shades taken hostage
After boarding the Seeker, Shades stuck to the starboard side, as most of the battle sprawled out off to port.
It was nerve-wracking knowing that all he could do against stray fire was try to keep a low profile, but he tried to keep his focus on this mysterious adversary hell-bent on hijacking a ship that was dead in the water. Between Max’s stunning swordsmanship and Justin’s sharp-shooting, this guy was still standing, which told him just how dangerous he was. Still, it was teamwork that broke Striker’s back, and he was beginning to fear that Max couldn’t handle this bastard all on his own.
Though he felt something resembling shame at the thought of interfering in his friend’s duel, he ultimately told himself that he would rather drop the macho bullshit and see him alive, than mourn him as the dead hero of some far-flung island nation, concluding that the best approach was to sneak up on him.
Shades had just long enough to wonder if either of them had any other particularly swashbuckling moves up their sleeves before he finally got a good look at this ominous stranger’s face. Up-close, it was like looking in a warped family portrait. Even with the sliced-and-diced complexion and false eye, there was still a peculiar, almost family, resemblance.
Then there was no more time for speculation as he saw Erix reach for what appeared to be a second laser sword. Focused on fighting Max, he hadn’t seen Shades yet, who was now close enough to intervene. Moving as quickly and quietly as he could, keeping his stun-sticks deactivated until the last second to avoid giving himself away, Shades closed the short stretch of deck to end it in one blow.
Erix’s back-kick had enough stopping power to bring Shades to a grinding halt, knocking the wind out of him. His stun-sticks simply fell out of both hands, clattering to the deck. Even on his blind side, this one still sensed him.
“Shades!” Max could only watch in helpless horror, too far and too late to move in time, as Shades was snatched by the arm and swung around, arm pinned behind him.
“Nice toys…” Erix commented, kicking Shades’ weapons aside, firing up one of his laser claws and holding them across his hostage’s neck. Max’s eyes having betrayed him the moment this other one made his move.
Max shifted in indecision, then froze.
“Don’t even think about it!” Erix smiled wickedly, the mortified expression on Max’s face telling him everything he needed to know. Fighting Max had taken too long for his original plan, so it was nice to finally turn the tables on him.
For his part, Max just stood there speechless. Now the nightmare was all too complete. At high noon, he had to blink away at the afterimage of rain pouring all around him, his mind as storm-tossed as the sea that fateful night.
By now, all eyes were on them, friend and foe alike focused on this confrontation.
“I’m gettin’ out of here,” Erix spoke, addressing not just Max, but the Island Patrol as well while he was at it, “and—”
He nudged Shades’ back, winking with his remaining eye.
“Shades,” he replied, still slightly dazed.
“Shades here is my insurance.”
“You’re not going anywhere, dipshit,” a voice declared from the upper deck of the Seeker. A figure emerged from the bridge, garbed the same as the rest of his crew, save the helmet. Instead, he wore a red military-style beret, apparently denoting him as the leader of this gang of thieves. Straightening said beret, he gestured to several of his remaining henchmen with a compact automatic pistol of outland design, then aimed it square at Erix’s head. “Excuse me, whoever the hell you are, but I think you’re forgetting something. Your hostage don’t mean jack shit to us. You’re dead, punk!”
Erix simply grinned.
“Let him go, Erix!” Max blurted.
“Hey asshole!” All eyes turned to Justin, aboard the drifting Sentry I. Power rifle trained on the leader. “If you shoot my friend, maybe you won’t mind if I kill you!”
“This is getting too complicated…” Erix muttered, saying “Plan C” to no one they could discern, signaling his escape. Then he started backing up toward the rear of the ship, where there was a low platform used for divers.
“And just where the hell do you think you’re going, you bastard?” the thieves’ leader demanded.
“Please, Erix,” Max pleaded, preparing to put down his laser sword, “take me ins—”
He ground to a halt as he joined everyone else in staring in surprise and confusion as a black, forty-foot boat emerged from the water next to, and slightly behind the Seeker. CheckMate, read the name, and game was auto-guns, several of which extended from hidden compartments in the cabin and hull, placed at strategic points. Just hovering there, a genuine predator compared to any of the raiders’ watercraft.
“Do I have to draw you a diagram?” Erix asked rhetorically. The top of the Checkmate’s cabin was about level with the rear deck of the Seeker, and he and Shades stepped aboard. “That’s what the auto-guns are for, dumbass. A word of warning: they’re set to track movement.”
“You’re full of shit,” the leader responded. Cocking his head toward Erix, he ordered the only other of his henchmen who had a firearm, “Fire at will!”
“Who’s ‘Will’?” Erix smirked.
“Ha!” the leader retorted, “That EMP also disabled your weapons, too. Don’t kid a kidder.”
The raider tried to aim his gun quickly as he could, but wasn’t quick enough, as the two auto-guns covering that firing quadrant locked on and blew him away, his one fired shot going wide.
“Told ya!” Erix laughed. “This ship has countermeasures!”
That having been resolved, Erix resumed, primarily addressing Max: “If you want your friend back, bring the treasure to Kimbar Island by noon tomorrow. Just you, Max, and no tricks. Got it?”
Max nodded slowly, not daring to try anything else.
“Please!” cried one of the overboard raiders, obviously betting on who he thought would be the winning horse, “Take me with you!”
“Sure, why not,” Erix shrugged.
The raider paddled toward the Checkmate— and promptly got toasted by the auto-guns.
“Yeah right,” Erix laughed harshly as he led Shades down the hatch, programmed to open as part of his “Plan C” escape protocol. “Get your own damn hostage!”
A couple raiders looked at Max.
“Think harder,” Max told them, shifting his grip on his laser sword for emphasis.
As the Checkmate slipped back beneath the waves, Erix repeated his ultimatum over the ship’s external megaphone: “High noon! Kimbar! Just you! Bring me the treasure, or your friend dies!”
Inside the Checkmate’s cabin, no one heard Shades utter, “What have I done?”
Once the auto-guns retracted, the black ship having descended back below the calm surface from which it had so violently erupted only moments before, Max quickly snatched up Shades’ fallen stun-sticks and bolted over the railing before the others could make a move against him.
“That just leaves you,” Justin told the leader, having kept his power rifle trained on him through the whole confrontation. “You heard what the bastard said. Now get the hell outta here and leave the treasure so we can—”
Before Justin could finish rattling off his demands, there was a loud noise the like of which neither he, nor most of the Island Patrol, had ever heard before. Though the rocket-launcher’s targeting and guidance systems were shot, at this range it was still possible to point and shoot. And that’s exactly what the thief did, nailing the recently arrived Sentry III’s fuel tank bang-on, taking out most of the vessel in a blazing fireball as everyone else hit the deck.
The whole time, the thieves’ leader stood calmly, waiting until Erix’s auto-guns were out of the picture before his men could play their remaining trump card. Now he ducked back into the cabin. Justin, startled by the explosion, was too late pulling the trigger, his shots missing by a mile.
“I think not!” the leader called out. Waiting until his henchman was finished reloading in the midst of everyone’s shocked inaction, he then continued, “We’re leaving, and if anyone else attacks, we’ll blow the shit outta them! Retreat!”
With that order, the remaining hijackers set the Seeker’s sails and set out without engine propulsion, gliding past the petrified crew of Sentry I.
“Hold your fire!” Justin and Toma shouted at once.
They both looked at each other for a moment, and Toma glared at him, saying, “I give the orders around here, kid.”
Justin simply shrugged.
Aboard the Seeker, the leader huddled out of sight, just in case that sniper who targeted Erix earlier— whom he strongly suspected was that cocky brat who dared to point a gun at him— took another shot in spite of the rocket-launcher. Parting in total disarray, but with the Seeker so badly damaged, they had no choice. Reminding himself that once he reached Kon Aru, they could transfer everything to their own ship, about the only part of the original plan that still held up. The whole incident made him glad he decided not to reveal their own ship at this point in the game, or things might have gone even worse.
Max simply drifted there until Justin finally tossed him a line. Once aboard, he just sat there with a haunted look on his face, assailed by memories that wouldn’t be silent. All around him, Island Patrol guards scrambled to aid any survivors of the Sentry III explosion.
“Rescue any survivors!” Chief Toma barked, ignoring the pain in his back as best he could. “The wounded take priority! Once that’s done, round up these other bastards for questioning!” Then, thinking fast: “And send a scout after the Seeker, but tell them to keep their distance. I just hope they won’t leave the Islands in that condition…”
He knew Harper and the Seeker crew would be upset, and he had no clue how the Joint Council would react to this catastrophe, but it was his job to ensure its safety until they decided what to do with it. In spite of both culprits getting away, which burned him to no end, he was almost disgusted enough to let the treasure go since it was diverting manpower from the rescue effort. Yet he couldn’t do that, most of all for this Shades fellow, whose very life depended on their ability to retrieve it.
A small boat glided onto the scene, then took off in the same direction as the escaping Seeker, apparently the scout Toma ordered. Keeping a cautious distance after they saw the smoking wreckage of Sentry III. As a scout, their mission was to monitor the movement of the thieves, nothing more.
“The Seeker was badly damaged,” Toma mused to himself, trying to figure out what to do next, “so I doubt they’ll leave the Islands like that. Besides, all those smaller craft couldn’t got here on their own. That means they must have another ship hiding on one of the other islands.”
“Aru,” Justin concluded, remembering what Shades saw yesterday. “Nobody’s supposed to be out there, right? Where better to hide?”
“You’re probably right,” Toma muttered, already wishing it was someone else’s job to report that last to the Council, as it was not going to go over well. “For now, though, we need to make plans and repairs of our own.”
All of them set to work, except for Max, who didn’t care about treasure or politics either way, as long as his own worst nightmare could be averted. Justin mostly sat next to him, not sure what to say, as Max made a simple promise, though to whom he had no idea: “Don’t worry… I’ll save you. Somehow.”
But Max honestly didn’t feel any more heroic than he may have sounded.