In His Element
“I’m going to pound him.” she muttered for what was probably the hundredth time.
A spastic shiver rolled up and down her back. She turned her head to see The Messenger stood only a few centimetres away from her side.
She shrunk back quickly and gasped, “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Her face twisting in disgust, as she always did whenever the dark figure would happen across her path. Her immediate reaction was, however, squelched when she noticed it was not wearing the typical, daunting black. Instead it was wearing green slacks, a red and green striped shirt, and a black hood. Stranger still, was that it was standing upright, and came to just below her forehead, rather than its usual chest height.
“Why are you dressed up?” she asked, giving herself a mental kick for giving into curiosity, even when it involved this thing standing before her.
Its voiced whined and hissed from the void behind the hood, “Becaussse you and I are going hunting and I need to blend in… if only ssslightly. The Czech is coming asss well of courssse. We have a lead from the teamsss already sent out. Three people, of Chekhov’sss and the targetsss’ dessscriptionsss, were ssseen boarding a train to the north.”
“Excellent! Let’s get going then!” Anya exclaimed.
“Easssy on the earsss!” the messenger wheezed angrily.
“My apologies,” Anya replied, with what she knew was still an irritably loud voice.
After making one more, angry hiss, through which Anya could imagine The Messenger rolling its eyes, if it had them, it continued, “Anyway, The Czech isss waiting, and you know how he hatesss waiting.” it chucked, as if at some personal joke, though it sounded like a coughing fit.
A nervous Anya fell into step with The Messenger. At this moment, the creature seemed almost human in its mannerisms. And for the first time ever, it seemed willing to speak with her. She observed it as they walked. No longer crouched over, it appeared to have broad shoulders and a lengthy step. Judging by this, she figured “it” was probably a “he”… probably. But she still could not be certain because his, its, face and form were concealed. She wished she could be certain.
'Stop being so curious!' Her inner self yelled. 'Just a few moments ago, you were successfully irked about Chekhov. Let’s get back to that, shall we?'
Anya followed The Messenger out the door where they met The Czech leaning against a car in the front courtyard. He raised an eyebrow at The Messenger’s altered appearance. He glanced at Anya and she shrugged, expressing her mutual confusion. After this momentary diversion, The Czech returned to the task at hand, gesturing for them to enter the vehicle.
He drove to the nearest airport where a private jet was waiting for them. Aboard the airplane, they settled in the lounge. Anya flopped on the couch against the wall, and The Czech reclined in an overstuffed chair. The Messenger, taking their example, sat across from Anya on another couch. It lay down with its back towards her, and soon all that could be heard was its hissed breathing. Normally, Anya would groan in irritation, but her thoughts were elsewhere.
As the plane took off, she thought of how many different hypothetical situations that could leave her partner innocent. 'Innocent? Is there such a thing?' She chuckled to herself, returning to her topic of thought. 'Chekhov must be doing all of this for a logical reason,' of this she was positive, 'just like back in Minsk.' She looked out the window and made a silent promise, 'Traitor or not, I’m still going to give him a solid punch to the gut.'
Mashka woke up from her slumber feeling famished. She sat up in the bunk, or at least she tried to, until she hit her head on the ceiling. Rubbing her crown, she looked irritably at the offending surface. Once recovered, she climbed down and pushed the bunk back up into the wall. Touching her head a few more times, she turned and saw a brown bag. Inside was a sandwich with a note which read:
'I figured you would be hungry after waking up. I made sure the cook put your favourite ingredients in.'
She looked in and noticed it also had a cold pack, to keep from spoiling. She smiled. Her brother was often easy-going and avoided excess effort, but he did not often fail to be courteous.
After stretching and brushing her hair back under her cleaned scarf, she decided to eat in the dining car. She could use a little human contact, even if she was not supposed to talk to anyone. Being around people would be nice for a change.
She walked out to the dining car, glancing at all the unfamiliar faces, until she noticed Chekhov and Aleksei playing a card game near the far side of the car.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Chekhov commented, looking up at her.
“Privet,” Aleksei greeted her cheerfully, though he did not take his eyes off of his cards.
She sat down next to her brother, pulling out her sandwich, “I decided to eat out here, needed some open space.” She looked outside seeing a darkening sky and city lights. “How long did I sleep?”
“About six hours,” Chekhov answered, not looking up from his hand, “I thought you were in a coma, judging by how loud you were snoring.”
“I don’t snore!” Mashka retorted a little too loud. Some of the other diners glanced her direction with looks ranging from startled to amused, Chekhov being among the amused. Her face turned a few shades red.
Aleksei rolled his eyes. “People don’t often snore when in a coma.”
“I stand corrected.” Chekhov chuckled.
She coughed and lowered her voice, “So are we almost there?” Mashka asked, taking a bite from her sandwich, attempting to hide her embarrassment.
As if hearing her question, the conductor declared over the intercom, “Passengers, we are going to arrive in Petrozavodsk in a few moments. Please prepare to disembark and we hope to have the pleasure of serving you again.”
Mashka hurriedly finished eating.
“Whew!” Aleksei exclaimed, smacking down his hand of cards. “If I had to lose one more time by this card shark, I think I would have gone insane.”
Chekhov smiled in victory, and said, “So, we’ve arrived at the next stage. Welcome to the Autonomous Republic of Karelia.”
“What are we going to do here?” Aleksei inquired. “Pull another favour?”
“Most likely,” Chekhov confirmed, “Though I may have to stop at a bar, or two, to find him.”
“For a professor with a reputation to uphold, you have interesting friends. Let me guess, you saved this guy’s life too?” Mashka inquired.
“No, he is an old friend, from before my Association days and a very proficient pilot.” Chekhov said. “He should be here this time of year.”
The train came to a halt and the people flowed about them, resembling a sluggish river. Despite the pace, the crowds soon thinned out when they left the station, as the late winter dusk began to fall.
Aleksei was about to ask Chekhov for more details concerning his friend, when Mashka suddenly halted.
He turned around to look back at his sister, “What’s wrong?”
“I smell something.” Mashka whispered.
“Really?” Chekhov asked, “I hope it’s not me!”
Mashka gave him a withering glare, as she continued, “No, not just your musk, it’s familiar,” she stiffened, focusing on the sounds around her as her eyes roamed the station quickly, “It’s your lady-friend, Anya.”
“Well, darn...” Chekhov groaned. “We need to get out of here.”
“We should stay with people though, right?” Aleksei asked.
“Nyet Aleksei,” Chekhov replied, “all of us in The Association are given various I.D. cards of government agencies. They could simply apprehend us under guise of an arrest. If we could blend into the crowd that would be nice, but then again, so could they.” Chekhov walked down a side hall, away from the main entrance. “When The Association is after you, crowds are only a hindrance.”
As Mashka followed, she swept the diminishing throng with her eyes, and noticed Anya in the crowd. “On your eight, we need to hurry!” she hissed urgently.
Chekhov walked through one of the emergency exits and the fire alarm sounded.
“Come on!” he ordered over the cacophony.
He let them run first, then followed as they disappeared into the evening, leaving confusion in their wake. He directed them to the loading yard where they took shelter between a few old train crates. The three of them lined up, their backs to the rusted hull of a shipping compartment. “Maryja, I need you to listen for them.” Chekhov urged.
She nodded, closing her eyes to concentrate. In only a few seconds she could pick out among the noise, what she needed. “I hear someone. They’re coming from the left and…” she paused; a perplexed look appeared on her face. “I-, I can’t hear anything.” she said bewildered.
“What do you mean?” Chekhov asked. “Did they stop moving?”
“No, I could hear their steps, and even their breathing, but then the sound just, disappeared.”
“That’s The Czech,” he replied. “He can halt vibrations, effectively sound-proofing an area around him. He knows he’s getting close to us.”
“What do we do then?” Mashka asked, leaning tighter against the cold metal wall.
Chekhov thought a moment as he formulated a plan, “We are near the docks along the Lake. I’ll lead them off. Aleksei, you take Maryja and stay near the water.”
“No,” Aleksei replied, “You’re only accounting for two people, who is to say that they don’t have a third in their party. It would be logical, if there are three of us, they would want to have at least three of them. This means, if we break into only two groups, they have the advantage of being able to corner us.”
“Splitting up isn’t an option either!” Mashka said decisively.
“Maryja’s right,” Chekhov agreed. “Here's a thought: I can fly. However as soon as I do, our position is compromised, and I can only carry one of you.” He thought a moment, then turning to Mashka he said, “I’ll fly away with you to somewhere safe, then come back to get Aleksei afterwards.”
“What?!” Mashka gasped, “No! You can’t leave Aleksei, take him!”
“Mashka,” Aleksei said reassuringly, “I’ll be fine, I have a tactical advantage. You are not the only one who can sense people at a distance. The three of us are no to get into an all-out melee, or worse a gunfight. Withdrawl is our best strategy. Besides, the lake and the docks are nearby. I’ll have plenty of places to hide and I’ll be near water. I have all the protection I need.”
Mashka looked at her brother with concern.
“Don’t worry,” Aleksei urged, “I’ll be with you before you know it!” he gave her a confident wink.
Chekhov turned to Mashka, “Want to ride piggyback, or face towards me?” he asked.
“Uhhh,” Mashka replied dumbstruck.
Chekhov rolled his eyes at her hesitation, “It’s easier if you just hug me.” He suggested mildly.
“Ok.” she said, wrapping her arms tight around him, knowing she was about to go for another rough ride ending in a likely painful landing.
Aleksei turned his back to them and crouched, ready to run. “Now!” he ordered as he dashed off.
Dust spiralled around Mashka and Chekhov for a moment, before they shot into the air, making a low explosive roar.
All signs of Aleksei’s confident expression vanished. He was alone, even if just for a little while. The Czech could pop out from any direction, through any one of the cargo crates.
He gripped the charms at his chest which Duscha had given him and prayed, "Oh Sacred Child of Mary, have your mist swallow my enemies and deliver me."
He looked at Lake Onega, feeling the the moisture in the air and sensing the vast depths of the waters. "Rise!" he pleaded. The glassy waters stirred and whispered back their assent, and reflected moon danced on the boiling lake.
The Czech looked in the direction of the hollow blast, and saw a dark figure shoot into the night sky, and vanish. 'Chekhov!' He ran towards it had taken off from.
His ear bud buzzed, “Anya here! I just saw subject two run around the corner.”
He responded quickly, “Get him! The other two flew away.”
Anya grunted in anger.
“Just chase after him, he’s the only chance we have.” The Czech ordered, "He will..." he was cut off by what sounded like torrential rain muffled by walls. "Do you hear that?"
The subtle thrum because a low\ bellow and then a chorus of high pitched shrieks.
"Uh..." Anya uttered her uncertainty as a moist breeze blasted her face followed by the docks becoming a grey realm of unearthly whispers. "This is why we should be in bloody Kazakhstan!" she roared.