hargreaves responded.  Beaumont was shocked.

            “No!  I am not going to let you operate on me just to save yourselves!  I will not give myself up to you selfish heathens.  There are other ways to contact civilization!  I refuse to go under the knife,” Beaumont reacted furiously.

            “But, sir, it might be our only option at this point,” Smith said.  “There’s no way for anybody to know where we are.  The chances of any planes seeing us at this point are slim, as not many planes travel in this direction.  We never really communicated with the mainland on our flight, either.  We broke tons of general rules of flight safety, and now it could be the end of us.”

            “Are you blaming me for this mess?  Me, your boss?  I could have your life ruined, you dirty little b-” Beaumont screamed furiously, before being cut off by Captain Rogers.

            “Whoa there, Beaumont.  Let’s not go pointing fingers at anybody.  If I learned anything from the military, it’s that blame doesn’t get us anywhere.  We need to focus our efforts on finding an alternative solution,” the captain said, stressing the word alternative, but eyeing Dr. Ackerman and Hargreaves while he said it.  Beaumont calmed down, but just enough to be silent.

            “Are there any ideas besides a radio powered by Beaumont’s heart?” Captain Rogers asked. 

            Stella answered confidently, saying, “We could build the word ‘help’ out of rocks and logs on the beach, and make a signal fire.”

            “Good, there’s something.  Anybody else?  Unless someone has a better idea, that sounds like a plan of action to me.  So, shall I assign jobs?” Captain Rogers encouraged.

            “Hold on, there.  I am still your superior!” Beaumont said.  Hargreaves rolled his eyes behind Beaumont’s back.  “And I say that I should be in charge!”  The rest of the group looked at him, annoyed, but said nothing.  Faltering, Beaumont continued, saying, “And my first order as leader is to have Captain Rogers head the survival operations.”  Captain Rogers almost laughed aloud, but held his tongue.

            “All right, good!  Now, I need Edward and Stella to scavenge the wreck and look for anything useful, Dr. Ackerman to look for sticks and leaves for… shelter,” he emphasized, hoping the message got across to Dr. Ackerman.  He didn’t want to have to kill Beaumont, but if that was what it took, he wanted the tools ready.  “Beaumont, you and Hargreaves will work on creating a sign for help and constructing a fire.  I will try and find some sort of food.”

            The group nodded and went to work, even Beaumont, though grudgingly.  Captain Rogers was surprised at how well that had worked.  It had been a while since he had commanded anything other than a private jet.

 

            Work went smoothly for a couple days.  A small group of grass huts was constructed by a confused Dr. Ackerman, a help sign and the preparations for a signal fire were made by a begrudging Beaumont and an uneasy Hargreaves, a frustrated Captain Rogers failed at finding any sort of edible food on their small island, and Edward and Stella turned up very little in their scavenge.  No more food or radio parts were found, except a small box of electronic parts that was nearly useless to Smith, unless he had a battery…

            At the end of the third day, their food had run out and everybody had grown exceedingly short-tempered, even the shy Smith.  Beaumont was prepared to roll some heads as the day drew to a close.  They thought their luck had got as bad as it could possibly get, but they were in for a surprise.

            “Okay, everybody, tonight we light the bonfire!” Captain Rogers said, trying to raise spirits as he stood before the immense pile of leafy brush and fallen trees.  He didn’t do too well at it.

            “How are we going to light it?” Stella asked practically.  The question had never actually occurred to Captain Rogers, and his confident smile fell quickly.

            “I don’t know… There has to be something.  Anybody got a lighter, or matches they salvaged?”  Captain Rogers asked as he felt around in his pockets for his emergency matchbook.

            “No, nobody has anything of the sort.  If we had one we would have said so ages ago so we could have lit the fire before these clouds rolled in!” Dr. Ackerman seethed.  He was right, as clouds had begun to roll over the island again.  While it had been perfectly sunny for three days, now it was cloudy and ominously dark.

            “Well, I have an emergency matchbook for just this sort of thing!” Captain Rogers said.  He lifted it into the air for all to see, and the first drop of rain landed perfectly on the matchbook.  Beaumont groaned loudly.

            “Another storm?!?  We’re all going to die here!” He rumbled.  The group looked at Captain Rogers as more and more droplets started to fall.  The storm was coming on fast.

            “There’s no way we can light the fire now.  It’ll be soaked through by the time we can get a light,” Hargreaves said, depressed.

            Captain Rogers sighed, and put the matchbook in his pocket again.  “You’re right.  Well, then, everybody needs to go to the shelters.  That’s the best place to be if this storm gets any worse.”  The group had no disagreements about that.

            They trudged gravely back to the forest clearing where they prepared to sleep, but Captain Rogers pulled Hargreaves and Dr. Ackerman aside where nobody could hear them.  The rain poured faster.

            “Alfred, Neil, what’s that status on Beaumont’s… medical treatment?” Captain Rogers said quickly and quietly.  Hargreaves seemed rather surprised at this side of Captain Rogers, but the Captain was a survivor.  He would do anything to save his crew, and himself.  The military had taught him that much.

            “The tools are finished.  I could perform the surgery easily, especially without any normal limitations that hospitals have.  But I don’t know if I could really go through with it,” Dr. Ackerman said honestly.  “It isn’t our only option, we could survive without food for a while, and I don’t know, despite how much I hate him, if I could kill Beaumont in cold blood.”

            “But if you don’t do it, you might kill us all,” Captain Rogers said sagely.  “This storm could go on for God knows how long, and what are the chances of any planes flying this way?  Smith said it himself; we took a route rarely taken by planes.  A radio is our best chance of survival.”

            “But what do we do with the body?  And how do we make sure Stella and Edward don’t find out?” Hargreaves asked worriedly.

            “We tell them he was eaten by wild pigs or something.  Those things come to Pacific islands all the time.  We could always mutilate the body beyond recognition, too,” Dr. Ackerman said quickly.  Hargreaves looked at him oddly.

            “You sound like you’re almost enjoying this,” Captain Rogers said.  Dr. Ackerman paled.

            “The details aren’t bad to work out, but the actual idea of it is what scares me,” Dr. Ackerman responded.

            “Well, either way, you have to at least try, whatever it is you end up doing,” Captain Rogers said.  “Even if the battery doesn’t work, and we die here of starvation, it would be better without Beaumont’s endless nagging,” Captain Rogers said, smiling only for a second.  Hargreaves snickered, but quickly became serious and stone-faced again.

            “I don’t think I can do it.  Not alone, especially.  Could I really go through with this, murder?  Even if it might be essential…?” Dr. Ackerman asked himself.

            “I don’t care what you do, but it has to be tonight.  If I wake up and find Beaumont alive, I’ll know that you’ve made your decision, and I will think no less of you,” Captain Rogers said.  “Human life is sacred.”  What a double-edged sword that is, Hargreaves thought to himself.

            “Fine.  I have to think about.  And I’ll need help.  Hargreaves, you’ll help me, right?” Dr. Ackerman asked him.

            “What?  Why me?” Hargreaves took a step back.

            “Because it was your idea, that’s why,” Dr. Ackerman said.  Hargreaves sighed.  There was no way he was getting out of this.  Though he could probably talk Dr. Ackerman out of it, Hargreaves wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk Dr. Ackerman out of it.  Beaumont was a pretty horrible man… Would it redeem him if his death saved five innocent people?

            “It doesn’t matter.  Beaumont’s going to get suspicious if we stand here talking for too long.  Here’s what I suggest; pretend to go to sleep, and wait a couple of hours.  When it’s about midnight, or you feel it’s been long enough, talk to each other.  Decide on your course of action.  Then, stick to it.  Or you’ll lose your grip,” Captain Rogers said.  “We have to go, now.  Come on, let’s get some ‘sleep,’” he said, using air quotes when he said ‘sleep.’

            The three slogged through the heavy rain to the shelter area, and waited.  Captain Rogers actually did fall asleep.  He wasn’t a part of this plan, and he didn’t want to know what was going to happen.  So, he waited until morning.  He heard nothing peculiar in the night.

 

            The storm hadn’t quite blown over when they awoke, but it had certainly lessened.  It would be a while before their firewood was dry enough to burn, but that didn’t matter.  Smith ran to Captain Rogers with exciting news.

            “Captain, when I woke up this morning I looked one last time for a battery, and I found one!  It’s five volts, but I can use some transistors to narrow it down to the one-point-five volts needed for the radio.  I can turn it on!  We can contact somebody!”  Smith said exuberantly.

            Captain Rogers sat up.  “That’s great!” he said, trying hard to hide the strain on his face.  Was this just a coincidence? he thought, or had those two really done it?  Was Beaumont dead?

            A scream from Stella answered his question.  The group quickly huddled around Beaumont’s hut.  It was empty, and blood coated the sand.  There seemed to be signs of a struggle, but Captain Rogers couldn’t quite tell.

            “Wha- what happened?” Smith said nervously.  Dr. Ackerman gasped (which sounded surprisingly real, Captain Rogers thought), and Hargreaves took a step back nervously.  Stella cried a little.

            “Hmm… I’d say a wild attack,” Dr. Ackerman said, stutteringly yet professionally.  “It must have killed him and dragged him off.  Vicious, wild pigs are common on islands like these.”

            Hargreaves was still stony-faced, but looked a little sick.  Smith’s eyes were as large as dinner plates, but Captain Rogers was calm.  “Well, he was a, erm, good man, and this was a horrible loss, but Smith has some exciting news!”

            Smith glanced at Captain Rogers, surprised by his seemingly unaffected demeanor, but spoke quickly.  “Yes, um, I found a battery!  I can put together a makeshift radio!  And we, we, we can contact the search planes that are undoubtedly looking for us,” Smith said, tumbling over his words in a flood of emotion.  Captain Rogers smiled at him.  The group cheered, but Captain Rogers noticed that Dr. Ackerman and Hargreaves were a little less excited than Smith and Stella were.

            Smith moved back to his hut to build the radio, and joyously tried to explain the workings of a Ham radio to an uncomprehending Stella.  Dr. Ackerman and Hargreaves looked nervously onward.  Captain Rogers sat down on a log next to them as rain fell calmly around them.

            “You guys did it, didn’t you?  Your survival instincts were overwhelming?”  Captain Rogers asked, not sure if he was proud or ashamed at what they had done.

            “We didn’t do anything,” Dr. Ackerman said, denying Captain Roger’s accusation.  “It was all coincidence.  I swear, we didn’t kill him!  I really think it might have been wild pigs.  Imagine that.  What a coincidence!” 

            “I met with Dr. Ackerman last night, and we decided that we didn’t have the guts to kill that man, even as much as we hated him.  He may have been a sick, inhumane demon of a man, but he was a man nonetheless,” Hargreaves said.  He sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than Captain Rogers.

            “Well, whatever happened last night, I believe you.  I guess it really was just a coincidence,” Captain Rogers said, actually maybe starting to believe they were telling the truth.  The three men sat there for a while, and listened to the chatter of Smith and Stella as they worked.  There was a chance there were wild pigs on the island… Maybe he had heard some snorting last night?

There was a sudden roar of happiness from Smith’s hut when the radio turned on, and to their amazement, transmitted a series of beeps spelling “SOS” in Morse code.  They rushed to the hut to listen to their life-saving radio, and cheered together.  Captain Rogers was the last to arrive.  Right before he sat down around the radio, he couldn’t help but notice a small dark spot on Hargreaves’s jacket.  A small dark spot the color of blood.

Bibliography

Johansson, Philip.  Heart Disease.  Springfield, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1998.

Helms, Harry.  All About Ham Radio.  San Diego: High Text Publications, Inc., 1992.

Green, Charles, Ph.D.  Ergonomic Engineer for General Motors.  October 4, 2013.