And whether or not they were friendly.
He took it slow since he still hadn’t quite regained his land-legs.
Only a few steps, and he was startled by a flash of light, which he quickly realized was sunlight reflecting on something half-buried in the sand. As he stumbled closer, he nearly fell down in surprise upon seeing that it was his silver medallion. After a moment, he did fall down and sat there for a long moment, amazed that he even still had it. When he lost his grip and fell overboard during last night’s storm, he had hung on to it for dear life, but also lost his grip on it when a particularly large wave nearly drowned him just in sight of land.
He thought he’d lost it forever. Reattaching its chain, he hauled himself to his feet and struck out again.
He hadn’t traveled much farther before he came around a bend and stumbled upon more wreckage. Near the next curve in the beach were the remains of the small boat— barely seaworthy and never meant for long-range transport— that had brought him here. Just looking at the battered vessel reminded him of his wild ride; the chase and the storms had indeed been no dream.
He could tell at a glance that without a complete overhaul— including tools, parts, not to mention skills, that he did not possess— it wouldn’t be going anywhere ever again. But he dug through what was left of the boat anyway. The cub poked around, too, curiosity written all over his young feline face.
Underneath the pilot’s seat (or at least where the pilot’s seat used to be) was a storage compartment. Max read the manufacturing label stamped on the side of the compartment: Manufactured in --------ngle Sta----y Tri-Tech, a Division of C-----------stries. He couldn’t read portions, as they were blasted with carbon scarring. The name, what he could read of it, meant nothing to him.
He could only wonder how it had fallen into the hands of Cyexian pirates.
The cargo compartment itself was busted open, probably dashed against the nearby rocks on impact, and junk was strewn all over the sand near it. He immediately picked out a disrupter pistol (which was larger and heavier than his power pistol, even having an insulated handgrip along its heavy barrel, just like the one he had used the other night), another power clip, a small pan, some line and fishing hooks, an inflatable life raft (still in its tube), a spork and a survival knife, a frayed length of rope, a cracked mirror, and some clothes. He imagined all of these things might come in handy later, so he stuffed it all into his shoulder bag.
After standing there for a moment, reliving more of his wild ride than he cared to, he set out again, the mysterious cub at his side.
At first it was slow going, as he was still very sore and stiff. But the longer he was on his feet, the better he felt as his body loosened up. After about an hour or so, he was strolling along at a leisurely pace.
The whole way, he stuck to the beach. He remembered Robert explaining how, by walking around the shore of an island, one could get an idea of how big it was. And Max had paid rapt attention, wanting to know as much as he could so he could make his Dad proud when he finally got to go on that adventure he was always so certain they were going to have. As long as you’re on an island, his father had said, you’re never lost. No matter which way you go, you’ll always find the Ocean.
Thanks, Dad… he thought quietly, I just wish you could be here to see me…
Shoving such thoughts aside, he continued along the beach, refusing to move inland until he had some idea of how big this island was. Keeping in mind that he was in unfamiliar territory, that there was no telling who or what he might encounter. He had heard of uninhabited islands in the Ocean, but even though there weren’t any signs of habitation where he washed up, he had decided not to let his guard down.
There was the distinct possibility that he had ended up in Cyexian territory, or even the Triangle State. Either would be bad news; the Cyexians would almost certainly use him as a hostage to make demands on the Elders, and there was no way of knowing what the TSA might decide to do with him. Beyond those realms, it would be harder and harder to find his way back to the Islands.
But what would he say if he went back?
He started walking faster, trying to outrun the waves of grief and shame and guilt that were fast gaining on him. Part of him was still certain this was all a bad dream. That he would wake up any second now, and Mom would come and tell him everything was okay… But what would she think if she knew?
Freezing up might have been perfectly natural, under the circumstances, but it still didn’t feel like much of an excuse.
Meanwhile, the cub continued to romp gleefully around, apparently happy just to have some company.
With great effort, Max pushed his feelings back, telling himself they would be of no use to him right now. He needed to concentrate, focus on what was happening right now. His very survival depended on it. If there was anyone out there, he wanted to find them, not the other way around.
To take his mind off those painful thoughts, he decided to run through everything he knew about the Cyexians and the Triangle State Authority.
Somewhere beyond the disputed Island of Kinsasha was the edge of Cyexian waters. There were eight feuding clans, but the number of islands they controlled wasn’t really known for sure, rumored to be about a dozen. He knew they were a matriarchal society; his parents and Uncle Angus had told of Cyexian lands where men were slaves, and Mom had always laughed and said that sounded like a fun place to visit, as well as places where the matriarchy was more ancient tradition than current practice. Due to martial necessity, the clans here gave men certain allowances, but made it abundantly clear who was the boss. The Cyexians of these waters were pirates and scavengers, while the Layoshans, though known to dig through derelicts and ghost ships— and bring them back to the Islands, if possible— were more into salvage and trading for outside goods with the visitors they got every now and then.
The Triangle State, on the other hand, was something of an enigma. No one, not even his father (though he and Angus had once been held in the brig of one of their ships), had been there in the last forty or fifty years. Controlled— governed with an iron fist, from what he had been told— by the Triangle State Authority, what any Outlanders who had been there described as a sinister cabal of local despots who called themselves the Board of Directors, their domain was said to be three islands. And everything in between.
With so little useful intelligence— and a lot of creepy rumors— the TSA was a shadow that lurked quietly among Max’s speculations.
Occasionally, he chided himself for not paying enough attention to what was going on around him. But it was hard to keep his guard up when there was nothing going on, and the cub’s carefree meandering was equally disarming. The farther he went, the more he felt like the last person in the world.