After the repeating scenery of the Mall, this place seemed almost unreal. For starters, it was so urban. Not Big City, but even more urbanized than Kalispell. At first it seemed surreal, after all he’d been through, just how normal everything looked here.
As the reality of his situation began to sink in, gravity almost seemed to take leave of both his mind and body. As if some terrible weight had been lifted from him, as if he had awakened from a nightmare. As he suspected Max and Bandit must feel, as well.
He experienced relief beyond his capacity to put into words, just to no longer be spinning his wheels in the Mall. Adding to his sense of stepping out of a nightmare and into a dream was this business about his medallion. After all, he had always wanted to go on a treasure hunt when he was a kid, and now he had a real one on his hands. Not to mention possible answers about the medallion itself. Yet he increasingly found his relief tempered by all the unanswered questions about the events leading up to this. He wanted to be excited about this treasure hunt, but his thoughts just kept turning back to John and Amy and that night.
Only an hour or so ago, he was trapped in the Mall, where he had feared he was doomed to spend the rest of his days. Had avoided the revenge of the security guards. Had even survived a battle with some kind of evil robot thing (and made a mental note to ask Justin more about that later) and helped save his friends from it. Yet now that he was free, he found himself thinking more about what happened that fateful night back in Lakeside.
He had held back all this time in order to maintain something resembling sanity back there, but now that he was free to explore them once again, the questions were back with a vengeance.
Who were those hitchhikers, and what did they want? Who was driving that black van? Why were they after me? What happened to John after we got separated? Why am I so worried about Amy? Were there others who disappeared, too? What the hell was that experiment even about?
Had turned all of this over and over in his head, but ultimately dropped it, feeling powerless to do anything about it. Had wondered offhandedly what the authorities back on Earth made of the whole thing. Of course, there was still nothing he could do about it. What had happened, happened…
“I can’t change the past…”
In the midst of his thoughts, he spotted a man walking down the street ahead. Wearing a tan leather jacket that looked very familiar to him. Remembering what John had been wearing that night, he saw that even the guy’s hair was the right color…
When the man turned a corner, Shades paused for a moment, hesitating in spite of himself. Then took off after him, dashing around the corner before he could get too far ahead. It only took a matter of seconds to close the gap between them.
“John? Is that you?”
“Who?” The man— who, Shades noticed as he caught up with him, looked nothing at all like his friend up close— stared back at Shades with a mixture of surprise and confusion as he asked, “Do I know you?”
“Sorry…” Shades apologized, feeling more sheepish than he believed the situation warranted. “I thought you were someone I knew.”
So much for wishful thinking… Shades thought as he watched the man, and all hope of seeing anyone he once knew, walk away.
But, hopes or no hopes, he vowed to keep an eye out for anything he might learn.
During the last month or so, both before and after Max showed up, he had given a lot of thought to how many friends had walked in and out of his life over the years. How many lives he himself had walked in and out of. How the ones you have when you’re older are never quite the same as the ones you had as a kid. The ones you wanted to grow up with together …and hopefully grow old together.
It was almost overwhelming.
All his life, he had heard others lament, I wish I had the answers. Now he was beginning to understand what they meant. And, like a lot of things he had come to understand of late, had never wanted to. Though he had escaped his imprisonment, he now knew that the ghosts of his past mistakes would keep coming back to haunt him. As much as he wanted to put it all behind him, he also understood there was nothing he could do but live with them. Every single day.
Even as he resumed the search already in progress, he vowed again to do everything he could to find the truth. Though something deep inside told him it would be a long time. If this world was even half as big as Earth— and he suspected it was bigger, much bigger— he knew the odds were against him. He decided to use this search for Kato’s friends as practice for the search for his own. Just wished he knew where to begin looking for these friends of Kato’s.
This time, there’s no looking back…
After waiting eighteen years for his ticket to adventure, he wasn’t so sure he wanted it if John or Amy couldn’t come along for the ride, too.