Chapter 1: The New Jacob
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
That's exactly what Ben Linus had done to Jacob, with a knife straight to the chest. He still couldn't believe what Hugo had invited him to do, to help him run the Island as the new Jacob. There had to be a catch. There always was.
If Hugo decided to kill him outright, Ben wouldn't blame him. But Hugo didn't seem to notice Ben at all, or Desmond, who still lay unconscious by the water's edge. Hugo stared unmoving into the glowing Heart of the Island with tears running down his face. If Ben had to guess, he was hoping that through some improbable magic, Jack would appear and take the weight of responsibility off Hugo's broad shoulders.
On the other hand, Ben told himself, he had no idea what this new Jacob could or couldn't do. Hugo could pick up his newly-won powers, walk away, and save himself. After all, that's what Ben would have done. What he had done, many a time.
Ben very badly did not want that to happen. John Locke had once said that the Island was a place where miracles happened. Ben still drew breath, so it might even be true. The locked door of Ben's heart opened a crack. Perhaps Jack Shephard had been wrong. Perhaps there were do-overs, second chances. Perhaps there was even one for him.
The stream changed from dirty grey-brown to clear, and the air swirled with fresh, clean breezes. The earth still shook, though, sending little rocks tumbling into the golden water.
"I thought we were over this," Ben said, a bit fretful.
Hugo shrugged, and some of the tears had gone from his voice. "You live in LA, you get used to it. Aftershocks."
"Then I guess we should stay put until they're over."
"They can go on a long time, man. Hey, you think he's still all right?"
Desmond's chest barely rose and fell with breathing, although his face was ruddy and his skin warm. When Ben shook him gently, Desmond gave a faint smile. "Maybe he just has to sleep it off."
Suddenly the earth gave a hard shudder, and the sky opened in a rushing downpour. "We got to get him out of here," Hugo said.
They pulled Desmond out of reach of the rising water, and he lolled between them limp as a rag doll. Halfway up a rocky slope, Desmond started to stir. By the time they reached the small papaya grove at the top, he could almost stand on his own. The leafy canopy shut out most of the rain as Hugo and Ben pulled together a lean-to of branches. They rolled Desmond inside, and Ben crawled in after him.
Desmond muttered, "I'm not supposed to be here. This wasn't supposed to happen." Then he sank back into a stupor.
"Ask him about Jack," Hugo said. "Maybe he'll tell us what happened."
Ben shook his head. "He's out again."
The earth settled, and the relentless rain slowed to a trickle. Hugo said, "I'm gonna stretch my legs. Have a look around."
"Good idea. Bring back some palm leaves. Maybe they'll keep us drier."
After Hugo left, the jungle was quiet except for the occasional cheep of a frog, or the drip of rain off leaves. A few minutes passed, then more. When Hugo didn't return, Ben suppressed a small surge of panic. If something had happened to Hugo, Ben didn't know what he'd do with Desmond. He certainly couldn't move him by himself. Carrying him up here had been rough enough.
Most likely Hugo had gone back to the Heart, to search for Jack. For now, all Ben could do was wait. He reached for his shoulder bag and took out a book whose cover read, Thomas Traherne: Selected Poems.
He fumbled in his front pocket for his reading glasses, but they weren't there. Panicked, Ben scrabbled through his bag and trouser pockets. Nothing.
Where in the hell had he lost them? Probably during the first earthquake, when Hugo had dragged him from beneath that fallen log. If so, the glasses had long since washed away.
Despair seized Ben. He had been so careful. Even as he drove the knife into Jacob's chest, as he felt it hit bone and then pass through to the soft organs beneath, Ben took care that the glasses didn't fall to the hard earthen floor of Jacob's room.
He gave a small, bitter laugh, thinking that this would be a fitting punishment. He stroked the page as if touch would bring the well-loved verses to life. Then his heart almost stopped in his chest, because even in the dim light, even to the naked eye, words appeared on the page sharp and clear.
You never enjoy the world aright,
Till the sea itself floweth
In your veins,
Till you are clothed
With the heavens,
And crowned with the stars...
It wasn't possible. He shouldn't have been able to read this at all. The page should have been an incomprehensible blur.
He held out his hand, which had caressed and loved and murdered. There in crisp detail appeared the cuts, the scratches, the overgrown cuticles, all clear as the prose.
He felt like weeping. True, it wasn't as impressive as a man who rose from a wheelchair and walked. But sometimes the small gestures were more touching than the grand ones. Very well. He would take what was offered, and not complain.
A rumble like a freight train shook the ground. Along the western horizon, a plume of black smoke rose from a tall mountain, while red ribbons threaded their way down its sides.
Vision would be the least of Ben's worries if the top blew off that volcano. The monster who had worn Locke's face might still get his wish to take down the Island with him.
Jack had failed. They all had.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Whatever Jack had done down there, whatever Jack had died for, it was apparently for nothing. Resigned to his fate, Ben crawled back into the shelter with the still-sleeping Desmond. If lava rained down on them all, Ben was helpless to do anything about it. But at least he wouldn't be alone.
Hugo heaved his round, bulky body up a narrow trail towards a hilltop clearing. Stumbling on the uneven ground, he thought about his situation.
Jack had passed one hell of a ball to him, and what he was supposed to do with it, he had no idea. He couldn't carry it, couldn't dribble it, and no long free throw would get rid of it for him. Hugo hadn't given up on Jack for good, but if Jack was really dead and gone, he was screwed. Because then there would be no passing this burden back to Jack. It would be his for good.
Earlier, when he and Ben had hauled Desmond out of the Island's Heart, Hugo had packed all his anguish into one long howl when Desmond was tied to that rope instead of Jack. Life was life, though, wasn't it? Had he been forced to choose, would he have picked Jack over Desmond?
Yes, Hugo had to admit, he would have. And oh Jack, stupid Jack, why had he done it?Jack had to have known it would be suicide.Hadn't Jack said that he was already dead?
Too late now.
Breathing heavily, Hugo reached the summit, where a stunning vista spread out before him. The setting sun looked like it would sink directly into the bubbling, erupting volcano. Wherever the thick lava hit the sea, huge clouds of steam churned up as the waves boiled away.
It was one of the most beautiful things Hugo had ever seen.
To the east, the calm sea hugged the green cliffs with their streaks of purple shadows. Far away, a tiny metal bird moved across the sky, glittering as it went.
The plane circled around the Island in a few long arcs before heading on its final eastward course.
Suddenly, with a heart-stopping motion, the plane lost altitude and plummeted towards the waves. Panicked, Hugo whispered, "Mother of God, help them." The plane banked up sharply, as if some unseen hand had pulled it out of its stall. Its silhouette shrank to a dark spot against the distant haze, and then it disappeared into the blue.
"Dude," he whispered.
They were really gone now: Kate, Sawyer, and maybe even Claire. Poor Claire. He hoped she wasn't still trapped on Hydra Island, and that Kate had managed to get her on board the plane after all. He'd last seen Claire on the Hydra Island dock, taking cover behind some barrels, firing carefully-aimed shots at Widmore's men. As Hugo struggled down the submarine ladder, he wondered where she had learned to shoot like that.
It crossed Hugo's mind that Sawyer might not have let Claire get on the plane, but he quickly pushed the thought down. Kate would have never stood for that, though. She had already stood up to Sawyer once, when they had found Desmond's old yacht. Claire had slipped out of the jungle like a ninja and waved her rifle around, but Kate talked everyone in to letting her on board anyway. If Kate had gotten her way with Sawyer then, she could probably do it again.
He was going to miss Miles too, as sarcastic as Miles could be sometimes. He barely knew the scruffy pilot Frank Lapidus, but he seemed cool. Just their luck they had a pilot.
Although maybe it wasn't all luck.
Hugo waved at the space of sky where the silver plane had been. "Bye, guys. Go with God."
If they made it back to Los Angeles, hopefully they'd tell his parents that he was alive. Someone would think of it. Kate would, for sure. They had to make it back, right? Why else would they have gotten as far as they had?
Don't jinx it, Hugo told himself as he stared into the east, almost expecting the plane to turn around and come back. So many people had thought they were going to leave the Island, but didn't. So many people thought they were going to stay away, and then they came back.
What it boiled down to was this. When the Island said you could leave, you could. And if it wanted you to return, then it would reach across oceans and even time itself to bring you back.
Or was it really just up to the Island? If Ben was right, Jacob's rules didn't have to be Hugo's. How was he going to set rules, though? What did you do, just walk up to the Island and announce that there were new ones? What made Ben think the Island would even listen?
Too many questions. Anyway, he had to get back to Ben and Desmond, to make sure they were still all right after the aftershocks. Also, hope beyond hope, Jack could still be down there in that mysterious hole full of light. Or maybe there were other escape routes, and Jack had found one by now.
"Now you're like me," Jack had said. Whatever it was Jack had done to him, Hugo didn't feel any different. He was supposed to protect the Island, but from what, it wasn't clear. Take care of people, as Ben said, but that went without saying.
Maybe the Island still needed protecting from Locke, the fake one. Hugo had seen that pathetic, broken body at the base of the cliff, but Hugo knew better than to assume that dead things always stayed dead. For all he knew, the monster could have hissed out of Locke's body like steam from a frying pan and flown into the air, looking for another host.
Hugo shuddered. If it came after him, he was done for. Funny thing, though, the smoke monster had never had bothered him, even all those times he'd been in the jungle alone. Not even when he'd confronted him face to face.
On the other hand, maybe Jack really had fixed things. Hugo swayed under the force of another tremor, but a deep-down sense told him that this aftershock would be the Island's last. The Island didn't feel like it was going to break apart anymore. The rotten-egg smell was already leaving the air. The wind felt alive and fresh, breathing new life with every gust.
Sweet winds, which could wash away even the smell of death.
Not that the Island's sweetness had done anything to help Sun and Jin, drowned before they got to spend even a single day together. Sayid was gone, too, giving his life to keep everyone on board the submarine from sharing Sun and Jin's fate.
A pang of loneliness and fear stabbed through Hugo. What if he were left alone here? That would be the worst ever. For a second Hugo wished he'd gone back with Claire and the others on Ajira 316.
To be alone here, truly alone, that would be too much. Hugo broke into a near-run away from the sea, back into the jungle, not paying attention where he was going as he careened downhill.
All he could think of was finding Ben and Desmond and anyone who was left alive. Maybe even (oh please, let it happen) Jack.
A loud noise startled him, and he stopped in his track.
A large green bird flew up from a stand of trees, cawing and squawking as it circled overhead. As it spread out its tail feathers it called out, "Hurrr-leee! Hurrr-leee!"
Holy crap, it really was saying his name. When he saw it before, he'd wondered. Now he was sure. A few more like it picked up the call and answered, "Hurrr-leee! Hurrr-leee! Hurrr-leee!"
Hugo looked around, but the path downhill had vanished. Wasn't that just like him to get distracted, get lost in the jungle? Before he knew it, he'd screw up, and people would start dying. He forced himself to calm down with a few deep breaths. If worst came to worst, he could keep heading downhill until he hit the stream, then back-track his way to the papaya grove. Hopefully.
The jungle seemed to be waiting for something. The canopy here seemed thicker, the undergrowth darker and more dense. Orange late-afternoon sun flickered through the trees, and the eerie song of the wind sounded almost like voices. The big green birds still circled around him, their squawks mixed in with the chirps and cheeps of the smaller birds which had joined them.
Then, like turning off a radio, the birds stopped with a silence so abrupt that it almost hurt Hugo's ears. Up ahead, in a little clearing there stood a tree, and every branch sagged with the weight of dozens of birds. None of them made a peep. All Hugo could hear were little rustles as they ruffled their wings.
The largest of the green ones spoke, and he could swear it sounded like a question. "Hurrr-leee?"
When he came closer, it didn't fly away, but just sat preening green feathers dusted with gold. Then it cocked its head and fixed its eye on him, as if it had something very important to tell him.
Hugo wished he had a piece of fruit to offer it, but his pockets were empty. Maybe if he stuck out his arm it might perch there, just like his Grandma Titi's parakeet used to hop onto his finger.
He was about to take the chance when a loud bark rang out from the forest. All at once the tree exploded into a flurry of rustling feathers and chirps, caws, and whistles. In a rainbow swirl the birds all rose up to the canopy: small brown ones, bright red ones that looked like parrots, a few fuzzy gray ones, as well as the great green birds.
More barks. More caws. A thick-bodied Labrador retriever bounded through the brush, his yellowish fur almost grey in the shadows. At the sight of him, the birds spread in every direction and disappeared in a flutter of wings.
"Aw, Vincent. Am I glad to see you." Hugo ruffled the dog's fur as Vincent licked his face. Then he darted away towards the jungle and barked again.
"You got something to show me? At least you're not carrying somebody's arm this time." Hugo felt a pang of guilt for saying that, because it had been Ben's dad's arm which Vincent had carried out of the jungle. Even if Roger had been a massive douche, you still had to respect the dead. "Hey, boy, you know where Ben is? Can you take me to Ben?"
Vincent barked, then darted into the undergrowth and was gone. "Here we go again," Hugo said to no one in particular, as he waded through the bushes in Vincent's direction.