Chekhov approached the company car which would take him to the airport. He heard a commotion from above and looked up. He could see a person standing at the edge of the roof.
“Is that-?” he paused, “Maryja?”
He saw her lean backwards and enter into a free fall down the ten story building. He heard a girl whisper in his ear, “Fly!”
As she plummeted through space, Mashka expected any second to feel the brief impact with the pavement. She felt an odd curiosity, 'What would it feel like, that moment when I touch the pavement, the instant between life and death?'
'Why did I jump anyway?' She felt slightly amused that she was having such afterthoughts. It was an action out of helplessness and spite, an extra helping of the latter in particular.
She found it interesting that she was not being pelted by the rain anymore, but simply falling with it, so she could see every little droplet suspended above her. She resigned herself to fate, after allowing a second to enjoy this one-time beauty of being surrounded by a sea of prismatic beads.
'Any moment now.' She closed her eyes, waiting for the pain of reaching the sidewalk below. But she made contact with something far softer than cement. Opening her eyes she realised she was still in the air, the ground several metres away. Around her waist and shoulders, she could feel the tight embrace of an unknown saviour.
When she turned her head to behold her unexpected champion, she was surprised to see Chekhov. Furthermore, he was flying. 'This can’t be right. Am I dead, or dreaming? And whichever one is the case, why is he here?'
Chekhov flew around the building and down an alley across the street. The motion made her heart jump and her head spin from the inertia.
Finally finding her voice, she shouted “You can fly!?”
“Hold tight! This landing is going to be rough.” Chekhov warned her.
She followed her instinct and hugged him tightly. She looked towards their intended destination. He was heading right into the side of an abandoned apartment building.
He raised his open palm in front of him.
'The superman routine?!' she thought, 'Is this guy for real? We are going to die and he’s trying to look cool?!'
Just before the two were to smash into the brick wall, Chekhov diverted towards a window. Something invisible erupted from his extended palm causing the glass to shatter before them, and they tumbled into an empty bedroom.
Tears gathered in Aleksei’s eyes. He was almost ready to break down from the sorrow billowing in his chest. But he noticed everyone turn their eyes towards him. Looking into their faces, his grief and fear were replaced with wrath. He crossed his forearms then flung them out horizontally. The falling rain and water on the roof evaporated and rushed in a wave, blowing everyone over. Then as he raised his hand, the entire roof disappeared into a cotton-ball cloud.
Gritting his teeth resolutely, he ran towards the edge and jumped. Spinning, he flung out his arms, directing a large column of mist to launch him into the air. He burst out of the cloud, twisting his body around to face forward. Before him was the closest building outside of the Association's grounds. With the help of another burst of vapour just as he began to fall, he tumbled and rolled onto the other roof. The cloud crashed atop of him and billowed over the edge of the roof like a sluggish waterfall. He lay panting where he stopped, and with every breath, he felt the bruises that covered his body from the landing.
Next to death, heights were his greatest fear. Yet just now he had, for a moment, conquered the heights. It was both an exhilarating and terrifying experience. Gingerly he rose, and looked at the cloud enshrined headquarters. He needed to get away before the mist cleared, and find his sister, or her corpse.
'God, I know this is asking too much, but please let my sister be alive!'
Chekhov got up from against the wall. Just before contact, he had twisted around so he would act as a cushion for Mashka. He felt pops and snaps all over his body as he stood up. After one last resonating crack, he offered a hand to Mashka. She took it and gingerly rose, favouring her left leg.
She averted her face from Chekhov’s view as she spoke, “You can fly?” Her voice was dangerously low, and carried a threatening lisp, as if her speech was obstructed.
“Wel-” he wasn’t able to finish because Mashka gave him a firm right hook to his cheek. Then she grabbed his neck and wrist, shook him, and pinned him against the wall, as her claws dug into his skin.
“You’re one of us!” she roared, raising her yellow eyes to his and baring her elongated canines.
He averted his gaze from her slit pupils, “Just calm dow-”
“Look at me!” she screamed, forcing him to make eye contact.
He complied, and met her gaze.
“You let them treat us this way, acting superior in your normalcy, and you are one of us!” Her body shook involuntarily, causing her claws to draw blood from Chekhov’s neck under her firm grip.
For a moment they just stared into one another’s eyes, his grey, hers yellow.
“You’re afraid,” she said in realisation, “You fear me, what I am, even though you are only another side of this coin.” Her face became a snarl as she spat out the last words, “They don’t know?”
“Nyet, they don’t,” he replied, being careful to maintain eye contact.
She continued in her canine induced lisp, “You deny who you are, so you can force others to be what you fear.” Her hand loosened, and finally released him.
Chekhov breathed in deeply. He watched as the girl’s expression turned to one of anguish and betrayal. Her final quiet phrase burned into his mind, “Despicable hypocrite.”
He could sense that she was about to cry. He raised a hand to touch her shoulder. It was smacked away and she opened her mouth to reprimand him again, but she stumbled backwards, her face contorted in agony. Not knowing what to do, he watched as her body returned to normal. She fell to her knees and wept in pain and relief.
Chekhov crouched down and hesitantly put his hand on her shoulder. “Are you alright? I mean, you aren’t hurt, are you?” he asked.
She calmed herself and wiped her eyes. Brushing her hair back, she stared at the wall blankly.
“Feeling better?” he asked with a kind, sideways smile.
She looked up at him and matter-of-factly stated, “I’m going to throw up.”
“Um,” he looked around in panic and saw the bathroom door. He put her arm over his neck and he brought her to the sink, where she promptly began evacuating the contents of her stomach.
Wincing at the spectacle, he excused himself, “I’ll wait out here.” He walked back into the bedroom and sat on the bed. His neck hurt from the bruises and scratches made by Mashka‘s claws. He removed his tie and unfastened his top button to relieve any pressure on the injuries. He gingerly brushed the healing gashes on his cheek and reflected that he would be scratched to ribbons if he kept on Miss Sharova's bad side.
Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and removed the battery. The Association would try to track him as soon as they discovered he was gone. Things were not going well for him. As soon as The Administrator put two and two together, they would realise the only way that Mashka could have survived, was that a jinn had saved her. And the fact that he disappeared at the same time, was too convenient. Not to mention that his driver probably saw him take off into the air.
His hands were shaking. It had been so long since he had flown. He had even forgotten that he could. At least until the self-proclaimed “Apparition” told him to. All those memories of his past came back in an instant, painful memories.
Mashka emerged from the bathroom, her face washed and her hair put in relative order. She walked over to Chekhov and sat down next to him.
They sat in complete silence for what seemed like an eternity, looking at everything else in the room except each other. The sun peeked through the clouds, warming their rain-soaked backs.
Finally Mashka asked. “When did you find out you could fly?”
“I was twelve.” he replied, “I, I loved it, too. However, I stopped when I lost…” his voice trailed off before he continued. “-- someone important. Haven’t flown since. I guess I presumed it to be a childhood fantasy, and forgot about it.”
“Huh,” Mashka replied. “Even so, I wouldn’t just forget that I flew.”
He shrugged his shoulders and asked, “But when you were a kid, did you not think Father Christmas was real, but as you grew up you forgot about how strong that belief was?”
“No,” she answered simply, “I was Jewish until I was fifteen. We didn’t have Christmas. But I think I understand what you’re saying.”
Chekhov nodded, feeling stupid for forgetting what he read in her profile.
Mashka looked up to the wall in front of them, absent-mindedly brushing the broken glass under the bed with her shoe. She gripped her knees tightly, trying to hold back her tears of shame.
“What is it?” Chekhov asked, concerned.
Through her sobs she spoke, “By jumping, I decided to end it all. But all I did was selfishly leave my little brother behind. I am no better than you.”
Chekhov watched quietly as the girl tried to compose herself. He wanted to find something kind to say to her, but nothing seemed appropriate.
At last her sobs faded away and she looked at him with new determination. “So,” she asked, “what do we do now?”
“Probably the best thing would be to find your brother.”
She nodded, remaining silent for a moment. Finally she muttered a question, “So that’s it?” she said with a critical gaze. “We rescue my brother, and you just join up with us? We ride off into the sunset like a perfect American western? You have already violated my trust once. What’s to keep you from doing it again?” She still could not help but feel suspicious. She even contemplated knocking him out and heading out alone. 'But he did save my life,' she reminded herself. 'And I know nothing about this city.'
Chekhov looked her in the eyes, for two reasons. First, it was polite and, more importantly, he would like to have an early warning if she went berserk, as the eyes seemed to be the first sign. “Perhaps the fact that I have nowhere else to go. They did not know I had an ability. I have wanted to get out of the business for a long time anyway. And frankly you don’t have a chance without me.”
“What do you mean by that?” Mashka challenged.
“Because, unlike you, I have connections here and abroad. If you want to disappear, I am your man.” he said pointing at his chest confidently.
Mashka nodded, “Very well, I believe you. And since you so obviously have a keen sense of self-preservation, then hear this. If you ever seem like you are double-crossing me,” she accented each syllable of her last phrase with a firm poke to his chest, “I will tear out your entrails and feed them to you!"
He nodded, “I’m not going to cross you, I swear.”
Looking at his face she could tell he was being honest. She sighed and said, “If you’re a man of your word, there is no reason to swear, ‘Let your da be da and your nyet be nyet. Now, how do you suggest we find Aleksei?”
He shrugged nonchalantly, “Misplaced clouds would be start.”
“I regret this already.” Mashka answered wearily, however she was unable to squash a slight smile.