18. Forwards

September 2008

They arrived back at the clubrooms, and plans were made. They would leave early the next day. Jay argued loudly for leaving straight away, remembering his visions of dying gorillas, but consensus won out – everyone else wanted the safety net of plenty of daylight if a hasty retreat had to be made; getting stuck overnight seemed unnecessarily risky. Jay had to concede that they were probably right.

They pored over maps of the area, picking out important features. A quarry a few kilometers from the dam was of particular interest.

By late afternoon their plans were settled, and people began to drift off to outfit themselves. They would all meet at the clubhouse several hours before first light, aiming to be at the lake with the early morning sun.

Jay and Melissa were't quite the last to leave; Vi was talking to Lionel, and Melissa saw Vi slip him a bundle of notes at one point. Daniel and Lana were up the other end of the bar, talking and laughing together quietly, as had more and more frequently been the case recently.

Jay and Melissa slipped out of the clubrooms and headed home; together in their house for the first time in the better part of a week. They sat together on the couch.

“So,” Melissa said. “The tattoos. You stop by a tattoo parlour on the way to get me?” She made her voice pitch lower – “oh man, they just shot my plane down, kidnapped my girlfriend, I landed in a pond and hurt my ankle. I need a tattoo right now.”

“Yeah, totally,” Jay laughed. “Although not straight away. What actually happened was that I got horribly drunk at the pub that they totally right had by the lake there, after I lost all my tons of wealth that I was carrying, and then next thing you know, one of the guard dudes was all ‘we should get matching face tattoos at the place next door’ and hey, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”

“You're a menace.” Melissa swatted at Jay's arm. “Okay, I want to know what really happened.”

“You wouldn't believe me.”

“Try me.” Melissa crossed her arms.

“Okay. At the center of it is this crazy old maori man–”

“I dreamed about him!” said Melissa, sitting up straight. “He said he was going to look after you!”

“We, he did look after me; he saved my life while I was wandering around after I'd been beaten up and dumped. But well before that – before I came to get you, in fact – I dreamed about him too.”

“So… wait, you already had the tattoos before you met him? You had them when you found me.”

“That's the insane bit. He gave them to me in my dream. I went to sleep with no tattoos, I dreamed about him touching my face, and next time I saw my face I had tattoos.” He rolled his eyes. “I told you you wouldn't believe me.”

“Hmm.” Melissa frowned.

It was still night by any decent definition when they woke and dressed in the dark, after only a scant few hours of sleep. Little was spoken, but there was an air of anticipation, and more than a little nervousness. They were going to do battle with trained, armed men, on unfamiliar ground, and they were probably breaking the law to do so. It wasn't their most confident hour.

They met at the clubhouse, everyone gathering quietly in the dim light. There was a hush, as if everyone was afraid to voice exactly what it was they were doing. In whispers and low voices they ran over the final flight plans, then just as quietly drifted away to their aircraft.

The planes began to fire up their engines one by one, breaking the early-morning quiet with a violence that seemed wrong, and had them all wincing, as if they were naughty children, knocking plates off shelves trying to sneak out of their parents' house.

Even when they were airborne, no sound but the wind and their engines, the light of the sun beginning to glow across the ocean behind them, the only talk was that required by the business of flying; maps were consulted and headings checked, but no-one spoke of where they were heading.

Melissa and Jay shared a quiet look, sitting in the back of Vi's plane as Mark took compass readings. This was it; no turning back now.

They flew fanned out, like a flock of metallic birds, sun glinting off the undersides of their wings as they headed for the mountains. They were far enough apart that they couldn't see anything of one another, tucked away inside their cockpits, but to see even one other plane in the sky, let alone the seven or eight flying with them this morning, was plenty for today.

Around half an hour out from their destination, Vi dropped her plane out of the squadron, banking left as she dropped altitude. She saw Daniel's plane waggle its wing as the rest of the planes curved north. It was about to begin, and now they were on their own.