four : Seeker of Salvation
Chapter 31: Well-earned R&R
Shadows of the past still haunted him, like a leech latched onto the very back corners of his mind. At times, it led to him feeling like he didn’t deserve the good life he now lived. His team however, always reassured him that he is forgiven and that they don’t judge and dwell on what he did in the past. Despite agreeing with their words himself, he still couldn’t help but have a feeling of guilt follow him whenever he went - especially out into the public where wary citizens got a glimpse of him and exchanged uncertain or distasteful glares.
Ace was relieved that he and the Seekers weren’t called out for any major missions during these past three months. Along with the social time in his team, he also had plenty of time to get himself back into peak physical condition. Ace served around four and half years in prison on a very limited diet and exercise routine, making it exceptionally difficult to stay fit and healthy.
But now that he had access to quality meals and his own quarters once again, he was able to get himself to perfect health. He was even stronger and heavier than he was during his DreadZone years, probably due to not having a messed up sleep-pattern and much less stress to tend to.
He certainly was feeling better than he ever had, despite some of the issues he had buried within his mind.
The Solana Galaxy had been calm since the Space Pirate attack on Marcadia and there seemed to be no trouble brewing, almost like the trouble-makers had decided to go on a vacation.
This gave him and the team a chance to relax together in turn, and catch up with one another. It certainly felt different for Ace - talking and interacting with everyone in the team again. But even so, it certainly wasn’t the same as it was all those years ago…
”So tell me Ace. How is it being back in the crew again?”
A target in the distance was blown to smithereens with surprising accuracy. Kurt gave off a grin at his effort and turned to look back at Ace, whom was busy training on his own several metres away. He delivered heavy blows to a well-padded boxing bag, situated outside in a calm, shady area beneath the trees outside, not far from the Star Seeker that was parked on a large patch of clear ground.
Ace and the Seekers were currently on a planet called Pokitaru: a land quite similar to our Earth, covered in tropical beaches, many islands and green flora. It was always summer and daylight here, thanks to the 3 suns within its solar system. It was also a popular spot for vacation of many holiday makers in the galaxy.
”Hmm… now where can I begin…”
Ace paused his training for a moment, standing still and thinking. He grinned at the thought of how it had been with the team again and replied,
“Aster has changed a bit, he’s still a bit of a smart-mouth but he’s still great to tinker around with gadgets and all. Thankfully he’s nowhere near as much of a smartass as Jake, heh. Speaking of Jake, he is still a big-kid, really. Even though he’s in his 30’s, I really question his aging process. But he’s all good nevertheless, great to hang out with and do some training. Bettilena is exactly the same… not that it is a bad thing though. I’m glad she hasn’t changed”
Ace threw a couple of punches, his eagerness to train more egging him on. Kurt grinned in response, readily taking aim at the next target, automatically popping out from the ground a good distance away.
”Got to agree with you there, especially on Jake. Ha. You verpardi seem to age rather slow… the three of you still look youthful, you know. Too bad I can’t say the same about markazians, heh”
”Must be a Vaelidian difference then, heh. But Leera, man was I surprised when I saw the size of her, and how she could still recognise me after all these years. Now I know what Jake meant about maulkats being so loyal and powerful. And as for Jenna… she is not the same as I remember”
”What do you mean?”
”Well, she used to be a lot more vocal and hyperactive, that’s for sure. Always loud and ‘somewhat’ eccentric but now, she’s serious, outspoken and mature. Not that it’s a bad thing but… I do wonder why she changed. Was it because of me and my actions?”
“Well… I can’t deny that your choices had no negative effects on our spirit in the past. Jake & Jenna thought highly of you, you know. However, after we thought you were killed in combat; we did try our best to move on from the past and live our lives, but now, here we are. Things have been a lot better since your return. And you have proven that you can do well in life again, despite the past”
”That’s good to know. I’m grateful for what you have done for me. But… there is something I want to tell you”
”Sure, shoot ahead”
Kurt shot down another couple of targets, grinning with satisfaction at his effort. He awaited Ace’s reply for a moment,
”You probably know that I don’t mind the occasional save-the-planet thing when the government calls us for now and again but… I don’t want to be a superhero again. That’s not my style anymore, and seeing how those civilians gave me those wary looks…”
”It’s alright Ace, I thoroughly understand where you’re going. Like I said before when we took you with us out of Zordoom; you don’t need to be a superhero again. None of us do. It is up to you if you want to do that sort of work again or not. There are other heroes in the galaxy anyway, so we don’t always have to do everything you know, heh”
Ace didn’t need to respond this time. He smiled to himself and continued with his training, performing a series of high kicks while Kurt resumed his target practice.
An hour passed by. It was around midday: the suns of Pokitaru were blazing in the sky and a few scattered clouds were seen on the horizon. Temperatures were quite high so most of the tourists and other various inhabitants were currently indoors, even then it didn’t faze Ace at all.
He liked the hot, sunny weather, and with temperatures like this on Pokitaru, this definitely was no exception. He relaxed several metres outside the Star Seeker with a can of Space Cola, overlooking the area they resided in.
It was far from the Jowai resort, or any of the other nearby resorts, often crowded by tourists of many different races. He and his team were on a relatively isolated island a few miles away from the nearest city. The island’s mass was quite large in size though, perfect for their star cruiser and equipment.
Ace liked it out here. It was calm and secluded from the public eye and not even a single boat or rocket-ski was visible out in the open oceanic views. He wondered if the native verpardi planet Vaelidius was anything like this, seeing as he felt comfortable here with the weather and scenery.
Ace turned around at the sound of that voice and footsteps.
Jake Jetspeed walked up to Ace, holding onto two skyboards, one under each arm. He gave off a beckoning grin towards him, and Ace immediately knew what Jake was going to request…
“It’s been a while, ehh?”
”Come on Ace; I wanna see if you’ve improved since the good ‘ol days. Or are you afraid I’ll end up making you look bad out there on the Skyboard?”
”Heh, dream on…!”
Ace turned around and took the larger, blue Skyboard from Jake; who was grinning cheekily back at him.
”Show me the way then, kid. Before I change my mind”
”Who you callin’ kid? I’ve got 7 years on top of your golden lock!”
“Doesn’t help that you always behave like you’re 10 years younger than me”
Jake scoffed and switched on his Skyboard. It jolted into action immediately; the lights turning on and rising off the ground as the boosters started up. It was hovering a few inches off the ground when Jake hoped on and strapped his feet onto it. Ace mimicked his actions and made preparations. It had been a long time since he flew on a Skyboard, but he still remembered the ways of their use.
”This way, rookie!”
Jake took off towards the beach, skimming off on his Skyboard roughly a foot above ground and not taking a glance behind him.
Ace hastily strapped his own feet in and took off, finding it rather thrilling to be on the top of a Skyboard again after such a long time. He moved himself forward with the board to pick up more speed, still several metres behind of Jake.
Both were soon speeding off the sandy shores and over the small waves of water crashing at the shore’s edge, forcing both Ace and Jake to fly a few feet higher and above the water’s surface.
Ace was now catching up.
He felt a strong gust a wind brush past him behind, giving him an idea to speed up. He pressed the underside on the left of the Skyboard, causing the exhausts from the machinery to release a powerful burst of fire, blue in colour.He soon found himself to be in the lead, speeding past Jake and curving around a nearby island, down a narrow channel of rocks and cliffs.
“You just got lucky there, bro! You won’t be smilin’ for long”
”Heh… we’ll see about that”
Jake activated his own booster, causing the exhausts on his own Skyboard to turn blue as well and speed up very quickly, right up next to Ace.
Ace lowered his muscular frame to pick up his pace, skimming quickly along the narrow stretch of seawater while Jake initiated his booster once again, releasing multiple blasts of energy from his Skyboard, flying past Ace and rapidly approaching the end of the channel up ahead.
Ace, however, had a different idea; noticing the end of the channel coming up ahead leading to a lagoon, he activated his own booster to gain more altitude in the air, thus allowing himself to fly several metres above the water. He was trailing several metres behind Jake though.
Just as Jake flew in through and past the passage of rocks and cliffs, a loud scream from a woman echoed out and Ace laughed out loud, seeing Jake’s ears and hair stand up on end - almost coming into impact with the unexpected tourist…
”AHH crap! Get out of the way woman!”
He quickly swerved his Skyboard sideways to avoid the woman on her jet-ski speeding past on the water’s surface. Ace continued to chuckle from above, flying higher and out of the way of the other tourists in the water below. Jake noticed more tourists in the lagoon and quickly gained more altitude himself to reach Ace’s level but unfortunately for him, Ace was now far ahead and angry tourists were hurling insults at Jake for his clumsiness.
”Ouch, that’s no good for your ego right Jake?”
Ace taunted. Jake could only roll his eyes, unsure of how to respond to that remark.
Ace eased to fly above and out past the crowded lagoon area, following the path that Jake set out ahead of them. He flew around a high cliff which led down another channel which slowly became narrower as both Ace and Jake flew down further. The water merged into a river and soon a small stream, coming out from a small, isolated forest area. Patches of trees and bushes were visible here, but Ace also saw something of interest down below, out in the distance.
”Looks like our race ends here, kid” he told Jake.
Ace simply pointed in the direction of interest. He flew down lower to the ground at the same time, swiftly avoiding the trees that were blocking his way. Jake sighed in disappointment when he noticed that Aster, Jenna, Kurt and even Leera were down in a cleared area of the forest, training together.
Ace landed gracefully near the clearing of the forest and Leera’s attention was immediately caught by his presence, rushing over towards Ace and Jake, who landed moments after Ace.
“Come to greet the champion, right Leera?”
Ace said with a grin, as the large maulkat came up close to him to receive a gentle pet. She let out a low but affectionate growl. Jake came walking closer, with both his arms crossed.
”I was easy on you this time, boy. It’s a thing I do with all newbie’s, but next time I won’t be go so easy on you”
”Hey, no need for the sarcasm. Take it like a man, heh”
Ace was amused with Jake’s attitude. He could tell that Jake still disliked losing, especially Skyboard races. Just like back in the day. Leera turned around to look back at the other Seekers; who had noticed Jake and Ace’s entry.
Ace saw Kurt and Jenna training together with Kurt’s dual blades, while Aster stood near a tree watching over them, waiting for his turn to duel with them.
“Feel like having a sword duel this time? Or are you afraid that I’ll win by a long shot: again?”
”Meh. Swords ain’t my thing you know, but I bet Kurt will own you any day!”
“We’ll see about that…!”