“I’m going to vomit!” Delia shouted from her cramped seat. Flyboy was rapidly decreasing the elevation of their small passenger plane. He was ensuring a safe landing on the dusty runway which ran alongside the Kisumu airport. However safe the landing was, everyone else was not enjoying the decline nor the rough bumps along the way especially Delia and Primal.
Delia felt queasy, but more so irritated with the little plane’s inability to provide a smooth transition back to Earth. Primal on the other hand was in such a severe state of airsickness by this point that she kept her head down and buried. She did not wish for her companions to see her fight off the intense desire to paint her boots a new shade of dirty-water beige.
Finally Flyboy managed to land the plane, halting it eventually. Two Kenyan natives who worked at the airport came out from the nearest and smallest hangar to assist everyone but Flyboy out from the plane. Flyboy drove the plane to the hangar to shelter it until they would need it again later.
“Isn’t he supposed to be rich or something?” Delia asked as they lugged their equipment and supplies down the rusty dust pathways.
“He is, as far as I know.” Primal answered, still a little disheveled from the flight. “But the attention we would draw to ourselves if we flew in on a gorgeous jet would be unreal. And unnecessary.”
“True,” Delia said, “We are supposed to be missionaries basically. Or some kind of tree charity people.”
They waited for Flyboy to join them just outside the airport, then soon continued to find their new and temporary safe house. After a carefully scheduled driver took them through and out of the wildly expansive city, the entire group discovered the slum life close by. Kisumu had proved as poverty-ridden as Freudenberger warned, as well as environmentally depleted. Most of the town was a whirl of red clay dust kicked up by hurried, tired people and only a few dirt-stained vehicles. The further they drove from the central city, the fewer structurally sound homes and active vehicles there were. It was hot in the afternoon, and the people seemed to comply with the dry heat by going about their business as usual undisturbed. They were either dejectedly comfortable enough with the heat that they did not notice it, or they pretended it wasn’t nearly as relentlessly hot as it was.
The homes present were overly worn, casing people who worked hard for very little. Any structures greater than those with the minimum requirements for shelter were stained, overused, and under-updated. Neighboring towns had better living situations, but the ever-deepening hole of poverty was visible in Kisumu by miles. Dense, weed-like greenery bounded in scraggly patches throughout, mostly inhabiting the town’s perimeter and road lines. Some trees had grown beautifully and lush, but were not as common. Dali wondered if the trees they found within town resulted from Trees for Cities’ “My Pet Tree” project, or if they had simply survived the decline in Kisumu’s natural environment.
Delia memorized the directions to their first safe house, initiatively leading the group throughout the town, passing many questionable houses, which seemed more akin to mudded shanties. Some areas reminded Delia of India’s slums, where she grew up; tightly crammed hovels providing little relief from the elements. She was careful not to stare at any of the poorly constructed shelters throughout, many of which were pieced with a variety of available materials like a recycled patchwork quilt. She had grown accustomed to surviving in such situations, but she had no knowledge of her companions’ experience. For then she would assume they had perhaps lived in or encountered something similar, possibly worse, to persist in such docile expressions.
Delia halted the group in front of a shabby home, mostly mud with some drywall, and a rusted tin roof still intact. There had thankfully been wooden slabs placed inside to separate them from the dirt, but there wasn’t much else in the way of amenities. As many parts of Kisumu promised through Freudenberger’s reports, piped water and plumbing was not common especially in their area. However dismal their shelter proved, it was one not unseen by the group, and it certainly aided them in their need for incognito. At least a few decent cots had been provided, with ample enough space for their equipment and planning. Although lacking, the safe house was bigger and somewhat more functional and livable than many of the nearby structures. It seemed as though it was once used for some sort of helpful organization’s project work, but since been abandoned.
Few citizens showed any concern or curiosity for their new arrivals, simply assuming they were sent to prepare for another aid organization. It helped that the safe house was fairly out of the way from the rest of housing, but there had still been a few brave enough to wander from their homes that far. Some of the children showed intrigue, a few even venturing close enough to be noticed, but most were shy and would run off laughing when Dali or Primal would attempt any form of contact. Primal was careful to keep her wolf-dogs, Specter and Baba O’Riley, from going outside of the safe house so as not to raise too much attention nor terrify any suspicious or wary citizens.
Once settled inside, Primal went to check the pre-made storage under the floor’s slabs. A loosely buried hole underneath gave way to a metal chest of firearms and ammunition. She checked again for a secret level under the first, revealing high-powered firearms and even some explosives. Primal refused to show her companions the second collection of weaponry, careful to keep such dangerous weaponry to herself, which was something she was taught profusely when she was younger.
Primal told Spade to cover the doorway and any other opening in the house. No one needed to peer in and see armed foreigners. She took out five black .22 rifles from the first level of her collection and passed them out to each member, taking the last one for herself, then gave a box of ammo to each.
“You all know how to work the .22 decently, if not proficiently by now.” Primal started. “Remember the firepower is not as strong and the shots are not always fatal, so if you mean to bring someone down aim for the knees or ankles. But if you mean to kill, aim small and hit big.” She looked over to Delia, “Which means aim for the temple, eyeball, or somewhere distinctive and soft in the head. That’s what we do and it works best. When you intend to kill go one-hundred percent. And I’m only giving this talk after all this time because Delia’s new. Otherwise I would have handed them to you and moved on.”
Delia held her gun correctly at once, checking her sights. “I may not be as efficient in gunmanship as you, but I have operated quite a few firearms in my past. But may I ask why we’re only using this caliber of weapon?”
Primal and the others loaded their guns and packed the rest of their ammo into their respective backpacks and knapsacks. “We’re in Africa, and although we haven’t been to Kenya perse, we have been to soldier-ridden, rebel-infested warzones. Let me tell you, having high-grade weaponry in areas hungry for them to use to kill hundreds of people-innocent or not-is just a bigger dinner than we ordered. Having these around are bad enough, but imagine if we had 40 gauge, AK’s, grenade launchers or worse. Although this is still a definitely deadly weapon, if we get these taken or stolen from us, the damage is significantly less than you’d think.”
Delia shrugged. “Well, to be honest, I’m not much of a gun person. I see the purpose, especially for some instances in which we may find ourselves, but I don’t plan to use this often.”
Primal laughed at her. “None of us plan to use them, but almost every time we have to.”
“I take it you came from a more… Conservative upbringing?” Delia wrinkled her nose, trying not to offend Primal, but ultimately failing.
The sandy-haired woman indeed took offense to that, but remained as level as she could ever manage. “I’m not the gun-enthusiastic redneck you may be taking me for, but I did grow up in the Deep South. Which means I grew up surrounded by hardcore conservatives, and not all of them were as educated as I luckily and thankfully had been. I made sure to be as knowledgeable about firearms as possible, as well as safe, because I was surrounded by people who were gung-ho for guns but didn’t always put the same effort and care into it as I did. And although I avoided situations in which I would have to use a gun on another human, sometimes the gunfight took itself to me. And when the gunfight shows up, you better had not be standing there with a knife or less.”
Delia nodded respectfully, ensuring Primal she had meant no offense, but simply sought out a gun-safe individual.
Spade had felt quiet for too long, antsy to make a game plan since they entered the safe house. “I say tonight when everything gets quiet, we fan out to find any evidence of the German scientists and the Chancellor’s niece.”
Delia agreed, but hoped for a stronger start. “Although a fine idea, and we should have a better understanding of our surroundings, we should also speak with the native citizens to see if they know anything. Few in our specific area will know English, but people in the city will know it better. If I can find some people here who know Swahili, I can speak it well enough to communicate. The only problem is, Luo is going to be the most common language, but I’m certain we can find enough people to speak to or help translate.”
Spade was impressed. “Someone did their homework… Or simply memorized Freudenberger’s homework. And knows too many languages.” He carefully hid his loaded rifle under his cot. “Tonight we search the area, just to know where everything is to the best of our ability, but tomorrow morning we’ll head back into the city and see what we can find. I take it you remember which part of the city Freudenberger said she may have discovered their trail?”
Delia smiled. “Of course I did, but she said it was only a possibility, nothing canon.” She always felt she wouldn’t be nearly as intelligent or impressive if it wasn’t for her eidetic memory. “She wants us to call her when we get there to search.”
Flyboy stretched, exhausted from the long flights. “I will make sure to get us a ride back into the city, and while we’re there I’ll save us the trouble and just get a car for us.” He crawled into a cot, deeming it for himself. “But if we’re running around all night and tomorrow morning, then I’m getting in as much sleep as I can right now.”
“I second that.” Dali said. “I’m so tired.”
“You’re always tired.” Spade rolled his eyes.
She retorted with a sigh.
“Honestly, getting sleep or what rest we can right now is smart.” Delia supported the idea. “We will be up when it’s dark enough, and we will have to be ready to go into the city early in the morning. If we get a shift of sleep in now, we can probably get a second, more fulfilling shift in between tonight’s search and tomorrow morning’s city visit.”
Spade still felt on edge, ready to go immediately. He could tell Primal felt the same way, and she did, but she couldn’t deny that she was fighting her exhaustion and losing. “All right. I’m probably going to be up for a while, so I’ll stay up and be look out I guess.”
“You’ll need your sleep too you know.” Dali pushed.
Spade found himself heading out the door already. “I can’t force myself to sleep right now. Maybe I can wear myself out by going for a walk. I’ll come wake you if you’re not up by nightfall.” Spade stepped out, taking off too quickly for any of them to argue. Delia thought maybe she should stop him, but realized he needed to bring himself down from his anxious high. There was nothing she could do about it, and she agreed that one of them needed to be awake and aware at least for a little while in case anything happened.
“All right then, claim your cots and get to sleep.” Delia ordered, even though the three were either already in their cots or climbing in. Primal’s wolf dogs laid protectively beside her cot, relaxing but their eyes still wide open to watch for any intruders.
Delia got into her own cot, fixing her eyes on the doorway leading out, trusting that Spade would take care of himself if he fell into any trouble.
It only took Spade an hour of meandering through the village to finally discover the fatigue pent up inside him. He stayed away from people, not wanting to incite any conversation just yet. He soon found himself heading back to the safe house, ready for a nap before it became too dark. Evening was already inching its way in, and he knew he would definitely need to sleep before traversing the wild terrain.
When he entered the safe house, he noticed Delia was awake, laying in her cot still with her brown eyes wide open. “No sleep for you?” He whispered.
Delia shook her head, her black hair fanned across the flat pillow. “Nope.”
“Too uncomfortable?” He asked.
Delia quietly laughed. “No. If anything, this is the most comfortable I’ve been for quite some time. I’m just not used to this yet.”
Spade smiled. “Well, the good news is I can accurately tell you that you will never be used to it. I’m not anyway.” He crawled into the last cot available, turning to the wall.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” She asked, concerned.
After a short pause, Spade quietly answered her, still facing the wall. “It’s a depressing thing. Because no matter what I do I can’t get over the fear that all this will be over soon. It’s been well over a year and I still feel this way. I can’t explain why, it’s just how I think.”
Delia turned over onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. She had no response, and after some time of silence, she heard Spade tell her, “Goodnight.”
Delia smirked. “Goodnight.” In truth, she mirrored Spade’s fear. She hoped she would get over it soon, but his answer left her less than hopeful that she would ever discard the gnawing anxiety. She could not shake the feeling that she would wake up at Xavier University, in whatever hideaway she could find, and it all would have been a dream. Then Delia heard Spade’s relaxed breathing, indicating he had fallen asleep. She suddenly felt a warmth of sleepiness wash over her, and she realized she genuinely could not sleep until Spade returned. She may not have grown accustomed to her situation, nor quieted her fears, but she certainly had relished in comfort when they were all together and knew they were safe. Already she was dedicated to every person in her “squad.”
The first shift of sleep was not entirely steady. Although initially most members had fallen right to sleep, exhausted by the trip, after an hour they were hopelessly awake. They were all jittery, on edge, anticipating the day, but refusing to leave their cots out of near spite for needing sleep. Coming in and out of consciousness, they all finally reached the perfect time of night to scout the village and its slums.
And it was entirely uneventful. Save for the occasional lion’s roar in the distance, some villagers pandering about in the moon’s glow, nothing else stood out against the norm. Dali found no outstanding traces of anyone foreign to the area except of course structures belonging to charitable organizations and aid ministries. They scoured every abandoned place, even spoke to a few restless villagers who spoke Swahili. No one had seen any foreigners for at least a month. They squad did, however, have a perfect layout of the area mapped in their minds. Although none of them imagined hanging around the village much longer, it was useful to know every detail of the land in which they slept.
After their second shift of sleep, they took to the city. The central city of Kisumu itself was monstrous, reigning as the third largest city in Kenya and acting as the capital of the Nyanza Province. Additionally, it was a port city, meaning people were coming in and out at all times. Thus, a good sign that the German scientists would take advantage of that. Flyboy had hired a special driver to take them into the city, after first walking a distance out of the slums. The driver was rather paranoid about taking his vehicle too far into Kisumu’s outer slum-like villages. Since it had been difficult enough convincing the man to accept Specter and Baba O’Riley as passengers, they all agreed to take the lengthy walk to reach their driver.
Dali watched out the car window, seeing how the wilds transitioned into the city. From expansive wilderness void of any real man-made comforts to full-on city life, Dali felt the shock of the sudden change and a connection of safety to the city. She could not feel comfortable nor protected when in the village, and she had never felt safe out in the wild. Only Primal seemed to churn with dismay when they entered the city. Primal’s outlook on the wild was a 180 flip of Dali’s perspective. Primal never felt more secure when she was in the woods amongst nature, and felt even safer when she was distanced from people in general.
The city provoked Primal; while they worked in the streets and with strangers she would remain seated on edge, distrusting everyone, never relaxing, and expecting the suspicious worst from everything she encountered. She had been raised to be like this, to think this way, to behave this way. It was ingrained in her mind thanks to horrid, tormenting experiences as well as Doomsday Preppers for parents. Survivalism is inside all of us, but it takes living in one giant survival situation the majority of your young life to invoke such constant guard. Primal was just such a person to embody this. She did not wish to change that fact, nor did she dislike it. All she could think was how thankful she should be for her past in order to stay alive and to stay alive well. Although Dali disagreed with Primal’s outlooks, she knew the girl could not help it, and indeed she always knew how to survive and to keep everyone else alive and safe.
Although Spade rarely trusted people in general, his outlook relied more on a balance of realizing whom to speak with and when, and whom to always avoid in particular. Sometimes however, Spade would feel an odd creeping in his mind. He would feel a shift and wonder who was whispering about him, who was displeased with him, disappointed in him, hated him. Even the people he loved and trusted the most would suddenly come under his frame of scrutiny. He knew it wasn’t right, but he also knew it was perfectly possible. He doubted himself often because of it, but thankfully that day in Kisumu he was able to navigate clearly.
Delia quickly picked up on Primal’s issues with metropolitan bustling, and saw how Dali’s tension evaporated once they were between endless concrete structures. She sensed something was occasionally off with Spade, but knew not to investigate it further at that time. Flyboy, she felt, was bubbly and happily functioning with every setting she’d seen him in so far. She wondered what his catch was.
The city seemed aesthetically rooted in the 70’s, as though that was the last time it saw any updates or massive expansion. The buildings were certainly outdated; the overall city’s prosperity having halted decades ago. It was warm, vast, and reminded Delia of a more densely vegetated New Orleans. Although not overly disinclined to Kisumu because of that connection, she didn’t miss her experience in New Orleans at all.
Once the others had left the car and driver, Flyboy stayed with him to immediately seek out a vehicle of their own. Primal reminded him to find something all-terrain, since she knew they would be taking to dirt roads shortly. Delia took the time to make a call to Freudenberger, and thankfully reached her.
“You’re in the city itself, yes?” Freudenberger said immediately, ritualistic courtesies dashed.
Delia looked out across the flat stacked buildings. “Yes. Flyboy is procuring transportation for us. Where should we start?”
There was clacking from Freudenberger’s end as she typed away. “I’ve tried to locate a paper trail from them, but they seem smart enough to use cash and nothing else. That being said, one of them hardly paid attention.” Delia heard a sipping noise, followed by Freudenberger clearing her throat. “I knew they wouldn’t stay in any hotels, nothing grand or expensive that would bring attention to them, so I checked for hostels and cheap motels in the area. I made contact with a few motel managers in and around Kisumu, stating I was from Germany and wished to trek through Kenya. One mentioned to make sure I converted all of the money I wished to take with me into Kenyan Shillings. Apparently, someone recently tried to pay with Euros and didn’t understand that the manager could not accept Euros. It seems as though one of the scientists didn’t bring enough for their sudden trip, or just didn’t catch on soon enough. The place is called the Rock Motel.”
“So we head out to the Rock Motel. Tell me the address slowly and clearly, and I’ll have it memorized.”
“Ah, I love your eidetic memory. It makes everything so much easier.” Freudenberger said contentedly, then relayed the address with some key directions to Delia.
Minutes after hanging up, Delia conveyed the plan to the others. By that point, Flyboy had returned without their driver and in his own car. It was a Jeep, four door, low to the ground, but certainly looked like it could make its way over loose dirt and jutting rock with no problem. Not to mention, it was new, shiny, and was ultimately luxurious inside.
“Where did you find that?” Delia asked, bewildered. “That’s a new car!”
All the windows were down, the top exposed, and Flyboy sat in the driver’s seat wearing aviators, pleased with himself. “It’s a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock, if you want to be specific. And how I found it is not important.” Intentionally corny, he lowered his sunglasses to peer over them at Primal. “Is this all-terrain enough for you?” He smiled, waggling his eyebrows.
Primal was in love with it. “It’s beautiful, the wolfies and I thank you. And stop making that face.”
Delia called shotgun for practical purposes, telling Flyboy the plan and that she would navigate his way to the motel once they retrieved their weapons and equipment from their safe house in the village. The others, wolf-dogs included, piled into the Jeep, ecstatic with their sudden change in comforts.
Packed and on their way to the Rock Motel, Delia was riddled with a sick pit inside her. They had driven through the village and the slums to get their equipment, hiding and disguising it carefully so as not raise suspicion amongst the spectators. Delia knew what it was like to live like them: deep in poverty and the muck that comes with it. And there she was, loading her things into a brand new Jeep, beautiful and sleek and reeking of money. She knew those people had no way of understanding what she was actually doing, nor could she have told them if she wanted to. There was nothing to explain but she still felt guilty.
“I take it you’re pretty upset that we basically flaunted this car in front of those people.” Flyboy surprised Delia, not realizing she had made herself appear so mournfully bothered after briefly mentioning it earlier.
“Of course. Aren’t you? This thing costs more than those slum shacks combined. We weren’t even decent in acting as though we were some kind of organization there to help them. We stayed for a night, showed them a fancy car, and then took off.” She sighed, curling up in the front seat, pressing her temple against the door’s frame.
Flyboy was quiet for a while. “Well… It’s not like we’re supposed to interact or interfere with people in countries like this. These guys always tell me we just can’t because it messes them up.”
“It can negatively affect their situation, even if we think we’re being helpful.” Primal said. “We’re basically disrupting a culture. And it’s just not our business to do that. We’re kind of on a different agenda at the moment.”
“Sad but true. It hurts us every time, but there’s nothing we can do.” Dali confirmed.
“And yet Primal sneaks off and hunts small animals or birds and gives them away to homeless people every time.” Spade said.
Primal looked out the window, pretending she didn’t hear anything.
“And Dali teaches children about how to be as clean as possible without showers, or soap, or homes.” He continued.
Dali shrugged. “What’s wrong with that? It takes five minutes and it’s not negatively affecting anyone at all.”
Primal chimed in, “And what’s the deal anyway? I’ve caught you teaching people like them how to filter water with stuff they can find outside.”
They were all quiet, while Delia beamed, happy to hear that her companions were not cold or impervious to the homeless and poor after all. However, her joyful expression vanished again. “But we didn’t do any of those things with those people. We just looked like a bunch of assholes.”
“We didn’t really have the time.” Spade said.
Dali noticed Flyboy’s face in the rearview mirror, and that he had been uncontrollably grinning throughout the conversation, stifling his words. “What is the deal with you, Flyboy?” She asked.
Flyboy was quiet while they all turned to look at him. Delia stared at him, confused. “What is it? Did something happen just now? What did we do?”
He continued to grin, overly amused with their dismay. “While I was getting this Jeep I kind of converted some of my own money to Kenyan shillings and passed them out to the families who were watching us.”
Delia smiled with him. “Really?”
His expression returned to blank seriousness. “Yeah. I mean, it shouldn’t disrupt anything, it ties in with our cover, and they looked really happy.”
Delia couldn’t stop smiling at him. He kept his eyes on the road ahead, but he knew she was staring at him. She felt peace in her soul.
She looked out onto the road, knowing they were getting close to the motel. “Here it is. See it? On the right.”
Flyboy pulled into the parking lot, and saw a typical small motel. “What now?” He asked.
“We talk to the manager.” Delia sighed. “Hopefully make some headway with our search.”
“Hunting humans is never as exciting as you’d think.” Primal commented.
Delia scanned the outside of the motel. “I think…” Her eyes were intent, focused on the manager she spotted inside at the information desk. She saw a white man talking to the manager, but could not see his face. He stayed rather covered, conveniently hidden as he walked to one room. “I think we will be fishing.”