Remembering the Vanished
Yegor sat miserably alone in the cafeteria. The stench of smoke still remained from yesterday. The fire was small, and had only barely damaged a couple rooms towards the back of the second story. The rooms above and below that section had been roped off in case of structural instability. Other than that, the school was operating right on schedule, though a few students stayed home to ‘recover’ from the shock.
Aleksei was among those absent, leaving the events of yesterday still fresh in Yegor’s head. His best friend had superpowers, was being chased by agents, and the last time he had seen him, Aleksei was riding off to rescue his sister. He looked out the windows and wondered if he had succeeded in his mission. He wished that he had gone along, not just to help his friend, but also get in on a little more of the action. Deep inside, he knew that whatever happened, he would not be seeing Aleksei for a very long time.
He wasn’t normally a religious person. He had long ago calculated that Aleksei was pious enough for both of them, an idea Aleksei protested vehemently, insisting that divine grace had no such mechanism. But despite his typical reasoning, Yegor whispered a prayer, desperately hoping there was a God to hear him. Oddly enough, he felt a little better, and a small voice somewhere told him that, perhaps, he would run into his friend again. He smiled at that thought. He really was pathetic. He relied more on Aleksei than he had ever imagined. Aleksei was always the calm one, in any storm. Now when the storms came, he would have to conquer them on his own.
“Anyone sitting here?” a gruff voice asked.
Yegor jumped at the sound of Radik’s familiar tone.
Radik plopped down next to him. “Where is Aleksei?”
“He’s gone, his sister too. They just disappeared.”
“You can tell me the truth later, I don’t mind. So… what now?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s funny.” Radik said.
“I was just reminded by what Gzha. Petrovna says sometimes; how life is like a play. People enter stage, and exit stage, but some players remain.”
Yegor was stunned at the large boy’s sudden poetic connection. “You sound like Aleksei.”
“Spasibo… I guess?”
'A play? Is this what growing up is like?' Yegor wondered.
Mashka’s eyes drooped as she pulled the kunai knives out of the target, when she heard a man enter and address Anya.
“Agent Aho, I’m sorry to intrude but Gzha. Sharova is needed elsewhere.”
The voice belonged to a handsome Tatar. His dark hair and complexion starkly contrasted with Anya’s. His hair was groomed to be slightly spiky and he had a short, trendy beard.
Anya smiled and replied, “No, we are finished here. Maryja,” she turned to face her, “This is Dr. Salaam.”
Mashka stayed still.
Anya sighed. “Relax, he’s just here for a small blood sample, check-up, etc..”
“My pleasure to meet you, Gzha Sharova.”
His smile immediately reminded her of the guard outside her room; very warm and disarming. She wondered if there was a college somewhere that taught courses on how to smile earnestly.
“A pleasure, Dr. Salaam,” Mashka greeted with a polite nod then followed him out of the chamber.
After the two left, Anya looked at the table of knives. Her expression darkened as she grabbed three kunai between her fingers on one hand, and threw them with all her might. One hit each of the targets, except the last which rattled off the wall with a loud clatter.
' That girl is meant to replace me!' She seethed, 'In a matter of hours she equals me use of knives, all because of those eyes. Have I been spent? Soon I will be meaningless to him!' Gritting her teeth, she felt a tingling around her eyes as they began to moisten. But before she allowed herself such a luxury, she clenched her fist and a cold, composed grin placated her face. 'Nyet, she’s not going to succeed me, because I’m going to destroy her!'
Mashka followed quietly behind the scientist, who was busily reading his notes. He turned his head and smiled kindly. For some reason the smile immediately calmed her. It wasn’t like Chekhov’s reserved and fake smile. This one was sincere, and did not hold some hidden meaning.
She followed him into the lab and sat in the chair he offered.
“Zdravstvuyte Gzha Sharova,” he greeted her following typical decorum, “My name is Dr. Salaam, but you can simply call me Hamid, if you prefer.”
He shook her hand as he explained, “I’m just going to take a blood sample to check for infections, foreign elements etc. You don’t have a phobia of needles, right?”
Mashka looked away and tried to distract herself. “Um is this really necessary?” she asked.
“Consider this just a check-up. Relax! I’m really good at this.” Mashka could hear his boyish grin.
Hamid continued to chat, “So, what do you think of your gift?”
“Huh?” Mashka was surprised by the question, “Well, I would not call it a gift. It can be very inconvenient at times. Example, I’m stuck here in this secret lair.”
Hamid chuckled, “It is wonderful, if you think about it. You could use it for so many things.”
“Or abuse it,” Mashka added.
“True,” he replied. “But isn’t that the same with any talent?”
She nodded in agreement. “Back to a previous subject, when are you going to put in the needle?”
“Already done,” Hamid gave her another kind smile.
She turned to see three vials of blood on the counter, a bandage on her arm, and the needle in question, was nowhere to be seen. “Wow, you are good.”
He smiled, “The trick to it all is to keep the patient distracted.”
His phrase got her thinking, and a concerned look crossed her face.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“What else is going to happen? I mean what are going to be my other tests?” Mashka asked nervously.
“That is a very good question.” he replied, “We are testing the limits of your ability and are hoping to find ways you could control and use it effectively. I assure you though, the test you had in that building is never going to happen again. Your parents certainly would not have approved of that. The Association has changed since they were involved. Now, they are more willing to take risks. Since you are here, though, there’s no reason to resort to such tactics.”
Mashka perked up at the mention of her parents. “Did you know them, my parents?” she asked.
“Actually, yes I did.” he nodded. “They were very kind people and I was good friends with your father.” he noticed her change of demeanour when he mentioned her dad. “I can understand that you are still hurting, aren’t you? Divorce is never a pretty thing. Even though they worked for us, it seems marital issues come up everywhere.”
Hamid felt the mood lean dangerously towards depressing, so he hurriedly changed the subject. “I’m going to take an overall check of your vitals and then it’ll be lunch time. And don’t worry, our cooks are excellent here.”
Mashka nodded, “Atlichna! I’m starving.”
Beredei’s yellow truck parked next to the sidewalk in one of the small suburbs of Western Moscow. Aleksei opened the door but Beredei grabbed his arm.
“Here,” he said, handing him some paper money, “Nine hundred roubles, use them wisely.”
Aleksei inclined his head gratefully, “Spasibo, sir.”
The young man hopped out of the car and then waved da svidanya, as the truck disappeared around the corner. Turning, Aleksei looked to the city. He had a long journey ahead, but already knew his first move. Why try to find them, when they would be searching for him anyway?
He touched the medallions through his clothes. Aleksei was never one to put much faith in charms or saints, but the prayers that the trinkets represented, gave him a calm resolution. He pulled the bill of his black cap low over his face.
Mashka, here I come!