Stepping out from the sea of children that was still surrounding her, Adan swiftly crossed the short distance separating her and the two men. She silently appeared behind the ruffian who was grabbing the elegant man with his slimy hands. Stretching out her own hand, Adan lightly poked the man on his shoulder.
“Sor wo’xjow, lko’tt gibin,” she said calmly, picking out the words that should mean: “that’s enough, release him.”
With a surprised – and not so manly – yelp, the ruffian spun around on the spot. Blinking with wide eyes, both he and his victim stared at Adan, clearly shocked by her sudden presence. From their perspective, a pretty youth of about twenty, twenty-five years had appeared out of nowhere and, just like the children who had followed Adan around all day, they found her appearance exceedingly rare.
Their eyes darted from Adan’s feminine yet strong face, to her short platinum blonde hair, to her clothes and then back to her face. It seemed like their minds couldn’t really process what they were seeing.
However, since they were older than the children, their initial shock eventually subsided and their looks morphed; the ruffian started laughing wildly while the elegant man looked clearly offended.
“Did I do something wrong?” Adan asked her A.I., but before it cared to respond, the burly man wrapped his arm around the youth’s waist. Still laughing, he spoke jeeringly to his captive. According to the translation from the A.I.’s system he said: “Did you hear that, sweaty? This idiot wants to save you, boy! What a wu-. . .”
The ruffian would no doubt have said more if Adan hadn’t stepped forward and – with a well-practiced motion – grabbed the man’s hand, twisting it up and away from the silk-dressed youth. The ruffian wailed and tried to back away, but Adan’s grip wouldn’t budge an inch. In the end he sank to the ground, trying to lessen the pressure on his wrist.
“Apologize,” Adan commanded.
“Okay, okay! You’re not an idiot!”
“Not to me,” Adan corrected and nodded towards the man’s earlier captive. “To him.”
Following Adan’s nod, it briefly looked as though the floored man was going to start laughing again, but it was nipped in the bud this time, as Adan twisted her grip further.
“I’m sorry!” the ruffian wailed, desperate now. “I shouldn’t have touched you!”
With a pleased smile, Adan finally released the man’s wrist and watched him scurry away as fast as his legs could carry him. She turned to face the younger man she had saved, but was surprised to see an angry scowl on his face. Seconds later, a pale hand came flying towards Adan’s face with astonishing speed. Frowning, she caught it, not missing the brief look of surprise in the man’s eyes.
“It’s Miss, you jba’k!” the man yelled, yanking his arm free. Without looking back he then stormed off, the pale blue silks of his garment flowing wildly behind him.
“I didn’t get that last word, but I’m assuming it wasn’t nice. . . .” Adan remarked as she watched the man’s angry departure with a slight frown. “Did you perhaps get the translations for boy and girl mixed up, Sai?” she asked, feeling perplexed.
“Sai is 80.1% sure that ‘gibin’ means ‘him’, and 63.7% sure that ‘dwa’job’ means ‘miss’ or ‘young woman’.”
Adan sniffed the air, picking up the pheromones that had surrounded the youth. “Well he’s definitely male. . . . Perhaps he’s transgender?”
As the last flashes of ice-blue fabric disappeared into the crowd, Adan shrugged, putting the odd meeting behind her. She looked around her and sighed. “I should really get my hands on a map of the surrounding area; this place won’t give me much more insights.”
“Sai agrees.” A yellow ring appeared in Adan’s field of view, circling in on the backpack of a passing stranger. “Judging by yesterday’s observations and the dimensions of that bag’s compartments, there should be a map in this one.” The circle narrowed into a dot, hovering over a side pocket with the tip of a scroll sticking out of it.
“Excellent,” Adan replied and was just about to follow the bag’s owner into a narrower alley when the horde of children returned to her side. “That was awesome!” they shouted, bouncing around Adan’s legs. “Teach us, teach us!”
Adan grimaced, but then noticed one of the quieter children stealthily reaching into a passerby’s pocket – the person in question being entirely oblivious to the nimble fingers that had just liberated some of their belongings. A crooked smile formed on Adan’s lips.
She crouched down to the children’s level, motioning for them to hustle in closer. A few moments later, the kids giggled collectively before promptly separating into smaller groups. These clusters of hip-high mini humans eagerly disappeared into the surrounding crowds, each group going their own way.
“Is this really advisable?” the A.I. asked, unapproving.
“Oh, come on, it’s harmless fun.”
Still smiling, Adan slowly walked down the narrow alley that the map-carrying man had taken. It didn’t take long for her to catch up to the man in question, but the alley had been short so he was already in a wider and more well populated street.
As Adan also stepped out on the busy street, she paused, leaning against a light post. Looking further down the street, Adan caught sight of the first cluster of kids, and after a few more moments, the other groups also arrived, all looking tentatively at her.
Adan gave a slight nod to the first group and the four kids instantly broke out in a first class children’s brawl. Dust flew into the air in dense puffs as the three children rolled around on the ground; pulling hair, biting arms and kicking anything with reach. Right away, the fight caught the grown ups’ attention and several people rushed forward with the intention of breaking them apart.
However, as the adults arrived, so did the second group of kids – on Adan’s indication. These five additional children swarmed the site, adding fire to the flame and making sure to bump into the map-man on their way there.
“Hey!” grunted the man, without noticing the small pouch that fell from his belt with a rather loud clank. Adan smirked; the fighting and shouting might have covered the noise this time, but it wouldn’t happen every time. The kids would need more practice if they wished to pull this off on their own in the future.
She gave a nod to the next group of kids, who quickly sent forward their smallest and most innocent looking girl to pick up the pouch. With the dropped pouch easily over-filling one of her tidy hand, the girl yanked at the man’s wide, black pants.
He spun around, instinctively pulling one of his own hands back to cover a side-pocket on his backpack, but when he saw the adorable little girl behind him, he relaxed slightly. Adan smiled; they had him.
“You picked this up for me?” The man asked, crouching down to the girl’s level and stretching out to reclaim his pouch. “Such a good girl!”
Suddenly, a horde of children came running past the two of them, laughing, shouting and repeatedly bumping into each other. The man grunted and moved closer to the girl, as if to protect her from being trampled. Once the other children had passed, he patted the girl on the head and then left to continue his journey, totally oblivious to the fact that he had been robbed of his most important possessions – and his map.
Adan was smiling happily as she, just half-an-hour later, walked out through the town’s eastern entrance. Over her shoulder hung a worn sack and a thirty centimeter long scroll was tucked into the belt of her high pants. She had already remembered every inch of the map, so it was a bit surplus at the moment, however, it might be a bit suspicious if she traveled without one – especially considering how rare her skin tone seemed to be. Thus, she decided to kept it, so as to keep up appearances.
“Sai wonders what Lieutenant Nadia would say if she knew that your first achievement on this planet was creating a band of thieves. . . .”
Adan chuckled. “Oh come on, they were already thieves – I just gave them a few pointers. Sis’ wouldn’t mind . . . that much.”
“The correct procedure in that situation would have been to teach them that it is immoral to steal,” the A.I. continued and a few paragraphs out of the Intergalactic Federation’s Code of Conduct appeared in front of Adan’s eyes.
“And when have I ever been a stickler for ‘correct procedure’?”
The A.I. audibly sighed. “Why did Sai have to be your A.I.? You have the skill, but not the will. . . .”
Adan paused, looking pleasantly surprised. “What’s this, Sai? Are you – my A.I. – complaining about me – your host? And in rhyme at that!”
“. . . you misheard,” the A.I. answered after a moment’s silence.
“If you say so. . . .” Adan wasn’t fooled, but she said no more and just kept walking down the road, smiling.
According to the stolen map, there seemed to be quite a few towns and cities between her current location and the nation’s capital, Oksa’b, or the Fire Isle. The shortest journey would be to bypass all the settlements and travel through the dense forest that seemed to cover most of the country.
Adan could guess that the average traveler was likely to opt for the longer route, which passed through six towns and avoided the denser parts of the forests. This would be both safer and more comfortable, but naturally Adan had no such qualms. She did, however, want to get some more information about this new planet, dimension or whatever it was, so Adan intended to combine the two.
“The first stop will be Dakjobve, Falcon Village, the small forest village ten kilometers east-north-east from here,” Adan decided as she picked a narrower trail leading in between the trees.
She traveled through the leafy forest with curious eyes, eagerly inspecting her surroundings. The forest was filled with tall trees and moss-covered rocks, there were even signs of something akin to ancient blueberries growing next to the trodden path. At one point she even popped one of the purple-ish berries into her mouth and waited for the A.I.’s confirmation that it was safe to eat.
Once she got it, Adan squashed the berry between her teeth and tasted the bitter-sweet fruit juice filling her mouth. It was a tasty berry, so Adan happily plucked some more of the purple fruits from their thorny bushes. Had her squad been here with her, it would have been right about now that the rolling eyes and commands to ‘stay on mission’ would have come. Then again, a few minutes later, most of the squad members would have given in and joined in on her quest for the small fruits.
Adan could almost sense her A.I. preparing a reprimanding remark for her behavior, but before it had the chance to deliver it, a faint scream caused Adan’s now purple-dyed hand to freeze.
“Direction?” she asked, straightening.
“1.45 kilometers, straight north,” the A.I. replied.
Adan nodded and started running. She was a very fast runner; it took her less than three minutes to reach the vicinity of the original scream. Along the way, Adan had heard several indications of a fight erupting, followed by some more screaming and then running. She had altered her course to match with the other runners and now she sat in a high tree, waiting for them to pass by not far from her position.
“I don’t believe this,” Adan muttered, suppressing the chuckle that formed within her as she caught sight of the source of the screaming; it was that ungrateful, cool beauty from the market place!
This time around, he had been thrown over yet another ruffian’s shoulders, as the latter rushed through the forest together with four equally unkempt companions.
“They are being pursued,” the A.I. informed, displaying a rough 3D image of the surrounding area. The beauty’s captors were marked by five small red dots, while he himself was blue. Further away, another ten green dots were approaching, but it seemed like the green dots were losing ground on the red ones.
“Do you think he’d be more grateful this time around?” Adan asked, contemplating her next action.
“Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different outcomes is an appropriate definition of lunacy.”
“So that’s a ‘yes’ from you then?” Adan concluded playfully, twisting her A.I.’s response.
“. . .”