an awkward conversation
Shades sat bound in an ironically comfortable chair, positioned to offer a sweeping view of the surrounding ocean through a sliding glass door, flanked by banks of windows. Bound in chains that looked as if they were appropriated from some dock supply shed, such that he could scarcely even twitch. Never in his life, he thought crossly, had he ever truly appreciated simply being able to scratch his nose.
Erix had searched him very thoroughly, and his jacket, cap, boots, and other gear lay piled in a corner, well out of reach even if he had a free hand.
Craning his neck as much as he could, he scanned the room itself, which failed to reveal anything useful in sight. His trip through the house was brief, with Erix stopping to check a couple doors along the way, apparently to make sure no one had entered while he was away, never stopping long enough to let him get his bearings entirely. Revealing little, other than that the house itself stood on a cliffside overlooking the sea between Kon Kimbar and Aru. Beneath the deck before him was a tall scaffold, and the back-and-forth stairs he was led up afforded no clear view of the house itself.
“Great view, isn’t it?” Erix asked as he came back in from the deck, binoculars in hand.
“For once, I agree with you,” Shades admitted.
“I can see anything approaching this island from three different directions,” Erix informed him, sauntering over to his chair, “and I’ve got ways of knowing if anyone tries to come at me from behind. As you’ve seen for yourself, I guard my blind spots, so no one will come here without my knowing. I even made sure you got the best seat in the house.”
“I see,” Shades sighed, trying to figure out what to say in the most awkward conversation of his life. While his captor was away, he had thought. And thought hard. During their short cruise, his sense of unreality gradually wore off, and it was becoming hard to focus in the face of the idea that these might well be the final hours of his life. Seeking to find just how much intelligence this guy would divulge if he intended to kill him anyway, he asked, “So, just whose place are we staying at?”
“ ’Fraid I didn’t catch his name,” Erix replied, “but he was rather stubborn about not letting me in.”
“Was?” Shades tried not to shudder, already guessing the answer, and couldn’t help feeling bad for Corrick. “Larson…”
“Yeah, that might’ve been it.” Erix smirked. “Went on about how it was his responsibility to guard it, or some such bullshit…” Then his face hardened into a more serious look. “It’s my island now, at least for the time being. I killed him and took it for myself.”
“You talk pretty tough,” Shades told him, weighing his words carefully between his desire to keep breathing, and a deep need to defy his tormentor somehow, even if only with words, “but I think you’re nothing but a coward, hiding behind me.” Trying a different tactic, he added, “Max is tougher than he looks.”
“I should hope,” Erix replied. “To the contrary, I want to piss him off. As long as he’s afraid to kill, he’s no fun. I want Max at his best, because it’s been too long since I’ve had a good fight.”
“You didn’t have to kill innocent people. You could’ve just challenged him.”
“That’s just your opinion. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are no innocents. Defenselessness is just a state of mind, an excuse the weak hide behind to deny that they’re not even trying. And mercy is just compromise, and I don’t compromise with anybody.”
“So you make the whole world your enemy? You know, most people would consider that to be rather evil.”
“Not as many as you might think,” Erix countered. “In the end, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are just labels people make up. There is no good or evil— only power. The power to be your own master and live as you please. That is how I will live, until the day I die. The only thing I won’t let go of is my pride.” He shrugged. “After all, the only time I won’t have any use for it is after I’m dead.”
“Sounds rough,” Shades muttered, wondering just how long he would have lasted all on his own, without any of his friends to back him up.
“Whatever,” was Erix’s toneless reply. “You just absorb the pain until it becomes a part of you. Then it can’t hurt you anymore…” He paused for a moment, shoving those thoughts back into the murky depths from which they had so abruptly emerged. Then he shrugged. “Honor will knock you down before your chance to fight. It’s all just a game, but there are no rules.”
“Or rather, you just make up your own,” Shades amended. “Just sounds like the Law of the Jungle to me.”
“It’s nothing more than a law of nature, the oldest law there is.” Again with the smirk. “And you’re doing it again. You talk all this self-righteous crap, but even now you’re trying to figure out a way to beat me and save your own life. Like I said, there are no innocents.”
“Well, what’s wrong with wanting to live?” was all he could come up with.
“Nothing, of course. Looks like you’re finally starting to get it. I fight only for myself. Your fatal mistake was worrying more about Max than about yourself.”
“I see.” Then, deciding to change the subject, wondering if he really wanted to know, he asked anyway: “So what happened to your face?”
“A bounty hunter I fought once,” Erix leaned back in a chair near Shades’, tipping back on its rear legs. “Bitch even broke my arm, but I got her in the end…”
To him Shades, Erix had a hard look about him, as if all of his tears had been wrung out of him at a young age, and every word of their exchange only served to reinforce that impression.
“And speaking of faces…” Erix rose from his seat and strode over to his captive. Leaned over him, reaching down and removing his sunglasses. It had been bugging him for a while, but when he stopped to wonder why he hadn’t just taken them off to begin with, all that came to mind was the peculiar notion that they simply looked like they just belonged there. “You won’t be needing these anymore. Nice eyes, by the way. Must be popular with the ladies. Why ever would you cover ’em up?”
“None of your business,” Shades shot back, feeling totally naked without his shades. Much to his dismay, not only had his attempt to establish some kind of rapport with his captor very clearly failed, it had also revealed an adversary harder and with fewer weaknesses than he already suspected. There would be no talking his way out of this one, he now understood; no bargain, for he had nothing to bargain with, and no negotiation, as this guy had everyone else right where he wanted them, and thus was the only one in any position to dictate terms.
Erix stared into his eyes for an interminable amount of time, and Shades concluded that this must be how a bird in a cage must feel while being stared at by a cat. Then Erix seemed to grow bored of taunting his prisoner, and went back out with the binoculars to watch the show on Kon Aru, which would likely begin before too long.
Leaving Shades to his own grim contemplations.