The men arrive on a large boat, all clumped into a crowd on the surface, hats obscuring sunburned faces and overgrown beards. Binoculars held up against squinting eyes, sight blurred by sweat and the jostling of the sea, they cannot see the petite girl on the horizon.
She waits for them on Elina Beach, the fine sand slipping between her toes and clinging to her ankles. The sun is unforgiving, and a patch of green foliage from the palm trees above basks her in a cooling shade. This is not the first time she has dealt with the visitors. Ma Makia assigned her a few seasons ago too, but there were only a few curious scientists to turn around. The large gang of men on the magnificent ship make her shiver with a sort of excited nervousness. The chaos and lack of uniformity in their movements is fascinating.
The ship stalls a few hundred yards away from the shore, and they drop an anchor. She feels the reverberation of rusted metal on the seafloor, and senses the rippling of the waves from the anchor outwards. Such distasteful material and unnecessary force makes her nose wrinkle. How can they be so ignorant of the Ki of the water, of the disruption they bring?
Thin plastic is brought out from inside the boat, decorated with red and white, and the sweaty men take out tools to manipulate the air and force it inside. She sighs at the sight of them and the consumables they deem necessary. Ma Makia told the children of the world outside the island, of the constant cycle of production, use, and destruction all for greed.
Just in this moment does she realize the men using their plastic air pockets use the material out of laziness. Their heavy bodies drop clumsily into cheap boat-like things, and using sticks of harder plastic, they push the water back so they can move forward. The girl feels it as one would feel a gentle wind pushing her hair backwards. Insignificant in the grand scheme of the water’s Ki, but irritating in their aggressive way of going about it.
When the men grow close enough to shore that she is sure they can touch the wet sand 4 feet below, she lifts the water underneath their boats just enough to throw them overboard, in tune with the water’s Ki. The nervous chatter she heard between them before turns to cries of protest, followed by accusations towards each other for being the ones who capsized the boat. Nobody seems to comment on the synchronous flipping of all the mini inflatable ships.
That ought to humble them.
The leader of the group arrives on shore first. He is an older man, gray hairs sprinkled in with his dark ones. She can tell he is the leader because of his ridiculous hat, a poofy stained yellow that had been half-submerged during his dip in the water. He holds himself with an ego, his back straight and mouth curved into an incessant frown, as if he cannot allow himself to relax even in a place such as this. She stands and waits for him to talk first.
“Hello, sweetheart,” he says with an unmatched, business-only tone. The pet name is irritating, and it acts as an unfinished narrative of a kind old man. “I need to find your parents, can you help me with that?”
“My name is Briony, what is your business on our island?” Her voice is sharp and clear, filled with neither empathy nor malice.
He raises his eyebrows in surprise, as if he expected her to be dumb or mute. “You speak English well.”
“As English is the only language I know, I should hope I am proficient in it.” She bristles. The scientists were more respectful than this man, and hid any of their judgement. As more of the crew stumbles onshore, they stand and gawk at Briony. Her tamed hair, tightly woven clothing, and clean appearance seems to throw them for a loop. She is more similar to their own children than they care to imagine.
The captain brushes off seaweed from his shirt, lifting his chin up in an unconscious attempt to appear taller. “My apologies.” He clears his throat. “We came here on reports of some unusual abilities?” He phrases it as a question, as if still unsure of what he speaks of.
“What do you want pertaining to these abilities?” The captain looked stunned for a moment at her lack of denial at his whimsical claims.
“So once you see these abilities, you will leave without further disturbance?” Briony asked, thrilled that the men would be so simple to deal with. The captain shrugged in response.
Briony feels the water nearby, the waves gently crashing against the wet sand. The ripples of fish swimming through. The sea is her and she is the sea, she has aligned her Ki. Raising her hands up to the sky, Briony lifts up water from the beach into a large vertical column.
It takes the men a moment to realize what is happening, but as they turn their faces toward the masterpiece, any semblance of order falls away.
“Bloody hell!” one of them curses loudly, and his partner laughs. “We found it!”
Briony allows the water to fall away, drained by the effort of manipulating its Ki at such a large scale. Her shoulders sag and she struggles for a minute to draw air into her lungs. A heavy hand is set on her shoulder, and looking up in surprise, Briony is face to face with the captain.
“Astounding,” he remarks quietly.
Briony attempts to lift his oppressive hand off her, but he tightens it around her shoulder to the point of pain. “Hey!” She kicks, but he catches her leg and trips her onto the sand.
“What are you doing?” She huffs, and tries to scramble away from him. The captain's crew surrounds her, preventing any attempt to escape.
The captain doesn’t answer her question. “Take her,” he orders his men.
Rough hands lift her off of the sand and she is pulled into a mass of bodies. The smell of salt and sweat stings her nose. In the confusion, she isn't sure which is left, which is right, which is up, and which is down. They pull her every which way, making her feel like a ping pong ball being hit back and forth across a ping pong table. A thick fabric is pulled over her eyes and rope binds her wrists tightly together. It happens so fast she isn’t sure what is going on.
“Let me go!” Briony cries out, as she thrashes about. The bodies near her don't retreat. Hands grip her more tightly, forcing her to stumble only towards where they wanted her. “Please, I gave you your proof!”
“Silly girl,” one of the men whispers uncomfortably close to her ear, “you are the proof.”
The men retreated as quickly as they came, leaving only faint footprints on the hot sand of Elina beach, and taking only one naive girl.