For Danica and Hayden, their world had turned upside down in a matter of seconds. They were still thunderstruck by the revelation Carlos entrusted to them, as it not only gave weight to their recent adventure, but also explained the forces that had been brought to bear against them resulting in their recent failures.
Their lack of belief had put them at a serious disadvantage, whereas they assumed they were acting as two people playing a game. One with money behind them, provided by an eccentric couple, only to discover, they were in pursuit of something for which mankind would devote their lives to find and sacrifice others to get.
Now having seen the hyper healing on Carlos’ body for themselves, Danica and Hayden knew their mission was more than they had originally estimated.
Carlos, understanding the two doctors were still stunned by this change in their course, if not their reality, knew he needed to keep them on track. “First. I never lied to you. I simply omitted the truth.”
Danica and Hayden were not angry. Far from it.
Hayden asked him. “How have you been able to hide your past for so long?”
“It was easier than you think.” Carlos looked offhandedly at them. “In fact, I’ve changed my name several times. The last being in 1946 to Santiago. It seems, when your birth certificate reads 1825, you get a lot of questions. And I didn’t need the scrutiny. And unlike today, reinventing yourself in Europe, especially at the end of World War II, was remarkably easy with all the chaos. But with modern technology today, I may not be so lucky the next time.”
’Next time?’ Danica thought. She asked him with some awe in her voice. “How long do you expect to live?”
“I honestly have no idea.” Carlos replied. “But I suspect I’m not immortal. In fact, since 1899, I have aged significantly, if not somewhat slower. I used to look thirty around the turn of the century. Today, I pass for a good and healthy sixty-five.” He flexed his left and then right muscles. “That and the speed of my healing you see today was remarkably faster then too. It’s slowed more since the early fifties. I once could heal a broken bone in minutes and wounds in seconds.”
“Amazing.” Danica moved around him, running her fingers over his bare skin, searching his upper body where he had left his shirt open at the top, Hayden looking on with annoyance.
All the bruises, scratches and exterior damage on Carlos were gone.
Carlos pointed to his chest. “I suspect my ribs may still be fractured, but by tomorrow, they should be reforming the calcium layers.”
Hayden took a seat across from him on the counter, sipping his beer, grimacing at its warmth. “You have a fresh one?” He held up the bottle.
Danica turned to glare at Hayden. “At least some things are still normal.”
Carlos grinned and gestured Hayden to the fridge.
Once Hayden had a new one, he returned to his seat and asked the next biggest question on his mind. “So, there really is a Fountain of Youth?”
Carlos paused, looking skeptical, regardless of his advanced years. “I have no idea what’s on that island, but it’s obviously something remarkable.” He turned to both Danica and Hayden. “But I can assure it’s not the Fountain of Youth in the sense that you think.”
Hayden took a gulp of his beer. “Excuse my French, but you being here is already beyond my sense.”
Danica leaned against the counter next to Hayden. “What is it then?”
Carlos shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t the foggiest idea.”
Danica and Hayden exchanged another look of confusion. “How can you not know?”
Carlos offered them a resigned look, seemingly more annoyed with himself at his answer. “All I can tell you is whatever happened; I wasn’t regressed to a younger age, waking up a teenager aboard the Leviathan. Mind you, I have no recollection of having been found on board either, but this is what I was told on how they found me.” He took a breath, thinking back. “I remember our voyage. It was remarkably uneventful at the time. We had pulled into a cove in the lower quadrant of South America. We went ashore and made camp. Our plan was to explore for a few weeks. It turned into three months. We stocked supplies, hunted, fished and much more. It was truly a good crew.” Carlos eyes drooped a little imagining all his lost friends. “I remember us coming into contact with the island tribe that guards the island.”
Danica gave Hayden a quick look.
Hayden shook his head as he spoke. “This would more likely be the original tribe. Not the offshoot that built the chamber.”
Carlos could offer no confirmation. “They welcomed us into their camp. And of course, we later betrayed them by seeking out the island.” He rose at this point and retrieved a bottle from his kitchen cupboard. He poured himself an amber coloured liquor from an unmarked bottle. It appeared he needed something stronger to speak of this part of his past.
The drink’s stench was powerful, nearly burning the kitchen air with alcohol fumes.
Danica put her hand to her nose. “What the Hell is that?”
Carlos held it up. “Dark rum. One hundred and fifty proof. The only thing that can help me relax. My body metabolizes normal booze so fast; it might as well be drinking water. This holds firm for a good hour. Presuming I drink the whole thing.”
“And you don’t get drunk?” Hayden was baffled. “You poor bastard.”
Danica did not think that deserved sympathy. She knew the liver considered alcohol a poison in the body, so any accelerated healing would remove toxins quickly.
Carlos took a drink and sat back down. “From there, I remember our search of the caves. It took weeks until we found the bottom. The tribe offered no assistance. I remember sailing across the underground lake to the island itself and…..” He paused, his body involuntarily shivering.
Danica stepped forward and put her hand on Carlos’ shoulder.
Carlos placed his hand on hers and held it there for a good minute. “And the next thing I know, it was 1887 and I was a guest of the Royal London Medical Institute in London.”
Hayden gave a low end wolf whistle. “Seriously?”
“Seriously.” Carlos replied. “I was later told my ship was found at sea, the entire crew was lost. I was never blamed of course officially, but it was noted my destruction of the Leviathan’s log and charts was deemed suspicious. But I was also diagnosed as mad, so any criminal proceedings faded away over time. It was all simply attributed to another tragedy at sea.”
Danica was saddened by Carlos’ plight. The thought of waking up, two decades later, all your friends gone, institutionalized and being suspected of having some small part of it had to be horrifying. “You were found alone at sea aboard the Leviathan?”
“Based on the logbook...” Carlos remembered. “Ship damage and the dates before the missing pages, combined with the date of discovery, it was assumed I was at sea for a good two months before I was found. Not including the three months on shore. I was told I was living in squalor in a kitchen cupboard, living off of dried meats and food stuffs which had not spoiled.”
“Terrible, but still pretty amazing.” Hayden noted.
“And the very reason Maxima and Maximus want it as bad as they do.” Danica added. “Longevity, miraculous healing and who knows what else. It really doesn’t matter. I can guarantee you, a millionaire would pay thousands, if not millions of dollars for even one extra year of life. Some would sell their souls for it.”
“Some did.” Carlos threw in, sounding very grave.
Neither Hayden nor Danica chose to speak to that last remark.
Danica took a moment to broach the next difficult subject. “When we were researching the journal, it referred to a fire and you having been killed?”
“They tried. Believe me.” Carlos eyes darkened. “When the good Doctor Gerber, the original administrator retired, his replacement was, shall we say, a bit more of the archaic religious kind. When he discovered my very slow aging and healing factor, he presumed I made a deal with the devil himself.” His muscles tightened. “And he very badly wanted my journal. He felt it was the origin of my deal and he needed to destroy it to break the contract. But I kept it hidden from this point. And did this infuriate him. He finally chose to return me to my deal maker in the clutches of fire.”
Danica’s face was aghast. “That’s horrible.”
“I would never want to do it again. They roused me from my cell, and trust me, in those days, as comfortable as they make it, anything with a lock on the door and window is a cell. I got wind of the new doctor’s plans from inmates as the guards found it sort of exciting. They were like housewives on a lonely street, they talked. Before they took me, I ripped out the last of the pages with the directions to the island and buried them in a stone in the wall. The rest of the journal was placed under the floor. I figured he would find one, likely not the other.”
“So that’s how they survived the fire?” Hayden looked at him. “But what about you?”
“That evening, they dragged me outside and I was tied to some trees. I had no idea what they had planned exactly, but I assumed it was another one of his failed exorcisms with more enthusiasm.”
“Barbarians.” Was all Danica could muster.
“But oddly enough, though the fire was painful, they had tied me with rope instead of chains. And the ropes were less resilient to flames than I was. I broke free and in my hysteria of the burning, I was grabbing at walls, furniture and anything not lit. Their actions ended up costing them the institution as I tore through the halls. The guards were in a panic to get away from what they perceived was a fiery devil that could not die.”
Danica and Hayden exchanged looks of astonishment.
Carlos seemed to shiver at the memories of that terrible night. “I escaped in the chaos and the collapse of the building. As the flames took to the walls, I finally was able to extinguish myself at a horse trough. I raced back inside to get the pages before they were lost. I have no idea why, but I felt they should be retained.”
“What did you do after that?” Danica asked with deep curiosity.
“I hid in the city for a good month, living off scraps and doing menial labour. No one was looking for me. After the heat involved, they assumed I was ash.” Carlos found himself drinking another glass of his powerful brew. “Later, I sought out the good Doctor Gerber. In fact, he told me he was expecting me. He was not surprised at my survival. In fact, at that time, he used his vast network to change my name for the first time to Carlos Castillo.”
Hayden gestured around the room. “And with a new name, you acquired all this over the years?”
Carlos shook his head. “No. Before I changed my name, Gerber informed me Captain Rios bequeathed his entire estate to me in his absence… or his death. It seems Rios felt I was as close to a son as he would ever have.”
Both Hayden and Danica were poised on the edge of the counter, hanging on Carlos’ every word.
“He included a letter.” Carlos said. “In short, he felt if he found what he was seeking, he would be indebted to me more than he had given. If he didn’t, he would die trying. Either way, he felt he owed me and would not accept not paying for it. And based on his vast holdings, it was quite handsomely.”
After a few seconds, Danica queried. “Do you know what happened to Rios?”
Carlos shoulders sagged. “In that, I have no idea. He vanished in his pursuit of the island. I fear if the sea did not take him, which though dark, I hoped it did. I do dread he found what he was looking for.”
“I think Rios may have found the chamber and resealed it before ultimately seeking out the island.” Danica mentioned, pointing to Hayden. “From what we discovered.”
Hayden nodded his agreement.
Carlos pursed his lips. “Rios was a dedicated man. I have no doubt he could have. Though I have no recollection of our crew ever finding the chamber, my journal specifically noted a tribe in the area and their appearance. Had he found the travelling one matching my description, I could see him stalking them until he found their precious chamber or their living ancestors to find the cave entrance down.”
Hayden asked. “So when you said by helping us, we are helping you, how is that?”
Carlos pondered for a second. “I’ve not been back to that island in over a hundred years. My irrational fear has kept me from doing so.” He sighed. “And I certainly couldn’t proactively bring others with me unprepared for what they may face because I couldn’t remember. That and being the length of time it took me to get over it, it was far too dangerous to bring along unwitting parties. Yet I couldn’t return alone. It was a Catch-22.” He raised his head and looked to Danica and Hayden. “But since you already want to go and I owe you, I feel it’s time I return to the Island of Eternal Night and face my fear, but with you both at my side.”
Hayden smiled. “Sounds like we have ourselves another expedition.”
Danica felt a glimmer of hope. “I have to inform Maximus and Maxima.”
Hayden rolled his eyes. “Must we?”
Danica turned to Hayden. “They’re the ones bankrolling this operation. And paying us quite handsomely I might add.”
Carlos seemed to hesitate. “I was always aware of who employed you both, but I’ve had my reservations about Maximum Pharmaceuticals and its two principles, the Thornes.” He said no more.
Danica looked to them both in surprise. “I’m honour bound to my word. They did hire me after all.” She sneered in Hayden’s direction. “And you!”
Hayden returned the look. “I have my suspicions our employers may be more involved in this than you think. Combined with the Tweedles who were here not more than a few hours ago, and may I state again, who remind me a lot of our employers.”
Danica shook her head, refusing to believe they had been duped. “Well what can one email or one call hurt?”
Hayden surrendered his position. “I leave it up to you. But be wary. If there is another secret group after this island at exactly the same time, using the very method we are, then I will eat my words.”
“I will hold you to it.” Danica replied.
Carlos placed his hand gently on Danica’s, staring into her eyes. “I’ll not ask you to lie, but I will ask you to omit any reference to me. Until I can feel more comfortable with whom they are.”
Danica agreed as the Thornes had not paid her for that information.
Danica logged into Carlos’ laptop and tried to remotely access her account at Maximum Pharmaceuticals. After several minutes of keying several things, she found herself confused. “We must have been hacked again?”
Hayden came over. “Why do you say that?”
“All my data on the chamber and the island is gone. Unless they moved it off the network.” She checked again. “But why keep me from accessing information I’ve already seen?”
Carlos leaned in. “It was not hacked a second time. I initiated the first one and I promise, I made no second effort.”
Both Danica and Hayden turned to him with a look of shock.
Carlos waved the issue away. “I will explain my reasoning later. Let’s finish what we started so we can move this forward.”
Danica gave Carlos one lasting look and resumed her work. In seconds, she tried logging in through her employee ID. “My access is also gone?”
Hayden took the laptop and asked her for her password.
Danica reluctantly provided it.
“Seriously. It’s Babygirl?” Hayden smirked.
“It’s Babygirl101. Other than that, shut up and type it.” Danica shot back, slightly embarrassed.
‘User unknown’ Appeared on the screen in bold text.
Danica suddenly had an unsettling feeling.
Hayden held the words, ’I told you so.’ in check.
Danica called the hotel and then the airport.
After twenty minutes of arguing, Danica hung up and turned to Hayden and Carlos. “Our airline tickets, the return tickets were never purchased. My corporate credit card, the one they gave us, is no longer valid. We’re being checked out as we speak.”
“I knew I should have taken those bath robes.” Hayden sneered, followed by his shoulders sagging. “Great. So I guess I’m not going to get paid am I?”
Danica offered Hayden an annoyed scowl. “It’s amazing how you can turn this whole situation to be about you.”
“It’s a gift.” Hayden remarked.
Danica rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I called back to the office. Thank God Amy with reception still knows who we are. I informed her what has happened and she is trying her best. But she claims she can’t do much because both the Thorne’s have taken an impromptu vacation in the corporate jet.”
Hayden’s eyes widened. “What? To where?”
“They never registered a flight plan. Mr. Darby is having a conniption fit about it.” Danica took a breath. “And they have no idea why our access is offline or why the credit cards have been closed. Amy is saying it has to be an administrative error, but without Maxima, they don’t have the authority to approve another one.”
Hayden’s eyes tightened. “They paid us ten thousand dollars to fly out here, buy eight pages they have been pining for years to get and then on the cusp of us losing them, they decide it’s high time to take that vacation they’re owed?”
Danica’s shoulders slackened, trying to see excuses for her employer’s actions, but finding none. “Maybe they…” The words died in her throat.
Hayden looked to Danica, amused at her innocence. “As a man who understands immaturity, this is intentional. They’re trying to shut us down. At least, slow us up. Each hour they delay us, allows them to bank up the only commodity they need in this little race for the island. Time. Every hour they have on us, they can use to find the island before anyone else and steal its secret.”
Danica felt her life spinning. “But…”
Hayden waited several seconds before asking. “But what?”
Danica looked to both men forgetting the ’but.’ “Well, wherever they’re going, they’re meeting their children there and expect to be out of communication for several weeks.”
Hayden looked furious. “Children? Let me guess.”
“Don’t bother saying it.” Danica cut Hayden off. “Amy confirmed they have two sons. Both twins and fully grown adults. The secretary calls them the ape brothers, but she asked me to keep that on the down low.”
Carlos asked, already knowing the answer. “Where are they coming from?”
Danica knew it as she said it, the pieces now falling into place. “They’re flying in from England on the second corporate jet. And like Mom and Dad, they have no flight plan with a destination.”
“Son of a….” Hayden hissed.
Carlos asked. “What about GPS?”
Danica rocked her head. “Maximus has sole authority over security. Not even Mr. Darby can override that to track the planes as the Thornes own them personally.”
“Come on…” Hayden turned to Danica. “You must want to swear now?”
Danica shot back. “As I said, when I swear, there will be a good reason for it.”
Danica on the other hand did not. She was angry. No. She was more than that. She was furious. Most of all, she felt betrayed.
Danica remembered the first intruder’s final words as he disappeared over the railing. ‘This isn’t over.’
In that Danica agreed.
‘Not by a longshot.’