After they looted Mercer and Strikers’ crew the other day, they had divided the derelict gear up amongst themselves. Now he took his share to the seaport markets, looking to turn a tiny profit on their most recent misadventure while continuing his search among the markets and taverns. Figuring Max and Justin would set out to do likewise when their break rolled around.
Like so many places before, he turned up not the slightest hint of his friends’ whereabouts, reminding himself that he could not afford to let himself give in to discouragement.
To take his mind off the matter, he took a stroll around the harbor, taking in the sights and soaking up the local talk. Hoping perhaps something might jump out at him, or maybe his feet might tug him in a useful direction if either John or Amy had been through Anchor Point lately. A more casual version of what he imagined Roxy was up to last night. Though the fact that she had not returned gave him pause for a moment to wonder whether that meant she was having any better luck with her hunt or not.
He shrugged, figuring that, in her line of work it could easily mean either, and he would have no clue unless they bumped into each other along the way.
The port of Anchor Point, though not quite as up-and-up as Alta, nor as shifty as Bodeen, seemed like slow work for a bounty hunter. Especially if their little misadventure on the way here was the talk of the town. Still, he reminded himself that looks could be deceiving, wondered just what Roxy saw when she looked around.
And that line of thought gave him an idea. Figured he’d run it by Justin after they got back to the ship, although he was pretty sure there could be enough money in it to get him onboard.
According to locals, the inlet of Anchor Point sat right near the edge of the Moreanas Trench. Or the Abyss, as most called it. The deepest parts defied depth-sounding, yet even the nearest, shallowest region, was still fathoms past where most divers would dare.
While the bay made for a fairly sheltered harbor, compared to much of Yarbo’s rocky shores, the sea beyond was infamous for its violent weather changes, the Abyss having claimed many ships over Anchor Point’s long and storied history. So many ships, from all he’d heard, that it was no great surprise to see vessels outfitted with diving bells and other submersibles, part of what he understood to be an off-and-on salvage industry in these parts. As expected, there was also no shortage of tales about monsters in the deep, yet somehow this never stopped various crews from hauling up everything from gold to scrap metal.
He wondered offhand if the Seeker crew they met in the Konas had ever been through here, as he could easily see a lot of opportunity for them.
As he wandered past several fishing vessels, he spotted Max and Justin pointing at something obscured by other ships from his view.
When he came around the corner, he had no trouble seeing what his friends were so excited about. From his first glimpse of a tan wing peeking out from behind the next ship, he was increasingly certain he was seeing things as he beheld a seaplane moored at the dock. Long, broad wings, sporting pontoons near the tips, and twin props hanging over a wide, sleek fuselage with a boat-like bow and hull lining the underside. A large cargo bay door hung open, and beyond he saw that wide body tapered to a single tail.
“What is this thing?” Justin wondered out loud, his eyes wandering up and down the length of it as if they couldn’t figure out which part to gawk at first.
“I think it’s an… airplane…” Max suggested, recalling scenes Shades had shown him on TV and in some book back at that twilighty mall where they first met. “But it’s built like a boat underneath… Like a boat with wings, maybe…”
“So which is it?” Justin demanded of no one in particular. “A plane or a boat?”
“It’s both,” a muffled voice answered from inside, as a man stepped out from the cockpit to the cargo door.
“A flying boat?” Max scratched his head.
“I suppose you could call it that,” the man replied. Of average height and barrel-chested, with a roll of middle-age paunch that stretched out his worn, but well-mended, khaki shirt and chinos, he leaned against the cargo doorframe. A slightly lined, weathered, face of seemingly perpetual stubble, with a pilot cap perched atop it a jaunty angle. “Allow me to introduce to you the Albatross.”
“Does this thing really fly?” Justin’s expression the very face of incredulity.
“Everyone said it flew in here yesterday,” Max reminded him, seeing the miffed look on their host’s face, trying to smooth things over. “That’s why we came out here in the first place.”
“Of course it flies,” the pilot snorted.
“Yeah,” Shades chimed in as he joined them, “I used to fly from time to time back on Earth.”
“Did you just say Earth?” The pilot cocked his head at them, seeing these travelers in a whole new light.
“From that response,” Shades guessed, “I’d take it you know something of where this bird came from?”
Although an aircraft was an unexpected sight, in and of itself, what stood out to him most, though, was the painted-over traces of US Navy markings and numbers. Symbols that would mean nothing to either of his companions, but immediately told him some interesting things about this plane.
“Why, of course,” the pilot responded. “After all, I came here with her. The name’s Roger Wilco, and I’m in the transport business.”
“Shades MacLean.” He reached out and shook Roger’s hand. “Wilco?”
“Wilcox, if you want to get technical,” Roger told him, “but just between us, I go by my old flight school nickname in this world.”
“You wouldn’t happen to have served in the military back there, would you?”
“Me? No, I’m a civilian pilot,” Roger told him with a hearty laugh. “This here Albatross was de-commissioned years ago. Back on Earth, I used to fly supplies out to small, remote islands around the Bahamas.”
“You don’t say.” Noting the location, Shades wondered just what kind of tale this fellow had to tell if he bought him a drink.
“So,” Justin asked, most likely inspired by their most recent voyage, “how far away can you see land from, all the way up there?”
“A helluva lot farther than you can from down here, that’s for sure,” Roger told him with a jovial chuckle. “Makes navigating a far sight easier in these waters, let me tell you.”
“How fast does she go?” Max’s eyes still exploring the breadth and length of the Albatross, so engrossed he was barely keeping track of the conversation.
“Faster than the fastest boat, by a longshot.”
“Even so,” Shades pointed out, “the distances between realms can differ so much, and last I checked, a plane like this can only stay airborne a matter of hours, not days.”
“Of course, back in our world, you’d be right,” the pilot conceded, “but in this dimension, there are some interesting fellas out there. Tinkerers, inventors, engineers versed in sciences that haven’t even been invented in our world. And no Oil Industry patent-locks holding any of them back. ’Cept maybe in New Cali, but even there, there’re more people doin’ more stuff than their stuffy old bureaucracy can keep track of…”
He paused for a moment, patting the doorframe.
“I’ve tried to keep ’er lookin’ as much like her original self as I can, but under the hood, she’s got a ton of extra fuel economy, the engines are modded to work with several fuel types, and she’s even light enough to glide for a stretch. Just like a real albatross, a bird built to cross seas.”
There was no mistaking the pride shining from those words, any more than it was beaming on his face as he said that last.
“Sounds like you’ve had quite an adventure yourself.” Shades nodded.
“I suppose I have.” Roger nodded back. “And I’ve even managed to do a fair share of business along the way.”
“It’s not that I didn’t think anyone could,” Shades clarified, “it’s just that I was surprised anyone would, that’s all.”
“ ’T’ain’t easy,” Roger admitted, “but I wouldn’t give ’er up for the world.”
“You must cause quite a stir wherever you go,” Max remarked. “In all the places we’ve gone, we’ve never seen nor heard of anything like this.”
“I’m not surprised. Few are willing to risk the skies of this dimension,” Roger told them. “It takes a certain love of flying, a passion, if you will. Pilots come and go in this world, but I’ve been in this business longer’n anyone I’ve heard of. Only other one’s stuck around half as long was this airship I ran across once. Some lady pilot who’s probably too stubborn to die.”
“Sounds like someone else we know,” Justin quipped, and his friends shared a nervous laugh.
“There ain’t too many of us, that’s for sure,” Roger informed them. “While you hear about the occasional plane wreck, most simply vanish without a trace, sorta like I did…”
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever bumped into Amelia Earhart anywhere out there, have you?” Shades wondered aloud.
“Kid, that’s not funny.”
“Sorry.” Shades shrugged. “Morbid sense of humor.”
“Amelia who?…” Justin scratched his head.
“With all the weird tales I’ve told, I’m surprised I never told you that one,” Shades answered. Then he turned back to the pilot. “Still, I was at least half serious about that last question. I’ve seen enough to know we’re not the only things from our world to end up in this one. I’ve been searching for a couple friends of mine who almost certainly wound up here the same crazy night I did.”
“I see,” Roger replied, “Then I suppose you have quite the search ahead of you.”
“You’re tellin’ me.”
“ ’Course, it can take a while to convince paying clients to fly with me,” Roger resumed, “which means I need to get back to my maintenance inspection. This old bird needs to be in top-flight condition if they’re gonna trust us up there.”
“It was nice talking to you.” Max turned away slowly, his eyes still magnetized to the Albatross.
“Always a pleasure, talking to anyone from our world,” Shades added, taking the hint.
“Say, maybe we could fly on that thing sometime?” Justin proposed as they walked away.
“Perhaps,” Shades answered, “but he definitely won’t fly for free.”
“I would like to fly, too,” Max chimed in, “but first we need to get back to the ship and see what needs doing next.”
“Of course,” Shades replied, “but now that I think about it, there just might be a way we can afford it. There was something I wanted to talk to you about, guys, and I think it would be best to get our own act together before we approach her about it…”
With that, they headed back to the Excelsior, and Shades wondered if a certain bounty hunter would return, or if they had seen the last of her.