“Calling All Heroes! Come to Savage Island, and show the world your courage!
Dutch-Indonesian businessman Jules Van Allan has sent a challenge to all the brave men of the world. For all of human history, men have proved their courage by fighting hand-to-hand. On Savage Island, combatants will be paid five thousand dollars for every day they stay alive, and a hundred thousand dollars for every kill, while their fights are broadcast to the world.
The opening day of Savage Island, with sold-out stadiums across the U.S. following the release of each of the first two dozen combatants projected in real time, coincides with Los Angeles District Attorney John Savage’s announced campaign for governor of California. The wild success of Savage Island ensures that the one case that John Savage botched, back when he was an assistant D.A., will constantly be brought back to the attention of the voters. Fifteen years ago, Jules Van Allan’s two children were murdered in a drive-by shooting, and John Savage allowed the nine young gangsters to walk.
James Grayson has come to Savage Island to revive his failing career as a sportscaster and TV talk-show celebrity, by becoming the announcer for this deadly new sport. He soon teams with his beautiful enigmatic co-anchor, Lucy Tran, to delve into the real reasons behind Savage Island.
When he discovers that the nine gangsters are being kidnapped one by one and dropped on the Island, hidden among the other combatants, Grayson himself is caught and finds himself out on the Island where his only choices are to fight or die.
Part One – Opening Day
The first combatant released onto Savage Island came out the center gate at a run just as the edge of the sun rose above the horizon and glared over the sea. Cameras whirred and turned to follow him as he cast around the wide sandy arena that bordered the Wall. All over the world viewers watched as he crossed what was already called the killing ground, and headed for the treeline a hundred yards away. The only weapons in view were the machete and long knife at his belt. He wore lightweight camouflage pants and shirt, and hiking boots. Green, black and gray blotches covered his face and arms in an artful lack of pattern. A camo cap covered his short curly black hair.
In his backpack he carried a couple of camouflage nets, another long knife, a collapsible shovel, lengths of cord of various weights, and several more pounds of food beyond the required three-day rations. He also carried the obligatory first aid kit, two liters of water, and water purification tablets. In addition in his pack he carried, among other items essential to his strategy, two collapsible plastic 5-gallon jerrycans. His fighting name was Scorpion.
He had the build of a football player, big, burly and hard-muscled. He was dark skinned, six foot three, and weighed just over two hundred pounds. His plan, obvious from his equipment, was long-term survival rather than immediate confrontation, so it was not surprising when he chose a path leading toward the interior of the Island.
It was good to be on the move at last. He had broken a sweat already in the humid warmth of the early morning that promised a sweltering day. He tasted the salt in the air, and the heavy damp scent of the jungle. He could hear the surf roaring under the cliffs that bounded the arena on either side, and the ruckus of birds and the buzz of insects in the trees ahead, and that was good. They would be his natural alarm system when the other combatants began to arrive.
He had drawn the first position, and that was an unlooked-for stroke of luck. For half an hour he would be the only predator out here. That gave him time to check out the island, and perhaps even establish a defensible position.
Aware of his foes lined up only minutes behind him, he felt the upsurge of a familiar excitement. When he was a soldier he had hated with an angry loathing every minute of his time in country. But this was different. Here there weren’t any mistakes to make. Everyone on this side of the Wall would be a volunteer, and everyone of them was fair game.
Arthur Baines had made his plans. He would be careful; he would be elusive. He would kill only if he absolutely had to. All he had to do was stay alive for fifteen days. Then he would go home. Trish would skin him alive when he got there ― but it would be worth it to pay off their debts at last, and start clean.
He’d been good at this in the war. Now he would be paid what he was worth.
In the control room in the admin building a little red light appeared on the computer-generated map as soon as the Scorpion emerged from the Wall. A cheer broke out, and the director, Dr. Hari Mukhtar, led the technicians in a round of applause. Years of preparation led up to this day. Test after test had been conducted. It was one thing to do well in rehearsal, but now was the hour, and to see the red light blink on, and the long, medium and close shots of the Scorpion appear on the monitors lining the walls, was cause for as much relief as satisfaction. Everyone who could find an excuse crowded the control room where half a dozen techs manned their stations.
In front of the huge map, Jules Van Allan, owner and dictator, visionary and creator of Savage Island, nodded to the director, and raised his glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice in salute to the first combatant. His employees, who had brought his vision into being, saw and approved his gesture, believing that he was toasting the Scorpion, who had come to this Island to chance his life, prove his courage, and earn his reward. But Van Allan raised his glass to a man far away, who had no idea what was about to come down on him.
The technicians watched as the cameras in the tree line pick up close and long shots of the Scorpion as he left the killing ground and found a trail into the jungle. The trees and foliage had been artfully thinned over the last year, so that the jungle gave plenty of cover, but still provided good sight lines. The Scorpion showed up on dozens of screens as cameras tracked him near and far, but only one person in the world understood the sign he made with his hand as he entered the trees. Thousands of miles and many time zones away, Tricia Baines sat in front of the television, wringing the battered leather cushion clutched to her chest as she watched her husband on the big screen. “You stupid, stupid fool,” she told him, as he headed into the jungle.
Half a world away, the emergence of the Scorpion onto Savage Island was greeted by screaming cheers from the sold-out crowd who had paid to watch the first day’s combat live as it unfolded on camera. The coliseum smelled of spilled beer, the crowd noise was incredible, and dozens of bets were called in as Scorpion loped up a path between the trees.
“Go back! Fight!” a bellicose voice shouted over the noise. Other voices answered. In the dim lights eyes shone wide, faces flushed and not only with drinking. It was as though they themselves were there, as though they could smell the air of the island, taste the humidity, as though the next combatant, armed and ready to kill, was on their heels as well.
“Kill him! Kill him now!” someone shouted, though it would be twenty-eight more minutes before there was someone there to kill.
In the studio that adjoined the control room on Savage Island, on his first day in the job he’d been waiting for his whole life, James Grayson gazed into the camera, his blue eyes gleaming with excitement, and pitched his dark golden baritone just right. “This is the beginning of a new age of sport,” he told his viewers, “the oldest sport, that pitches man against man in a battle to the death, for honor, for wealth, and for eternal fame among men. Not since the days of Imperial Rome have human beings seen such a contest as we are about to witness today. Is this a sign of the regression of human civilization? Or is it just the honest recognition of what we truly are? This remains to be seen as the excitement unfolds on Savage Island.”
He sat back, emanating sympathy and concern now, rather than excitement. “But these combatants are not the faceless slaves of those ancient and departed days. Each of these men has a story. Each of them has chosen, for reasons of his own, to place his life at risk in combat to the death ― on Savage Island. And now, the first of these stories is about to unfold.” Grayson smiled in a way that he knew made people feel that secrets were about to be told, and looked away off-camera at his invisible reporter. “Lucy? What can you tell us of the man now known as ‘Scorpion?’ How does he come to be on Savage Island?”
The light went off on the camera. James Grayson looked up at his monitor as the clip began to roll. It had been taped days ago, but Lucy Tran, tiny and exotic, in simple suggested-oriental clothing, answered on cue as though she stood by live to respond to his question. Lucy seemed to stand in front of a cityscape (thought in fact her picture had been dropped in by computer onto a stock shot of the city) as she told the viewers, “This is Oakland, California, in the United States of America, the home of our first contestant, who fights under the name of ‘Scorpion.’” She smiled as though the name sent a tingle through her body. She was good, James thought. She was really good.
James wasn’t supposed to have another sportscaster working with him. The whole thing was supposed to be his show. Lucy was just an assistant producer when she arrived, but she had conceived the idea of the personal profiles of the combatants, and filmed half a dozen of them on her own time and shown them to the producer, and then to Jules Van Allan. By the time James Grayson reached the island, her new position had been a fait accompli. He knew better than to protest. Lucy Tran was beautiful and sexy, her engaging gamin grin and her obvious interest in each of the combatants made even a dead-beat felonious thug out for the thrill of the most forbidden sport tell his story in a way that made his life seem valuable. And that was good for the show. And what was good for the show, was good for James Grayson.
Once enough combatants had been released so that they were all over the Island, and fights happened all the time, Grayson and his team would pull together all the fights of the previous twenty-four hours, and make a broadcast from them, which Grayson would report on. But for the first days of the opening week, Grayson would be broadcasting live, almost in real time. He felt a surge of elation. It was like being a sportscaster at the Olympics, where you are on all day everyday for three weeks. Only this was his show, and he was the only – well, almost the only – sportscaster involved.
James took a sip of water as, on tape, Lucy interviewed Arthur Baines while he packed his equipment. “Aren’t you scared?” she asked him.
Arthur Baines responded with a half-smile at her seeming naiveté. “Of course I’m scared. That’s part of it. I know all about that. But you know what really scares me?” He turned and looked at the camera. “Being broke in my old age. Me or my wife. That’s what we’re looking at now, and I will do anything ― ” he shoved down on the contents of his backpack for emphasis ― “to keep that from happening.” He looked down, adjusting the straps on his bag. “That’s why I’m here.”
In the next shot, Lucy stood in front of the Wall that separated the administrative section of Savage Island from the designated battleground. Dressed now in a soft linen suit that emphasized her slender form, she looked like she was made to be an exotic inhabitant of a secret island in the middle of an uncharted ocean. Over her shoulder, through the open gate, the fighting ground and the trees beyond were visible. Lucy looked grave as she said, “When Arthur Baines goes through that gate he will become both the hunter and the hunted, predator and prey, until he chooses to leave Savage Island, or until that choice is made for him. Will he achieve his prize? Stay tuned, there’s more to know ― on Savage Island.” And she smiled.
James Grayson almost smiled back at her. The real Lucy Tran was in the control room next door, standing beside Jules Van Allan, watching the monitors. In three weeks she had made profiles of almost all of the two dozen men who were scheduled for release today, and had started on the hundred and twenty others, already on the island, who would be released in the days to come. She was a great addition to the team, he knew. If only that didn’t make her his rival.
James Grayson’s early career had been a meteoric rise from intern at a local news station in Southern California, to reporter at a major station, to sportscaster, all in just a few years. His passion for his subject, his boyish good looks, his charm on camera, made him a memorable addition to any news show. His career seemed set, his future fixed; he would become one of the legends of TV journalism. When he failed to get two expected promotions, he moved to a cable network dedicated to broadcasting sports highlights. The company’s subsequent descent into bankruptcy had left him in limbo for a time. He got back into the majors by taking the job of co-anchor on a morning show, and in four years, though well-paid, he’d felt like he was fading into oblivion. The show had just missed being canceled the last two seasons.
When Grayson heard about Savage Island, he caught fire. The audacity, the danger, the murderous evil of the very idea had riveted him. He’d seen at once that Savage Island must have a sportscaster, and that the sportscaster for this new ― this ancient, newly-revised sport ― would achieve a unique position, which could be his new chance at fame. He called on every contact he’d ever made in his effort to land the job. Oddly, the biggest problem he’d had wasn’t beating out the competition; there hadn’t been any competition. It had been in finding someone in the company to speak to, in order to offer his services. His agent had explained to him that, since the whole sport was of dubious legality, the number of cut-outs employed to hide who owned what, and who was running it, was just a precaution. But the fact that they hadn’t put out a casting call, that they hadn’t thought they’d need a sportscaster, was odd.
At last his agent ran to earth the executive producer finalizing the deal for the cable channel that would broadcast events on Savage Island He scheduled an interview so that Grayson could make his case. Grayson was surprised to be sitting down to lunch at Dino’s in Hollywood, with a 20-something entertainment lawyer, but that turned out to work in his favor. Sam Iveson had grown up watching Grayson as a sportscaster, and was immediately excited at the idea of Grayson sportscasting for Savage Island. He’d promised his support in sending the plan up the ladder, and he’d come through. An executive producer had contacted Grayson’s agent, and he’d been able to write his own ticket from that point forward.
As he sped across an unknown ocean in a huge, fast-flying helicopter, on the last leg of a long, long journey, he felt his fortunes rise as the Island grew at their approach. Staggering with jet-lag, weighted with inappropriate clothes, far, far away from Los Angeles or even New York, but still, here he was. In the right place, at the right time. He was certain of it. As they came in for landing, he leaned against the window, looking down on the lower peninsula of the island, bisected with roads, lined with warehouses, barracks, an administrative complex. He spotted the tall square building with the roof covered with aerials ― his studio would be there. There were little bungalows along the cliffs overlooking the harbor, and one red and golden villa like something right out of the Mediterranean ― that would be Jules Van Allan’s house, he expected. And there was the Wall, very clearly demarking civilization from savagery, the rule of law from the law of the jungle. The phrases came easily to him as the helicopter set down. He knew they would. Savage Island was going to take off, he was sure of it, with every instinct he had ever had for this business, and he would be catapulted into the stardom he had always known was his due. Hands reached to help him step down, onto Savage Island, and into his destiny.
And now, here he was, it was opening day, and in the minds of all the viewers he was going to be the face and voice of Savage Island for a long time to come. He leaned forward to the camera and as the light went on James said, “You are probably asking yourself, ‘Is this real?’ Or is this just some choreographed reality show broadcast from an undisclosed location? Well, I can tell you this. I was in flight for twenty-two hours to reach this place. We are on an island. There is no other land in sight. There are twenty-three more men preparing at this moment to walk out today through one of the three gates that lead onto the island, all of which, beyond the Wall, has been designated a free combat zone. Until an hour ago, these men did not know in what order they would cross through the gates. These men have seen one another in passing, they’ve met in the induction center, during orientation, in the canteen, or in the armory. But each man’s plans, each man’s equipment, and each man’s fighting name, is a closely guarded secret. And let me tell you, out there, beyond the Wall, there are no rules, but one. To get the prize, you have to live. To claim it, your opponent has to be dead. And how that happens is completely up to you.”
Grayson took a pause, leaned back slightly, and turned on cue to face the second camera and continued, “There are twenty-three other men who will be released today, every half hour during daylight hours. The next one will pass through the gate beneath the wall in exactly ―“ he looked at his watch, “nineteen minutes. And after that ― anything can happen. Stay tuned. You won’t see anything like this anywhere else in the world.” And he smiled.
Out in the combat zone on Savage Island, Scorpion reached a fork in the trail, and unhesitatingly chose the one that led to higher ground. It was a good idea to learn the layout of the island while he could.
The air was fresh, moist and warm. He felt good. Thank God he’d kept in shape all these years, at the Y, and teaching karate. His senses tingled in the knowledge that any minute now his first opponent would be released, and he would no longer have this island to himself. The adrenaline in his blood sent a well-remembered rush through his body. He controlled his excitement, focused his attention, and climbed swiftly up the slope ahead of him.
James Grayson said to the camera, “The Scorpion, with ten minutes to go before his first opponent follows him onto the island, has turned inland, and up hill. What is he planning? Well, there’s no way to know for certain, but here in our studio we have,” the camera pulled back to show the man sitting to his right, “Colonel Robert Dawes, formerly of Army Special Forces, and one-time Professor of Tactics at West Point. Colonel? What do you make of the Scorpion’s action?”
Grayson had asked for an expert on tactics that he could throw all the questions to that he and his viewers wanted answered. The production team had come through spectacularly with Colonel Dawes. Grayson expected to know a whole lot more about fighting before Colonel Dawes departed. Dawes’s contract ran for only three weeks, another reason why Grayson was pleased to have him around. He planned to use him to the utmost, and then make sure he went back home and stayed there.
The Colonel sat ramrod straight in immaculate jungle camouflage fatigues. Rugged and slight, with spiky short gray hair, his piercing blue eyes gave him the air of a predatory bird poised to strike. When he spoke, his voice was even, his words measured, but the light in his eyes belied his calm. He said, “Well, James, we have to take into account the fact that these men, these first two dozen combatants, have no idea of the ground they’re on. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they’ve never even seen a map of island, right?”
“That’s right, Colonel,” Grayson had met the Colonel briefly the day before, and found the man irritated him. It was probably his air of infinite worldly superiority, Grayson thought. Well, in this studio, he was the one with experience and superiority. So the Colonel was just going to have to take his chances.
“Now this man, Scorpion, he has one advantage,” the Colonel continued. “He’s had these thirty precious minutes to scout out the ground and find himself the best possible position, and he’s made the most of it, so that’s very good thinking on his part. You can see he’s headed for the higher ground, and that may allow him a view of his opponents.”
“So he can see them, without their seeing him?” Grayson suggested.
“Is that what you’d do under the circumstances, sir?” Grayson asked.
“Well, you know, I’d want to know the ground . . .” the Colonel began, and then stopped.
Grayson slipped in, “But of course you wouldn’t have seen the ground, like these men have not. What do you think you’d do in this man’s position? What would you do if you were the Scorpion?” He asked several questions without giving the Colonel time to answer, and that would give the impression that the soldier didn’t actually have all the answers ready at hand. It was really unfair, Grayson thought as he let the pause grow after his last question. There are all kinds of combat, he thought to himself. This is mine.
“Well, of course each man has his own choice of weapons, and his tactics will depend on what he brings with him into combat.”
“That’s right,” Grayson interrupted him smoothly. “And what did the Scorpion bring with him. Lucy?”
The light went off as the next tape began to roll. The Colonel turned to Grayson and James thought for a moment he was in for it. But the Colonel said, “God, what I’d give to be twenty years younger, and out of this uniform, with an opportunity like this. God, what I’d give!”
And that was the trouble with his form of combat, Grayson thought, reaching for his water glass. Sometimes your opponent didn’t even notice when he’d been slapped to the mat and stomped.
Behind the left-hand gate in the Wall, Manny Aklan checked his weapons one more time. He wasn’t nervous. He just liked the feel of the weapons in his hands. They’d given him anything he’d asked for when he got to Savage Island. He liked the food, good and plenty of it. He liked the girl who’d come to his room last night, to wish him well, she’d said. To bring him luck. He smiled, hardening a little as he remembered her. He liked this place a lot.
He’d gone through their catalog when he arrived and picked out whatever looked good to him. Of course they’d had to come back to him a few times, because he hadn’t paid attention how many points stuff cost in the catalog, but one of the guys from the armory had sat down with him, and they’d worked it all out.
He drew the long sword, the kampilan, from its sharkskin sheath. The sheen of the metal, the smell of the oil, pleased him. He swung it in a fast figure eight so that the air whistled. He hooked the karambit, the cat’s claw knife, out of his belt with his finger and did a few moves. He’d never used one of these in a fight, but it was so cool, and so beautiful, he wanted to try it. He’d picked a big boar spear because that would give him an edge. All his life, he’d been the big strong guy. In Queens, New York, he’d run with his brother Jaguars, and when someone needed smashing, he’d done it, because then they didn’t come back for more. And that had led to trouble, so he’d been sent to his dad’s family in the Philippines, where some of his cousins ran a martial arts studio. They taught him that being big and strong wasn’t enough, he had to be fast, too. Then he’d gone into the army, where he was the one who carried the other guys, and everybody liked him for it. There were parts about that he didn’t remember once they got to Iraq, but after that he was home again, in Queens, until his leg healed up. But then he found out he wasn’t in the Army anymore.
When he’d been shown the article in an airplane magazine, he’d thought it was a joke. “A Call for Brave Men Everywhere! Combatants wanted! Apply online!” But he’d gotten his little sister in to show him how to find the website, and they’d filled it out together. And now he was here. And in a few more he’d be out there, where a man could truly be a warrior.
“The rules are simple,” Dr. Hari Mukhtar, the control room director, explained to the camera. “If you kill an opponent, you receive one hundred thousand dollars.”
“One hundred thousand dollars ―” James Grayson echoed. ―
“One hundred thousand American dollars for each kill, deposited in the bank of your choice,” Dr. Mukhtar agreed, “and five thousand dollars every day you stay alive.”
“But if you die, you get nothing.”
“You get nothing,” Dr. Mukhtar agreed.
There were four minutes left before the next combatant crossed through the Wall. James Grayson let the conversation unfold, making sure each point was covered, so even distracted viewers would get all the information they needed to understand this game.
“What if you just wound your opponent?”
“You get nothing,” Dr. Mukhtar said.
“And if you wound him, and he dies later?”
“Look,” Dr. Mukhtar began to sound impatient at Grayson’s intentional stupidity. “Every combatant has one of these.” He held out something in his hand to the camera. They had rehearsed this, and Shang-zu, behind the second camera, was already focused on the little bead, about the size of a grain of rice, in the palm of the doctor’s hand.
“And what is that?” Grayson asked.
“It is a chip, containing a homing beacon. It is what allows us to see that the Scorpion, right now, is climbing the ridge of Mount Hakluyt.”
James glanced over at the monitor where the small red dot moved slowly along the map. He didn’t know the island well enough to identify where exactly the first combatant was now but it was somewhere to the left of the middle of it, northwest of the Wall.
“It also monitors the body’s heartbeat. It sends a signal to us, and tells us the combatant’s location, and also the fact that he is still alive.”
“Right,” Grayson agreed.
“And each combatant also has one of these.” The director held up an orange plastic ear tag. “These are ― attached ― to the combatant’s right ear ― “
By ‘attached,’ the director meant ‘stapled,’ just like cattle, but Grayson had decided they wouldn’t use that word. Combatants were heroes; that’s what this story was about.
“And this is the prize,” Grayson said to the camera, picking up the ear tag. “This is the hundred thousand dollar lottery ticket. And you can get just as many of these as you like, right? There’s no limit?”
“Yes, but your opponent must be dead first.”
“And you’ll know that because ― ?”
“See?” the director turned the ear tag to show Brian the opaque button, black against the orange of the tag. “This receives a signal from the heart-monitor. When the combatant is alive, his heart is beating, this will be green. When he is dead, the signal will cease, and this will turn black. Only then can you take this from him. If it’s not black when you return it to the gate, then ― no money. No prize.”
“Your opponent must be dead before your prize can be won,” Grayson said smoothly, and picked up the next part of the story, putting his hand to the small microphone in his ear. “I’m told the next combatant is preparing to cross through the gate onto the island.” He watched as the monitor ran a replay of the long shot of the second combatant walking across the grass from the induction center to the inside gate in the wall.
A big, heavy man carrying a long spear in one hand, hefting his backpack over his shoulder, his shaved head wrapped in a black bandana. A couple of the security men and one of the technicians accompanied him. Ahead, a technician keyed the code into the inner gate, which opened at his touch. The second combatant, with his weapons and equipment, stepped inside, and the gate closed behind him.
The Wall, eight feet wide and twenty-five feet high, cut across the peninsula at the southwest end of Savage Island, dividing the administrative area from the designated combat zone. On either end of the wall were hundred-foot overhanging cliffs that extended along the edges of the killing field, until the Island began to widen where the jungle began.
Three gates, actually tunnels through the Wall, gave access to the killing ground. Ten minutes before his scheduled release, the combatant entered the six-foot square concrete holding area between the two gates, alone. A steel-mesh gate reinforced with steel bars closed the area at either end. The gate behind him, back the admin building and the clinic, could be unlocked from the inside. A combatant could choose to turn back at anytime, without charge or penalty, and leave the Island.
The air in the holding area was hot and stuffy, but Manny didn’t notice. He tried to look out of the tiny holes in the steel mesh, and see if an opponent waited for him, but the mesh was too close together.
Above the gate onto the killing field a large digital clock counted down the time in red numbers. Not the time on the island, because that didn’t matter, but the number of minutes and seconds before the gate opened automatically, releasing him onto the Island. Manny sheathed the tiger claw and the sword. He put on his backpack. He picked up his long, heavy spear and hefted it. Then he drew the tiger claw knife again, just to be a surprise if his opponent got past his spear. Fifteen seconds. He positioned himself a few feet back from the gate. He was ready. Manny smiled. The digital clock reached zero, and the gate in front of him clicked open.
In the studio, Grayson announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, here we have ― Jaguar Warrior.”
The Jaguar Warrior charged obliquely through the gate the moment it opened, and took a position near the wall, spear poised, cat’s claw at the ready in his right hand, while he took in the whole of the barren sandy killing ground, and saw that it was empty. His red and gold body armor glinted in the sun. The short cape on his shoulders caught the breeze. A jaguar skin covered his helmet in the back; the front was a snarling jaguar mask. He looked like a warrior from a fantasy.
“Wow – ow!” Grayson exclaimed. “That’s – beautiful!”
“Not very practical,” the Colonel added dourly. But his eyes gleamed.
Then the Jaguar Warrior hefted his spear in his hand, and trotted across the arena toward the jungle.
“He’s going after him!” Grayson shouted. “He’s going after him!” One of Grayson’s best assets was that he really cared about whatever sport he was watching. “The Jaguar Warrior is on the trail of the Scorpion! How soon are we going to see them fight? Let’s look at the big map,” he remembered to add, before Dawes could suggest it.
“As you can see the Scorpion has taken the trail that will lead him up to the ridge, the highest point of the Island.”
The monitor gave them several long shots of the Scorpion loping along the path through the jungle. Prior to the opening of the contest, many trails had been laid through the foliage, and small clearings widened, to offer the greatest possible variety of settings for combatant’s fights. Monitors showed him coming and going, close shots and long shots, and Dr. Mukhtar in the control room nodded in satisfaction.
“The Scorpion is pretty far ahead,” Grayson observed in the studio.
“Almost two miles,” Dawes agreed. “These two warriors aren’t going to meet anytime soon.”
“But Jaguar Warrior is right on his trail! If Scorpion turns back ― ”
“Jaguar Warrior could find himself between on enemy in front, and another enemy coming along behind him,” Dawes pointed out.
“And that would be trouble.”
“Real trouble. But it may mean that we’ll see a really great fight.”
“We’re sure to see great fights today. I’m really looking forward to it. Let’s find out more about the Jaguar Warrior’s choices of weapons. We’ll find out who he is, where he came from, and what brought him here, to Savage Island.” Grayson stared at the camera with an intrigued smile until the light went out. In his ear mike, Richard Farley, his producer, told him, “We’re giving you fifteen. First the retro on number two, and then we’ll go into your interview with Mr. Van Allan. By then number three should be on, and something should be happening . . . ”
Grayson didn’t wait for more. He peeled off his ear mike and headed for his dressing room.
He conducted the interview less than twelve hours after reaching Savage Island. Jules Van Allan invited him to his office in the admin building, on the top floor overlooking the Wall. Unlike most of the architecture on the Island that was in various stages of completion, Van Allan’s office was finished with antique paneling, dark wood bookshelves, and native works of art from Indonesia, the South Sea Islands, and various parts of Africa. Masks stared down at James from a high shelf near the ceiling. A pair of French doors led out onto a terrace with a view of the harbor as well as the Wall and the area beyond.
Grayson had been given a précis on his employer prior to leaving Los Angeles. He read that Van Allan was a Dutch native of Indonesia, and a successful businessman there, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. The name Van Allan seemed familiar to him, and he called a former producer to find out if, perhaps, Grayson had ever had Van Allan as a guest on his show, but the answer was negative. Van Allan was very wealthy, with a fortune estimated in the billions of dollars. He had homes in Los Angeles, in Jakarta, in New York, in Hong Kong, and had been rumored to own a private island, which the world now knew to be true. It was thought to be located in the Asian Pacific, but Grayson was not yet sure of that.
Van Allan had been married once, and had two children who were deceased. The producer told Grayson that in the aftermath of his children’s loss, he’d been on just about every talk show in the country, but Grayson had never hosted him. Grayson did not want to greet Van Allan without knowing whether they’d ever met before.
The man who came forward to shake his hand did seem familiar. Squarely built, with a wide face, high cheekbones and vivid blue eyes. Jules Van Allan was in his late fifties, with blond hair still showing among the gray. He was dressed casually in light-weight cotton slacks, a short-sleeved shirt, and hand-made Spanish sandals. The cut and quality of his clothing gave him an air of polished elegance, but it was his sense of suppressed energy that Grayson found intriguing, almost as though Van Allan himself were about to become one of the combatants on Savage Island.
His greeting could not have been more welcoming, or better calculated to put Grayson at his ease. “Mr. James Grayson! How pleased I am that you are joining us. I must say I often watched your show when I was living in Los Angeles. And now you are here! I hope your journey was not too fatiguing? Welcome to my island!”
“Thank you, sir,” Grayson replied, returning the firm handshake. Still stuporous after his long flight, he turned on his charisma with a conscious effort, and summoned his reserves to project attention and interest. James was determined to do the kind of job on this interview he used to when he was young and hungry and on his way up.
When James had admired his office, and commented on the view of the Wall, the two were arranged and lit sitting in comfortable chairs, with the bookshelves full of leather-bound volumes and exotic curios as the background. Richard Farley, the producer, oversaw every detail of lighting, light make-up and camera placement, but he made no attempt to influence how Grayson conducted the interview.
But there was no need. Grayson intended that this interview would be a success. It was his job to allow Van Allan to present his case for creating Savage Island in the best possible light. And that was only fair, since Grayson was his employee. The TV company that was producing and distributing the Savage Island broadcasts was owned, though indirectly, by Mr. Van Allan. There was nothing on Savage Island, James had already begun to realize, that was not under Jules Van Allan’s control.
“Mr. Van Allan,” he began, “You own this entire island?”
“Yes,” Van Allan spoke easily, ignoring the two cameras, the technicians, the sound men, the producer and his assistant, as though he were simply speaking intimately to a friend. James took note and mentally cut all the questions he’d planned to put Van Allan at his ease. His excitement rose over his exhaustion; this was going to go well.
Van Allan told him, “It was my good fortune, many years ago, to indulge myself in this kind of dream. It is a common dream, is it not, for a man to have an island all his own?”
“It sure is,” Grayson agreed. “But you’re not going to tell me where it is? I mean, I came all this way, but I have no idea where we are.”
“That’s right,” Van Allan agreed. “In the present circumstances, the location of what I am now calling Savage Island must remain completely secret.”
“But you bought it originally for your family?”
“Yes. That’s right. My wife, my wife at the time ― we’re divorced now ― we built a house here as a means of getting away from the noise of civilization, and to have a completely secure retreat to enjoy with our children, and our friends. But that was many years ago.”
“Can you tell us, how you came to have the idea for Savage Island? How did it occur to you to use this place to reinvent the most savage sport in history? Men fighting men ― to the death?”
That was Van Allan’s cue, and he gave his answer into the camera with an assurance and conviction that James admired. “Throughout history, James, for thousands of years, young men of extraordinary courage and daring have had an outlet for the ― the aggression that enabled the human race to get as far as we have. Every country still has these young men in their populations. In the past, they would have been heroes, brave warriors, defenders of the land. They would have had the opportunity to win fame and fortune and advancement by their courage. But we live in a decadent age. Now these young men are hooligans, vandals, thugs, or at the worst ― insurgents, or terrorists. And also, the traditional forms of courage have been set aside.”
“You’d think, with all the wars going on these days, and the military always trying to recruit more soldiers, that there’s lots of outlets for that kind of energy.”
Van Allan reared up in his seat, an angry glint in his eyes. “Pshaw!” He shook his head. “You can’t think that these are real wars? Wars such as men fought in the past? Where armies marched towards their foes, carrying their bayonets fixed on their rifles? Or earlier, where men carried swords, or rode horses with lances straight at their foes? No.”
Grayson felt that clutch of excitement that always happened when someone he was interviewing said something he knew would drive the next round or two of the news cycle. He almost forgot to breathe. But Van Allan needed no encouragement or leading questions to continue.
“Today’s wars are the actions of all-powerful bullies, exerting their tyranny over hapless civilians. This is not war, this is slaughter and thievery. Today’s military fights only when the odds are overwhelmingly in its favor. Even then, it does its fighting from a distance, killing from miles, even thousands of miles away. Is this the action of a man of courage? I think not.”
Grayson knew the case already, he had heard it when he’d sat down with the producer about this job. He realized now that Van Allan was no longer making a reasoned argument. Passion crept into his voice now, when he began to talk of courage.
“It used to be that when a man fought another man to the death, he had to be close enough to look him in the eye. Certainly in any form of what was considered to be honorable combat, the duel, the tournament, even in war, you faced your opponent. You put yourself in danger to work your will upon your foe. But now, now, blowing up an unarmed foe from a distance, fighting men by pushing buttons . . . ” Van Allan shook his head, let out his breath.
“So, the men who fight here won’t be fighting with guns?”
“No.” Van Allan stated. “There are no guns on Savage Island.”
“Bows and arrows? Crossbows? Slingshots?”
Van Allan smiled, recognizing that Grayson was clowning in order to change his tone. “They will not be available from our catalog. If you feel you must fight a man, for it to be an act of courage, you must be in equal danger when you strike at him.”
“And may the best man win!” Grayson intoned.
“And may the best man win,” Van Allan agreed. “What I am doing here, James, is bringing back what was one of the noblest traditions of manhood. I am reintroducing the values of courage, of honorable combat, and I am making it worth the while of heroes from all over the world to come here and prove themselves. I am offering a prize for every kill, as you know, of one hundred thousand American dollars . That’s a fortune in most countries.”
“That’s a fortune in every country,” Grayson said.
“But I am also offering a prize for any man who has the courage to step out onto Savage Island, to risk combat, and survive ― without having to kill anyone ― and for this I will pay each man five thousand dollars a day.” Van Allan looked directly into the camera. “I call upon the courageous men of the world. You men know who you are. You who should have been warriors and heroes in another age. Come to Savage Island, and show the world what you are. Chance everything upon your strength, your cunning and your courage. And live, wealthy and renowned, forever afterward.”