John gone, p.7
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       John Gone, p.7

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 6

  “Thanks for your help, Rodney. I thought they were going to kill me,” John said as he removed the stolen white jacket from his shoulders. He grabbed the oars resting inside the boat and lowered them into the water at his sides. He heaved the handles back against ocean’s body and began his row away from the hijacked yacht.

  “Kill you? Why would they want to kill some kid?” Rodney asked, looking back toward the yacht.

  “Oh, I don’t know. You know, they looked like they were going to kill everyone, right?” he answered dismissively.

  She gasped dramatically. “It’s you, isn’t it! I thought you looked weird, stuffing your bag with food and wearing blue jeans,” she said. “Stop rowing, we’re heading back.” She leaned forward and grabbed the end of one of John’s oars. He refused to let go, and the two began to pull back and forth against one another.

  “Why do you want to go back there?” John exclaimed.

  “Cause I’m giving you up!” she answered, pulling back hard on the oar.

  “Why?”

  “I ain’t dying for some dumbass kid, kid!”

  “No one’s going to die,” John said, trying to lower the volume of their conversation. “We’re escaping!”

  “We won’t be soon!” she yelled. “These pirates are good. They’re going to find out you ain’t on that yacht and come snatch us up out of the water!”

  “No they ain’t!” John yelled back.

  “What kind of a pirate wears a suit out piratin’? One who can afford it! A pirate who’s damn good at his job, that’s who!”

  “Shut up and give me the oar. We’re not far from the boat; they’re going to hear us!”

  “Now that’s a good idea,” she said. “Hey, mister pirate-man!” she screamed past John toward the boat. “Over here, I got him for ya! I got him!”

  “Quit it, Rodney!” John yelled as he finally wrestled the oar free from her grip.

  “Yeah, Rodney, shut your face!” Mouse shouted.

  John turned back toward the ship. The two armed men were standing by the edge of the yacht’s railing looking directly at the rowboat.

  “Yeah! Yeah!” Rodney yelled. “I’ve got him for you!”

  One second later a bullet fired from the blond-haired man’s gun. The shouting stopped immediately. The large woman beside John flopped down heavily into the back of the boat, dead before her head hit the planks. The sound of sickness came through Mouse’s tinny speaker.

  John had heard the explosion of the gunpowder, the whirring of the bullet rip through the air past his ear, and the sound of Rodney’s body meeting the rowboat’s bottom. He’d known exactly what had happened without seeing a thing. He sat in stunned silence facing out at the sea before him.

  “Row, row, row!” Mouse yelled, the word increasing in volume and concern each time the robot repeated it.

  “Yes, rowing,” John finally answered, breaking trance and taking his first breath since the shot.

  “Row, row, row,” Mouse quickly rattled off again. The robot climbed all the way to the top of John’s shoulder and sat, keeping its balance by tightly clamping his shirt collar. “I’ll watch our back, you keep your eyes on the road!”

  “What do you see back there?” John yelled over the noise of his oars crashing against the sea.

  Mouse watched as the men in suits bounded down the side of the yacht, attached to its rail by thin repelling wire and modified carabineers. The blond-haired man opened his chest pack and removed a small jar filled with blue, translucent putty. He pulled out a handful and slapped it to the side of the yacht. The two men nodded to each other and disconnected their wires in tandem. A moment later, they splashed into the water and began swimming rapidly toward John’s boat.

  “John,” Mouse said timidly. “They’re coming, John.”

  John turned his head back just in time to catch an explosion burst from the side of the large yacht, shredding its hull into twisted curls of metal. The impact instantly flipped the ship onto its side, catapulting the passengers upward and outward toward the two swimming men and John’s rowboat. Well-dressed ragdoll bodies dropped one by one like massive hail, smashing through the surface of the water. The two men swimming didn’t react to the explosion they’d created, nor the bodies that began to litter the waves around them.

  John returned his focus to the sea ahead. “Are they gaining?” he yelled over the splashing of his oars.

  “No,” Mouse replied at high volume. “But we aren’t losing them either. Do you know where we’re going?”

  “Nope.”

  “I have to stop,” John panted loudly. “I can’t keep this up.” He’d been rowing without pause since the explosion two hours ago. His arms were aching badly and his rowing had slowed significantly. The rain was falling faster now.

  John stopped rowing and drooped his arms down to his sides. “Tell me they’ve stopped.”

  “I haven’t seen them in about fifteen minutes,” Mouse responded.

  “It’s getting windy and the waves are getting choppier. It’s got to be getting too difficult for them to keep swimming at that ridiculous pace. They have to be getting tired. I mean, think about it. We’re in a boat; they’re just free-swimming.”

  “You need to get rid of Rodney’s body,” Mouse said softly. “She’s weighing us down pretty badly.”

  “You’re right,” John said. “I’d forgotten she was back there. Didn’t want to think about it.”

  “I know.”

  “But you’re right.”

  A familiar silence hung in the air for another few minutes.

  “She was trying to get you killed,” Mouse said. “You know that, right?”

  “It doesn’t matter.”

  “Do you want to say something before we, um, put her overboard?”

  “I don’t know,” John said. As he put the oars down and stood to stretch his legs, his body bent over. His hands fell to the sides of his waist. He was breathing harder than he thought, obviously still winded from rowing.

  “I don’t know much about her,” he managed.

  “That’s okay,” Mouse said. “Anything is better than nothing.”

  John looked down over Rodney’s body. The sky was raining steadily now, and the large, shaking drops broke silently against her corpse. This body was different than Virgil’s, not frozen in time with a startled expression. This one was just limp and wet. It was as if it had never been alive at all, just a fleshy mass crumpled up in the back of a small rowboat.

  Gallons of saltwater mixed with blood splashed at his footsteps as he walked toward the boat’s rear. Rodney’s right leg was flopped over the edge and dragging in the water.

  Well, that explains why my left arm is more tired than my right, John thought.

  “She was a buffet attendant,” he suddenly said aloud.

  “Food service professional,” Mouse interjected.

  “She was a food service professional,” John said. “She didn’t like being told what to do. She knew what she wanted, and that’s a lot. Um ... ” John stalled, thinking of what else to say over the body. He looked at the hole that had been placed with precision through her neck and wondered in passing why it wasn’t through his.

  “She tried to kill me,” he continued, “or to get me killed, anyway. That wasn’t a very nice thing to do, but then again, she got the boat in the water that’s saving me now, so we’re even. Amen.”

  John closed his eyes and bent down to lift her body from the boat as a high-pitched squeak shrieked from the small robot perched on his left shoulder.

  “John!” Mouse shouted. “John, look!”

  John opened his eyes and looked back across the water through the rain. His mouth fell open as he saw his pursuers breach the horizon. Temporarily lifted and boosted by a rolling wave, the two men in suits were swimming steadily toward his boat like sharks, dead-eyed and determined, two expressionless machines propelling through the water at John without pause.

/>   “John, go now!” Mouse shouted.

  John stumbled back to his seat and picked up the oars he’d left there. He sat down, this time facing the two men, hoping that rowing in the other direction would be less tiring. He dipped the oars back into the water and pulled hard for acceleration. His eyes teared at the pain of the first stroke. His arms were already in serious need of rest.

  “Rodney!” Mouse shouted. “We still need to dump her!”

  “No time now!” John hollered back. “If I stop now, we’re dead!”

  “If we don’t get rid of that 250 pounds now, we’re dead in another hour when your arms fall off!”

  “Okay,” John said. “I’m going to try to rock her out.” He began to sway the small rowboat back and forth against the water.

  “Are there any other abilities Mouse has that might be helpful?” John asked.

  “I’m sorry, John,” Mouse replied.

  “Hold on tight,” he said as he pushed and pulled on the sides of the boat. Soon, the rocking became so powerful that John thought the entire craft might flip over. Much to his relief, it didn’t, and Rodney’s body finally slipped out over the side. The sudden loss of weight shifted the boat and Mouse’s grip on John’s shirt failed.

  “Ronika!” John shouted.

  “Still here,” the robot called from the back of the boat.

  Mouse dug its left hand between the tightly fitted boards making up the bottom of the craft and pulled itself a few inches forward. It moved its right hand to the next plank and repeated the process. The crawl was slow, and more than once John thought the small robot would be lost to the red, sloshing water that crashed against its body, often pushing it back or forward without warning. Slowly, Mouse made its way back to John and eventually climbed his pant leg.

  “Get under my shirt,” John yelled over the howling winds and crashing rain. Mouse inched up his jeans and ducked beneath his wet T-shirt. Clamping to the fabric, the robot climbed to its top and popped its head out from under John’s collar.

  Mouse rotated its head toward the two mechanical men behind them. They were still swimming strongly through the storm, just as fast as they had been two hours ago, fixed on their objective.

  “Unbelievable,” Mouse said quietly.

  John looked up to the sky and noticed the sun setting stealthily behind dark storm clouds hanging low in the evening sky. Though the gap between him and his pursuers was widening, the light of the day was dropping, making the men in grey suits more difficult to see against the choppy waves of an angry ocean.

  He leaned his head forward to his working forearm and roughly wiped the rainwater from his eyes. Looking back toward the ocean, he could no longer see either of the men chasing him.

  “Can you see them?” John shouted to Mouse, still under his shirt, clinging onto the collar beneath his chin.

  “No,” Mouse answered.

  “I think we’re gaining ground, or water, whatever. Now that Rodney’s gone, we’re going a lot faster.”

  “Yeah, but for how long? Aren’t you getting tired?”

  “Don’t remind me.”

  Over the course of their departure from the sinking yacht, the sharp, hot pain in John’s shoulders and arms had settled to an even burn across his upper body. If he stopped thinking about his discomfort long enough, he could almost forget the pain and concentrate solely on escaping. His discomfort was growing by the minute, though, and ignoring it was becoming increasingly hard for him. He worried that his muscles might give way at any moment, leaving him helpless against the men’s mad strokes across the waters behind them. He needed a plan.

  “We need to stop again,” John called to Mouse, spitting the rain sharply from his mouth as he spoke.

  “Are you too tired to continue?” it asked.

  “Not right now, but I might be soon. We haven’t seen them for fifteen minutes. I think that’s a good point to break. I need you to keep watch for them when I rest. If you see them, let me know.”

  “Aye, aye,” Mouse answered, already vigilantly scanning the black waves of the darkening sea.

  John braced himself and pulled the dripping oars inside the boat. He dipped his head down until the side of his wet cheek was touching Mouse’s plastic head. The rain quieted, halving in volume and speed.

  “How much longer can they keep up that pace?” he asked tiredly, closing his eyes.

  “I don’t know,” Mouse replied quietly.

  John sat in silence for a few minutes, letting the boat float free while resting his eyes and arms. Finally, he broke the quiet with a soft voice.

  “I didn’t mean for it to go so long,” he said.

  “What?” Mouse asked.

  “The time since we last talked to each other,” he said. “I know it’s been months.”

  “Six.”

  “Yeah.”

  “What happened?”

  “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have an excuse. But I want you to know that I didn’t just go to your apartment last night for help. Okay, that’s why I went there last night, but I really wanted to see you. I mean it.”

  “I tried calling you.”

  “I know, I--”

  “John, they’re coming again.”

  The robot’s sudden warning was surreal. It was as if it had just reminded him that a television show was coming up, or that dinner was ready in the kitchen. John responded accordingly, raising his head swiftly, and answering with a calm “Alright.”

  He lifted the oars from the boat’s bottom and put them back into the water. He began to row, taking a few cycles to warm up before reaching full speed. Both of his arms were numb, but operable.

  John looked up at the sky and saw nothing but darkness above him. It was same thing he saw looking in front of him, behind him, and to his sides. He’d never imagined that the ocean could be so frightening when no longer blue.

  The rain picked up again, this time stronger than before the break. John shook the clinging wet hair from the skin of his forehead and continued to row. He watched the two men swimming behind them slowly, so slowly, shrink back into the distance as he gained speed.

  John repeated the process six more times, rowing away from his predators until having not seen them for a quarter hour. If he could row for fifteen minutes without the men appearing, it was usually safe to stop and break. Rests were short-lived, just ten minutes before the two armed men showed once more over the horizon like clockwork, forcing him to begin another endless row in an overlong game of cat and mouse. It was a game that needed to end soon; John could feel his muscles finally begin to fail.

  It had been hours since John and Mouse had first entered the lifeboat, and just twelve minutes since their last sighting of the two men relentlessly pursuing them. John sat slumped in his seat, overcome by fatigue and exhaustion, and the edge of his chin dipped slowly over Mouse’s visor.

  “John!” Mouse shouted over the rain. “Don’t fall asleep! We’re almost at the next break! You have to hang in there!”

  John didn’t respond. His chin dropped farther down with enough force to knock Mouse to the side. His rowing slowed to a halt.

  “John!” Mouse yelled again, straining its speakers. A large black wave crashed into the small boat’s side, knocking John alert. The oar he held in his left hand slipped from the grasp of his shaking fingers to the water below. John quickly pulled the right oar back into the boat and leaned his head past the edge, straining to find the other.

  “I’m sorry!” John yelled in a panic, not seeing the oar.

  “Don’t apologize!” Mouse yelled back. “What are we going to do?”

  John rose from his seat and stood shakily to his feet against the rain.

  “I have to find it!” he yelled. “I have to get it back!”

  “Where did it go?”

  “There!” John exclaimed, spotting the oar flipping back and forth against the surface of the ocean ten feet from the boat. “I’m going in after it!”

  “No
!” Mouse screamed.

  It was too late. He’d already decided. “If I don’t get it now, we’re stuck here! Those men will be here any second!”

  John placed Mouse quickly onto the seat beside him and held his hand on its back until it could take hold of the wood beneath it. Without further delay, he jumped into the choppy sea that raged beneath his boat.

  The chill of the water took hold of him first, icing his skin and slowing his movement. A large, heavy wave crashed over him from behind, sucking John deep below the water with the force of its weight struggling to keep him below its surface. He kicked his legs furiously, hoping that he was pointed up toward the air above. He tried opening his eyes. They stung against the salt, and for nothing. He couldn’t see anything. His chest tightened, and the air in his lungs had lasted as long as it could. He exhaled. A few moments passed, and John lost hope.

  Suddenly, the side of his arm breached the surface and John compensated his swim to push for the air above. His mouth touched the rainy wind above the water a moment later and breathed in deeply, inhaling a small amount of splashing water in the process. He coughed violently and looked around him. He saw his rowboat rocking against the waves just ten feet to his left. Something struck the side of his head from behind. It was the missing oar.

  John shouted to the clouds in victory and clasped onto his buoyant prize with the strongest grip he could manage. Oar in hand, he kicked toward the boat. Soon, it was getting closer.

  I can do this, he thought. I’m going to make it.

  As John approached the rowboat he could hear Mouse yelling to him. The words were lost against the storm.

  “I’ve got it!” he yelled back. “I found it!”

  Two feet closer, John could hear the content of the robot’s scream, “They’re here! They’re here!”

  John looked behind his shoulder and saw the two men swimming at him. A wave overtook him, breaking his line of sight to the hunters and pushing him forward under the water. John flipped around, and floated back to the surface just moments later near the edge of the boat. He looked behind him as he treaded water. Perhaps it was the darkness, perhaps the thick black rain, but he could no longer see the men in grey.

  Quickly, he threw the oar into the rowboat. It landed noisily against its twin.

  “Hurry, John!” he heard Mouse yell.

  John grabbed onto the edge of the rowboat, his weight turning it on its side. The small black robot slid across the curvature of the boat’s bottom, stopping next to John’s hand.

  “Hold on!” John yelled. Mouse pinched onto John’s shirt as he climbed back into the boat, tumbling into its center and landing on his stomach. John powered from the floor to his feet and made his way to the seat in front of him, grabbing both oars along the way. For a moment, the boat leveled, only to suddenly rock violently in the opposite direction a second later.

  Mouse was yelling again. “Look out!”

  John looked to the dipping side of his craft. A bolt of lightning illuminated two gloved hands and a blond head of hair making their way into the boat from the sea. John dropped the left oar to his feet and gripped the right with both hands. In the flashing light of the storming sky, he raised the oar to his chest like a spear and thrust his weight behind a heavy strike to the intruder’s forehead. The man’s grip gave and boat jerked back to level on the waves.

  “Row!” Mouse screamed.

  John lifted the other oar from his feet and put both into the stirring water at his sides. A burst of deafening thunder cracked and rolled across the dark sky above him.

  He rowed forward into the night, stronger and faster than he had before. Despite the tired, despite the pain, John refused to break for even a moment during the last of the long, wet night. Hours later, and for the first time since finding it, John felt a great sense of joy the watch’s hands reached 3:14.

 
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