With every step that the undead stranger made forward, Captain Liakos’ eyes widened. He wondered if he ought to jump overboard, but intrigue gripped him too tight for him to abandon the scene. Liakos reached into his rain jacket and pulled out a cigar. He bit the tip and placed it in his mouth. The familiar action eased his tension. He studied the man from head to foot.
“What’s your name,” Liakos asked as he lit the stogy.
“I will be called Zao, for now I live and breath again.”
He wouldn’t have wanted to admit it but the man’s voice sent chills up his neck. Zao’s eyes were unmitigated in their stare. Liakos returned the look as he investigated the resurrected man.
Zao was a head taller than the tallest of the Coast Guardsmen who were now standing behind him. His suit, which looked to be of foreign make, was split down the center revealing the man’s torso. He was well toned, and covered in muscle. His lean physique was intimidating, at it’s full height. Liakos’ eyes paused on Zao’s stomach where a belly button should have been. Realizing that the stranger was standing still, Captain Liakos returned his gaze to Zao’s face.
“You are aptly named, Achilles Poseidon Liakos,” Zao said, giving special emphasis to his middle name. “For you are wise. You have a myriad of theories about my mysterious appearance. I assure you that the most imaginative of hypothesis can’t begin to encompass my origin story.”
His deep voice drowned out the concerns that had crowded into Captain Liakos’ mind. The words of this sea strangled stranger were almost enchanting. They had a rich milky flavor to the Captain’s mind. They were heavy, dripping with thick sticky meaning. Liakos felt compelled. Something drew the words from his mouth. Although his heart pounded as he spoke, his voice betrayed no more emotion than if he were talking to an old friend.
“So, where is it that you come from? and why were you out here? And while you’re at it, how is it that you’re standing, and breathing, and all that?”
Zao lifted his hand in the air letting Liakos know that he’d received enough questions and was ready to address some of the inquiries. Instead of immediately speaking, however, Zao’s eyes fell slowly down the length of the Captain’s body. He was not used to being examined by another man, although there was question about whether this was a man at all.
Zao’s eyes seemed to rest on The Captain’s leg for a long moment. The silence between them should have been awkward, but Liakos was distracted. He had learned to imagine that other’s didn’t notice his handicap, and so he had grown accustom to ignoring it like everyone else. However, this stranger apparently found the old injury interesting. Zao tilted his head to the side keeping his eyes locked on the Captain’s leg.
Still not speaking, Zao stepped forward slowly. He came face to face with the Captain, standing almost a head and a half taller than the fishing boat skipper. Although he stood awkwardly close to Liakos, Zao was still looking down at the crippled leg. The Captain was feeling extremely uncomfortable at the moment. He had a primal instinct to shove the tall stranger away, but something deeper stayed his manly will.
Zao knelt down in front of Liakos with a deliberate drop. Liakos straightened up with a jolt, not knowing what was going on. The Captain looked from the top of Zao’s head to the other guardsmen standing around. They all shared a baffled glance. After a moment of silent contemplation, Zao reached out and placed both of his hands around Liakos’ knee.
A quick sensation, something like electricity arced through The Captain’s leg. Before he knew what had happened, Zao was standing again, still awkwardly close to Liakos’ face. He was about to protest the intrusion of his personal space when he recognized that a change had taken place in his own body. Liakos had gotten so used to the feeling of a crippled leg beneath him, that he had forgotten what it felt like to be whole. He knew without even looking down that his leg had been healed.
Instead of speaking, Liakos leaned to his left and placed all his weight on the leg that had perviously been disabled. With a laugh he bounced on the leg as a little child might, after learning to skip. He spun around in a circle testing the limits of his new well-being. He reached down and pulled up his pant leg. To his surprise, the muscle was as thick and meaty as his other. He slowly stood back to his full height and faced the stranger.
“Zao, Sir. How did you do that?”
“The how is less important than the why.” Zao said. A friendly smile stretched across his perfectly symmetrical face. The dimples in his cheeks revealed a layer of muscle along his powerful jaw.
“So, why did you do that?” Liakos said.
“Because I would like you to follow me, I will need a captain on the journey I’m about to take.” Zao said as the smile faded from his face. Still distracted by the working leg, Liakos spent another few seconds investigating his lower appendage. He laughed to himself barely able to believe what he was experiencing.
“Well, I owe you one – seeing as I’m no longer disabled.” Liakos said with a chuckle as he glanced to the other four Coast Guardsmen. They were obviously in awe of what was taking place. He glanced back to Zao who mirrored his smile, but then grew stoic.
“You must not follow me because I gave you this gift. Loyalty that can be purchased is not loyalty at all.” Zao said. There was no hint of condemnation or judgment in the statement. He had presented it as if it were the simplest fact and completely obvious. After a long pause he added, “I tell you the truth, I will make you the Captain of Nations, but do not follow me for this reason. Follow me because it is what you were born to do.”
The Captain took a deep breath and pulled the half burnt cigar from his lips. He had kept his calm demeanor, but he was a tempest on the inside. He wanted nothing more than to follow this stranger to the end of the Earth. The adventure that awaited was intoxicating to a man of the sea. Liakos reached out his hand, being a man of his word, he intended to shake on it.
“I will follow you, Sir.” Liakos said. What was he doing? This was reckless. This was crazy. What about his fishing empire? A thousand more questions barreled through the station of his mind like a run away train.
Rather than shake his hand, Zao reached out with his long powerful arms and wrapped them around Liakos. He embraced him in a quick hug. Once he released him he turned to the four Coast Guardsmen who had seen everything. Zao spoke in a strong voice.
“And what about you men? Will you follow me as well?”
The guardsmen, being men of the service, all saluted and intoned a unison response. It briefly passed Liakos’ mind that there was some strange magic at play. He had to remind himself that magic didn’t exist, which left him no mental place to store the experiences of the day he was having. With a conscripted force of five able bodied men, Zao turned his attention toward the next task.
“Captain Liakos, am I correct to assume that the Coast Guard Ship there—” pointing to the massive vessel in the distance. “would take us to our destination more speedily than this one?” Zao gestured to the fishing boat they were on. Liakos glanced back at the large Coast Guard ship cruising in the distance, not quite understanding.
“That ship could do twice the speed of this old rust bucket.” Liakos said slapping his hand down on the railing of his old fishing boat. “Although, that ship certainly takes orders from an admiral. They don’t have time to act as a taxi service. They have more important duties-” Liakos was saying, but Zao interrupted gently.
“My Captain, there is no higher mission that the one we are on. Come you will command that ship, and we will be on our way.” Zao said.
Liakos glanced to the guardsmen wondering if they were ok with this. They seemed to be on board, and in fact, looked ready to march into battle for their new leader. How will I command that ship? I’m just an old fisherman. Liakos thought. However, at the same time he realized that without a doubt he was going to do what Zao instructed him to do. He hadn’t taken orders from another man since he was a boy, but something deep inside had changed, and Liakos wasn’t sure he cared what it was. He wanted, no, needed to do as he was instructed. A strange magic indeed— except magic didn’t exist. What is going on? He thought.
“Zao, Sir. May I ask where we are going?”
“There is a popular cliché. I believe it is, take me to your leaders.” Zao said with a smile, he obviously recognized how bizarre it sounded to these Earth dwellers. He however offered no more information. Realization began to register on the faces of the guardsmen. Liakos gave no hint that he was surprised at the notion. His simple response began the journey of a lifetime.
“Okay. Let’s go.”