Laura crept closer and peered at the skeleton. It looked as human as any skeleton she’d ever seen – of course every human skeleton she’d seen in the past had been plastic. There was tattered clothing clinging to the bones. It was as if somebody had died in their sleep right here on the chair.
“Well what’dya make of this?” she asked Neal.
“Doesn’t look like any alien I’ve ever seen in a movie.”
“Judging by the clothes I’d say it was a male.”
“Yeah. I wonder where he came from.”
“Well, wasn’t there supposed to have been another ship that came here to Xinju, the Phoenix I think it. Maybe he was on board.”
Neal nodded his agreement. “Makes sense, but why live alone in a wooden boat? You’d think that the Phoenix crew would have established a colony just like we have. After all this time they should be a bustling civilisation.”
“Maybe the guy left some journals or something.” Laura straightened up and jumped as her head bumped against something small but hard. She turned around and saw a necklace dangling from a hook in the ceiling. She took hold of it. “Well that’s odd. Wonder what he was doing with a necklace?”
“Maybe it belonged to an old girlfriend,” Neal offered.
The chain was gold and a large blue stone hung from it. The stone was shaped like a rectangle with curved edges. It was polished very smooth, and the streaks of white that swirled through it gave the stone the appearance of marble. It was decorated with wire and a purple jewell. The necklace seemed to giving off a faint glow. Deciding to take a closer look at it later, Laura shoved it into her pocket and turned her attention back to the skeleton.
“Do you think we should give him a proper burial?”
“It would be nice – although perhaps his remains should be studied first – to see what we can learn about him. We can get an anthropologist to come out from Moreau Town and deal with it.”
“Do we have an anthropologist?”
“I’m sure there will be somebody with the right knowledge. If they’re still in stasis then Bell can wake them up.”
Laura wandered around the interior of the boat. “It’s obvious that he made his home in this thing. I reckon he was old and alone.”
“I Wonder what he ate. I’m gonna have a look around outside.”
“Great Neal. You do that.” She watched him leave.
Laura let out a long sigh. She didn’t really want to stay here with a dead guy. Maybe she should go outside and try to talk to Neal. Then again, maybe she needed to give it a bit more time.
She walked outside. Neal was already looking at what appeared to be some kind of fruit tree.
“This looks like a new species.”
“Look, I’m gonna go take a walk. I could use some time alone all right?”
Neal didn’t answer.
She strolled along the walkway onto the grass. Heading away from the beach, she entered the bush.
* * *
It was already getting dark. The sun was setting and it would get cold soon. Right at this moment Laura didn’t care. She was nursing her frustration with Neal. The big problem with him was that he’d never grown up. He was such an adolescent when it came to feelings and relationships. He was too timid to go after what he wanted. It was really quite pathetic for a man in his mid thirties. Was it possible that Laura had made a mistake? Maybe he wasn’t the one for her after all. Maybe he was too much of a kid. If only she had known his feelings sooner – she could have given him a nice big kick to wake him up. Perhaps now it was too late.
As she walked through the bush, Laura began to have visions of herself as a cranky old maid. That was the last thing she wanted – to become Xinju’s first elderly spinster. The image actually made her grin. She could just see herself now with curly gray hair and round glasses.
Honestly, she didn’t plan on growing old alone, and she wasn’t ready to give up on Neal yet either. What was she really angry at him for, she wondered. Was it that he’d kept his feelings from her all this time, or that he hadn’t jumped right into a commitment there on the spot? Obviously expecting a proposal on the river bank was an unreasonable expectation. She didn’t really know what had come over her, other than surprise at his revelation after so long. She’d give him a few days and then they’d sort things out once and for all. Until then things were going to be strange between them though. She didn’t relish that at all.
Suddenly, Laura caught her foot on a tree root that was sticking out of the ground. It made her loose her balance and she toppled over. The dirt hit her face with a thud. There must have been a little gravel down there because her cheek felt grazed.
Laura cursed herself for wondering off in the dark – it had been a stupid idea. Slowly she picked herself up and dusted off her clothes. Nothing appeared badly injured. She looked down at the root that had tripped her. It was barely visible in this light. She put her hand into her pocket, hoping that she’d put her small torch in there. Unfortunately there was no torch. She did find something however. It felt like a smooth stone – the necklace. She had shoved it in her pocket back at the boat.
As she pulled the necklace out of her pocket she noticed the faint purple glow was much more prominent in the dark. It was hardly a torch but it might give her a little light for the journey back.
She placed the necklace over her head and let the stone fall against her chest. The chain felt a little tingly against the skin of her neck.
A strange dizzy sensation came over her. The world began to feel distant.
Then everything around Laura went black.