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


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

shantytown, Jimbo the fisherman

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy - Published: 2008-10-03 - Updated: 2008-10-03 - 3437 words - Complete

In a land where all the laws were against him, Justin Black had become the only thing he could be: an outlaw.

His journey that night was really nothing more than the next step in a trend Justin’s life had been following since he first got left behind on Benton Island. There was no place for him in a realm like the Triangle State, and the TSA and its agents only seemed to be interested in stamping out people like himself. So, all along, he had merely done what he had to do to stay alive.

And now, to escape.

Of course, he nearly got cold feet, and the big adventure to be almost never was. After his initial meeting with Slash, he had beat a hasty retreat back to the Works, where he pigged out on a feast of bananas. Best damn meal he’d had in months. If nothing else, if he hadn’t eaten them, the bugs would have anyway. He didn’t dare eat out in the open; if any guards came along, they would just take it from him and eat it themselves if it was anything good, taunting him with every
mmm! and ahh!, and if it wasn’t to their liking, they would just toss it on the ground and grind it into the dirt.

Finally, he summoned the nerve to prepare, focusing only on the thought of escape. Nothing else mattered to him at this point, he hated the Triangle State that much. If Slash could hook him up with a ship out of here, he was willing to run the gauntlet for a shot at freedom.

Of course, he had his doubts about whether or not she would keep her word. Though part of him felt like he was being played for a chump, he tried to put those thoughts out of his mind and reminded himself that he was doing her a major favor.
Of course she would get him passage, surely it wasn’t as expensive as she had made it sound.

If nothing else, he reminded himself that Slash didn’t know where his hideout was, so if things went sideways, he could try to take the money and run. Gwanga was willing to pay a lot for Slash’s arms shipment, and if he came to believe she was going to cross him, that money could probably buy him passage without her help. Such thoughts were fleeting, though, for whether he wanted to admit it or not, he was terrified of the thought of having Slash after him.

Besides, the ship he was on had no food, and he couldn’t eat weapons, he reflected bitterly, so there was no point in taking the ship and running.

Still, he didn’t know what to do, so he just kept telling himself to keep pushing forward, and he would figure it out as he went along. Like he always had. That, and if he could just escape from this realm, he would no longer have to worry about Slash, even if he somehow pissed her off.

For now, he continued to focus on the task before him, reminding himself that if he screwed up here, he would have both Slash
and the Authority on his ass.

His time for considering such things was brief, though. Even before he set out, he had been given little time to think as Slash and Company briefed him on his name, ship, cover story, and other important details of his smuggling runs. Now he was quite certain that a patrol would come along at any moment, and he would have to explain himself to them. He kept running through the script, hoping they would buy it.

For after doubling back to the port and sneaking in the day after he met Slash, the Cyexians stuffed him in a crate. Once
Eye of the Storm was far enough out of sight of the Crystal Islands, he was let out and given a ship’s uniform, and presented with a small outrigger that bore the same name as the uniform. Once he reentered the Triangle State, he would call himself Jordan Robertson; he would be a ship’s boy for the crew of the Sea Breeze, which some of the Cyexians (also in disguise) posed as the rightful crew of. It was the first time in about seven years that he got to wear clothes that weren’t ragged-out. Though nobody said anything openly, he quickly got the impression that his significance in this operation was the fact that he was not Cyexian, and so the guards would not be nearly as suspicious of him.

Fortunately for him, the
Sea Breeze outrigger was a fairly small vessel, or else he would have been in trouble. Years ago, he had been forced to work on a ship a little bigger then this, and he had taken in everything he could of its operation. This had been only a few weeks before he found the hidden wing of the Ruins, and though he was being punished for stealing a guard’s bag, he actually enjoyed the parts when the crew supervisors weren’t yelling at him, pretending he was off on the high seas. Away from the TSA, searching for a ship he could seldom remember the name of anymore, just for the hell of it. During his three-month sentence (which he had ended a little early with his successful escape to the Ruins), the only other bonus he got besides actually getting to eat every day without having to run, was that he learned nearly all of the basics of maneuvering a small vessel, and the Cyexians had given him a little refresher course anyway.

He was in no hurry, but he had to keep up some semblance of a pace, or else look suspicious. Off in the distance, just barely within reach of his light, was the buoy that marked his next delivery. The buoys were markers the TSA had put in place years ago, and they hadn’t changed much over the years, so all the fishermen in Bates knew where they were.

Which meant that they could be the “X” that would mark the spot.

Justin reached over and pulled a lever that had been rigged to the boat, releasing his payload.

He winced at the bubbles that chugged up from the sides of the outrigger, glad that there was no one in sight. The contraband was being hauled by cables underneath the boat, which could be released with a series of hidden “levers” that had been modified to look like part of the rigging. All he had to do was release each payload as he passed certain buoys.

The “fishermen” of Bates would take care of the rest. Now that he thought about it, he found he liked the idea of the villagers making such a catch, wondering if they might start a
real rebellion this time. He wasn’t sure why Slash was helping Gwanga, but he could see she at least had an ingenious plan for doing it.

After dropping his payload, he drifted along again, heading for the next buoy. With each drop, his anxiety had increased. So far, he hadn’t met with a single patrol, and he knew that as he got closer to the island, his luck would finally run out.

And run out it did, a few minutes later.

He was within a stone’s throw of the final buoy when the patrol boat came in sight and Justin found himself fixed in the sharp glare of a searchlight. It took an act of willpower to resist his instincts and not take off. He reminded himself that he was now Jordan Robertson, and he had never heard of anyone called Justin Black. In spite of his disguise, he silently pleaded to whatever gods there were that watched over smugglers and outlaws that none of the guards would be ones he recognized.

And the patron gods of smuggling smiled upon him that night, at least in that particular regard. Still, even though none of the guards would turn out to be the ones he was most worried about, they were Authority pigs all the same. But at least the wouldn’t have to worry about anyone recognizing him as the Streetrat of Benton and further complicating his mission. Though he did not yet know this, and so he continued sweating.

“Identify yourself!” a voice boomed on a megaphone. “Unknown Vessel, you have entered Triangle State Authority waters! You will stand down and identify yourself immediately! Identify yourself, Unknown Vessel, or prepare to be boarded!”

Then there was screech of feedback that forced Justin to cover his ears, as well as squint his eyes against the glare.

Aside from his laser staff (which he had kept hidden in one of the high boots that were part of his uniform), he had no weapons. The
Sea Breeze was a shipping vessel, and, as such, the ship’s boy would not be armed. Even the bogus crew Slash planted back on the ship were minimally armed; unbeknownst to him, Death From Below waited quietly for anyone foolish enough to attack her Trojan Horse crew, running silent, running deep.

It was only after the searchlight shifted to other parts of the outrigger that Justin was finally able to clearly see the faces of his antagonists, taking some relief in the fact none of them were the “trouble” guards he had to watch out for in the shantytown. In fact, he didn’t even recognize any of them. Yet he refused to relax, as if he needed to be reminded of the danger. In his experience, all TSA soldiers were trouble— some were just a bigger pain in the ass than others.

“Who are you!?” the guard demanded again, this time without the megaphone. Now that they were within earshot, he instead slung a power rifle on a shoulder strap. The rest of the crew was similarly armed, including one who manned a quadra-barrel cannon near the bow. That gun alone would be enough to sink a little ship like this in short order, and Justin knew it.

For his part, he just hoped they couldn’t tell how much sweat was pouring down the back of his shirt.

“Hey! We’re talking to you! What’s your name, boy?” The guard snapped his light back in Justin’s face, and he held up his arm to ward off the piercing shaft of light.

“J… Jordan. Jordan Robertson.” Justin silently cursed himself for nearly blowing his own cover.

The guards laughed, hefting their rifles. Then most of them shouldered their sidearms, seemingly amused at the boy’s trepidation. The guard with the light laughed again, telling him, “You don’t have to be scared of
these, kid.”

“Not unless you’re pirates, rebels or troublemakers!” added another.

“So,” the other guard resumed, “what’s your business in the Crystal Islands?”

Justin took a moment to regain his composure before he spoke. “I’m with the crew of the
Sea Breeze. My captain sent me to pick up supplies. This is Benton Island, isn’t it?”

Even as he spoke, the guards ran several searchlights up and down the length of the outrigger. Of course, Slash had sent him “empty-handed” so his story would stick. Still, they could grill him, possibly for amusement, before letting him pass, and he was afraid they would somehow discover his remaining contraband.

His chances were shrinking with every passing second, and it took another effort of willpower to not look down, for fear that his hidden cargo was somehow visible.

Through all of this, the lead guard eyed him, finally saying, “Mr Robertson, this is just a routine check. There’s no need to be so nervous if you have nothing to hide. It would have been easier if you’d entered port during the daytime, you know.”

In order to avoid looking down, and possibly giving away the perilous secret bobbing below, Justin glanced from one armed guard to the next, not at all liking the odds he was taking in. Should this go sideways, he knew he wouldn’t get even halfway to the helm before they gunned him down. He felt so naked without his power pistol, and he still couldn’t figure out what to say to the guards.

Just when he certain they were going to board him, and somehow discover his secret, and capture him, and his bid for escape would end here, one of the guards said, “Give him a break, man. He’s just a kid. We should be keeping an eye out for
Cyexians, not snot-nosed ship’s boys.”

The other guard thought about it for a moment, then asked Justin, “You’re really that nervous, huh?”

“Yeah,” Justin replied, “I’m sorry,” as he thought of a way out of this situation, “it’s just that guns make me nervous.”

True enough. Guns (at least when in the hands of others) did, in fact, make him nervous. Doubly so when he himself was unarmed.

“Ha!” quipped one of the other soldiers, “Since when do they send the ship’s boy at this hour?”

“But the Captain said I could!” Justin protested. “I worked really hard just so he would let me go ashore this time!”

“Lay off him,” said one guard, and another added, “He’s just a kid.”

Fortunately for Justin, the leader seemed to buy it, saying to his companions, “Come on. This kid’s no trouble.” Then he turned back to Justin, saying, “You’re free to go, boy. Move along.”

Justin returned to the helm as the patrol turned. He watched for as long as he dared, knowing instinctively that if he lingered for too long next to the buoy, he might yet arouse their suspicion. He cursed them under his breath for effectively sitting there watching him in the place where he was supposed to make his last drop, it was maddening.

Yet just when he thought the game was up, he came up with an idea. Hoping his luck would hold on the return trip— and that his dangling delivery wouldn’t drag on the bottom if he stuck to the deeper part of the harbor— he restarted the engines. This wasn’t part of the plan, but he could think of no other way to fulfill his purpose.

Had she known, Slash would have been very pleased with how well she had chosen her new delivery boy.

Though he passed a couple more patrols on the way in, no one else troubled him. After clearing docking space (which Slash’s crew had briefed him about, as well), he wandered into the Shantytown of Bates. The place had scarcely changed since the last time he found himself out this way.

Then again, nothing seemed to change in the Triangle State.
Same shit, different day, as the guards sometimes put it.

He found it strange passing through Bates as Jordan Robertson. After so many years of being Justin Black, he kept expecting trouble at every turn. Now he walked out in the open for the first time since he was a child. If not for the terrible risks he still faced in this place, he might have had time to enjoy his brief new life as something other than a streetrat.

It took all of his will to resist years of habit, and not try to hide and slink around. He tried to relax as much as he could, reminding himself that he was here on legitimate business. That someday soon, he would never again have to slink around everywhere, like the alleycat spooks that most of the guards and merchants took any opportunity to kick around.

The Anchor Lounge was still right where he remembered it, a large, glorified shanty with a big rusty anchor leaning over the entrance. Even at this hour, dim golden light and muted strains of conversation still leaked through chinks in the rickety old building. There was a burly man hovering near the door, and Justin knew from observation that guys like that were put there to tell guys like him to
get lost, kid, among other things.

Fortunately, “Jordan’s” contact was hanging out near the narrow alley between the Anchor and some other establishment whose exact nature he didn’t care to know. Slash had given him a description, and this man fit the bill perfectly. Of course, there was only one way to be sure; Slash had also given him a password.

Justin was about to make his move when a trio of guards stepped out of the Anchor. Not wanting any trouble when he was so close to goal— and so far away from his ship— Justin just kept on walking and came around for another pass.

This time there were no guards about, so he approached his contact.

According to Slash, the man’s name was Jimbo. He wasn’t much taller than Justin, but deeply tanned, his lineage likely that of those who dwelt in these islands before there even was a Triangle State Authority, and dressed in the shabby garb of a fisherman. Still, he noted, an improvement over anything he had worn in the last seven years or so. Which made sense to Justin, if he was connected with Gwanga. Even so, the man didn’t strike him as the “guerrilla” type, and he began to wonder if he didn’t have the wrong guy.

Then the man said to him: “Fishing’s slow these days. Spare a credit?”

To which Justin paused for a moment, remembering his line, then replied: “Don’t give up, I’m sure it’ll pick up soon. By the way, do you know where I can buy some supplies for my crew?”

“Perhaps,” the man, whom Justin was now fairly sure was Jimbo, said, fading back into the alleyway.

Justin followed, hoping he wasn’t drawing too much attention. At the other end of the alley, they came out on a quiet, deserted street.

“So,” Jimbo asked, “What’s your business?”

“My name is Jordan Robertson, and I’m with the crew of the
Sea Breeze. My captain sent me ashore to purchase supplies.”

“Ah,” Jimbo replied, seeming to scrutinize Justin as much as Justin had eyed him earlier, “then you’ve come to the right place. I can hook you up with just about anything you’d need. You can call me Jimbo.”

“Good,” said Justin, both playing along with the script, as well as expressing his relief at having found the right party. Still, he had to resist the constant urge to glance back and forth down the street, part of him expected this to be a trap or something. “We’ll need the basics, mostly. The Captain gave me a list…”

He fished out the list, which was really an encoded message from Slash.

Jimbo scanned the list for a moment, then told Justin, “Well, Jordan, I think I can round all that up in a day, two at the most.”

“Good,” Justin replied. “I will tell my captain, and return tomorrow night. I take it we’ll meet here then?”

“No,” Jimbo replied, his tone changing markedly. He lowered his voice to where Justin could scarcely hear it, then said, “They know this place. We can’t meet here twice.” Then he resumed his previous just-doing-business tone, “Of course, if we meet out near the port, we won’t have to pack everything nearly as far. How does that sound, Mr Robertson?”

“Works for me,” Justin replied.

“Oh, and one more thing…” Jimbo leaned close to Justin. In a tone that sounded nothing like his Jimbo the Fisherman routine, he looked Justin right in the eye and told him, “If our catch isn’t there in the morning, don’t bother coming back.”

As he said this, Jimbo drew his finger across his throat in a familiar gesture. He and Justin stood there for a long moment in silence.

Then Jimbo smiled, turning away and saying in his previous pleasant manner, “Safe travels, young mariner!”

“You too…” Justin kept his voice steady, but shuddered with relief as he turned to walk away.

After that last conversation, the only thing on his mind was making that last drop on the way out, ensuring that no one could know that even a single part of the plan didn’t go exactly as planned…
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