Shades goes for a ride
“I don’t ordinarily take on hitchhikers,” Erix remarked jauntily from the Checkmate’s controls, “but for you I’ll make an exception. Now that was fun, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, let’s do it again some time,” Shades replied unenthusiastically. “I told you my name.” Albeit at gunpoint. “Mind telling me yours?”
“You’re hardly in a position to make demands, you know.” After all, he had done a thorough job of binding him to one of the rear passenger seats while the Checkmate executed his escape on autopilot. Not going anywhere.
“I’ve been told I’m good at making up nicknames, you know.”
“Don’t even think about it.” Erix pointed his power pistol at him, then sighed in disgust as he remembered it was now useless. “It’s Erix. The only name I’ve ever had.” Reholstering his gun, he muttered, “Your friend ruined my original plan, so now I’m improvising.”
“So, um, Erix, do you mind me asking just what kind of plan?” Shades asked, trying to keep his tone conversational, even as he fought back the useless impulse to struggle against his restraints.
“Guess it doesn’t matter now.” Erix shrugged. “I was going to use more smoke bombs to make the Seeker look like it was going to explode, then take off with it while everyone else was running away from it. But that EMP stunt killed my remotes.”
“Good plan,” Shades commented, mulling over his captor’s tactics, as if he needed any further sign of how capable this guy was. “Dude, you’ve really got your shit together.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Erix told him, letting the ship’s autopilot continue steering as he tossed his two useless sidearms into the other passenger seat. He then picked up a couple more power pistols, which, along with anything else still onboard at that moment, had been shielded from the electromagnetic pulse. “Besides, your little friend fucked up the whole thing with that stunt of his.”
“He’ll do that.”
“Hmph. Just make yourself comfortable, kid,” Erix replied, checking the Checkmate’s sonar screen. Even cruising underwater, the Checkmate could easily move faster than the Seeker. Could, even with her engines still working, and Erix was wasting no time anymore. “We’re gonna make a little stopover on Aru before we reach our destination.”
“What for?” Shades asked, already not liking where he was going with this.
“To make sure your friends can uphold their end of our bargain, of course,” Erix answered, checking the long-range targeting system, displaying a superimposed map of the coast of said island, marking the old port, near the edge of the abandoned shantytown. “Now those bastards will have to stop there, and your friends can pick up my treasure for me.”
Not the way he originally wanted it, but at least no one else would get what they wanted, either.
With that, he pressed the red fire buttons on the control yoke, unleashing a torrent of blasts from the Checkmate’s underwater batteries. On the surface, a lone ship hovered off the coast, draped in netting and junk from the shanty port as camouflage, and Shades belatedly recalled the ruined ship in the shantytown harbor. Apparently belonging to the thieves and poised for a quick getaway, jolted as her engines were targeted. Without any warning, nor any chance to take evasive action, the rear section started smoking, then started sinking in earnest, soon to become a real wreck.
“So,” Shades asked, “what do you want the treasure for anyway?”
“Haven’t decided yet.”
“Are you serious?”
“Money is just a means to an end,” Erix replied. “A lot of people just chase after it like it’s the only thing worth having, but a man can’t be too bound to anything. This is just a game, and that treasure is the prize.”
“I bet you could probably take the treasure yourself if you felt like it,” Shades remarked, wondering if perhaps it was the prospect of his continued ordeal that was inspiring him to make such pointed observations.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Erix shrugged, “but I think it’ll be more amusing to make your friends go fetch it for me, don’t you?”
Shades had no answer to that, so after a moment, he instead asked, “You don’t seem to have any connection to those thieves, so where do you fit into all of this?”
“I’m the joker in the deck,” Erix laughed. “And what are you, some kind of detective or something? Bounty hunters don’t ask so damn many questions… Not that it matters at this point in the game.
“I started out following those marauders as a simple test. That ship of theirs I just blew up is a military cruiser from somewhere, and it has active sonar. Turns out Checkmate’s stealth mode is totally invisible to it— they never noticed a thing. This baby’s got a shitload of multi-band decryption systems, too, it can crack almost every known military and civilian code, and I’ve been tuning in to both the marauder’s and the Island Patrol’s communications, as you saw today. And lo and behold, they come to these lovely islands and decide to loot a treasure ship they heard about. Am I on a lucky streak or what?”
“Damn. Where do you get a ship like this anyway?”
“Centralict. Picked it up a couple weeks ago.” Erix’s lopsided grin made Shades wonder if he really wanted to know the rest of this story. “Ah, memories…”
“Who’d you kill for that one?”
“Several losers and their dog.”
“This is getting boring,” Erix commented. “Then again, most prisoners usually are. Sad, given that you’re smarter than you look, and in the worst possible way.”
“Like me, you’re too smart for your own good,” Erix told him. “Your problem is that you hold yourself back. This life is just a game, and the biggest difference between us is that I play to win. Remember that, should you live past tomorrow, that is.”
Shades sat in silence as the Checkmate continued on her way to Kon Kimbar, somehow understanding that he had already gleaned as much information from this conversation as this Erix was going to let him. Now he faced the grim prospect of bracing himself for a very long night.
As well as the sinking feeling that Erix just made him the proverbial Man Who Knew Too Much, and what that would imply.