Cassie stood as near as she could to the bow of the boat without getting tangled in rope and other mysterious equipment, eager to catch a first glimpse of the island. The wind took her breath away, the sea spray stung her face, but she did not want to return to the tiny cabin that smelled of diesel fumes; she had soon discovered that looking straight ahead and gulping fresh air was the only way to avoid sea sickness.
Now as the clouds cleared to reveal blue March skies she wanted to savour every moment, every view as the skipper slowed the boat and curved round to follow the shoreline. Cassie held no illusions that the sun would always shine on this uninhabited Scottish Island, but she hoped the sunny welcome was a good omen. Beside her Sheba roused herself and pointed her nose towards land, the dog would be as glad as the rest of them to step on dry land. Her owner, Sam, had gone to the back of the boat to check on his son, who had spent most of the one hour trip hanging over the back of the boat being sick. They had laughed at her this morning, nibbling on dry toast as they tucked in to a full cooked Scottish breakfast.
As the tiny landing stage came into sight, this day felt like childhood Christmas and the start of school summer holidays rolled into one. No more work, no more lockdown, just freedom. Of course she would never have been doing this if it weren’t for Covid. Cassie had been happy moving to a new town, happy living alone in her new house, coping fine with lockdowns and working from home, but she had realised she did not want to spend the rest of her life working for MPJ, or even another year.
The decision to accept the job as wardens of an island they had never heard of was easier for Sam, he had nothing to lose, no home, no job and little prospect of either in the midst of the crippling pandemic. What he did have was his science degree and a few old contacts he had managed to resurrect. The board of the island project had seen past his lack of CV to the fortitude that had seen him survive life on the streets and pull himself out of homelessness. The challenges he had faced living rough would stand him in good stead to cope with the complete lack of twenty first century amenities.
Cassie had no family to leave behind; her home was now rented out to one of the women in MPJ’s homelessness project, who had been touchingly delighted to be entrusted with Cassie’s two geckos. Cassie hardly qualified as a nature warden, or science expert, but her work skills would enable her to do the admin and communications side of things. They would not be cut off from the rest of the world, there would be regular Zoom meetings with the scientific team heading the project. But the three of them would be alone on the island; they had been tested and retested and declared Covid free. No one had even set foot on the island for over a year so their environment would be pure and safe. They themselves were an experiment of sorts, though other small teams could be sent later on.
Lucas had his mother’s and stepfather’s consent to come with them and he would be useful, but he was free to leave if he got too bored or lonely. He had pointed out that most teenagers had been bored and lonely in lockdown this past year. His mother was glad he would be well away from all her perceived dangers of teenagers roaming in towns and assumed after a few weeks he would be wanting to return to the highland estate home he had run away from.
It was beautiful; rocky shores and steep cliffs had given way to white beaches and the calm waters of the little cove belied the fact that rough weather often made any boat trips impossible. The next delivery of supplies could not be relied on. Sam reappeared to help the skipper tie the boat up. Cassie kept well out of the way, but as she looked up at the rugged island she spotted something against the clear blue sky; one single gentle spiral of smoke from the centre of the island. A welcome domestic sight in any other setting, but how could this be on their secret uninhabited island?