Log Entry 160730.186

If it hadn't been for finding five skulls stuck on the top of pikes, Tikarra Island would be idyllic. It's lush, green forests are not too dense, there aren't lots of bugs to bite and annoy, and the temperature and humidity is just about right. As I say, shame about the skulls.
It was evident that they had been there for a very long time, undisturbed. The bones were yellowed and crumbling, and each one wore a mossy green cap, but the path that led to them was in regular use. Although narrow, the earth was bare. Even in an English field, if untouched, the grass will start to cover a footpath in less than a week. That the bones had been placed by the path served to warn travellers to beware if they chose to proceed. I wondered, what travellers?
Nevertheless, we pushed on, trekking further into the island making exceptional progress. As the afternoon sun dipped into the trees, we found an area where we could camp for the night. I won't call it a clearing, but the forest had thinned enough to allow us to put up our tents and make a camp fire. Rutter reckoned we'd breach the top of the mountain tomorrow and then we'd be able to see the valley below. As we prepared an evening meal, he explained the geographical characteristics of the island, a long extinct volcano. It was a bit dull but I nodded politely and made all the right noises.
As night fell and we sat around the campfire in the darkness, we decided we should set up a sentry. I didn't fancy sleeping alone while Al stood guard and the tents weren't big enough for three, so we agreed to stand watch in twos. Besides, it would ensure that no one fell asleep while on duty.
"Can I ask a question?" asked Traeth. "If Jenny is an Acting Ensign and Rutter is a full Ensign, why is Jen in charge?"
"'Cause Jenny's T'Roc's pet," replied Rutter before I could respond.
"That's not true!" I retorted indignantly. "If anything, we're all her pet project!"
"No, Jen. I just got caught up in events. I'm here by fate and circumstance."
"How'd you make that out?" argued Al.
"You were the one that picked the fight with me."
"You were being an arse!"
I burst out laughing at which everybody stopped and stared.
"Oh dear! Aren't we a bunch! But—" I said before they could argue further, "—the only reason I'm leading this mission is because I'm the one that got us into this mess because I wasn't paying attention. T'Roc gave me the assignment to teach me a lesson. I picked Al and Rutter for my team for their experience and expertise, otherwise Rutter would undoubtedly be leading it."
"Glad you recognise the fact," snipped Rutter to which I simply rolled my eyes.
Boy! Have the three of us come a long way since that day in the cargo bay. T'Roc must have known something. Why else would she have thrown us together, locking our destinies into a single outcome?

Log Entry 160723.185

We camped out in two tents: Al and I in one, Rutter and Traeth in the other. We ate early and told tales around our little campfire for most of the evening and then, under a starlit and cloudless night, we climbed into our beds and fell asleep.
The night passed uneventfully and I slept really well, far better than I could ever have anticipated. I awoke in the morning to the smell of freshly cooked bacon wafting into the tent. I turned to stir Al but she was already up and gone. I quickly dressed and emerged into the bright morning sunlight to find my three companions around the campfire with breakfast well under way. They were laughing and joking. I was really pleased to see how well they were getting on.
With excitement fuelling us, breakfast was soon a distant memory. We cleared everything away and broke camp, making sure our fire was well and truly out. We didn't want to start the first forest fire on Tikarra Island.
Rutter and Al led the way following a trail, too narrow to have been made by people that led from the beach through the woods. The trees reached high into the sky. They were verdant and green, and heavily peppered with big, brightly coloured blooms that sprang from the trunks of trees, running their entire length. Whether they belonged to the trees or were parasitic like mistletoe, I couldn't say. Many reminded me of bromeliads with petals like leaves that were brightly coloured in the middle with reds, pinks and oranges but blended into blue or green outer leaves. The same tuneless birds twittered in the trees like a chorus of six year olds with cheap recorders, and some rather annoying insects buzzed around our ears. All in all, though, it was quite tranquil. Certainly no evidence of monsters.
The terrain was hard and the undergrowth thick, so we continued to follow the narrow path upwards. As we climbed the air grew close. We had plenty of water and Rutter, an experienced outdoorsman, had lots of equipment to log our progress and detect fresh water, so we were in good spirits. To pass the time, we bantered and were speculating about all the things that could have happened to the explorers. So far, we had the obvious monsters (both sea, land and avian), a plague, starvation, alien abduction, a colony of Dirrians secretly living on the island having fallen in love with the local Amazonian tribeswomen, zombies that came and ate their brains in the middle of the night, cannibals (they'd gone mad through lack of food, killed and eaten each other) and drowning.
"Let's be honest, guys," I said. "I doubt there's anything really dangerous here at all!"
"Twenty two people disappeared here!" argued Al. "People don't just vanish! They get … eaten by monsters … or vampires!" she added excitedly. "We've not considered vampires!"
"Or werewolves," chipped in Traeth, giggling.
"Or something else entirely could have happened to them," interjected Rutter very calmly. "In fact, I'd go for the something else option."
He had stopped walking.
"What sort of something else?" I asked without really looking.
"The sort of something else that chops your head off and shoves it on a stick in the ground."
"Eh? What?"
We caught up with Rutter and looked ahead. There, five tall spikes had been driven into the ground. Atop each one was a Dirrian skull.

Log Entry 160717.184

"So they all perished?"
Traeth shrugged. "Who knows … but the Emperor wants to find out."
"This is crazy. If what you say is true—and I do believe you, but it doesn't make any sense! Why couldn't he just tell the truth and ask us to investigate the matter for him? And why did you come so willingly on what you're telling me is a one way trip? If Tikarra Island is so mysterious and fearsome, why are you here? What did you do that was so bad to make the Emperor order you onto this expedition—you and only you?"
Traeth chewed on the inside of his cheek and looked down shamefaced.
"You have to remember, Jen. I don't fit in here anymore. I'm like—oh, what was that expression you used to use … a square peg in a round hole."
"So because your face doesn't fit, you get sent on a suicide mission?" I was starting to squeal.
"Yes. This is Dirria, remember. This is the Dirrian way."
"That anybody who's a little bit different gets … discarded?"
"Yes. And I'm doubly different. Not only because of the time I spent on Earth, I'm taller than your average Dirrian."
"Dirrians don't like tall people. You know that."
"You're not tall."
"I'm as tall as you are."
"And I'm not tall!"
"Not for your species, no, but how do you feel when you stand next to someone who is really, really tall, like Rutter."
Rutter is taller than me but not by so much. However, the vision of Urtok towering above me in the lift at the Academy came to mind.
"And the Emperor dislikes me because I am tall, as most Dirrians do."
I was flabbergasted. "But aren't there any tall Dirrians?"
Traeth shrugged.
"Incredibly few. Dirrians are very vain and consider height unsightly. On Earth, in 20th century China, did not the women have their feet bound in order to keep them small."
"Yes, but it was a barbaric practice banned in 1912."
"But it took place. Less than a hundred years ago, babies over a certain length would be euthanized at birth in the belief that a long baby would become a tall and ugly adult. It was a practise that has been part of our custom for millennia. Because of that, over the centuries, our people have grown shorter and shorter, thinner and thinner. We may not slaughter our babies anymore, but I still represent everything they don't want in their genome. Even my parents, if they had lived, would have shunned me by now, I'm sure. Among the Dirrian people, I am considered a giant."
"So the Emperor sends you to Tikarra Island instead."
"Yes. It's an easy way to get rid of me and, in a way, I quite liked the idea."
"Liked it? Why?"
"It sounded nice. Going to a deserted island where I could live out my days in solitude, away from the Dirrian people. Somewhere where I wouldn't be scorned and snubbed."
Al stepped forward. "Can I ask a question?"
"Of course."
"If the Emperor disliked you so much, why did he have you in the Palace?"
"Because, at the moment, all he has with the United Federation of Planets are trade agreements and he wants to join, but he has no experience with other races and even less understanding of their ways. When he heard from the delegation you met on the Drakonia about me, he actively sought me out. For the first time in my life, somebody wanted me—"
"For all the wrong reasons," chipped in Rutter.
"Yes, but someone wanted me! "
"But not now?"
"No. He's realised he doesn't really need me. He's interrogated me as he can. It didn't take long. I wasn't on Earth that long, after all. And now I've outlived my usefulness."
"So you're happy to come here to die?"
"Or live out my days in peace and tranquillity."
"Alone!" I shouted.
"But only if the monsters don't get him first," added Al cheekily.
Traeth fell silent and sucked his lips in hard as he debated.
"Okay," he finally admitted. "I didn't think it through. And I do regret that you got sucked into it as well."
Rutter folded his arms and grinned. "It didn't occur to you to contact Jen and ask her to help you emigrate to Earth?"
Traeth's shoulders fell as he realised his stupidity.
"No," he admitted soulfully. "The thought never occurred to me. I haven't been thinking straight at all if the truth be known."
We stood on the beach, our eyes playing tag with each other. In the end, it was Al that broke the silence.
"So if you wanted to come, why did you just have a dickey fit on the beach?" she scowled.
Traeth sighed.
"I don't know. I was filled with so much panic I suppose." He sighed heavily.
I could see his sorrow and distress. I reached out and touched his shoulder to which, against all Dirrian tradition, he fell into my arms for a hug. He was right. He wasn't Dirrian anymore. He pulled himself away sharply and beamed a smile to show he had pulled himself together.
"But I'm okay now, so what's next?"
We debated our options taking into account the time of day, how soon night would fall and our need to find a suitable place to camp. We decided, unanimously surprisingly, to pitch our tents on the sand at the edge of the woodland where the land was flat and we were far enough away from the sea not to be threatened by the tide.

Log Entry 160708.183

It didn't sound like the most terrifying of tales and we said as much, which prompted Traeth to continue the story ...
* * * * *
The High Emperor was not pleased at the loss of his fisherman—the only fisherman on the whole of Dirria, so he made a very dramatic decision. He ordered the captain of the Imperial Guard to build a raft to take twenty men to Tikarra Island.
You'd have thought it would have been simpler to just order some of his servants to go fishing instead but (ignoring the ingrained fear of the sea that all Dirrians harboured) no one other than Farrell knew how to fish. So it was that the captain of the Imperial Guard recruited a band of carpenters to build the raft and twenty unlucky souls to man it.
Progress was incredibly slow. You have to remember that Dirria had no maritime history at all. Rafts, sails and oars had to be designed completely from scratch—and tested in water. Neither the carpenters nor the sailors were happy and over the following months, an unprecedented number of foot injuries were recorded.
Highly skilled carpenters became unusually clumsy, dropping hammers on sandaled feet and managing to drive nails through toes. It was a voyage of discovery in so many ways, because no one knew how to swim either. No one had even considered the possibility of swimming, so basic life jackets had to be designed to help keep a newfound sailor afloat should he fall overboard.
The project could so easily have been thwarted but over time, those carpenters and unlucky sailors became heroes. Considered especially brave for working so close to the water, they became revered and were treated as honoured guests wherever they went. Ladies buzzed around them like bees around honey, and their families were held in high regard simply by their association.
The accident rate dropped, but progress didn't go any faster as no one felt inclined to kill the golden goose. The carpenters dragged out the work to make the most of it, and the sailors stretched out their training in shallow water as long as they could, to delay the fateful day when they would have to go out of their depth and sail across the sea.
It was nearly a year but finally, they were prepared for the voyage. The raft was made, the training had been completed and they were ready to sail.
A great celebration was held on the beach to bid the brave crew farewell and bon voyage. The Emperor was there and his kitchens laid on an exquisite banquet on the beach with the crew and their families as VIP guests. At midday, the raft was launched and the crew set sail for Tikarra Island among a sea of tears and joy. A little under five hours later a signal beacon was lit indicating their safe arrival and then ... nothing more was ever heard of them again.