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“Aye, I could have used a third arm though.” Jake sighed.
“Really? Didn’t Nikita come by?”
“I sent him to help you.” Evan replied with a concerned expression.
Jake shrugged and suggested confidently, “Well I doubt he’s being lazy, one of the other guys probably pulled him aside for some help.”
“Hmm,” Evan stood up and picked up the phone on the front desk. “There’s no harm in calling him then.” he said as he tapped his foot nervously waiting. “Hello-” he was cut off by a computerised voice.
“The number you have dialled is currently out of service.”
Evan slammed down the receiver, “Jake, have you seen anyone new here? Anyone acting—different?”
“Relax Evan,” Jake replied, “He might be below deck. I doubt anyone would hurt the kid.”
Evan clenched his jaw. You have no idea.
“I’m going to go look for him!” Evan said, running out of the building. You better be alright Aleksei, he threatened.
“He’s a grown lad, Evan. He probably just got distracted by work!” Jake called after him.
Sweat rolled down Aleksei’s forehead as he struggled against the ropes, trying to make it as taught as possible. A small stream of vapour encircled the rope strand. It spun producing a whistle that Aleksei hoped no one could hear. He moved his fingers in smaller and smaller circles and the hole in the doughnut shaped cloud shrank, flattening like a rotary blade. It closed on the rope and Aleksei could feel the rope’s fibres give way bit by bit.
“Just a little more!” he hissed. Then he heard a snap and he fell forward. He released his hands from their bonds and rubbed his forehead where it had struck the floor. He gingerly examined his raw wrists. He flexed them carefully and found they were in working order, though a bit painful.
Standing, he peeked out a small window in the door looking into the galley. He saw a crewman cooking by the stove.
What do I do now? he wondered, looking around for anything he could use.
As if to answer his question, on the top shelf, directly above where he had been tied up were several gallons of water. “Well, let’s see how rusty I am.”
The cook was a short and slight fellow who seemed very absorbed with his task. He was so focused that he didn’t hear the creaky hinge of the pantry door open or the nervous exit of the prisoner. Aleksei would have slipped away had the cook not turned to grab the jar of cumin.
Their eyes widened in surprise as the two of them stared at each other. Neither of them moved, each of them measuring up their opponent.
The cook was the one to make the first move and he took a quick step towards the door.
“Niet,” Aleksei hissed as he spread his arms like wings then gracefully pushed them forward. The caps on the water jugs burst off and a moment later, four serpentine streams of vapour slithered forward. At first the mist acted erratically, smashing into cupboards, containers, but after a moment of frantic adjustment Aleksei regained control. In just a few seconds the mists navigated around the kitchen until all four streams slammed the small man atop the counter. Aleksei ran forward, grabbing a knife, pressing it to the cook’s neck.
“Shhh,” Aleksei said in unison with the two streams of vapour twisting behind him.
The cook’s eyes rolled up in their sockets and he collapsed to the floor.
“Prigodniy,” convenient, Aleksei muttered, having been completely unsure what to do next.
Where is he? Evan wondered. He had been down every dock and asked around. None of the dock workers or fishermen said they had seen him. A bad feeling crept up on him. Did the Association track us down? Or worse yet, Senti-. No you’re overreacting. He has to be around here.
A deafening horn blast filled the air. A large barge was beginning its preparations for departure. Evan ran towards it, Aleksei could be anywhere, but if he was somewhere on that ship, or any of the other departing ships, he would soon be out of reach. He got close enough to read the ship’s name, Westsea.
“Stop!” he yelled, but the engines drowned him out. He resisted the urge to use his power and fly. Instead, after a moment of rational thought he hurried towards the port authority office.
Aleksei slinked into the small space between one of the cargo containers on the deck, and the ship’s outer railing. He looked down the hull of the ship and considered shimmying down the cable below him to the dock. He lurched to the side slightly as he heard the engines roar to life. It’s moving! He watched as the cables retracted into the hull. There goes that option. He thought ruefully.
He leaned against the crate. In just a little while he would be stranded in the middle of the sea, trying to hide from a shipload of crewmembers collectively intent on covering up a murder of a man he had barely seen. He considered crying for help while he still had a chance of being heard, but he decided against it, since the crew would doubtless notice the ruckus.
He considered if he could survive jumping from the deck to waters below. As he was half way between taking a leap and hesitating for a less height involved option, a faint noise caught his attention. He pressed his back to the crate and looked around, seeing no one. Again he heard it, this time he could tell the sound was coming from behind him. He turned his head, pressing his ear to the crate. It sounded like something was clicking, fidgeting, shifting. Livestock? If so that could be a good distraction. He walked towards the stern of the ship and ensured the coast was clear before unlatching the crate’s large metal door.
He peeked into the darkness, trying to make out what was inside. He heard what he thought was a sneeze and a whimper. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on edge as a tingle ran down his spine.
He swung open the door and light flooded into the small space. His eyes met twelve other frightened pairs. The children gasped and made suppressed shrieks in fear. Aleksei was frozen in place. They were dressed in torn, thin cotton, shivering in the cool air while huddled amidst old blankets. None of them looked more than eight years old.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” he asked, though the cold, sick feeling in his gut already gave him the answer. After getting over his initial shock, he began to realise what was going on. Human trafficking, the pleasanter term for slavery, coined by the so-called “developed world,” and these children were the cargo.
The children looked between themselves then back at the new arrival.
One of them, a boy who was obviously older than his tiny body would suggest, stood and spoke up in clear English, “We were bought.”
“I see.” he replied blankly. His skin lost its colour and he felt faint as he tried to wrap his mind around what he saw. Sold? Children? They- they are only kids? What could bring people to do this? He was so absorbed in his reeling mind that he jumped when he heard the young boy’s voice.
“What are you going to do?” the boy asked.
Though they were simple words, Aleksei was struck with the gravity of the statement. He hung his head, as if an anchor was weighing it down. What am I going to do? He let go of the door and the wind began to blow it close. No, that’s the wrong question. What am I supposed to do? He ran over his options, I could try to escape, and contact the authorities, but… I don’t even know where we are.
The light into the crate began to shrink into a narrow line. The boy stood staring, intent on the diminishing line of light.
If I leave, Aleksei thought, I could… He looked into the boy’s almost vanished face but saw the flickering flame of hope in the child’s eye.
He slammed the door all the way open, “I’m going to help you!” he declared resolutely. With the energy of birds rising with the sun, after an age of darkness, the children’s faces lit up, their dreams of salvation lit anew by a single small teen who said the five simple words.
“Please, stand back, and don’t be scared.” Aleksei ordered as he turned, looking at the receding shoreline. He bent down extending his left foot straight ahead then he stood up raising his hands to the sky. A stream of vapour, half a metre in diameter appeared over the edge of the deck and wrapped around Aleksei.
The children gasped in awe. Aleksei turned and smiled, more confidently than he felt, “I’m going to get you off this ship.” he promised. “And I’m going to do it with heaven’s rain.” The flickering faith in the children’s eyes was replaces with wonder and belief. Aleksei’s heart warmed from their gazes. I don’t want that faint shine to vanish from their eyes; that childlike belief of a world that is still good. For them, I will be their miracle.
Then he knelt down and put his hand to the deck. The vapour flattened and spread out on the floor like a web. Nostalgia rushed upon him as he felt a sensation like his nerves had left his body to creep along the ground. He had not felt this power in months, and the exhilaration made him want to laugh aloud in joy. He was whole once again. He reached his maximum range of detection, feeling anything which obstructed or invaded his vapour web like a breeze on his skin. With this could tell that there were only three of the crew on the deck. He also located the entrance to the bridge.
His mind worked quickly as he tried to establish a plan. Like pieces of a puzzle, his next moves fell into place. There were still missing parts, but he would have to come up with them later.
“Boy, what’s your name?” he said, turning to the English speaker.
“Lemuel,” the boy replied proudly, standing at attention.
Aleksei nodded in recognition, addressing the child as a subordinate, “Sergeant Lemuel, I need you to do exactly what I say and relay it to the others, do they all speak your language?”
“Yes, we all know some Ibo.”
“Excellent,” he said. “Stay here, and I will come and get you when it’s time. There will be a lot of noise, but be quiet and keep them calm, understood my little sergeant?”
“Yes sir,” the boy saluted then turned and beckoned to the other children, spreading the message. They nodded in agreement then sat in a circle and bowed their heads, whispering prayers.
“Sharp lad,” Aleksei muttered as he whispered his own petition. “Hear that, God? I have twelve children imploring you, so give me the blessing of Sister Heaven, and the strength of Brother Sea.”
He left them, and as he did, a new emotion erupted in his chest, wrath. He felt the weight of an invisible sword in his hand, one which he wanted to use to enact judgement. He reigned in his malicious thoughts, cleared his mind, and prepared for what he was about to do.
Stealthily he ran between the crates, being careful to remain out of sight of anyone who could be on the upper deck of the bridge. He felt relief as his senses came in contact with the sea, and felt the potential to evaporate kilolitres at a time. Stopping at a corner, he felt a drop of water on the back of his neck. He looked up, the formerly blue sky had vanished, replaced by dark clouds. Rain began to fall gradually, but it was enough to fill in the final pieces of his puzzle. Sea and Heaven are on my side.
He bent over and drew out the knife he had taken from the kitchen and looked out at the closest crew member about five metres away. Yet again that new, hot sensation entered his chest, and suddenly he didn’t know what he was going to do, but he knew that it would involve harming in some way all that had caused the children pain.
He stopped himself and sighed calmly. “Stick to the plan.” he whispered, lowering the blade. This is a time to fight, but not a time to kill, yet. If they give me one excuse…
He slid in closer, pressing himself up against the wall of the cabin area. He could feel the water around him, in the air, on the ground, and in the sea, ready and waiting to do his bidding. He raised his unarmed hand towards the sailor.
A clanking noise made his heart jump. He looked back to see a door opening behind him. The white door had blended almost perfectly with the wall. There was no time to wait, he had to act now or be caught.
He ran forward his feet clanking loudly on the deck. His intended target turned in surprise and raised his hands defensively.
Aleksei dodged to the side just before he reached the sailor and ran to the railing overlooking the water on the port side.
More of the crew came out of the cabin and soon they were standing in a wide half circle around him. The captain’s face split into a wide, patronising grin. He laughed, followed by the laughter of the other crew mates.
“Somehow this is funny?” Aleksei asked, raising the kitchen knife in a defensive position.
“Well, yes, it is.” the captain replied. “You went to the trouble of escaping and now you can’t go anywhere. And all you have is a little piece of tin to defend yourself.”
Aleksei nodded in agreement. “It’s true that I have nowhere to go. However, you‘re wrong to think I just have this knife.” Aleksei bent his knees, extended one foot and spun, then stood up, raising his hands towards the sky.
The men laughed harder at the sudden display, muttering how the knock on the boy’s head must have addled him; that was until they heard the hiss which vibrated in their chest and rattled among the chain bundles. They looked around, wondering where the noise was coming from. In a sudden burst behind Aleksei a twisting pillar of mist rose several metres above him. As the sailors uttered cries and exclamations, the column bent at the top like the head of a serpent. It’s head turned side to side as if trying to locate its victim, mimicking Aleksei‘s movement, as if being held by a tether. Then it charged down swerving over the deck hitting the man to the furthest left and wove between the men taking down another person, leaving tiny cuts all over the points of impact.
The ship was engulfed in pandaemonium as the men dashed in all directions to avoid the ephemeral serpent. Once they were split up Aleksei evaporated the water on the deck, engulfing the area in fog.
Now one by one he proceeded to strike with the mist, centring on their heads and abdomens in order to knock them down quickly. After several chaotic moments of crew members being tossed about like marbles in a pin-ball machine, there was just one man standing. Aleksei could feel the facial features to every wrinkle, and recognised him as the captain.
“I have a special fate for you,” Aleksei said, his voice low and haunting. He heard the man gasp, and the pleasure that sound gave him gave him pause. Aleksei liked this, to have control over someone else’s fear, especially someone who fed off of others. The fog swirled around him, becoming excited by the terror of its next victim, rippling his clothing and hair.
The captain’s eyes roved all around, but the blinding fog was everywhere, he could not even tell where he was on the deck. It was like the world had disappeared, he couldn’t even see anything below his waist. He heard the fair boy’s voice again, drifting through the clouds.
“There are many things I want to do to you.” the voice dripped with evil intent. “I want to make you feel the guilt of your sins.”
He whirled around, smacking into a crate. He clutched his throbbing head, his ears ringing from the impact. He could hear the muted footsteps, but he could not pinpoint their direction, all they were to him was a steady sound, beating out a flat rhythm, like that of a funeral march or a ticking clock.
“I want to see you fall down and repent.” the boy said, a strange pain in his voice. “But alas, even your repentance, would be simply out of fear. I wouldn‘t get to hear the whispers of your heart, that conscience that sleeps deep inside you. I want to rip it out, and revel in your tears.” A sobbing, crazed laugh filled the air. It ended with a gasp and sigh that made a tingle run down the captain’s back.
The captain knew he was not facing a human being anymore. They had captured a Kokou, a spirit of violence, encased in a human shell. The boy’s malice, which made the air hard to breath, and his spectacular powers proved it. When he had first seen the fair youth, he could feel a presence, like he was only partly residing in this world. The young man, concealed in the mist, was a destroying spirit, enacting his holy retribution, no doubt sent by a mystic relative of his cargo.
“Please,” the captain said. “mercy!” words tumbled from his mouth as he slipped into his native tongue.
“Ah,” Aleksei sighed joyfully, “You’re afraid… you should be.” Aleksei raised his hand and reached out mentally to form a wall of mist before him. He pulled his hand back, then shot it forward. The wall passed forward invisibly compressing the fog before it and becoming stronger as it moved. It slammed into the captain’s side, and Aleksei could feel him fall back and roll over the deck.
“Now, one more time!” he yelled as he ran forward then spun in the air lashing out at the mist with his leg, the vapour followed his motion, extending out three metres and striking the bent-over man like a giant club.
The captain tumbled, then got up, stretching his hands in front of him and ran. He felt the steps move in pursuit. He screamed for help, but there were no answers. He was alone, in the white void. He tripped over something and fell hard. He coughed, struggling to breath as he carefully got up on his knees.
“Listen,” he cried, “I will let them go, all of them! Just leave, take them and go back to the world where you came. I, I was only trying to-” his voice cut out, unsure how to word his statement. All his reasoning suddenly felt hollow, and fake, and incapable of appeasing the spirit’s wrath.
“Trying to what?” the voice hissed sharply.
He looked the direction of the voice and saw Aleksei’s face just behind his shoulder.
The captain couldn’t say a thing, his words were stuck, terror was tightening around his windpipe. He was pulled back by his collar and forced to lay down.
Aleksei hovered over him. “You can’t think of a justification, can you? You took the light from those children, they can never see the world in the same happiness again.”
The man heard a scraping metallic sound, he looked next to him and saw the kitchen knife be dragged on its edge until it came to a stop next to his face.
“Now,” Aleksei said, “since you placed them in that small, cramped darkness, I’m going to put you in a dark place, one that you can never escape.”
The man’s breath hitched as a sob escaped his throat. He could only watch as the tip of the knife pointed down at his eye.
A dark smile spread across the Aleksei’s face. He was about to lower the knife when he saw the man’s eyes, or more specifically, what he could see in them. He could see his own face, a horrible, evil expression spread over it, like a mask.
He gasped in horror and scooted away. He sat back, dropping the knife next to him as he held his face in his hands. He sobbed in terror as he remembered what he saw, that foreign expression leering back at him. He beheld his reflection in the knife, focusing on his eyes, as if trying to see into his soul, and find where that terrible face had come from.
He felt like a monster, worse yet, all these people saw him as one. In his heart he had called them beasts, but now he questioned if he was any better. After calming himself he stood up. He sighed and moved back towards the crate. He nudged the captains arm with his foot, but the man didn’t respond, passed out from relief.
Aleksei set his jaw angrily and walked. One of the crew members ventured to stand up and look at the blank world around them. As Aleksei passed by, he shot his hand out and the mist slammed into the unfortunate fellow, returning him to the floor.
Aleksei rested his hand against the crate wall and sighed. He put on a weak smile and came around the corner, opening the door.
“You can come out now,” he said tiredly. “But be quiet, and everyone, hold each other’s hands.”
“Yes sir,” Lemuel replied, then translated the instructions.
All of the children made a line and Aleksei lead them out and to the door into the cabin. He cracked open the entrance and fog poured into the space, crawling through the rooms, down the stairs, and into any other corners. He wanted to make sure the coast was clear.
“It’s safe, everyone follow me, we are going to go up some stairs.” Aleksei waited for James to translate, then walked in. At the top of the stairs, he let the vapour creep under the door to the bridge. The children watched silently in wonderment.
No one. He sighed in relief. The bridge crew were probably the first to see me, so they came down. There can’t be many people working on the ship.
He lead them into the bridge and latched the door shut.
Then he walked over to the radio. It was an old model, but not dissimilar to the one of John’s plain.
When he saw the children‘s blank faces, he said encouragingly, “Hey, we’re getting out of here! You‘re going to be free.”
One at a time, the children chanced a smile, and then a relieved chuckle. Their smiles were infectious and Aleksei grinned despite his formerly grim state of mind.
He picked up the receiver and broadcasted, “Calling port authority to report a case of human trafficking aboard the ship Westsea.”
He waited, and within moments a reply came. “This is the port authority, please state your co-ordinates and we will forward your message to the proper authorities.” the male voice replied.
“We are at, err… I don‘t know… please send backup, the perpetrators are currently subdued.”
“What is your name?” the voice asked.