“We’re going there, right?” Justin asked, though there was little in the way of uncertainty in his tone.
“Adnan’s,” Shades confirmed, Max nodding from the helm. From that, he was quite sure his friend wanted to see this place as much as he did, and he figured if Justin minded at all, he would have spoken up by now. “I figure it can’t hurt to take a quick look around.”
“Maybe,” Justin replied, “but what if the old man calls out the guards anyway?”
“I don’t think he will,” Max told him. “He said he doesn’t mind.”
“Besides,” Shades added, though to him Justin’s protests didn’t seem to pack much conviction, “it doesn’t make any sense to. Even though he didn’t know about the robbery, he could’ve gotten on the horn and called for help while we were still outside, and once he invited us in, he knew outlaws wouldn’t let him get near the radio.”
Justin had to admit Shades had a point; they were inside sipping tea easily long enough for this Sheriff Boggs and his men to book it out there.
“And trying to lure us over to this island isn’t much of a plan, either,” Shades went on. “Think about it: Donaldson’s little island is like a midway point between St Lucy and Adnan’s, but as you can see, he’s still closer to Adnan’s, so even if he called the cops, we’d be able to see ’em comin’ from too far away to catch us.”
They could barely see the fuzzy outline of St Lucy from Donaldson’s, whereas Adnan’s was visibly closer. Now that they were closer to Adnan’s, they were all fairly sure that even on a clear day it would take a telescope to see St Lucy from there.
“All we have to do is sit around for about half an hour or so, and if no one shows up, it means we’ll have the place all to ourselves,” he concluded. Though Mr Donaldson hardly struck him as the Nosy Neighbor type who had nothing better to do with their life anymore except sit around spying on the surrounding woods and calling the cops every time the neighbor kids tried to use any of the hidden trails, even if he was, “Any attempt to entrap us would have to involve us getting too far away from the ship to get back in time.
Justin nodded quietly, satisfied there were no holes in Shades’ analysis, still he kept watch behind them.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Max admitted. “Are there really people like that?”
“Yeah, some,” Shades replied. “Lakeside’s pretty laid back, but there were several crotchety old men and women— Californians, I’ll bet— who seemed to think kids playing out in the woods was some kind of crime. Even if you never set foot on their own property, they still treat the surrounding woods as if they owned that, too, and would try to cause trouble if you lingered anywhere within sight of their house. I wouldn’t put it past people like that to turn around and tell the cops we were trespassing, but Mr Donaldson’s not like that. He has a sense of… propriety about that school, so I bet if we stopped there without talking to him, he definitely would have called the police, but cares too much about the place to use it as bait like that.”
As the Maximum drew nearer, they could see Adnan’s Island was much bigger than Donaldson’s place, but clearly smaller than the Isle of St Lucy— probably less than a hundred acres, by Shades’ rough estimate— though they would have to see the overall shape of the island to get a better idea. On Justin’s suggestion, of course, Max had been keeping Donaldson’s island between themselves and the port of St Lucy, forcing any potential followers to reveal themselves from a tactically safe distance, yet their approach still led them to a line of docks on a small stretch of beach, a stone wall shoring up the left side, flanked on the right by an embankment rounding the shore on either side. High ground, they quickly discovered, that occupied most of the island as they circled around.
Not only was it just as overcast here as it was everywhere else they’d been in these waters, but the rain started coming down harder as they neared it, a welcome that seemed more than a little lonesome to all three of them.
In keeping with the precautions they had all decided upon in the aftermath of past misadventures, they circled the island in spite of its harmless appearance. Counterclockwise, to stay out of the port’s line of sight while they were doing it. Above the docks, on a gently sloping hillside, they could see a large red brick building with a broad wing on each end. The same building pictured in the photos on Donaldson’s mantle. Off to its right, they could barely make out the edge of a faded brick building partially obscured by towering pines. Crowning the long rock ridge that ran along the shoreline out this way were still more, with an occasional section of chain-link fence peeking out.
“…Luckily, there were plenty of shortcuts that no one minded at all,” Shades continued to elaborate about the secret trails around his home town while Max listened intently, and Justin took over maneuvering the ship. “Though there was something I saw at Donaldson’s that reminded me of a trail I used to take to and from school. It started with this trailer court off the road leading up to my house. On the other side of it was a field, and beyond that some woods, which give way to somebody’s back yard. Not one of those paranoid people I was telling you about earlier— more likely folks who had kids of their own— these guys didn’t mind, as long as you were just passing through. They even had a German Shepard, that would even come out to greet you, though I can’t recall his name right now… Of course, that was back before everyone started bringing in snarling Dobermans and pit-bulls you had to ‘Beware’ of.”
As they came around the far side of the island, the highlands sloped back down to sandy shore, adorned with three short docks, two ending with diving boards. Four platforms that looked like dock segments floated, anchored a short way out in that small inlet, though today’s weather failed to put any of them in the mood for swimming. Up the hill behind it, they could see several buildings, including one that reminded Shades of the gym from his old grade school, which was in a separate building than the school itself.
“Just like summer camp…” Shades reflected. “Too bad about the weather.”
“Shades,” Max reminded him, “what were you going to say about that shortcut?”
“Shortcut? Oh yeah. I used to go that way all the time back in the third grade, but one day I spotted a side-trail leading away from the main one. Did you see the markers next to the swing back there, Max? What I found looked a lot like those. Only the names— though I don’t remember them anymore— sounded like pet names.”
“Grave markers, right?” Justin muttered.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure they were graves, probably previous pets. Of course, I’ve found a lot of things out in the woods, mostly stuff other people left behind. I guess the markers I just saw earlier reminded me of it.”
Around the rest of the way back to the main docks, that side of the island consisted of more rocky banks topped with more evergreens. While the whole scene put Shades in mind of a moody spring day back home, all three of them were relieved to see there were no unwelcome arrivals in the meantime. Nothing on approach, either, so they felt safe enough to consider landing. They would have preferred the docks on the other side, but the inlet was clearly too shallow for a ship the size of the Maximum, so they now hung just out of reach of the nearest dock.
“Shall we?” Justin asked.
They knew exactly what he meant. Knew the risks. The Sixth Dimension was full of them.
“Let’s.” Max, of course, was game. He figured Bandit was, too, given how little chance his feline friend had had to stretch his legs since they left the Kona Islands.
“Let’s not,” Shades recommended, looking out at the rain still pouring outside, “at least not yet.” One of Master Al’s students, who used to live in Oregon, once told him that there was no point in trying to out-wait the rain there. As much as this realm reminded him of the Pacific Northwest, he reminded himself that this was the Sixth Dimension, and decided to see if that wisdom held true here. “I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”
“I guess so.” Now that he thought about it, Justin noticed he was also hungry. That, and he could see that Max was also looking a little put-out at the thought of trudging around in the rain, now that it came to it. “What’s for dinner?”
“How about stew?” Max suggested. If nothing else, now that he thought about it, Bandit didn’t much like rain anyway.
So while they waited for the rain to stop, they dropped anchor just out of reach of the dock, and Shades showed Justin how to cook beef stew.
“It’s kinda funny,” Shades remarked, watching the rainfall blurring their view of the island, “I never expected to go back to school so soon. Back on Earth, I was about to finish four years of high school and then… well, I had no real plan for what to do next. If there’s one thing I’ve gained since ending up in this world, it’s an idea of what it’s like to do things my own way.”
“So,” Max asked, “do you think this school will be like the ones where you come from?”
“Hard to say,” Shades answered. “I imagine there’ll be some differences, but we’ll see soon enough. By the way, Justin, you’ve been pretty quiet since we left Donaldson’s place. And you hardly even tried to argue when we decided to come here, I’d think you’ve got your own reason for going.”
“Sorry. I guess it’s just nerves,” he replied. “I feel like a sitting duck out here, but there’s something I want to see, too.” He knew he had heard the name before and was trying to remember where. “Ever since that old man mentioned the name Camcron, I knew it’d drive me nuts if I didn’t find out for myself if it was the same group.”
“You’ve heard of them?” Max interjected.
“Yeah, they were the Authority’s biggest buyer for plasma crystals,” Justin muttered. “Their biggest supplier of weapons and shit, too.”
“I see.” Shades discovered newfound suspicion in Justin’s words since they left earlier, strengthening his own resolve not to leave this place without first taking a look around. Remembering something Donaldson said earlier, about Camcron being based in New Cali, he fished his Cam-Jam out of his pocket, flipping the music player over and examining the corner of the casing. There he saw the words Manufactured by Camcron Industries etched in the plastic in tiny print. Which brought to mind the cans of Cam’s Cola in the fridge. “Well, I’ll be damned. These guys are everywhere.”
“You got that right, and I wanna know what those bastards were doing here,” Justin told him, then asked, “But what do you expect to find in this place?”
“Memories,” Shades answered simply. Now that they hovered just in front of Adnan’s, his head was fairly reeling with them. The evergreens covering much of the island made him homesick just looking at them. “This place is like a moody spring day.”
Then he went silent again, pondering his own choice of words.
“Oh.” And here I was wondering what you were after… And Justin, of course, was trying to figure out if old man Donaldson had said something he missed. “So you don’t have any sort of plan.”
“You’re thinking too much, reading too much into it. You honestly thought I was after something, didn’t you?” Shades laughed. “Sorry. ’Fraid I didn’t hear about any sunken ships or buried treasure here, I just came to stop and see the sights. Besides, if that company dumped the school like that, I doubt they’d leave anything terribly valuable behind.”
“No, I suppose they wouldn’t.” It made sense to Justin. Then again, his last couple adventures in burglary were almost more trouble than they were worth, and he wondered if perhaps this time it would be best to take it as it comes.
“What can I say?” Shades resumed, “This realm looks so much like the forests back home. The woods were always right out beyond my back yard, beckoning me to go wandering around out there.”
“Anything in particular?” Max had come to know that look— likely a reflection of his own when he got like that, he figured— lost in memories. And even though, unlike either of them, Justin had nothing about his former home to miss, it didn’t seem to stop him from lapsing into wistful periods of uncharacteristic silence, brooding over one window view or another. In his own case, he had never seen trees like these before, thus this was like getting a glimpse into his friend’s world, and it fascinated him as much as anyplace else he had never seen before.
“The Thompson place,” Shades replied. “Before I lived in that dump of a trailer, we originally had a nice house out near the old Base.” It dawned on him that, without even a map of his old home, that last bit of geographical information meant nothing to the others, yet he still said things like that out of habit. And probably will for a long time to come… “Anyhoo, that was before Dad disappeared, and Mom couldn’t afford to keep it. It wasn’t exactly a mansion, but it sure as hell felt like one. It was spacious, and I had an enormous bedroom. Of course, it was supposed to be a rec-room, and it doubled as that, too. It was also surrounded by woods on all sides, and I used to play out there all the time.”
“And this place reminds you of it?”
“Yes, Justin. Sort of. Then again, I’ve also been having dreams about it lately. Weird dreams.”
“And how would that be different from all your other dreams?”
“Justin. It’s just that this building… Ah, never mind. I’m probably just a little homesick.”
“Is the soup ready yet?” Max asked, ending the moment of silence Shades left off on.
“Not yet. Stew takes time,” Shades answered, glad that Max was so good at changing the subject, as he went to check on it. He didn’t want to give the past too much power over the present, but this very place was making that difficult. Taking a taste test, he told them, “It should be done in a little while. And Justin, you’re a damn good cook! A veritable culinary wizard!”
“You know I hate it when you call me things I don’t know the meaning of, man.”
“What I mean is, you’ve got the knack,” Shades replied. Had to admit he was becoming increasingly impressed with his friend’s mastery of this ship’s pantry. “Normally, I’d say not to trust a skinny cook, but you’re definitely an exception to the rule.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Justin. “After all, I like my food to taste good, too, you know. Just because those Authority bastards never let me have any decent grub doesn’t mean I wouldn’t figure out how to work with what I had.”
“That’s what ya gotta do.” Max knew from years of roughing it.
“And he’s modest, too!” Shades laughed.
After that, the conversation became more subdued, fading almost into silence once the stew was ready. They found themselves sitting there, trying not to be stifled by the weight of this atmosphere. Throughout most of their meal, the three of them simply stared at the island they were hovering just off the shore of, Adnan’s itself looking grim and foreboding under the current heavy sky, though Shades, especially, could imagine it looking very pleasant and inviting when it was sunny out. For now, though, even Max’s most light-hearted comments about the food were submerged under the silence that seemed to be this place’s trademark.
As if St Lucy, and everything in the surrounding waters, was waiting for something.