This time they won’t catch me, she thought. I won’t let them bring me back to the Joining.
“The Externals are of no concern to us,” the Elders warned. “We exist apart from them.”
Obsessed with the concept of mortal beings, Ahnim’s depression deepened. Eternity delayed a death by boredom. She sought escape from her life, her people, the Joining.
“Listen and heed our words, child,” they said. “We of the Immini express our lives within. Focus on construction of your inner self. Reject the urge to seek gratification beyond the limits set by nature.”
Ahnim wanted more. Desire gripped her. She fed it, and gave herself to its haunting pull. She dreamed of new beings, strange entities, discoveries. Memories of the blue planet flashed in her mind.
There must be more to my life, to any of our lives. Why do they ignore what’s truly out there?
The mature Immini reproached her, restrained her from outward expression of individuality. From the first ‘no’ to the last ‘do not’, every chastisement piled high upon her mind. Each unfulfilled wish stacked upon another until it verged on toppling. But in deep space nothing falls. Frustrations tumbled inside her, weightless, irritating.
If they don’t let me go, they’ll regret it.
Gathered into a massive sphere as large as a moon, the Joining soared across remote stretches of space between the star systems in the galaxy. It condensed a community of over twelve thousand, their ship-selves bound together. Each vessel carried the living soul of the one who abode within. Immini law permitted the being to create whatever life they wished. Be they masculine or feminine, demure or uninhibited, every member aligned inner mechanisms to develop according to their own imagination. The Elders encouraged personal expression, but it must fit within the boundaries of your own crystalline shell.
Like the rest, Ahnim could create and become anything—inside her ship-self.
One law gnawed away at her. No Immini may ever explore the space where planets of the Externals might be found. Immortals must remain in the stars, and leave the worlds in peace.
As one of the outlayers, Ahnim’s ship-self fit into the external surface like a tile, or reptilian scale. Like many on the Joining’s crust, the bottom edges of her perfect pyramid set against the fellow Immini on that side. Her underside touched the others of the interior beneath. A deep blue-green permeated her pliant surface. Flesh miles deep covered colossal mechanisms. Within her empty spaces, a black cloud of anti-photons beat with interstellar lifeblood.
Ahnim possessed a blaze array at her peak to deliver a powerful stream of red-hot plasma at any enemy. Her weapon dematerialized external elements.
A mere wish forged internal elements into any shape Ahnim desired. She toyed with internal construction, but her thoughts strayed outward.
My life is my own, and I’m not waiting anymore, she thought.
Ahnim’s chance came as the Joining made a course correction to maneuver around a large asteroid floating far from any sun. The mighty sphere loosened along her side, where she guarded the horizon. As the pressure around her eased, she let go her magnetic grasp and flew out alone, a single ship broken free of the collective.
Another Immini within his own ship-self called her back.
“Ahnim! Get back into place!”
“No, Brecca,” she said. “I need something else.”
“What something? There’s nothing out there but emptiness. Now merge back in!”
“It's emptiness I need—not being contained. I want to be…out.”
“No,” Brecca said, “you mustn’t say that. It’s not allowed, Ahnim. Besides, we may need your pull at the next star.”
“They never let me help!” she said, fuming. “I can pull to a star as easy as any of those with a drive inside of us. You just always―”
“We just what, Ahnim? We keep you safe. The Immini aren’t meant to rove the galaxy alone. There are dangers.”
“Don’t do that, Brecca. Whenever I want to test my skill, or go exploring, or discover something—a planet or anything—you have to remind me.”
“I’m supposed to remind you,” Brecca said. “Others separated from the Joining to save you. They were injured doing so. You should know better by now.”
They do still blame me. I didn’t ask to be rescued. It’s their own fault they nearly froze.
“Ahnim, I wonder about what happened,” Brecca said, “why you did that before.”
“What’s there to wonder about?” she asked. “I found the little water world and went to see it for myself. I was fine.”
“Yes, exactly—you went. You’re not allowed to do that. We aren’t permitted to do that. And consider the result, Ahnim. Four Immini detached to find you, and they suffered out there, apart from the Joining.”
I have my own mechanism for inner warmth. Maybe they should’ve known better.
“The five of you barely made it back,” Brecca said.
“We did,” she said.
I didn’t want to come back. I want to try being something on the outside. There are others out there who are free, living outside themselves. I’m going to try that. You’d better not stop me.
“Ahnim, don’t you even care that your actions put others at risk? You must learn to be patient, to live according to the rules. We must each create our own life, our own inner story, but it must not effect anyone else.”
“Why not, Brecca?”
“Why not, what?”
“What could be so wrong about my life and the life of another coming together outside?”
“That’s not right, Ahnim,” he said. “It’s forbidden. I can’t even imagine…”
I can. I think about nothing else.
“If an Immini were to do that,” he said, “to merge experiences, there would be real danger of someone getting hurt. Our lives must be contained, Ahnim.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with trying it,” she said, “maybe just once.”
Ahnim coasted along near Brecca’s place in the Joining. The tiny divot sparkled on the gleaming blue globe. It pressed on, revolving, on course toward a distant nebula.
“Ahnim, listen to me,” Brecca said. “Merge back in.”
“No,” Ahnim said.
“Are you going to fly off on your own again?”
I’m going to do exactly what I choose, that’s what.
The Elders ordered she be kept out of trouble. She’d brought the entire Joining to a halt in space twice already, making them turn back once.
“All who are Internals must be initiated,” the Elders had commanded. “Every one of us shall be forever in the Joining. There can be no exceptions.”
So few were found anymore—Ahnim the last. Her birthplace, a collapsed supernova encountered far behind them. A smaller formation of Immini made a desperate dive across the black hole's event horizon. They searched through the stream of x-rays emitted from the singularity's poles. Somewhere, hidden in the dazzling energy could be a newborn.
The star itself died. The Immini dedicated the freed soul now embodied in the crystalline shell: Ahnim (Fire), Goyo (Fills), Thalia (Bursts Forth).
Now an adolescent, she lived up to her name.
“You breaking free again,” Brecca said, “is going to make it difficult to trust you."
"So, I'm not trusted anymore?” asked the intractable Ahnimgoyothalia.
"It's not about you being anything. It's about others who don’t."
"That makes no sense, Brecca. Now you're just purposely confusing me."
"Your confusion comes from having already decided that I'm wrong—that we’re all wrong, and you alone are in the right. Ahnim, you've got to look beyond yourself, to the needs of the Joining. There’s more going on than you can see from where you are. Your perspective is short-sighted. There’s a reason we prevent ourselves from doing what you consider.”
Without her knowing, Brecca sent a coded message to the Elders and the other Defenders nearby. They prepared themselves for another of Ahnim’s attempts to escape.
"Tell me about the little beings on the planet, Ahnim,” Brecca said.
“Why?” she asked. “You don't even believe me. You think I'm making all that up."
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't. What did you see that time?"
With the barest of voice, she dared express her deep desire to be believed.
"I’d gone exploring. There was a new smell, so I followed the trail of it. I found the little orange star with its gas planets. The system moved through a cloud of stellar vapor, leaving a swirl and a wake that made it easy to track. I figured I could pull to it and still get back to the Joining before anyone noticed. That's when I discovered the water world. It sparkled, in a cold sort of way, not like other planets. I didn't want to pull to it directly. It’s surface, so incredibly fragile and soft. I worried that if I touched it, or even reached to it, the water would spill off. Have you ever seen a water planet, Brecca?"
"No, they’re exceptionally rare. Donthel has, though. But the frozen water made noises, he said. It crackled as the planet turned in the warmth of its sun. If he found anything, he’s never said.”
"Oh, I didn't hear crackling," Ahnim said. "What I heard scared me. I recognized it, inside me, where my feelings are."
"What did you hear, Ahnim?"
“Screams…screams of terror,” she said.
“What would make that sound?"
"A little someone, at their last moments."
"Did you head back to the Joining then?" Brecca asked.
"No, I went closer to see if there was a little someone down near the planet."
“What did you find?” he asked.
"It was so fantastically small. I had no idea things came small like that. You know, real things. That living someones could even exist at that size—I mean, there's hardly anything there to hold together.”
"Was it on the water world?" Brecca asked. While she told him the story of her last unauthorized adventure, Brecca received the response from the Defenders. They readied to corral her, if necessary. If she moved further away from the Joining, they would stop her.
"Not at first," Ahnim said. "It stayed close to the planet, flying just over the surface. I didn't want to frighten it.”
"What did it look like—the tiny someone flying down near the water world?"
"It was pointed at the front, and had a wing on each side. The wings pushed down on the blue coating of the planet, helping it to fly. But one of the wings turned to black smoke. That's what made it start."
"Made what start, Ahnim?”
He isn’t listening to me. They never listen to me.
"I told you...the screaming,” Ahnim said.
"Was it a machine?" Brecca asked.
"Yes and no," she said. "Like I said, super tiny. But the living parts were inside mechanical part. Inside-out from us, I’d say.”
“How can that be real?”
"I know. Nobody thinks it’s real,” Ahnim said. “That's why none of you believe me.”
He thinks this is just another one of my dreams. As if I don’t know the difference between what’s real and my imagination. There are Externals out there, beyond the Joining. Maybe they know about us.
"Don't get defensive now," Brecca said. "The story is just getting good."
“Our enemies make that horrible shriek,” she said, “when they fly past and threaten the Joining. But this was different, a sad screaming. Like they wished it wouldn’t happen, but it was going to anyway."
"What happened?” he asked.
"There were more than one—many, I think. Different tiny someones, all somehow together in the pointy flier with the missing wing. The gravity took them straight at the water instead of over it. The flyer thumped, like when we trade places in the Joining. That ended the sad noises."
“Ahnim?" Brecca asked.
"Did you ever actually see the tiny someones, or just the pointy flyer?"
"I knew you wouldn't believe me! I am so—I fell for it again."
"Wait, now look, Ahnim—"
"No, Brecca—you look. Or better, try feeling something for once, or listening. No, I did not see them. I heard them. They were there."
Ahnim shut down her gravity. She drifted away from the Joining which continued to soar through space. Those responsible to secure her became aware of her distance. A dozen Defenders, each shaped in the typical mountainous pyramid, broke free on the far side of the Joining. They remained hidden from Ahnim, poised to swing around and capture her again.
Brecca struggled from his layer, one below the surface. He pressed himself out to the edge and disengaged from the Joining. He flew back to where Ahnim rolled brokenhearted in the nothing between the stars. Larger than Ahnim and more like a cube, he possessed mass and stability, but not an interstellar gravity organ as she did. He kept up with her, as long as she didn't actually pull to a star or a nearby planet.
“Ahnim, wait! Please stop yourself. Please don't make the Joining have to slow for you again. I really didn't mean to upset you. Please!”
I’ll show you what really upset looks like.
Ahnim righted herself in an instant, charging at Brecca. She flew to him by pulling the mass of the others behind him. So fast, her image stretched to catch up to her. As she stopped, her tip came close to his retreating surface.
"Do you honestly believe I would've stayed if I hadn’t discovered the tiny someones? I did because I know for a fact there’s someone on that water world. There are many of them. Just because they're too small to detect with our regular senses, doesn't mean they can't see each other as well as you see me."
“Ahnim, I'm sorry…" Brecca said.
"Yes, you're going to be," she said.
"Why? What are you going to do?”
I know how to get back to the water planet. I can find it on my own. Maybe I’ll just go and find some tiny someones, bring them back to the Joining. Then they’ll see. Yes, then they will all see.
"You want proof? I'll go get it for you."
Ahnim circled behind the Joining as it continued away from Brecca. Immediately, she noticed the others waiting for her. As fast as her, their experience gave them the advantage. Twelve adults easily surrounded the unruly child. Ahnim spun and rolled between them, moving toward any opening through which to fly. They closed in.
Why won’t they let me go? What’s so terrible about one Immini making contact with someone out there? If I don’t get away now, I’ll be sent to an inner level of the Joining. I’ll never even see the stars again.
Ahnim energized her blaze emitter. Her uppermost tip glowed bright with nuclear fire. The Defender above dodged out of the way in case she triggered her weapon. That left the gap she needed. Ahnim darted through. She reached to pull on a nearby star and looped around it.
Gaining speed, she whipped herself back past the Joining as the Defenders rushed in from behind.
Ahnim’s soul wrenched with polarizing emotions. To abandon the others, the Joining—her family—brought waves of guilt and fear. But she would discover the truth. Others existed outside the Joining. Not everyone experienced life as the Immini, contained and guarded.
I will find someone, someone different from us. Maybe I could even meet them.
Without another word, Ahnim reached her gravity to its limit. She set course in the direction of where they’d passed the system of the little blue water world. Ahnim found a supergiant star along the path. Its strong gravity merged well with her own.
She pulled to it, and streaked away faster than light.
“Do we just let her go?” Brecca asked. “She’s so young.”
An Elder came alongside him. Together, they contemplated the darkness.
“Ahnim is very young,” the Elder said. “Just as we were when we tested the law.”
The seconds ticked up with less than one minute left. Tension, almost palpable, hung in the air of the crowded schoolroom.
Seated at the table, Edwynn Dubroc slouched, a subconscious habit to mask his height. In a crowd of other high school boys, he stood two inches above the rest. He sported a lanky build, not quite athletic. Solid and lean muscles hid beneath the daily plaid button-down opened over the white t-shirt. Brown hair fell loose in random curls. Of the deepest brown, Wynn’s skin and eye color came from his father’s side, a mix of West African and Creole. Facial contours hinted at the mother’s DNA. Regardless of the social groups at school, Wynn’s black Pacific Islander didn’t fit.
Oh, just shut up already, Wynn thought. Fourteen seconds left to the end of the school year, and Mister Behrens insists on trying to teach us anything. Nobody cares. We just want out.
At 14:29:53 Wynn scooped up his stack of compulettes. From his assigned place at the micro team table, he stood.
Mister Behrens, the classroom’s Learning Facilitator, snapped his head sideways. He cast a stern glare at the student with the gall to get out of his seat seven seconds early. Before he replaced the well-practiced year end punchline to a reprimand, the clock struck two-thirty. Every one of his forty-six students leapt from their chairs. They scrambled around him to make their hasty exit of 2024’s Sophomore EuroMath.
Officially summer break, the students dashed to their parent’s cars or their own ‘lectrascooters, leaving Mamanou High School behind them. The city’s scooter trams boarded many of the students at the nearby train station’s wide loading ramp, still on their rechargeable motorbikes. Parked together in the diagonal docks for the ride out to Lafayette or Baton Rouge, the students would meet their parents at one of the many stations throughout the urban counties.
Wynn escaped as far as the flagpole on the school grounds. His bodyguard rounded him up, to escort him to the bulletproof GMC Suburban. Black and imposing, it owned the No Parking area at the curb.
Not a single day this semester where I get to ride myself home, Wynn thought. Gotta be the freak. Thanks, Dad.
“Where’s Raymond?” Wynn asked the tall and well-muscled suit with smart-sunglasses.
“Called in sick,” the bodyguard said. “I am your service today.”
Wynn pulled up short of the vehicle, his reaction prompted by mandatory training. Eric Dubroc would’ve reminded him to never, ever be the last to know what’s going on. His dad’s personal assistant should’ve sent him a graphicon over his NowSeeHear, his Nish. She’d always been diligent to warn him over his personal communication device about any changes, like the schedule or pickup location—especially an unplanned rotation of the guard.
Wynn observed the man wore the usual mirrored lenses connected to the squared, military version of the NowSeeHear. A narrow metal arm ran across the temple and looped back around the ear.
“Okay,” Wynn said. He searched for clues in the bodyguard’s attire. “Then do you care to tell me your name, or do I have to guess? And it won’t be flattering.”
“Large,” the bodyguard said.
“Yeah, that certainly fits, Mister Large. How about a first name? Oh let me guess…Extra?”
“Please get into the car, Mister Dubroc,” Large said. He reached over and opened the rear passenger door.
“Raymond always lets me ride up front with him,” Wynn said.
“Raymond may choose to ignore client protection protocols,” Large said. “I do not. Please make entry of the car.
This guy’s way too pushy and impatient.
Though his eyes were hidden behind the mirrored shades, Large’s gaze aimed directly forward, towards Wynn.
They don’t do that. They talk sideways while they’re watching everyone else. His attention should be focused on the surroundings, not me.
“Of course, Large,” Wynn said, “but now’s when you tell me the code word so I know you’re the do-right.” Wynn tested him. The client security protocols included the directive that if the client ever spoke the words ‘code word’, the bodyguard would immediately draw his weapon in response to a perceived imminent threat the client might be aware of.
“The code word…” Large said. “The code word algorithm was compromised last night. We can’t use them at the moment. They’re sending me a new one right now. You can wait in the car.”
Wynn struggled to contain his fear. Toshira guards can’t use contractions when they speak, to prevent verbal misunderstandings. Chemically controlled by an implant in their brain, the bodyguards spoke like robots.
This guy just used two contractions, one after another. If this is a trap, I’ve got one chance.
He hooked a thumb under the shoulder strap of his backpack to swing it off. He hoped to use it as a shield or at least knock the guy in the head before turning to run.
“So, Large, why do they insist on calling it a car?” Wynn asked. “I mean, it’s really a monstrous wagon after all, right?”
A vicious shove in the back caught Wynn by surprise. His forehead barely missed the top of the door frame. His arm stretched out with the backpack slammed into the car door window frame, wrenching his shoulder backwards with a crack.
Large and his accomplice grabbed the teen by the feet and scooped him into the back seat. Wynn yelled and kicked, outmatched by the two heavily muscled adults. Large climbed in on top of him while the other slammed the door shut and hurried to the driver’s seat.
The attacker stayed on top until they had driven out of the school parking lot, and rolled down the street. His elbow pressed into Wynn’s rib cage, making it impossible to suck in enough air to scream for help.
Wynn struggled to focus. Tunnel vision signaled an approaching blackout. Never knowing such fear before in his life, he sweated through his clothes in half a minute. All the afternoons spent in the gym lifting weights and practicing martial arts proved ineffective. Barely one minute and Wynn conceded.
“All right, Dubroc,” Large growled into his ear, “I’m gonna let you take a breath. Don’t fight me and you won’t get hurt. You just lay there real quiet.”
Wynn tried to nod with his head jammed deep into the gray leather of the back seat.
“What happened to Raymond?” Wynn asked after Large sat up.
“You actually care about that loser?”
“He’s my friend.” Wynn said.
“Yeah? Your friend should’ve spent more time at the gun range. He missed me three times before I split his apricot.”
The medulla oblongata, Wynn remembered. Raymond told him about that being the single best place to shoot someone to instantly turn them off, to stop all muscular motor control.
At least Ray died quickly.
Without warning, Large swung around in the seat and grabbed Wynn by the throat. He shoved him hard against the rear seat cushion and pulled a black hood down over his head. Next came a hard plastic zip-tie on each wrist. Another in the middle pulled his arms together in front.
“Sit up,” Large said. Then he slapped his open hand hard into Wynn’s chest. “And no big ideas. You just play along and maybe you’ll get to see mommy and daddy again.”
“Hey, Dwayne,” the driver said, “you ain’t supposed to be talkin’ to the kid. Sonny’s instructions were to keep our mouths shut.”
“Yeah, 'wipe, and you’re not supposed to use names either,” Large said. “Thanks for that. More slips and we will have to quiet things up.”
Quiet things up, Wynn thought. That would mean killing me. I’ve got to survive this. Whatever dad’s doing for work, for the military or whoever, it certainly can’t be worth us having to go through this, not worth one of us getting murdered.
Eric Dubroc often received spam from insurance companies fishing for recruits. He’d even busted up laughing once, sitting at his computer—his bearded face lit bright blue by the glow in the space above the desk. “Hey, do I look like an insurance agent?” he’d asked, turning to grin at his son.
Yeah, Wynn had thought then, you kind of do.
The body odor of the Dwayne Large found Wynn's nose.
Insurance agents don’t get their children kidnapped.
The Suburban rolled out of town, much farther than Lafayette. On the interstate, the afternoon sun beamed hot through the windshield.
The next big city should be Houston.
Wynn considered asking to use a restroom, but figured with the rough treatment he’d received already, there would be no chance for an opportunity to escape.
Getting me out of Louisiana is the first step. Cross the state line as soon as possible. That’s where authorities put up road blocks.
He tried to remain alert to the vehicle’s turns, and when they might be on an off ramp to head in another direction. Three hours on the freeway and the warmth of the sun moved around Wynn. It rotated from the front of to the right side, and slowly to the right rear.
Why Galveston? They’re going to put me on a boat. On the first day of summer there’ll be thousands of boats heading out into the bay or the gulf. It‘d be impossible for the Coast Guard to search everything on the water for a missing kid. Odd they haven’t swapped vehicles yet. Why would it be okay to stay in the Suburban? Because that’s the safest place to be—with Raymond in the hardened super-limo. Nobody knows yet.
“We’re at the bridge,” Large said.
Wynn turned in his seat, groggy from hours of no interaction, and the soft rhythm of the tires on the super-slab. “What?”
“The two seventy-five to Port Industrial, Dock ninety, lift G. All right. Got it.”
Obviously not talking to me. He must be on his Nish, getting directions. An industrial port makes no sense. There’re no boats there except the sea-going freighters.
After another hour, the Suburban slowed and took an exit leading them under the freeway and off to the left. Wynn smelled the ocean air mixed with diesel oil. Under the hood, he scowled at the stench from the many decades of rotting fish parts and seagull feces.
“That’s it there,” Large said, pointing to the right. His heavy fingertip tapped against the thick glass.
“Yeah, up ahead,” the driver said, “a big white ‘G’.”
The tires clop-clopped, rolling fast across wide seams between cement dock plates. The tempo slowed as the wagon swung around in a tight turn to line up for a massive open shipping container, the perfect size to hide a three-quarter ton truck, an object of an FBI manhunt. The Suburban lurched to a stop.
“We’re here,” Large said into his Nish. He followed careful instructions from someone who required regular reports.
Two more men armed with military style assault rifles flanked the swing-out doors of the box, opened at right angles to the three meter square. One of them put his hand to his ear. He waved the Suburban closer. Deep shadow swallowed the nose of the big wagon. Its front tires bounced up over the hard steel threshold.
Wynn suppressed a shudder of fear as the wave of darkness passed over him. His eyes had grown accustomed to the faintest light that wormed through the black fabric.
Stopped inside, the engine shut off. The cool blast from the overhead air-conditioning vents faded to the fetid warmth of the nearby fishery. He expected the door on his left to open. Instead, Large climbed up and over the seat back and grabbed Wynn roughly by the shirt collar.
“Get on your feet, Dubroc. We’re going out the back.”
The three seconds Wynn spent to ponder the situation were one too long. Large yanked him up off the seat. Wynn’s head slammed into the upholstered ceiling of the wagon.
“I said get up and move your butt back here!” Large said.
With several harsh pulls from Large and his own blind effort, Wynn managed to stand upright behind the Suburban. Abrasions on elbows and knees would make for bruises tomorrow.
Wynn sensed Large’s hand on his shoulder, guiding him sideways a couple of steps as one of the paired doors shut hard. The clunk from the latch reverberated in the metal enclosure. He stumbled as Large pushed back against the closed car door.
“Hey, Dwayne,” the driver said. “Wait up, man. I gotta get my stuff.”
The man grunted and cursed, straining to pull himself out through the narrow gap between the front bucket seats.
Large drew his gun out of the hard plastic holster, startling Wynn. He recognized the sharp clack. Raymond sometimes allowed Wynn to look at the bodyguard’s service pistol.
“I’ve told you about using my name, Jack,” Large said. “It's the last time you will.”
Jack’s voice squealed like a little girl, rising in pitch with the realization of his impending doom. “Dwa—I mean—No! Wait!”
The boom and shock wave from the barrel of Large’s fifty-caliber pistol rocked Wynn off his feet. He slid sideways, falling into the man’s shoulder and back into the opening at the rear of the Suburban.
The thumb-sized projectile hit square on Jack’s chin. It split the lower jawbone in half before tearing through the upper-most vertebrae under the skull. His body slid down into the passenger side footwell, chest first, with the dislocated head hanging upside down over the back of the shoulders. Eyes wide with shock, blood filled the nostrils and spilled over. It ran down across the forehead and into the hair.
Wynn’s ears rang. A cloud of gunpowder filled the air. Even through the cloth of the hood, it choked in his throat and stung in his eyes. His stomach heaved and bile soured in his mouth. If this man would murder his own partner, it’d be all too easy for him to finish off a troublesome victim.
Large took a handful of Wynn’s shirt and dragged him to his feet, slamming the right-hand door closed on the gruesome scene. The two men with assault rifles shut the container doors after Large pulled the staggering boy out of the way.
“You,” Large said to one. “Lock that up and verify it gets onto the ship. You! Follow behind us as we go down,” he said to the other.
With Wynn’s nervous jitters, he yelped as his captor reached up under his elbow to haul him off to the left. They came to a flight of stairs. Large directed him to keep his feet moving down until they reached the underside of the dock. Hidden beneath the pier, a small motor-yacht lay anchored out of sight from prying eyes or searching helicopters.
Large and the mercenary lifted Wynn up and over the side of the boat. They dropped him onto his back on the slick wooden deck. The hard landing knocked the wind out of Wynn’s lungs. His face and ears turned red with pain, then blue with lack of air beneath the bent rib cage. His pulse hammered loud in his ears. Large spoke to someone—perhaps to him or into his Nish.
A fresh stab of pain shot across his hip as the toe of a boot struck hard.
“I said get up off your butt!”
Oddly, the kick in the side helped restart stalled respiratory muscles. Wynn sucked in a deep breath of the damp coastal breeze. Before the next kick landed, Wynn rolled onto his knees and managed to right himself. The rocking of the boat surprised him. It crossed his mind to run to the side and fall overboard. Maybe make enough of a splash and a scene to attract attention.
“Don’t even think about it,” Large said.
The grip of the man curled tight around Wynn’s upper arm to guide him down into the yacht’s main galley. This time, the shove in the back landed him on the cushioned lid of a wooden bench. It doubled as storage for the boat’s dinette.
“You just do nothing right there, Dubroc. We’re going for a little cruise.”
Wynn found some leverage with his elbow against the hard wood to push himself up. Without too much trouble he sat up without discomfort. Artificial lights shone in the distance through the tiny holes of the hood’s fabric. His head leaned back, the window sill behind the bench carried the weight of his tired head. Sloshing water and rocking of the waves escorted him to the only escape open to him.