Voyager Shadows: Jaiden's Tale
"You got to always think of the interesting people in front of you, who really need your help…"–Phineas Bogg
Chapter 1: The 'hood
Brooklyn, New York
In the last two years, ten-year-old Jaiden Hoyt bounced around foster homes more than a basketball on the court. Why couldn't they see the child's potential and yearning for a family? Was there any caretaker left who wasn't in it for the money? Jaiden was an amiable boy once drawn out of his shell. He approached life cautious and street smart with a quick wit. Despite this area being part of the notorious 'hood' Jaiden displayed a sense of justice and knew right from wrong. For the man shadowing him, it felt like peering through a warped mirror of his own childhood.
How could the man describe Jaiden physically? Beautiful. Mocha colored skin and a full head of light brown afro-curls. He had a narrow face, longish nose, and full lips. His sloped amber eyes either crinkled joyfully or cried out for help. Watching Jaiden through all his trials and disappointments from infancy sometimes drove the man to tears. Yet Jaiden's cheeky smile was a beacon of hope.
Voyager Jeffrey Jones–Shadow Report– Friday, November 13th, 2011. 7:00am:
"Jaiden just left for school. He's still unsure of himself and a loner…it's only been two months this time. This is the third school he's attended in two years. He's way smarter than most of the other kids, but too shy to reveal it. He has an interest in English and literature, and is a boy after my own heart – he loves history! I checked his academic records and he rocks the subjects with 90 plus grades. To display smarts these days labels you a nerd, geek, butt-kisser (to put it mildly) and in Jaiden's case, he's accused of acting 'white.' It's insanity."
Jaiden passed his bus stop and quickly pocketed the incredibly high two dollars and twenty-five cents bus fare. He decided to hoof it to school again. That brought his current savings up to ten dollars in the last four days. The kid displayed ingenuity. The trip was almost a mile, but Jeffrey liked that. It gave him a chance to keep a sharp eye out.
Jeffrey elicited a few stares. He didn't exactly blend in with the predominately black neighborhood. His scruffy beard shadow and near shoulder-length dark curls added to his unique appearance. He dressed low-key for the time zone –dark jeans, worn-in Nike sneakers, and a v-neck navy sweater, black parka and grey hoodie for added warmth.
After years of traveling with Phineas Bogg, Jeffrey dressed more practical than his partner ever did. Bogg eventually tamed the pirate look, but he was still a relic and his fashion sense hearkened back to the seventeenth century.
"It doesn't matter. That man can wear a potato sack and still look good." Jeffrey thought. "The dude's the male Marilyn Monroe."
Jaiden made a pit stop at the local deli-grocery, or 'Bodega' store. He bought his favorite ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a roll for two-fifty and a bottle of Yoohoo chocolate milk. When Jeffrey felt hungry on these morning observations he did the same. He missed little pleasures from his own New York youth like the sugary drinks and fatty, delicious meals on the cheap. Jaiden wolfed down his breakfast as and the drink disappeared within four street blocks.
"Jaiden has good manners, he tries not to litter and holds his trash until he hits the nearest garbage can. Impressive."
Jeffrey spoke discreetly into a tiny recording device tacked on the inside of his collar. But he realized in 2011, many people talked through headsets and mouth mikes while they strolled the city. It saddened him that all the old public pay phones disappeared or sat broken and filthy on the street corners.
"Every family he lives with has their own set of house rules and Jaiden takes a little something with him wherever he goes. But it's not surprising."
"To recap: Jaiden's great-grandmother Ella took him from three years old until she died. She was a respectable, church-going lady and was raised with old-fashioned decorum. I'm glad he had positive reinforcements in his life."
Every fact appeared in Jeffrey's past Shadow reports – Jaiden's teen mother gave him up for adoption when she couldn't get her life together. He had no father to speak of and his grandmother was a mess. Ella was the last family tie willing to raise him and he stayed with her until he was eight-years-old. Ella died of a heart attack in her sleep. Jeffrey disguised himself as the first EMT on the scene, but he couldn't save her. Jaiden's call came through the morning after. Jeffrey offered him comfort, but he couldn't get too close without being discovered.
The Foster Care fiasco soon followed and Jaiden's mother never questioned his whereabouts. Jeffrey delved into the family records, other relatives from different states lived in much better conditions than Jaiden's immediate family. None of them stepped up to take the child in. Jeffrey thought of his aunt Elizabeth. When her brother Bill died it uprooted her comfortable life. If Bogg had never appeared, Elizabeth and Tom's mild threats of an orphanage or boarding school would have become a reality for Jeffrey.
"No, worse." He thought grimly. "I saw my own Shadow report when I joined the task force. My life spiraled into a train wreck on the mean streets of New York because I decided to run away. I'd be penniless or dead by now."
Voyager Shadows. Who are they? What are they? Jeffrey considered the position to be the most vital occupation in Voyager Headquarters next to field workers. He and Bogg signed up for the job two years prior and fell in love with it. A Voyager chosen for the work must observe and report on the life course of Voyager candidates. A Shadow needed to keep a delicate balance and the candidates normally remain unaware of their existence. It was up to the Voyager how they accomplished their tasks. Headquarters often left Voyagers to follow their own initiative in every sector.
The biggest Shadow rule suggested that Voyagers refrain from getting personally involved unless the candidate fell in dire straights. Most Shadows bent it every which way on their missions and made constant judgment calls.
Jeffrey stepped in more than once for Jaiden during his toddler years. Jaiden's mother often soared 'higher than a kite' on drugs and sleft three-year old Jaiden wandering around Coney Island beach. Jeffrey found the boy in a dirty diaper ready to pick up a washed up jellyfish. If it had been up to him, he would have whisked Jaiden off then and there.
They formed a small bond that day. Jeffrey cleaned him, clothed and fed him, and even took him on a few kiddie rides in the Amusement Park before safely returning him to Ella's house. He pretended to be a social worker to makes sure Ella knew the details. Jeffrey's overt friendliness won her over and she invited him to stay for a home cooked Southern meal. That night Jeffrey updated his reports on Jaiden's family, and figured out how to maneuver situations so Ella adopted him. The Council was not thrilled by Jeffrey's interference, but Bogg supported him every step of the way.
On the Avenue Jaiden stopped, scratched his head, and peered around. Jeffrey felt bad when Jaiden nervously plucked his book bag straps and broke into short runs. He sensed someone watching him. Jeffrey quickly picked up the Daily Newspaper and leaned on a street lamppost, engrossed in the vile news stories of the day. After fifteen years of traveling in and out of the past, the future sometimes loomed dark and ugly. He scanned over a brutal article involving a little boy kidnapped while coming home from school in a very safe neighborhood. Jeffrey shoved the paper under his arm disgusted and more determined than ever to keep watch on his present candidate.
Jaiden picked up the pace as the time neared seven-thirty. His day started by eight-fifteen but he had to be on school grounds before then to meet his class and teacher.
"Character Observation: Jaiden is the most punctual boy I've ever seen. He doesn't even hit the snooze alarm. My guess is that it stems from a dire need not to be left behind. If he's on time, he'll be noticed first."
The schoolyard filled up with older kids. Some of the boys tried to emulate the popular rap music stars of the day. Jeffrey didn't understand why the city decided to change the system and merge Junior High with the elementary school kids into one building. That begged for trouble. The poor little kindergartners and first-graders had to run around to avoid getting stepped on by their towering peers. Jeffrey saw a lot of ugliness going down in the neighborhood.
Jaiden halted just short of the schoolyard when some kids called him. Jeffrey's stomach knotted. He didn't trust the gang of wannabee thugs. He pitied them all. Jeffrey crossed to the opposite side of the street for a better view. He counted four boys, nearly indistinguishable from their baggy shirts, hats, and chains. He had to laugh. At their age he wouldn't be caught dead wearing his jeans hanging down to his crotch to expose his briefs.
"Ah, different times…sometimes like a different world."
Jeffrey asked for a quick info check on the gang. The leader was a fifteen year-old Haitian boy sent here to live permanently after a devastating earthquake. The others were born and raised in the neighborhood.
Jaiden met with them hesitantly. They were all older than him but at times they shared jokes, ate lunch together and Jaiden even helped them get high grades on a few projects.
They huddled in a deserted alley behind a dry cleaner.
"Yo Jay, where you be at?" The leader asked. "Don't see you no more after school. You hidin' from us?"
"Been busy, lots of homework, and Miss Williams wants me to take care of her pets while she's at work."
"Yeaaahight, whatever, you got it?"
Jaiden sighed and dug into his pockets. He pulled out fifty dollars and handed it over. The leader scrunched it and the others laughed.
"The money you said to get."
"Ain't she got no more? She a landlady, she gots lots of money! And tons of bling!"
The other gang members nodded. Miss Williams owned two buildings and foster care was her latest venture which earned her more income.
"No. I didn't find no more money." Jaiden lied. "She don't trust foster kids after the last one…you remember Kevin, right, Antoine?"
"Yo, you better remember Kevin!" Antoine threatened and smirked. "He screwed up!"
Jeffrey groaned inwardly as the situation intensified. He still felt proud of the kid. Rather than boldly steal from Miss Williams' purse, Jaiden saved his bus fare and chore money to give to these bullies. He remembered some days when Jaiden skipped lunch and breakfast. But Jeffrey always managed to 'drop' a few dollars in his path so he could eat.
The leader shoved it in his pocket. "This ain't good enough! I know she gots lots of money in a safe – thousands of dollars. She don't believe in banks. Kevin said so. I tol' you where its at!"
"I think she moved it. I don't know the combination. She probably changed it." Jaiden said.
Antoine laughed, then grabbed Jaiden's collar and shoved him against the wall. Jeffrey moved in closer.
"Yo, Antoine, I'll try harder, I promise. She likes me, she'll tell me where it is." Jaiden pleaded.
Antoine dug under his bubble coat and pulled out a small handgun. He stroked it on Jaiden's cheek. Jeffrey's heart raced. He opened the omni and the light turned red. Jeffrey sprinted across the street and pretended to go to the grocery store.
"See this? You take it and you pop her if she give you trouble!"
"No! I'm not gonna shoot Miss Williams! She's a nice lady." Jaiden's eyes widened defiantly. "I ain't shootin' anybody!"
Antoine roughed him up and slapped his face side to side while the gang moved in to intimidate him. He forced Jaiden's hand open and slipped the gun in.
"I said you use it! You know how, I showed you last time."
"I…I don't remember." Tears stung Jaiden's eyes.
"You lyin'! We shot them cans! You ain't gonna live long 'round here if you don't learn to shoot, ya little dumb white boy nigga…"
Antoine berated him using vile obscenities. Jeffrey heard it all in his lifetime but it disgusted him the way city kids in this generation talked to one another, even in regular, friendly conversation. A quick memory of Billy the Kid hit him. The outlaw held the gun out and told him the same lies…
Bogg fought exhaustion as long as he could, he did not want to leave Jeffrey alone one minute with the outlaws. Jeffrey rebelled and sat with the gang around the campfire anyway. They drank, rolled up cigarettes and talked of nothing but killin', whorin', drinkin', and thievin.' They poked fun at him and his goody-goody partner. Jeffrey couldn't handle the talk for too long. He had nothing to add to the vulgarities. He also hated when people talked trash about Bogg. He feigned sleepiness and rushed to Bogg's side.
Jeffrey rolled over to wipe his teary eyes and Bogg put his arm over him.
"I'm glad you're here, Jeff. You don't need to listen to that garbage. Trust me, I know what's like. Hang around long enough and sooner or later you'll think and act the same way."
"Did you, when you were a pirate?"
Bogg sighed and faced him. "Sure. I was young, naïve, and susceptible to everything around me. It was all fun, all a jest. I know better now. I didn't have anyone to steer me right either."
Jeffrey gazed at millions of stars. The moon hung so low he wanted to touch it. "Bogg, when I grow up, will I still have to find out what's really important? Those guys sure know a lot about it."
Bogg stifled laughter. "They wouldn't know if it bit them like a rattler. But I think you do. What's really important is love, Jeffrey. Love, justice, wisdom… and the power to use it as a force for good in all the lives we come in contact with."
Bogg's words filled him with awe, not once did he mention Rita or other women he fell for. That must have been a joke. Jeffrey resolved in his heart to never forget those words and be the best Voyager he could so Bogg would always take pride in him.
The Voyagers learned a multitude of lessons on that demanding mission.
"I put poor Bogg through the wringer. All those important attributes were a little faulty from time to time."
Jeffrey drew his attention back to Jaiden. Antoine shoved Jaiden on the ground and he dropped the gun.
"Pick it up, nig!"
Jaiden stared boldly. "No, man! I'm not doing this, not for you, or anybody! You don't own me! You can't tell me what to do!" He shouted. "I ain't gonna jack Miss Williams' safe!"
Jeffrey couldn't stand by any longer. Antoine's temper flared and he crouched for the gun while his friends tackled Jaiden.
"Get off me, man! Help!"
Jeffrey raced between them.
"Yo! What do you kids think you're doing? Get lost! Leave him alone!"
Jeffrey grabbed Antoine from behind. Despite his slender frame, the teen possessed wiry strength. He elbowed Jeffrey hard in the stomach and Jeffrey doubled over.
"Jaiden! Get help! Hide!"
Antoine threw another punch and Jeffrey ducked. He held back the fierce right hook he honed over the years. Antoine was still a kid. Jeffrey shoved him into garbage cans and he toppled over and crawled fast for the gun.
"Stop! Get outta here!" Jaiden yelled. A hand clamped on his mouth while another kid threatened him with a switchblade.
Antoine poised to shoot. Jeffrey lunged and grappled for his arm before he could fire at Jaiden. They struggled and Jeffrey slammed Antoine face first against the brick wall. Antoine shook off dizziness. He backed into him and swung around. His gun fired, and the bullet clipped Jeffrey's shoulder. Jeffrey staggered against a giant green dumpster. Blood oozed between his fingers and the wound burned. Jaiden broke free and ran to him.
"Man, what you doin' here? Now you're hurt, cause you all up in our business!"
"I won't let them hurt you. Go, Jaiden! Run and hide! I'll find you." Jeffrey demanded.
Jaiden kept rooted to the spot and stared at the man. He didn't know why he sensed a familiarity. "He'll kill you, man! He shot my foster brother Kevin! I know he did!"
"You stinkin' punk!" Antoine aimed the gun. "I'm gonna shoot you next!"
"Yo, Ant! The heat's comin!"
Police sirens wailed and distracted Antoine. His friends wanted to make a run for it. Jeffrey pulled Jaiden close and pushed the omni. Antoine looked back and his gun and clattered into a puddle. The gang stared up frightened. Jeffrey and Jaiden vanished.