Justin checked in with the others, then approached the cabin marked Pine, finding the door unlocked, as Shades left it earlier.
While he was no stranger to intrusion, it was only of late that he was starting to get accustomed to intruding on unoccupied places. Sort of took the fun out of it. Though there was also a sense of things being too easy, and he had to remind himself that this place wasn’t that last place.
Lying on the floor partway under the bed was a notebook. He had seen it earlier, but decided to leave it alone since Shades didn’t seem to want to mess with anything, so he now took this opportunity to examine it more closely. Flipping through it, it proved to be a student’s journal, full of notes and boring day-to-day details as far as he could tell, as least until he saw the later entries. Something about the building of two weird sculptures, and strange lights and noises out in the woods at night.
After a moment, he shut the book, deciding to look at the rest of it later, as it was starting to creep him out in this setting.
He knew he had agreed not to take anything without consulting the others, but they were the only ones here. Saw no harm in taking something others left behind. After all, what Shades didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
Yet, as he stuck the notebook in his backpack and turned to leave the cabin, he paused for a moment, wondering why he expected that Sheriff Boggs fellow to just barge in on him, on the heels of that, found himself recalling a conversation with a different lawman…
…Justin sat on a bench with a beach view on Kon Kalona. Normally, this would be a relaxing setting, watching the tide roll in with the Kona kids playing all the while. Now that he knew his friends were going to be alright, he really didn’t care to hang around the infirmary itself while Max and Shades were receiving follow-up examinations of their injuries from the battle with Erix.
It was having Chief Toma of the Island Patrol sitting next to him that left him anything but relaxed.
Grunting as he sat, for the burn on his back was still giving him grief, reminding Justin that this man did put his life on the line for him during the Seeker hijacking, taking a hit for him when he saw the enemy about to open fire on them. That he likely owed Toma his life. Making it all the more awkward to think that the first question to come to mind was to wonder what Toma wanted with him.
“Pleasant evening, isn’t it?” Toma asked, settling in.
“I guess,” Justin replied, struggling against a lifetime of instinct in order to look him in the eye. Found he again wished the bullet graze on his leg would heal enough for him to go swimming without the risk of infection.
“I take it you’re not used to talking to folks in our profession, are you?”
“No, I suppose I’m not.”
“Why is that?”
“Have you ever heard of a place called the Triangle State?”
“Yes,” Toma replied, his tone turning more somber at the mention of that name. “Tell me, do they still mine crystals there?”
“Yeah, and they use people like me to do it.” Justin found he wished he didn’t sound so bitter about it, but he just couldn’t help himself. “I grew up there, so I can tell you just how lucky you are there’s no more gold here.”
“I see.” Toma nodded. “So what do you plan to do now that you’re free, Mr Black?”
“Justin, just Justin.” Figuring it wouldn’t hurt to talk, he told him, “Max and Shades want to stick around for a while after the Festival. It makes sense for Max to heal his wounds some before we set sail again, but I’m worried about what we’re gonna do when the money runs out.”
“I’m guessing your friends don’t approve of stealing, do they?”
“Hey! It’s not like I wanted to steal to live!” Justin snapped. “Do you think I wanted to be a streetrat?”
A long, awkward silence.
“No, I suppose you probably didn’t,” Toma finally said. “I’m sorry, Mr… Justin. Still you do seem like the ‘lone wolf’ sort, so I’m surprised you’d be friends with someone like Max.”
“We first met when we were stranded on an island,” Justin told him. “He’s the only real friend I’ve ever had. He watches my back, and I watch his. And I guess Shades is okay, even if he does piss me off sometimes…”
“Looks like you’ve come a long way.”
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” Thinking about the differences between the Triangle State and the Kona Islands brought up an important question.
“Why did you join the Island Patrol?” Now that the question occurred to him, he just couldn’t let it go. “You’re not like the guards back there, the Council’s nothing like the Authority…”
“I’d say it’s because I’m not like them,” Toma answered. “But tell me, why do you carry those guns?”
“To defend myself?… I, uh, never really thought about it…”
“When I draw this gun,” Toma told him, “it’s for one reason. It’s because I want to protect these islands and my people. That’s the whole reason I joined the Island Patrol. Of course, it’s also important that the people can also trust me to protect them, or else there’s no point to it.”
“You really are nothing like the Authority.”
“But the real question is: can your friends trust you when you whip out those guns?”
“Of course they can!” Then Justin paused for a moment as it dawned on him that this is what Toma really wanted to know from the start. “Because… I guess I want to protect them, too.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Toma flashed him a smile never seen on the face of any TSA guard as he told him: “Have fun at the Kona Festival, and enjoy your stay in the Islands, Justin Black.”
With that, Toma stood up, heading back to whatever he was originally doing…
…And Justin turned to close the cabin door behind him to find that conversation lingering in his mind, just like that evening.
Thinking back to the moment of the robbery in St Lucy, and found that all he was thinking about was protecting himself and his friends. Yet now he also found himself thinking about the scene through Chief Toma’s eyes, saw something that wasn’t even on his radar: a store clerk and several innocent bystanders. Found himself even more frustrated at this glimpse of the moment from Sheriff Boggs’ perspective, yet at least now he was sure Shades would agree with him about sticking around to explain would be a bad idea.
Based on what Mr Donaldson told them, he also strongly suspected that this Boggs fellow would probably have a very different conversation in store for him.
As he turned to head back to Max’s position, he found himself facing the steeple of that deserted chapel out in the woods.
“Shades?” Max chimed in, “Did you find anything?”
“Shades? Shades?” Max again, sounding quite concerned.
“Yo! Shades!” In spite of the island’s innocent appearance, their encounter with the Twylight was still very fresh in his mind.
“Come in!” Max sounded even more alarmed.
“Are you there?” Justin demanded.
“Shades?” By now, Justin could picture Max immediately heading for the Academy Building. Shades’ last known position.
“Yeah, I’m here,” Shades finally replied, though he sounded rather distant. “Sorry, guys, I was just thinking, that’s all.”
“Don’t scare me like that,” Max told him.
As Shades continued his report, Justin happened to spot something in the woods beyond the chapel, telling them, “There’s something I want to check out. I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay,” Shades said as they signed off, and Justin could hear the relief in their voices.
As he walked by the chapel, he found it as empty, and eerie, as before. Venturing deeper into the woods on that side of the island, he got a better look at the strange blotch of bright red that stood out against the natural green of the forest. A very large red shape that, he noticed once he was past most of the trees, proved quite familiar.
“THE SLEEPER I”
by G H BARTOK
This sculpture was similar to the first one they found earlier, yet configured differently. A different-looking machine that made no sense, but built on the same formula as the first. While any color probably could have worked out on the playground, that bright fire-engine red here in the middle of the woods made no attempt at all to blend in with its surroundings.
“Potential can only be unlocked with the key of Initiative. Donated to blah, blah, blah…” Justin read from the matching bronze plaque at the base of the sculpture. More meaningless motivational gibberish, as Shades would probably say. This must be what the notebook was talking about, he figured, all that stuff about lights and strange activities out in the woods.
As he stood before the red machine, he, like Shades, noticed the keyhole above the plaque. And he, like Shades, didn’t like it. Could picture someone turning the key…
But he also couldn’t figure out what it would do.
Just like Tranz-D, that was what those sculptures felt like. Those nightmare days he spent there were by far the worst time of his life, and he wondered offhand if the damn things hadn’t given any of these kids here nightmares. Then again, they also reminded him of the rusted-over junk from the Bone Yard on Benton Island, capable of remind him of nothing but memories he could do without.
Justin lingered for a moment more before heading back.