Friday, January 15, 2016

North Sentinel Island

My Trip To North Sentinel Island

Before I was born my father took a job as a crew member on a cargo ship that was traveling through the Pacific & Indian Ocean on a ship was called “Primrose”. At the time my father was a newlywed to my mother; young, ambitious; still trying to find the right career for himself. This trek on Primrose was only his fourth assignment and he wasn’t fully convinced that this was the right career path for him. The prospect of spending weeks at a time away from his new wife was not appealing, but he was still willing to make the sacrifice. My father always made decisions by considering the results of his actions. The demanding job proved to be an immediate burden, but he believed his hard work would pay off in the future.
But this particular voyage in August, was his last. After he returned from this trip, he promptly handed in his resignation and settled on a career in insurance sales.
During the last night of the voyage, Primrose had been steered directly into a patch of coral reef. The ship was stuck and all the crew members were stranded, sitting idly within the Bay of Bengal. In the near distance was an island. The crew suggested taking shelter within the vast jungle on the island, but the captain knew better. Sure it looked like any ordinary tropical island, but this was no ordinary island. Help was radioed and would arrive on location in 2 days. The crew, my father included, settled in and tried to make the best of a bad situation while they waited for a helicopter to airlift them all to safety.
At sunrise, the captain radioed for help one again. This message was much more urgent than the previous one.
“Mayday. Mayday. Primrose calling for immediate assistance. We are being hunted by dark skinned individuals with weapons. They’re building a boat on the beach. We need support.”
These individuals were the reason that North Sentinel Island was no ordinary island. These were the Sentinelese; a group of people that have lived on the island and remained cut off to western society. India has a 3-mile exclusion zone around the island, and for good reason. The Sentinelese were known for slaughtering anyone who dared come close to their home.
Their weapons were primitive; arrows and spears. Certainly not the most intimidating weapons by today’s standards. But put these primitive weapons in the hands of 30-40 primitive people that have exclusively hunted with them for centuries against a group of 20 civilized men armed with nothing but a flare gun and you wind up with a fairly uneven fight.
“They tried to board our ship, but the surrounding coral reef preventing them from getting on board,” I remember my father telling me one night when I was around 12 years old. It was the first time he had ever told me the story. “They got close enough for me to see the anger...pure hatred on the faces of the warriors.” I watch as my father tells the story, his body visibly shaking and his voice trembling as he recalls the moment in his life that brought him the closest to his own demise. “Once they were within range they unleashed their weaponry on the ship. Most of us were below deck and we heard the pings of a volley of arrows hitting the side. The few men on deck weren’t afforded the luxury of a steel barrier. They had been trying to communicate and ease tension with the Sentinelese. They threw them some food, made friendly gestures. It did nothing to ease their hostility towards us.” He grew silent for a moment, reliving the next moments before he finally spoke. “Two of our guys...two were hit. One was struck in the leg. The other...they got him in the head.”
As a young boy, my father was my hero. I believed he could do anything. It didn’t matter what sort of dire situation our family would be put through, he was a rock; the protector. Hearing him tell this story made me realize that every person has a vulnerable side to them. We’re only capable of greatness when our environment and experience allows greatness. I thought of him sitting below deck, a man unfamiliar with his surroundings, faced with an overpowered adversary trying to kill him. It was the first time I saw him as anything but invincible.
“It took them seven days to finally get a helicopter out to our location. Most of us were going home with our lives intact. One of us wasn’t.”
My father never told the story much, although he did talk about his biggest regret from those seven days often.
“Your mother had given me a gift just before we got married,” he told me. “A gift that I left behind on that boat. The moment that the helicopter arrived we were under attack by the Sentinelese. There was never an opportunity for me to go back to my bunk and retrieve the gift.
“What was the gift?” I asked.
“A rock.”
He smiled. “Sure, it seems stupid at first. But the rock is a symbol of stability. A constant. Your mother carved words into the rock that represented our relationship.Trust. Love. And Laughter. I took the rock with me on those long trips. It served as a reminder of what was waiting, ever vigilant, for me to return home.”
I frequently thought about this story throughout my life. Not because of the mystery surrounding North Sentinel Island. But because of that rock. My father told me many times how he wished he never left that rock behind. How he could hold it in his hands once again.
And I made it a lifetime goal to fulfill that wish.
With the help of my younger brother Jason and unbeknownst to my father, I spent years planning a trip to the forbidden island. The island where no outside visitors are welcome.
Using satellite imagery and images from various sources online I located the remains of Primrose. It sat towards the northwest side of the island, dilapidated and partially submerged, but still present. The rock resided somewhere inside possibly under water.The most practical way of reaching its location would be by anchoring a boat nearby and scuba diving towards Primrose. Judging by the proximity of Primrose to the island, my brother and I should be able to keep a safe distance from the inhabitants of the island and return to our boat unharmed.

That was the plan. Get in, get out, go home, have a drink. I wish I had known then what I know now.
And in 2011 we set off putting this plan into action. Jason and I flew to Yangon, Burma. While it’s not the closest civilization to North Sentinel Island, it put us at a safe enough distance where we wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. There was talk of traveling right out of Port Blair in India, but we knew we’d stick out like sore thumbs. Yangon was the subtle choice.
There we rented a 46’ Beneteau sailboat. Despite my most vigorous efforts, I was unable to find anything that detailed the marine life in the waters that surrounded the island. I concluded that this must have been due to the 3 mile exclusion zone that India had set on the island. I did find information on two men that took the risk of fishing within that exclusion zone in 2006. They both met their demise when their boat drifted too close to the island while they slept. The Sentinelese killed the men. When sent to investigate there were two graves found on the beach where the men had been killed. All attempts to retrieve their bodies were met with hostility from the Sentinelese. Going to the island had a lot of question marks, so we tried to bring as much equipment as possible. The sailboat provided ample space, it was fuel efficient, and it was elevated from the surface of the water to keep any potential marine predators at a safe distance. The thrill-seeker in me wanted to rent a bowrider for the speed, but I worried about running out of fuel. Plus, a sailboat is quiet.
Both of us had gone through scuba training in our late teens and early twenties and then went on some independent dives in preparation. We weren’t pros, but we felt we were both fully capable of the task at hand.
And so we set sail. 11.5500° N, 92.2333° E. North Sentinel Island.
We left Yangon at 06:30 GMT on a Tuesday and reached our destination at 21:30 GMT on Wednesday. Despite the pitch black darkness, I could feel the presence of the island in the distance. Naturally we had a curiosity about the island and there was a temptation to reach the shore and explore. Our knowledge of the horrors that would be waiting for us overshadowed that curiosity. We kept our lights off, lowered our sail and anchored the boat about a knot off the northwest coast. Darkness was no time to execute this sort of operation. Primrose was within eyesight of the Sentinelese. Trying to locate the rock in the darkness would require using our LED flashlights which would make us stick out like sore thumbs.
So we spent the night out of sight, quietly waiting for dawn and trying to get some sleep.
“Remember, we’re in, and we’re out.” Jason told me, reiterating our plan as we settled in for the night.
“Believe me I know. I’m getting chills just being here.”
“Wimp. I’m not.”
“Really? You don’t feel...I don’t know...out of place? Like we don’t belong?”
“Nope.” He sat down on the bed and took a sip of water. “I actually kind of like it here.”
“You like the fact that just over a mile from where we are right now are somewhere between 40 and 500 primitive, bloodthirsty people eager throw an arrow through your skull?”
“Well, not that part.” He laid on the bed, his face staring up at the ceiling. “But it’s like...this place is undisturbed. There’s no real government or property taxes or bosses. It’s just...natural. A place where the basic instinct of man is preserved. The way the world was meant to be.”
I rolled my eyes. “Since when were you an anarchist?”
He smirked. “I’m just saying, it’s kind of nice. None of that bureaucratic b.s.”
“If you like it so much why don’t I just build you a little cottage on the shore and leave you behind?”
“Will it have wifi?” He joked.
Jason’s carefree attitude kept me balanced, and I like to think that my attention to detail is what kept him balanced. Just two ordinary brothers.
I did the best I could to get some sleep that night. My nerves kept waking me every 20-30 minutes or so. Once I noticed the faint signs of the sun rising above the horizon I went above deck.
That was the first time my eyes were able to see the island. And in that instant, I understood exactly what Jason was trying to explain last night. The Island left me breathless. I took in the vibrant landscape in the dim sunlight of an expansive jungle the size of Manhattan through my binoculars and imagined myself sitting peacefully on the beach, wiggling my toes in the sand. For that brief moment all my worries were gone. The shackles of modern society were no longer a burden. I can’t remember a time where I felt so free.
Deep down I knew that the allure of the island was offset by the horrors that hid in the jungle. And I didn’t care. At least not at that moment. There’s a tremendous sense of purity in horror.
As I turned to the left, she came into focus. Primrose. The stern of the ship was still sticking out of the water, but the bow was mostly submerged. We’d be searching the ship without any real blueprints or direction. When my father told me the story of the rock he described his last moments in the room that it was located. He told me that the door was closed the last time he was there. In the best case scenario, the rock would be located in the first room just under the surface, and we could retreat to the safety of our sailboat.
Behind me I heard Jason emerging from the cabin. “Let’s get started,” I heard him say in the middle of a yawn.
We went through our checklist and put on our gear. Just like we always do. Gearing up felt like any other time that we had done a dive. The only real difference this time was that we each carried an extra knife and sheath than we ordinarily would. A larger one. And just as the sun had risen completely above the horizon, we were dropping into the water, swimming towards Primrose.
We didn’t see much on the way there, but once we were close to the reef we saw that it was booming with marine life. Small fish mostly, no real threats as far as I could tell.
And then Primrose came into focus. From under water the sides of the ship were completely covered with algae and barnacles. The metal was rusted and lodged within massive pieces of yellow coral.
From this position we were roughly 1,200 feet from the shore. Neither of us poked our heads out of the water. If the Sentinelese were there, we didn’t want to know. Staying under the surface kept us hidden.
We made our way below deck and began searching the rooms. Jason followed my lead as we went through each room, remaining ever vigilant for a site of the rock. When we came across a closed door I was hopeful that this was my father's room. It took a great deal of effort from both Jason and I to open the door. Once we were inside we found the rock resting peacefully on the floor. It wasn’t exactly the best case scenario we had hoped for, but this was relatively easy. And the rock was intact. The words were carved into it were clear as day.
I grabbed the rock and stashed it in a pocket on my belt, then signaled to Jason to head back.
Now that we retrieved what we came here for there was no point in lingering. Jason swam ahead of me moving faster than I could keep up. He’s getting claustrophobic I thought to myself. Professional divers use helmets equipped with voice communication, but Jason and I relied on hand signals. I tried to get his attention to tell him to slow down, but he swam ahead without looking back. I saw him turn a corner towards the exit ahead and look back at me. I raised my hand straight in front of me and held it horizontal at the top of my forehead, then dropped it down to my chin, the signal for ‘slow down’. But he ignored me and swam ahead.. I pushed on, taking my time and making sure I kept my breath at a healthy pace.
When I reached the exit I got caught in a current from a wave and was pushed off track. My body was completely turned around as the force of the water nearly swept me away. When I caught myself I tried to find Jason. Up ahead, I saw him. He was thrashing in a cloud of blood.
The golden rule of scuba diving is not to panic. Panicking elevates your heart rate, causing you to breath harder and taking in too much oxygen. With the way Jason was thrashing, he was beyond panicking. Something had happened to him, and he lost control.
I swam to him, trying to keep my calm. When I reached him I grabbed his shoulders and made him face me. I held up three fingers underneath a horizontal hand, then gave him a thumbs up. ‘Safety stop, surface’. I didn’t know why he was bleeding. Clearly something had gone wrong. If he was injured, we needed to surface, even if it meant being seen by the tribe. I followed the trail of blood in the water and saw that it led directly to a sharp piece of coral. The wave must have tossed him directly into it. He had a puncture wound somewhere on his body. Judging by the amount of blood, the wound was deep.
Another wave came pushing the two of us off course, but I held onto Jason’s wet suit with a clamped fist. As I started carrying him to the surface, Jason vigorously shook his head and gave me a thumbs down, signaling that we needed to go deeper. He then held his hand vertically pointed in the direction of our boat, indicating he wanted us to swim back. He caught the confused look on my face and responded with one finger pointed straight up and angled towards the shore. This wasn’t an official form of communication used by scuba divers, but I knew what it meant. He was telling me that the Sentinelese were on the shore. Watching us.
I looked down and noticed Jason was holding his left abdomen. It was the source of the blood. There wasn’t much communication we could achieve with hand signals, but I concluded that Jason must have received the puncture wound on the coral, panicked, then surfaced to catch his breath and possibly treat the wound. Once he surfaced, he formally met the people we’ve been trying to avoid.
Without wasting any more time I flung Jason’s right arm over my shoulder and began kicking down and away from the shore, moving steadily and carrying my brother to safety. I wondered if the Sentinelese behind me were preparing an attack or attempting to swim to our location.
The wind above us had picked up and I was fighting much stronger currents while using all of my might to hang on to Jason. My arm was around his waist and when I wasn’t losing my grip through his wet suit I could feel him breathing heavily. I tried to calm him as best as I could given the circumstances. If he continued breathing this way he was going to get light headed or even run out of oxygen. He looked over at me and we locked eyes. I could see his fear. We were in a dire situation, but staying calm is something he needed to do. We both needed to. With my free right hand I pointed two fingers at my eyes, then pointed to myself with one finger. Look at me. I held my hand out horizontally then lowered it. Slow down. Then I held a balled fist against my chest and pointed at him. I did this say two things. The official translation of this gesture is “you’re low on air”. This was a warning to him to watch his breathing. But I was also saying something much more important. I love you.
Don’t worry little brother. I’ve got you. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
And just as I felt his breathing start to slow and he was catching himself, the current picked up and took him out from under my arm. I felt his body slip from my fingertips. He was washed away by the forces of nature faster than I could even comprehend where he had gone. I looked behind me to see him floating upwards towards the surface of the water. It was hard to believe how far he had gotten away from me in such a short amount of time. I spun around and tried to catch up to him. I swam as fast as I could. But the current had done too much damage. Jason was too far away.
The current thrust Jason into the coral again, this time smashing the back of his head against the solid wall. And with that, Jason was no longer thrashing. His body flowed with the current like a ragdoll, leaving a trail of blood that was dissipating in the water.
There was nothing I could do. I watched his body clear the coral faster than I could swim. I was losing hope.
When he reached the surface I followed suit from my position. I didn’t care about the Sentinelese seeing me at this point. I had to survey the land and determine whether there was a legitimate threat waiting on the shore, and whether I would have to opportunity to retrieve my brother. Once my head pierced the surface, I looked over at the beach.
And there they were. The Sentinelese. There must have been about thirty of them. Some were in the water making their way out to the open sea, waiting for their chance to get their hands on one of the scuba divers invading their land. Some were standing on the beach watching the events unfold.
Some of them were wearing a strap around their waists with a piece of cloth covering their privates. Most of them were naked aside from some sort of headband, some of which had feathers stuffed underneath sticking straight up in the air. A few others looked like the had some sort of necklaces on.
The ones in the water were making their way to Jason’s lifeless body, which had washed to within 100 feet of the beach.
“GET BACK!” GET AWAY!” I screamed at them, hoping to scare them off. They ignored me and continued on their path to my brother. I felt completely helpless. I continued swimming towards the beach; holding on to whatever hope there was of somehow saving Jason. “BACK!”
I watched them grab him. God damnit, I watched all of it. Two of them pulled him up to the beach where he was suddenly surrounded by the others waiting. They kicked and rained blows onto Jason, using some of their tools to smash into his skull.
“STOP! PLEASE STOP!” I pleaded. They didn’t listen. I continued swimming and once I was within throwing distance, I pulled one of my knives and lunged it towards the crowd of natives. The handle landed against the back of one of the females, and suddenly they all stopped beating Jason and turned to look at me. One of the males stepped forward.
”Geetu! Geetu!”
We stared at each other for what felt like hours before he turned back to the group and dragged Jason into the jungle. The others followed, and soon they had all disappeared with my brother.
They left me there, standing in the water, unable to contain myself from what I had just seen.
I wasn’t sure exactly what the lead male had said to me. Unfortunately there were no books on the Sentinelese language. But that stare he gave me conveyed the message loud and clear. Come and get him.
A challenge. One that I was angry, distraught, and stupid enough to take.
Dead or alive, I wasn’t leaving my brother behind.

Part 2 – The Hunt

There I was. Left to fend for myself on a remote island in the middle of the Bay of Bengal with anywhere from 40 to 500 people, all of whom wanted to kill me.
For as long as I could remember, I’d always pondered the purpose of punishment. What real reason is there to condemn people to death? Why does God send souls to hell?
For me, punishment has always been about rehabilitation. We send criminals to jail this way when they’re released they’re less likely to commit the same crime. Every mind has the potential to change; to better themselves. Hell and death are eternal. There’s no opportunity for a person to find a better path for their life. Punishment is far too often based on emotion, not logic.
And for as long as I’ve thought about these ideas, I’ve always disagreed with them. All life has value. Everyone deserves a second chance.
When the established conventions of civilized society are no longer a factor, your beliefs tend to change. That day, as I stood in the water watching these primitive people take my brother away, my stance on the death penalty took a complete turn. I wanted my brother back. I wanted them all to suffer.
Sure, they all wanted me dead. But I could also kill them off one by one without any risk of consequence. There’s no one here to arrest me or put me in jail. I can slaughter as many as needed and no one would ever know.
“JASON!” I yelled from the water shortly after he had been dragged into the jungle. I knew the likelihood of him hearing me was slim, but it was worth the effort. “I’M COMING FROM YOU!”
I waited for any sort of response, either from Jason or the Sentinelese. But there was nothing.
I walked out of the water, stood on the beach and peered into the jungle hoping to see some sign of life between the massive trees. “HEY!” I tried to provoke some sort of movement to get a lead on what my next move should be.
Without any sound from the jungle, a spear landed at my feet and startled me. It stuck into the sand and wobbled back and forth like a spring. I jumped backwards and stumbled over my own fins that I almost completely forgot I was still wearing. I fell to the ground, receiving a face-full of salt water and sand in the process.
So much for establishing dominance.
I collected myself and stood up. Before I could look back towards the jungle, the piercing sound of laughter filled the air. Sitting just at the edge of the jungle was another man, one I didn’t see with the group earlier...laughing. Having the time of his life.
I felt like Ace Ventura.
“Go ahead and laugh it up, Jack.” I said calmly to him. I named him after Jack Nicholson’s Joker. “Get it out of your system.” I reached over and pulled the spear out of the sand. “I’m going to be the one laughing soon.” Sure he couldn’t understand what I was saying. The words I spoke were more for me than for him. His laughter had subsided to a large grin as he continued to stare at me. Study me. His dark complexion blended with the jungle in the background. He didn’t appear to be an immediate threat. He was just testing me for the time being. Sizing me up and identifying my potential weaknesses. I took the opportunity to ready myself. As he continued watching me I removed my scuba gear and made a pile of my belongings on the beach. My regulator, mask, air hose, mouthpiece, air tank, thermometer. I wouldn’t be needing any of it. “Thanks for the spear, Jack.” I looked back at him. “I’ll see you later.”
He wanted a weakness, so I gave him one: The refusal to fight. Let’s make him think I’m a coward. He’ll underestimate me.
Left with my wet suit, belt, two ropes 6’ in length, my second knife, snorkel, fins, my father’s rock and the spear, I walked south on the beach away from Jack, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see if Jack was following me. He wasn’t. The beach was empty. I was on my own.
It was tough to develop any immediate plan. I was certain charging into the jungle right away would leave me completely vulnerable. The Sentinelese knew this island. It was their home and they were formidable hunters. They had the advantage. Before I made any attack against them, I had to become familiar with my surroundings, and do whatever I can to find as much information about these people without being seen.
As I walked down the beach I peered into the jungle. I was looking for any signs of activity I could study. A disturbed clearing, footprints, broken branches, poop. I listened closely to any noises coming from the jungle, although I mostly only heard the sounds of waves crashing on the beach. These people, while primitive, were still human. Humans in the wild, like any animal, will have specific patterns and routines. In the end we’re all quite the same. We find comfort in the familiar. There’s likely to be a central area of the land that they established a permanent settlement, and that settlement would certainly have a preferred route to and from the beach. A highway. Through my research of the island online, I wasn’t able to find much. The satellite images showed mostly tree canopies covering the entire island. I did find some aerial photos taken from helicopters of thatched huts that the Sentinelese had built in a clearing.

That’s what I needed to find and observe from a safe distance. Jason would be there.
I looked back and saw that I was being followed by another male. He was by himself roughly 300 feet away from me and had taken my scuba mask from the pile of my gear I left behind, which was now gone. They must have taken my gear while my back was turned. The male was fiddling with my mask while casually following me.
Good, I thought. He doesn’t see me as a threat.
He stopped, put his spear down and put the mask on and started moving his head in short bursts very quickly back and forth. It looked like he was testing his vision. He extended the palm of his hand in front of his face and started moving it closer, then moving it further away. Just like any human being, he was curious.
“Curious George,” I said out loud to myself. “Glad you like my gift.” He walked into the water and stuck his head under the surface, then lifted it back out and repeated the process a few times. It was intriguing to watch him and for a second I was tempted to continue studying George all day. But he had already fallen into my trap. Now it was just time to reel him in before he lost interest.
I whistled loudly and saw George raise his head out of the water and look at me. Once I was sure he was focused on me I raised my fins in the air, then dropped them on the beach. More toys for you to play with, George, I thought.
George followed me as I pressed on. I tied knots into the rope I had while walking down the beach until I reached a point where the line of sight was broken with him by sharp point on the land. I had seen him pick up the fins just as I turned the corner, out of his view.
My position did not look like a hot spot of activity for the tribe. The edge of the jungle looked natural without any broken branches. Scanning as far as I could see into the jungle did not reveal any activity either. A perfect spot for me to execute my plan.
I had connected the two lines of rope securely together. On one end I made a knot used for snare traps and buried the rope under the sand just on the edge of the jungle. In the middle of the knot on the sand I placed my snorkel. A typical snare trap where the trap is left hanging until the prey is caught in it would be useless against George. Even if he did fall for it he’d likely figure out the trap easily and get away before I could get to him. I could still use the knot as a sort of lasso though.
The other end of the rope was led into the jungle where I covered myself in some debris from the canopy overhead. Not the best camouflage, but enough for me stay hidden while George was distracted from the snorkel.
The trap was set.
Years of planning had gone into this operation. At no point did the plan include capturing any of the Sentinelese. Either for study, or for what I had in mind. Sometimes you need to improvise.
When George finally appeared he was still wearing my mask. One hand was holding his spear, the other hand was holding one of the fins. The other was on his right foot. He was on his way to becoming a scuba diver.
He noticed the snorkel laying in the sand. Without hesitation he walked right over to it. He stood for a minute staring at the snorkel, occasionally looking down the coast to make sure I wasn’t around. As soon as he bent over and grabbed the snorkel I yanked the other end of the rope upwards and towards me, closing the knot over his wrist and simultaneously pulling him face-first to the ground.
Got him.
I sprang into action, pulling my end of the rope further towards me as he struggled, immediately using his other hand to try to free himself. As long as I continue pulling he would have no chance of getting it off. When he was close enough, I let go of the rope and pounced, pinning George to the ground and smashing my fists into his face.
DOOYIN! He cried out for help. I continued my attack. DOOYIN!
Damn, this guy smelt bad. I felt the bones of his nose crack underneath my knuckles, and just as I felt his struggling start to ease, I took a handful of dirt and rubbed it into his eyes and mouth.
“Hold still, George.” I stood up and he started scrambling on the ground, trying to get away. A swift kick in the stomach kept him from moving. “I said hold still!” He fell into a fetal position on the ground, holding his stomach, coughing and moaning in pain.
I reached down and pulled his left arm out straight, laying it parallel to the ground. Then I pulled my knife from my sheath. With all my might I plunged it directly through the palm of his hand. He let out a loud scream, then a louder one when I twisted the knife.
“Alright George...I think you’ve had enough.” I pulled the knife out and pulled him off the ground, letting him stand on his own two feet. “Go ahead, I’m done with you. Go back to your home.” He stood there, crying. I gave him a hard shove “I said go!”
Just when I thought he wasn’t going to move he made a quick dash into the jungle, running for his life. That’s good George, I thought. Lead me right to your camp.

Part 3 - Animals

I taste blood. Why is there blood in my mouth? Did I cut myself? I don’t think I did. I should check my mouth in the mirror. My arm hurts. Wait, this isn’t my house. Whose bed am I sitting on? There’s blood on it. Is it mine? This is weird. How did I get here? I need to use the bathroom. I need the mirror. I feel different. There’s the bathroom. Over there. I don’t like this place. I want to go home. That looks like me. I don’t feel like me. No cuts in my mouth. Oh, it’s my arm. There’s no flesh on it. Just blood and bone. Did I eat my own arm?

The Sentinelese are not the only isolated tribe left in the world. There are others. And when those others made contact with outsiders, the large majority of the tribes embraced their visitors. Some of them danced and celebrated meeting other people for the first time. A few times there was violence, but it didn’t last long. They all ended the same way. Peaceful.
Of all the previous encounters with the people who live on North Sentinel Island, all of them have either ended in murder or violence. Even as far back as the 1800’s. All of them. Except one. And it’s well documented. There’s actual video of the encounter.
In the early 1990’s, the Indian government attempted to gain the trust of the Sentinelese. Boats were dispatched to the island in intervals with gifts to win them over. Live pigs, dolls, coconuts, aluminum cookware. At first, the Sentinelese wouldn’t allow the boats to come close enough to drop the gifts off. But then slowly, little by little, they allowed the boats to start coming closer. Every time a boat arrived, the visitors pushed the boundaries further than the last arrival, until finally the Sentinelese would fire warning shots from their bows, letting the visitors know that they had overstayed their welcome.
But just once, they let the visitors right up to the shore and accepted their gifts. Coconuts were tossed into the water right in front of the boat, and the Sentinelese walked up and took them, even grabbing some of the coconuts directly from the hands of the visitors.
Not wanting to press their luck, the visitors waved goodbye and went on their way. No hostility. No blood.
After that encounter, the Indian government scrapped all future plans to establish peace, citing the risk of disease, hostility, and the land itself having no value or useful resources.
But they have exhibited that it’s possible to coexist. It’s hard to imagine that a group of people would be so willing and eager to kill others. What changed since that one friendly encounter? Why has it been virtually impossible for anyone to even approach the island without being threatened?
Why did they take my brother? Did they hurt him too?
My only hope for finding out the answers to these questions, was from the male I had just tortured and set loose into the jungle, George.
George had a hefty head start. Longer than I intended on giving him. I was distracted and he was no longer in sight. Disappeared in the broad jungle. I needed to act quickly. Once he reached his camp and the others saw what I had done to him, they would surely retaliate by killing Jason.
Assuming he wasn’t already dead.
I started following the trail. While I can naturally track any animal in the wilderness, it’s a tedious process that I haven’t mastered. At the speed George was running, he would reach his camp long before I would if I relied on footprints and broken branches. That’s what the blood was for. It would enable me to track him much faster.
George made a bee line heading east in the jungle. I went to work, moving briskly between the trees and remaining vigilant for any other tribe members. There were drops of blood on the ground, mixed in with the dark soil and dried up leaves that created a clear path for me to follow. I held a steady pace moving east for about two minutes before the blood suddenly stopped. There were some footprints on the ground, but they looked old. The leaves above the footprints were not imprinted into the soil, indicating that they had fallen on these prints after they were made. I continued east a little further and there was still nothing fresh. He must have changed direction.
I went back to the last place I saw his blood and moved south trying to pick up the trail again. At this location I was completely surround by the jungle with the beach no longer in sight. But still, I found nothing. Where could he have gone? Again, I went back to the last bloodprint and studied the area.
Something happened here. A scuffle. I didn’t notice it before because I was more focused on the blood than any other signs of activity. The ground was covered in footprints and leaves were strewn about.
One set of prints was not like the other. Most were barefoot, but these had a pattern. And right in the middle of each pattern was the word ‘Timberland’ backwards.
Boots? How did these get here? They weren’t mine. I was barefoot. Were they gifts for the Sentinelese? Did they somehow wash up on shore?
Time was not on my side. I couldn't ponder the prints and discover their origins. I had to get to Jason. Fast.
I took a chance and darted south east. Before I was walking at a brisk pace, but now I was sprinting, looking ahead of the trees for any clues and occasionally glancing at the ground to find my footing.
Just push a little further. He can’t be far.
I stopped short when I caught more tracks. A lot of tracks. They were moving in a straight line from east to west. One direction was the beach, the other was the middle of the jungle. This must be the highway. Their preferred route to the beach. This is exactly what I needed. It was like having a GPS giving me step by step directions to where I needed to go.
Before I can take advantage of the highway I heard a soft rustle in the near distance. It was coming from the east. I looked to my left and saw two eyes surrounded by darkness looking out from a shrub just a few feet from me. A combination of fear and self loathing swept through my body. I was careless. I broke the golden rule: don’t panic. Never panic. Now I had given away my position to the tribe and they were hunting me.
Suddenly, Jack burst out of the shrub with his bow aimed at me, his face filled with rage.
”Yawin unga wacku.” He spoke softly. ”Obanju? Dooyin?”
That last words seemed like a question. The last syllable was spoken in an upwards trend. I held my hands up in front of my chest with my palms pointed out towards him, conceding the fight before it even began. My knife was my only protection and it was located in my sheath. Any sudden movements would set him off. “I’m sorry, Jack. I can’t understand you.”
”Cwoapa turgoy.” He took a deep breath and lowered his bow. The tension in his face seemed to ease.
“It’s alright. I don’t want to fight.” I hoped that my calm tone would convey my message. I extended my right hand to him, the most universal gesture of a man who intends no harm. “See. I won’t hurt you.”
He slung his bow over his shoulder and inched forward. The anger in his face now turned into curiosity. Slowly he came closer to me, not blinking or taking his eyes off me. He reached out with his hand. It trembled as it approached mine. Slowly and cautiously he came toward me.
This course of action that I took, it was a last resort. Jack had gotten the best of me, and my only chance of surviving was to somehow bring him close enough to me where I can grab him and twist his neck. But that look on his face told me that he never wanted to harm me. He was just afraid of me. He appealed to my benevolent side. The Sentinelese weren’t monsters. They just didn’t understand outsiders. They feared us. And the most human response to fear is aggression.
When Jack's hand touched mine, I didn’t grab it. I didn’t try to twist his neck. I embraced it. We locked eyes and we both realized that we were the same. I smiled at him, and he smiled back.
Just as quickly as he smiled, his eyes went wide with fear. He was breathing rapidly. “It’s ok.” I said to him. He quickly withdrew his hand and backed up from me. Before I could say another word, Jack had turned from me and was running further into the jungle. He left me with my hand out, confused.
Without a sound, I was startled by a hand reaching from behind me and covering my mouth. Another hand reached around my waist and pulled me backwards.
“Shhhhhhh. Don’t scream.” Were my ears hearing this correctly? That sounded like an Australian accent. “I just need to know who you’re here with.”

Part 4 - Greed

How is this possible? Before that instant when I was grabbed on a remote island and heard the voice of an Australian man, I never felt fear before. I’ve been in dark, unfamiliar places and had that unsettling feeling in my chest. We’ve all felt that fear at some point. It’s not until you’ve experienced a new sort of fear that you realize all those other instances were just your amygdala being wary of your surroundings. Once you’re put into a situation where death is a realistic possibility…that’s when you really feel fear.
“I’m going to let you go. You can scream if you want to but it won’t do you any good here. You’d just piss me off.” Once he let me go I took a step forward and reached for my sheath, only to find that the knife had been removed from it. “Yeah, I already took that. Wouldn’t want you going all loco on me there mate.”
The fear intensified. I turned around and looked at the man. My ears heard correctly. I was staring at a tall muscular white man dressed in khaki shorts, a black hoodie, a straw hat, and Timberland boots. His belt had a holster holding what looked like a revolver. In his left hand was my knife.
“I can tell by your reaction that you don’t know who I am.” I shook my head. “Well, I’m going to ask my question again...who are you here with?”
“I’m uh...I’m here with my brother.”
“Huh? Na na na mate. Not who came here with you. That’s not what I meant. What organization are you with?”
Organization? What the hell was this guy talking about? Is he some sort of government official patrolling the island? If that were the case, why is he Australian and not Indian? He couldn’t be, if he was he’d be arresting me for breaking the 3 mile exclusion zone. And if he’s not with the government, then he’s not supposed to be here either. Based on his body language, my answer to this question could mean life or death. He was staring at me intently waiting for my response. “...I’m not with an organization. I’m here on my own.”
“So you don’t know who I am, and you’re here without any real support.” He bit his lower lip and looked at the ground for a moment before nodding and looking back at me. “That’s a relief. Thought you were trying to cut into my business.” He let out a loud chuckle. “Been a while since I seen one ‘a you daredevils trying out their luck.” He grabbed my knife by the blade and offered the handle to me. I acted as calm as possible and took my knife back, placing it back in its sheath. “Name’s Steve Duin.”
Duin? That sounded like ’dooyin’. I had heard both Jack and George say that word in my encounters with them. Did they know this man?
“Didn’t catch your name.”
“Oh...Jeff. Jeff Ferrelli.” I lied.
“Well Jeff, tell me, how many have you gotten since you got here?”
Gotten? Whatever it was this guy was up to he clearly thought I held the same motives. So long as I played along he’d keep his guard down. “None yet.”
“Noticed you let that one on the beach get away.” He saw that? “You strike me as the type that likes the hunt, eh?”
“Ha!” I hope that laugh didn’t come out sounding forced. “Yeah, you got me there.”
“Don’t worry we took care of that one for ya. Gotta be honest, pretty bold of you to come here so unprepared. But if you’re gonna play this game there’s a few things you should know. Since you don’t know me, let me explain a few things to you. I run GKD - Gratification Kills Desire. I specialize in facilitating the travel, placement, and safe return of people to and from this island...for the right price...without being caught. And I don’t give refunds for casualties. Those two ‘fishermen’ that met their demise here in 2006, you ever hear of that one?”
“Uh, yeah.”
He pointed to himself with his thumb. “My spin. Two blokes that got in over their head and didn’t listen to me. So, that’s the first rule. Nothing happens here without my knowledge. You want to come here on your own, fine. Follow me.” He started walking towards the beach. “But in order to protect my own and everyone else's interests in this place, my organization is the only organization that brings people here. For two reasons: I know how to keep people from talking about it, and I like having a monopoly. If I hear of anyone trying to cut into my business, I’ll do what’s necessary to protect it. You understand me mate?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
He continued walking. “Some people want to come here for the sights and the chance to see the Sentinelese, but most come here for the same reason you’re here. Whatever the reason, your secret is safe with me.”
I think I was piecing this together. But I needed confirmation. “There’s others like me that come here?”
He laughed. “C’mon Jeff. You really think you’re the only person in the world that wants to kill people?”
And there’s my confirmation.
“At least here it’s controlled,” he continued. “Here it’s natural. A land dedicated to lawless gratification. Better here than in a city. We keep people from walking into a shopping mall with a machine gun.”
“But how do you keep the Indian government from finding out?”
“Who do you think appointed me in this role?”
I felt sick to my stomach. Just a few minutes earlier I saw a side of the Sentinelese that no one had seen before. This man and the people that he brings here, together they suppress the gentle, merciful characteristics of an entire tribe and painted them as monsters to the whole world. Of course the Sentinelese did everything in their power to prevent visitors. They didn’t know the difference from these “GKD” people and a National Geographic film crew. They were protecting themselves from being hunted.
And the Indian government was supporting it.
Upon hearing Steve describe the truth behind the island, my first thought was putting a stop to him. The Sentinelese deserved to live without fear. His back was turned to me. I could stab him in the back right now.
“Ah, here’s the group.” We cleared the jungle and sitting on the beach were two middle aged men and a young girl that looked to be 13 years old holding a 25” machete, rubbing the tip of the blade with her pointer finger as she sat indian style in the sand. She had long, straight blond hair parted down the middle that draped across her face and nearly touched the ground. “No need to be shy here Jeff, they’re just like you.”
“Isn’t she a little young to be here?” I whispered to Steve.
“I don’t care, their funds cleared.” He whispered back. With these other people here, putting a stop to Steve was no longer a possibility. I was outnumbered, and outgunned. They all had various weapons with them. At a quick glance I took inventory of a 2 sawed-off shotguns, 2 rifles, and numerous handguns. The bulk of their weaponry was various knives and swords. “Guys this is Jeff. Jeff, this is Ben, Charlie and Alyssa.” The two men gave me a subtle nod while the girl stared straight down at the machete in her hands.
“How many did you get, Jeff?” the man named Charlie asked me.
“Uh, none so far. I stabbed one though.” Why did it feel good to say that to them?
“Jeff came here on his own,” Steve addressed his group. “I wanted to introduce him to you all so you know not to shoot when he’s in your sights, if you know what I mean.” The girl darted her eyes up at me without moving. The slight forward tilt of her head gave me a brief glance at her sinister intent and sent chill down my spine.
“Group, this being your first time here, know this: memories will still be made today. Jeff will not interfere with that.” Steve turned to me. “That reminds me, didn’t you say you had a brother here with you?”
Jason! With all this new information being thrown at me I had completely forgot about him. Admittedly the task of bringing him back on my own was a long shot. My desperation and foolishness drove me to taking on a force I was not prepared for. The odds of me actually being successful in Jason’s rescue alone was slim. But with this group, my chances were greatly increased. If they were here on a murderous rampage, there was nothing I could really do to stop that. I might as well get their assistance.
“Yeah, Jason. He’s here too but...they took him.”
Steve gazed menacingly at me. “Took him?”
He grabbed me by the arm and led me away from the group. “Is he alive?”
“I don’t know. The dragged him into the jungle. I was trying to track one of them back to their settlement, but I lost him in the jungle.”
“The one you stabbed on the beach?”
“Ah jeez, sorry mate. I didn’t know. We took that one.” He pointed towards the jungle. I looked and saw the decapitated head of George perched on a stick, his headless body lying in the sand surrounded by blood. “Figured you were huntin’ him, but I didn’t want him going back to his group and alerting the others I was here.”
I felt conflicted and tried to contain myself. Earlier today I was beating George with my fists and stabbing him with my knife. I wanted to kill him. Now I was staring at his suspended head, his face forever frozen in that look exhibiting agony and sadness.
I’m so sorry George.
“How many of them do you kill when you come here?” I asked Steve.
“Depends on the group. It’s usually 2 kills per person. We typically wind up with somewhere around 10 kills total.”
“Aren’t you worried about killing them off completely?”
“Mate, you really don’t know much do you? What do you think is their total population?”
“I’ve read it’s anywhere between 40 and 500.”
“Heh, yeah. There are no natural predators on this island. They’re cut off from disease. There are vast amounts of food sources and no competitors that require the same resources. We can’t exactly tell them to stop reproducing. If it weren’t for me regulatin’ their numbers they’d overpopulate. Why else would the Indian government sanction such a thing?”
As disturbing as it was, it made sense. But I couldn’t shake the thought that there are better, more humane ways of achieving population control. India as a country has had its own issues with overpopulation; offering incentives to its citizens who undergo sterilization and encouraging contraception use. It’s not unreasonable to put together a team dedicated to sterilizing the Sentinelese. But that costs money. In this scenario, they’re making money.
Government greed undermines the morale of society.
“Look,” Steve continued, “I’m gonna help you get your brother back. You can’t do it on your own. You don’t have the right gear and you’re vastly outnumbered. I have a pretty good idea of where they took him. There’s a massive settlement not far from where I grabbed you. It’s like their headquarters.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “It’s not gonna be easy. And I’m not doing it for free.”
I joked at the thought. “Sorry, but I left my checkbook in my other wetsuit.”
“Don’t be a smartass. I’m trying to help you. If you weren’t a stupid little shit you wouldn’t be in this situation. This project will cost me and it’s putting my group at risk. This is my job. It’s what I do. I’m a hunter. All I’m asking for is proper compensation. It’s either that, or you’ll never see your brother again.”
I didn’t like this. “How much?”
“Seein’ as though you’ve already gotten here on your own, I’ll give you half off my usual fare. $10,000 for the job, plus reimbursement for any weaponry and ammunition that’s used.”
“And how exactly am I supposed to pay you?”
“Cash if you want. Certified check. Credit card. I don’t care. I’ll give you the information on where to send it once we’re done here.”
“And what makes you think I won’t just skip out on the bill?”
“Because I’ll be knocking at your door in Buffalo, New York.”
I gave him a confused stare. “How did you know I lived there?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure to be honest. I just needed you to confirm it for me, which you just did with that look on your face. You had your personal information all over the gear you left on the beach. I’m not a fool. And I know your name’s not Jeff Ferrelli. It’s Shaun Burch.” I felt my heart sink in my chest. Steve had been playing me this whole time and led me into a financial trap. This was his plan all along, to squeeze money out of me. “Can’t say I’m surprised you gave me a fake name. People do it all the time. If it makes you feel more secure in front of the others I’ll just keep calling you Jeff.”
I was defeated. “Yes, do that.”
“Great, so we have a deal?” He offered me his right hand. I clenched my jaw and reluctantly reached out and shook it. If there really were thousands of Sentinelese, I didn’t stand a chance. “You made the right call,” he said as we released hands. “Come, we need to prepare.”
Steve walked me back to the group. He explained the situation to Ben, Charlie and Alyssa. They were thrilled to be involved with the rescue attempt. The normal operation for GKD groups were to pick off the Sentinelese one by one. Steve would lure one away from their settlement, drag him or her back to whatever group was there, and they would kill them. An ambush like the one we were planning on their camp could result in much more bloodshed. It was something that was reserved for times when their census was rising dangerously high, which didn’t happen often as they were being murdered on a regular basis. But when it did, one “lucky” GKD group was given the clear to slaughter as many as possible. The current group were granted their ambush because of me and Jason, but they were told to kill only if necessary. The priority was ensuring the rescue of Jason. Afterwards, Steve assured me he would drive Jason and I back to our sailboat in his aluminum boat that was anchored just north of us. Ben and Charlie both rejoiced by pumping their fists in the air when they were informed of the ambush. Alyssa showed little reaction. She continued staring at her machete, her head looking straight down and her blond hair covering most of her face. It was tough to tell, but I’m sure I saw the side of her mouth raise slightly.
As for me, I was having second thoughts. Earlier I wanted all of the Sentinelese to suffer. But now that I knew the truth behind them all, I was filled with empathy. Was the life of my brother really worth putting the lives of countless Sentinelese at risk? I contemplated backing out. I didn’t want any more bloodshed, much less be the reason behind it. I just wanted my brother back.
The unfortunate reality though...if I backed out, not only would Jason surely be gone forever, but knowing what I know now, what’s to say that these GKD people wouldn’t kill me in addition to other Sentinelese?
Steve armed us all with gas masks, told the others to grab their gear, then led us all into the jungle. The others all wore various armor pieces for protection and armed themselves with guns and knives. I held on to my own knife. Five minutes later we were squatting behind bushes overlooking a large settlement of Sentinelese. There was an immense network of thatched huts and hundreds of men, women and children all unsuspecting of our presence. I heard the chatter of their native language flowing through the air like a full orchestra.
Towards the back end of the settlement was Jason. He was still in his wetsuit laying face up on the ground. Next to his body was his scuba gear. We watched him waiting for some sort of movement to indicate whether he was conscious, but there was nothing. Tribe members walked past his body like it was part of the environment, hardly paying attention to it.
“Is he alive?” Ben asked.
“Yeah, I can see him breathing. Must be knocked out.” Steve whispered back. He opened his backpack and took out tear gas canisters. “Everyone take take two and spread out around the perimeter, but don’t travel out of eyesight of me. When you see me put my mask on, you all do the same. After that I’ll hold my fist in the air slightly above my head. At that point you’ll all pull the pins. When I drop my fist...well...I think you get the idea.”
“Wait a second,” I interjected, trying to keep my voice as low as possible, “won’t Jason be susceptible to the gas?”
“You know a better way of doing this?” Steve responded. “Once the gas hits the air I’ll signal when to charge. Jeff and I will head directly for Jason. I’ve got an extra mask for him. The effects of the gas will be minimal. We just need to get to him quick. The rest of you...keep the tribe busy.”
My heart was pounding as we split up. I stayed relatively close to Steve while the others moved further away. Ben and Charlie on the left, me and Alyssa on the right, Steve in the middle.
This day was supposed to be in, out, home, drink. Simple. I never could have predicted any of this.
Steve put his mask on and almost in unison the rest of us followed. He looked at each of us individually to make sure he had all of our attention.
Then he raised his fist. I felt a lump in my throat as I pulled the pin from the canister.
It’s not too late. I heard a voice in my head. Back out.
His fist dropped. Tear gas canisters were tossed into the air.
DOOYIN! The Sentinelese collectively announced our presence as loudly as they could. They scattered at light speed as panic swept through their settlement and tear gas filled the air. I heard some of them start coughing and screaming. I almost couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.
I ran from my position and ran straight towards Jason. Steve had beaten me there and was already fastening the gas mask over his face. “Hurry up and get over here, we’ve got to get him to the beach!” he yelled at me.
As I moved towards Jason a flash of blond hair darted in front of me. Alyssa. She held her machete in her hand as she ran towards a stumbling female. At the blink of an eye, Alyssa had pounced on the female and pinned her to the ground, cutting her body with quick slices of the machete. The woman screamed and other Sentinelese ran for their lives, but Alyssa was not phased. She pressed on, tearing the woman’s body apart and sending chunks of flesh through the air as though a bomb had gone off.
“Come on, dammit!” Steve was yelling at me to help him carry Jason. But I couldn’t stop watching Alyssa. This girl. This monster. “Get the fuck over here!”
I shook my head and tried not to focus on Alyssa or the loud bangs coming from shotgun blasts on Ben and Charlie’s side. Jason needed me. Don’t worry little brother. I’m coming. Once I reached Steve I flung Jason’s arm over my shoulder and helped him carry my brother. We passed by Alyssa just as a brave male tried to stab her with a spear. The point bounced off her armor with a loud ping.
Alyssa jumped off the now lifeless dismembered woman and turned her attention on the man, moving the machete across his stomach and cutting him open. I looked away just as the man fell to the ground and Alyssa placed the machete under his throat.
Push...just get out of here.
Once we cleared the settlement and entered the jungle again, Steve blew a whistle, signaling to the others that their time was up and they needed to retreat.
We moved quickly, and just before we were back on the beach, Steve made us stop. “Wait here a second.” He took off his gas mask.
“What’s wrong?”
“Just wait. Check him for any major wounds.”
“He bruised up pretty badly, and he’s got a large gash in his abdomen.”
“Is it bleeding?”
“No...they...treated it…” His wound from the coral reef had some green leaves pressed against the it and supported by some rope around his stomach. “Why would they do this after beating him?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Steve pointed towards the jungle. “Look!”
Moving our way were the other three, returning from their ambush. Along with them was a male, walking with his head low and his hands restrained by handcuffs.
It was Jack.
“Got a little present for ya, Jeff.”
I was in shock. What were they doing with Jack?
“Figured since you didn’t get your own chance to really fulfill your visit, we’d give you an easy kill.” Ben said to me.
Jack looked up and stared my way, immediately recognizing me as the friendly intruder from earlier. They pushed Jack forward.
“Had this in mind for ya, mate. Go ahead. Try and make it quick.”
I walked up to Jack, pulled out my knife, and shoved it through the top of his skull.

I’m back in this house again? I don’t want to be here. My arm is gone. Just gone, oh fuck. Not even bone anymore. This isn’t happening. I don’t belong here. There must be some mistake. What’s that lump under the blankets? I shouldn’t look. But I have to make sure. It must be there for a reason. Dead. They’re all dead. A whole pile of them. All intertwined together. They all look like me.
Oh is me. They’re all me.

When I came to I was sitting on the beach covered in Jack’s blood. I sat and stared straight ahead in a trance, my mind still trying to comprehend the events from the day. The brain is not capable of handling so much trauma in such a short amount of time.
“C’mon, the boat is here. It’s time to go.”
I heard the words, but I didn’t react. I just sat there, wiggling my toes in the sand.

1 comment:

  1. The story was interesting to read but is obviously made up. However, it clearly sends the message of how bloodthirsty and violent you are towards innocent defenseless people. George didn't do anything bad to you, he was just studying your objects. He didn't hurt you in any way, although he could easily kill you while you were walking down the beach. Yet, for no reason, you are beating him up very severely. The way you describing how his nose bone was crushing under your knuckles is described with such a detailed "appetite" that it clearly feels how much you were enjoying writing about it. You needed blood to track him? You could just cut his hand, no need to beat him up. I hope you realize that it's very clear from your pictures that you are a tiny bonny guy, so this thirst for violence is probably due to your fantasies of being strong. And why would you kill poor Jack in your story? You didn't even hesitate! The way that you are describing in detail putting a knife through his skull AGAIN shows you thirst for blood, violence and murder. You are enjoying giving a detailed description of how you kill and hurt people. Seriously, with such fantasies of killing and hurting innocent defenseless people, no one is safe around you. I think you should get help. No jokes.


The Fourth Domain - Finale

Thank you, once again, for those who took the time to read the third entry in the Shaun Brewer series. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as...