Air swooshed past Perez’s head as he ducked and rolled away from the sword swung towards his head. Rolling up onto his feet, he called his katana to hand in an instant. He gripped the black handle and enjoyed the weight of the blade in his hands. A smile twitched at the corner of his lips as he narrowed his field of vision and pushed forward. His blade swung in an upward movement and connected with his opponent’s weapon, steel ringing against steel. The vibrations sent tingles down his arms and into Perez’s chest, but he didn’t allow it to distract him. He spun around in a semicircle and stepped back slightly as he threw an elbow towards his opponent’s jaw. The elbow hardly connected, grazing his opponent’s face and causing him to tumble backwards.
Perez’s heart pounded; he finally had the upper hand. He rushed forward, looking to finish the fight quickly, but his lack of patience cost him; he didn’t see the foot that swept his legs out from under him. As he landed on his back with a thud, the air was knocked from his lungs.
Trying to catch his breath as he brought his sword up to defend himself proved too much for Perez, who knew that he had lost before he even tried. A sword tip against his throat bought the point home like the final nail in the coffin, illustrating the point of his defeat further.
Looking up into a pair of steely blue eyes, he found no hint of mercy or forgiveness staring back. They held his gaze, daring him to get back up. “Do you yield?” Wise asked.
Perez rose to his elbows and the point of Wise’s broadsword inched ever so slightly closer to his neck. “Yes, yes, I yield. But you must admit, I had you there, for a second.”
Wise finally withdrew the sword from Perez’s throat and offered his hand instead. Grabbing hold of it, Perez pulled himself to his feet.
“Come on, you gotta admit I’m getting pretty good. Almost ninja-like,” Perez said, dusting himself off as best he could.
“Ninja-like? You are spending way too much time with Zami–you’re even sounding like her. Ninja-like.” Wise’s brown hair got into his eyes as he shook his head slightly. Pushing it back with a violent jerk of his hand, Wise let out a small sigh.
They had been at Ahusaka’s place for a little over four months now. For Perez, it had flown by in no time. They knew where they were going, but getting there turned out to be a lot riskier and harder than they had first imagined. Their faces had been blasted forth on all news and television channels across the world. They were wanted by no less than ten different government agencies, and that number was steadily increasing as the weeks passed. Perez had to admit that he wasn’t surprised. They had broken every federal and government law that the US had, and a few that he was only now finding out about. There were even reward bounties for any information on the trio, and triple that amount if anyone bought them in–dead or alive.
So for the last four months they had argued, planned, argued, planned again, and argued some more on the best way to get to Egypt. Every idea they came up with ended up at a roadblock later down the road that caused them trouble and stress. Thinking on it now, there really was no easy way of getting their mission started. If it had to be done, they needed to take the risk and do it fast. But the more they thought about it, the more procrastination seemed to show its ugly head.
“Yes, your movements are not as clunky and predictable as they once were, but–”
“There’s always a but,” Perez said with a roll of his eyes.
“But,” said Wise, ignoring the comment, “you get too excited when you see the goal in sight. You seem to lose all your other senses; all other options seem to disappear in front of you. The best path to victory is sometimes not always the easiest one. Rushing towards a goal because it looks obtainable is normally when most people make the most mistakes, or don’t see the most obvious ones coming their way.”
“I guess,” Perez said quietly. He turned away from Wise and took in the beauty around him. The trees swayed in a timeless dance as the wind ran through their branches like horses released from their paddock. The sun was setting, but its dimming glow still warmed the many wild flowers dotted along the stream with its rays.
Perez closed his eyes and allowed the sounds of the stream to wash away the many thoughts that were trying to occupy his mind. As he listened to the water burbling over the rocks, turning them smooth, he inhaled till his lungs were full and slowly breathed back out. The chill air tingled the hairs in his nostrils but it smoothed his worries nevertheless.
Perez turned back to Wise and asked the only question that still wouldn’t go away. “What now?”
Wise stretched his arms behind his head and took a few seconds to answer. “You tell me.”
Perez drew his lips drawn into a fine line; it was not the answer that he wanted to hear, though he had expected it. After Perez’s second…vision–if he could call it that–Wise had become less willing to offer an opinion on what their next course of action should be. He had removed himself from the decision-making process over time, and he only offered Perez help with training in hand-to-hand combat or with weapons.
Perez knew the reason. Since Wise had decided that their last mission, the one involving the president-elect, had been a disaster, he no longer wanted to take any responsibility for anything they did. Perez understood the logic, and would have done the exact same thing not too long ago, but he was slowly learning from his mistakes. He was also learning that he could not win every battle.
“Look, I know how you feel…about what happened. But you can’t allow it to control you like that,” Perez said.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just decide what we’re doing about Egypt, and then we can start making a move.”
“Sometimes talking about it is the only thing that can help,” Perez said, laying a hand on Wise’s shoulder.
Wise brushed Perez’s hand off and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Don’t talk to me like you understand the burden I am under. You have not had to make life-and-death choices based on some kind of hunch that someone else has had. You’ve not been kept awake at night because each step you take can have disastrous consequences for the people that you love and care about. So do not belittle me with your false understanding. The choices I have made could end the very world as we know it.
“So, now would you like to tell me, Perez, actually how you believe that you know how I feel?” Wise demanded, his finger jabbing Perez in the chest.
“No, I guess I don’t understand how you feel,” Perez said. “It’s not like The Master and his minions have been relentlessly after me for the last year or so. It’s not like I don’t lie awake at night, wondering when the next attack on my life well be. It’s not like I have not been drugged, stabbed and thrown in the ocean, all because I’m meant to be some great saviour! All because I’m meant to have all the plans! So no, you ass! Of course I don’t know how you feel. But if you pulled your head out of your ass for once, and looked around you, you would be able to see that you have people that care about you and would like to help.”
Wise threw his hands in the air and walked away in a huff. Perez pinched his nose and let out a sigh as he watched Wise’s retreating back. He turned around when he felt a presence behind him. Zami gave Perez a half-hearted smile, her curly mad-science-professor hair billowing in the wind.
“You should count yourself lucky. That’s the most I’ve heard him say since we’ve been here. He must really like you.” Zami chuckled.
“Yeah, I’m sure I can expect a Christmas card from him,” Perez muttered, his brow wrinkling in frustration.
“Don’t be too harsh on him. Wise is going through a lot, right now, and although you do understand, he kind of blames himself for this whole mess. I just think he thought it wouldn’t get to this point. I suppose that he truly thought he could control Eric and somehow avert that plane crash, rather than having it crash landing on the White House.”
“The funny thing is, Zami, the same speech I gave him just now was the same one he gave me after he pulled me out of the ocean. Although he blames himself, I just feel like if it weren’t for me and my visions, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
“Now I’m asking everyone to trust me again and come along with me on another crazy adventure.” Perez looked towards the sky and let out the breath that he was holding, trying to ease the tension in his shoulders.
“I think I have a solution for you. I don’t want to say too much yet, but I think Zami has pulled it out of the bag once again,” Zami said, tapping her nose with a forefinger.
“It doesn’t involve dressing up as handymen again, does it?”
Zami let out a peal of infectious laughter and shrugged her shoulders, giving Perez a wink. Despite the situation, Perez smiled back at her. Once again, things were going to get interesting.
* * *
Zami sat at the kitchen table watching her father work the kitchen like an old pro. He had multiple pots and pans going, but none of them seemed to be burning or boiling over. He was like a circus ringmaster, bringing each pot to a simmer just so, or raising the heat on another where needed.
“Have you decided on a course of action?” Ahusaka asked.
“We think we have… I mean, we know where we have to go just… yeah.”
Ahusaka turned his head to look at Zami and raised an eyebrow. Turning his attention back to the stove he continued cooking.
“Well, it’s just that Wise hasn’t said anything about the plans. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be involved. We just don’t feel like a team at the moment,” Zami said, massaging her neck.
“Maybe it’s about time someone took over the reins for a while, till Wise gets up on his feet. A tribe divided will always fail, even against the most simple of challenges.”
“I couldn’t do that to him, Dad.”
“What other choice do you have, dear?” With the meal fully prepared, Ahusaka turned off the stove and sat opposite his daughter. He took her hands in his and looked at her softly, his eyes wrinkling at the corners with a smile that wasn’t showing on his lips.
“Your mother is one of the most beautiful, striking, intelligent, charming, playful women I have ever met. She makes a full moon seem dull whenever she is in your presence. Her laugh alone could make the deaf smile. But in saying that, that woman is one of the most stubborn-headed people I have ever met. She makes the donkey seem like an obedient animal.”
“But because of that,” Ahusaka continued, “you have to let her be. I could never make your mother settle down, because it would be like capturing the wind in a bottle. And like the wind, and the passing of the seasons, she needs to be free.”
“Do you ever miss her?” Zami asked, just above a whisper.
“All the time. But I am just happy that I had her in my life when I did. Some people never get to experience what I had with your mother, and I feel sad for them. It was, and always will be, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And from that experience, I was gifted the greatest thing a person could ever want. And that’s you, my little doe. Now I will ask again–what are your plans for dealing with the problem?”
“Well, if you must know, I have hacked into an airline computer database and have arranged for a rather large crate to be delivered to Cairo. All we have to do is make our way to the air hangar that the crate will be in, sneak on board, and relax for the rest of the journey. I have a friend at the air hangar who will meet us there, so we know which one is the right crate. I don’t want to get shipped to Iceland or somewhere halfway around the world! Perez and Wise would never let me live it down if I did…”
Ahusaka closed his eyes and placed a finger to Zami’s lips, seeming to listen to some far-off sound that Zami couldn’t hear.
Zami strained her hearing and tried to pick up what her father was hearing. At first there was only the sound of the wind, as it found its way through the gaps in the wooden house, whispering here and there as it continued its journey through the house.
Listening more intently, she slowly made out a sound that she couldn’t quite recognise in the distance. Pinpointing the noise, she could make out that it was growing louder by the second.
“Grab your things and go now!” Ahusaka instructed.
The sound was beginning magnified by the second; its deep bass howl seemed to vibrate through the house and into Zami’s very core. She looked around the room; the pots and pans on the stove started to shake and rattle. The very air seemed to have come alive with noise, the pots creating their own symphony to accompany the unknown sound.
Zami looked at her father wide-eyed; she was about to speak but the door to the cabin flew open and Perez ran into the kitchen, his hands loaded with rucksacks. His breathing was laboured and his eyes wild as he searched the room, finally settling his sights on Zami. He locked eyes with her and conveyed a thousand unspoken emotions, but it was the two words that he uttered that truly bought home the magnitude of their situation.