Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 07 - "Away From Home"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

flow like water

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2008-12-25 - Updated: 2008-12-25 - 2911 words - Complete

Max had gone swimming in his share of places. In the Ocean, on the beaches of the Islands and Paradise. Underground, of late. But he had never seen a swimming pool before.

“Remember,” Shades told him as they stood in the shallow end, “flow like water. This is the same method Master Al taught me, and it works really well once you get the hang of it. Now let’s run through it again.”

Last night, after stocking up on new disguises, Shades had asked for a demonstration of his new friend’s martial arts skills. Say Max, where’d you learn to fight like that? he had asked. And Max told him that everyone studied it where he came from. You seem to remember most of the moves just fine. To which Max told him simply, I kept practicing them. Shades had thought it best to take it easy the first full day, but he had seen Max in action, and was naturally curious about what he knew. So they spent about an hour or so showing each other their fighting techniques. No shouting or slamming, though. This is a hotel, after all, he had said, and more importantly, this is our sanctuary. We cannot do anything to draw attention to ourselves here.

So they had practiced very quietly. Now, though, they were at the Mall’s massive pool, surrounded by at least a hundred people in total anonymity, and they could be as loud as they wanted.

Max went another round, repeating the kata Shades had shown him last night. Master Al always said a word multiple times before he ever wrote it down anywhere. If they don’t know how to spell a word, he was fond of saying, then they won’t know how to mispronounce it, and he now made use of that same principle with his own impromptu student. As he repeated the sequence of moves Shades taught him, he was surprised at how similar the style was to his father’s, and Layoshan fighting techniques in general. Similar, but with some very clear differences. As he practiced, he tried to move as quickly as he could, without being held back by the water.

If you can learn to move that fast through the water, Shades had told him, you’ll move that much faster through air. Max now realized that this was what Robert meant all those years ago, when they went swimming, and he told all three of them to learn not to make any wasteful movements. Looking back, he wondered if Cleo or Lance ever figured it out.

Then he focused his attention back on his form. Over the years, he had become a very formidable swimmer by doing just that, unconsciously increasing the efficiency of his movements. Because of that, he was already starting to get the hang of what his new friend was talking about.

Shades himself was in his element in the water, gliding with every move in a way that on dry land made him look almost awkward by comparison. Though Max had demonstrated greater raw speed, he was still impressed with his friend’s agility underwater. Underneath his seemingly permanent denim armor, Shades was lean and athletically built, but not as skinny or wiry as Justin, and when he really got going, his moves seemed to slice through the water with almost no drag at all.

“I think you’re getting it,” Shades told him as he finished. Decked out in black trunks, and deeply tinted goggles, his hair was dripping wet as he stood and watched in the shallow water.

Max had noticed that his friend wore those dark glasses even in his sleep— or at least Max assumed he was asleep, it was hard to tell because he couldn’t see his eyes. Still, along with the swim trunks he had picked up earlier, he was grateful for his own goggles. Before they came, Shades warned him about the chlorine in the water, and though it didn’t bother him as much as he had feared, it still stung more than he was comfortable with. His unbound hair hung in his face as he finished and bowed (and Shades noted that Max even bowed without prompting, making him wonder if the practice was more universal than he would originally have thought), noting that what Shades had said about not taking his eyes off his imaginary opponent was basically the same was Uncle Angus’ warning about maintaining eye contact at all times while sparring.

He then glanced up wistfully at the skylights hanging tantalizingly overhead. It was very much as Shades told him; everywhere they went, whatever windows they could find hovered on high, completely out of reach. Tormenting him with a sky he felt he no longer walked under anymore. These occasional glimpses of day or night also underscored the awkwardness of being forever indoors. Just like during his excursion in Tranz-D, this place was difficult to tell time in, even with a clock.

Being cooped-up— even in a place as colossal as this— aside, there was something about this place that Max liked less and less the longer he was here. Something more than just the curse, this place came across as rather creepy in spite of its mundane, harmless appearance. Perhaps because of it, now that he thought about it; the fact that everyone moved about as if there was nothing wrong at all.

And he suspected that it was driving Bandit nuts, all alone back in their hotel room. He doubted he would ever get used to it, and even Shades seemed concerned about how the big cat would react to being alone in this place. To being alone in general; back in Paradise, the two of them, and later Justin, were never very far apart from each other.

In spite of this, Max found the waters of the pool had a very calming effect he knew all too well from his dips in the pond all those years. He remembered once hearing Mom saying that water was good for the soul. Making a mental note to talk to Shades about it more later, he turned back to their training session. The two of them carried on for another twenty minutes or so, even sparring a little in the shallow end, finally just goofing around showing off each other’s moves.

After a little while, the two of them got bored and wandered out into the deep end. Seeing that it currently wasn’t in use, Shades suggested the diving board. Max had seen it earlier; it had been years since he and his friends played on the board at the Shipwreck Bay docks.

“I’ll go first!” Shades called as he scrambled out of the water and climbed the steps. From the light in his eyes and the ecstatic grin on his face, he guessed Max had seen one before. “Allow me to demonstrate!” he said anyway, bracing his arms against the siderails, which always psyched him up for some reason, “Just watch me!”

As he watched his friend run out and bounce off the board as far as he could, Max figured Shades probably already knew how self-evident the concept was. He was starting to figure out Shades’ sense of humor, being a smartass, as he called it. As his friend kicked off the bottom, laughing as he rocketed out of the water halfway to his knees, Max climbed up onto the board, thinking only of how much cooler this would be than the branch back in Paradise.

Shades glided out of the landing area, to watch Max’s jump. He knew he was on mostly equal footing with Max, yet he also felt like a strange sort of shepherd. Though Max had fought alongside him the other day, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that he knew, after a fashion, how take care of himself, it was also clear that he was telling the truth about living years in seclusion. He’s clueless, at least about some things… And since I’ve gone to the trouble of enlightening him about so many things, I guess that would make him my responsibility…

What the hell, he always wanted a kid brother.

He watched as Max braced against the rails as he had. Max, of course, had jumped from higher places than this, but he had seen from Shades’ bounce what this board could do. In that spirit, he decided to show his new friend what he could do.

Max dashed down the board, springing off and flying as high and far as he could with a wild, exhilarated whoop.


Little realizing how much he sounded like Justin with that remark, Shades watched Max soar through the air, for those couple seconds treating the law of gravity as mere suggestion. His head panned from right to left as Max skidded into the water with a far-reaching frontal splash. Landing some thirty or more feet from the board.

Surfacing with that silvery signature laugh of his.

“Whoa!” Max laughed, almost as amazed by how much bounce he had gotten out of the board. “That thing’s got bounce!”

You can say that again! Shades almost said aloud. He still just drifted there at the edge of the water, one hand gripping the ladder, as Max swam toward him. Where the hell did he learn to jump like that!? Unlike Justin, though, Shades understood that Max’s true power, like everyone else’s, came from within. Still, he could tell that Max clearly didn’t know his own strength— combined with that brawl with the guards from before, Max’s surprise at his own feat was proof enough of that— and even he had underestimated what his friend was capable of.

Now that he was rested, Max seemed to possess almost unlimited energy.

“You’re tellin’ me!” Shades finally said.

“I am,” Max replied, and they both started laughing.

Though Shades had to admit that he had never seen anyone who could jump quite that far, after thinking about it for a moment, he began to realize that Max’s leap wasn’t really as superhuman as he had first thought it to be. Yet there was also the execution, with its fluid, almost feline grace, that just took more… something than he had. He wondered if Max hadn’t been something of a daredevil back wherever he came from, for it seemed as if it was the sheer rush of the experience that powered him. And for all he knew, Max’s abilities might be only average where he came from.

“Okay…” Shades said as he climbed back up on the board, “Just for fun, let’s see if you can do this!”

This time, Shades did one of his best tricks. Going for height more than distance, he spun off the board, doing not just one, but two three-sixties before he hit the water. More than anything, Shades loved just grabbing as much air as he could, to feel the free-fall and look over everything from on high. And, for just one moment, to fly.

As he swam out of the way, Max got up on the board again. He remembered all the times he and Cleo and Lance had dared each other to do difficult tricks, and almost started laughing out loud. Then he sprang off the board, doing his own two-seventy.

And then some.

“Cool…” Shades was beginning to see that Max’s gifts also included great agility. Though hardly the most graceful landing, Shades realized that Max’s other landing had also been done spur-of-the-moment like that, too. Even when doing something he had never done before, Max had uncanny instincts for moving on the fly. He exhibited a kind of feline poise he had never really seen before. For some reason, he thought for a moment of his second-grade teacher, whom he swore was certain that all of the world’s ills could be remedied by good posture. She and his fifth-grade teacher, Mr Self Esteem, probably would have hit it right off. Of course, he also knew Max benefited from years of hard training.

“How was that, Shades?”

“You got the trick, and I loved the landing!”

Realizing that he couldn’t compete with Max in raw jumping ability, Shades decided to shift gears. Instead of doing any fancy stunts, he just leaped high and far, shouting, “So-Max-can-you-do-this!?” And managing to finish every syllable before he hit the water.

When she surfaced, he laughed, saying, “I hope I didn’t scare you,” remembering how embarrassed Arthur had been when he did that at a pool a few years ago. “This time, try shouting something before you hit the water!”

“Like what?”

“Surprise me.”

Max made another of his spectacular leaps, shouting a line from one of the street-fighting video games Shades had shown him at Club Positronic, “Extreeeme Jaake!”

“I’ve created a monster…”

And as they continued their game, daring each other to do the weirdest tricks they could come up with. Max often took the more athletically challenging tricks, but Shades turned the tables and leveled the playing field with some of his choices from past games. His ingenuity left them evenly matched in spite of Max’s edge, for his stamina did seem as boundless as his enthusiasm.

Over time, other swimmers wandered in and out of the game, but after a while, most of them fell by the wayside, becoming spectators as they watched their more daring peers go up against Max and Shades. Of course, Max’s jumping stole the show, especially when he jumped off the high board and actually touched one of the ceiling supports with his bare hands. Though they were no match for him, it really didn’t matter too much, fun was still the order of the day. Even after all these years, Shades was still amazed at how easily people made friends at swimming pools; sometimes he swore it must be something in the water, it just seemed to bring out the best in everyone everywhere.

While a couple other people were waiting to make their jump, Shades felt those strange alarms go off in the back of his mind. He vaguely remembered Dad referring to it as Red-Light/Green-Light, and it was fast becoming a part of his daily life here anymore. Since he first stepped up to the threshold of the Sixth Dimension, on the night of the Flathead Experiment, that inner voice had cranked up the volume, or his perception of it had somehow intensified, as if all of his senses had picked up on the broader spectrum of existence. As his eyes wandered along the other side of the pool, he happened to see two familiar faces stroll out of the locker room.

The two guards he met on his first night here, whom he had come to think of as Fat and Fatter, the latter trying not to look too self-conscious in trunks, sauntered over to the far side of the pool. Though they were almost certainly off-duty, he doubted they were out of their jurisdiction, not around here, not by any stretch of the imagination. As the two were busy trying to strike up a conversation with a rather attractive lifeguard, who appeared to be trying to ditch the unsavory pair, it dawned on him that perhaps he and Max had succeeded a little too thoroughly at trying to relax while hiding out.

“Hey, Max,” Shades muttered as he drifted over to his friend. Having decided that the guy currently jumping and the nubile young lifeguard would be the best distractions for their escape. He pointed out these new visitors, saying, “Don’t look now, but we’ve got trouble. You see those two over there?” When Max nodded, he continued, “Don’t look too long, or you might get their attention.”

“I know,” Max replied.

“We need to get out of here.” Shades pointed again, this time at the clock hanging on the far wall. It was doubtful that those bastards would recognize them as they were, but he had come to regard them as predators, ones that would be deadly to grow complacent around. “We can’t both leave at the same time. That would be suspicious. I’m going to make like I have to take a whiz, and go prepare everything. You wait here until the big hand on that clock moves two or three minutes, then follow. Got it?”

“Yeah.” There were a few timepieces like that in the Islands, and Mom had taught him how to read them.

“Okay, let’s go,” Shades said even as he went to climb out of the pool.

Once out of the pool, he made his way to the locker room as casually as he could. Though he had trained in bare feet studying Karate, he was still unaccustomed to moving without shoes in such a potentially dangerous situation, and wearing nothing but trunks only made him feel more vulnerable. Once in the locker room, he made right for his locker, then Max’s, glad that they knew the combination for each other’s locks.

It was as he was removing both of their backpacks, fishing out his towel and preparing to hastily dress, that he heard the commotion from the locker room.
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