Maddux and I stood on the shore, soaking. There’d been no lagoon or natural harbour save for a small breakwater of rocks. The coast was jagged basalt followed immediately by jungle. So we anchored the Wrench of Truth off the breakwater as best we could, and swam for shore.
In my mind’s eye I could still sea poor Ernst’s hands fading below black waves even as I swam in the warm seawater. But we made it.
The land was lush with birdsong, the buzzing of a myriad kinds of flying insects, the croak of frogs, and the occasional seagull.
With no hatchet, machete, or even a serviceable knife, our progress through the island was slow.
“We must find food or we shall die,“ Maddux exclaimed as we cut ourselves trying to progress through a thicket of bamboo.
To be surrounded by nonstop life and yet to not be able to partake was maddening, to us both. And yet I had a feeling, an intuition, that we must also be watchful of human habitation.
At last we broke through the thicket, into a clearing. Sunlight drifted from airy branches as we saw, incongruously, a carob tree before us, its ripe carob pods dangling from branches.
“What luck! I say, what luck!” Maddox scrambled up the tree as if transformed into his apelike ancestors, but I hung back, suspicious. I heard a sound, a rustle not made by the wind.
“Our luncheon shall be al fresco, my friend.” Maddox cried, as he bit into a carob pod he’d just ripped from the living tree.
The tree screamed. A dark deep wooden roar of anguish, and its leaves began to sway. Maddux hung on for dear life.
“Get down from there!” I cried to my colleague, but it was too late. Vines lashed out from several places in the surrounding pelting him, causing him to fall. The grass itself seemed to lift his unconscious form, pushing him further into the woods.
“Wake up!” I shouted, but a vine wrapped itself around my neck, tightening its grip. The world became dark. Darkness.
I woke up in a soft bed. A view from the skylight intimated to me that it was evening.
“You recover well,” a voice said to me in clipped English. “Down the hallway when you have your wits. We shall dine.
I found a change of clothes provided for me in the room in which I had lain. In closer impression now, I found that it was most curious, indeed. The bed linens were of a fabric I did not recognize. The building itself, and indeed the Spartan furnishings were all of metal, masonry, or glass. At least I was among civilized people.
Dressing quickly into a woolen suit far too warm for the climate, I finally progressed to a dining room where a man sat alone at a small table, already seated, and dining.
“Ah come, sit” he said affiably. “I hope the suit of clothes fits. We’ve seldom entertained visitors, here I am afraid.”
“We’ve been set adrift” I mumbled, looking at my curious host. Indeed he was a curiosity. He had the form of a man, but this skin seemed to be polygons of thick brown chitin. He ate, it seemed with some difficulty. I introduced myself. “I am Jon Spires, of New Babbage, if you’ve heard of it.”
“And I am Doctor Legume. Please sit before your food gets cold.”
I sat at the steel and granite table, noticing my dinner consisted of frog legs, and what appeared to be cubed beef. No roughage, nor even bread and butter. To know of the natural cornucopia that must exist outside the building of Doctor Legume, was to invite speculation on this dinner. But a starving guest does not wait long.
“I am aware of New Babbage, yes. Old capitol of the Empire, of course. Angels turned to weapons, and all sorts of mechanical nightmares. Who wouldn’t know of it? I myself am from Caledon.”
I decided to brush aside this insult to my land which in any other circumstance might lead to fisticuffs. “I had a travelling companion. He seemed to fall victim to some form of wildlife, and I wonder if you..”
“Victim! Victim is he? Your friend attempted to eat the fruit of the Carob tree! As if he were no better than a common animal,” thundered Doctor Legume, “That will not do. That will not do.” He sat back down. “But all is well. You will seem him soon. He’s quite well. Better then you, and even batter than I.” he added.
“I must admit, I cannot fathom your meaning, Doctor.”
“You will soon. I have looked in the limited writings aboard your boat, and it seems you are a man of some science or at least, mechanical engineering. Soon you will see the great work I labour at here, and it how it has born fruit.”