“Vova!” A voice called from beside him.
He looked to see his mirror image staring back at him with big brown eyes.
Vladimir shook his head in fear. “No, Lyosha! I’m sc-,”
Aleksei thrust his hand out and Vlad took hold of it. “Don’t worry,” Aleksei’s mouth opened into one of his toothy grins. “Let’s go at the same time.”
He could feel how clammy his smiling brother’s hand was. 'Is he scared too?' he wondered, unable to imagine his brother frightened of anything but Mashka’s grizzled cat. Vlad nodded and hesitantly turned his face forward. He squeezed Aleksei’s hand and the many eyed giant before him didn’t seem so scary anymore and the big toothy mouth was only a non-threatening glass door through which drifted the scents of paper and chalk. Like a couple of toy soldiers, the twins marched up to the door and together they pushed it open, entering into their first day of school, hands together and faces smiling.
At last Vladimir somehow commanded his stunned muscles to move. His hand gripped his brother’s weakening grasp. He was not thinking, but reacting to what had once always been. His brother’s pulse quickened and his deathly weakness fell away as he squeezed back.
His feelings were no longer under his control as a wave of relief rushed over Vladimir. The hint of a smile crept over his face as he looked back at his brother’s weary grin.
Aleksei opened his mouth to speak but another voice interrupted his.
Both of them turned to see a riot helmet and Kevlar clad SICA agent, his automatic rifle directed at them. Vlad’s normal demeanour returned like bolt of lightning. He cursed himself for dropping his guard, knowing he just made his final mistake.
The agent’s finger pressed on the trigger.
In the distant corner of the warehouse, the three remaining SICA agents let out terrified screams, cut short by the gruesome sounds of their bodies being mangled in ways the listeners could only imagine from their poor vantage point. A black stain spread across the floor and Dániel emerged amidst his companions, inky essence running off his body.
He looked at Bruno and Evan. “Where are the others?”
“Mashka, Kerry and Anya are securing the boys and the van.”
The Czech nodded and hurried towards the office where a cautious Ravi emerged.
“SICA will have a fleet of vehicles to give chase.” Bruno added.
Evan nodded and walked towards the door.
“Where are you going?”
“To stop their pursuit before it starts.”
As a thunderous roar rattled the shelves Evan replied, “I have cards in reserve.”
He launched into the air, the corrugated steel roof blossoming as a twisted flower letting a beam of light in just large enough for the man to shoot through and into the sky. As soon as he was through the roof, Evan spun, directing himself towards where he could see the SICA motor pool. Flipping head over heels, he ended his brief flight and landed at the end of the near perfectly aligned row of dark blue vehicles.
How convenient of them, he thought seeing their orderly parking. He braced and raised a hand.
The few agents guarding the fleet were caught unprepared for someone dropping from the sky.
Evan gave them no heed, taking the brief moment he would be there to focus solely on focusing his power to his hand. He released the kinetic force, initially in a wide cone but narrowed it to a narrow blast. A hole blasted through the side of the first vehicle’s engine block and progressed through the entire row in a ripple, followed by a second ripple as the automobile’s front halves burst asunder from the kinetic shock, scattering the SICA agents as they ducked for cover from the shrapnel.
The recoil of producing the blast hit Evan harder than he could have anticipated, flinging him back with a cry, flipping round and round, past the buildings, and barely missing the dock railing as he hurtled to the sea. He regained control just before he would have made a lethal impact with the water and took off into the sky towards his rendezvous with the Sharovs.
Anya screwed on the silencer to her handgun as she slinked to the next cover spot. Pressing herself against the wall she waved for Mashka to follow. They had split ways with Dr. Kerry, who was more than capable of keeping himself safe and he said that he needed to rescue some sensitive materials from falling to SICA.
Mashka nodded as Anya signed out her next moves, which she could only guess meant that the latter was going to hurry to the corner, shoot three targets, and then signal for her to follow, struggling to remember Evan’s lessons.
She still could not believe she was in this situation, nor could she believe how comfortable the gun grip felt in her hand. 'It’s not as though I’m completely new to this.' She reasoned. 'Besides, any discomfort is worth protecting Aleksei.'
She heard the silenced shots from Anya’s weapon followed by the sickening thuds of three bodies to the ground. Anya gave the signal to follow.
With gun poised, ready to swing into action at any moment, she followed Anya around the corner. They stepped over one of the bodies just as he released a startling death rattle. Mashka grit her teeth, squelching her revulsion, assuring herself she would have all the time she needed to break down later. She followed close behind Anya into the dark warehouse. Immediately she could tell there were five people besides herself and Anya by the scent of five distinct, human male pheromones.
Copying Anya exactly, she stopped at each row between the shelves and pointed her gun down it, ready to come face to face against an enemy.
And then she distinctly heard a man speak, a hint of sorrow in his voice.
She turned, her eyes transforming fully to their large feline pupils, making the warehouse seem as bright as a summer day. She took in it all in but a moment. Through the shelves she could see her brothers on the floor, and twenty paces away from them and a few dozen metres right in front of her was an armed member of SICA, weapon poised to fire.
She let out a beastly shriek that rattled her throat. The man turned his head just in time to find himself watch the bullets pour from the barrel. Mashka ran forward as she repeatedly pulled the trigger until by the time she stood over his body the clip was empty. She panted as blood pounded through her veins. Her eyes were locked on his face, which was now fully exposed since she had shot his helmet off.
'He looks so… normal…' she thought as she stared at him. 'what-, what did I just do?'
Her brother’s laboured cry snapped her out of her shock. She turned and saw her brother stuck under a shelf. She stomped over and grabbed the heavy metal shelf with one hand flipped it over as though it was nothing more than a mattress.
“Are you alright Aleksei? Is anything broken? Are you hurt?” By the end of her rush of words she had switched from English to Russian and back to something in between.
He answered her statements in order given, “Niet; I don’t think so; and da.” He rubbed his hands through his frazzled chestnut hair and attempted to sit up, the trickles of blood on his face running a new direction.
“I feel like a bus hit me,” he moaned, “but I fared better than that guy you did in over there.” As soon as the words slipped from his mouth Aleksei regretted them, he turned his bleary gaze to Mashka’s red-specked face.
She shuddered, her eyes shimmering with tears. “Let’s get out of here!” She reached down to grab both of the twins’ shoulders and pulled them up with ease.
Once Aleksei was up he nearly fell over again. “Oj! I think I sprained my ankle.”
Mashka rested his left arm over her shoulder then gave Vlad a “help-me-now” glare.
Vlad complied more quickly than he intended. His sister’s familiar authoritative gaze with her disturbing new eyes proved a persuasive combination. The three of them half jogged to the door to find The Association’s green van idling with Anya at the wheel.
“Wasn’t this a different colour?” Aleksei asked.
Vlad rolled his eyes. “Ever heard of peel-off paint? Get in!”
With a quick boost Aleksei was in a seat followed by Mashka and Vlad, once again the twins found themselves side by side for sake of celerity.
“You in?” Anya asked, not waiting for an answer as she hit the gas, pressing the three Sharovs into the back of their seats.
“Where’s Evan?” Mashka demanded.
Anya ignored her as she made a tight turn around a storage crate and then slammed on the brakes throwing her passengers forward. “Get in!” she shouted.
The front door opened and Evan climbed in, he had not even closed the door when Anya was once again hitting the gas.
“Are we being followed?” Mashka asked.
“Not if I can help it!” Anya declared.
The passengers fastened their seatbelts, knowing they might not have another chance.
The Czech led the way, torch and gun in hand, as Bruno pushed Ravi’s chair through the narrow, dark space.
“I never thought there would be any tunnels around here.” Ravi muttered.
“They were built by a smuggling operation a decades ago.” Bruno explained, “It was because of them that we chose this spot as a temporary base.”
Ravi grimaced. “About that… what if your friend didn’t know where to melt through the floor?”
“That’s obvious, we would have kept falling until we reached the planet’s core.” Bruno declared. He grinned when he heard Ravi squirm in his wheelchair.
“Honest? What an inconvenient power!”
“No, I joke, he can travel through matter like a fish in a pond, there’s nothing to worry about.”
George attempted a chuckle.
The Czech stopped and felt a wall. “Come.” he ordered.
Once they all got close, The Czech pushed them both through the wall and they found themselves looking into the afternoon sun which happened to find a hole in the clouds. The Czech emerged behind his two charges.
“It would be useful to have the good doctor around.” Bruno muttered looking down the dock that ran along the brick retaining wall they had phased out of.
The Czech shrugged. “He’s been keeping radio contact, he was split up from the girls and has already evaded capture. We can make do without him, right Ravi?”
“How can I help?” he asked, “I can’t even stand.”
“True, but you sense bodies right? You control muscles so you must know when there are people present.”
“No, I just know whether there are human bodies nearby, and there are, you two.”
The Czech sighed in irritation. “And here the science department though you might be useful. Never mind let’s just get to the car.”
They scurried down the dock, keeping an eye out for any SICA agents. In the distance they could hear screeching tires and gunshots but nearby it was silent. They hurried between the warehouses and around a few corners until they spotted the dark blue, sleek sedan.
George was about to sigh in relief when he heard a stray footfall that made his heart jump into his throat. The next thing he knew he was out of his chair, lifted by one massive arm and set between the open doors of a shipping crate where he had cover on three sides.
“Stay put!” Bruno ordered as gunfire filled the air.
Bruno then snatched up a large metal box and flung it towards the SICA agents then dived after it, using it as cover. “I need my gun back!” he yelled.
From behind the shipping crate to his left, The Czech kicked over the firearm.
“Danke,” he muttered.
The shots from SICA’s side calmed down, giving The Czech a window to peek where his enemy was. Then he ducked and made a black circle appear through the storage crate, through which he fired three shots, each hitting an agent but only one bullet made itself past their Kevlar armour with lethal result.
He peeked out again. “Tsk, this is taking too long.” After getting Bruno’s attention he waved three fingers. The burly German nodded in understanding. The Czech phased into the wall beside him, while Bruno continued to fire rounds.
Meanwhile something in George’s gut stirred. Something akin to intuition told him that someone was circling around the building. Was this what the Czech had been talking about? He wanted to use his power and stand up, but he did not know if he would place Bruno or The Czech under his control by mistake and get them killed.
His fears were confirmed when he felt vibrations through the metal crate, as if someone had leaned against the opposite side of the shipping container. They were surrounded.
I’ve got to do something! He reached up to the door latch and pulled himself shakily up using his upper body strength. He tried not to lean, for if he did the door would fling him outwards and make him perfect target. He pulled himself all the way up, still wondering what he was going to do.
Just as found himself hanging helpless from the door a pair of footsteps stopped on the other side. Ravi held his breath. It would only take a second for the SICA agent to look around the door, find him, and kill him. He saw a black gloved hand grab hold of the door and pull it outwards. Without thinking Ravi let go of the door and jerked his arm, manipulating the agent’s body like a puppet. The metal door swung and made a hollow gong sound against the man’s head.
With his support torn from his grasp, Ravi fell spread-eagle before three agents, one of them sitting hard on his rear and moving his helmet back in place. Pure adrenaline dictated Ravi’s next actions. Before a whole second passed he gained full control of the fallen SICA’s body and they both rose as mirror images. Just before the two other agents pulled their triggers, Ravi stepped backwards forcing his controlled SICA to move as well. Two bullets embedded themselves in the agent’s unprotected back.
In the next moments Ravi discovered how fast he could switch bodies and found himself already in control of the next agent who he forced to twist and shoot his ally in the neck. Then as he brought his own hand, holding an imaginary gun towards his neck so did the agent. Ravi began to squeeze his index finger in until the agent let out a high pitch scream of terror.
Guilt immediately broke through his clouded, terror-gript mind when he realised the agent behind the all-concealing helmet was a woman. He dropped his hand and his legs buckled beneath him. Shots rang in his ears and he expected himself to have blood spraying from some hole in his chest but instead he saw the woman before him fall crumple to the ground and blood pool beneath her. Not seeing a shooter he looked behind him.
“I always tell people that chivalry isn’t dead.” The Czech said with a grin. He reached down and cast Ravi over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. “Oof, you’re heavier than you look, tiny Indian."
Ravi grimaced in mixture of revulsion at the coldness of his rescuer and embarrassment at being so simply manhandled by the large Czech. He could not even bring himself to correct him that he was Lebanese. As his vision bounced with his carrier’s strides he looked back at the three bodies he left in his wake. He swallowed hard, fighting back nausea and shock, tried to focus on the simple fact that he was alive, and not that his life cost three others, and their respective families dearly.
Dániel cast Ravi from his shoulders into the back seat of a speed boat where Bruno was waiting behind the wheel.
As he collapsed into the backseat he asked, “What about the sedan?”
“A grenade took care of that.” Bruno grumbled as he fired up the gas and the boat accelerated into the bay. “So I went to plan B and hot-wired a boat. At least now they can’t chase us.”
Salt spray and wind blasted against Ravi’s dark skin as he stared back at the shore. He wondered how his life had ever come to this. Hours ago he was a wealthy recluse with a boring day job and now he was dodging bullets and being rescued by shady individuals.
Anya’s foot eased off the gas. “I think I lost them.” she smirked.
“Good show!” Evan announced prompting a high-five.
After a brief glower at Anya, Mashka sighed in relief. She looked over at her brothers to share her elation but found her words chased away.
Both boys were pointedly staring in any direction but one another, arms crossed, eyes cold.
“I would think this reunion would be a bit more cheerful,” she scolded, “Come on you two, the family is back together!”
Aleksei huffed, blowing a straw hair from his forehead. “It might have been, had Vova here not insisted on fratricide.”
“And you are still a tattle, mama-boy.” Vlad sneered.
“Well, at least I’m consistent. When did you pick up being a psycho?”
“I don’t have to answer you!”
“Eh?! You think you don’t owe me an explanation?!”
The boys were now glaring at each other sideways, which their sister saw as a minor improvement.
“Hey!” she snapped, “Both of you, this is not the time! Just calm down and we can talk about this later alri-- yagh!”
The siblings were all flung to one side of the van letting out gasps of surprise. Once the horizontal g-force abated, Vlad pushed the siblings off of him and was about to demand an explanation for Anya’s crazed driving when saw a bullet hole appear in the door frame next to him. He ducked, Mashka and Aleksei following suit, then peeked back to see a green SUV hot on their trail.
Evan opened the skylight.
“What are you doing?!” Anya and Mashka cried in unison, to their mutual annoyance.
“Relax, I have a plan!” he declared before pulling himself through.
Mashka almost screamed in horror when she looked back and saw him tumble off the roof. But just before he hit the road he took flight, disappearing from view.
Evan shot high above the buildings into the early twilight sky and looked down at the SICA SUV. He sighed, readying himself for what he was about to do. Like a falcon he dived and as he neared the vehicle he banked and landed feet-first on the roof. He snatched a roof rack with his left hand and raised his other towards the engine bonnet.
Even through the rushing wind he could hear the commotion beneath him as the SICA agents shouted in French and English wondering what had landed on the roof. One brave soul climbed out the passenger window with gun ready, but Evan was prepared, releasing a kinetic blast from his hand he blew the agent’s weapon away and made him fall back out of view as the poor fellow hung half-way out the window over the street.
Once more aiming his hand at the engine, Evan angled his fingers inwards and with sensation like rushing water from his palm past his fingers the focused kinetic stream let loose, in an instant blowing a circular whole through the centre of the engine.
The vehicle decelerated so rapidly Evan was flung forward, releasing the rail just in time not to have his arm ripped off. As he hurtled towards impending road rash he made a desperate attempt to regain flight. Kinetic energies sputter around him just stopping his descent by moments until he somehow regained his equilibrium and enveloped himself in a cylinder of forces and torpedoed upwards.
After a brief moment in the sky to collect himself Evan plunged back down into the aura of the golden streetlights and landed on the roof of Anya’s van. He swung himself through the sky light and into his seat.
He looked over surprised to see his former comrade’s face in a dark scour.
“What?” he asked, expecting some sort of awe rather then spite.
“Do you have any idea how many times that would have been so useful? We could have completely averted the Minsk incident.”
“Look, I did not know I could do it then, honest!” Evan pleaded with her then turned his gaze back to Mashka for support.
The woman leaned forward and smacked the side of his head. “Don’t ever do that again! Are you insane?!”
Evan cowed. “Sorry…”
Anya however came to his defense. “Listen kitty, because of him we no longer have them on our back, show a little gratitude.”
Mashka would have responded had she not been stunned by the nickname. Kitty?! What does she mean by that?! And why am I being schooled on etiquette by the psycho who tried to kill me? She shook her head, despite all their history, now was not the time to argue.
By the time it was almost midnight they had passed from Scotland into England, switched vehicles and searched for trackers at an abandoned gas station and kept on south through the night to the next Association hideout. All the while moving further from the place the Sharovs had come to know as home.