The Cuckoo's Progeny
03: Others Like Us
CopyrightÂ© 2016 Vincent Berg. All rights reserved.
“A martial arts dojo?” Al scratched his head, studying the structure. “This is what we were searching for?”
“It’s not the dojo, it’s what’s inside,” Betty said, watching the building intently.
“Okay, let’s head in and see.”
“Not now. The other one isn’t here yet. I’m waiting for both.”
“How far away is this other one? Is there time for a quick nap?”
“No, it’s close by. We got here just in time.”
Al sat up, staring out the window for any suspicious activity, but didn’t notice anything.
Several minutes past, before Betty jerked to attention. “They’re both inside! We missed something. Maybe they were taken in through the back?”
“I didn’t see anything. There’s no room for a service van in the back, though we don’t know what we’re seeking.” Al opened the door. “Come on, there’s only one way to find out.”
They entered the mixed-martial arts dojo. There were a variety of older kids practicing their forms. Betty walked past her brother and crossed the studio. She paused, pointing out the two instructors helping students in the back. “It’s them. They’re what I was searching for.”
“Not what I was anticipating,” Al said, heading towards the pair.
“Excuse me, could we ... talk privately for a moment?”
The couple was in excellent shape, demonstrating moves for a yellow belt. The woman looked Hispanic, with her hair pulled back and her forehead covered with a headband, despite the dojo having a distinctly Japanese presence. Her partner was paler with longer hair, bangs hanging over his forehead and a goatee. There were both a few years older than Al and Betty.
The man looked the two up and down, evaluating their potential. “You interested in signing up for a class?”
“Not exactly. My sister, Be, is looking for you. Something drew us to you and we’d like to learn why.”
Considering the teenagers, the woman wiped her forehead, nudging her headband.
Al noted they both wore elastic straps over their wrists. Swallowing, he took a chance, unbuttoning and rolling up his sleeve, something he never did in public. The couple noticed the marks on his wrist. Instead of displaying curiosity, they dropped to one knee, crossing their right arm over their chest.
“We await your command, sir.”
“Uh ... what?”
Betty shifted around so she could examine her brother’s wrist. “How long have you had that?”
“I’ve always had it, though it’s gotten more pronounced recently. I have no idea what it signifies, but apparently our new friends do.”
Betty lifted her sleeve, revealing a similar but slightly different design on her wrist. “That’s why I always cover my arms.” She pulled her bangs back, exposing a series of dark circles across her brow line.
“Damn,” Al said, pulling his own hair back, displaying a comparable pattern.
The two figures on their knees yanked their armbands off. They possessed nearly identical designs on their flesh.
“What do they mean?” Al demanded, motioning them up, blushing as he glanced at the students surrounding them.
The couple glanced at each other as they stood. The man spoke for the two. “We don’t know. We’ve always thought it was some birthmark.”
“Then why did you kneel? The mark must signify something to you?”
“Frankly, I’ve never seen any besides our own, but we realized you were someone important when we saw it.”
“But you didn’t respond the same when you saw my sister’s, or each other’s.”
“There’s something distinctive about yours,” the woman responded.
Al strode over to the nearest student, who was trying to pretend he wasn’t watching. He showed him his wrist and the kid shrugged. “It’s interesting, but nothin’ to write home about.”
Al returned to the couple. “So what accounts for the difference in your reactions and those of everyone else?”
Betty examined his wrist again. There was a thicker solid ring, with two thinner circles with a small dot at the eleven o’clock position. Hers consisted of three thin circles with a line marking the twelve noon location. The new couple had a thinner circle surrounding a thick one, circling another thin one. None of them made much sense, but she had to admit, seeing the one on her brother’s wrist she had a tendency to defer to him.
Al stepped back, trying to distance himself from the observing, curious students. “We’re attracting attention.” He covered his wrists again. “I’m Al Collins, and this is my sister Be.”
“Betty,” she said, correcting him.
“I’m Gary Marks,” the man said before indicating his partner. “This is my girlfriend, Delilah Rivers.”
“Forgive me for asking,” Al said as they shook hands, “but how did you meet? It seems, if we all share these traits, we must be related somehow.”
“It’s possible,” Delilah said. “We’re orphans. We met in a group home and kept in touch. Once we grew up, we discovered we were both into self-defense. We began spending more time together, and the next thing we were in love.”
“I was hoping you were related. That makes more sense than if there’s no biological connection between us.”
Betty lifted Delilah’s wrist after they shook hands. “I notice you have identical symbols. Maybe it stands for security.”
“It might be. That’s why we got into this. We believe in helping people defend themselves.”
“Well, my brother has a talent more likely to get him into trouble than assist him. We were almost killed when he tried to rescue me, he was almost run over saving our neighbor, and another woman he rescued attacked him. My own talent drew us to you.”
Gary and Delilah shared a glance. “That’s probably why you were drawn to us. Clearly we were meant to meet. I’m guessing we’re intended to protect you.” One of the students cleared his throat. “Pardon us, we have a lesson,” Gary said. “Please, take a seat, enjoy the demonstrations and we can talk afterwards.”
They did just that. There weren’t any seats, so they sat on the hardwood floor along the side. Gary clapped and everyone jumped to attention. He took them through their rounds, and then moved to the next stage. “Peter, Markus, why don’t you practice sparring while we critique.”
“Pardon me, Sensei, who are the new people? Are they someone we should know?”
Gary turned, motioning Al forward. “Frankly, we’ve just met, but I’m eager to learn just how skilled he is. How about it? Care for a demonstration?”
Al stood and approached the practice area. “I’ve got to admit, I know next to nothing about martial arts, but I’ll try whatever you want.”
“I’ll take it slow,” Gary said, folding his hands and bowing slightly. “I suspect you’re better than you claim.”
Al copied his bow and Gary took a basic fighter stance. Al stood as he normally did. Gary threw a jab and Al leaned to one side and the blow, which he’d held back, missed. Gary smiled and tried a quick three-punch combination, each of which Al avoided without raising his hands. The students leaned forward, suddenly excited about the demonstration. Gary did a spin-kick, aiming for Al’s head. Al crouched as Gary’s leg sailed over his head, then reached out and yanked Gary’s foot from under him, sending him to the mat with a thump. The students gasped. Getting back to his feet, Gary bowed again. “Excellent. You’ll have to show me your technique. Try attacking me now. Don’t worry, I can defend myself.”
“It’s called anticipation and I’m not sure I can teach it.” Al turned slightly, tossed a punch with his right hand—which Gary moved to counter—then threw a straight jab with his left, which halted centimeters from Gary’s throat.
Gary bowed a third time, lower than before. “Remind me never to get into a bar fight with you. I think you should be the one teaching me.”
Delilah stepped up, motioning Betty forward. “Would you care to give it a try?”
“Yes, please do,” two girls shouted.
She waved the request off, remaining seated. “No thanks. I’m a searcher, not a fighter.”