Pyunma awoke and took a deep breath. He sat up slowly and shook his dizzy head. He slid off the hospital bed and was handed a red uniform and a yellow scarf by a doctor named Gaia.
"Put these on. There will be a test."
"Test?" was all he could managed because of this dry, swollen tongue. "Water?"
The doctor that handed him the uniform busted out laughing. "Oh, you'll have plenty of that in a few minutes. Get dressed."
Pyunma pulled the clothes on and followed Doctor Gaia from the laboratory. They went down the long hallway. Gaia opened one of the doors with a security card swipe. Pyunma was amazed at the huge water tank in the room hooked up to a computer bank.
"Hop in," Gaia ordered. Pyunma climbed a scaffolding on the side of the tank and slipped in. The water was warm and pleasant. Suddenly a thick sheet of metal slid over the top of the tank, trapping Pyunma under the water. Pyunma panicked and slammed his fist against it, holding his breath. He thrashed around and his mouth opened against his will. Seconds of shock passed when Pyunma realized he wasn't drowning. His lungs, somehow, processed the water painlessly.
He turned and swam to the edge of the tank, gliding through the water with more agility and speed than he ever had. He watched Gaia at the controls. He could see the gage Gaia was monitoring was labeled pressure. The numbers increased gradually. Pyunma noticed the temperature was sinking, but not uncomfortably. He knocked on the tank's glass. Gaia ignored him as the pressure grew.
Gradually, Pyunma's skin tingled painfully and his lungs felt too strained to work. His vision began to grow dark. Before he sank to the bottom of the tank, the pressure and temperature eased off. Pyunma swam to the surface when the steal sheet rolled off the top of the tank.
"What was that?" Pyunma dragged himself out of the tank and onto the scaffolding.
"I wanted to see your limits. After we altered you..."
"Remember, you agreed to serve us. You can't do your number one task without being altered."
Pyunma's memory was too foggy. After he was brought to Ghost Island they put him in a deep sleep. "How is it now that I'm able to understand what you're saying?"
Gaia held up a tiny black box. "This is implanted in your brain. It translates the words directly into your brain. I have one myself. Really handy and harmless. Now that that's finished, it's time for you to meet your companions."
"Yes. Three others that will assist you on your most important task."
Pyunma followed Gaia out of the room and further into the complex. "What is this task?"
"We'll discuss it later. Now it's time for you to meet the other members of your team." Gaia took the security card and swiped it at another doorway. It lead to a large hanger bay that was open to the outdoors. Pyunma could see the lush island forest outside, but something to the left caught his eyes: three other people dressed in red and yellow uniforms like him.
They looked equally exhausted and seemed very silent. Gaia lead Pyunma over to them. "This is 005, 006, and 007." In turned he pointed at a ruddy skinned giant, a portly Chinese man, and an older, bald man. Gaia then waved his hand at Pyunma's nose. "This is 008. So, why don't you get acquainted. Walk around Ghost Island and get to know each other. Learn to work as a team while you get to know your improved bodies."
With that, Gaia swirled on his heels and left Pyunma with these strangers. He turned back to the men and said, "Well, I could use a walk to shake off this stiffness. My name is Pyunma Dwambee, by the way."
"Well... I go by Great Britain," the bald man introduced himself with a large smile. "This chap is Chang Ko, and I'm not sure what his name is. I was just about to ask."
"Geronimo Junior, but I go by Junior," the giant of a man replied softly.
"How about a walk then?" Pyunma suggested.
"You don't have to ask me twice. I maybe an urban dweller, but I'm starting to feel cagey," Great Britain said, stretching his arms into the air.
"Do you remember how long we've been here, Great Britain?" Pyunma asked as they turned and walked towards the door of the hanger bay. He realized they all had the same translation devices implanted in their heads as well.
"Three months, and you can call me GB."
Pyunma gasped and turned to the older man. "That long?"
"Well that's what I gleaned from the conversation I overheard."
"Incredible," Pyunma said, stunned at losing so much time.
"So what brings you here?" the rotund Chinese man asked.
"My village needed guns to protect us from a local warlord. In return for two years of my time they provided the weapons. And you?"
"I was in a reeducation camp on a false accusation that I insulted Chairman Mao."
"Ah, you were a political prisoner, too," Pyunma said, feeling a wave of sympathy for the man.
The lush forest stretched out before them. They made their way around mossy logs and vine covered trees.
"Very beautiful," Junior said stoically, taking in the scenery. A log blocked their path, so Junior bent down, picked it up, and tossed it aside as if were nothing. Pyunma's jaw dropped open at the display of strength.
"You're stronger than you look... and that's saying a lot," GB muttered, looking after the log.
"It's how I'm altered," he replied.
"So how did you end up here?" GB asked.
"I was about to lose my land. They saved it and helped get some people from my tribe jobs. Respectable work is hard to find."
"And how about you?" Pyunma asked GB.
"My daughter needed heart surgery. They were able to help her. I figured two years of my time is more than worth it to save her life. Maybe after that time I can patch things up with her mother. Maybe even marry her this go around."
Pyunma caught the implication. In his village a man was automatically married to any woman that gave him a child. If the man didn't act like a husband to his new wife, then the man was cast out of the village. Women had a strong authority about family matters in Mwanba and didn't suffer fickle men. As a matter of fact, one of the upsides of being away from his village was not having his mother and sisters picking out a wife for him or nag him about marriage.
This man speaking casually gave Pyunma a feeling that the different customs and traditions from their cultures would take some time to blend, just like getting used to the ability to hear the words of different languages and have total understanding.
"I think I hear the ocean." Pyunma mused.
"I'll go see," GB offered. Then the man's body morphed into a sea gull. GB took off into the air, leaving his red uniform behind.
"Did you see that?" Pyunma asked Chang. It was like the myths his parents told him about when he was a child. This modern world was becoming pure magic in Pyunma's eyes.
"Yes, I saw him do something like that right before you came in. He can change his form at will. It's quite amazing. His bones are a super rubber, as is his skin. It's very impressive."
"Amazing," Pyunma agreed. "What about you?"
With that Chang deeply inhaled and blew a bright fiery cloud at a tree. It burned to a blackened cinder. Chang then crossed his arms and said, "Pretty impressive, too, I think."
Pyunma broke out into a smile when GB swooped down and morphed into a man. He quickly threw his uniform on again. "It's a few meters from here. This way."
They made their way to the beach. Pyunma laughed and jogged to the ocean. He dove under the waves heedless of the others. He glided through the water, reveling in his changed body, so light and quick. He'd be the best warrior in all of Mwanba. His parents would be extremely proud. He felt as though he could chase off Umbaba and his army all by him self.
Before he surfaced he noticed black balls with spikes chained to the ocean floor. He swam back to the beach, the other three watching him as he exited the surf.
"Well, this island is certainly secure. I think I saw mines out there. Seems strange. These scientists must be threatened all the time."
"That was my impression," Junior said, pointing to a tower in the distance. At the top was a guard and a teenage girl. She was watching them carefully. Pyunma could swear the girl's eyes glowed a bright green.
Pyunma turned back to the others and asked, "Is it me or is everyone else hungry?"
"Famished," GB said with a dramatic flair, waving his hand in the air.
"Oh! I hope they let me cook. I haven't used proper ingredients in ages," Chang said, clasping his meaty hands together and rubbing them vigorously.
"You cook? It sure looks like you cook well," GB teased and poked a finger at Chang's stomach.
"I was famous for my food. Let's go and I'll show you."
"That was amazing food," GB said, rubbing his bloated stomach as he leaned back in his chair.
"Yes, I've never eaten anything like that before. It was quite good," Pyunma agreed.
"Thank you, thank you. It's my greatest joy to cook," Chang said, picking up the empty dishes from the cafeteria's table. Junior stood and helped the Chinese man take the dishes to the kitchen.
"So what do you think?" GB asked, leaning on the table with crossed arms.
"About this place?" He looked around the cafeteria that was meant for two hundred people, but they were the only ones in it. He then gazed out of a window and could see that the night had crept up while they ate. He then looked down at the plain blue hospital scrubs they were given to wear when not training. Not uncomfortable, but a little too sterile for Pyunma's taste. "I think it'll be fine once we train. And it already seems they have some task they want us to do. That'll pass the time nicely."
"You know, it seems strange. All this generosity. I guess I need to stop second guessing myself."
"I know what you mean." Pyunma said, in a whisper. He then sat up straighter and called out, "Chang, Junior, we'll get the dormitory ready."
Pyunma stood and lead GB down the hallway after Chang gave him an acknowledging wave. GB tapped Pyunma's shoulder. "Didn't Doctor Gaia say it was to the left?"
"I thought he said right." Pyunma followed GB down the left hallway. GB opened the door of the first room they came to and flipped on the light.
Pyunma was taken aback by a strong oder in the room: bleach. His eyes lingered over the hasty paint job. Under the white paint were faint traces of what appeared to be writing of some sort. He recognized a few shaky English words from the Christian missionaries that had educated him. The vast majority was in a language he didn't know.
"Wow, someone knows some every foul words in German," GB said, examining it. "Sure doesn't know grammar for anything. Sure doesn't have any penmanship, either."
Pyunma looked around the room's furniture. Two beds across from each other were unkempt, two were made. There was a filing cabinet and desk. The desk had stacks of paper. Pyunma went over and rifled through the papers. Almost all were filled with the same messy scrawl that GB pronounced to be German.
But then there was another handwriting, much neater. "GB, what's this say? It looks like a letter?"
"Let's see... its in German, too... it says... Dear Gianni Alessandro... Everybody makes mistakes, and I take all of your pain as my responsibility. I didn't think things could go so horribly wrong for all of us. My own desire to leave the three of you, the same desire running rampant through our little 'family,' caused me to be reckless and cause irreparable and horrific harm to you. Looking at you... your face and the atrocious exhibition they have made it... is a reminder of my recklessness. My recklessness was the same with Hilda; it caused her death, but I'm not willing to be doomed to making these same tragic errors. I promise you, we'll find a way to be free again. I'm not sure what will happen with Ivan, but you and Frances will be free again. I just ask that you keep your temper under control until I can figure out how to free us. It only makes this situation worse on us all. Also, be very careful and keep yourself safe for my sake, if not your own. I can't stand the idea of loss... Yours, Albert." GB held the letter from a distance and turned to Pyunma with an odd look on his face. "That's a strange letter."
"Indeed," Pyunma said. There were steps coming from the hallway. GB quickly grabbed more papers, along with the letter, and stashed them under his hospital scrubs. They started when Doctor Uranus appeared at the doorway.
"What are you two doing in this room?"
"We were on our way to the dormitory," GB said. Pyunma admired how the man didn't look nervous in the least. "I think you were right, Pyunma. It was to the right. Sorry, my fault."
"Well leave this dormitory alone! We should have burned it to the ground!" Uranus shouted, obviously agitated. Pyunma didn't wait for the man to order them again. He jogged back down the hallway with GB in tow. They got to the correct dormitory. This one was immaculate.
Chang and Junior were already there, making the four beds. "Where have you two been?" Chang asked.
"Exploring a little," GB answered. He made sure the door was shut and sat on a bed. He slyly drew the papers out from his scrubs. "I have the feeling there is something they don't want us to know. I wonder who these Gianni and Albert fellows are. I love a good mystery."
"Let me know what you find," Pyunma requested. Chang dimmed the light, except by GB's bed. Everyone else, save GB, turned in.
"Well?" Pyunma asked, sitting across from GB at the cafeteria table. Chang wheeled out a huge cart filled with Dim Sum and served them. Junior joined them, too, coming in from a morning walk in the woods.
"Albert was a German fellow. Some sort of musician. The person he corresponds with doesn't seem to have a high level of education. It's as if on some of the papers he's practicing writing simple phrases in German. Sometimes French."
"Gianni?" Pyunma asked. GB nodded.
"More like John Alexander. I don't think he's Italian, like I had thought at first, English speaker of some sort. This Gianni fellow is the biggest part of the mystery. Also, there were two other people they refer to in their letters."
"The letters are pretty old. And when they do correspond with each other, it's rather dismal. They all have the tone as if they were facing a death sentence," GB said.
"What were they doing here?" Junior asked.
"No clue. The woman must have been very ill. I didn't find her writing at all, but both of them seem terribly concerned about her, almost heartsick over what's happening to her and themselves. Also, they grow wary of the boy with them for some reason. It seems he's not kept with them... something about his parents."
"Well, what was happening to them?" Chang asked, finally sitting after everyone was served their breakfast.
"They refused to put details on paper, whatever it was, was so dark and horrific they wouldn't give it words," GB replied, before popping a dumpling in his mouth. "I want to find out more. I'm thinking I'll just revisit that other dormitory."
"Good idea. We really should find out more about these people," Pyunma said. He tackled his own breakfast as GB left the large, empty cafeteria.
He was disturbed when GB was dragged back into the cafeteria between two guards. The British man sputtered smoothing excuses and took his seat at the table across from Pyunma again. The guards left in a huff. That's when GB turned to the group and said, "It seems they burned all the papers in that room and white washed the walls. Nothing is left. These Black Ghost fellows really hate those four people for some reason."
"They must," Pyunma agreed. "Well, let's all keep our eyes open. I'm sure there are more clues around."
"We're four in number," Junior pointed out ominously.
"Yes, and your number starts with five, rather than one. Very curious," Chang added, just as dower.
"Jet will make you eat that if he catches you," Ivan said, casting a shadow over Albert's shoulder. It made it harder to read the English newsprint. Albert looked over his shoulder where Ivan stood dressed in blue, floral print shorts and and a plain, white tee-shirt.
Albert removed his reading glasses and shook his head at them. Gilmore had offered to correct Albert's vision with new eyes, but Albert declined, not wishing to lose more flesh. One day he'd let Gilmore fix them, but he'd decided to put it off as long as possible. His long distance vision was still sharp as ever. He tossed them in Frances' big, canvas bag.
"I hope you'll keep quiet. I'm figuring out where we need to go after this little vacation is finished. You don't seem to have an opinion," Albert said, moving over a little on the beach blanket. Ivan flopped down beside him and took the newspaper from Albert.
"Where are Jet and Frances?" Ivan asked, ignoring Albert's pointed observation. Albert waved his metallic hand towards the surf washing up on Fiji's white sand. "Again?"
"What else have those two done all summer?"
Albert looked towards the ocean again in time to see Jet catch a swell and surf into the shore. Jet dragged his board onto the shore and looked back at the ocean. He shouted, "Come on, Frannie, don't be chicken!"
Moments later, Frances caught a wave and glided into shore on her surf board. She was graceful and made it look easy, in Albert's opinion. He was still surprised how she and Jet had picked up this new hobby. They had spent all summer in and out of the ocean. They tried to get Albert and Ivan to participate, but different hobbies took up their time.
Ivan learned quickly how to surf, but got bored and moved on to snorkeling and diving. Albert, on the other hand, had used this vacation to start an ambitious project. He started writing an opera set during the Germanic invasion of the Roman Empire. He took some of the elements of his life since Hilda's death and incorporated them into the libretto. The whole opera was taking a dark turn, so Albert set it aside in favor of sneaking newspapers into their private vacation spot.
Ivan quickly stashed the newspaper under the blanket when Jet and Frances started to walk over with their surfboards. Albert lay on the lumpy spot as Frances and Jet joined them on the beach blanket.
Jet shook his wet hair out and then waved a finger at Albert's nose. "Frances saw that. Hand it over."
"You were saying you want to go to Australia again. I was just scouting it out," Albert said, handing over the sandy newspaper. While Jet took it and scanned the front page, Albert turned to Frances. "I thought you were on my side."
"You're brooding again. You've been working too hard during this whole vacation." Frances picked up a towel and patted her damp hair.
"Writing music is a vacation," Albert countered.
Jet tossed aside the paper and sneered. "You want to go back to work, don't you? And you know the kind I mean. Doing some more break ins. " Jet sighed and slowly smiled. "Anyway, I have to find a way to afford that sweet Ducati for your birthday next month."
Albert shot him an exasperated look. "Why is it you want to buy something off your wish list for my birthday?"
"Because Christmas is too far away," Jet whined before getting a mischievous smirk. "Besides, you need a little excitement and danger in your life."
"You bring plenty of excitement and danger into my life, Johnny. I'm still not forgiving of that hijacking fiasco last May," Albert said, reminding Jet of the private charter plane they took control of from a Merchant of Death.
Jet groaned and flopped on his back. "I swear you said five minutes, not three. It's not my fault you jumped out too soon after you bagged the dough and ended up in the ocean. I did fish you out, after all. The ankle biter over there..." Jet hitched his thumb in Ivan's direction, "...didn't exactly show up on time, either. And one other thing... stop calling me Johnny! Ivan don't mind it, but I do!"
Albert chuckled. "How else am I supposed to irritate you? So are we off to Australia?"
Jet raised his head and looked over to Frances. "The waves are really bitchin' there."
"I've had enough water for now. Maybe something else?" Frances ventured.
"Hey! Maybe I'll try to get a job," Jet suggested. Albert, Frances, and Ivan's eyes all snapped around towards Jet. The three of them burst out laughing. Jet sat up and brushed sand off his shoulders, an indigent expression on his face. "I'll show you three. You just watch."
"You haven't had a legitimate job since the early seventies. Why break your streak now?" Albert asked. "Besides, what job would you get?"
"I'll figure something out."
Albert chuckled and gave Jet a warm smile. "You always do."
Jet's face flushed and he hopped up to his feet. That still hadn't changed with Jet; he still didn't take compliments well. But Jet certainly had develop more bravado, which Albert had predicted would happen as time passed them by. "Let's grab some dinner and decide where we want to go to next."
Junior's fist slammed into the boulder. It shattered and dust flew into the air. A shrill whistle sounded and he relaxed his battle stance. He looked over to where Chang was digging himself out of the ground. A large, black panther came plodding from the deep forest; it started morphing back into GB.
"Where did 008 go?" GB asked, now used to using their code numbers during training after several months. Junior looked above them and saw Pyunma standing on a tree branch.
Pyunma jumped down with grace and holstered his ray gun. The African cyborg's brow furrowed in confusion. "The exercise is over, but it's too soon?"
"All double zero cyborgs are to report to the war room immediately," a deep voice sounded over the loud speaker attached to the observation tower. Pyunma stalked towards the main Black Ghost base. GB and Chang followed, but Junior hesitated a second. He hated having to go into the cold, sterile base. He jogged and caught up with his cohorts in the hanger bay.
They made their way deep into the base and reached the war room. It was a simple room with a conference table, a podium, and a projection screen. Junior was surprised to see Scar standing behind the podium along with Gaia. What caught his eye was the young, quiet girl, Ann Ember, sitting at the end of the table. She was knitting a dark brown scarf, but her emerald eyes were fastened on all the cyborgs.
"Have a seat, gentlemen," Gaia announced and picked up a remote for the projector embedded in the wall. He lowered the lights and clicked the projector on. "You've been training all summer and your progress as a team has pleased us greatly. We feel it's time to reveal one the more important tasks you'll need to perform for us."
Gaia clicked a button on the remote control. A picture flared on the screen. Junior studied the picture of four people dressed in uniforms very similar to the one he was wearing. Theirs were dark green with light blue scarfs, and the woman's uniform had a pleated skirt. Other than that, the style was identical. This caused a sense of trepidation in the pit of Junior's stomach.
GB had worked all summer on the mystery of people who used to live here; there were barely any clues. Junior had a feeling he was now looking at the people in the letters found that first night they were awakened. Sure enough, he heard GB softly gasp and vigorously rub his hands together under the table.
"Meet your predecessors, the treacherous first generation double zero cyborgs," Gaia said. "Your first priority is to capture them and bring them back for justice."
"Justice?" Pyunma asked. "What crime did they commit?"
"They're unrepentant thieves and murderers," Scar replied. "All of them."
Gaia clicked the remote control and a picture of a graying, middle aged man came into focus. "This is 004. He is, for all intents and purposes, the ring leader of this little band. He was originally a German citizen known for murdering his wife at the Berlin Wall. He also has a record of turning people over to the East Berlin police."
Junior heard a hiss of disapproval from both Chang and Pyunma. GB asked, "What else has he done?"
"Lots of stealing. He's organized the others into a team of thieves. Last May they hijacked a plane from one of our sponsors. Too bad he didn't drown in the ocean that time."
"Out of curiosity, what was his given name?" GB asked.
"Albert Heinrich," Gaia spat out in contempt. He clicked the remote again. A close up of a tall, red headed teenager popped up. "This one, is very dangerous. He's 002. He was a gangster that murdered others in cold blood on the streets of New York, and it's thought that he was even involved in his own parents' murders. He's always in the presence of 004 and a willing accomplice to theft."
"What was his name?" GB asked. Gaia riffled through a file on the podium. He looked up with a suspicious expression.
"He goes by a lot of names. The most popular is Jet Link," Gaia said. GB nodded as Gaia clicked the remote again. "And this one is 003."
"What a looker," GB said. Junior mentally agreed the young woman was very attractive, but she also looked entirely too innocent to be involved in anything shady. "She doesn't look like a problem."
"Oh but she is. She travels with those two and helps them commit all sorts of crimes. We even believe she let those two murder her brother when he was going to turn them into the police," Gaia said.
GB shook his head. "A shame such a beauty would cast her lot with fellows like that."
"Indeed," Chang agreed.
"Don't let her looks deceive you. Frances Arnoul's heart is as rotten and as cold as they come. The three of them have no mercy, limits, or shame," Gaia warned. "They are all unrepentant liars. As a matter of fact, they will lie to you without hesitation. They spout off wild stories about our group of scientists. They've even lied outrageously that we kidnapped them. How absurd, seeing how we gave you all a choice. We only want to help humanity, not harm it. What would it benefit us to have unwilling candidates? We tried to give them second chances in their lives, but they took our gifts and now are using them for evil!"
"You're not to talk to them, just engage them in battle," Scar declared.
"Yes, sir," Pyunma said, glancing around the table. Junior didn't miss the doubt in Pyunma's eyes.
"Now this is Ann; you've seen her around the island. She will accompany you to help with this problem." Gaia clicked the remote and a new picture flared across the screen. It was a younger teenage boy with mismatched eyes: one blue, one brown. "Do not engage this cyborg directly. He's extremely dangerous. He a master psychic; Ann here, can match him and take him into custody."
"What's he doing with them?" Pyunma asked.
"He was persuaded to run away by 003. She knew he could capture them, so she exploited his youthful rebellion against his parents, the Gamos. Ivan Gamo is his name. Now that you've been introduced, we'll tell you how they were altered so you can make a plan of attack."
"Remember, it is utmost to my plans that you bring them under Black Ghost's custody. No verbal engagement. Also, remember all the generosity we've shown you four. We expect a return on our investment in your group," Scar said before leaving the war room. Junior repressed a shudder and looked around at his cohorts. They all wore the same uneasy looks he did.
Gaia cleared his throat and clicked the remote. "Let's start with 002's technical specs."
To be continued.