another awkward conversation
Shades woke up with a splitting headache. Trying to reach up to rub his forehead quickly proved useless, as he was bound to a chair he vaguely remembered sitting in earlier. He snapped awake as it all came back to him.
Outside on the deck, he could see Erix. From across the water, he watched the assault on the thieves’ stronghold on Aru. Muttering to himself at one point, “Oho! Looks like the natives are getting restless…” As far as Shades could tell, his captor hadn’t slept at all while he was out, just sitting there with a radio headphone stuck in one ear. Time was still a little soft to him, but after what seemed like a minute or two Erix got back up and went inside.
“Oh, you’re awake…” Erix smiled, looking him over for a moment. “Hmph. So it is possible to survive a stun blast to the head at point-blank…”
And Shades had the blurry vision and a dull ringing in his ears to prove it.
“Not feeling so clever now, are you? I’d advise against taking more hits like that— I’ve heard they can cause brain damage.” Then his tone took one of those sharp turns from flippant to deadly serious: “Of course, if you pull that shit again, I’ll kill you for real.”
And Shades didn’t doubt it. Anymore, he didn’t feel very clever at all. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had used the can only moments before it happened…
“Don’t get any funny ideas,” Erix warned him. “I spared you only because if you die, Max will probably fight recklessly trying to avenge you. If he thinks he can still save you, though, he will fight more competently. Any more bullshit, though, and I’ll settle for provoking him with your carcass. Got it?”
Shades nodded as much as his bonds would allow, the very face of sober. Realizing now that he was only fooling himself by thinking he had fooled Erix at all. If any unforeseen opportunities to escape presented themselves, he would have to weigh his chances carefully. Very carefully.
After their see-saw battle on Striker’s ship, Shades was forced to accept the very real possibility of being held prisoner in this world. Had spent the meantime adding on to his own countermeasures. In fact, bought the last piece of it in the Kon Miribar market the other day, which included the one piece Erix hadn’t noticed. He had played his hand, and now he wondered if he shouldn’t have tried to pick the locks on his chains before slipping out of the bathroom.
Not that it mattered now; now he still had the pick, and no opening to use it.
Erix perched on a chair near the glass door, looking out at sea. Acknowledging the fact that he was new to this whole hostage business, though it seemed like the thing to do at the time. Of course, he had used them briefly in battle as exit insurance, and was no stranger to using enemies as human shields, but he had only held this bastard captive for a matter of hours. And I’m already starting to feel like a goddam babysitter.
Though he wasn’t about to tell his prisoner that. Knew he had the upper hand against everybody, including that ramshackle Island Patrol. And through Max, he had set them on the only ones he didn’t have a direct handle on, the hijackers. All the same, he made a mental note to think up a less troublesome plan next time.
“You missed all the fireworks,” Erix informed him jovially, switching gears back to gracious, if mocking, host. “That was quite a show your pals put on out there. Dumb sons o’ bitches didn’t even know what hit ’em. Your buddies passed with flying colors. Then again, if he couldn’t handle those losers, he wouldn’t be any fun anyway. Pity you had to miss it— I even saved you a front-row seat.”
“I was still chained up. It’s not like you had to shoot me.”
“Oh, but I did,” Erix replied. “After all, I couldn’t have you go running off when I promised your friend I’d keep an eye you ’til he gets back.”
“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. He knows I can take care of myself.”
“Oh really?” Erix intoned.
“Point taken,” Shades conceded. “But still, I feel no obligation to honor a ‘promise’ made at gun-point.”
“Funny part is,” Erix replied, “I actually agree with you. Still sucks for you, though.”
Sitting here with nothing to do but watch, Shades found he was sweating again in spite of himself, and even more than before. He also understood now that Erix also knew he had succeeded in rattling his cage. Earlier, he may have been able to play some resemblance of cool, in part because it all hadn’t felt quite real to him, but after getting shot like that, the reality of his peril was finally sinking in.
“Guess I lose, Warden…” Erix sighed, fishing out a note of unknown denomination, flicking it into the breeze. Shades followed it as far as his restricted field of vision would allow as it floated down to the sea.
“About what?” Shades asked, trying to take his mind off his mounting anxieties.
“Nothing,” Erix muttered. “Old bet.”
After that, Erix refused to speak again, leaving Shades to return to his own grim thoughts.
Left him sitting there, in a front-row seat that, to him, might as well be an electric chair, pondering a couple dozen action movies. According to those flicks, he was fast approaching the scene in which some friendly neighborhood action hero would swoop in and save him. Making a flashy entrance and kicking Erix’s ass in an exchange of fists and witty remarks. Yet even in the Sixth Dimension, he somehow doubted he would find such marvelous help on such short notice.
No commandos. No superheroes. No secret agents.
This picture would only be starring Max, possibly Justin, and if they were lucky, a few extras they may have rounded up. At least Max does all his own stunts, Shades told himself, but it was little consolation. He just wasn’t so sure they were up to Erix, but he knew Max, at least, would try. That was the part that hurt.
And so Shades sat, awaiting the dawn.