Justin Black stood over near the corner of the general store, staring out the window at the clouds looming over the street, threatening rain. Just as they had all day, even before they arrived on the sleepy Isle of St Lucy. Though he didn’t much care for browsing books they way Shades and Max did, for now, it beat being cooped-up aboard the Maximum all day every day between realms.
Six days since their encounter with the Twylight derelict, and the memory of it still gave him chills, even here on dry land. Though talkative enough about it as the fog slowly lifted that day, the two of them seemed to have satisfied their curiosity about the Unknown for the time being, as the subject changed more often than the weather for the remainder of their voyage. Which, much to his own surprise, somehow hardly stopped himself from thinking about it in the meantime.
Turning his thoughts back to the here and now, he cast his eyes back down to the rain-dampened road outside, leading back to the harbor. The town itself, also called St Lucy, mostly sprawled across the coastline on this side of an island that was likely bigger than any of the Kona Islands, but possessed little depth beyond the coast. Quickly drifting off into thinly populated settlements across the rest of the island, according to what local info he could find.
Almost everything he saw hinting at a more prosperous past than present.
Not that he really cared; he was just taking this opportunity to stretch his legs. Since there didn’t appear to be much of anything going on here, and Shades’ had already finished his personal inquiries at the local establishments, about the only thing left to do was pick up some supplies. Even adding the modest reward money from the Kona Council, none of them felt like lingering here and blowing any more money than they needed to.
A couple aisles over, Shades stood in front of a section of used books, looking to see if anything here caught his eye.
During his time in the Sixth Dimension, especially while he was trapped in that creepy mall he started out in, he had found— and, of course, read— books which did not exist in his where and when. Even purported copyright dates on many of those volumes told him he had seen glimpses of possible futures. Just knowing that he had gotten to read sequels that hardcore fans of various series might have to wait years for gave him a giddy thrill few things could compare to. Before they even met Hasahn Abu-Sharrah, these findings were by far the most compelling proof he had seen of what the venerable old wanderer meant about this Ocean being the crossroads of all realms.
If anyone had written it, even in a parallel universe or something, he figured it could perhaps be found somewhere in this dimension.
Seeing, upon further inspection, that if anyone else he liked had written anything new, it clearly wasn’t anywhere to be found in this backwater realm, he turned to see if his friends were ready to get down to business yet. After asking around the usual places, his ongoing search for John and Amy had proven as fruitless as his attempt at finding some interesting reading material in this picked-over used book collection. Thus his interest in this fading island port town was diminishing by the minute, and he was ready to get this show on the road and see what awaited them at their next destination.
As he turned to go find Max and Justin, he felt an odd flicker in his perception, a momentary skip that gave him an uneasy feeling, as if he had just seen in the corner turn and picked up the exact same object off the same shelf only a moment ago…
Then all was calm again. The alarms in his head stopping as abruptly as they started, as if he had never had the feeling to begin with. After a confused moment, he shook his head, chalking it up to how little sleep he had gotten in the days since their run-in with that damn derelict.
Max, meanwhile, had moved on from the book section, already making a mental checklist of things they would need to stock up on for their next voyage.
For him, it was enough of a bummer that local law prohibited Bandit from even setting foot off the ship on this island, so he saw little point in hanging around in a place where his feline friend wasn’t welcome. To say nothing of how the chill, damp weather in this realm was bothering his still-healing right arm more than he expected. As much as he enjoyed those couple weeks of rest and relaxation in the Kona Islands, after leaving the Isle of Paradise, anything less than exciting was starting to feel boring anymore.
“I take it you’re ready?” Shades asked him as he came around the corner.
“Yeah,” Max replied. “There just isn’t much going on here, is there?”
“You got that right,” Justin added as he joined them.
“Then I guess it’s time to get down to business,” said Shades. “Let’s finish our shopping and blow this joint, go find someplace a little more exciting.”
“Not to mention someplace where it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna rain all the time,” Justin put in.
Yet before they could get started, three masked figures burst into the store, guns drawn.
“Hit the deck!” the robber taking point shouted as two of them stormed the front counter. “This is a robbery!”
“Just give us all your money,” demanded the third one, who hung back to cover the door, “and nobody gets hurt!”
For his part, the store clerk turned white, looking only a matter of seconds from fainting dead away, all but confirming for Max and his companions that this was not a common occurrence in these parts.
At the moment the thieves barged in, the three of them were standing behind a nearly ceiling-high shelf of goods, and the fact that none of the robbers even noticed them seemed to confirm, on some unspoken cue, that those guys clearly didn’t have their act together. Shades nodded slowly to his friends, and their nods were all the confirmation he needed to know that they were all on the same wavelength.
“Hey! You!” the one at the counter shouted, pointing his gun at a random customer, sounding more frantic than menacing with each syllable in spite of himself. “I told you to get—”
But as he turned the gun in-between targets, Shades made his move, sliding out from behind the shelf aisle and getting right in between the two robbers. Both of them froze up as Shades grabbed each of them by the collar of their coat, hauling them together head-to-head. While both of them were stunned, Shades stepped around, catching the second robber’s gun-hand wrist, flipping him over and breaking his grip on his weapon.
“Don’t even think about it,” Justin told the third one covering the door as he stepped out, already having beaten him to the punch with his own double-barrel power pistol, stopping the robber in his tracks.
While Shades was disarming one of the two stunned robbers, the first one stumbled against the counter, then recovered enough to wheel on Shades while his back was turned. He didn’t get very far, though, as Max stepped in, watching his friend’s back. Blocking the masked man with his good arm, guarding his injured one, then kicking his opponent hard enough to bowl him over the counter, the terrified clerk bolting out from behind it in a general panic.
Max then rushed the one Justin was covering, punching him hard in the solar plexus, crumpling him on the floor in a breathless heap.
Just when it looked as if the three of them had this robbery well in hand, the robber who fell behind the counter popped back up with a pistol the hysterical store clerk had completely forgotten he even kept under there for just this sort of occasion.
On reflex, Justin shot him.
As the body hit the floor, a man in a tan police uniform kicked the door wide open, pointing a shotgun at them.
Justin turned toward him, but faltered as he realized the man already had the drop on him.
“Put it down, now!” the lawman warned. “I can nail all three of you from here with this piece.”
“He can, Justin,” Shades warned him, having already put his own hands up. Relieved to see Max follow suit, for he already got the impression this guy didn’t like energy weapons. “We’ve got no choice but to surrender.”
All of Justin’s past experience with the Triangle State Authority pushed against it, he finally decided not to call this guy’s bluff. Forcing himself to drop his gun, already fearing he would regret it. Still, Shades seemed to know of this weapon, what it was capable of, and he didn’t.
“Now,” the cop ordered, “move over with the other two.”
“Officer,” Shades began, though he already had this sinking feeling they were starting off on the wrong foot, “this isn’t what it looks—”
“That’s for the Magistrate to decide.”
For now, the best thing Shades could think of to do was keep his mouth shut, as he already suspected this fellow didn’t like not being able to see his eyes.
“He was going to shoot us!” Justin blurted.
“Hmph, it’s a good thing I happened to be in the neighborhood,” the officer proceeded, keeping the three young travelers in his line of fire as he crossed the room toward the counter, where the one Justin shot lay sprawled on the floor behind it. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but there are laws against carrying guns in town, my shifty friends—”
“Sheriff! Sheriff!” a very hysterical clerk screeched as he ran back into the room. “Help me!”
In fact, ran right into the sheriff.
While the sheriff tried to calm the babbling young man, Justin had taken about all he could stand. In that brief moment of distraction, he scooped up his power pistol, shoving both of them aside and bolting for the door.
“Justin!” In the heat of the moment, Max took off after him.
Shades sighed, and, not wanting to be left holding the bag, followed them. Not wanting to deal with this cop who was as suspicious of them as he was of the robbers, he called over his shoulder, “Sorry, officer! He’s kinda had some bad experiences with cops before!”
All he could bank on as they fled was that the remaining two robbers tried to make their own getaway, and the sheriff quickly found himself tied up subduing them. Likely burned him to no end that he might never get to find out for himself who these three young men were, or exactly how they fit into this strange, botched robbery.
It was only a short walk back to where they docked, so all they could do was hope the sheriff didn’t call for backup or something.
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Chapter notes: a brush with the law