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Author's Chapter Notes:
Max dashed across the beach, Bandit holding a solid lead. Their tall, spindly shadows kicking up sand and keeping pace with them stride for stride as they grew taller in the setting sun. Soon they would head back to the pond for their evening swim.

Max kicked off a rock jutting out of the sand, veering off into the jungle. He laughed as the panther swung around to catch up with him.

As he swerved through the trees of his mostly invisible training ground, he found he was still amazed at how quickly the forest had recovered from the flood over the past three or four months. The jungle reclaimed everything in a matter of weeks. Anymore, there were few traces of the flood damage, as even the underbrush was making a comeback.

He and Bandit had survived the aftermath by eating berries and fruits that grew above the waterline, as well as using the two nets on what was left of the raft to catch fish and crabs, as well as scavenging and making jerky out of the creatures that had been “stranded” and left aground as the waters receded. Though it took a while for the pond to clear up; in the meantime, out of the wreckage of his ship, he had rigged up both a simple setup for distilling saltwater as well as collecting rainwater to drink and cook with.

Bandit bounded along, quickly catching up with the boy and overtaking him. Where Max again confounded him by jumping and kicking off a tree trunk with one foot, shifting and bouncing off another tree with the other, practicing a technique he had seen both his father and Angus demonstrate before. Anymore, he was getting pretty handy at bouncing off of random arrangements of trees. Bandit leaped and scrambled to match Max’s ever-shifting directions with a wild grace and agility that had in turn become Max’s inspiration.

The two of them continued to vie for the lead as Max guided them through the jungle on a completely random route.

Though much of his jungle playground existed in its natural, unaltered state, it was a clear reflection of the full extent of Max’s boredom as time went by. He had started simple, but just kept getting more ideas for training himself in different ways. Since he only needed to devote a few hours a day to finding food, he spent his waking hours training and working on various projects. In his spare time, he had dismantled the raft— which had not only been damaged in the storm, but also washed too far inland to do him any good— bringing what salvageable portions he could back to his original work site, and even modified the rebuilt raft some more, but still refused to take it anywhere out of sight of land. He rebuilt the firepit near the beach, also made bowls and other items out of coconut shells to replace the ones he was working on before the flood, replaced his crabbing nets— even built a sturdy hammock— out of vines and wood, and replaced much of what had been ruined or lost in the flood.

The flood had also done him one other service: it had dragged the wreck even farther ashore than he was beginning to think he ever could, almost to the edge of the jungle.

After kicking off random trees— having gotten good enough to land three in a row pretty consistently, and once nailed a fourth, but landed flat on his face at the end, which didn’t strike him as a very effective technique if it left you that vulnerable at the end— leaping and swinging on low branches, and balancing across a slender fallen tree, among other things, his path would eventually take him to the pond. Though he had taken to hanging out in different parts of the island from day to day, the pond was near the center of the island, and he always wound up there at some point. After cooling off, he and Bandit would go eat dinner, then tonight he felt like playing near the beach until sunset.

In addition to practicing the hand-to-hand and staff techniques he had been taught as much as he could on his own, he also took to practicing sword forms with his father’s laser sword. He had only one power clip apiece left for his power pistol and his disrupter, and thus could not count on such limited ammo to protect him for long if he were ever threatened, making his recharging energy blade his best asset. In addition to the deadly cutting blade, capable of slicing virtually any material, and could be repelled only by certain energy fields, according to his parents’ and others’ experiences, the laser sword had two additional modes. In stun mode, the blade’s energy field expanded, causing it to “solidify” by repelling physical objects— at least that was how his mother explained it. And having the non-lethal side effect of disrupting a target’s nervous system, rendering them unconscious. There were even two power settings, one that knocked people out, and one that just caused a stinging sensation and made localized areas go numb. An in-between mode, which his father often called a “solid” blade, expanded the field enough to repel objects, but not cause the stun effect. Some also called this “training” mode, and Max often used it practicing to avoid injuring himself.

At first he found it intimidating, trying not to picture himself facing such a fearsome opponent as Slash, yet after a while, he instead imagined himself off on an adventure like his parents’, fighting assorted foes while trying to envision their moves. How to attack, how to defend. It was all he could do in the absence of an actual sparring partner. But he hoped that, with time, which he now had plenty of, he could improve his skills enough to defend himself and Bandit, if need be.

Yet even as he dueled with imaginary intruders, he couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that he was never going to see any in his lifetime. If not for Bandit, he wondered if he would be able to stand it here as long as he had. Still, at times, he found he was almost at peace with accepting the idea of being here for the rest of his life, as the outside world faded away.

On the Isle of Paradise, the days seemed to have no end.