Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 03 - "Shipwrecked"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

Justin strikes a bargain

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy - Published: 2008-10-02 - Updated: 2008-10-03 - 3852 words - Complete

Looking back, Justin should have recognized his own peril, for everything was going all too smoothly that morning.

Of course, as such days tend to go, his mind was not on that line of thought. He took his every move in stride, but still found himself uncommonly pleased with how well things were going. Though he would not have considered it such until much later, today was indeed Justin Black’s lucky day, for, though he would pass through many hardships along the way, the path he chose that morning would ultimately lead him to escape and freedom.

After all these years, Justin had come to haunt Benton Island, a ghost in a land already over-populated with uneasy spirits. A phantom vagrant for whom most people’s attention seemed to slide off of like water off a shanty’s tin roof. He knew there were limits to how much he could get away with, but as long as he didn’t do anything to draw too much attention to himself, he could remain unnoticed by most people. Though he gave no conscious thought to this strange gift. When he was out and about, he was always on the lookout for trouble, always afraid of getting caught.

For there were a few guards whom he had had trouble with before, and they did seem to keep an eye out for him, unlike most people. He could often go for a couple weeks at a time avoiding them, but when any of them did
catch up with him, those bastards were his biggest source of trouble. It was like a game, he would later come to think of it, but one whose consequences could be deadly serious.

He had managed to sneak in and out of one of the groves, leaving with two large bunches of bananas. Unpursued, which was a hard thing to pull off this close to harvest. The guards from the other islands always called Benton the Banana Republic, and he guessed that he was now eating the reason why. The island was a major source of local food and a modest port of trade. Over the years, he had observed that the TSA treated everything, even its own people, as a commodity.

The Crystal Islands, as the TSA had named them for their uncommonly large motherlodes of plasma crystals, marked one corner of the Triangle State, of which Benton was the frontier outpost. The Authority’s power reached from Crawford (where the Board of Directors resided) to the military base on Belvidere Island to Justin’s home on Benton. And everything in between. Beyond Belvidere there be Cyexians.

The last, but by no means least, corner of the TSA’s little empire, the island chain where the plasma crystals were mined. The jewels in the Authority’s iron crown. The “Banana Republic” hung at the far end of the cluster, and was the poorest in its supply of crystals. Even so, the TSA still kept a very visible military presence there.

No one seemed to know from whence the Authority came, at least according to what few historical accounts existed, though it seemed to have been there forever. Not more than a century, surely, but their arrival brought technology (and a hell of a lot of trouble) with it. Though well before his time, the locals’ second “revolution” came to a bloody and unexpected end when the Board of Directors financed more troops, more weapons, and all the mercenaries they could round up. The most callous and ruthless mercenaries money can buy. Assassins and bounty hunters and professional soldiers of fortune from such far-flung places as New Cali— even
pirates— to augment their army.

Ever since, they kept a tight hold on all of the island’s resources, especially its chief export. The bananas Justin got were still ripe, which meant that they would be good for a few days. He dared not eat a single one until he got back to his hideout, then he munched a couple down and hung the rest from a twisted iron rod jutting out of the ruined wall at the entrance. This was the most critical score he had made in a long time. Without it, there was no point going forward with the rest of his plan.

He had then gone down to his quarters and gathered the rest of his supplies. Stuffed his pockets with power clips. Loaded his flashlight, a couple cans of food, a few other useful items into a worn shoulder bag someone had left unattended a few months ago. Filled a battered canteen with fresh water from the pipe.

And set out to meet his destiny.

He had become increasingly certain that the Authority really was going to tear down the Works, and knew he had no other choice. He would have to find a way to escape the Triangle State. Not that he hadn’t tried before; he had been caught three times in the last two years trying to stow away on various ships. Fortunately, the people who had caught him, having seen for themselves what the Triangle State Authority was like, hadn’t the heart to turn him over, and had merely send him on his way.

This time, though, he had no choice but to succeed.

Justin now wandered through the shantytown of Benton (renamed after the Chairman of the Board who
annexed Benton Island so many years ago), near the docks. The place was only somewhat crowded at this time of day, as most of the people here had work to do. It didn’t take him long to reach the docks.

Where he had to be fairly careful and keep a low profile, as there were a lot more guards around than usual. Including a few he knew he absolutely had to stay away from.

He soon found out what all the guards were about. Along one of the docks he was searching, he came upon a Cyexian ship. She was a small, two-masted vessel her owner had named
Eye of the Storm, in true Cyexian fashion.

Right next to a currently unoccupied schooner he had set his eyes on.

If Justin had only slipped aboard the other ship when he had the chance, there would be no telling where he might have ended up instead of the Isle of Paradise. But in the end, simple curiosity changed Justin Black’s course for the rest of his days.

For better of worse.

It was more than just the fact that he had never seen a Cyexian ship up close before, it was also the voices he heard from within.

“…have to be sitting on this stuff, Slash? Even with the sub—”

The woman’s voice was cut off by a loud crash, and a cry of pain.

A second female voice— one that stunned Justin with its sheer hostility— cut in with:Never speak my name here, fool! And if you ever mention the other ship here again, I’ll rip out your tongue!”

“Y-yes, Your— yes, Blaze…” That voice was the most whipped, most subdued, Justin had ever heard in all his years in the Triangle State.

And that other voice was enough for him. The name
Slash was notorious even out here in the Banana Republic. Now he knew he wanted nothing to do with this.

He stood there for a moment too long in indecision, then started back toward the other ship—

“And where the hell do you think you’re going, kid?”

Justin stopped in mid stride at the command of that voice. Stopped him in his tracks as surely as if its owner was pointing a gun at him.

Which in this case it wasn’t, as he discovered as he slowly turned around to face his antagonist. At least that was some relief. Not much, given who he was now certain he was dealing with, but it offered a glimmer of hope of getting out of this without making a scene.

He tried to act casual as the three Cyexians leisurely closed the distance between them, but had to admit even to himself that it wasn’t working. Though he stood nearly petrified, his brain at least started moving again, and upon realizing the secret leaked in that last conversation, that he was going to have to try harder. That a group of Cyexian pirates had likely either stolen something, or might be trying to smuggle something in, was no great secret. Hence, all the guards that day. But that Slash herself dared to set foot in the Triangle State…

That was the kind of secret some people would kill over.

In that cold-sweating pause, which to him felt way too long to be real, he took in this trio who had taken such an unhealthy interest in him of late. One woman hung back from the other two, likely covering them. For a moment, Justin remembered his own power pistol, tucked into his belt and concealed beneath the worn rags of an old discarded jacket, out of reach, then forgot it. May as well be on the other side of the Ocean for all the good it would do him against ones such as these.

The next pirate was slight of build, but had a heavy disrupter pistol hanging at her hip. Quiet and mousey, and seeming horribly out of place in such rough company. Her eyes betrayed something bordering on innocence, and also suggested a keen intellect. He guessed right away who had spilled the beans, for she had a swelling knot on one side of her forehead.

And he knew without question who had meted out that little touch of discipline; there was no mistaking who was in charge of this crew. Or who had spoken to him one impossibly long moment ago. Though she wasn’t exactly what he was expecting.

For starters, he had been expecting her to be taller, and decked out in somewhat more elaborate garb. It took him a moment to catch up with the fact that if she was indeed visiting in secret, of course she would be wearing some kind of disguise. She wore a light grey cloak with the hood draped over her head, and the rest of her clothing in no way stood out against the rest of her ragtag crew.

And her face. Even as he watched her expression shift from casual hostility to a suspicious sort of curiosity, he couldn’t avert his eyes from the sleek, black flames tattooed up both sides of her face.
Nobody had said anything about tattoos. Not in any description he had ever heard.

Justin would never be sure how long that ominous moment really lasted before she spoke again, demanding, “Well?”

“I…” Justin knew this was getting off to a really bad start. “I’d never seen a Cyexian ship before” (true enough) “and…”

“You weren’t planning on taking anything that didn’t belong to you, now were you, little streetrat?”

“From you guys?” Justin remarked. “I’d have to be outta my mind!” Again, she had asked him a question he could answer with the truth. The real question, though, was did she know what he had heard.

“So, what’s in the bag?”

“Stuff,” Justin replied, trying not to betray how relieved he was at this change of topic.

Though Mouse seemed to look at him with the pleading kind of disapproval of one who has seen too many scenes like this play out before her eyes:
You’re pressing your luck, boy…

“Fair enough,” Slash muttered. “You live on this island?”


“Know it very well?”

“Yeah… I’ve been here for years…”

“Blaze” gazed at him for another of those long moments, appraising him. Watching him squirm under her harsh scrutiny. Then she asked the important question.

“So, how did a little vagrant you manage to get in here?”

“I… sneaked past the guards. You’re not gonna rat on me, are you?”

He glanced at Mouse, who appeared surprised and confused, seeming to be trying to second-guess what her boss had in mind, finally settling for a look of detached curiosity.

“Depends…” Blaze smirked, savoring the suspense Justin couldn’t hide no matter how hard he tried, before she continued. “Would you be willing to do me a favor in return, little man?”

“Well, I guess so…” Justin thought about it, then added, trying not to sound too suspicious, “What kind of favor?”

Blaze smiled. She liked her minions pliable, and not overly shrewd, but she would have been disappointed to find herself dealing with a candidate who wasn’t at least smart enough to ask
that question.

“How much do you know about the town on the other side of the island?”



Bates. Once the village of Gwanga, now just another shantytown whose name was erased by the Triangle State Authority. Justin didn’t get out that way very often, but he knew his way around, and he overheard enough stories to have an idea what was going on over there. He knew that Bates had a long history of harboring guerrilla movements that resisted the TSA’s authority, in the Crystal Islands in particular, and in the Triangle State in general. Of course, the Authority had repeatedly raided the town over the years, but some of the resistance members always managed to remain at large anyway. If not for Gwanga, Bates would probably be of even less importance to the TSA than Benton.

“Then you must know about Gwanga,” Blaze continued, all the while leading him by the shoulder, herding him back toward her ship. “Well, we have a shipment I think they would be very interested in.”

“What’s in it for me?”

For her part, Mouse seemed to be trying to look the other way.

“Deal,” was Blaze’s short, no-nonsense reply.

Now the ball was back in Justin’s court. She would let him open the negotiation, but he knew not to push his luck. Especially if this Cyexian really was who he feared she was.

“Could you get me passage out of this hellhole?”

She pondered his offer for a moment, then told him, “Passage is expensive in these waters. I can pay you seventy-five Triangle State credits. Twenty-five now, the rest after you’ve finished my little errand.”

“What good is money if I can’t spend it?” Justin demanded, for no one would believe a single credit of it was his, not a vagrant… Then he wished he hadn’t said that, expecting “Blaze” to knock him flat on his ass any second.

Mouse apparently expected the same thing, for she winced visibly at that last remark, bracing for the blow.

Instead, Blaze’s face broadened in a vicious grin, and she said, “You’ve got a point. Perhaps if you did me
more than one favor, I would be willing to get you out of this ‘hellhole’.”

Justin stood there for a moment, fearing she was still going to kick his ass.

“I was originally going to pay you to move part of the shipment,” she continued, “but let’s see if you can do the whole thing.” She seemed to instinctively see Justin’s talents for what they were, and the longer they stood here, the more convinced she was that he had just what it took. “If you pull it off, I’ll see if I can convince someone they need a streetrat on their ship. How does that sound?”

“How many runs do you want?”

“Three runs,” Blaze told him. “Three runs to freedom… Mister?…”

“Justin,” he replied. “Justin Black.”

“Blaze. So what do you say?”

“Make it a good crew I leave with, and I’ll do it.”

Mouse’s expression suggested that he had finally gone a little too far this time.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Blaze replied curtly. “I’ll get you whatever damn ship will have you. Unless, of course, you’d like to discuss the contents of your bag with those guards over there…”

“And I’m sure they’ll be very interested in your little shipment.”

Mouse looked more tense than ever, waiting for the inevitable explosion.

For a moment, Blaze
did look like she was going to reach out and strangle him, and Justin wondered if he would even live long enough to tell the guards anything, but then she cracked a smile and laughed, saying, “Kid, you’ve got balls. More so than most of these so-called men.”

Pure salesmanship. But she wondered if perhaps this Justin was more shrewd than she had given him credit for. Or was he just desperate? Either way, what it boiled down to was that he had a lot less to lose at the hands of the TSA than she did. She was not accustomed to having her own threats backfire on her.

On top of that, she resented being one-upped by a little boy.

As they shook hands, her grip was so tight, for a moment he was afraid she was going to break his hand out of spite. And so it was agreed: one way or the other, Justin Black was going to get the hell out of the Triangle State. Just not the way he thought.

So relieved was he to be away from her, that he could hardly focus on avoiding the guards.

“Don’t fuck with me, boy,” Blaze muttered as Justin wandered beyond earshot, “or you won’t live to see next week…”

It was not a threat. It was a promise.

She turned and boarded her ship, Mouse and the other pirate flanking her. Once below deck, Mouse slumped into a seat, and “Blaze” paced back and forth in thought.

“Do you really think that brat can pull it off?” the other Cyexian asked.

“He damn well better.” But Slash believed he could. “Hell, he’s desperate enough.” In all her years, she had never met anyone quite so determined to get out of the Triangle State. And that was saying something. “Besides, we need a fresh face. The TSA has found out our last couple errand-boys.”

She continued to pace, trying not to show how much the “tattoos” Mouse had painted on her face and arms bugged her. She knew that without them, the Authority’s agents would recognize her all too easily. Here,
Slash was known as Blaze, and on her rare visits, she served as her own “emissary” to the Triangle State.

Like the other clan leaders, she had her own spies in these islands. (Despite competing agendas, the clans all agreed not to interfere in each other’s business in this dangerous realm, in the interest of secrecy.) Not that she cared about agreements; it was just that it was getting harder and harder to get any reliable information out of this realm.

She had heard growing rumors that the TSA was preparing to go on the offensive against her clan. Armed with this bit of info, she had her own nasty surprise in store for them. Chairman Fitzgerald’s little “préemptive strike” against her was going to be pre-empted by a little trouble on the homeland front. Putting some of her clan’s surplus arms in the hands of her enemy’s enemies would keep them too busy within their own borders to concern themselves with her for a while.

Let the natives have their little rebellion. The TSA will crush them in time. They always do.

Though she still prided herself on keeping their secret weapon (Death From Below, The Sub Formerly Known As U-553) a secret, even after all these years, she increasingly felt that she had gotten too accustomed to setbacks these days. And while, on one hand, being the only Cyexian with a sub gave her an edge, on the other, having a “secret weapon” also meant that all eyes— even those of her fellow clan leaders— were more and more frequently on her. Even before that fateful night years ago, it had been getting harder and harder to maneuver.

Thinking back to that night still pissed her off, even after all this time. How Robert’s final attack had cracked a couple ribs— she would spend the next several weeks dealing with one mutiny scheme after another. What really infuriated her was that Robert remained unaccounted for after the sinking of
The Edge. At least she had learned that Angus had somehow made it back to Kinsasha, and she had seen Ron die with her own eyes, and Robert’s little brat had fled right into the depths of the storm. Now the boy and his father were both question marks, along with the two missing attack boats, and the Ocean was well known for posing more questions than it would ever answer.

Most vexing of all, that it had all happened on the eve of what should have been her greatest triumph. That years of waiting and planning had been undone by a child. And still being undone, every single day she had been forced to wait in the meantime, stuck in a holding pattern. While greater Layoshan vigilance, the schemes of her so-called allies in the other clans, and the machinations of the Triangle State Authority kept her occupied on all fronts.

Slash needed something to go right on this visit. Little did she know just
how right. And, just like Justin, she would set back the TSA’s plans and get the break she needed. Just not the way she expected.

As she strode back and forth, lost in her own thoughts, her crew stood by silently, waiting.

Mouse leaned back, enjoying the cool sea breeze blowing in from the cabin window—

She froze for a second, trying to regain her composure before Slash turned back around. The cabin window. Had been open the whole time. Even before they stepped out. And now she found herself wondering if that little tramp Justin Black had overheard any of their earlier conversation.

Not that she was going to say anything at this point. She had already taken her lumps for this voyage. Though she might be the only one anyone might consider to be Slash’s friend, even Mouse was afraid of her.

Though her mother had named her Nemesis, she had been called “Mouse” since she was a little girl. The name had simply stuck, and much to her chagrin, it was still an apt name. She wasn’t much of a fighter, still she had been there that stormy night, on the bridge of
Death From Below, near the helm, threatening to shoot a gunner who had tried to fire on The Edge while Slash was still fighting her duel with Robert.

Not much of a fighter, but over the years Slash had found other important uses for her.

As Slash finished contemplating and began explaining her plans for Justin’s delivery, Mouse made a mental note to close the cabin window when Slash wasn’t looking…
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