Two Months Later
Golden rays of morning sun danced across the moors and vales of Aberdeenshire, spreading warmth over the green hills and the violet heather.
Mashka rose from her kneeling position before the window, brushing back her dyed-golden locks, which shimmered in the sunlight, repositioning her blue headscarf. For the past two months, she had been observing this ritual every morning and evening, and once again, she felt that God was listening to her prayers. Where there was once emptiness, there was now joy.
She looked in the mirror atop her dresser, looking closely at her eyes. The pupils were still slightly oval shaped, but no casual observer would notice anything odd. For a few weeks, her pupils had remained slits, but it seemed, bit by bit, any sign of abnormalities was disappearing, and along with it, that beast she had felt crawling under her skin. She was normal again. Chekhov had explained to her that the drug The Association had used to release her abilities may have only been a temporary fix, and without further exposure, she might never exhibit abilities again. She would not miss them.
Smiling, she walked out of her room and to the kitchen to fish breakfast out of the refrigerator for Aleksei and Chekhov, or Evan, as she now knew him. It still felt strange calling him ‘Evan.’ In some way, she still saw him as her new English professor, which was an odd way of thinking, considering she was now living with said person under the assumption that he was their 'third cousin by marriage' who sponsored their immigration.
So many changes.
She was about to walk into the bathroom since the door was open, but she stopped herself when she noticed Evan was in there putting on his T-shirt, his back facing her. She spun around, still not used to having someone else in the house, besides her brother. But she stopped. 'What was that on his back?' She looked behind her, just as his shirt covered up a large purple welt.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
He glanced back at her, “Oh, well, I was young and it was a bet.” He winced when he felt her small hand press against the bruise, and then it dawned on him. “Oh, you mean that. I got injured at… work.”
“Work, huh?” Mashka’s eyebrow rose in doubt. “Aleksei hit you while sparring, didn’t he?”
“Well, --er,” he shrugged.
Mashka started to hunt down Aleksei when she stopped, seeming to notice something, and looked back at Evan. “What did you think I would be asking about, besides that giant welt?”
Evan’s eyes shifted, and he mustered an innocent I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about smile.
“Uh huh,” she said suspiciously. However, she kept on track and charged down the hall, and to the front door.
Aleksei heard his name called over the rolling Scottish heath. He turned and saw Mashka standing in the doorway of the house, her hands on her hips.
“What did I do now?” he muttered, as he ran down the May blossomed hills.
Evan hurried behind Mashka, trying to explain and finish buttoning his shirt, “Listen, I was just teaching him some new moves. I did not react in time, that’s all!”
Aleksei arrived, wincing when he saw Mashka’s disapproving eye.
“Aleksei,” she reprimanded, “do be more careful! Evan is not a spring chicken and if you are not more careful you could harm him at his age.” she gestured towards Evan’s waist.
Evan bristled at her bringing up his age. “I’ll let you know I’m not that old! I have only just turned thirty-nine. Don’t place me in an early grave!”
“Yes Aleksei,” Mashka continued, “like Evan said, don’t put him into an early grave.”
Evan moaned. 'Quite selective hearing...'
“I was just practising a new technique,” Aleksei tentatively defended himself.
“Well it was a success, does that make your happy?” Mashka retorted. “Now, eat your breakfast and I have your lunches packed.”
Both of them had adorable guilty expressions. Mashka could not compose herself any longer, and she was overcome with laughter.
Aleksei look stunned. It was the first time he had heard her laugh in what seemed like an eternity. It was so beautiful, music to his ears. He knew she was happy.
Soon both of the men were out the door, riding in the car down the small highway. Aleksei and Evan both had jobs as boat repairmen on the Aberdeen docks while Mashka studied for her certificate in structural inspection. The pay was reasonable, and the job was low key. They avoided all unneeded attention.
Aleksei gazed in the passenger side mirror at his brown hair. He and his sister switched hair colours, as it would make them harder to identify. They had even dyed their eyebrows. He felt like he was looking at someone else's reflection.
“What are you thinking about Nikita?” Evan asked using Aleksei’s alias.
“Just how things have changed,” Aleksei began, “It’s almost like life has returned to normal. It’s routine now, just in Scotland. Work, sleep, church, maybe someday in the future I’ll marry some Scottish girl, have children, die, and it’ll all be as if nothing happened two months ago.”
“Is normal so bad? Or has the thrill of danger made you an addict?”
The young man sighed, “That’s not it. I just feel so restless, like it’s not over. But my body seems to be saying that it is. I can’t control my ability any more. I know how to move vapour but I can't, like my fuel line has been severed. I can feel the power there, but it keeps dancing just out of reach and it does not flow through me like it used to. I am glad Mashka is free of powers, since it puts her at peace, but I hoped my power had a purpose. I am not finished being a Jinn.”
“Well,” Evan began, “all of this did do something. I would have never met you. We’re happy, and your sister is happy. Your abilities all had something to do with that.”
“No, God had everything to do with that,” Aleksei corrected. He noticed Evan purse his lips. Faith was still an uncomfortable subject with him. “But I see what you’re saying. And you can call me Aleksei, we aren’t at work yet.”
Evan shook his head and explained, “We might as well practice before we get there. I don’t want to slip up and call you by the wrong name on our first day, post-probation.”
Aleksei nodded in surrender.
Evan continued. “You know, on missions I would not even use my old name in private. It’s rather lenient to have you two call each other by your old names at home. But then again, we are not on a mission. We’re hiding, and will be for a long time.”
For a while, the ride was quiet. Aleksei had found that Evan was the worst person at small talk. If it was not important, there was no point to bringing it up. It made Aleksei miss his chats with Yegor. He wondered what his friend was up to at that moment, which just succeeded in reminding him how far away he was.
“What do you suppose John Ingles is up to?”
“You know, there’s something you should realise about John. He’s a drifter. He will probably get into some sort of trouble while he’s at it, and then in a few weeks, months, or years, he will show up and collect on that debt we owe him. Then it’ll be our turn to do the rescuing.”
Aleksei chuckled, “Then I’ll be sure to pray that he finds a woman, she’ll keep him in line, because if he does get in a bind and call in a favour, I am going to be broke for life, trying to repay what he did for us.”
“I suppose so.” Evan agreed, “Every guy needs an anchor, otherwise he’s bound to get in trouble. At least I’m covered now. Between you and your sister, I’ll have my hands full for a while.”
Aleksei smiled at Evan. He remembered the days he was wary of him. Now, it was as if they were meant to be in each other’s lives. Every day when he looked at his sister’s smile, or at Evan’s thoughtful eyes, he felt at peace.
The young man looked out the window, as the port city of Aberdeen appeared around the bend. God had sent so many trials, and looking back, all of them brought something new to their lives. Evan had a sense of purpose and was happy, still a heathen, but happy. Mashka found her laughter, and he had noticed her whispering prayers continually, though he still wanted her to make some friends. Looking at himself, Aleksei realised he was looking forward to the future. He no longer dwelt on his mother. Instead he looked forward to a pleasant, if unremarkable, future. But deep in his heart burned a desire, the drive to discover more about what had happened two months ago. However, he had a whole life ahead of him to fulfil this desire. One day, he would be the hunter, and the Association would be the hunted. A glint of secret malice flashed in his eyes as silent voices echoed within his mind.
Back at the house, Mashka poured over her text books, preparing for the test later that month. Now that Aleksei and Evan had jobs, she spent the days alone, resuming her life ambition. However even though she stayed at home, she was not bored. She had a garden, and a cat that Evan had given her as a gift, who she named Viktor the Second, after a grizzled, but well loved, pet she had as a girl. Between the garden, the cat, school, and chores, as well as books from the library, she was content. Her brother and Evan had tried many times to get her out of the house more, but she never felt comfortable since they were in hiding. She preferred being reclusive, to giving herself away by mistake, and deep down she was still frightened of herself.
She heard a car drive up and park. “The boys must have forgotten something.” she said to herself as she walked to the door.
Much to her amazement, when she opened the door she was met by two women. The one standing closer to the door lowered her hand; she had been just about to knock. She was young and her shoulder length, brown hair bounced about like a child. “Oh, hello!” she greeted with a huge smile. “My mother and I heard we had neighbours, so we decided to drop by and give our greeting. I ken that it’s a little late for a house warming, but we only realised it now. Our house is over the hill, yonder.”
Mashka did not know what to say, as she strained to hear past the Scottish accent, and recovered from the surprise meeting. “Ah,” she said in acknowledgement.
The nervous young woman kept smiling at her. Realising she was not breaking any ice, she turned to make way for her mother, a grey haired woman with kind blue eyes.
“Good day, lass,” the mother said, “my name is Barrie, and this lass is my daughter Rebecca. We brought some vittles, if you are interested. Oatmeal raisin biscuits and some stew.”
The fragrant scents reached Mashka’s nostrils, reminding her of her manners. She gave a wide grin back, “Come in, Gaspazha, er, madam.” She stumbled over her words, trying to keep her Russian and English straight. After the women entered, she showed them to the couch in the living room. “I’m sorry for seeming cold; I just don’t talk to others much these days. I don’t know any people around here. Oh pardon me, my name is Tatiana.”
“Do you mind me asking where you are from?” Barrie asked, “You have a beautiful accent.”
Mashka smiled at the prying, but friendly compliment. “I’m from Archangelsk, Russia. I just recently immigrated with my brother.”
“Oh how exciting!” Rebecca exclaimed, “I have never met anyone from that far away.”
Much to Mashka’s surprise, the next few hours were spent chatting with the two women. In the end, they made plans to meet again, so they could show her around town.
Mashka hesitated a moment before she answered, “Da, I would like that.”
The Administrator sat at the head of a long table. He looked younger than he did two months ago, having trimmed his beard to give himself an even sharper appearance. He exuded confidence, smiling at the others sitting around the table. Anya Aho, who now had longer reddish brown hair, The Czech, and The Messenger sat on The Administrator’s right side.
On the left were two new faces. The first was a man with shoulder length, golden hair, delicate facial features, and oval, white-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a pale blue turtle-neck that clung to his narrow frame. He sat with perfect posture, his eyes almost closed, as if he was deep in thought. Next to him, was a far less delicate looking man with tanned skin, wearing a black T, showing many tattoos on muscular arms, from cheeks to Adam's apple he sported a short, but very thick, black beard. He leaned his chin on his fist and tapped out his impatience with his fingers on the table.
Everyone was silent as The Administrator drank from a glass of water. He wiped his face, and looked up. Each person at the table felt like he was making eye contact. “I have had some disturbing reports from our operatives in the west and the east. It seems that our enemies to the west have received news of the original Association’s collapse. Because of Hamid and his comrades, we have between seventy and ninety Jinn living their everyday lives, who at any moment could manifest. And none of them are protected.
“Now that the little spawn of NATO has raised its ugly face, we must change our agenda. From this point on, we need to find, examine, and if we must, capture any and all Jinn that we can hunt down. If we don’t there will soon be a bloodbath. Our last priority is using the Jinn. If the Jinn are eliminated, so is our power, and with it our chance to collapse the West.
“So, despite how distasteful this may be to some of you,” he glanced pointedly at Anya and the large man, “This is a mission of mercy. They are people who are, or soon will be in distress. The time for determining their value will be later.”
“So we’re going to act the guardian angels,” the large man sneered. If any of the others agreed with him, they knew not to show it.
“Now, Bruno, no need to sound so demeaning. That is only half of the plan. In our quest for the Jinn we will likely run into the SICA operatives. And we can trace them back up the chain, and destroy what remains. Then, once again, the Jinn will be our little secret, and the clock will tick to the foreseen day of reckoning.”
“Seems like a good enough plan,” The Czech replied, “I always did appreciate a good hunt.”
The Administrator smiled. “Just be certain to differentiate your prey between those we want dead, and those we want alive,” he warned.
“So is that all, sir?” Anya asked politely.
“For the most part,” The Administrator replied, looking closely at his much-subdued femme fatale, “The specifics of the plan will be ready tomorrow. But before everyone leaves, there is just one more thing. You five are going to add a new member to your group.”
The Messenger’s head turned underneath its hood, and though no one could see its expression, its distaste was more than evident. “Why? We have always been the five, why is another necessary?”
“I think the word “docks” might ring a bell.” the older man replied.
A low hiss emitted from the dark recesses of the hood.
“Now, the rest of you should save your judgement until you meet your new tovarisch.” He turned his attention towards the door at the opposite end of the room. “You may enter!”
The five waited tensely hearing a set of confident footsteps approach. Anya and the Messenger bristled in surprise. Before them, stood Aleksei Sharov.
“Subject two!?” Anya exclaimed as she gripped her chair.
The blond boy looked at her with piercing copper eyes. “You are mistaken Gzha. Aho. My name is Vladimir.” He turned his searing gaze to The Administrator. “Honoured to make your acquaintances.”
Reset, reset, reset, reset, reset, reset, reset…
How long shall we be trapped in this endless game?
Behold, the next advent appr…oach…es… reset…
Let us out!
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Thank you dear readers, this has been an exciting ride. Future stories are on their way, and I am thrilled to begin again.