The others soon followed, making an assortment of noises as they escaped their vessel of torture. The Czech and Vlad immediately made their way towards the large building, eager to be rid of the nauseating van.
Aleksei, Evan and Mashka promptly gathered together.
Evan scratched behind his ear as he searched for the right words. “Ehem, er, Mashka, I suppose I was hasty leaving you hanging.”
“Yes, you were.” Mashka replied, crossing her arms. But her stern face did not last for long as a slight smile appeared. “However I think that--,” She stopped as she watched Anya walk by a couple metres away.
Anya turned to the younger woman and cocked an eyebrow at Mashka’s uncertain expression. “Is something the matter? Judging by that face, it seems that you have something against me.”
“Last time we were together you did try to kill me.” Mashka replied pointedly.
“Oh, yeah, that…” Anya smirked impishly, “I was dealing with some anger issues, but with a little help I’m fine now.”
Mashka put on her own snide smile. “Lobotomies really do wonders!” she said, shaking her head in mock disbelief.
Anya’s smirk vanished and Mashka took the lead heading indoors.
Bruno stretched as he rose from his computer. His well-built body caused his t-shirt to groan in protest. He looked at his reflection in the office window. His scruff had finally turned into a full-fledged beard. He considered shaving. "Nah, might as well keep it until I can go back to Germany. Ingrid likes clean men, so I should enjoy my freedom while I can.”
“Talking to your reflection I see.”
Bruno leaned back. “People have habits.”
“Mmm, indeed,” Kerry replied. “You ought to break up with her, such tiny disagreements as personal hygiene only fester into bigger ones.”
Bruno resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. “The day I take relationship advice from you is the same day I’m admitted.”
“Ouch! So cruel.” Kerry flicked his hair irritably behind his ears and glanced through the window. “Oh, we have guests.”
Bruno seemed somewhat startled, but sighed when he realised it was just their returning colleagues. Kerry cocked an eyebrow, intrigued by his partner’s strange expression. Is he expecting… someone else I wonder? He forced himself to maintain his normal gentle smirk.
Casting off his concerns, Dr. Kerry spun and exitedly called out to the returning teammates. “Oh Vlad and… whatever your name was, Danny?”
The Czech grimaced. “It’s Dániel, not Danny, not Dan, and certainly not Denrikochi… just Dániel, that too hard to remember?”
“Ooh, saucy are we, Dá-ni-el. I will try not to forget it this time.”
Vlad smirked, crossing his fingers in hopes of a confrontation, but the Czech noticed his grin and asked indignantly, “What, you have name, why wouldn’t I?”
Vlad shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m going to exercise, give me the meeting memo later.”
“Would you like me to stop by with some tea for you later!” Kerry offered, clasping his hands excitedly.
Vlad pointedly grabbed a bottle of water from the storage shelf and glared menacingly back before leaving.
“Young people these days.” Kerry sighed. His eyes narrowed when he saw Evan enter. “Oh, so returns the prodigal son… care to re-join the central seven, or have you really left for good?”
Evan shrugged off Kerry’s provocation, though the brunette next to him did not attempt to hide her immediate dislike of the snappish doctor.
Pushing up his glasses Kerry gave Mashka the once over. He smirked and let out a disdainful huff, eliciting an even darker glare from the young woman.
Twirling around the doctor beckoned the others to follow him into the office. “Come, the Administrator is waiting.”
Mashka shot a nervous glance Evan’s way. He looked back at her and smiled, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “If they wanted to capture us, they would have.”
“Yes, but you and I both know The Administrator is a crafty old man who likes to keep everyone guessing.”
All Evan could answer to that was one more comforting pat on the shoulder. Mashka turned and beckoned for her brother to hurry up.
Aleksei waved half-heartedly and picked up his pace a little, absently walking in front of Anya. At the door to the office he hesitated and gazed off to where he had glimpsed Vladimir disappear. He bit his lip.
Behind him Anya waited impatiently for the boy to make up his mind when she realised what was bothering him. Her features softened ever so slightly. “If you want, you can find Vladimir in the building next to this one.”
Aleksei looked back at her in surprise.
She smiled, causing the youth to wonder whether she was putting on a show like his sister said she did, or if it was genuine warmth. “He has never spoken about you,” she said, “But I think it would be good for you two to get reacquainted.”
Aleksei shuddered, remembering when he had seen his brother in the alley, three charred corpses in his wake. Sighing, he finally made up his mind and walked towards the warehouse Vlad was in.
Anya watched the young man leave. She smiled ruefully at herself. There was only one thing that could soften her hardened heart, and that was love among family, not something she had experienced much of in recent years.
Then with no further thought she stepped into office. The first thing that met her eyes was the face of The Administrator displayed on the farthest left of Bruno’s three gargantuan computer screens.
He noticed her enter and smiled. “Well it seems that’s almost everyone, where is Aleksei?”
Anya received a pointedly questioning look from Mashka as well. “He went to talk to his brother, he should be back soon.”
“Very well, but what about Ravi?”
“I’m right here.” Another door at the back of the opened and Ravi rolled in on a new wheelchair. He smiled at The Administrator. “It is good to finally see the face of the man who planned my rescue, though,” his smile vanished into a frown, “I would have preferred it if you did not have to rob my bank.”
Mashka and Evan looked surprised at both his relatively cheerful face and his current state of being stuck in a wheelchair.
“Were you injured?” Evan asked.
“No, not at all, I have never been able to walk,” Ravi explained.
“But you were walking earlier.” Even insisted
“Yes, but I can only stand when I am controlling someone else who is standing, and that takes a lot of mental strain to keep up if you understand.” He turned to greet the Administrator. “Despite your methods, I would have been killed by whoever they were.”
“Not a problem Ravi, in the meantime let’s just say you do owe me a game of cards.”
“Oh, sir, you hit my soft spot.” The swarthy banker grinned roguishly.
Mashka exclaimed in confusion, “Wait just a moment! Why are you so happy about all of this? Da, these guys aren’t going to kill you like SICA, but they aren’t nice people either. When they went after my brother and I, there was chaos, which resulted in one of their men being killed, and us almost being made into assassins.”
The Administrator grinned good naturedly. “And who exactly was at fault for most of that chaos miss?”
“Don’t even get me started!” she hissed.
The Administrator raised his hands playfully in resignation. “Alright, just calm down, I’m not here to argue. Besides, it was not exactly my choice for us to work together, but at the insistence of a certain someone we all know, you are just as involved in all of this as The Association.”
“The girl in white?” Mashka asked.
The Administrator raised a finger to his lips, but his smile confirmed her suspicions. “You are not the only pieces in this game.” The Administrator looked carefully at everyone’s reactions. The Czech, Mashka and Evan all seemed keyed into the situation. This left Bruno and Anya both perplexed at the exchange and for the briefest moment Kerry’s eyes widened before he too plastered on a confused expression.
“Now, Ravi, please explain your role for the young lady here.”
“Certainly,” Ravi replied then faced Mashka and Evan. “I lost use of my legs when I contracted polio as a child but about four months ago something odd started to happen. For example, one morning I could walk. Well in my jubilation I hurried out of room when suddenly I heard a crash downstairs and I tumbled to the ground. Well, my housekeeper hurried up the stairs and saw me lying there on the floor. She told me that all of a sudden her body and moved by itself and had run into the dirty china on the counter, breaking it. Then she promptly scolded me for trying to move on my own. For the rest of the day I was paralysed. But I started to notice something. Within a few days my legs were no longer atrophied. Not to mention, the rest of my body was becoming very fit. I exercise regularly but my muscles were growing despite there being no increase in my routine.
“Nothing else happened for a couple weeks and then I was walking again, this time in the parlour. I had no control of my body I was just jogging down the hall, and right towards the wall. I needed to stop so, somehow I regained control.
“Then,” Ravi chuckled and rubbed his chin as he reminisced. “I looked outdoors and there was a woman, standing stock still, just like me on the sidewalk. I took a step back, and so did she. I stepped forward and she did too. It was all terribly bizarre. Then I felt it,” his eyes looked at Mashka earnestly. “You, being like me might know what I’m talking about, that sensation of being flooded with something strange and exhilarating. But alas, I knew I needed to let that woman go. So I shut myself off from that exhilaration, and tumbled to the floor, the lower half of my body once again limp.
“So, after that, I sought out what could have caused this, discreetly of course. And to my surprise at a cocktail party of my peers, I met a man who was looking for me. He informed me of my predicament and how I was in grave danger. He put me in contact with The Administrator and we plotted my “kidnapping,” which was supposed to happen in my home, but due to SICA, we had to change the location of events. The rest, all those present experienced first-hand.”
The Administrator nodded. “I apologise to my staff for leaving them in the dark as well, but there were circumstances that I will disclose about later. In the meantime, we should be considering our next steps, namely the relocation of Ravi as well as Aleksei and Mashka.”
“Relocation! Why?” Mashka demanded.
“Obviously for your safety, SICA is aware of your existence and they will stop at nothing to ensure your extinction.”
“But why does SICA want to kill us?”
The Czech, Bruno and The Administrator averted their eyes awkwardly. On cue from The Administrator, Bruno spoke up, his words came slowly from deep within his broad chest. “They wish to kill you so that no more of your kind will manifest.”
“But I understood it that we have our abilities genetically. Doesn’t everyone have our gene?”
Bruno nodded. “Yes, that is how the old Association tracked all the Jinn down, by following the more prominent genetic lines to predict where the gene would activate and then suppress it with the Chrysalis drug. However, SICA is of a different opinion. They believe that Jinn are living anomalies and that they are constantly releasing trans-dimensional radicals which lead to more people becoming anomalies. And from their viewpoint, we seem to be the only ones who can control you, and they don’t like that. So, rather than have a powerful resource fall in their enemy’s hands, SICA destroys any Jinn they come across.”
“So why don’t you just tell them that it’s genetic?” Mashka asked.
Bruno shook his head. “We were the ones who convinced them it’s not. Furthermore, if they knew it was genetic it would make hunting you all down much easier, not to mention they have the resources to secretly sterilise genetically susceptible groups, and that would end our grand project even faster.”
She nodded but then looked curiously at George then back at the Administrator. “So, you are all of a sudden okay with letting Jinn know that they are a naturally occurring phenomena?”
The Administrator nodded. “There were two reasons why we contrived a story for you and your brother. First, it was something that would drive you to be more compliant. Second, we needed to flush out a traitor, telling you such a blatant lie would give him ammunition against us, therefore giving him a way to gain your trust and make his move, and Dr. Salaam did so very conveniently.”
Mashka’s eyes flared angrily and her already permanently oblong pupils fully elongated in her wrath as her eyes began to shift towards amber.
Dr. Kerry’s eyes immediately reacted to her unleashed powers so he averted his gaze to return his vision to normal but he caught a glimpse of the Sharov twins’ powers in the neighbouring building. How amusing.
Vlad kicked the air, dropped down, then lashed out across the floor. He rose again and repeated the movement, practicing his weight shifts. He heard the metallic sound of the warehouse door opening. He sighed in irritation at the prospect of Anya coming in to bother him again. He was instead surprised when he turned to look and saw the brown haired boy from earlier.
“What brings you here? There’s nothing to see.”
“Hey, Vladimir.” Aleksei avoided using the familiar form of his brother’s name.
Vlad squinted in the dimly lit room, he was confused by the familiar voice. 'That’s not…'
“The brown hair is probably throwing you off.” Aleksei walked forward. “But it’s me, Lyosha.”
At the sound of his brother’s nickname, Vlad stopped in surprise as recognition hit him.
“It’s been a rather long time hasn’t it?” Aleksei continued.
“What makes you think that I want to speak to you?” Vlad’s eyes glinted dangerously.
Aleksei was taken aback by his brother’s tone. “Umm, ah…” He found himself at a loss for words.
Vlad walked forward silently and made to pass by his brother, as if he was not even there.
As Vlad passed by, Aleksei lowered his head sadly. He should have assumed that his brother would have no interest in him. From the beginning they were destined for different directions. However, when he heard his brother’s steps stop just behind him, an odd feeling resembling hope pulsed in his heart. He began to twist his head when the back of Vlad’s heel made contact with Aleksei’s side.
The force of the sudden roundhouse kick sent Aleksei slamming into the pallet of large brown bags. The white flour within burst forth, enveloping him in a cloud. Just as the air began to clear and he felt safe opening his eyes, he found his throat enclosed in his brother’s tight grip. He gagged for breath and looked fearfully into his brother’s face.
“So, you really think I would be pleased to see you? The only thing I could ever wish from you is as an opponent worth killing. After all, we are identical twins, so it’s safe to say that you have powers. Are they the same as mine, or something different? I’m dying to see-- no, you are the only one who’s going to die here.” Vlad raised his left hand, cupping the air beside him in view of his brother. A bright, hot light appeared around his palm.
Aleksei could feel heat beginning to singe his hair. To his relief, the light died. He looked up to see Vlad’s mildly disappointed face.
“No… I thought not. Judging by that look of fear, you are nothing in comparison to me. A nobody, not even worth killing.” He flung Aleksei away like a rag doll.
Aleksei slid across the smooth floor whilst gasping for breath. Immediately he began backing away.
Vlad stood still. Staring in malicious pity at his brother. “Are you even going to try to use your manifestation to defend yourself?” He raised his hand again, this time it turned a pale colour as frost appeared upon his skin and a pure glow pulsed over his palm.
Aleksei’s eyes widened at his hostility. 'If I don’t do something, is he really going to kill me?' He raised his left hand and began twirling his his wrist. Water vapour from the air within the room materialised into white streams between the two of them, forming to a vertical cyclonic disc.
Vlad cocked his head in curiosity. “Huh, intriguing.” He extended his hand, intending to blast through the disc, but the fog suddenly twisted into a cone and lashed out at his face. He dodged easily but was surprised when the stream smoothly curved and smacked his face to the side as if he had been slapped, leaving behind a stinging sensation. He glared back indignantly, irritated by the half-hearted strike.
Aleksei had backed further away. He brought a stream of fog around him like a snake and sent a narrow stream towards Vlad.
Vlad simply raised his fiery hand and the mist seemed to be devoured into nothingness. The young man sighed and was about to make another stinging insult when he heard a disembodied shriek from behind him. He did not even have time to turn around and look as a giant maw rushed through the door and engulfed him.
Aleksei flung his right hand out and shoved his concealed brother within the throat of the dragon. Vlad felt his feet take leave of the ground in the blinding whiteness, his body buffeted by swirling currents. When he was finally vomited out of the throat of mist he tumbled and rolled across the hard cement and brought himself to a stop as he skillfully leapt to a crouch and glared back at his brother.
“Much better!” Vlad taunted, pointing towards his brother’s face. “That is a look worth killing.”
Aleksei’s grim face was unmoving as vapour tumbled off his body and rolled transparently across the floor.
Vlad raised his hand and a blast of heat seared through the air.
Expecting this action. Aleksei caused the dragon he had expanded into a wide corridor to collapse, forming a thick trunk between himself and his brother to absorb and scatter the heat. The storehouse shook with the sound of super-heated steam hissing through the roof.