Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 10 - "Reflection"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews


Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Sci-fi - Published: 2009-11-02 - Updated: 2009-11-02 - 4035 words - Complete

And so they settled in for dinner, and starting from the beginning, or as close to it as each could— or would— come, the three of them started telling their respective tales over dinner.

Max told of washing up on the Isle of Paradise, with only Bandit for company, of about five years of solitude before Justin came along. And Abu-Sharrah nodded sagely, not at all needing to ask what had inspired Max’s choice of names.

Then Justin cut in about his years in the Triangle State. Though Shades did butt in at one point, laughing at Benton’s nickname “Banana Republic” and explaining why it was wasn’t a real republic. And Abu-Sharrah nodded, apparently having heard of the place. He continued telling about tangling with Slash and Trevor, and his subsequent stay at Pullman Mine Camp, leading to his final escape from the forces of the Triangle State Authority, finishing with the storm that dumped him in Paradise.

Shades listened, having heard some of it from Max before, but hearing it from Justin himself was much more intense. He found himself trying to picture what Lakeside would be like scattered with checkpoints, Secure Areas, even a Forbidden Zone or two. His quiet mountain home under a perpetual state of martial law. And after hearing his accounts of the crystal mines, he found himself thinking of his Cam-Jam. Of its plasma crystal power cell— the one that, in such a low-draw device, would last for years before needing to be replaced— and found himself feeling just a little guilty for even having it. As he often did when he learned one of the dirty secrets of where so many things actually come from.

At Max’s prompting, Justin spoke a little about the Skerry, the ship he had sailed on as a little boy.

Skerry…” Abu-Sharrah mused, “a most romantic name.”

“You know what it means?” Justin asked.

“Yes. It’s an old word for de rocks and de waves dat shift just off de shore. It sounds like a ship dat travels a lot, and seldom visits de same place twice.”

They all had a good laugh when Justin recounted how he first met Max, thinking that Bandit was trying to kill him. After that, Max and Justin went back-and-forth about life on a deserted island. But when they got to the part about the whirlpool and Tranz-D, Abu-Sharrah stopped them, saying, “I have been to many places, but I have never seen Tranz-D,” and one could hardly miss the open amazement in his voice. “You have indeed come far, my friends.”

“What happened to that place?” Max asked, wishing somebody knew.

“I don’t know for sure,” Abu-Sharrah answered, shrugging off their disappointment, “but from what you’ve told me, it looks like de machines have taken control now… Dere are many legends, and most of dem say dat it used to be a place of wonders, but few details remain. You are de only ones I have heard of who have ever seen it.”

Sort of like Atlantis, Shades thought, and he spent a couple minutes telling them about an ancient legend from his own world.

When Justin spoke of being hunted by NK-525, Abu-Sharrah expressed even greater concern over the nature of Tranz-D’s “catastrophe” and its implications. Then Max got them back on topic, telling about how he opened the warpgate to the Centralict Library, and his meeting with Conan the Librarian, as Shades called him. At which point the old man mused again about the fall of Tranz-D, and how that could be a very interesting development for the Library staff.

“Yeah, well ‘interesting’ ain’t the word I would choose,” Justin told him.

“Though I doubt it would make much of a tourist attraction,” Shades put in. After which, he jumped in, continuing their palaver by explaining a little about himself. Max had already heard a lot of this before, yet Shades seemed to have a knack for telling personal anecdotes as if for the first time. About what at times, anymore, almost felt like another life.

This America was nothing like the Triangle State, Justin reflected, envying him his apparently carefree life in that world.

Abu-Sharrah surprised them, Shades most of all, by remarking, “I hear dere’s beautiful country in de Flathead.” When he saw Shades’ jaw drop, he put his hands behind his head, lacing his fingers and cracking his knuckles as he said jovially, “We wanderers sure get around, don’t we? I go wherever de winds may take me.”

Shades then proceeded to tell about more recent events. Of his plans with his friends, his pending date with Amy, his fight with Carlos, of his last day on Earth. Even having heard the tale of Shades’ harrowing road trip, and subsequent wrong turn on the Highway 93 of space and time— which he had come to refer to as the “Flathead Experiment”— before, Max was still chilled by this second telling. Justin broke in briefly, lighting up at the description, and mentioning that had found one of those motorcycle things in the Harken Building. It was obvious to Max, Abu-Sharrah as well, that Shades still felt guilty about accidentally leaving John to the mercy of the hitchhikers, as well as whatever else was afoot that night. Still feared that Amy would be mad at him for standing her up.

And clearly worried about both of them, as if certain something bad had happened to them, or else was about to.

At this point, Max took over again, telling about the anomaly in the Centralict Library, then Shades about his experiences in the Mall. From there, the two of them went back and forth about their stay. All the while, Justin glared deathrays at Shades, occasionally interjecting about all the fun he had with the Enforcer.

Abu-Sharrah nodded, commenting on all of the rumors he had heard of phantom ports of call on the Ocean, of places people left because something just didn’t seem right. Dark whispers of how those who stayed behind were never heard from again, or else, those who left looked back to see the place was gone, as if it had never existed. Places no one else had ever heard of. Though the sea harbored myths from time out of mind, it all put Shades in mind of phantom cars and ghost towns he had read about. Much as he had always wanted to believe in them back then, his experience with the Mall and the Building served to cast out all doubt.

While Max and Shades explained their escalating troubles with the Mall’s sinister security guards, Justin added his own accounts of playing cat and mouse with NK-525, and how he eventually met Kato, the two of them working together to escape from Tranz-D. There was a note of bitterness in every word of that. Shades explained about figuring out the secret of the anomaly, and all three of them parts of their final showdown with the Enforcer.

When they explained how they learned that Kato’s friends had apparently entered the Harken Building of their own free will, Abu-Sharrah shook his head, lamenting that surely the two of them must have had no clue of the place’s true nature. Now it was Shades’ and Max’s turn to glare at Justin, and when his account proved to be largely uneventful until near the end, Shades’ glare intensified. In spite of all he had seen, it was still hard for Shades to wrap his head around the idea of climbing up all those stairs only to end up in the basement; Max, on the other hand, nodded in total understanding, having descended all those stairs to the rooftops. All the same, both were equally spooked by Justin’s descriptions of sprawling tunnels and cavernous chambers, especially the frozen storage area, which Shades could imagine all too clearly.

And so Max explained about what he found at the bottom of those steps. About the rooftops and the alleyways. About “them” and losing Bandit in the chase. At first, Shades had tossed in the word zombie, understanding at last the grim horror in his friend’s voice on the intercom, but ultimately decided that whatever Max had encountered was something else, and “zombie” just wasn’t the right term for it. Still, he told Max, “I believe you should be able to count on the dead to do two things: to smell bad, and to stay dead. And I don’t like not being able to trust them to do the latter.” And they all shared a nervous laugh. All of them were on the edge of their seats, though, as Max told them of his grueling battle with them, being bitten in the ankle, before retreating up the fire escape.

Shades again looked at Max’s bandaged ankle, and he feared he may have finally understood the horrible fate he was so certain awaited anyone who lingered in that twisted place too long. Abu-Sharrah seemed to have reached a similar conclusion, suggesting that destroying the “Unliving” (as Shades started thinking of them, wondering why that term should seem so familiar to him…) would likely have freed their spirits, or else perhaps that they were otherwise just empty shells, whoever had once dwelt in them long since departed. Either way, the gist being that Max would almost certainly have done them a favor by finishing them off. For his part, Shades was just glad he never had to meet those guys, and he could see from the wide-eyed horror in his face that Justin shared his sentiment.

It was in the midst of this thought that it dawned on him how close he may have come to meeting Max’s freaky friends. Skipping ahead to his own passage through what was likely the same vast roofscape, Shades told about how he met Bandit, only to lose him in the alleyways. “It creeped me out,” Shades said, though now he realized why. “It was like he knew what he was running from or something…” He explained about the backpack and skeletons and the abandoned gear, that sense of a desperate flight, then he showed them his prize, the “laser tonfa” he found in the backpack.

“Stun-sticks…” Max murmured. Though he had never seen any before, he had heard enough descriptions to know them when he saw them.

“What did you say? You know what these are?”

“Yeah,” Justin broke in, “so do I. They’re called stun-sticks. A couple mercenaries in the Triangle State had them, and I’ve heard that in some places they’re used by guards and in prisons and stuff. But I’ve never seen any with handles like yours.”

Max sat there in silence, letting Justin do the talking. In addition to Chad, the letter mentioned another, a woman named Teena, who had entered the Building along with his parents and Uncle Angus. If he remembered his mother’s account correctly, this Teena had also carried a pair of orange-bladed stun-sticks. Max just couldn’t remember if she made it out, though. Naturally, there had been a big deal about Chad, but he found he couldn’t remember what became of Teena for the life of him. He wondered morbidly what else he had managed to forget of his mother’s terrifying tale.

Of course, Max kept this to himself, as he resumed his own tale about that strange garden— and what Shades said sounded very much like traditional Japanese architecture from his own world— about finding that mangled corpse. He very nearly winced at calling Chad “the body” yet he chose to keep his name, and his parents’ connection to it, a secret because he just didn’t want to go into it. He kept the letter to himself to look at later, as well.

But he did show them his new laser sword— and Justin took this opportunity to tell them about the mysterious “laser whip” Kato had shown him as her souvenir, claiming to have found it inside the Building, clearly miffed that everyone else seemed to have found some treasure in there except he— and when Max showed them that scrap of poetry he had stumbled upon in passing, Shades blurted, “That has to be the other half!”

“Other half of what?”

“What you just showed us sounds like the beginning of a poem I found in this book,” Shades replied. “I’m not sure, but I think part of it was about the…” Realizing that he had gotten so lost in everybody else’s adventures, he had nearly forgotten the most disturbing thing that happened to him in there. “The book… I almost forgot… There’s something I have to tell you guys.”

Backtracking, Shades told of his wanderings. Since all of them were familiar with the eerie, not-quite-emptiness and the atmosphere of that place, he fast-forwarded to the part about the dead-end room, and the stairway leading down to the Book of Fate. Abu-Sharrah suggested, as he had at several other points, the possibility that the Harken Building’s true purpose was perhaps to protect something— which always put Justin in mind of the Obscura Antiques shopkeep’s comment on whether or not something was locked in, or locked out— but until Shades spoke of the Book of Fate, he had no clue what that something might have been.

They all looked as if somebody had stepped on their graves when Shades started rattling off names. Including, “Chase Spencer, and… what did you say Kato’s real name was?”

“Alexandra Aremac.” And for once, Justin was too preoccupied to put any venom into it.

“She was there, too…” Shades breathed, remembering that name. And he wouldn’t be too surprised if George’s name turned up in there as well, even if he didn’t see it. “And you were in there too, Justin, and so were you, Max.”

“What did it say?” they both demanded in almost perfect unison.

“It said you would be killed by an unknown enemy,” he told Max, who only shrugged, apparently having no more clue who this unknown enemy was supposed to be than he. “You, Justin, are supposed to die impaled on something.”

“When?” Justin asked, trying to sound skeptical but not quite pulling it off.

“It didn’t say,” Shades answered. “It never does. There were a bunch of names in there, thousands upon thousands, and I don’t even remember all the ones I did read. John and Amy were in there too, and it said that they would die unpleasant deaths.” There was no mistaking the desperation even his shades couldn’t hide as he said that. “I wish I knew where they are, what’s happening. How much time they have…”

“Were you in there?” Max demanded, concern written all over his face.

“Yes,” Shades admitted, “I was. It said I was going to be tormented for all eternity, as punishment for reading the book, I guess, but I managed to escape from the Flaming Ghost.”

“Flaming Ghost?” Justin half inquired, half scoffed.

“Yeah. He appeared while I was reading and tried to trap me there with a bunch of skeletons.” His narrow escape up all those stairs, then stumbling into the darkness, held them riveted. Even Abu-Sharrah seemed a trifle disturbed about all the doors leading back to the Flaming Ghost. That he had to keep climbing through windows and stuff, or only using doors that were already open, for most of the doors in that place seemed to be closed by default, resorting to any tactics he could think of to keep moving forward.

Or whatever passed for “forward” in that twisted maze.

That line of discussion led to Shades’ and Max’s unusual intercom conversation. Neither of them could quite place where they had gotten their ideas about the doors, mostly talking about dreams and such. Max thought about mentioning the custodian, but thought better of it, figuring the others would think he was crazy.

Then they wrapped up with the Triad’s betrayal, and the chase that led them to the harbor, and Abu-Sharrah offering them a ride.

“I see…” Abu-Sharrah stroked his beard for a long moment in thought, then turned to Shades and asked, “Tell me, do you ever have strange, unexplainable feelings about things? Perhaps see or… sense things other people do not?”

“Well…” Shades thought back to all the times in his life, especially lately, when his intuition had served him better than his reasoning ever would have. His parents and teachers had often told him he had an overactive— a word he quickly came to dislike— imagination, and though he could now recall a fair share of his own strange experiences, he realized that he often downplayed them as just figments of his imagination. Now, in light of all he had seen, he wondered. “Sometimes. Like when I was riding home that night… It was like an alarm going off in my head, that’s as close as I can describe it.”

“I think dere may be more to it dan dat,” Abu-Sharrah told him. “You may well have what some call de ‘gift’. I am almost sure of it. Everybody has it to some degree, but like all talents, some people have it to a greater degree dan others. It goes by many names in many places, and I am sure dat in time you might figure out how to use it.”

“You mean like psychic powers? Are you sure?” Shades asked. This all sounded too strange to be true, even after all he had been through. Of course, he had read enough about psychic phenomena to have an idea of what the old man was suggesting, and he could hardly believe he was hearing this from someone who struck him as being venerable and wise, to say nothing of practical and level-headed. “I’ve never had powers like that before…”

“Yet I think you had de potential,” Abu-Sharrah replied. “Perhaps it was instinctive, and de experience of crossing over between dimensions merely awakened it. You don’t believe me? You seem to be more dan just a little worried about your friends. Why is dat?”

“Perhaps.” Shades tried to keep his tone as neutral as he could. He would be lying if he said he hadn’t often dreamt of having special powers when he was a kid, but he still found this a little hard to swallow. After all, those were just dreams. All the same, he couldn’t help remembering that night, not to mention that one day during Christmas Break, and he wondered.

“Just listen to your instincts, and don’t second-guess yourself,” Abu-Sharrah advised. “If you find you can do or sense something, focus on it and try to learn what makes it tick. Any advantage you can gain in dis dangerous world may be de difference between life and death.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll keep it in mind.”

Shades had read a few books on the subject, but it had always sounded like mumbo-jumbo no matter how much he wanted to believe. To make sense of it. Now, hearing it from Abu-Sharrah’s lips, this mysterious old man was able to explain more in a few minutes than hours of reading. To think that the movies would have made a better source than all of those so-called experts put together… He concluded that maybe, just maybe, it was worth further investigation.

“Hey Shades,” Justin piped up, looking at Shades very intently, “do you think your powers would be able to help us track down Kato?”

Shades tried not to sigh too loudly; he should have known.

“Assuming I actually even do have any powers,” he cautioned, “I don’t think it works like that. I occasionally get hunches and feelings, but I doubt it would help me track somebody. Not like that. Don’t get your hopes up.”

No insults, no curses, no fuss— Justin just sat back in silent resignation.

“It’s okay, Shades,” Max told him. Not that he liked this situation any more than they, but he had seen worse— much worse— and he reminded himself that at least this time everyone he cared about still survived. This wasn’t much of a loss, not compared to everything he lost back then. Though disappointed, he now knew he had to move on.

“Max, snap out of it.” Shades tapped Max on the shoulder, bringing him back aboard. He had seen him do that a few times before, and it always made him wonder if his friend wouldn’t have been happier in another life.

“So,” Max asked, as if nothing had happened, “what’s our next move?”

“I don’t know about you two,” Justin muttered, “but I’m goin’ after that bitch and her crew, and if you don’t want ’em, then I’ll search for the treasure. Back in the Triangle State, those fuckers got everything! This time it’s just those three punks— not the TSA— and I’m not gonna let them do this to me!” He put a hand on one of his double-barrel power pistols. “I swear I’ll find ’em, and when I do…”

Justin trailed off, apparently too flustered to figure out just what he was going to do when (if) he did catch up with them. Shades looked into Justin’s eyes and saw nothing but rage. Even Max seemed taken aback by his companion.

“Dere’s nothing to be gained by taking it personally.” And for the first time since they embarked from Centralict, Shades saw a look of genuine shock at Justin on Abu-Sharrah’s face. He had clearly gauged Justin as being short-fused, but it was as if he finally understood the true depth of this young man’s resentment of the injustices he suffered in his youth. “Sometimes, you must learn to let it go.”

“Go fuck yourself, old man.”

“Justin,” Shades broke in, having had just about enough out of him, “are you really going to waste your life chasing everyone who crosses you?”

“If I have to.” Justin’s face was a mask of vindictive determination.

“I give up.”

“What the fuck do you know!?” Justin thundered. He had heard all about this America, and it burned his ass to no end to listening to platitudes from a man who took everything he never had for granted. “You’ve never had to live on the run! You never had to steal to live! [You’ve/] always had it easy! Don’t you dare shrug your shoulders at what I’ve been through! She got you too, but I should’ve known I couldn’t known I couldn’t trust her… Why did I trust her!?”

With that, he turned and stormed out onto the deck.

Shades knew why Justin had trusted her. Had even considered answering that likely rhetorical question, but Max told him that bastard was pretty quick on the draw, and he decided not to press his luck, for fear of what little restraint he must surely have left. That, and he was sick and tired of arguing. He must have known the whole deal was too good to be true, surely he must have known; he wasn’t sure whether to pity the man or admire him. Right now, though, he was too fed up to care.

“Let’s talk about something else,” Max suggested, openly changing the subject. Shades forced himself not to shake his head wearily as his friend turned to him and said, “Hey Shades, why don’t you tell us a story?”

“I guess.” This whole line of discussion was giving him a headache. It took him a few minutes, but he finally thought of one he hadn’t told Max before. Remembering some of his experiences in the Harken Building, he began to relate some of his own personal memories from his childhood.

By the time they nodded off, though, he was beginning to wonder if that was such a good idea.
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