The darkness of the night began to stretch itself across the sky as a tall, middle-aged looking man stood cold-faced, staring into roaring flames that burnt as far as his eyes could see. A shorter man who bore a menacing countenance until he was in full view then joined him. The shorter man grabbed the man by the shoulders, leading him away from the catastrophe, into the darkness.
Port Trinity, Cumaca (Hub of the World)
Mission: Meet with POI (Person Of Interest)
OPs: Lieutenant Commander (OP1) Luke Guy, Commander (OP9) Shana Kurt, (OP5) Keron Singh,
(OP 12) Jonathan Elim
“Why do we always get stuck with the boring stuff? We should be doing something better than looking for a wild animal or some crazy individual with nothing to do,” exclaimed Keron.
“We don’t know what or why we are here. It has to have some importance for us to be out here. Let’s just find out what’s wrong and then we will draw a conclusion. Our mission is to find out about certain disturbances in this village. Once that’s done, we’re out of here,” said Luke as we trudged through the forest. The humidity in the air caused restlessness among the camp and at that moment I questioned why our uniforms had to have so many layers. Why did it have to be so fitted? Tall trees blocked the sun, but also blocked the wind from ventilating its surroundings properly, well at least to my liking. Walking along a path, pulling and twisting to allow my body to breathe, animals were noticed scampering away. If I closed my eyes and focused, I could hear the smallest of animals as they hurried away from the sounds of cracking branches and the crunching of the leaves beneath our boots. Silence fell behind us.
“I didn’t even know this village even existed. This is so far off from civilization,” said Keron fanning away insects that flew in front his face. We had been walking for quite a while now and everyone was frustrated with this excursion in this part of the land. We hated to be around the backward ones as they were known. They seemed so weird to us and always stared without pausing to blink which added to our irritation of the mission.
“Legend has it,” Luke whispered, “that all machinery becomes worthless within a hundred yards.” He shot a quick grin over at me and Shana. “Quite an odd place in the Hub don’t you think?”
“That’s why we’re carrying this dead weight,” Shana said. She patted the heavy pack over her shoulder with an eye roll sent over to me. I couldn’t help but to smile back.
As we scrambled through the forest, faint sounds of crying were heard. I looked at Luke for reassurance, but already he was alert, squinting his eyes, scanning the wooded area. Then he stopped. I turned to see what he was looking at and to our relief a figure of a small child between some thin trees appeared.
“Lieutenant! I’m going to see what’s wrong!” Without another word, Shana stomped off showing great amounts of concern, leaving the rest of us to stare after her with our mouths open. Shana was obsessed with kids and getting married. Shana liked children almost as much as target practice.
“Don’t take too much time!” Luke shouted after her. As we walked closer toward the child, I recognized it was a boy, well I assumed so by his appearance. His head was low and face covered by his low hanging, battered straw hat. His bare feet were tucked underneath his legs and he hunched forward as if from pain. Or the sobs that wrecked his chest.
“Hey, why are you crying?” inquired Shana rubbing his shoulder. But the child just slouched and continued to cry. “Hey, what’s wrong? It’s okay, we are here to help.”
A deep voice of a full grown man began to chuckle. It was quiet, and close. “You can’t help!”
“Who said that?!” exclaimed Keron, peering around for any sign of someone else “Come out!” Luke immediately cocked his weapon waiting for someone to pop out.
“Hey kid, you know who that was?” asked Keron, but as we turned back to the child, he was gone. “Okay, well guess you do. Some freaking weird people live here. So much for making friends,” he joked while still suspiciously monitoring the surroundings. To my relief a soothing breeze started to blow. The evening was coming and the temperature began to drop.
“Let’s keep moving. The village can’t be far from here,” Luke said. He sent a glance my way, the skin tightening around his eyes. “You’re quiet, Elim. Know something we don’t?”
“No, Lieutenant. I just have an eerie feeling. It’s making me antsy. Oddly, it reminds me of my dreams,” I replied. Luke threw a concerned, but a stern look at me. I shifted from foot to foot as the rest of the team shot eyebrow-raised stares over my head. It caused a flush to rise to my cheeks and I averted my eyes, downward to the dirt. On the Lieutenant’s orders we marched forward again.
This was my first mission where I might have to fire my weapon and that made my blood run cold. I was eighteen and fresh from the academy, now a full-fledged Official Protector. A so called protector of the citizens. ‘A slave’ in my own words.
“I could do with a cold drink and a shower right now,” Shana grunted as she trudged along the path. Keron looked over at her instantly.
“Can you make that for a party of two?” He winked at her. In disgust she began to walk even faster in an effort to get away from him. There were ten sections and fourteen Ops per section, we were regarded as the most important individuals in law enforcement. I didn’t have much of an option in my future, no parents, hated school, but I had a keen sense for trouble and how to get into it. I was arrested three times. The first time was for armed robbery. The second was extortion, as the judge called it. I called it trying to survive. The final one, the third, was for saving a girl from her attacker- attempted murder. I was given one chance: the Ops or prison. Anyone would have taken my option too. I lived in Port Trinity all my life... yeah, this hellhole, the hub of the world. Due to the revolution of the world, it’s just one big happy family now. Port Trinity was the most central mass of land and was chosen as the place which connected the world together using fibre pipelines, with capsules or pills (a carriage like vehicle in which passengers travel inside to reach their destination) to travel overhead to other ports in the rest of the world within minutes. Let’s just say extreme vigilance is a requisite for life here. Pickpockets are common here. Even the youngest child on the streets knew how to pick the right prey. I had been hand-picked for this unit by Lieutenant Guy himself, although I was not the most outstanding recruit at the academy. Yet I guess I know why. He always gave me advice, stuck up for me, and aided in getting me physically and mentally stronger. I believe I was the son he never had.
Now I spent most of my time with an attractive, yet opinionated woman who always has something sarcastic to say about everything, along with a big two hundred and eighty pound muscle guy who thinks everything that comes out of his mouth is gold.
“Here’s the plan- in and out as fast as possible. We’re looking for Ino Matrin,” exclaimed Luke with the town approaching into our vision. We entered the town through a set of rust coated iron gates as the sun began to cast yellow rays upon us. A concrete fountain of a woman spurting water from her hands stood in the middle. The layout was similar to those I saw in history class- the city was set around the fountain with shops at the forefront and the citizen’s homes behind. No modern technology, no robotic assistance, cars with wheels! It was like if we were in movie classics from the 2000’s. On approaching the fountain persons began to shuffle away, bunch close together, and whisper to each other, staring at us intensely. Everyone stayed a reasonable distance away. No one wanted to approach and any child that was there was snatched back.
Keron jumped atop the fountain lip and shouted, “We are looking for Ino Matrin! Does anyone know him?” “Does anyone know of him?” No one replied. He glimpsed at us with a disgruntled nod and with a side smirk shouted again. His lips tightened and he rolled his eyes over his shoulders. A smirk played on his lips as he turned back to the crowd and continued, “We are here to help you but we need to see Ino Martin. If you get Ino Matrin we will have things back to normal!”
“I know him. He’s my uncle,” a feminine voice replied. Turning to see who it was, I was struck with an explosive fervour feeling. A stunning young woman, perhaps around my age with piercing cat shaped eyes that were shaded by long brownish- gold curly hair. I was in awe. I had never encountered beauty so natural before.
“Where is he now, we need to speak to him about the trouble around here,” said Luke tapping his foot against the ground.
She pointed to a small path leading up a hill. “His home is right up the hill. Just a twenty minute walk from here.”
“Okay, then lead the way,” replied Luke. She then turned and began walking. I scurried up alongside her tapping her on the shoulder.
“We did not get your name.” She smiled gleefully, then paused to contain herself.
“It’s Jai, Jai Matrin.”
"It feels like we’ve been walking for hours! Where is this house!” exclaimed Keron.
“It’s only been ten minutes. Stop being a nuisance and be quiet,” Luke said. The longer we walked, the higher the trees became until even the sky was blocked by the greenery of the vines and leaves. The air was crisp and cool, the smell of wet leaves mixed with that of the freshly cut grass filled my nostrils.
“It’s right up there just past the largest and tallest tree with the mangoes. Turn left by the tree and you’ll catch the sight of a small house. He’s in there,” explained Jai as the sun escaped through the trees to enhance her beauty.
“You sound like you’re not coming?” Luke inquired. His eyes flickered between Jai and the path to the house as if he could not settle on which made him the most uneasy.
“I should keep lookout,” she replied, her brow scrunched together and her eyes on the woods behind them.
Luke waited until we were out of her view, then he signalled to us to watch her carefully from the house.
“Kill anyone that comes up here,” he mouthed. Upon approaching the house, the hairs on the back of my neck raised. I thought to myself that this place will be perfect for a horror movie with vines covering everything. Dead trees lay across the ground. I guess he had to be hiding from something really bad to be living in a place like this. Getting closer, I could see the house was made out of rotten wood, small with only one shabby room. Luke led the way as we entered.
“Anyone home?” shouted Luke pushing the front door open. The house only had a candle lit in the middle of the room. The rest of the house was in complete darkness.
“Welcome,”said a slow, hushed voice coming from the dark area of the house. As he stepped out of the darkness into the middle of the room, he expressed with a stronger voice, “I am Ino Matrin,” then he paused. Think of a man with his mien so strange that his appearance screamed it from a mile away. Long hair, long beard, tatty clothes and not to mention his shoes that were cut in such a particular way they appeared to be on backwards. “Have you come to hear my tale?” He continued.
“You called us here for a story!” Keron shouted, his hands clenched into fists at his side.
“OP5!” Luke warned.“Mr. Matrin, OPs are a vital part of society and not here for a show and tell.” He displayed blatant frustration in his tone. He tapped his hand against his thigh.
“No, I understand that. I’m about to tell you why you’ve been called out,” said Ino. “Forty years ago, there was an influential family from Europe back when Port Trinity was simply the islands Trinidad and Tobago. They shared the same blood as the kings and queens of that time. Despite this they were disliked by even their own kin.One day the king scouted for a sanctuary in a certain area with his troops. Yet what they found was a man, a witch doctor. Undeterred the king paid the witch doctor a hefty sum to cast fortunes and goodwill on his bloodline. Thanks to the witch doctor they remained powerful for many years.
However, the king was not sympathetic in his ways. In his greed, he kicked out the witch doctor from the land and claimed it as his own. Unknowingly there was a part of the enchantment that the king did not know of.”
“Really!” Shana shouted in annoyance.
Luke, now clenching teeth, peered out the one window in the house and then back at Ino. His stares urged Ino to get to the point.
“We are at the beginning of the era where the spell’s effects are apparent. The witch doctor got the spell wrong!” Ino cackled, excited by his own tale. Luke walked toward the window as he became irritated by Ino. From where I stood I could see several wild dogs making quick work of what looked like a goat’s carcass.
“Mr Op, did you notice anything strange on your way here?” Ino asked.
“Mr. Matrin, no offence but this whole place is strange... including you, so either you show us what you are talking about or we will have to leave!” Luke exclaimed turning back to watch him, surprisingly with a smile. Ino sat cross legged with his hands holding an object which we couldn’t recognise between his loosely clasped hands.
“It can only be seen at night,” Ino uttered in low tones.
Luke huffed out a breath. “Set up camp, we’re spending the night.” Ino nodded graciously.
Luke then approached him and stood a mere centimetre afar, staring at him intensely, “I hope this is worth our time.”
We were obviously disgruntled at the news Ino shared; we shifted between each other, whispering in tones too low for the old man to overhear. Even Luke did not dare to scold us- if only in front of the so-called client. We didn’t expect to spend the night, but like all good soldiers, we brought along any supplies we might have needed. The air began to cool from the heat of the day. The gentle songs of the birds began to fade as their attention focussed on their nests.
“Do you really think we should stay? This guy seems more than a little loony to me,” said Keron leaning his weight toward Luke so only we, the members of the team, could hear.
Don’t worry, I’ll take a shot at him myself if it is something crazy,” Luke joked, well I thought he was joking. “It will be dark soon, keep your eyes peeled for dangers.” Keron shouted the message to the rest of us as if we didn’t hear him already.
“Got it,” I replied, sarcastically. I bounced my eyebrows causing Shana to laugh. Keron saw what we were doing and began to mumble to himself. Walking to the door, I took a deep breath; the air was crisp and clean and I couldn’t help but be glad, secretly, to be away from the smell of gunpowder, lead, and machine grease. Plus Jai was a different type of refreshment- on the eyes.
The sun lowered inch by inch and the air between each of us became tenser by the moment. Despite our earlier comments about Ino’s story, we prepared our equipment. Ready to do the job as we were trained to do. Luke, being the guy he was, seemed unmoved by the night’s sky approaching. He just seemed to want to get this done and over with. Sadly, that was the first mistake.
In the distance, the sound of crying was heard. We shifted positions to stare deeper into the darkness. It only seemed to amplify my anxiety.
Hear that?” Ino rose to his feet. He seemed so anxious, I feared he would jump out from his skin.
“Crying,” Shana answered, her voice low and thoughtful and her head cocked to where the sound emitted. Suddenly she shot off. “It’s not far from here. This way!” I followed a step behind. Luke and Keron came just behind at a slower pace.
Down through the forest we ran and into the village. The houses were closed tight and the shutters barred. They had practice. This was the trouble they had expected. It didn’t make me feel any better. I skidded to a stop and pointed between the trees.
“It’s a kid. The same one from earlier?” Even Shana stopped to observe the child.
Ino was last to come to a stop- even behind Jai who had the least amount of time to react- and struggled to catch his breath. Despite this, Ino managed to say with his head in between his legs, “You saw it earlier?” His word choice, though strange, did not raise any of our hairs.
“What’s wrong?” Keron called out. He stood a little closer than the rest of us as we drew nearer to the child. The closer we came, the more the cries faded. I was less than a foot away when the child threw himself on his hands and feet laughing uncontrollably. It was a devilish laugh that would haunt my dreams for nights to come. It echoed through the forest.
The voice was not of a child. It was deep and more sinister- not quite a man’s or even human.Keron stooped down to his level and placed a hand on his shoulder. What happened next was a blur. The child leaped forward in attack with his sharp, fang like teeth bared. Keron didn’t have time to dodge. Its teeth dug deep into his arm and Keron threw back his head with a howl of pain. His free hand came up and slapped the child. It hit the ground with a painful crunch and its hat flew off.“What the hell?!” Keron clutched at the bleeding wound and glared at the- thing. No words could come to mind to describe what we saw, but it definitely wasn’t human. It was like a thing that lurked in my nightmares, but was never brought to light. Its face was twisted, with red glowering dots in the space for eyes and no lids to cover them, no lips surrounding its jagged teeth, and where the nose should be was only a flat surface. Its skin looked soft like that of a newborn baby.
“Fools! You brought one. We will take it.” At his words ten bright eyes shone in between the trees. One by one they stepped out from the cover of the shadows until many more surrounded us. None were taller than four feet and only a few had hats to hide their grotesque expressions. The ones without hats, eyes glowed red and their fangs glistened under the moonlight. Their skin was grey with no fur or hair and on their backs stood feathery spines, like some sort of canine.
“Eliminate the threats!” In a smooth movement I could never hope to imitate, Luke pulled his gun out and cocked the safety back. I fumbled to pull mine out. While my eyes were focused on the gun, I almost missed the sight of the creatures spawning wings from between their crooked shoulders. Some of them threw themselves into the air.
“They fly! What the hell? Shoot already!” Shana waved her gun in the air, back and forth between two of the beasts but didn’t take her shot. Jai and Ino took a look at the creatures and went back through the town to the nearest place for safety.
The varmint began to run toward us and more of the creatures leaped for the sky until the stars were blocked from view. They swarmed around us as if they were ravens on the hunt. As quick as they were, not even Luke or Keron’s fast trigger fingers could make a hit. Shana’s and my shots never stood a chance. Still, we tried. One of the creatures swooped down, hands extended as if to grab a hold of me. I threw myself to the ground and out of the way.
From my position on the ground I was first to see hunters coming into the village. Ten to fifteen men judging by their shuffling feet and scared witless by their raised voices. Here I had thought everyone was safely within their homes.
“I can’t get a hit!” Keron warned as he watched the creatures wheel away from them and toward the town square where the hunters stood.
“Op12, Op9- get to the town centre and guard those people.” Luke had noticed the hunters before I could mention them.
“Yes, sir,” I answered back as I took off at full speed. Out of the sky swooped a red-eyed fiends aiming for me once more. I twisted on my foot and shot up into the sky. It missed, but it caused the fiends to swerve off course. It wasn’t the only one on our tail. It seemed as if all of them decided to go for the prey that did not shoot back.
“Shoot!” A series of shots followed Keron’s shout. Deep thuds sounded as they hit their targets, but more often there were sharp whistles through the air. The hunters began to scurry back to the relative safety of their homes.
“Get inside,” I shouted. “Run!” They panicked; we were strangers in the midst of a monster attack. They must wonder if Shana and I were on their side. Or a new form of torture. Some headed to a dilapidated church. I turned to give them cover with my shooting. ‘Got one,’ I cheered mentally when one of the beasts spiralled out of the air.
“The church! Everyone inside the church!” Shana exclaimed. A few hesitated but eventually even those who hesitated rushed into the building. Last in, I skidded to a stop and slammed the door shut from the monstrosities.
“Is everyone okay?” The words came out of my mouth as a gasp; I tried to catch my breath and took in the village hunters we had saved. They were disgruntled, dirty, and frightened of who we were. Some, younger men closer to my own age, had hidden under the benches and tried to catch a hold of their cries. Others seemed to be in shock- blank eyes blinked between Shana and me.
I stepped beside Shana. “What now?”
Shana took a deep breath. When she exhaled a second later she was shaking. “We need to guard the windows. You take the ones to the left of the door and I’ll take the right. Hopefully the Lieutenant isn’t far behind.”
I broke several of the wooden bars that were on the windows, to get a better view of the creatures. They swarmed through the sky surrounding the church. One screeched then swept down toward me- Shana and I had already been spotted.
“Op 9 they are headed for the window! You see them?” I said feeling quite afraid. I grasped my weapon tightly praying the Lieutenant was close behind. They began to fly towards the window but diverted to avoid our shots. “I have an idea.” Without thinking too much on it I opened the church door and ran out. I raised my gun to the sky and rained shots up at them. “Cover me!” I shouted but was unable to hear Shana’s reply. There was a large house not too far away. Pillars that supported an upper floor balcony stood at the front. I jumped behind the first one. They were coming so fast, it was as if they could smell my fear. I jumped from my hiding place and took shots at them. They began to dodge down toward me, I jumped back behind the pillar. The force in which they hit, caused the pillar to shake. I turned back out to shoot again but it was a sight to see as the creatures began to drop from the sky as quickly as rain. It wasn’t because of my own shots. The Lieutenant and Keron came walking calmly to me, their weapons still smoking from their rounds, as they changed their cartridges in the same instance.
“You still alive, Op12?” Shana stepped out of the church, her own gun pointed to the sky in case any more of the beasts appeared. In order to conserve my breath, of which I was short in supply at the moment, I nodded and hoped that she could see.
“You spot anymore?” I called back a few moments later when the tightness had eased in my chest.
“I think that’s the last of them.” Shana slung her gun back inside its holster, still within easy reach and unlatched in case she was wrong. I leaned against the pillar for support and slide down. My legs felt like jelly as the adrenaline rushed out, I doubt they would carry my weight.
“Op 9, Op12 are you alright?!” hollered Luke. He turned and gave a signal to come. Then Ino and Jai were seen running to catch up with Luke.
“Yes sir!” I replied walking toward them.
“Yes sir,” Shana replied walking toward us.
Luke turned to Ino. “Mr. Ino I guess I owe you an apology,”
“That’s alright as long as everyone is okay,” said Ino.
“Mr. Ino what baffles me though is how you knew what was going to happen and more importantly, what were those things?” Luke asked.
“It’s related to my story, sir,” Ino said, a shake to his head, “But how? I could not say.”
Luke cracked his knuckles and looked about the now empty square. “Why are they here now? Where are the Royals?” Ino looked at us intrigued by the questions. He brushed the side of his beard with the outside of his hand.
“They have been hidden through the wars these past fifty years. They could have become anyone in the meantime.” Ino sighed the words out, his whole body shaking as the weight of the little he knew left him.
Luke scanned the area for any other threats. Finally, his gaze settled back onto the old man. “Who shared this story with you? If you lead us to them, we might-”
Ino held up a hand and cut him off. “It has been passed from mother to child in this village for more years than you could count. To most it is but a legend. The signs, as I believe, have always been there. If only we had watched more closely.” He shook his head, his face sagged with the sorrows that went unsaid. Other members of the village began to trickle from the square, leaving the six of us alone. I watched as they skirted around the creatures without examination. Sure it was, because of the fear that shook their bones.
Luke clicked his tongue. He jabbed his finger underneath Ino’s nose. He growled, “You’re coming to the capital.” His eyes went to Jai and softened. Only slightly, unlike my own. “May as well take your niece too.” He turned to Keron. “Seeing that threat seems to be gone, try radioing in for a rendezvous unit.” He paused. “Tell them we will need four patrol officers as well, Op5.”
Keron saluted. “Yes, sir.” Then immediately did his job.
Luke watched him make the call. When Keron was finished, he continued with his orders, “Op12, Ino, come with me. The rest of you wait here for pickup.” Grudgingly everyone murmured their assents. No one fought the orders.
Lieutenant led the way with Ino and I following close behind. We began walking back to the spot where we had first spotted the varmint. A trail of bodies paved the narrowed road way and provided an accurate path that they had taken. I imagined it could be seen from the hills surrounding the village- it seemed to stretch forever from where we stood. My nose crinkled; I didn’t know if the creatures were the first in a new chain of evolution or beasts created from a failed experiment but there was no denying their ugliness. The dreadful smell of the dead caused me to stumble and clap a hand over my mouth. I felt like throwing up. Another step and I had to stop at some bushes and empty my stomach. Ino stepped up to some bushes at the end of the trail. There were broken branches, but the weird thing was, it seemed like the monsters were running backwards. Just when I thought this place couldn’t get any creepier.
I backed away. There wasn’t much for me to do there. I turned my attention instead to the nearest of the critters. I wanted to know what they were. I bent down and narrowed my eyes. “Lieutenant!” I called over my shoulder. Luke ambled my way and bent down. I reached out and shifted the varmint’s feet. “The feet- Look at the feet!” They were truly backward as the footsteps led me to believe. Its’ ankles were twisted back, the skin stretched in such a way that I knew this was no natural occurrence. Its appearance was something from hell - long sharp fangs and eyes that glowed red even in death. Stranger yet was the flexible spine. Inside was the junction of its wings.
In any other circumstance it would be funny to see how bloodless and hardened Luke could become but it just made me more freaked out. “Is this a failed experiment?” I blurted out.
No one had an answer; I walked away, my eyes trailed the ground. The moonlight turned my attention to something and I stopped. It was a red beaded chain. I bent and fiddled with it. My eyes darted around. Now that I was aware I noticed all these creatures had the same anklets. “Sir!” I called out to Luke. “They all have these. There must be something to this.” Luke bent beside me inspecting it closely, but never attempted to touch it.
“Bag it,” Luke ordered and rose to his feet. High above our heads was the familiar sounds of whirling- An aircraft. “Our ride. Let’s go.” Luke clapped a hand on my shoulder; when I hesitated, he drew me to my feet. We hurried back to the town square with Luke’s arm still about my shoulders. The aircraft hovered over the entrance as it waited for us. We were the last to make our way onboard with Ino behind. Jai threw her arms about her uncle when we appeared. The ride back to home was quicker than the trip here. Keron’s attempts to flirt with Jai, even if she rolled her eyes back, made it seem even longer. In the time it took to snap my fingers the rolling green hills were replaced by asphalt and the heavy smell of rubber. Home.
“Civilization at last!” Keron exclaimed. He stretched his arms along the seat until they enclosed Jai. He winked. “A shower and a pretty lady is all this guy needs.”
Luke interrupted to everyone’s relief. A great distraction for Jai to pull herself away, “Twenty-four hours leave, Ops. We’ll meet in the conference room.” The aircraft landed, and Luke came off leading the way to the straightest route to headquarters.
. “Yes, sir!” We hurriedly gathered our belongings and followed.
Luke continued the orders. “Miss Matrin, I’ll leave you in Op12′s care,” he pointed her out to me. He shifted his gaze to Ino. “Mr Matrin, you’ll come with me.”
“Why him?” Keron exclaimed. He clapped his hands against his legs when he realized what he said.
“I can guarantee she’ll be in one piece tomorrow.” We all laughed as Keron fumed. It was ironic that Jai was in my care when Luke always took the time to warn me against flirting around like Keron. “It leads to trouble,” he would often say. His hands shaping the round belly of pregnancy.
Keron elbowed my side playfully. Low so only my ears caught it, he said, “Do you even know what to do with a woman?”
Pulling Jai away “Ignore the feeble-minded Walrus,” I said. He gazed at me angrily. It worked every time. Shana took him by the shoulders leading him away then winked. It was a trick we created for him. He hated being called a walrus but that was the only way to shut him up.
Jai smiled up at me. My heart fluttered in my chest. “Where will you take me?”
I gulped. “Depends. What do you like?”
Dimples dotted her cheeks, one slightly deeper than the other. “Show me Port Trinity.”
I hesitated, but said. “The carnival. It comes once a year but-,” I shook my head, unable to describe the music, food, and general festivities that meant the festival was upon us. I thought showing her would be better. To tell her, would not have given her the full experience. I began to lead her down the streets toward the centre square. From even this far away I could hear the train of music.
Jai stopped and released her hold on me when the music swelled. She swung back and forth between two legs and twirled with a giggle. “Oh Carnival!
All weights fell from Jai the closer we came to the square. People began to crowd in among us wearing the gold and silver masks of masqueraders with neon coloured costumes. The colours of the rainbow danced and swirled like fireflies as the dancers moved in and out. More danced on levitating pads while others used sparking poles on the ground. Familiar characters were crafted into floats that danced their way down the streets in between the giant dragons- they would be operated by no more than two men but Jai didn’t believe me when I whispered it to her. Mists of various colours moved under our feet as we moved from stall to stall gouging on food. It was like a dream. Jai was by my side. Not only was she pretty but was kind too. She didn’t mind as I stepped on her toes as we danced. Only laughed. Life in that village seemed not to be kind on her. This was her moment to be free.
Hours later Jai pressed against my side. She swayed side to side with the music but no longer had the energy to dance so expressively as before, “I never had so much fun in my life.”
I laughed. “Me too.”
“Hey loser!” a voice said from a distance with the person coming closer into our vision. Then I recognised who it was. Hade Sficfer “Sic” as I called her. She was expelled from the team for indecent conduct – basically causing all the lieutenants havoc with her behaviour. Let’s just say that somehow after all her escapades she knew the right person that could allowed her back into the Op society again and again. And that aspect of things elevated her faster than the best serving officer. We had history but not the kind you are thinking of. She was just this chick that always teased me. She was ahead of me in the academy, tried to show me up a couple of times always trying to make my life as unpleasant as possible. I believed there was good somewhere there, underneath the crazies in her head... somewhere.
“Hey baby.” Hade said, her arms wrapped around my waist. “Who’s the brat? You’re not cheating on me are you?” Smiling devilishly.
I stepped away breaking her grasp. “We aren’t together,” I reminded her.
Hade snorted. “Not yet but it’s only a matter of time.” Her fingers trailed over my cheek. “You never answered my question, babe. Who’s the bitch?”
I slapped her hand away. “Stop. The names are uncalled for. What do you want?” Jai stood there looking confused. She stepped back looking away.
She leaned closer to me and tangled her fingers with mine. Her eyelashes batted and I thought for a moment, ‘How innocent,’ before I shook my mind awake. “Just a dance, babe.”
“I’m already with someone.” I turned Jai away from her and started to walk away. Other carnival patrons made faces as we pushed away from Hade. I clasped Jai tighter by the hand fearful that she would be swept away by the crowd.
Hade called out after me, “See you soon, babe.”
“Who was that?” Jai asked.
I laughed. “Don’t worry about her, she’s no one important.” I watched Jai watch the crowd. All the joy from the day was reflected on her face along with the flashing colours from the lights. “This has to be the best carnival I’ve ever been to.”
She smiled up at me. “Where to next?”
“Panorama is coming up. Or J’ouvert. Both are good. They take paint, mud, oil and have fun with it while music plays. I love it” I turned to lead her in the direction of both but before I made more than a few steps, the receiver in my watch beeped. The Lieutenants call.
Jai’s face fell, mirroring my own. “Time to go?” She asked, her hand tugged against mine. I shrugged my shoulders, unable to form an apology. She returned it. Without any more words we hurried through the streets back to base. The rest of the team was waiting for us as we entered the conference room. Shana and Keron gave me raised brows full of different meanings. I ignored them both but dropped Jai’s hand.
“We have been given an important job, Ops.” Luke started to speak as soon as we took our seats. Mine between Keron and Shana, and Jai besides her uncle, a free space to her right. Luke stood at the very front of the table. “Direct orders from the Chancellors of World Summit: we are to find the last members of the royal family. Their part in the world still holds great importance. Some members are known to have died during the war. Any survivors are hidden in fear for their lives. As peace has returned to the land, so must they to their place in the Summit. We may not be the only ones searching for the royals. So far we have seen things like no one has known before. With Mister Matrin’s story for validation, we may hold doubts but we must go forward. Chancellors Daven of the Americas shall be joining us. He will brief us further.” Keron made a strangled noise and started to speak. Before he got the words out the door was slammed open and a man sauntered inside. The American Chancellor.
“Ops,” he said, the only greeting he gave before he launched into the spiel. He signalled to remain seated as we attempted to salute. “This endeavour shall strengthen relations in the summit and as such, we must ask you to achieve formally, unsurpassed resilience until the matter is cleared. You shall be the first Ops to have unrestricted access to the world.” He paused and looked around. “As such we have called upon one of the most brilliant Officers in decades, Op Hade Sficfer to accompany you.” I groaned and he shot his eyes toward me. “Call her Op Sficfer from here on out.” Hade walked in and slowly licked each finger. We all knew without words what happened- Hade was up to her old tricks.
She winked my way. “Told you we would meet soon,” giving that all familiar smile.
“Based upon our investigation into Mister Ino’s story we found that we should begin our search in the Americas. Take a few moments to acquaint yourself with the territory as best as you are able and here is generated picture of one of the royals believed to be alive. Any questions?”
Hade stepped forward ignoring the venomous glares the rest of us sent her way. “If we are successful on this important mission we will be rewarded greatly?” She smiled; it was her reason for acting the way she did to get here. Luke slid a glare to her. She fumbled for a moment but stepped back. She might be lazy but the reward must truly be as great as said, if she was willing to step forward.
Keron cracked his knuckles; a loud pop that filled the air. “What’s the plan, Lieutenant? Bodyguard only? Or are we heading straight for the threat?”
“Primarily our goal is to protect the nations as always. We will go where the investigation leads us but that doesn’t mean look for trouble.” The look was pointed my way and to Hade. Keron laughed and Shana huffed out a breath, her hands on her hips. “Those at the home base will keep the situation under control at the village. We will take care of this as swiftly and efficiently as possible. We leave at 0800. Destination South of the Americas. Ilha de Vera Cruz.”
Morning came. We were grim as we approached the aircrafts, sure that the world would never be the same again. There had to be more to the loneliness we all felt, seeing what we did.
Luke stopped at the end of the platform. He ushered Jai and Ino up before the rest of us. “Let’s hurry up, people.”
Keron did the last checks in the storage compartment while the rest of us took our seats. Jai smiled when I sat by her. “All set, Sir,” Keron exclaimed.
“Okay let’s go! Start engines,” Luke shouted at the pilot taking his seat. The turbines roared and shook the metal of the plane around us. Once in the air no one dared to speak of their fears out loud. Our glances and eye contact said it all, mostly between Keron, Shana, and I. We relaxed for an hour into the flight. It was hard not to be distracted by the rolling scenery outside the windows. The statue of Christ the Redeemer loomed in the distance. As the aircraft lowered, Shana turned suddenly in her seat, her focus fully on the window opposite showing the statue.
“It looks like... there’s trouble down there,” she exclaimed. I sat opposite her and turned my attention to the same window. There were people running around frantically in all directions.
Luke looked worried but he still hesitated. “We’re almost at the base.” In time with his words, a thud came from the tail of the aircraft.
“What was that?” Keron looked around as a second thud came from the back. When it came again the emergency alerts came on- rolling red lights and a high pitched noise that could have caused ears to bleed. We pressed against the windows and searched for any signs of what was happening.
One of the red eyed fiends shot past my window aimed right for the engine turbines. “It’s those things…. Reddies!” I shouted. In my fear I nicknamed them off the bat.
Keron jumping to the window searching for a way out, “Here?! Did they follow us?” About a dozen more shot pass launching straight for the windows.
Luke leaned into the cockpit from his seat. “Get us down.” We watched as the pilot wrestled with the jet’s controls to land us safely. More of the monsters attacked us. They rocked the jet and though the pilot fought for control, we were tossed side to side. It was a good thing we kept our seat belts on. The pilot swerved the jet making the creatures miss the mark allowing the pilot to set the aircraft down taking trees and a couple hundred square meters of grassland with it. The aircraft seemed to survive the landing fully intact. The creatures headed straight for the aircraft.
“We need to get them off the aircraft before they destroy it.” Luke paused and thought. “Op9, leave the craft first and lead as many away. Head toward the trees. The rest of us will provide cover.” Shana took a hold of her weapon and nodded grimly. She pressed herself against the wall as Luke placed his hand on the door. He counted down from three before he threw it opened. She ran. Shots rang out. Luke’s plan worked. They set after her and released their hold on the plane.
“Go to the base and send help. We’re getting off here.” We grabbed a hold of our weapons and jumped from the air craft. Our own shots rang through the air as we covered Shana’s run for the trees. She pressed back against a large oak tree trunk and returned fire, dragging their fading attention to where she was. The lusus naturae returned our attack with equal viciousness. We kept running, dodging the attacks until we were within the safety of the trees. From the east, screams entered the forested area acting as an introduction to frightened persons, who were running toward the trees for safety, franticly yelling, “Chupacabra que voar!”
My words came out hissed. Air did not come easy into my lungs, “What are they saying?”
Jai’s eyes were wide and they trembled with her fright. “Chupacabra that fly”
“You speak Portuguese?” asked Keron while shooting at the creatures. She nodded weakly looking at the creatures that engulfed the skies.
Luke peered around his hiding tree. “Ops, E.C.E quickly.”
I scanned through my brain for my training. Enemy Count Estimation! I followed the flight of the beasts. It was almost like a synchronized dance the way they flew around each other. Their dives perfectly in sync and with a frightful kind of beauty.
Fumbling to remember the correct response. I got it. “East e fifteen approximate” I responded.
“West e twenty” said Keron.
“North e five,” responded Shana.
“South e zero, except I see four kids with hats but zero threats,” Hade responded. Her worry was clear, she made a move toward them. But before I could call out a warning, Luke whirled on his heel and emptied his clip into their forms. They shook and dropped to the ground. Dead. Hade looked back at us stunned. She eased back closer to us.
He was grim as he nodded to me. Luke recognized the effort even if I was slow to execute it. “More will come to cover the area,” he exclaimed. We were surrounded; I gulped suddenly more full of fright than when we were in the aircraft and going down. “Cardinal formation! Ino and Jai in the middle. Everyone cover the sides and keep the beasts from getting too close to us. I’ll take the skies. Op12 take the lead. Our mission is to get to base alive!” It was only two miles to the east. I inhaled sharply and took my place.
The creatures dogged our steps swiftly and franticly taking occasional swipes at our heads with Luke or Keron knocking them back. There was a savage need to their actions, creatures doing whatever it took to stay alive. Our shots didn’t slow them down; their relentless attacks only ceased when their last breaths left their bodies. More came to replace the ones that fell. Even the child-formed ones made an appearance by the hundreds. They charged at us. Shana with help from Keron showed no hesitation or mercy in knocking them backward. Hade was out of sight, near the back of the line but her screams were loud enough to burst my eardrums. Thirty minutes passed and still no sign of base.
“Do we have visuals, Op12?” Luke’s words dropped as if there were weights tied to them. He was as exhausted as I was.
“Black smoke a few meters ahead,” I called back over my shoulder. Moments later the last of the trees gave out. There was the base but it appeared to be under attack. The Reddies attacked the roof of the base to no avail. It was reinforced metal they were up against. The familiar foul stench filled the air causing air intake to be an added strain. The sun peered down at our dismay as the shells we left behind created a yellow brick road for the freaks-of-nature to follow.
Fresh sets of the creatures were on our tail faster than before. “Keep moving.” Luke’s orders came between heavy sounds of weaponry. We struggled closer to the base inch by inch. Not that it seemed safer. The monstrosities used the building as a jungle gym. They were all over it, crashing in doors, biting and scratching at the defense weapons which tried to fight back the onslaught.
“It’s directly ahead. We can make it in a sprint.” I shot the last critter away opening a direct path. We weren’t the only ones fighting. Finally the Ops inside were exterminating the creatures that littered across the surface. One by one they dropped to the ground.
Out of breath Luke struggled to give an order. “Mr. Ino, take your niece ahead. Op9 cover their backs. Op5 will cover yours. Sficfer, Op5′s, Op12 and I will come last. Look for an Op or an open doorway. Guide us along the safest path. Go!”
Luke and I didn’t wait to watch their progress. We stood shoulder to shoulder as the creatures pressed downward on us.
“We can hold them.” Luke’s face was tight with concentration and his lips set in a thin grim line. Hade shot a few bullets into the air. “Progress on Ino and Jai, Sficfer?.”
She cut a brief glance towards the base. “Nearing the base now, Sir.”
“Let me know when they’re safe.” He shot another round into the sky. He hit a creature directly between the eyes. It let out a high pitched screech as it pummeled to the ground.
She shot another glance. “In.”
“Go.” Luke drew his gun down. He grabbed me by the arm and propelled me forward away from the fiends. We took turns covering for each other as we ran. Hade would get a few feet ahead then whirl on her heels to cover us as we passed. My turn. His turn. Over and over again. It felt like an eternity passed.
Then the door stood a few meters away. I grinned and called out, “Only a few steps to go,” running towards the base. A loud shriek was the answer I received. I recognized it instantly as Hade. I skidded to a stop inside the doorway and stared at the woman. She tried to fight off the flying fiends. I took a step out to aid her but there wasn’t time. Too many surrounded her. Too many sharp fangs dug into her soft flesh and their razor sharp claws raked across her form. Freakishly, sending chills down my spine, a black substance began to fill her wounds swallowing her body. A single note of pain hung into the air before it, and Hade, disappeared altogether. Luke was a few feet from the door, his mouth open in shock. The varmints turned their focus toward us. We were in the range of the base’s defenses. No matter how close they came, they were picked off one by one.
She had been so close. How had they gotten her?
Keron stumbled out. “She’s gone. Did you see? They got her. She’s gone!” His gaze was locked onto where she stood seconds before. Not even a lock of hair had been left behind.
“Inside.” Luke had to force Keron by a propelling hand on the shoulder so he stumbled inside. We collapsed against the walls, our legs too weak to hold our bodies and our minds too shattered to process what had happened. Breathing had become a chore.
Two of the Vera Cruz Ops walked up and saluted. “Você está bem?” Both of the men were short and heavily lined with muscles. The way they walked showed how well they were trained. The heavy smell of cologne about them showed they were not as rough as they were made to seem.
Jai stepped forward knowing she was the one to speak “Si, estamos bem, voce fala Ingles?” The base was not as large as ours. I could count only ten rooms down each side of the long hallway. It was sufficient at least.
He nodded and examined us “Yes I do speak English. I am Rivas of the Vera Cruz Unit and you must be the Trinity Unit. We have been expecting you.”
“Sorry to be rude, we have a bit of a situation here. The creatures that attacked us, we saw once before in Trinity. My team needs to regroup,” responded Luke. Rivas led us into a room where we sat to catch our breaths.
Luke in a vengeful rage screamed “Those Godforsaken creatures!”
“You mean the flying Chupacabra,” Rivas said with a straight face while the rest of us were surprised, but somewhat relieved that he had a name for it or knew what it was.
Luke squinted his eyes and tilted his head. “What? You know what these things are? They just killed one of my officers.”
“They are supposed to be legend. Mito. Goat suckers with red eyes,” replied Rivas. Forget being relieved. He was just a superstitious nut to me now. Luke looked away with annoyance, then turned back at Rivas “You expected me to believe.....” he paused, “that fairy tales are attacking us?” He paused again this time giving a slightly sarcastic quiet laugh. “I would have believed you more, if you told me they were aliens.” Outside in the corridor, I saw persons scampering to another room.
“Do you know what are the no face baby ones with the backward feet?” asked Keron out of turn.
“Backward feet? Curupira? No but Curupira attack poachers, and persons of greed,” Rivas said clearly showing he was putting thought into his words. Luke turned and looked at us then shook his head in disbelief.
“Don’t encourage this silliness Singh. Obviously we have some unknown species we’re now discovering, but not fairytales,” Luke stated, continuing his disgusted expression.
Thoughts racedthrough my mind.Suddenly, I remembered a storySister Jane from the orphanage told us one day. It was about old folklore of Trinidadian characters…fairy tales. “Douens!They are the lost souls of children thatdied before they were baptized,” I blurted out.The words came out before I could reel them in.
“Douens?” Shana raised her brows, with a smile on her lips. Luke turned his eyes to the ceiling, and shook his head.
“Backward feet, no face, and stuck in their childhood forms. I can’t believe I didn’t connect it before.” I shook my own head but in disbelief at my own thought process.
“We know what it is, but how do we get rid of them?” asked Keron. We were going on and on, rambling about what it was that might have been happening, while Ino and Jai sat in the background in a thinking mien.
“I can’t believe we are talking about this,” Luke muttered.
Another officer rushed toward Rivas from outside the room and whispered in his ear. His eyebrows shot up. He turned to us. “Forgive me but wemay have something that can help.”Rivas waved us out of the room. We walked down the corridorand he led us into a room with two cages. Inside those cages is what startled us… Douens alive!
“My men caught them a few minutes before you arrived. My men have started to document their observations into a database. It seems the douens keep repeating something.”
Luke intently watched Rivas.“They speak?” Rivas nodded at Luke’s words. He seemed unafraid as he walked up to the cages and bent down.
“Now it’s a Douen,” Keron said in a half joking manner. Luke turned to show his annoyance.
Luke bent so his face was level with the fiend. “You little beasts took one of my soldiers. Better start talking.” He returned the douens sinister look with an equal one of his own.
“The seeds of Lord Jase return for vengeance, and will erase this world.”
Keron jumped back. “Did he just say the world will come to an end?”
Luke cocked his head to the side- his face was blank from fright or anger. I felt the bottom of my stomach drop. “Mr. Ino, what do you make of this?”
He chewed the words over in his head. “I believe-” But he didn’t get the chance to finish the sentence. The door was thrown open and another Vera Cruz Op rushed in.
“Nós temos um problema!” the Op shouted, then whispered into the ears of Rivas.
Rivas rushed to the screen of the database. There were a rapid string of keys tapping and then a map appeared of South America. There were red dots everywhere. “More attacks,” he explained. “They are coming at us throughout the entire land.” He turned to Luke with wide eyes. In his native tongue he muttered what sounded like a curse.
“Where?” asked Luke.
Rivas watched him with horror, “All of South America.”