Scott and Cheryl disembarked the ferry and stood to one side, watching the horde of tourists gawping around them as they snapped pictures and soaked up the atmosphere of the most infamous prison in the world.
The Dutch settlers had named it Robben Island after the Cape Fur seals so prolific in the area. Used as a leper colony for many years, the remaining few had been removed to make way for the new prison complex. It was a microcosm; a world within a world, with a tiny town, a church, and a shop or two. The prison warders and their families lived on the island, and it was commonplace for them to visit the mainland only once or twice in a year.
The apartheid regime had used it to great effect as a convenient place to house the many political prisoners they had to deal with, and therein lay its infamy. The legendary Nelson Mandela, leader of the outlawed African National Congress, had languished here for over two decades, while the threats and pleas from the rest of the world fell on deaf ears.
It was escape-proof, outperforming the equally infamous Alcatraz in that regard, as, besides deadly currents, one of the greatest concentrations of Great White sharks on the planet patrolled a bitter cold sea that could kill within minutes.
Scott and Cheryl had visited the island once before, and had done the tour, listening to the long-winded narrative from African guides who seemed far too young to have been imprisoned here themselves, but still managed to convey a powerful sense of self-righteous indignation over the treatment they had received at the hands of their brutal overlords.
The second part of the tour had been refreshingly unexpected; a bus ride around the island with a tour guide with a sparkling wit, who pointed out the tiny herd of springbok that the previous wardens had imported to the island. He explained the history of the island itself, and told an hilarious tale of a bus that had fallen into the sea while being airlifted from the mainland.
They weren’t here for a history lesson, however. This was their rendezvous with Johnny, and to succeed, the first thing they would have to do was escape their minders, which wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Despite it being one of Cape Town’s principal attractions, the tour was surprisingly badly planned, with no refreshment breaks, nowhere to sit, and nothing to eat. The prison tour lasted anything up to two hours, and the only respite was when you climbed on the bus and could finally rest your feet.
The ferry departed once its passengers had disembarked, so even should a person have a change of heart, there was no going back to the mainland for at least four hours. It was, in fact, strangely poetic and Cheryl wondered if they hadn’t planned it that way to give the visitor a taste of the desolation that one would feel if imprisoned here. The unwitting tourist was under the watchful eye of the guides the entire time, and should an item of interest catch your attention while a guide was in full flow, he or she would politely reminded you that this was a serious business, and could you please return to the group. Escape here was virtually impossible.
Scott took Cheryl by the elbow as the group made its way towards the main gate of the prison complex. Several guides stood a little way ahead, and swiftly split the visitors into two groups, one for the prison tour, and one for the bus tour. Both groups would exchange roles in two hours’ time and do the other half of the tour. Scott pulled Cheryl into the shadowy alcove of an old warehouse on the pier, and they waited nervously as the two groups slowly went their separate ways.
‘Okay Cheryl, looks like we’re in the clear. Quickly now, follow me.’
They walked as quickly as possible and turned left onto the main road, hoping to remain unseen. They looked decidedly out of place in the deserted street, and Cheryl had the ridiculous feeling that they would be arrested if spotted.
‘E’scuse me, whe’ you are going?’ said a voice abruptly. Cheryl jumped. A uniformed security guard stood glaring at them.
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Scott quickly, ‘my wife has a severe cramp, and urgently needs to use a bathroom.’ Leaning forward, he whispered conspiratorially, ‘I think it may be period pains.’
‘Of cos, the ghels are always needing the toilet!’ their interrogator said, laughing. ‘You can be finding the toilet theh,’ he said, pointing at a small whitewashed building about fifty meters away. Thanking him, Scott and Cheryl made their way as directed, Cheryl affecting an exaggerated limp that she hoped would pass as a “ghel who was needing the toilet”.
The smell that greeted them was indescribable. A sharp, acidic stench that made the eyes water, combined with an almost fruity ripeness that one could only associate with a toilet that has continued being used despite the fact that it stopped flushing months ago.
Cheryl retched. ‘I can’t go in there, Scott,’ she pleaded.
‘Sorry my ghel, but we have no choice,’ he said. She could hear the humour in his voice, and loved and hated him for it. He was born and bred in this country, and appreciated its idiosyncrasies for what they were, whereas she was a relative newcomer, still naïve to its ways.
Scott propelled her gently into the tiny, tiled building, and with relief, Cheryl saw another door on the far side. She wasted no time getting out, and gasped for air as she emerged.
‘Scott! Did you see? There was no toilet seat!’ she said, shocked. ‘No lid, no seat … no toilet paper!’
Scott laughed. ‘I take it you noticed the door?’ he asked, grinning.
‘No, I didn’t,’ she said. ‘Why, what was wrong with it?’
‘There wasn’t one,’ he said, chuckling. She gave a little gasp of shock.
‘But what if it really was an emergency, Scott?’ she asked, completely alarmed by the prospect.
Scott laughed again. ‘Well that would have been a pretty crap situation!’ She gave him a withering look.
They made their way behind a few desolate buildings before emerging back on the main road out of sight of their erstwhile interrogator. The arrangement was to meet Johnny on the south-western side of the island, where there was no development, and there would be very little chance of being seen. They jogged across the road and slipped through a hedge, finding themselves in an open field. They could see their destination ahead, and made their way through the long grass. Cheryl glanced around.
‘I wonder where …’ but her words were cut off as an invisible force encapsulated them. For a frightening second Cheryl thought she couldn’t breathe, and panic rose in her breast, but within moments they found themselves in a strange, dimly lit room.
Johnny sat before an odd-looking device, and Jade stood a few feet from him. Neither smiled.
‘Johnny?’ said Cheryl shakily.
Johnny stood up and walked forward.
‘Please forgive me if I keep you bound for now. We have never actually met, and although I believe you can be trusted, your government considers me an enemy,’ he said. Jade walked forward and placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘Johnny, I think they are our friends,’ she said quietly. He pondered a moment before agreeing.
‘Very well,’ he said. He walked over to the controls and placed his hands on them for a moment. Cheryl felt the invisible resistance fall away, and it was as if the air around her brightened visibly. She looked at Scott, and he nodded.
‘Johnny,’ she said, ‘thank you for trusting us. It means a lot.’
‘There are few people that we can trust, Cheryl, and it is important to respect the few we do,’ he replied.
Jade stepped forward. ‘Please, come sit,’ she invited, gesturing to a table and chairs they had until now not noticed.
Cheryl gave Jade a frank appraisal, and what she saw left her slightly breathless. The girl was exquisite. Finely boned, yet with a sense of quiet strength. Her waist-length hair was the purest blonde, bordering on white, and her eyes were the palest blue Cheryl had ever seen. Jade had an almost otherworldly beauty. Modelling agencies would be falling over themselves to get their hands on this one, she thought.
She and Scott took the offered seats and waited politely for Johnny to speak.
‘As you may have heard, we were attacked by your people and defended ourselves violently,’ he said abruptly. ‘We have come to the decision that we would be better off finding others of our kind, but we don’t know where to start.’
Scott and Cheryl shared another glance, but remained silent.
‘I understand where Jade gets her blood from, but I have no idea how I fit into this, other than the ship obeys me,’ he said. ‘We had an incident in the jungle where a brigand attempted to use the ship’s technology against us, and it was made clear that those not of our blood run considerable risk in doing so,’ he finished.
‘Francesco?’ asked Scott.
‘Yes, Scott; Francesco. Needless to say he didn’t survive.’ Scott and Cheryl both noticed the look he gave Jade, and the quiet pride that glowed in her face.
‘So if I were to try control this ship, it would refuse me?’ asked Scott.
‘Painfully,’ said Johnny. Continuing, he said, ‘You and Cheryl managed to track me half way across the world, so I figure you may know something about me that I do not.’
Cheryl cleared her throat. ‘Johnny, we did find out a few things,’ she said. ‘It’s all conjecture at this point, but it makes sense.
‘Firstly, are you conversant with popular UFO culture?’ she asked. Johnny shook his head.
‘Well, the short version is that we believe there are three alien species that interact with the human population. The first two, the Greys and the Reptilians, although most prevalent and malevolent, are not what concerns us. It is the third group that does.
‘We know them as the Nordics, and they are reported to be blonde, blue-eyed, tall and powerful,’ she said. Both Johnny and Jade sat in silence, the implications lost on them.
‘Johnny, how old are you?’ she asked.
‘Me? Thirteen, Cheryl, but I think you know that,’ he replied.
‘And Jade?’ she prompted again.
‘Jade is twelve,’ he replied. ‘What are you getting at, Cheryl? What has this got to do with aliens?’
‘Johnny, I am 32 years old. Jade, if you would be so kind?’ she prompted, standing up. Jade followed her lead, and Johnny immediately saw her point. Jade stood half a head taller than Cheryl.
Sitting down, Cheryl continued. ‘Johnny, the two of you are well ahead of the curve physically. Kids your age just don’t carry themselves the way you two do. You have a maturity and wisdom well ahead of your years, and I believe that in a few years’ time, the two of you will both stand well over six feet, and be as intimidating as hell, both physically and mentally.’
Johnny thought about this, frowning. ‘So what are you trying to say?’ he asked finally.
‘Well Johnny,’ she replied, ‘we were able to establish that on the night you arrived at the orphanage as an infant, there was a strange light in the sky over Johannesburg, and we believe that it beamed you down, as it were. In other words, and this is pure speculation, we think that for whatever reason, you were abandoned by your people, who came down to Earth and left you lying in the bush.’
A wave of unexpected relief washed over Johnny as the full implications dawned on him. ‘I’m an alien? I’m an alien!’ He laughed aloud, and Jade joined him, her laughter clean and pure.
Scott and Cheryl could see what this meant to him, and both smiled in understanding.
‘I always knew I was different,’ he said, ‘and now I know!’ Johnny was positively glowing, and his physical beauty struck Cheryl. He was flawless, as was Jade. Not a bone out of place, perfect teeth, perfectly proportioned. Graceful and elegant. She looked at the two of them and for the first time the gravity and reality of what she had been saying all along struck her like a physical blow. It had all been empty words; mindless repetition of things she had read and heard, but never fully understood.
Before her sat physical, absolute proof – not only of alien life, but also of what the ancients had always said. The gods had modelled man in their image. Man was an imitation, a bad, imperfect imitation; subject to hereditary flaws and genetic mutations, whereas before her sat two people of almost offensive perfection, who would both mature into beings of vast power.
She felt Scott’s hand close over hers, and she knew he had sensed her thoughts, and he conveyed the sense to her that he loved her despite her imperfections. She felt her eyes burn.
Jade smiled at Cheryl, and it was a pure, selfless expression that oddly enhanced Cheryl’s sense of flawed mortality. She felt the irrational urge to beg them to let her and Scott stay on board, to allow them to share their lives, to somehow share their lineage voyeuristically, as empty and pointless as such an existence would be. Scott brought her painfully back to Earth.
‘Well Johnny, I hope that has answered your questions?’ he asked. ‘Is there anything else?’
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Cheryl, what are your governments plans?’ he asked. Cheryl gathered her thoughts.
‘I don’t know Johnny, but I can guess. They want you removed as a threat, of course, but more than that, they want this ship. With all their hearts, they lust for the technology and power that this ship represents.
‘I cannot stress how important it is for mankind that my government, or any other for that matter, doesn’t gain control of this vessel.’
‘They will have a hard time if they tried,’ he replied grimly.
‘Don’t underestimate them, Johnny,’ Cheryl warned, ‘this is the mightiest country in the world we are talking about here. Just be careful, that’s all I mean.’
Johnny stood up, ending the discussion. Scott, Cheryl and Jade all followed suite. Cheryl took Scott’s hand as they walked back towards the platform they had arrived at.
‘Johnny?’ Cheryl asked. Johnny stopped to look at her, as did the other two.
‘I don’t mean to impose or anything, but I’ve been studying UFO’s half my life, and now that we’re here …?’
Johnny smiled. ‘Of course, Cheryl. I didn’t mean to be rude. There’s no rush. Follow me.’
So, Johnny and Jade gave Scott and Cheryl their first tour of a real, working UFO. They showed them the kitchen area upstairs, promising them a meal before they left. They showed them the surgery and armoury on the control deck. Scott seemed particularly interested in the arms and armaments on display. Downstairs they saw the living quarters, all neatened up and not at all in the same state as they had been when Johnny first stumbled across the craft.
They took them back upstairs to the kitchen and, after Johnny had instructed the ship not to maim or kill anybody, had allowed Scott and Cheryl to pick out their own meals. They were both overwhelmed by the interactive menu that registered the flavour of the offered meals on their tongues, and they were both slightly giddy when they sat down to eat shortly afterwards.
By the time they had finished, it was obvious that Scott and Cheryl had missed their ferry back to the mainland, so Johnny offered to drop them off. Speechless with excitement, they stood at the viewing pane and watched as Johnny took the ship straight up into the stratosphere, before returning to Earth at a staggering speed. Scott was full of technical questions which Johnny answered rationally and calmly, while by this time, Cheryl and Jade had struck up that particular bond of friendship shared only by women who genuinely like and respect each other.
Slightly teary the two women said their goodbyes as Johnny brought the ship over the car park of the V&A waterfront complex. He beamed them down behind a large steel skip, hoping to avoid detection, and himself and Jade watched as Scott and Cheryl made their way to their car.
‘I like them,’ said Jade.
‘I like them too,’ he replied.
‘Will we see them again?’ she asked.
‘Perhaps, my love, perhaps,’ he said, before walking to the controls and willing the craft back into the darkening sky.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
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© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved