"According to 58.37% of historians," said Mark, reading off his wristphone, "this is the Cook Islands."
"I already told you, there are fifty-six countries mostly recognised as "The Cook Islands", not including breakaway political factions. Only six actually have islands. And this lump of crap is not any of them."
The helicopter had delivered them to a wasteland in a wastesea. It had been difficult finding a landing spot, and in those giddying manoeuvres both Mark and Veta had seen comprehensive views of an island coated in asphalt, dolloped with rotting piles of rubbish. Octave had sulked in his box, saying he hadn't wanted to see anyway, before bringing up his stomach.
They'd wandered around a concrete beach. The air was thick, hot and humid; clouds overhead matched the colour all around them. A desolate hotel loomed fifty floors overhead, hundreds of empty windows all open to the miserable air.
Out to see, the lagoon swam in coils of oil and old sewage that hadn't quite been cleaned away by time. The skeletons of plastic cars and shampoo bottles bobbed around on the surface.
'Come on, humour me,' he said loudly, batting away a seagull. 'Why have I come here?'
'To get hot and sweaty when we should be having dinner at home,' grumbled Octave, sniffing both distastefully and curiously at a mouldy shoe. 'This place is disgusting. So many wonderful disgusting smells.'
'Do cats even get sweaty?' Mark mused.
'Wouldn't you like to know. Rriiaaaaow bloody gulls! I want to catch one very much!'
'Argh!' screamed Veta into her fingers with frustration. 'You think, if I understand your stupidity correctly, that this is the site of the original Cook Islands - as if there was only one single "The Cook Islands", which were called "The Cook Islands", by everyone.' Veta made sarcastic quotation marks with her fingers upon each mention of "The Cook Islands". 'As if that was even slightly possible.'
Mark beamed. 'And why do you think, that I think, that it's here?'
'Because of some stupid story that you heard, from one place, which was probably just made up by someone, that "The Cook Islands" had a mineral boom, and they developed very fast, and they turned the sea and the islands into an industrialised dump. Their islands became toxic and uninhabitable, and therefore, they bought land on the continent - we won't even begin to discuss which continent - to make their new territory.' She puffed her cheeks out and looked at him accusingly. 'And notice how angry I am at you, not letting me distinguish between the United Freed Cook Islands or the Liberated Democratic Cook Islands or the Enlightened Unions of the Cook Island Peoples, or any of the approximately fifty-three other nations of varying corporation status who are accepted by the intercorpornational community. You know that kind of uncertainty disagrees with my condition and you keep doing it anyway.'
'Hey sorry, sorry, I'm sorry,' said Mark genuinely, throwing his hands up.
'Does he know it?' mused Octave wistfully. 'You keep saying we can't "know" anything.'
'Octave! Whose side are you on!'
'Anyway,' breezed Mark, playfully swinging on a rusty lamppost, 'you're absolutely right - that's exactly what happened to The Cook Islands. They had something like thirteen, maybe fourteen islands—'
'Anything between ten and eighty...'
'—covering three million square kilometres of ocean, somewhere in the South Pacific—'
'At least sixty-two contested sites over nine different oceans and twenty-one continental land masses.'
'—and when they finally,' continued Mark over the top of her, 'finally developed technology to examine the sea floor, they found huge mineral wealth, enough to throw them into the top twenty developed countries of the world.'
'But presumably,' purred Octave, 'without the patience, or the sense, of established developed nations who'd trashed their own countries at a slower speed, in a much more mature manner?'
'Well according to you, of course.' Octave hissed at a gull perched nearby. The gull flapped its wings uncertainly.
'They just threw the money everywhere, on, on, on rich-country stuff like sea floor mining, and, and, burger bars, and bowling alleys and power stations...'
'But why did we have to come here?' Veta demanded. 'If I wanted to see a rubbish dump I could have walked five minutes around the corner to the Bulgarian-Cockney Natives Drive-Thru Reservation. We could have sent a webcam.'
'Look I don't, I still don't understand how you work,' said Mark, waving his arms around. 'Or in fact how your crazy world works. But I had to see it, this, here, with my own eyes. And this is the proof I needed.'
‘What are you talking about? This, this,’ it was her turn to wave her arms around at the grimy seascape, ‘this proves nothing! You can't prove anything!’
‘You said “proof” was flexible!'
'It's true Veta,' conceded Octave, 'you did say that. Hhhssssskkkkk bad seagull! I don't like you seagull!'
‘Don’t tell me what I said,’ she huffed, kicking a tin can. ‘The point remains. This place could be anywhere. You don’t know it’s the "original" Cook Islands. You don't know such a thing even exists. Nobody knows anything.’
‘Well I'm confident enough to say I think that I know it,’ he replied, his eyes gleaming with promise. He turned out to the filthy sea. ‘Which means I'm not dreaming. This is the same world that I grew up in. Maybe it’s been ten years, maybe five hundred, but it’s still the same place.' He paused, picturing things in his head the others couldn't see. 'And that means my family are out there somewhere.’