Scott, Cheryl and Miguel looked down in mute horror.
They had continued into the jungle at first light, and had stopped at the spot where Francesco had abandoned Pedro. Miguel had noticed traces of blood, and pointed it out to them. He had also reminded them that he had heard Pedro beating the girl, and both Scott and Cheryl agreed that the signs supported this.
Miguel had then put his bush lore to use and had quickly found signs of their passing.
‘It looks as if Pedro wanted to take the girl back to the village,’ Miguel pointed out, ‘I think I will be able to find them.’
They hadn’t progressed much further when they found Pedro… all that was left of him was a head. The three of them now stood staring at it in utter shock.
‘A very focused young man,’ Scott murmured. Cheryl tore her eyes away from the gruesome sight and looked at him.
‘Scott, we need to figure this out,’ she said. ‘We know that Johnny killed all the guerrillas except Francesco. It is safe to assume that he wasn’t aware of Miguel, or he would also probably just be a patch of scorched grass right now.’ Miguel looked decidedly uncomfortable at the thought.
‘He killed everybody except Francesco, Scott,’ she repeated. ‘Why?’
‘I think it is obvious,’ he replied. ‘He was looking for the girl and needed information. He only needed one survivor.’
‘So he made Francesco bring him back here – or at least back to where Pedro had been abandoned, and then followed the signs – just as we have,’ Cheryl surmised.
‘And when he found them, he found the girl injured and bruised,’ said Scott, ‘and took out his frustrations on poor old Pedro here.’
They both looked back at the disembodied head. Cheryl suppressed a shiver of dread.
‘So where are they now?’ asked Cheryl. Scott looked at Miguel.
‘Tell me a little about your friend, Pedro over here,’ he invited. Miguel scratched his head and replied.
‘Pedro was a very cruel and a very clever man. What do you want to know?’
‘Was he known to beat his women?’
Miguel gave a toothy grin. ‘Si Senor! Pedro was like a panther with his women – very cruel.’
‘So is it safe to imagine that the girl was badly injured?’ Scott prompted.
‘Si Senor. Pedro was very angry when we left him, and I could hear him shouting at the girl when he was beating her. I heard him for a long time before we were too far away. But all that time, he was beating her.’
Scott looked at Cheryl, who had an expression of horrified dismay on her face.
‘Cheryl,’ he said, ‘the attack on the village took place around the 8th or so, and it is the 14th today. So, the girl was severely beaten six days ago, but we must also remember that Johnny only found Francesco the following day, the 9th, and has therefore probably only had her in his care for the last five, perhaps only four days.’
He continued quietly, ‘I’ve been a cop for nearly fourteen years now, Cheryl, and I’ve seen my share of domestic abuse. I have a good idea of what Johnny must have found here; split lips, both eyes swollen shut, broken nose, a few teeth missing – you know what I mean…’
Cheryl’s face had become a cold mask as she stared again at the head on the ground.
‘You got what you deserved, you cold, heartless bastard!’ Cheryl hissed through her teeth. She looked at Scott with a fury in her eyes that he had never suspected she was capable of.
‘I’m glad Johnny killed him!’ she shouted. ‘I am glad Johnny tore him to bits! I wish I could have been here to see it!’ She was fuming, ‘You bastard!’
‘Calm down, Cheryl,’ he soothed, ‘I think it’s safe to assume that Johnny has the girl.’
‘But she’s injured, Scott! She needs medical attention. We have to find them.’ Every instinct within her as a woman screamed out for this poor, defenceless girl that Pedro had beaten so badly.
‘Cheryl, the girl can be in no fit state to travel. They are here somewhere. Don’t worry, we will find them.’
They continued in silence until they reached the deserted village.
Within days of the attack, most of Jade’s injuries had started to heal, being superficial for the most part. Johnny had found the surgery opposite the armoury, and had been pleasantly surprised to find that the ship was as helpful and easy to command as it was in all other aspects.
It scanned her injuries, dispensed medicines, and even used some kind of laser technology to accelerate the healing of her cuts and bruises, including anything internal it may have found.
Her healing progressed rapidly, and within four days, she was almost herself again. Luckily, there had been no cosmetic damage, other than a broken nose, which the ship had straightened using a snake-like, silver tube, which seemed to have a mind of its own, and had entered her nostrils and realigned the shattered cartilage.
All her teeth were there, and there would be no obvious signs of scarring.
They sat together at the table, on the third level, opposite the control area.
‘Jade,’ said Johnny, ‘I’ve been looking into what happened with the gun and the bandit… and the ship is adamant. He was, as the ship so eloquently put it, an undesirable – a human. It stands to reason that I am therefore not human, as I can comfortably use and interact with the ship’s technology. I hope you understand what this means?’
Jade looked at him trustingly, ‘I am not sure, my Lord,’ she replied.
‘It means, Jade, that you can stop calling me ‘my Lord’ and ‘master’ and start calling me Johnny,’ he said smiling.
She seemed uncertain, knowing what he was saying, yet unable to absorb the implications.
‘Jade! The gun refused the bandit, yet it did not refuse you. If I am a god, then you are a goddess! I have asked the ship and it has confirmed my suspicions; you and I share the same blood! Whoever our ancestors are, they are not from this earth!’ Johnny exclaimed.
Jade smiled at him shyly, ‘But that is what we have been telling you all along, Johnny.’
He laughed aloud; ‘You called me Johnny!’ he cried and reached out to hug her.
Jade had never been so happy in her young life. She knew nothing of technology, not even the terrestrial kind, but her implicit trust in Johnny knew no bounds. Although the fact that they were genetic equals was just starting to sink in, she still held him in a kind of superstitious awe.
He was the most magnificent being she had ever laid eyes on. He seemed to glow from the inside, like a light in a dark room, and although she didn’t know it, it was exactly the same thing that he saw in her.
‘What now my Lo…, Johnny?’ she asked. He had explained the fate of the village to her when she had regained her strength, and they both knew that there was no point in hanging around.
While she had been in recovery, Johnny had enlisted the help of the ship and buried the dead in a large communal grave in the centre of the village – the least he could do for a people whose god had failed them. He had located the body of the Guardian and buried him in his own grave alongside the temple he had venerated his whole life.
He looked at Jade, amazed at how beautiful she looked; healed, cleaned and clothed in the suit and robes of their kind.
‘How would you like to go on a nice long holiday Jade?’ he asked earnestly. ‘I think we both need it, and we’ve both definitely earned it! I know just the place; white, sandy beaches, and clear blue sea. You haven’t seen the sea, have you? Just you wait! And Palm trees!’ Johnny was getting excited. ‘We can be alone and undisturbed, and lie in the sun. What do you think?’
She smiled at him. She was so beautiful; it caught his breath in his throat.
‘With you, Johnny, I will go to the ends of the earth,’ she replied trustingly.
His heart melted. Like a lump of eternal happiness going down the right way, Johnny swallowed hard and his eyes teared up with the effort.
‘Well no time like the present,’ he said gruffly, standing up and going to the controls. He sat down, placed his hands on the controls and closed his eyes. Jade watched him lovingly.
Suddenly Johnny’s eyes snapped open. ‘There are people at the village Jade!’ Johnny said. ‘Two westerners; a man and a woman, and another man that looks like a soldier.’ Jade jumped up and ran over to him.
‘What can it mean?’ she asked.
‘Let’s go take a look,’ he replied. Closing his eyes again, he instructed the ship to open the viewing pane so that Jade could look too, and he would be able to chat with her while they flew. This was the first time Jade had seen the ship in action, and was delighted at the view.
‘This is what it must be like for the birds!’ she cried happily. Johnny smiled.
He quickly brought the ship over the village, just above the treetops. He had engaged the invisibility shield again, and the three people on the ground were oblivious to their presence. Jade and Johnny watched as they poked around the village, obviously looking for something. Johnny turned to Jade.
‘Jade, I am going to close my eyes so I can send my senses closer to these people. I want to hear what they are saying. I am here if you need me.’ She nodded silently.
He focused in on them, and was immediately surprised to hear them talking in English. The woman was speaking to the tall man, while the soldier peered inside one of the huts.
‘Scott, it’s pretty obvious that somebody has cleaned up here. Miguel was adamant that everyone in the village had been slaughtered, and yet there are no bodies.’ Johnny could hear she was American.
‘It would seem so,’ he replied. Johnny was surprised to notice that Scott spoke in a South African accent.
‘Do you think Johnny did this?’ Scott asked. Johnny’s eyes shot open. They knew his name! Closing his eyes again, he listened.
‘I can’t imagine who else could have,’ Cheryl was saying. The soldier came back out of the hut he had been investigating. Johnny felt a tap on his shoulder, opened his eyes and looked up at Jade. She looked frightened and he immediately became concerned.
‘What’s wrong Jade?’ She was staring at the ground.
‘I know that man,’ she said. Johnny looked out at the three below him.
‘Which one?’ he asked.
‘The soldier. He is the one who captured me and dragged me out of the village,’ she said simply. Johnny’s temper flared. How had he overlooked this one?
It suddenly made sense; this guy, Miguel – he had heard the woman mention his name – he must have returned to civilisation and led the other two back here.
‘Must I punish him Jade?’ he asked gently, knowing that although the physical signs were fading, the emotional and mental scarring would take longer to heal. Jade’s answer surprised him.
‘It comes to me, Johnny, that this man may have saved my life. It is likely that if he had not dragged me into the forest, I would have been among the dead.’ Johnny had not considered this, and felt his anger cooling. He sent out his senses again.
‘Scott,’ the woman was saying, ‘I’m really concerned about the girl. We know she is severely injured, and Johnny is only thirteen years old – what can he know about even the most basic first aid? We need to find him and make sure the girl gets proper medical treatment.’
She looked like she really meant it, and her concern was genuine. Johnny realised then, for the first time, that perhaps these people were not the enemy.
He considered his situation. He was taking Jade away and nobody was going to stop him. This wasn’t even up for debate, but it occurred to him that perhaps he should give them a sign; make some sort of gesture that would show them he was still alive, and that Jade was healthy and in good care. He wanted to ease their concerns. He pondered for a moment, and then made a decision.
He deactivated the invisibility shield on the ship and waited expectantly for them to notice. Miguel was the first to see the ship hovering just above the trees; large as a city block. He let out a high-pitched shriek and fell to his knees. Scott and Cheryl stared down at him for a moment before Cheryl saw it and grabbed Scott by the arm.
‘Oh my God!’ she whispered. ‘I had no idea…’
The ship hung silently above the forest, defying every law of physics. It was simply too enormous to take in all at once. Scott had his arm around her waist, supporting her as her legs seemed too weak to take her weight.
There was what appeared to be a large window visible. He raised his hand and waved; then waited. For a few moments, there was no sign that the occupants of the ship had acknowledged him, and then to his and Cheryl’s astonishment, it moved in closer. It dipped its nose at an angle that seemed almost impossible to imagine, and dropped down towards them. It stopped with the rim of the ship mere feet above the ground, parked in the air at nearly forty-five degrees!
There was an extraordinarily beautiful young girl standing in the window, gazing silently back at them. Scott and Cheryl stared back in mute amazement, momentarily stripped of their wits. Miguel was nowhere to be seen, having run off into the forest in terror the moment the ship had moved in closer. Cheryl now understood the shock and confusion she had seen so many times when interviewing her witnesses.
They watched in silence as a young man appeared in the window next to the girl. He put his arm around her in a fiercely protective gesture, and Cheryl understood.
‘Johnny, is the girl okay? Do you need help?’ He shook his head and replied. It seemed as if his voice emanated from the very trees around them.
‘Jade is fine. All her injuries are healed, and I am taking her away – far away from here; somewhere that the two of us can be happy and heal our wounds.’ Cheryl nodded.
‘After all the two of you have been through, I’m not surprised you just want some peace and quiet, Johnny,’ she said, ‘but you do realise that it may not be quite as simple as that, don’t you?’
‘What do you mean?’ Johnny asked, frowning.
‘You know that there are people out there who will try and stop you, Johnny. A kid flying around in a UFO isn’t the kind of thing that makes governments feel very comfortable.’
‘I really don’t care,’ he replied matter-of-factly, ‘they can’t stop me, and you can’t stop me either.’
‘We don’t want to stop you Johnny, we only want to help. Scott and I have been trying to find you since you ran away, and if you and Jade are happy, then I suppose there is nothing more we can do.’
Cheryl wasn’t sure how she was going to explain this all to Bill. She supposed it didn’t really matter either way – there really was nothing that either of them could do.
‘Johnny, before you go, just remember that myself and Scott are your friends. If you ever need us, you only have to find us and we will do what we can to help. That’s a promise.’
He was silent for a moment. ‘I will remember that Cheryl. Thank you.’ And with that, he walked away from the window. Jade remained, silent and withdrawn.
The ship withdrew slowly and silently, and at the very last moment, just before it was too high to see, she lifted her hand and waved shyly. Scott and Cheryl both smiled and waved back; then stood in silence and watched. Scott still had his arm around her waist, and she laid her head against his shoulder. She felt strangely at peace. It felt right, and her spirit felt light and free. To hell with Bill!
The ship rose into the clear, blue sky. They craned their necks to watch as it lifted higher and higher into the sky, before shooting off into the distance.
People who saw it thought it was a shooting star. It streaked across the sky in a brilliant white arc and disappeared from view beyond the horizon. One second it was there, the next it was a pinprick of light, and then it was gone.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved