“That’s because you made it more work than it had to be,” Shades replied. In here, they found what to him looked like a billiard table, and though the balls bore different colors and markings than he was used to, he was still able to show his friends an improvised version of how he played pool with his old friends back on Earth. “But you have to agree, the accommodations are pretty sweet!”
“You bastard,” Justin muttered as he watched Shades take his turn, still sore everywhere from his shoulders to his hips. And somehow, Shades had still painted almost twice as much as he had. When he demanded to know how the hell he was doing that, Shades simply replied, The oldest secret of martial arts. Smirking wickedly with every word. Eliminate wasteful movements. Then just went right on his merry way painting. And so he had turned disgustedly back to his own work, certain that this would turn out to be some not-so-practical joke, for when Shades did that, it was always more abstract or obscure than Max’s pranks. “Maybe I should just quit.”
“Corrick did give us our rooms for half price, as well as free food while we’re working,” Shades pointed out. The day was sunny, hot and humid, but the work crew also kept plenty of cool water on hand.
During the day, someone brought a portable stereo to the site, and Shades volunteered his pocket jukebox, using some adapter cables he picked up at Tradewinds Mercantile to hook them up with his massive playlist of tunes. Though the crowd was a mix of natives and non-natives, everyone seemed to find something they liked.
“Yeah, I know,” Justin sighed. Shades just kept saying that, and variations thereof, any time he tried to voice a complaint. Just tell them Corrick sent you, the man told them that morning. They had, and the crew leader wasted no time— or movement— pointing out something for each of them to do. Justin’s past experiences with manual labor had all involved being watched every minute by Authority guards, and beaten if he even tried to stop before the appointed break time. Here no one was forcing him to do anything, yet any time he tried to quit, Shades would just remind him how much it would cost to. Still had no idea exactly how that worked, and he again wondered how he got talked into this mess.
“Just a few more days,” Shades answered him, “then the repairs should be done, and we can just chill until the Island Festival.” He turned to Max, whose turn it was now at the table, asking, “So, are you really gonna go through with it?”
“I don’t know.” Max aimed and shot, sinking another ball. “I still need to think about it a bit.”
“So what exactly did Corrick want with you anyway?” Even after he and Justin went off to join the cleanup, Corrick had kept Max in his office for a while longer. Later, while the two of them painted, Max helped out hauling boards and equipment, and appeared rather preoccupied whenever they saw him about. “What was that all about?”
“It had to do with that ship, the Seeker. They want me to be…” Max searched for the term Corrick had used, “a third party observer for the Seeker salvage operation.”
“Seeker…” Justin mumbled, recalling the ship and the floating platform they passed on their way in this morning. Now that he was no longer worried about being locked up somewhere, what he really wanted to know was, “What are they doing out there anyway?”
“They’re a salvage operation,” Max replied. “They search for sunken ships and try to bring up whatever they can.”
“I was hearing about that,” Shades commented. Several people had spoken of it during their breaks. “Apparently there used to be gold mines on a couple of these islands, Aru and Kimbar. And long before our time, some outlaws came and hijacked a shipment of gold.”
“Gold?” Justin perked up, deciding that this might be more interesting than he expected.
“The ship was called the Nimrod,” Max added, remembering what Corrick told him, “and it sank during a sudden and violent storm as they were leaving. Corrick said that many people here believe it was a curse for stealing the gold from the islands. Others have tried to find the Nimrod before, but these guys say they actually did find it.”
“Then why haven’t they brought anything up yet?” Justin pressed.
“Because of the storm,” Max told him. “It messed up their marker buoys and damaged some of their equipment, so now they have to make repairs and relocate it.”
“I imagine it won’t take more than a few days,” said Shades. “After all, they already know the general area where they first found it, so now it’s just a matter of pinpointing the exact spot again.”
“But that’s not all,” Max told them. “The gold mines were originally started by Outlanders who came and forced the Islanders out of their homes, even tried to make them work in the mines. All of the gold was being taken and sent to other realms, and the two groups were constantly fighting with each other.”
“Just like the Triangle State…” Justin muttered, remembering his years on Benton (once Gwanga) Island, guards and checkpoints and forced labor… “But wait a minute— there’s nothing like that here! …Is there?”
“Not anymore,” Shades assured him, having picked up some of this from recent conversations, the rest an educated guess based on the history of his former home of Montana back on Earth. “The gold mines went bust long before we were even born, and now it’s all abandoned, kinda like the ghost towns where I come from.”
“But it doesn’t change the fact that the Outlanders stole from the Islands,” Max pointed out, remembering Corrick’s impromptu history lesson. “A lot of people here say the hijackers of the Nimrod got exactly what they deserved. Corrick said there are a lot of people who don’t want the treasure raised, and he’s surprised the Kona Council even allowed it.”
“Don’t want to dig up old wounds…” Shades theorized. “I can see that. I suppose they’d rather leave that part of the Islands’ history where fate left it.”
“Okay,” Justin nodded, “but what’s that got to do with you, Max?”
“Well,” Max continued, “even though the Kona Council allowed the Seeker crew to search for the Nimrod, they’re not too trusting of them.” So-called archaeologists, Corrick called them. Toma and I both think they’re really just treasure hunters trying to cash in on all that sunken gold. “Now that they actually found the ship, things have gotten worse.”
“And thus a third party observer.” Shades now understood. “They want you to watch the operation, and make sure nobody tries to pull a fast one, right?”
“Right,” Max confirmed. “If I agree, they will each pay me the same amount of money, to ensure that I’m not being bribed by either side, and then I watch the entire operation to see that they both keep their end of the bargain.”
“Okay.” Justin was starting to get the picture. All the while thinking that Striker missed the real treasure while she was here, wondered if someone as ruthless as she would settle for raiding supplies from the island port if even had an inkling what the Seeker crew was up to. “And what if they do try to bribe you?”
“Don’t be gettin’ any bright ideas,” Shades admonished him. “We’re outsiders here, so it would be best to avoid getting dragged into any local trouble. But if you do take the job, Max, we’re behind you all the way.”
“Thanks. And if they do bribe me,” Max informed them, “I will still keep my part of the deal.”
If nothing else, Shades was reassured that at least Max was giving it some serious consideration before making his decision.
As cool as Shades thought the Maximum was, he found it was still nice to sleep in a real room sometimes, and Justin at least seemed to like the accommodations. Tonight was Max’s turn to go back to the ship and keep Bandit company, and tomorrow night he would take his turn to let Max enjoy the comfort of a fine hotel room. In the meantime, he found he just liked to stay in different places, as he seldom got to travel back on Earth.
Anymore, all three of them, to some degree, had come to be able to make themselves at home just about anywhere.