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The Hammond Affair

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Isla Nublosa is located one hundred and twenty miles west-south-west of Costa Rica's Guanacaste province. Its name means 'Isle of Clouds'; the tip of the mountain at the isle's centre is often shrouded in white. Frequent, heavy rains soon lead to the isle being lacquered in thick green forest, each verdant leaf dripping with moisture in the humid air. It is approximately fifty square miles in area, and shaped like an upside-down teardrop.

Technically, Isla Nublosa is not an island - like Hawaii, it is formed by a volcanic upthrust from the ocean floor. Unlike Hawaii, it is left unoccupied for the greater part of a century before Spanish explorers stake their claim. That's in 1921. Almost eighty years later, in 2000, BioGen Corporation buys Isla Nublosa from the Costa Ricans for the princely sum of US$100.

For eight years, Isla Nublosa remains quiet. Large cargo airplanes transport heavy crates to the island early in BioGen's occupation. Builders come with them. After that, scientists and engineers take up residence. In June 2008, BioGen Corporation sends five short, seductive emails to five top outside experts. Correspondence ensues, and within two months, the five degree-laden invitees have their bags packed and flights booked. They are off to Costa Rica.

 

*

WEDNESDAY

Dr. Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III, D.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., waits impatiently at Juan Santamaria International Airport for his five guests. He has five plaquards with each invitee's name neatly penned on them. The flights are all slated to arrive within half an hour of each other - it's amazing what a little money can accomplish in a currency-starved place like Costa Rica.

As the clock ticks over to five-thirty, Pete picks up the first card and goes to stand in the little waiting area. He props the card up on the nearest seat and watches the passengers disembark. They're all shepherded down the back stairs and across the tarmac. Pete is the only one waiting.

He barely has time to wonder which is his first guest before the man himself bounds through the doors, yards ahead of his fellow flyers. Dr. Brendon Urie, M.D., M.Sc., has spent the last four months in Japan on a top-secret, highly-classified project. His rambunctious enthusiasm would have caused him grief in Japan's ultra-restrained society, Pete thinks as he stands to greet Brendon.

"Hi!" Brendon says, seizing Pete's hand and giving it a great shake. "You must be Dr. Wentz! It's such an honour to meet you, sir. I've been a fan of your work ever since the Tanizaki project."

Of course Brendon would know of that project, Pete thinks. The Japanese are probably still talking about it. Flirt with the wrong person and everything goes down in flames.

He grins at Brendon. "Let's hope this endeavour ends better than that one," he says cheerfully.

"I'm sure it will!" Brendon says. "After all, it wasn't your fault, what happened."

"Some people would disagree with you."

"I'm not one of them," Brendon says firmly.

Pete nods. "Good! You get fed tonight," he jokes.

Brendon laughs. He notices the other plaquards. "Is someone else coming?" he asks.

"Four someones," Pete informs him. "The stronger my support base for this, the better."

"For what, exactly? You weren't very forthcoming in your emails," Brendon says.

Pete claps his shoulder. "All will be revealed, Dr. Urie. Tomorrow."

By now, the other passengers have collected their bags and left. Brendon's is the only bag remaining on the truck. It's bright pink and covered in stickers from airports all over the world. Pete grins again. He has a feeling that, if Brendon likes what he sees on Isla Nublosa, there's nothing in the world that'll stop him from enthusiastically voicing Pete's praises.

In short, Brendon is just the sort of person Pete needs on his side.

Eight minutes later, the next plane arrives. It had been a hassle to get Dr. Victoria Asher, M.Sc., D.Sc., to agree to come on board, but she'd eventually capitulated - at three times the finance the other scientists had accepted. She'd come all the way from Cambridge, though, and she's possibly more well-known than even Pete, so she's worth the money.

Walking across the runway, shimmering in the heat haze, Victoria is a sight for sore eyes. Despite being an absent-minded scientist, Victoria takes superb care of herself, and never goes outside looking anything less than fabulous. Her masses of dark hair shine in the Costa Rican sunlight. The pilot himself holds the door open for her to enter the airport.

"Welcome, Dr. Asher," Pete says, holding his hand out for Victoria to shake.

"Good to be here, Dr. Wentz," she replies. Her handshake is firm, but not overly tight, he's pleased to note. She's as indomitable as all the reports say, and obviously feels no need to prove herself to him. "I hope this trip is worth it. I have important research."

"I know," he says. "I'm glad you accepted my invitation. I'm sure this sojourn will be everything you hope for."

She looks down at him over her tailor-made sunglasses. "It better be."

Pete smiles at her, and sees her weaken slightly. No one can resist his smile at full blast. He gestures behind him to Dr. Urie. "Have you met -"

Victoria interrupts him. "Urie?"

He looks up from his magazine. "Vicky-T!" he exclaims. "Hi!" Brendon stands and wraps Victoria in a massive hug. She freezes for a moment, then pats his back awkwardly.

"Hello," she says. "What -"

"Am I doing here?" Brendon cuts her off. He points to Pete. "I was invited."

Victoria looks between Brendon and Pete. "I see," she says.

"It's so great to see you!" he says, excited.

She pulls away from him, reaches into her designer handbag and pulls out a packet of cigarettes. She lights up and takes a puff before replying. "Yes," she says. "I imagine it must be."

Brendon looks hurt by her chilly manner.

Pete licks his fingers and, reaching out, puts out her cigarette. "No smoking," he says sweetly.

She looks pointedly at the guard inside the door. He's puffing like a chimney, surrounded by a haze of thick blue smoke. Still, she doesn't light up again. Instead, she goes to collect her luggage and when she returns, she sits apart from them, meticulously checking her bag to make sure nothing has been lost.

The next planes to arrive are from New York and Alberta. They land at 5.46 and 5.51 respectively, and they carry very different passengers.

New York yields Gerard Way, B.A.,B.A.. He's dressed all in black; he must be sweating in the Costa Rican heat. He doesn't let his discomfort show, however, and is as cool as a cucumber as he introduces himself to Victoria and Brendon. Pete's worked with Gerard before. When Gerard reaches Pete, the scientist hands him the pre-prepared thermos of piping hot coffee. "Costa Rican, so you know it's good," Pete says.

Gerard hums appreciatively. "It's good to see you, man," he tells him. "New York's no fun without you."

"Ah, I'm banished from the US," Pete says, waving his hand. "They don't want me anymore."

"Mikey misses you."

Pete rubs the back of his neck. "I still email him."

"Every three months, if he's lucky," Gerard snorts. "You're coming back with me after this. You need your friends around you again, Pete."

He holds up his left hand and wiggles the middle finger. A slim gold wedding band glints in the light. "I've got baggage now," Pete says.

Gerard stares at him. "You're married? No one could ever tie the great Pete Wentz down when I knew him!"

"Caught and bound, my friend, hook, line and sinker," Pete admits. "I couldn't let this one get away."

"Is she with you? Can I meet her?" Gerard asks curiously.

Pete just grins and tips him a wink. "Maybe, and only if you're good."

Then, the next plane is landing, and Pete leaves Gerard in Brendon's enthusiastic hands. The plane from Alberta disgorges very few passengers. The last off, struggling with his bulky laptop bag, is Dr. Alexander DeLeon, M.Sc., D.Sc., the wunderkind of the scientific community. He'd achieved his doctorate at the extremely tender age of twenty, making him a baby among his peers - albeit a very respected baby.

Pete hangs out by the door, sheltered by the outside awning. "Can I help you with that?" he says as Alex draws near.

"Nah, man, I've got it," Alex says. "Thanks. Are you -"

"Pete Wentz." He holds out his hand. Alex seizes it in much the same manner as Brendon had, enthusiastically pumping Pete's hand.

"It's great to be here, dude, I'm glad you emailed me! I couldn't believe it, really, when I saw your name at the end of that email. I thought it had to be fake. But then you called me, and, well, I had to believe it, right? I mean, this is just such a fantastic opportunity, to work with you."

Pete grins and leads Alex inside. Boy genius or not, he sure could talk someone's ear off. Better it be Brendon's than his. He drops Alex off with the others, letting them make their own introductions - and speculations. None of them have the slightest inkling about why they'd been brought to Costa Rica, nor about where they're going next. They're all present solely thanks to their curiosity.

The final plane lands at 5:59PM. Dr. Jonathan Walker, M.Sc., M.Sc., D.Sc., is dressed far more appropriately than any of Pete's other guests - but then, he'd come to Costa Rica from Hawaii, and knew precisely what climate to expect. He alone of the five guests know they're headed to Isla Nublosa - it was the only enticement Pete had in his arsenal for Jon. Even so, he does not know why they're headed there.

Their party complete, Pete calls his driver. Andy Hurley is not just a driver - he's also a pilot and a captain. Pete expects nothing less than the best of his employees, and Andy certainly delivers. The eight-seater people-mover rumbles right up to the airport's front door, and everyone piles in.

"Do they know yet?" Andy asks Pete in a low voice as the guests scrabble for luggage space and window seats.

Pete grins. "Not yet."

They spend the night one of San José's best hotels - the Gaia Hotel and Reserve. Its airy white rooms are a welcome retreat from the city's bustling poverty-stricken crowds. The hotel is adults only; when Victoria sees the sign in the lobby, she smirks and tips her cigarette towards Alex.

"I suppose he's sleeping in the car, then," she says.

Alex frowns.

Brendon and Pete both point to the familiar red-and-white symbol displayed on a card on the counter. "No smoking," they say at the same time.

Victoria grimaces and puts her cigarette out again.

Dinner is a fancy affair - Pete warns them that this will be the only time they get to dress up for the entire trip. They go all out; black tie and evening gown. The ties, however, don't stay tied once the wine begins to flow. Pete tips the waitress to ignore Alex's lack of ID - but she winks. "Legal drinking age is dieciocho," the woman says. Alex lights up. "Welcome to Costa Rica," she says, and fills his wine glass herself.

Brendon and Jon cheer and clap Alex on the back. Gerard grins. Victoria merely sniffs. It is several hours - and several bottles of wine shared between them - before she finally begins to loosen up.

The one thing that doesn't loosen, however, is Pete's tongue. He stays remarkably tight-lipped about their destination. "All will be revealed," he repeats over and over, that mysterious, maddening twinkle in his eye. "Patience is a virtue."

"Not one of mine!" Brendon exclaims. He and Jon clink glasses. They'd hit it off very early - united by a love of Disney. The car had been filled with their merry voices, and Alex's too, once Brendon discovered he could sing.

Gerard brings his sketchbook down to dinner. For most of the meal, it remains closed by his plate. Between the main course and dessert, he opens it and pulls a pencil from his pocket. He sets about sketching the diners as superheroes. By the time the chocolate sin mud cake - whipped cream and ice cream on the side, of course - is served, all of them are demanding copies of the fantastic artworks.

After dinner, there is more drinking, but soon the dining room closes and they must depart for their rooms. Brendon looks longingly at the pool, but announces he is far too drunk to be very bouyant, and a swim is a pleasure he'd indulge in the morning.

"Set your alarms, please," Pete says. "I'll be waiting in the dining room at ten thirty. See you in the morning." He takes the first elevator.

His guests watch as the digital display above the elevator rises up past numbers, all the way to 'P'. "P for Penthouse," Alex marvels.

"P for Pete. He probably bought a floor and named it after himself," Victoria says.

"That sounds like him, actually," Gerard admits.

Victoria takes the next elevator - she has a room on the fourth floor, while the boys are all on the third. "Do not disturb me for anything," she warns them. The doors close and she is gone.

"Like we would," Brendon mutters. "What a bitch."

Gerard flips open his sketchbook and makes a few additions to his sketch of Ice Woman. "Super-villain," he says, tipping the book so the others can see once he's done. The notable differences include a black mask and a riding crop.

Jon laughs. "I want a copy of that one, too," he says. "I've got a friend at Cambridge. He'd love to see that."

"Shall be done," Gerard says.

"It's really a remarkable resemblance," Brendon says as they move into the arrived elevator. He pauses, then says, "I think we should do something to her cigarettes."