Fiction: The Infinitely Complex Way Of The Two Folds And Five Elements

This content is produced artists indicated on the site, and by me, Brian Joseph Johns. 

I, under no circumstance will trade, barter or otherwise swap my own identity for that of another person and I protect the same right for those who've contributed their artwork to the various projects under my management at Shhhh! Digital Media, my own company. These rights are protected by law under the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms under section 7.

I originally wrote this short work of fiction and published it in its full text here on Shhhh! Digital Media on July 7, 2020. I started writing it in late February of 2020 and re-edited it on February 24, 2023 - Brian Joseph Johns.

A Note About Intellectual And Creative Property

Over the time since I'd written this short story, I've written many others for both The Butterfly Dragon and A Lady's Prerogative storylines here on Shhhh! Digital Media. Most of these stories have deeply involving stories that require a great investment and endurance to write. When I've finished one, I usually don't go too long before starting another, and so my focus goes from one thing to another, to another and sometimes what I've written becomes a distant and forgotten memory, whose sparks are rekindled when I revisit their pieces at some point along the way into the future. This doesn't mean that I am a different person from the person who wrote this story, ie I'm not possessed by one person at one moment, and then another when I write a different story as some cults might have you believe. A belief that is conducive to intellectual and creative property theft I might add. Belief alone is never wrong and we're all entitled to it. However, to enforce a particular belief upon others socially in violation of their rights, is wrong.

So as some people might have you believe, or rather force you to believe, creative works such as this story aren't written by the person at the keyboard, but rather that person's consciousness and body has been hijacked by a collective that is puppeteering their victim into doing the writing, and that the collective is the writer. Their scam often involves stealing creative property in a social competition that is held sometime after the content that they're attempting to steal has been created and has drawn an interest or audience. Especially if said cult sees an opportunity in reputation or finance that might benefit them or their cult members.

Their game is basically played on the table of public opinion and turning it against the true author in such a way that the collective attempting to steal that intellectual or creative work is able to pry it away from the very person who created it. The person whose body was in possession of the proverbial pen through which their own mind and consciousness was able to express and create an entire world and situation. Perhaps drawing upon history, and their commitment to a person they love, as was the case in my writing this story and just about every story gracing the Shhhh! Digital Media web site.

Since I resumed writing in 2010, having stopped doing so since 2001, and then before that in 1986, as far publishing my written works goes, I've long had a struggle against a group of people, an abusive collective whose goal it is to steal away the intellectual and creative property of others by the socially abusive method I've described. That is an element in this story itself and an even larger part of The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons, though this story's concept of duality nails it particularly well, even tying it to history and quite passionately I might add, though that passion is certainly for the heart of a woman I hold dear and always will.

Since publishing my writing and even before, it has been a struggle against this collective, whose goal it is to erase the originator of such works and to devour them into what can only be described as a social blob, that devours people and their works, and which elevates a different figurehead to represent their malice every time one of the other figureheads fall. I've also noticed that they tend to keep their victims confined to depravity as they do just this, while growing the popularity of their works without any sort of accreditation or compensation for stealing them to the originator. Often that entire effort is covered up and buried, as is the person who originated it. If you protest such an effort, you're negative or a complainer for defending the ownership and credit for your work. So this story has a very deep significance to me in that regard, and it is the first big story that follows The Butterfly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See.

Its quite remarkable reading this story again after having finalized it in its second draft three years ago, though it feels like a century has passed since I wrote it. However, its amazing just how relevant the plot of this story still remains as much. Relevant.

I have to wonder, when I'm being bombarded by the worst this cult has to offer in terms of harassment, if their entire goal is to create hypervigilance, which leads to constant self-concern and then eventually selfishness, followed by the appearances of egotism and narcissism, that their whole effort is all about character assassination of the originator of the creative work, so that their cult can turn public opinion against the victim and walk away in possession of their creative works, while the public lambastes the victim who just lost everything to an abusive collective. A collective I might add that's devoid of conscience whatsoever and is more embarrassed by the prospect of being caught and how they'll circumvent the repercussions arising therefrom than they are about how their abuse has affected their victim's life negatively. As Niche said: whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. I suppose that's true so long as you remain you, from a social standpoint, because collectives such as this regard identity as a contract between the real you, and them. A contract that they can rip up any time they choose, meaning that your identity isn't dependent upon you, but rather a social agreement by everyone else. If they don't believe that you are you, and that someone else is more you than you, then kiss your history, reputation and identity goodbye, because by that point this collective has already assigned it to someone else meaning that they will no longer recognize you as being you. The owner of your own history and life experiences. They've already taken them and attributed them to someone else, most likely having taken someone else's and replace your life history with theirs.

That is their biggest secret right there. That's it. Everything.

If you like being you, the good and the bad of you and everything in between, don't let them win. Introduce them to a history that knows that they exist and how they operate, and I guarantee that truth itself will be grateful. Not to mention, our right to identity is part of the Human Rights Act as part of our right to life. Defend it or lose it.

Don't get the impression that if you see my name all over a written work that I'm full of myself. That's definitely not the case. I'm just protecting my efforts. If you disagree, then take your name off every pay cheque you receive from herein, and take your name from everything you put upon this world, whether physical, cerebral or electronic.

If you read my works here, and only see that I'm full of myself, you obviously can't read. This story isn't about me. Most of my stories are about people and often about courageous women. This story however, is about a woman I truly 💗🧡💛💚💙💜🤍💞🖤.

Please enjoy this story.

Brian Joseph Johns
CEO, Author, Artist, Composer and Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Shhhh! Digital Media

Some aspects of this story cover events from actual history though they're presented and cited within the context of a work of fiction.

Recommended for mature readers. Reader discretion is definitely advised.

This story brings back many of the characters from A Piano, A Full Glass And The Disappearance Of Time as well as some new ones. It also brings into focus the coming conflict in The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons.

Introduction: Wet’suwet’en, Imperialism, China And Hong Kong

I can relate with the Wet’suwet’en people. I support both the Wet’suwet’en and the RCMP who are there to ensure that this situation unfolds safely and with fairness for all. At first when this crisis started, I was very angered that my story might have been used in this way. I'd been abused by some malicious and abusive people locally at the same time this all unfolded, but after thinking on it for some time, I came to this conclusion. Based upon some research I'd done years earlier for a letter-writing project for Amnesty International related to Indigenous Affairs. So I have a bit of background in this situation and others much like it.

The motives for the Wet’suwet’en protests are honourable. These two crucial money-making services, the pipeline and the railway wind their way through Wet’suwet’en land, and yet there is no deal to pay these people for the use of their land in this way. Their culture, their land and their future are just about everything they have, and so when the rest of Canada is making money from services that borrow passage through their land, it only makes sense that these people should be a part of the agreement between the Canadian Government and the companies involved, and receive financial compensation for that fact. Perhaps in exchange for their management of the land, the environmental impact assessments and maintenance of both services through which the pipeline and railway pass. That would mean finances, employment and environmental responsibility for the Wet’suwet’en people and of course compensation for the use of their land and just as importantly, having their say on that issue.

Now I am not a politician and have no plans ever to become one but I'd be willing to bet that these are the goals that the Prime Minister and the negotiators are working towards. I'm hoping that they are because both sides deserve a solution to this crisis. A lasting solution that respects the entitlement of all parties.

Perhaps a positive outcome from this situation could then help to deter the ignorance that is also being cast upon the Chinese people in many places of the world as a result of the recent political and medical crises. If anything, that was the sole intent of this story and I'm very happy and honoured to see that it coincided with a time of awareness upon the issues serving the Wet’suwet’en people.

Hong Kong is in the midst of its own turmoil versus the policy of mainland China. The origin of this conflict is at the heart of this matter, and it begins with the invasion of Shanghai (now Hong Kong) by the English Empire, as a penalty for China refusing to allow the sale of British Opium within the Chinese borders.

With Shanghai in its possession until 1997, when Britain relinquished ownership and control of Hong Kong back to China, one of the biggest fears for mainland China was that Hong Kong had been turned into a Trojan Horse for Christianity, in order to convert all of mainland China to the foreign religion. This is a topic discussed within this story and some (especially those of British heritage) may find that it makes them uncomfortable.

Consider that these issues are at the forefront of modern concerns regarding the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, and more likely than not, part of a hidden agenda within some citizens of the West. China is hanging on to the vestiges of its ancient culture and rightfully so in the face of many invasion attempts over the centuries. China's guardedness in this context is well founded, especially given history even as recent as the 1930s and 1940s.

In order for a meaningful peace to be established with regard to Beijing and Hong Kong, all of these issues must be considered, as well as Hong Kong's independent vitality, having lived so many years apart from her bigger sibling and under a much different socio-political and religious environment. I hope that this story can at least in part contribute to the achievement of a resolution to this situation, though credit for as much can only go to China and Hong Kong themselves for that.

Please do enjoy my story, The Infinitely Complex Way Of The Two Folds And Five Elements whose full text follows below.

Brian Joseph Johns

A Quick Note On Punctuation

When writing dialogue spoken by the characters, I commonly put their spoken text in quotation marks. When I reach the end of their spoken sentence, I include a period (.) in order to clarify their sentences. However, since writing this story, some of you may have noticed that I'd changed my method of terminating a sentence to end with a comma (,) and this isn't a grammatical error. This is actually intended functionally so that the text when spoken, had pauses in the correct places. The purpose of commas and periods in the English language is to group spoken phrases, providing a break-point between one concept and another. Since spoken dialogue seldom terminates completely, I felt that it fit to use commas to signal the end of a statement, rather than a period. 

This preference isn't related to nationalistic zeal, as in my Canadian English a period is required to terminate a sentence. This is my own preference when it comes to spoken dialogue, and ironically as it turns out, it is well suited to text-to-speech applications that turn my written work into computer narrated text. In terms of how it reads, it hasn't seemed to impact the overall expression and since having switched to this method of dialogue, I actually quite prefer it. However, this story remains in the older format, where each spoken sentence of dialogue is terminated with a period. I hope this clears up any confusion that might have arisen while reading my written works.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Restaurant - The Story - The Wait: Time Is Impatient

Heylyn (Ai Yuanlin Ying) Yates, MA
CEO of West Meet East International
The Heart - Butterfly Dragon
Heylyn walked through the open door in familiarity as Norler held it open in her wake.

Others followed behind her in turn.

First Alicia, Norler's wife to be.

Alicia Westin, PhD
Director Of Research, Tynan And Associates
The Mind - Night Style

Then Monique, Heylyn's close friend. 

Monique Defleur, Model, Technophile
Chief Model And Artistic Coordinator
West Meet East International
The Will - The Eclipse

They were followed by business consultant Valerie Aspen.
Valerie Aspen, Corporate Analyst
Aspen Corporate Strategies
The Strength - Valkyra 

Then Simulcrum Mathematician Zheng Ni Wong.

Zheng Ni Wong, Bsc
Mathematician/Simulation Programmer - Independent
Computational Biologist

Hiroyuki took the door from Norler, urging him through it as he held it. Yumiko, Hiroyuki's wife followed from a distance, still unfamiliar with Hiroyuki's peers and their surroundings.

"Ahhh. Hori-San. Arigatō." Doctor Briggs thanked Hiroyuki bowing for him.

"Ahhhh. You know. Arigatōgozaimashita Briggs-San." Hiroyuki bowed.

Professor Bryce Maxwell, PhD, MA
Quantum Physicist/Jazz, Big Band Pianist
Renaissance Man

"Thank you, Hiroyuki." Bryce bowed as much so as if he were shaking Hiroyuki's hand, guiding his own wife, Wendy through the door followed by Doctor Briggs as Hiroyuki took up their rear flank.

They arrived as a group in the restaurant, a decidedly formal Chinese and Southeast Asian venue, somewhat of a hidden gem in the complex diversity and modern tradition of downtown Toronto.

A place that had a history in Canada, as much as the people who'd brought their talents to the city to add to the existing talent as they'd say. They were a hard-working people who'd struggled through the nineteen sixties, three families who'd come to Canada, living in a two-bedroom house they'd acquired with their combined assets upon their arrival.

"If we are poor, then we shall be poor together. We will work together as if we are all three families, one big family and none of us will prosper as individuals until we are all successful and well settled." Kōngxū Kōng mǎn, the father of the first family would address them as one large family.

"But father, I want to go to art school and that will cost money!" demanded his daughter, Meifeng.

"You will go to an art school. But we must work together and ensure that we are all, each of us on stable ground from which to grow. All of our families. We must work together. As one. When we've acquired enough, we will buy a second home that will become the home of one of our families. We will still all three families work towards the goal of having three homes, one for each family. Then from there we will build our individual families but not before then. At that point, you will go to art school my daughter. I promise you as surely as I promise that while you are under my care, you will always have a roof over your head and a full belly. That is the only real promise that I can give you as your father." Kōngxū Kōng mǎn told his daughter, Meifeng.

And so it was that the three families worked and toiled, saving their earnings and only spending money on their bills and their food. All three families lived in a two-bedroom house until the day came when they bought a second home together. After years of toil and little if any entertainment, they did so and grew from there. All three families working for that third home.

By that time it was the early nineteen seventies and they'd still had one home left to acquire, every member of the families working and saving their money into the same account so that one day all three families could have a foundation from which to grow. In the early nineteen seventies, the housing market grew and housing prices skyrocketed as the result of high demand. It was at that point that they had a meeting between the three families where Kōngxū spoke.

"We have come this far and worked so very hard to get here, yet our money does not go as far as we need it to in order for us to get that third home and for all of us to have our new start. The housing prices in the Toronto housing market have gone up to the sky. With the birds. Far beyond our meagre means." Kōngxū advised the three families.

"So does that mean we're finally freed from this agreement? That we can continue on and take our earnings and grow our own foundation!" said Mengdu, the man of the family who'd received possession of the recently purchased second home.

"We must not break the agreement for there is no way to calculate a buyout from this agreement. We must continue on and work towards that third home. We will save until we can afford another home, even at these prices." Kōngxū told the three families.

There was much talk amongst the families. Some arguing too. Eventually, they came to an agreement that they should follow Kōngxū's advice. Advice that would pay off in ways none of them could have ever dreamed.

When after two additional years they'd saved enough to buy a house at the currently inflated housing prices, the market suddenly plummeted one night before they'd signed to purchase a home they'd selected. The home as fate would have it was four hundred thousand dollars less than they'd anticipated paying. With the difference, they had over two hundred thousand dollars to invest between the three families as they saw fit. This is where Kōngxū's dreams finally became realized for he'd wanted to open a restaurant well versed in traditional Southeast Asian cuisine. If you wanted Chinese food, you could get it. If you wanted the best of Japanese cuisine, you could get it. If you instead wanted Korean barbecue, you could get it. Thai cuisine? Vietnamese cuisine? All under one roof. A taste of Southeast Asia.

Kōngxū explained his dream to the three families, each listening intently. He'd figured out everything, for Kōngxū was actually a Chef extraordinaire amongst many other vocations. His wife too, he'd met working as a professional Chef, where they both cooked for Chairman Mao long after the height of the people's revolution before coming to Canada to find the start in life that the revolution had not afforded everyone.

They did not flee their homeland, they sought an opportunity that did not exist a decade and a half after Chairman Mao had led the young, University educated revolutionaries to overthrow the remnants of the Chinese leadership and Imperial rule, which at the time was a puppet regime of post-wartime Japan. Few at that time were certain of their future.

Nineteen Forty-Eight.

The year of world turmoil, where many nations fell and yet so many grew in their wake. It was from this turmoil that Kōngxū's dream had come. Arisen from the depths of the kitchen where he worked in Guangzhou. Despite the fact that he was the son of a poor farm labourer from the outskirts of Guangzhou, his dream was as connected as any to the world's dream at that time.

Connected perhaps with the birth of whole nations.

Certainly connected to his destiny and destination of Canada. It had pained him to leave his home and China, but Kōngxū's responsibility to his family was always first and foremost and the realization of that responsibility had led him to Lester B. Pearson's Canada. A Canada where Tommy Douglas, the Provincial Premier of Saskatchewan and the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson himself had forged the world's first working Universal Healthcare System, though this is not about blowing one's own horn as much as it is recognizing that horn belongs to many, from far and wide as much as it belongs to Kōngxū and others like him and his family as much as it does myself and my family and the families of many others.

So it was through his final speech to the three families that he convinced them all to invest their windfall of two hundred thousand dollars into a restaurant that resides to this day in the heart of Toronto. For the three families, it seemed an obvious start, for during their time in Toronto the majority of them had been working in the restaurant business themselves. Dishwashers. Cooks. Cleaning staff. Whatever they had to do in order to earn the capital in order to buy three homes. From Kōngxū's perspective, the investment was the next logical step for the three families and hence was born the Three Families Restaurant or Sānjiā cāntīng in his traditional tongue of Mandarin Chinese.

Many years and struggles later, Kōngxū at the ripe old age of eighty-five years would be host to the who's who of fashion, science, art, history, cosmopolitan and culture, as they had just strolled through the doors of the Full Emptiness moments earlier in this story. The investment had paid off and all three families had gone on to find their success. That left Meifeng, who did go to art school as her father had promised.

Meifeng eventually became an art teacher, then a Professor where a young student named Ai Yuanlin Ying aka Heylin Yates would eventually attend under her tutelage for her final years of University in the field of Fashion Design. Heylyn had maintained contact with Meifeng after her schooling and the two became friends.

Heylyn had sent many of her designers and models to Meifeng's class, titled: Art And Colour In Motion, which had achieved a Masterclass status amongst many students in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout the world. It would seem that Kōngxū's reach had surpassed even his own vision and the three families grew to match that vision as did their restaurant's attendance. In fact, it was on this very night that a fateful dinner would become a focal point for all that is of the one side or the other. A concept that would receive its full definition by the night's end, for as it is said in a great story and vision by Canadian Novelist William Patrick Kinsella: if you build it - they will come. In the case of the three families and as much Kōngxū's case and certainly William Patrick Kinsella's, it would seem that they did come.

And they did wait too. For ten minutes, despite their reservations. Ultimately the Three Families was very popular and hence, very very busy.

A Flowery Hostess - Meifeng In The Flesh - Water: One Of The Five

"Always the risk associated with a strong product in high demand with very potent branding..." Valerie spoke aloud.

"And what pray tell are you implying by that statement?" Monique asked of her friend, seeking clarification.

The group stood in the waiting area. The decorations exhibited qualities of the late dynasty period of China, though the walls were strewn with local memorabilia and familiar Toronto faces. Perhaps a thank-you to Canada for the opportunity afforded the three families. Photographs of the restaurant throughout its history in downtown Toronto and some of the notable customers and patrons who frequented the establishment covered most of the walls, while traditional Chinese art and photographs from the beginning of, prior to and after the People's Revolution of 1948 covered what remained.

The entryway into the restaurant was bracketed on either side by tremendously large water-filled tanks where a variety of fish and water-born fauna were established and well-fed, none for eating of course. They were the myriad creatures of the restaurant's own sea. Heylyn watched the display of the tremendously colourful dragon fish as it floated to the glass, perhaps to peer in curiosity at the patrons from the realm of water as much so as they looked back from the land of the air. Upon seeing the grand fish looking back at her through the glass, she had to wonder if her and her friends weren't the ones in the aquarium from the fishes' perspective.

"Forgive me for interrupting but that sounds like impatience, Valerie." Doctor Briggs responded to Valerie's statement.

"And I take it that you're trying to vilify me, Doctor Briggs? I'm making an astute statement and observation." Valerie asked of him.

Doctor Briggs stopped and thought about it for a moment before Zheng, who stood close to his proximity spoke up.

"Steven, she's the equivalent of a business strategist. Believe me, if you try to debate her on the grounds of impatience when it comes to business strategy, even with all of your cultural knowledge, you'll lose." Zheng nodded in support of Valerie.

"Well if I didn't know any better I'd say that sounds like a challenge." Doctor Briggs responded still unfazed by his spouse's warning as he looked to Bryce for support in the obviously forthcoming battle.

Bryce cringed momentarily at the thought of going toe to toe with Valerie on the grounds of business, which for all intense purposes was her home turf. Had there potentially been room for quantum physics or biology in the conflict he might have jumped in alongside of Doctor Briggs, in a playful way of course. Ultimately though he realized from experience that it was sometimes better to stick to one's area of expertise when confronted by the expertise of another. Sometimes it was better to use our mouth and ears in the ratio of their corresponding quantity. As it turns out, Sun Tzu's Art Of War had confirmed both concepts quite well, if not two and a half millennium ago.

"Doctor Briggs, I'd honestly have to say that my money's on Valerie and that would hardly be a gamble." Bryce replied quickly backing off of such a debate on the grounds of his inexperience in the field of business.

"Forgive me for saying so Bryce, but I'd say that you're just kissing the asses of the women here with us." Doctor Briggs thought he'd step out into potentially risky territory.

Bryce paused, but only for Doctor Brigg's sake for he'd had his response in mind almost immediately after Doctor Briggs' response.

"Doctor Briggs, I understand that there are some things to be gained by social competition in public between peers and that in our circle, especially when publisher confidence or research funding is on the line, that can result in some socially awkward situations between colleagues. Most of all, I respect your statement because you don't even realize it but you're self-sacrificing for the benefit of Valerie on this matter. Not because you are consciously doing so, but because you believe that your argument is better than hers. I can only suspect that you as a gentleman are doing this for Valerie's benefit, though I'd heartily incline you not to do so as she is quite capable when it comes to her area of expertise. As much so as is Zheng, yourself and myself." Bryce advised Doctor Briggs.

"I don't know Bryce, that sounds an awful lot like the statement 'I suggest that you let the Wookie win...'" Doctor Briggs paused hoping for some camaraderie for his fan culture reference.

Bryce put his hand to his forehead shaking it in disbelief that Doctor Briggs had just made such a jerk out himself. Bryce believed sincerely that Doctor Briggs had done so purposely for Valerie's benefit but unfortunately it was becoming apparent that was not the case.

Valerie's left eyebrow elevated as her right eyebrow descended nearly to her right eyeball as she stared down Doctor Briggs. She then spoke in a piercing tone.

"Are you suggesting that Women and Wookies are incapable of meaningful debate?" Valerie stated, taking the opportunity Doctor Briggs had handed her, running with it all the way into the end zone.

"If Wendy wasn't in Sri Lanka for a United Nations function right at this moment, she would have been here with me for dinner, certainly revelling at this moment where Valerie Aspen bested Doctor Steven Briggs at both the politics of expertise and knowledge of pop culture simultaneously." Bryce chuckled as he spoke.

"What's a Wookie?" Monique asked, completely startled by the dynamics happening between her friend Valerie, Doctor Briggs and Professor Bryce Maxwell.

At that precise moment, a woman of middle age and an elderly man emerged from the dining area.

The woman wore a traditional silk dress, short sleeves and a poised collar clinging tightly to her neck while cutting off above her knees and forming up to her shapely hips.

The elderly man wore a Tang headdress with accompanying traditional silk changshan, pants and slippers.

The lady spoke: "We have tables for the Yuanlin Ying party?" Meifeng addressed the group.

"That is definitely us. Meifeng? Kōngxū?" Heylyn stepped forward, her well-toned stocking-clad leg emerging from the slit of her sensuous silk dress, drawing the eyes of several men in the restaurant.

Eyes that were seeing a dress she'd designed and crafted for herself only a few days earlier.

Kōngxū clasped his hands before his chest and bowed ever so slightly for the Butterfly.

Heylyn returned the gesture clasping one of her hands into a fist against the open palm of the other, bowing in respect. Yumiko and Hiroyuki did much the same following Heylyn's lead. Etiquette and honorifics were important to Kōngxū, as they were to many people of his age and life experiences. Life had been a challenging but fruitful journey up until this point in time for Kōngxū and his family. At eighty-five years of age, he deserved that good treatment.

"Ai Yuanlin Ying. I am honoured to be in the presence of the Butterfly and within our humble establishment." Kōngxū smiled for Heylyn.

"Please, Kōngxū. We're practically family and at the very least, we're best friends forever." Heylyn smiled stepping forward hugging the eighty-five-year-old man, laying a tender kiss upon his cheek.

"I take it that you mean that we're..." Kōngxū spoke as he was interrupted by the arrival of a couple.

"Are we too late? I'm so sorry but we forgot to plug our car in last night." Katya interrupted dragging her husband Victor behind her.

"But you have a Lada. Its diesel isn't it?" Zheng responded somewhat confused.

"We recently received the Ellada, an Electric Lada. It was a reward for being Ambassadors between the Russian Federation and Canada," Katya responded.

"It's true. It's electric. Like a hairdryer." Victor gestured for them against his bald head bringing a round of laughter.

"A risky choice of words don't you think?" asked Monique, running her hand through her hair.

"You mean the word hairdryer? Ohhhh. I see. You mean the reference to hair... Clever... I tend to find bald men to be... sexy? Especially my husband..." Katya caressed Victor's head delicately.

"Yes, I've heard about Russian women wanting direct access to the minds of their husbands. I guess the lack of hair helps in that regard?" Doctor Briggs said once again treading perilously through a minefield of verbosity.

Victor seemed suddenly perplexed by being thrust into the gender politics of the group but did his best to assist his wife.

"Uhhh... the less the hair.... the more to bare? No! Wait! I meant Bear, with claws! Like Kodiak! Rooowrr!" Victor did his best to recover gesturing like a clawed bear.

"I'm sorry Victor, I was just kidding with you. I think it looks good on you." Monique responded tactfully and with lauded charm.

"Katya, Victor? We're very glad to have the two of you with us today, and no you are not late." Heylyn jumped in quickly steering the conversation away from conflict.

"Good. Because we have a lot to discuss with you. Especially Alicia and Zheng." Katya advised Heylyn.

"If you don't mind, we have lots of other customers waiting behind you. Please follow us and you will be seated shortly." Meifeng insistently urged the group to follow both her and Kōngxū into the restaurant.

Meifeng led the group into the interior of the restaurant and the maze of tables, each of which were occupied by diners who were either talking, eating or both. It was a colourful display of the variety inherent in gender, age and culture. There was a table of college students throwing off the pressure of exams by filling their gullet. Another table occupied by a large family there as part of their yearly reunion. There were several couples, many of whom were tucked romantically into the corners, sharing their company in quiet whispers. There was at least one birthday party, a woman who'd just turned fifty and who was graced by the presence (and presents) of her family.

They made their way into one of the alcoves, small rooms connected to the main dining hall by a wide archway. Above the entry archway of their destination alcove, the word Water was inscribed in English, in Chinese calligraphic type style. The interior of the alcove was actually circular if viewed from above. The walls were lined with tables, buffets and even a portable gas stove which was used by the chefs to cook a meal in front of the patron who'd ordered.

The center of the alcove was occupied by a large round table, big enough to easily accommodate their group. Each of them took a seat at the table, with the men seating the women first. Even in this age of equality and independence, some traditions still remained.

"I am Meifeng, I am your hostess here for this evening. If you have any special requests, please do not hesitate to speak to me. Your wait staff Colleen and Mark will be along at any moment with water. Is everyone seated comfortably? Is there anything you require?" Meifeng asked them.

"Could you have the wait staff bring the drinks menu?" Valerie requested.

"Yes, absolutely. They will be with you in a moment. If you'll excuse me." Meifeng made her way back into the restaurant, and back to the waiting area.

"You seem a little bit off today, is there anything you need to discuss? You know, with an old friend?" Bryce asked Doctor Briggs.

"Really its nothing." Doctor Briggs bluffed.

Zheng looked intensely at Briggs hoping that he'd accept Bryce's offer, and then with sorrow to Bryce when she realized Briggs was being stubborn again.

Heylyn thought once again of the dragonfish and its curious resemblance to an old friend. She then looked to Doctor Briggs wondering what might lurk in the depths of his mind.

The Experience Of Age - Kōngxū In Time - Earth: The soil upon which we're founded.

Kōngxū greeted each of the guests as he passed the tables in the main dining hall. He strode from planter to planter with a spouted water basin in hand. He delicately poured a healthy helping of water into the soil of each planter. A tradition he'd done since the beginning.

When the three families first opened its doors to the public, Meifeng had been working the restaurant in her time away from school and her studies balancing the three with her much needed sleep, but not much else.

At that time she'd suggested that her father, Kōngxū water the plants during the off hours. There were fewer plants in the restaurant at that time but the distance between them was still comparable.  After all, there were no people during off-hours she reasoned, so he could get around to each of the planters more quickly.

"Perhaps, Meifeng. It is a good idea but you have to remember that it is as important that those who dine in our restaurant see that we care for it. In a sense, it is as much caring for our customers as it is caring for the plants. You could say that I'm watering both." Kōngxū explained to her patiently.

"I fail to see why father. They're here to eat, not to watch you water plants. You need to be back in the kitchen making sure that things are running smoothly." Meifeng urged her father.

"I understand that you've been having some trouble with biology at school?" Kōngxū asked his daughter.

"I'm on top of it father. I'll pass, if that's what you're asking." Meifeng defended herself.

"I know you will. That's why you're going to work with Mengdu and install the aquariums. Once they're installed, I want you to be the sole provider and caregiver for the aquariums." Kōngxū told his daughter.

"But father, I can care for the fish. You just need to feed them. I can't care for the plants in the aquarium. They're live plants! They need special care. I don't know how to care for them." Meifeng suddenly became defensive.

"That is why you need to be the one to setup the aquariums and to take care of them. Fish, plants, water and all. Then, you'll care the plants in the restaurant. You'll take over my duties watering them and pruning them until your biology semester is done and you've passed." Kōngxū spoke firmly with Meifeng.

"I won't have enough time to do prepare all of the vegetables for the next day or do any of the cleaning in the kitchen. That's too much work!" Meifeng's brows compressed around her eyes in frustration.

"I will take over your duties. You just need to take care of the aquariums and the plants. I want you to take care of the aquariums after hours and water the plants during business hours and in front of the customers. That is final." Kōngxū demanded of her.

Meifeng stormed out of the restaurant throwing her cloth to the floor as she left. There was a moment of peace and silence as Kōngxū waited patiently. A few minutes later his daughter came back through the doors, the tears in her eyes apparent.

"I just want you to be proud of me father." Meifeng said wiping her face as she approached him.

"I already am." Kōngxū opened his arms, welcoming her hug.

Meifeng had a very difficult time working with Mengdu, who'd taken time away from his job to assist with the installation of the aquariums. Mengdu lacked the patience and communication skills of her own father but he'd installed large aquariums before as his own father was in the business of supplying restaurants with seafood back in Guangzhou. As a result he'd installed many aquariums, mostly as staging tanks for the live seafood of a restaurant's menu but occasionally he'd installed complex scenic aquariums complete with live plants, both fresh and saltwater.

Meifeng had never taken care of a live animal in her life. Unfortunately, as a young girl, she was diagnosed as being seriously allergic to dogs and cats, or at least their hair and fur. As a result, she'd not had much experience caring for another creature that was dependent upon her for survival. Despite the nurturing nature of both her mother and father, she'd grown up under the impression that caring for a living thing was more so mechanical and deterministic rather than empathic and intuitive. If you water plants, they grow and if you don't, they die was the reasoning that fueled her point of view on the matter.

While they were partway through installing the two ninety gallon aquariums, it suddenly occurred to Meifeng that if all you had to do for plants to survive was water them, then taking care of the aquariums was going to be easy. What could be easier than taking care of plants that lived in water? In fact, all that she'd have to do would be to feed the fish and change the water filters occasionally and she'd be done. Her attitude about having to take care of the aquariums suddenly changed. She figured that she'd be finished her duties at the restaurant every day and back at home in no time. Of course, that was not the case at all.

After they'd spent the last few gruelling hours setting up the tanks, Mengdu tried explaining about the ph level and temperature of the water and how it had to be watched carefully. As a matter of fact, the aquariums both had to be the correct temperature and ph level before they could put any fish or plants in the tanks. Since the fish and plants were to arrive the following day, they had to ensure that the tanks were at equilibrium by that point.

"Where are you going?" Meifeng asked Mengdu.

"Home? Why? Do you need a lift home?" Mengdu responded pulling his keys from his wet and dirty jeans.

"Uhhhh... that's it? We're done?" Meifeng confirmed with him.

"Until tomorrow. We have to let the water settle. We've treated the water and the filters are running so it should be aerated by tomorrow. The ph level looks fine but we'll have to see tomorrow when the fish and plants get here. I've got to go or my wife is going to kill me. Are you coming?" Mengdu told her.

"Uhhhh... alright. I've just got to lock up first." Meifeng started checking the doors when she realized that she hadn't watered the plants.

"I can't leave, I've got to water the plants." Meifeng shouted to Mengdu.

"How long will it take?" Mengdu asked her.

"About twenty minutes, maybe half an hour." Meifeng replied already filling the spouted water basin.

"I'm sorry, you're on your own. The bus is still running. I'll catch you tomorrow!" Mengdu left through the back door and disappeared into the night.

Meifeng being alone in the restaurant suddenly didn't feel so rushed and instead, took her time watering each plant. She observed them each one as she did. Quiet. Peaceful, yet alive. It occurred to her that plants might actually be listening. Listening to the world. Maybe even to her and her family. The diners. She then wondered what stories they might tell if they could speak. That's when it occurred to her to speak to them. She was alone after all. Nobody in the restaurant to tell her she was crazy or overworked.

"I'd bet you have some things to say?" she asked the plant.

It just remained still, its leaves ever so slightly jittering. She smiled accepting the plant's answer.

"Well I hope that's enough water for you." she said feeling the soil with her fingers.

It was damp to the touch and healthy as far as the texture was concerned. She even smelled it, and found it to be invigorating. Like a journey through the forest, she'd remembered when she was much younger.

Meifeng suddenly found herself at peace. As if for the first time in her life she wasn't alone when there was nobody else around. It was at that point that she realized that she wasn't.

She woke up the next day, still in the restaurant to the sound of keys in the front door. It was her father, Kōngxū.

"Meifeng? Are you alright?" he found her waking up on one of the bench seats of the restaurant.

"I'm fine father." he rushed over to her embracing her.

"I was so worried this morning when I saw that you'd not come home. Are you hungry?" Kōngxū asked her.

"No dad, I'm fine. When are the fish and the plants for the aquarium going to be here?" she asked him.

"I think they're going to be here within the hour." Kōngxū told her.

"I've got a lot of work to do. I've got to make sure that the tank is prepared for them." Meifeng made her way to the waiting area of the restaurant where the tanks sat, decorated but empty of plants and fish.

"Don't forget, we're opening the restaurant at three PM today. That should give you enough time to have everything ready. I'm going into the kitchen to start preparing the vegetables. Your mother will be along shortly. I'll be in the kitchen if you need me." Kōngxū told her as he made his way into the kitchen area.

Meifeng quickly went about measuring the ph level as Mengdu had taught her. While she prepared the kit, she checked the temperature. It was ten degrees too high.

"Oh no!" she ran for the bar phone and called Mengdu letting ring for five rings before it was answered by his answering machine.

"Mengdu! One of the tanks is ten degrees too high in temperature! What do I do?" she yelled to the answering machine.

Kōngxū stepped out of the kitchen upon hearing Mengdu's name.

"Meifeng, I spoke to Mengdu. He said that he won't be able to make it today. He told me that you know enough to handle any problems that come up." Kōngxū advised her.

"Dad, one of the tanks is way too high in temperature. I don't know why. I need Mengdu!" Meifeng told her father.

"I trust that you'll figure this out. You need to trust yourself. Stop and think carefully about where you should start. Don't let the stress of what you imagine could happen, paralyze you." Kōngxū smiled and walked back into the kitchen.

Meifeng ran back to the waiting area and to the overheated tank. She looked over at one of the plants she'd watered last night.

"Alright. I've got two ninety gallon tanks that are exactly the same. We put the same chemicals to balance the ph level and they have the same parts but one of them is much hotter than the other. What do I need to do?" she asked the plant.

She suddenly thought about what her father advised her to do. Stop and think.

"What in the tank is there that could create heat? Let's see, there's the water filtration system. There's the pump. Hey wait, there's a heater built into the water filtration system. Let me check that!" Meifeng said aloud.

She checked the base unit of the filtration system and found the temperature control dial, and a built-in thermometer which read ten degrees over their required temperature. She checked the dial but it was set to the temperature they wanted, yet the thermometer still read ten degrees higher.

Meifeng suddenly had another idea. Instead of self-censoring her idea, she acted upon it. Almost immediately thereafter having the thought, she ran to the kitchen and rifled through one of drawers for a baking thermometer.

"I need this dad. I'll bring it right back!" she said running out of the kitchen with the thermometer.

She took it and submerged it into the water and waited for a minute before checking it. When she read the baking thermometer, it read the correct temperature, the one they required in order for the tank to be safe for the plants and the fish.

She shook her head, suddenly perplexed by the conundrum. How could one of them be right and the other one wrong? She carefully examined the thermometer built-in to the filtration unit and that's when she discovered the problem.

This was of course four decades prior to our current days, long before digital thermometers had become common. The thermometer itself, which was analog, was a glass tube filled with a red liquid that had slipped from its housing and become elevated a centimetre upwards, hence displaying a temperature ten degrees higher than what was actually indicated by the pips in the thermometer housing.

She fixed the thermometer, sliding it back to its correct position and measured the temperature of the water once again with a third thermometer from the kitchen to make sure. Upon reading the temperature from the third thermometer, she was immediately gratified by the realization that she'd figured out the solution to the problem all by herself. For her, it was an epiphany of understanding. With a little bit of help from her father's advice and the plants of course.

When the residents of the aquarium arrived with the delivery truck, Meifeng watched them during the transfer as they left their container one by one suddenly realizing that she'd become responsible for them. She'd become responsible for the beating of their tiny little hearts. For the wellness of their little minds. Ultimately, for their life. For their biology. She suddenly realized the wisdom of her father's plan.

A solitary tear streamed down her cheek as they one by one swan into their new habitat and acclimatized to their new surroundings within the aquariums. She observed them as they swam then fully understanding the perplexity of life at the moment that she witnessed one of the fish eating. Consuming the one before it.

The predatorial fish opened its jaws wide, sucking in the tailfin of the fish ahead of it. Perhaps in some kind of nervous response to its surroudings, though it didn't stop there. The fish ahead struggled to get away only causing the one behind to become more aggressive. There they struggled in a dance of death and life. One struggling to survive and the other, looking for every advantage through which it could devour it.

The fish doing the devouring had even pretended to be one of the fish it had just devoured. Meifeng suddenly considered the fact that nature rarely held the same views as did humanity with regard to survival. Where humans may have sought to feed only upon plant life, the fauna of the animal kingdom rarely held such restraint for their prey. In fact, members of the animal kingdom never sought public approval for their actions. They instead just lived, and died. It was people who schemed such plots as to make themselves appear to be superior to others by not eating meat, or by eluding the predator - prey symbiosis of life. Humans were schemers of life. Animals just lived life. Humans regularly donned the sheep in wolf's clothing approach to life, whereas animals just lived. Really lived and without shallow pretention. They just were whereas we try to be and rarely are.

Meifeng accepted what she'd learned and found it very humbling. Perhaps humanity wasn't so perfect after all.

Most of the fish remained quite shy for the first week, hiding within the foliage of the plants. It wasn't long before they became as curious about their home as were the patrons of the restaurant about them.

From that point on Meifeng had become more and more comfortable with caring for them and soon realized that they weren't just things, but little living hearts and minds of their own. Sure, the plants would certainly live on water alone, but they thrived in the love that Meifeng shared with them as much as did the fish.

She recognized them all, each one by their distinct personalities, with which her and the return customers had become all too familiar.

For the remainder of the school year and beyond until her graduation, Meifeng cared for the fish, the plants and the aquariums, getting a B+ for her final grading in Biology which was enough for her to earn that required credit in the sciences, hence enabling her to choose her own education in the arts. Years later she'd eventually become one of the instructors in a fashion program which the young adult Ai Yuanlin Ying also known as Heylyn Yates had studied.

Kōngxū stood before the plant marveling at the beauty of its intricate branches, each indicating a point in time where a growing limb could have gone one way or the other. The interconnectedness of it all, he thought admiring nature's system of limbic bifurcation.

"Well... I thought that maybe it had something to do with having the right connections. Like maybe Professor Maxwell or Zheng had put in a good word about us. But it turned out that was not the case. In fact, they'd heard about us after seeing the news coverage of the delegation to the Asian Alliance. I believe it was when we had arrived in Seoul..." Victor explained the circumstances behind the new research position of Katya, his wife and himself.

"They had seen the news clipping of Victor doing his impersonation of a traditional Russian dancer. I think he was trying to distract the press from their tabloid pursuit of Doctor Westin and Norler? Anyway, as it turns out they were at lunch discussing the matter of hiring when that news clip aired on a television screen in the restaurant they were at. It was like serenity...? No... wait... Serendipity! Yes. Like a meaningful coincidence... with good timing." Katya explained as the group laughed recalling that memory.

"You mean they decided to hire you based upon that clip?" Doctor Briggs seemed skeptical.

"No. They saw that clip, and then looked into our credentials. When they saw that we had the exact right kind of background for the type of research that we'd be doing, we became their first choice. Well, not really. Katya was their first choice. She made it clear that we were a team and that she only worked with her husband. That's when they got me on board as well." Victor answered Doctor Briggs.

"That is so ironic. That's pretty much what happened to me with the whole MindSpice slash Gabe Asnon incident." Zheng shook her head thinking about it.

"Yes, we heard. Quite the controversy. So did they shut it down? Their AI research program?" asked Katya.

"No. It's still going and I'm still under NDA with the severe threat of legal action if I so much as mention q-bits or any details about the hardware or software involved. I stood my ground. I did my part in standing up for what I thought was right." Zheng shrugged.

"I don't think anyone is as proud of you as are we." Doctor Briggs put his arm around and rubbed her affectionately.

"I'll second that." Bryce raised his glass.

"As will I." Valerie lifted her wine glass into the air.

"Me too of course." Monique raised her gin club soda.

"For the love of what's right." Heylyn raised her glass.

"Speaking of write, how's your book coming Doctor Briggs?" Hiroyuki asked.

"It's been a struggle so far. I kept pretty good records of the delegation's trip but we're running into a lot of legal flack over some things. Like the whole outcome. Future Tangent Industries wants the whole incident buried and of course, kept from the public's concern. They've hired some pretty good lawyers to make sure that certain aspects of the account are omitted from the book. My publisher has been doing their best to keep the monsters off of me but it's not working out like I'd hoped. They're playing a really dirty game." Doctor Briggs explained.

Zheng cozied up to Doctor Briggs relieved that he'd finally trusted his friends and peers with the weight she'd carried for so long.

"We're more than just your peers, Steven. We're your friends. We go back a long way. If you're having trouble you need to trust us. Maybe we can help. I mean it's easy to see how this is affecting you. It's not all yours to shoulder Steven. You've got support in me. I'd be willing to bet that you have the same from everyone in this room." Bryce told him looking very concerned for his friend.

"I'm with you on that." Victor agreed.

"All of us are." Alicia looked to Norler.

"You've got that right." Norler nodded in approval.

"I don't know. There's a lot to tell. Let me start at the beginning..." Doctor Briggs started his elaboration.

One Of Two Choices - The Storm In Science - Wood: The fuel of the furnace and the ignition.

"Well. The whole story really begins with our night at the Looking Glass Lounge." Doctor Briggs eloquated.

"That was a great night! I remember that! That was one of the most... enlightening moments of my... ahhhh. Such a romantic night. You two hooked up back then? It was like the destined to be in the stars or something... I mean later that night Norler and I..." Alicia began, very obviously romanticizing about the night Norler had planned for her on the night of the Piano, A Full Glass and the Disappearance Of Time.

"Alicia. I was there but Doctor Briggs wasn't. We hadn't even met at that point. As a matter of fact it wasn't until after our trip to meet with the Asian Alliance a year ago that Doctor Briggs and I had become... attached?" Zheng looked to Briggs lovingly.

"...romantically involved?" Hiroyuki asked.

"Yes. Exactly. I'd say that's just about how she looked at me," Doctor Briggs answered though still looking at Zheng.

"Melted any defences I had, though I'm pretty sure I was thinking the same thing." Doctor Briggs replied rubbing her thigh gently with a hidden hand.

"Well, Stephen and I by that time already had something going. Something a little close." Zheng rubbed her leg against his and he warmed to her affection.

"You see Alicia, Bryce, Katya and Victor. We went to the Looking Glass lounge, just the two of us after we'd arrived back in North America. It was our little getaway. Our romance. Our story." Doctor Briggs looked to each of his friends and peers around the table.

"No harm done. Looking Glass is a pretty darn good setting for that kind of date. A bit post modern but romantic nonetheless. In a scientific sense." Alicia snuggled up to Norler.

"I think what Alicia's trying to say is that we'll forgive you for not inviting us." Monique crossing her legs seductively.

"Well, it just wasn't that kind of dinner. We were there for us. We were hot off of the Asian Alliance delegation when... of all people in the world to have shown up... it was..." Doctor Briggs carried the story to its fruition as Zheng continued.

"...we were beginning a romantic evening together and then... Gabe Asnon showed up," Zheng began.

"They say that Tom Collins is the drink of the light hearted. Of the stress free. Tell me, do you think that an artificially created intelligence versus a human being ie the more fun and intimate way of creating will ever truly have a favourite taste for anything, like say a favourite drink?" Gabe asked looking to Zheng first, then to Doctor Briggs out of sheer politeness.

At that time, Zheng and Briggs looked at each other very puzzled before Briggs returned his glance to Gabe.

"I'm sorry, and you are!?" Briggs interrogated Gabe obviously feeling very defensive of his date with Zheng.

"I still need an answer." Gabe stood his ground looking to Zheng.

There was a moment of silence as Briggs grew tense. Zheng quickly acted to relieve the tension.

"I believe that artificially created beings and consciousness will have existential experiences and therefore they'll likely have favourites of many different kinds. Biases too I'd be willing to bet despite the fact that they'll likely be more useful to us without," Zheng answered Gabe honestly.

"...that was our introduction to Gabe's pet research project at MindSpice. That was his personal invite to the project as his biographer had put it." Zheng finished, the story of their meeting with Gabe Asnon having been told.

"And his biographer was...?" asked Bryce.

"Who else. It was Jose." Briggs replied.

"Jose who?" Alicia looked for confirmation.

"Jose Chung, of course. The writer of the Caligarian..." Zheng elicited.

"We know who he is. Please do go on," Alicia interrupted.

"Gabe prefers the direct approach. That's what probably put him in the position he's in. The CEO and majority shareholder of MindSpice Inc. In fact, he loves that approach. So do his investors." Zheng nodded.

"You got all that about him from a short conversation?" Alicia asked them.

Zheng and Briggs looked at each other for a moment before responding.

"Not quite, you see there's more..." Briggs responded.

"I believe that the moment when we truly came to know him was when he stated:" Zheng paused as she mimicked his voice,

"So. Date night? Nice place for that. Romantic. Quiet. Quaint yet colourful. Almost looks like My Little Pony vomit, doesn't it?" Gabe said to them snidely as he looked around.

"Yep. That about sums up Gabe's charm." Briggs added.

"So this has something to do with Gabe?" Valerie asked.

"That's what I thought at first. You see, from that night forward I started experiencing some pretty bizarre stuff. Stuff like being tailed by cars, different cars every day on my way home from the University. Threatening emails from unknown sources. Someone even sent me a picture they'd taken of me in my backyard. From the angle of the photo they'd have to have taken it from the roof of one of the neighbouring houses," Briggs explained.

"It could have been a drone?" Alicia suggested.

"Yes, it could have. Nonetheless, it was a little disconcerting at first though I just ignored it. As time went on it became a little more intrusive and threatening." Briggs continued.

"Threatening how?" Norler leaned forward.

"Well. It seemed that who or whatever was doing this seemed intent upon sabotaging or even possibly destroying my career. For instance, while out getting a coffee and some lunch a few months ago, I overheard some people speaking behind me in the line. They were using exact phrases from the manuscript from my upcoming book. The one I'm writing, documenting the experiences of our delegation's trip to the Far East. A couple of people were using exact statements from the manuscript in the context of their conversation. I was a bit rattled by the experience." Briggs frowned, shaking his head.

"You mean exact phrases?" Heylyn asked.

"Exact, as if they had the copy I'd written right there in front of them." Briggs answered Heylyn.

"How is that possible? Hackers? You do your writing on computer, don't you?" Hiroyuki asked.

"Yes. That's how I've written all my copy for years, until recently. Now I do it all on an older computer I have. One that's not connected to the internet or any network for that matter.

"I do much the same with my work as well. Especially with any research papers I write. I generally do them on a computer that's not connected to the internet. It's not that I'm concerned that other scientists would ever steal my research. Being in the public eye, there are always people looking to take mementos from you, even if they're digital copy of your written works. There's people who believe all sorts of wild things. You're situation sounds very similar to experiences that I had while attending University." Bryce sympathized.

"You mean you had people walking up to having memorized whole sections of your next day's homework?" Briggs asked him with an edge of sarcasm sharp in his voice.

"No. Not exactly. But early on I did have people treating me in a bizarre way. Almost like stalking you could say, except it usually involved a handful of malicious people. For instance, there were a few students who used to take my homework assignments and attempt to hand them in as theirs." Bryce mentioned.

"Go on..." Briggs insisted.

"Well, it seems that there were a group of students who'd wanted to elevate someone else's status in the University. I'm guessing that they wanted to make this person into their icon in the building. The same way that some people really get going about electing a class President or student rep for the University. It really gets quite political and vicious at times.

So what had happened is that this group of students had taken notice of some of my assignment papers during my second and third year of Physics at the University. I'd become kind of an underground hero to some. Mostly because I often questioned the lessons, though without disrupting them.

So over time I'd kind of picked up this reputation of being a rebel and a student icon amongst my peers, though I was hardly rebellious. I was just clarifying facts for myself and for others who might not have understood the lesson. So these other students from another class had started to become jealous I'm presuming though I could never figure out why. Here I was a poor student, struggling to make ends meet and essentially a dorm bound nerd, studying my homework and doing my thing which for the most part was related to physics simulation.

Nobody in the other classes was really aware of me, so these students thought that they'd take advantage of that fact and build their own icon, using my output of course. It was all innocent enough at first, but after a while, it became quite nasty. You see, they'd started actually lifting my homework from me. Any time I'd had written notes or notebooks lying around unattended. I'd return to my place only to find them missing, or at the very least looking as if someone else had gone through them. A few weeks after one such incident, the school newspaper published an article that was supposedly by the student who this group were trying to iconify. To make into their hero. Let's just call him Mike.

I read the article as it was about physics, and I noted that several of the key points in the article were directly taken from ideas I'd come up with for my research homework. This is the work that you do while building up to your final thesis and assertation, so it's somewhat important. I mean I was hoping that this work I was doing then would become the foundation for my career after University. So this had value to me and evidence pointed towards the fact that this Mike person had taken the information from my own papers. One of the Professors even commented on that fact, claiming that my thinking was much like Mike's, the writer of that article.

I eventually became very careful with my own work, ensuring that it wasn't exposed for someone to just come along and take it. I secured my laptop as well which is where I did most of my work on simulations using an early version of MatLab." Bryce added.

"Did that work?" asked Alicia who'd become intensely interested.

"Well... yes and no. You see, one of those times I'd left my notebook unattended, they apparently had borrowed it while I was away from my desk and photocopied the entire thing. So they had months of my material to pilfer to fuel this guy's life and homework." Bryce explained.

"Yes, but how did you know that?" Briggs asked clearly eager to hear about the solution to this dilemma.

"I was getting to that. So one day I confronted him about his work being awfully similar to mine. I asked him politely what he thought about plagiarism. He became very defensive and even a little bit violent. When I saw the risk of that kind of confrontation I put my hands up and told him that it was just a question and left him quickly making my way through the halls. After that incident is when his friends began stalking me. It was little things at first. You know, each one would pass me and say something clearly directed at me that was barely legible. It became a bit more nefarious from there and eventually, it even spread beyond the University and dorm." Bryce raised his eyebrows as if disappointed.

"Being a student and having parents who struggled to support themselves during the recession, I had to rely on myself for sustenance. Many times that involved going to local food banks from whom I'd receive enough food to keep me going. The University had its own food bank, but if your schedule conflicted with theirs, you were out of luck. So I'd attend food banks in the community. It just so happens that one of the food banks that I'd attend was located at a Church, and happened to be the home congregation for the student that was using me to fuel their academic life. It turns out that he was quite religious but for some reason, he never saw what he was doing as being wrong. Plagiarizing another student's work to fuel his academic progress." Bryce spoke intensely.

"While at the Church for the services of the food bank, I'd experienced the same harassment I'd been receiving from this student's friends, though it came from some of the clients and some of the Church volunteers. They'd said things while in conversation with others like: can you imagine the nerve of stealing another student's homework? Of course, after having said that they'd then look at me accusingly as if it was me that was guilty of such wrongdoing. Apparently part of the belief is based upon the idea that people become possessed by free floating spirits for lack of a better description and so the people who believe this go on a rampage hunting down these disembodied spirits in other people. However in doing so, they violate their subject's human rights. In fact they seem to have little regard for human rights at all. Not to mention that they were contributing in such a way that benefited another group of people committing serious crimes in the area and cultivating an atmosphere encouraging creative and intellectual property theft. That's enough to get you permanently kicked out of an academic program, not to mention the legal ramifications that's you face in a court of law." Bryce raised his eyebrows once again and continued.

"This happened many times and became progressively worse each time. Eventually, it became so bad that I decided that I had to do something about it legally. So I went to the Director and told her of my suspicions, the situation and what I'd experienced thus far. She told me that charges of plagiarism are a very serious matter in the academic world that can result in students receiving criminal charges by the law as well as being barred from the university for life as I'd suspected. I thought about it for a bit and then told her that I'd like to go the legal path to take care of this as it was very serious. It was posing a big problem for my academic progress and likely others whom had no idea of what was going on in that regard. She then had me sign some papers and I left her office. From that moment the investigation had begun.

Overall the investigation had taken a couple of months which was fairly quick and fortunate, and during that time the stalking that I was receiving had only become worse. I believe that they were trying to rile me up to take radical action against them and likely had I done so, they'd have turned the whole situation around and I'd have become the plagiarist and Mike would have been the victim. As fate would have it, I managed to keep calm mostly. A few times I broke down and even yelled at my harassers but overall I kept things quiet.

Three months later I was called into the Director's Office. She'd told me that morning that the Federal Police had arrested Mike, and several other students and even a couple of people from the food bank and community who were running their own illegal surveillance network throughout the community. In fact, I wasn't the only victim and the criminal network responsible for these crimes was actually quite sizeable, even conducting their own computer surveillance for a variety of criminal purposes including identity theft and plagiarism for profit. As well, the members of this belief who used their stalking to hunt these disembodied spirits were working with those involved in the illegal surveillance ring. The whole thing was being run in cooperation with a gang that was allegedly distributing prohibited narcotics in the community as well, which explained why they were accusing me of using such narcotics and other issues related to substance abuse. They were trying to use me as a criminal substitute for their criminal actions. Apparently, that's how criminal gangs, organized crime and abusive cults operate in some parts. So this was a serious criminal operation. Four months later I attended my court date and was called to the witness stand. I answered the questions of the prosecuting attorney and that was it. Then I went back to my dorm and did my homework. A few years later, I graduated with honours. Mind you, the path to get there was difficult. It wasn't like I or my family were made of money. Fortunately, I had qualified for a sizeable academic loan to pay for my education, almost as much as a mortgage. One I was working in the field after graduation it took me five years to pay that off. So imagine if Mike had gotten away with it? I'd still be liable for my student loan. I'd have been in the poor house for the rest of my life not to mention having suffered the great injustice of another student and a criminal network using my output to progress their lives, illegally. Immorally. It still disgusts me that they could even do such a thing." Bryce shook his head, narrowing his eyes.

"That's a bit harsh. I mean didn't you accept an apology from Mike?" Monique asked Bryce.

"I thought about that situation for a long time afterwards. What really solidified my opinion on the matter was that if Mike hadn't been caught, maybe I would have been charged with plagiarizing his work. Would he have had any sympathy towards me in such a case? If one can go along with such a charade for so long and not care one iota for how that affects the life of the victim, then no. I have no sympathy for people like that. Mike made his own bed. In fact, as a result of that situation, I won't set foot in another Church ever again for the rest of my life. I certainly wouldn't stop Mike from pursuing a career in Physics, but he might have had trouble being accepted into any academic program after having earned that mark on his record. I suppose it could have been much worse too. Imagine if the Director had sided with Mike on my accusation? It always amazes me how the victims of such crimes can somehow become have the role reversed onto them with that of the perpetrators." Bryce theorized, still feeling sick to his stomach after the whole experience.

"Well if the situation had turned out that much differently, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now, and I'd have likely ended up in a different field as a result of not having you as one of my heroes in the academic world. The SY349 formula never would have been born and countless lives that have benefited from that Cancer treatment would never have had that option. The connectedness of it all..." Alicia noted aptly.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Alicia. Ironically, Mike or the people responsible for that criminal network had no remorse whatsoever about their crimes, which got me thinking that maybe some people don't see the wrong in it and maybe they've gotten away with it before against other people. Maybe that's how you should examine your situation, Briggs? I mean when people form social collectives to do wrong of that nature to others, they clearly have no regard or remorse for their own crimes against the victims. Perhaps you should look further into the option of taking legal action? At least consult a lawyer or a legal professional. I can't imagine how it must be for someone who has neither the finances nor resources to pay for legal support of this kind, but has creative and intellectual properties of their own to protect from such an organized criminal network. You've got resources Doctor Briggs, more so than most people. Given the outcome of the delegation to Asia, there's a good chance you've attracted negative attention from one of the defendants of the Future Tangent Case? Maybe they're employing the same or similar tactics to the group that attempted to victimize me and my education?" Bryce suggested.

"That would be Tynan And Associates' responsibility to protect you in such a case. I'll hire an investigator right away to look into this for you, Doctor Briggs. I can also have a security specialist look into your other problems at home, including your computer security." Norler said as he pulled his phone from his jacket.

"Thank you Norler. That would be a tremendous load off of us. This has been putting a terrible strain on our relationship and both of our careers, not to mention its very difficult to tell enemy from ally. Very confusing and purposely so I might add. Like being played between two diametrically opposed dichotomies, where either side can be just as nefarious as the other. An emotionally radicalizing see-saw. Steven has gone through a lot." Zheng stated, running her hands through Briggs' hair then grabbing a hold of his hand.

"You have my eternal gratitude Norler. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this was eating me up." Doctor Briggs said gratefully.

"My pleasure. Uhhh... our pleasure." Norler gave Alicia a peck on the cheek which she returned.

"It's good to see that there still isn't much that can't be solved through meaningful conversation and debate, though I'm grateful that we have this chance to have that as clearly Doctor Briggs has been denied such a grace. Consequently, my story isn't finished by the way... this might be a heads up to you Doctor Briggs," Bryce told them.

"Then finish it." Zheng insisted.

"Ironically as fate would have it, I would be accused of the same thing years later and all because of a simple blunder on my part." Bryce paused.

"Another one of your dramatic pauses. So theatric. Give us a break, Bryce. Don't keep us waiting..." Valerie said getting right to the point.

"Point noted. Well put Valerie. A research paper I'd co-written years ago as part of my post-graduate work had resurfaced. It dealt with a very popular topic in physics at the time, dark matter and the universe's missing mass. My co-author of the paper, Gurz Morten was living in Amsterdam at the time. So what happened was that I'd created a file in a Microsoft word and began writing the paper and we'd shared that original document which we'd send back and forth to each other. At that time I'd had my word processing program set to automatically attribute any document written with the program to my name. So in creating the document I'd forgotten to give attribution for the actual file to Gurz. The file only had my name in the copyright meta record rather than both of our names." Bryce explained once again.

"And that mattered?" Briggs confirmed.

"In this case it did. The paper was initially ignored by the scientific community though at the time of its release, an important figure in the science world had already read it. A decade later he'd moved his way up the ladder to become the publishing editor of Quantum Physics Monthly. A few months after having achieved that position he'd sought my permission to publish the paper in their magazine, to which I agreed. When he'd published the article he referenced the authorship not from the actual paper itself but from the file copyright meta information. So what made it to the final printing of the magazine had my name on it but lacked Professor Gurz Morten's. Gurz's lawyer had happened to read the quarterly and upon realizing that a paper had been published lacking correct author credits, he contacted me and threatened to take legal action. Naturally, I immediately purchased a copy of the magazine and took note of the error and contacted the editor and informed him of his mistake but by that time the damage had been done. For many years beyond that, I'd been accused of taking the credit for Gurz's work despite the fact that it had all been a case of confusion. In the end, it resulted in even more publicity for the paper we'd co-authored and for Professor Morten's own work in the field though I did have to live a few years with some of my peers thinking that I took the credit for Professor Morten's work. They were both difficult experiences but I managed to build my own acumen and did a lot of meaningful work in the field. I inspired some as well. Ultimately I survived, and so will you. In a way, you could say that I was forged by them?" Bryce advised.

"Well, that's what its called when someone copies your work." Briggs said uneasily.

"I don't think that's what he meant," Heylyn suggested.

"Doctor Briggs's assumption sounded correct to me." Alicia supported Doctor Briggs' observation.

"Wait. Let Heylyn finish. Please, do continue..." Bryce asked of Ai Yuanlin Ying.

"Like a sword, or a fine work of art in gold or bronze. You turn up the heat and the artisan forges a fine work of art."

"Precisely." Bryce agreed.

"Then how I deal with this, will become the ignition?" Doctor Briggs sat deep in thought.

"...Of a forge that showers you with the heat that shapes your future... The future you." Zheng had suddenly come to realize.

"No matter the fires of the forge, become the hardest steel. Become your best," Kōngxū spoke as he walked over to the table holding a flame to the candle, igniting it.

At Their Peak - Flames Touch Even The Heavens

In the back of the Three Families Restaurant, the kitchen was a flurry of ordered chaos. The prepping stations were occupied by three Junior Chefs, each of whom performed all of the dicing and slicing of ingredients with an intern Chef gopher keeping them supplied while attending to the other needs of the kitchen staff.

A row of grills lined the back wall of the kitchen, where most of the barbecued foods were prepared. The majority of Chefs occupying the grills were direct family members of one of the three families. One of them however, a much taller man, clearly of Western descent occupied the last grill, preparing Alicia's Chicken Char Sui.

He inspected the chicken breasts, flames dancing up through from the pit of fire beneath them. He painted them several times with a brush dabbed in the marinade, causing the fires to jump higher and enveloping the breasts and sealing their heavily marinated interiors at exactly the right moment.

(The vegetables are ready, James. Do you want them there?)
"Zhānmǔsī, shūcài zhǔnbèi hǎole. Nǐ xiǎng yào tāmen zài nàlǐ ma?" asked Bao, one of the Senior Chefs as she put the finishing touches on a wok of stir fried vegetables.

(Good. Thank you. That will be fine.)
"Hao. M goi. Hai." answered James.

The intern upon hearing them immediately made his way over to Bao, accepting from her a bowl filled with the aromatic stir-fried vegetables. He then made his way over to James, who topped the bowl with several pieces of tenderly marinated and charred pieces of chicken. 

From there the intern took the steaming bowl of food and placed it on a tray that had already been prepared with the correct ornaments of colour and flavour, both as much so complimentary to the meal. He then passed it off to Colleen, the waitress for the guests at Heylyn's table. Colleen took the tray and delivered its contents to Alicia's place setting. Almost simultaneously or shortly thereafter, Mark, the other wait staff for the same table arrived with Norler's General Tao (similar to Kung Pao) Chicken.

By that point James had begun working on Brigg's order at the grill. He watched as the flames jumped up through the bars, like a tiger trying to claw its way out of a cage and he suddenly returned to his youth in Hong Kong.

James had been the son of one of the members of the Honk Kong Chamber Of Commerce during the final years of Hong Kong's British era. He'd grown up in Hong Kong though he was educated in the British institutions present there. Despite his somewhat sheltered upbringing he still had managed to learn Cantonese and spoke it with startling clarity.

He could even understand Mandarin Chinese though he couldn't speak it nearly so well as he could Cantonese. Like most languages in China, Cantonese was a regional dialect that had been transformed by the arrival of the British Navy, kicking off the start of the Opium Wars that had ultimately resulted in the cession of Hong Kong to the British. James' family had been amongst the early administrators sent by the British to the island, with their arrival occurring in 1892. They helped to establish the Hong Kong trade policy, including its position on Opium over which the war had initially started.

From that point, Hong Kong had become of the utmost strategic importance to Western interests in the region. Undergoing a transformation that had already mostly consumed and even eliminated many other cultures the world over during the era of colonization. James considered this as he was suddenly thrust back to the present, still preparing Doctor Briggs' barbecued pork.

By the time it had arrived on the table alongside Zheng's Dim Sum, the entire banquet room they occupied had been engrossed in the consumption of their delectable culinary dishes. An invasion of their table achieved through the culinary arts, from a navy of wheeled trollies and gourmet trays.

Hong Kong had long served in the plans for the region and had provided a foothold for the mostly Protestant Christian Missionaries to fortify themselves in preparation for their ultimate goal: the Christianization of mainland China. Their work too was all about invasion, as much so as this effort had already devoured the North American Aboriginal nations, stripping bare their independent history and culture and replacing it with the religion of the invaders.

Doctor Briggs considered this as he ate. He'd already noted the similarity between Bryce's account of what had happened to him while he was a student and the efforts of colonialism of which the primary tool of invasion was not gunpowder, but organized crime and religion. Every invasion in the history of humanity was preceded or actuated by elevated levels of the two.

Much as the British had shown up on China's doorstep, so had the Ottomans under Saladin's rule at the doorstep of Jerusalem. Though the armed forces of either country believed their actions to be honourable and in the name of world progress and their corresponding concept of God, shortly behind those soldiers were the clergy, whose goals were to subjugate the world to their particular religions. Through borders that could not be pierced by weaponry or warriors, religion had almost always succeeded in the subjugation of any enemy through the invisible medium of ideology.

"...You see, the Chinese were aware of the threat imposed by the occupation of Shanghai... Hong Kong as we now know it by the British, though they were there to forcibly sell Opium to the Chinese market. The Chinese having already contended with numerous attempts at invasion and the subjugation of their ancient culture were very defensive about this threat to their sovereignty." Doctor Briggs explained to the others at the table.

"I guess so, having outlasted Ghenghis Khan's attempts to replace their culture with that of Mongolia and his decidedly blood-bound clergy of divine Buddhism... Perhaps not much better than the attempts to destroy the Shinto influence in Japan by the early Christians and the Ikko-Ikki Buddhists." Hiroyuki added.

"Well both China and Japan managed to maintain their strong and dedicated distinctive historical culture despite these threats. They've probably become the world's experts at protecting one's sense of belonging to a culture and protecting that culture as well." Alicia noted.

"Not only that, but they both seem to be able to co-exist in the midst of vastly different cultures without losing the connection to their own culture. An important aspect of resilience especially in the age of empire and colonialism. Look at the Aboriginal people of the world. Especially those in North America. They didn't fare too well during colonization, having nearly been wiped out with all traces of their culture. Regarded as being savages by the invaders. It's a good thing there's a growing effort to restore their cultural identity and presence in North America. Long overdue if you ask me." Norler expressed.

"Absolutely agreed. I can't help but feel the tinge of guilt during our conversation though..." Monique brought up.

"Why? You were dropped into a role that you did not choose in the midst of a plot that you had no part in creating. I believe that reconciliation is very important, but I'm not going to feel guilty over what I didn't take part in. That doesn't mean that I won't take part in reconciling those injustices though. It's not your fault Monique," Valerie insisted.

"Being aware of these things and then saying or doing something about them is what counts. That's how we change the world. That's the epitaph we leave." Heylyn interjected.

"That's a good point, but it must include that we have to learn from those mistakes of our ancestors and be active in ensuring that such injustices aren't carried out into the future in the name of our expansion or policies. That might mean speaking out against such things, even when it puts you at an imposition in life and society." Bryce implored them.

"Well this is all easy for us to say here and now. I mean a lot of people fought and died, especially in the military so that people like us, women and men would be able to deal with matters like this without being imprisoned or executed. We can't let anyone rewind those rights that people have acquired, millimeters at a time over centuries of fighting for them." Doctor Briggs reminded.

"S and S. Supply and Survival can have a big effect on what you call freedom. In the eyes of a despotic leader, if you don't want people to do too much thinking, then leave them short of food and increase the time they have to spend trying to... survive. The point at which the philosophy of the people dies and all the time is spent obtaining food and ensuring survival. Hypervigilance. No time to think. No time to talk. Only time to survive. Selfishness becomes tantamount to survival, yet when it involves a group, then the group is the organism. A selfish organism that must survive." Katya explained to them.

"Exactly. Nobody becomes a philosopher on an empty belly." Valerie observed and agreed.

"Well, actually that's not true. Siddartha's path to enlightenment involved experimenting with a lot of attempts at starving himself. He was mostly following the examples of the Brahmins and Hermits who'd wandered off into the woods trying to find peace on an empty stomach." Doctor Briggs corrected Valerie.

"Maybe that's true, but he achieved enlightenment having had sustenance provided him by the fauna of the forest before his encounter with the Hindu Deity Mara." Heylyn corrected Doctor Briggs.

"Yes, according to some accounts and legends but not necessarily according to historical records. You see, the Indigenous people of North America have a variety of traditions with regard to this very subject. They're usually called the Vision Quest..." Doctor Briggs began explaining to the table.

"Yeah, but I heard that Vision Quests are brought on by the use of mind-altering substances. Narcotics like Peyote or Magic Mushrooms." Monique added.

"True in some arenas of the past. For instance Shamans whose ancestry stretches back to the Mayans still harvest plants to brew DMT concoctions which apparently give the imbiber divine spiritual experiences, many of which are reported to be life-changing. The Navajo Indians used Peyote as part of their rite of ascension and their version of the vision quest. Catholics have been dipping into the wine of the Eucharist since forever, as essentially its an abbreviated method towards the same ends, though with less independence of mind. The truth is though that most experiences occurring during a real vision quest are the result of lack of food. That doesn't mean they're not intensely real to those who experience them. I'm just stating that there's something about fasting for two or three day periods that results in the brain entering into an altered biochemical state, likely in order to reduce the energy requirements of thought, which are mostly fueled by glucose or other simple energy sources got from the foods we eat. This seems to be a common ground in cultures of the world that have the equivalent of a vision quest. People seeking divine wisdom, from the gods, by simply fasting for a period of two or three days combined with intense meditation. That is the actual case with Aboriginal North Americans and their rituals of the vision quest. So not eating can produce some pretty wild philosophical insights. Most religious texts are littered with such instances. I'm not saying that makes those texts right, or that it justifies all the horrors and injustices carried out in their name. I'm just saying that there's a common ground in that wisdom that permeates many different cultures and is especially important to Indigenous culture, though you're certainly not going to get there as the result of a social beating. That's more like brainwashing than enlightenment." Doctor Briggs clarified his point.

"Isn't it startling that Chairman Mao's purposeful starvation of nearly half the population of China years on after the People's Revolution didn't result in a similar movement against that act?" Valerie charged Doctor Briggs.

"That was a much different case, not to mention that was complete and deadly starvation. Not a fast. The changes brought about by the revolution divided the people of China. There were still many loyalists to the Emperor and the Imperial ruling class of China despite the fact that the Emperor had become a usurped puppet of the Japanese prior to 1948 and the final upheaval in China related to the war and the People's Revolution. The Imperial Dynasty resulted in a lot of resent originating from the younger educated generation in China at the time, because the Imperial System was culturally representative of the teachings of Confucius and because the young were ambitious to see China become modernized. Those teachings and the social etiquette they produced were that the young were implored not to question the wisdom of the old or the elders of society, especially the Emperor. That etiquette was also tied in with the existing cultural respect forwarded towards the elderly in such a way that to revolt against the system was to disrespect the elderly..." Doctor Briggs drew into his extensive knowledge of Eastern history.

"...Like kegare in Japan. Bad pollution of the people for the bad things they do. Almost like bad karma in Buddhism or sins in Christianity," Hiroyuki explained to the table.

"Precisely. So if you as a youth stood against someone that just happened to be elderly and on grounds sound of principle, you were essentially marked socially as having wronged the elderly which could have a profound impact upon your future. A convenient social etiquette to prevent people from questioning authority. Especially the ambitious nature of the youth." Doctor Briggs told them.

"That's one extreme. There's always the opposite extreme, and that can be as much so unjust." Heylyn interjected.

"This frustration grew into a growing resentment by the academics, which was harvested by a young socialist named Mao Zedong. Remember that we're right off of the heels of the Russian Revolution and that Mao was a reader of socialist literature of the time. He was very astute and recognized that the resent of academia could be used to bring about this growing pressure for change. This is what became the revolution, however, it still divided the people. The ways of the old against the ways of the new. Like the Three Kingdoms Period. One land, many different principalities and beliefs of how the one land should be ruled. So the young academics led by Mao confronted resistance at every juncture of their revolution by the largely uneducated elderly, who still supported the old ways. The majority of these people had worked the land, many farmers and workers who lacked education that had been the backbone of the old ways for as long as they could remember. So when the time came that China faced a growing famine and shortage of food, Mao made a choice to sacrifice the people who'd resisted their revolution, hence ensuring him a swift victory and erasing the possibility of any uprising or upheaval against the People's Liberation Army. Starving to death an entire subculture of people in China and drowning out a significant direct memory of that history." Doctor Briggs summed up his point.

"Yes, but wouldn't this movement have been a welcome possibility to Hong Kong? I mean you said that academia wanted change and the modernization of China. Hong Kong was certainly a doorway for that kind of change given its connection to the West." Alicia posited to Doctor Briggs.

"The students and others who were part of the People's Liberation Army wanted modernization, but that doesn't mean that they were willing to give up their rich history and culture to achieve it. Especially not to the West who'd basically shown up with their entire navy and demanded that China start buying their heroin. Opium at that time had become outlawed by China though the trade ports were rife with smugglers from the West who maintained the supply chain of opium. The Chinese tried to police this themselves and even sent word to ruling British Monarch Queen Victoria to put a stop to the activities of these smugglers. They even attempted to buy the opium with tea so they could destroy it. No success. Eventually, the navy showed up and demanded that they start buying British opium or else... The leadership of that time chose or else, and war ensued. After the dust had settled, the British had possession of Shanghai: Hong Kong.

From that time onwards, it became the launch point of every attempted invasion by Christianity against mainland China, but China had one of the most elaborate defences against Christianity, which has been the West's most destructive weapon in history. The Chinese defence was simply language. You see, religion requires a medium through which to spread and the people attempting a conversion have to be communicating on the same channel as the people being converted. For religion before the time of telecommunications, that meant a common language. The problem is that Shanghai was populated by many speakers of Yue Chinese or what we call Cantonese, a prestige language, and like all Chinese languages, they're regional and not transmutable.

If you speak one brand of Chinese in the north, there's a possibility that the people of the south won't be able to understand what you're saying unless they know the dialect. So for the first time in history, Christianity was stymied by the fact that the Chinese people didn't all speak the same language. In fact, there are nearly one hundred and twenty different dialects. For this reason, Christianity was pretty much dead in the waters of Shanghai harbour and unable to spread to any significant degree into mainland China.

Secondly, you're dealing with a culture that has been subjected to more invasion attempts than any other culture in history. China almost lost Taoism forever at the hands of Ghenghis Khan, because he destroyed every single pagoda and Taoist temple in China after his successful capture of the capital. He attempted to re-canonize Buddhism to follow the Mongolian variant which was based upon the idea that Mongolians, specifically the Khanate, are the descendants of divine beings sent to rule over the lowly tribes of Earth. This is still one of the main sore spots in the diplomatic relationship between China and Nepal. A deep scar in their history that most westerners don't quite grasp. One Taoist temple remained as allowed by Ghenghis Khan who did not want to anger the gods by eradicating a belief system and peoples. Chinese Buddhism adapted to avert becoming replaced by the Mongolian Buddhism of the Steppes and Chinese Buddhism became a beacon mostly focused around long-standing Chinese concepts to become associated with luck and fortune. There's no standardization of the image of the Buddha, so every sect of Buddhism in the world has a very different visage of the Buddha and different traditions related to worship. China is no different.

Within China, all things bend to become a part of China rather than vice versa.

That doesn't mean that Christianity has given up on their goal of the conversion of mainland China. That's why it's so ingrained in the religious culture of Christianity to vilify China as being the ten-headed beast. The devil. The dragon of the Book Of Revelations. To keep as many westerners ignorant to the fact that it might actually be beneficial to put aside these differences and to work together. The Christians are afraid of being consumed by China because they're so aware of all the injustices forwarded upon other cultures by Christianity and the conversion and subjugation of other cultures of the world. Look at how many cultures Christianity has eradicated and replaced. Not really a problem with the religion itself but more so with the people who wield it as a weapon of control and power. So naturally, China is very aware of this threat from Hong Kong." Doctor Briggs had nearly finished his lecture.

"Yes, but didn't Britain secede Hong Kong back to Chinese rule?" Alicia asked him.

"Yes. Since 1948, Britain has been one of the countries of the world set on an agenda to undo the wrongs of the past. That's why there were many places they stayed away from politically and why their attention towards transforming their empire to become more a proponent of civilization and liberation rather than invasion and conversion amid growing world resentment after the era of colonization. So this treaty became effective in 1997 and Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese rule. Naturally, China probably saw this move as an attempted trojan horse. The means by which the west would inject Christianity into mainland China but that didn't happen because of the language and cultural barriers. The strong resistance of the Chinese people to such tampering as well. And the policies of the ruling party, the People's Liberation Army. These policies were set in place to protect the distinct culture of China." Doctor Briggs finished.

"Do you agree with those policies?" Norler asked in interest.

"I don't see it as a case of agreement or disagreement. I see it as being consistent with what I'd expect from what I know of China and its history. Now if the Aboriginal peoples of North America had adopted such efforts to protect themselves, might our history here be different?" Doctor Briggs countered.

"That seems to me to be a similar case. Their fate in history was as much a result of their views and their consistency with those views in action, as it was the result of the views and consistency of the colonizers and their religion in action. As Valerie stated, we're dropped into a role for which we have no responsibility in creating. We're thrust into situations that have already occurred and expected to wear them like debts upon our soul. The reason that most people would not act to correct those wrongs is that by doing so, that is an admission and acceptance of the responsibility for that wrong, with no recognition of the goodness of the modern generation's efforts to reconcile these circumstances. That leaves very little incentive to just do the right thing." Heylyn suggested.

"Well really, for most of history and into the era of world trade, the real invaders employed by those who come bearing gifts have always been religion, narcotic substances and disease. Much the same as the British Navy showed up in demanding that China buy its heroin and Christianity, in the west, it was disease and the coca plant, the origin of cocaine that gutted the Mayan civilization and has been both a bane and a source of escape for western culture. In fact, there are theories that the Mayan people who were eradicated by the Spanish, ultimately fell as a result of their reliance on the coca leaf, which was used ceremonially and fuelled their visions that in order to defeat the invaders, that they should continually sacrifice more and more of their own youth in murderous rituals. The worse that the situation became, the more they relied on coca leaves, the visions they brought and human sacrifice. Ritual sacrifice had always worked for them in the past when dealing with the many natural challenges their civilization had faced, so with the arrival of the Spaniards, Christianity, firearms and disease, it was the only traditional defence they had against the invaders. The Mayans lacked knowledge of ironworking and hence lacked weaponry and armour that stood any sort of a chance against the Conquistadors. Those that survived the other threats died as a result of the pursuit of visions from the gods to guide them to victory. The remaining survivors interbred with the invaders or fled to other locations in South America and Yucatan and their genome became a part of that population. It's ironic that cocaine would eventually be used in an attempt to invade the United States and that invasion essentially originated from nearly the same place that the Conquistadors had gutted in South America. It seems that Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus brought a bit more than just the spirit of exploration with them in 1492.

So this modern invasion ultimately became the war on drugs and split the country along the demographics of race, income, education level and generation while making multi-billionaires out of those producing the cocaine. After such an invasion, the already broken people were readily harvested by another invader, religion, which has cornered the market on poverty to grow its parishioner base. The same thing with the Aboriginal people and alcohol, which was brought by the invaders along with disease and religion. After the decimation of their people, religion in the form of re-education moved in to pick up the pieces." Doctor Briggs summed up his final point.

"Punch someone down and crush them with one hand, then help them back to their feet with the other and you're the hero and saviour to them. That's actually brainwashing you know?" Alicia agreed with Briggs' observations.

"I can't help but think that all this griping is not productive. I mean that there are many who might charge us with complaining?" Katya theorized.

"On the contrary, this topic is the most important thing that we can discuss. Should discuss. Forgive the expression but this is the real cross that much of western society bears. Understanding the mistakes of our ancestors is the first step on the path to rectifying them. Hopefully not so that we go out and do the exact same thing to another civilization. There have been many people in our ancestry whose efforts to change this fact were noble and great. That's part of fighting the good fight. Ensuring that our descendants will benefit from our efforts now and won't forever be paying for our mistakes because when the fighting stops, questions will be asked and the truth will be found. Rather than try to bury the truth, why not conduct ourselves in such a way that makes our descendants proud of us.

Did you know that there are some ideologies that exist and have existed whereby if you say or do something with which they don't agree and severely so enough, they'll erase what you say and your person from having existed at all. There are some that do not want to admit to the wrongs of history or the part their ancestors had in those wrongs." Bryce suggested.

"Rosalind Franklin comes to mind." Alicia said.

"Who is she?" Valerie asked.

"A Woman and fellow Scientist whose work in the discovery of DNA and its structure are largely unrecognized in history," Alicia answered her.

"Why? What did she do?" Valerie asked, suddenly perplexed by such a simple statement.

"Exactly. See how we almost always immediately assume that someone has done something wrong to deserve such a fate. Like it's alright and even justifiable that it happens to some people at all." Bryce stated a little cynically.

"... because she's a woman?" Monique suggested.

"That's probably why she was denied that recognition in the first place, but I'm not going vilify the men. They were born into this situation and many don't know or understand that this started long before they were born. That doesn't mean that men should feel guilty for their being here and now. If anything it should be a sign to most men to do better by women." Alicia covered for them.

"Once again we come into the world of the predispositions we wear based upon our gender," Valerie stated and little resentfully.

"Why Valerie, you do sound ever so fully jaded. Care to explain?" Bryce asked her sincerely.

"Well, for instance, and I think that we spoke about this very subject in Bangkok, or it might have been Osaka? Anyways, men who go about their life and pursuit of sexual adventures with many different partners are referred to as studs while women who do the same are referred to as sluts. Why is that?" Valerie was passionate about this topic.

"Depends upon what part of the world you're in." Doctor Briggs stated.

"Though it shouldn't..." Zheng added defensively.

"Agreed. It shouldn't happen at all anywhere but there are places where it does, and places, where it doesn't" Doctor Briggs, told them.

"In Japan, that's a very different attitude than here. Women are revered and sex is not a stigma, while men are not revered for the number of their partners or their exploits," Hiroyuki explained.

"Again, more likely the result of oppression on the basis of the well-designed systems of control imposed by religion upon our sexuality. After all, it is the vehicle of our procreation," Doctor Briggs suggested.

"A bit perhaps, but more likely the difference of how each culture believes that the subject of sexuality is available for consumption by younger persons some of whom might act upon what they learn when they are far too young to be a part of any such thing." Bryce considered all points of view.

"You only need to look at the differences between China and Japan when it comes to that subject. China is very guarded about public references to sexuality yet it has one of the most liberal and modern views towards it. Secretive but modern. Japan, on the other hand, has a very modern view of sexuality and very little restraint with regard to it as a subject. Perhaps constrained a little bit by a sense of honour or perhaps shame, which are two governing social forces in Japan. In either case, this seems not to be a problem at all and has no known negative effects upon the young. North America seems to be the place that by watching a person's internet, they are attacking people for what they think more so than what they do. Is not attacking people for what they think a form of control whose primary pressure is a sense of guilt?" Yumiko spoke up for the first time finally feeling comfortable with the crowd at the table.

"It's not so much about attacking people for what they think as it is a means of the kind of people who really try to control others searching out their secrets. People in the west have a tendency to control by the revelation or harassment on the basis of personal secrets. Many religious ideologies and cults operate this way. So computer spying is likely more an activity conducted by the kind of people who'd use those secrets to pressure or control others. Like puppet strings in away. I'm certain that surveillance voyeurism is likely rampant amongst such people. It's ironic that the people accusing the Government and system of surveillance are actually more guilty of it than Government has ever been." Bryce thought about the question.

"So does the fact that I keep a vibrator in the top drawer of my dresser mean that I'm at a disposition for being a sexually liberated woman or a bane because I have sexual secrets?" Valerie spoke boldly and confidently bringing a round of intense laughter and breaking the last bit of ice with fire.

"Certainly not. I'd hope that liberation would be a source of strength. I mean the person who'd chastise you for that revelation would likely be far more socially scalded in the backlash than would you, I'd hope." Bryce comforted her sincerely.

"And what are you hiding Bryce..." Norler asked still chuckling over Valerie's comment.

"I'd tell you, but Wendy would kill me. Besides, I'm not one to divulge. Let's just call that dark matter. That's a physics joke by the way. I will tell you this much that when I was in university and a dashing young man at that, my girlfriend for the most part in the absence of my school sweetheart and wife Wendy, who was studying in British Columbia, a great distance away from where I was studying at the time, was an eight and a half by eleven picture of Wendy, very scantily clad in the most provocative outfit I've ever seen worn by any woman. I kept that picture safe and at quick access from my bed in the dorm. I still have that picture too. That's all that I have to say on that subject. From there, I leave it to your imagination." Bryce replied.

"Never trust creative types like Heylyn or Alicia to be imaginative in speculation of your sex life." Norler quipped drawing a playful tap from Alicia.

"I bet you've got a picture of her. For those cold and dark lonely nights when Wendy's away on assignment?" Doctor Briggs joked drawing a bit of laughter.

"No, for those nights I have something in the top drawer of my dresser..." Bryce winked at Valerie.

"I think that the difference between the culture of being open and the culture of being secretive is most exemplified in the differences in how adult content is perceived by the adult population." Doctor Briggs suggested.

"That whole idea of being secretive is also likely challenged by ideologies like the one that victimized me. The one that believes that they possess other people? I mean if they think something of that nature, then they would likely attribute any uncharacteristic behaviour of one person to be proof of possession by another person. For such groups, knowing a person's secrets would be a tremendous point of power over them. I mean if you know of their secrets and their secret behaviours, then you could make the claim to others that when they exhibit those qualities, they aren't themselves but in fact, possessed by someone else. As I stated earlier, there was a whole ideology of people who actually profited from identity crimes based upon that same belief. Actual identity crimes. Enough so that a strong enough case was built against them in a relatively short time.

For instance, what's to stop such a group who had knowledge of Valerie's top dresser drawer from harassing other people about that secret? Like her friends that don't know that secret about her? Of course, when confronted by social challenges for which you hold no context, most people tend to judge harshly by default. So in a sense, it would be a means by which one could trick another person's own friends into making decidedly harsh judgements against the secrets of those friends. Now that we know that secret, we have context and know who it relates to. So if it were to be part of a group's harassment, we'd have contextual information enough to protect her without revealing her. The truth is though that we all have secrets and such groups and abusive belief systems likely exploit that by attempting a hit and miss strategy. Keep trying people until you find someone who reacts to a specific set of implications and criteria. Once you have someone who does, you've uncovered something secret about them and that context. I believe that this is how such groups operate. I mean this sort of thing seems to be more and more common in this day and age." Bryce tried to elucidate.

"So what's the solution? To have no secrets? To not do things that are private and potentially embarrassing should they become exposed to the public? There's a big difference between something being secret and something being morally wrong. That doesn't sound like any way to live. In fear of our secrets, which are not necessarily bad or morally wrong, becoming known and ending up in the hands of zealots whose religious ideas ultimately blamed original sin and the downfall of humanity upon women?" Doctor Briggs said defensively.

"I completely agree. I mean Briggs and I sleep in the same bed. That's a secret but because we live together and people know that we're romantically involved that it's implied that we sleep together in the same bed and have sex too. Social etiquette is that most people don't openly discuss such matters. Not because its wrong to sleep with your partner or to have sex, but because it's not relevant to the public aspect of our lives to discuss such things. The boundary problem. I think that some ideologies take it upon themselves to try to control people by getting into that aspect of their privacy and sexuality and attempting to make those aspects of a person's life public or at the very least, tricking them into self publicizing those things. A fascination with the reductionism of human beings to their most animalistic base nature. Maybe its a fetish to some people? Maybe they like to see those that they've labelled as the bourgeois reduced to the same base animal level as themselves?" Zheng explained.

"A game of bias maybe? I mean if I keep your sensitive secrets for you, does that not mean that I'm biasing you? A form of love for you by some admission? What if a group of people out there decide that they're going to compete with the bias that I have for you and that bias is based upon the secrets I keep for you versus the secrets that I keep for these other people. A power play they would try might involve making me lose your secrets while tricking me into keeping theirs. In such a case, then who am I really biasing? Who do I really love? To cults that think the way I just explained, they might in such a case believe that I bias them rather than you." Doctor Briggs came to Zheng's defence.

"That would mean their ultimate secret is no longer a secret which would effectively eradicate all bias that you have for those people. I mean if you reveal the method to their madness, they no longer have others biasing them by protecting their secrets, do they? That's because that's their ultimate secret? Besides, love and bias are all about commitment and devotion, not secrets. No matter the obstacles if you stand by the person you profess to love, that's stronger than the bias of keeping any secrets at all." Alicia suggested.

"True but some people believe that what you don't keep hidden, you lose. There are some cults that even believe that if you reveal your name to them, that you lose it and it becomes theirs. As simple as speaking it to them or writing it on white paper. Likewise any other aspect about your being. There is no danger to believing something of that nature, but there is a danger to such believers acting upon it as a form of social and referential identity theft. I mean with enough of your secrets, we live in a time and society whereby someone can nearly become you, enough so that it financially costs the real you, despite the legality and risk of being caught. If the benefit of attempting it outweighs the risk, then chances are there are many people who will try it. I would think that the real risk is that there might be ideologies out there that secretly employ such efforts unbeknownst to the investigating bodies. That means there might be people out there conducting themselves with your identity that will be applied to your record and history regardless of the fact that you have nothing to do with their words or actions.

By the same token, the same ideology might take your words and actions and apply them to the lives of their members. If the only social record of you having existed comes from the accounts of people who knew you socially, and the people conducting this kind of identity theft are a part of that social fingerprint despite the fact that it doesn't originate from your actions, then who is to say that the impression of you is really based upon you more so than someone else's words and actions. Likewise, who is to say that the impression of someone else isn't really based upon your words and actions. This concept of identity is part of the social record, not the actual statistical data about you in a computer file or on paper in an ancient filing cabinet. I mean if it's beneficial to the kind of people who'd do it that have already screwed up their own social identity, what would stop someone from taking yours if it's that much better their former identity? What if they had lots of friends who did the same thing and who helped each other to do it? Then your secrets have a much different value and purpose than the bias of someone protecting them for you, being a measure of their love for you. You could literally lose your sense of social being and the concept of you." Bryce put forth a great lesson in the philosophy of self.

"I don't really have the kind of education that you do, but that sounds a lot like Des Cartes." Monique noted.

"Exactly Monique. Well done, except that the concept here isn't that if you think, therefore you are. This form of the self is reliant upon the social agreement between others and yourself that you are you versus they are you. If there's only one you, and many them, who's right? The identity of self isn't a democracy. Its a dictatorship. However, that doesn't stop some people from denying you your own self-identity because socially you can lose your identity when people disagree with the claim that you are you.

This might eventually at some point in the future become an important area of law and human rights. Especially given the fact that we're approaching a point in history when we might be able to transfer our sense of consciousness and being from our body to our technology. For now, this issue is at the forefront of the philosophy of self and social identity.

Don't worry though Monique, you're you based upon what you believe, and the science of Physiology, Psychology and Quantum Physics dictate that you are you, because nothing in the field of matter and energy that make up the Quantum Mechanical information system that is your consciousness arising from the Quantum Foam, can happen at any other location in the exact same way and time span with the same forces acting upon it in the exact same way that it happened for you. So if someone says they're you, they're lying.

Looks like Des Cartes could have easily said: I think, therefore I am. Not only am I but I am myself whether someone else has my secrets or not." Bryce summarized.

"Take it from someone who lives actively in public life. I think that it's about being comfortable in your own skin. Be mindful of those who might try to exploit you by your secrets. Some people use video for that very purpose. There's a whole industry that preys upon those in the public eye by those means just like there's tabloid trash too.

I can't tell you how many times I've had people send me emails telling me that if I don't send a certain amount of bitcoin to a specific account, that they'll leak videos of me with other men and women in sexually compromising acts and ruin my career.

Now I can live in fear of that, or I can accept that there are people who do that and that they'll eventually get caught. If I did or didn't take part in anything of that nature, then what's the worst that they could do? Release videos of someone engaged in sexual activities that looks like me? That can happen regardless, especially when you're a public figure. There are people who make money from your exploitation. I think its wrong, but I can't let it cripple me into not taking part in this world.

Besides, the people who really enjoy what I do make it all worth it more so than the ones who'd exploit me by such means." Heylyn sat forward and explained her courageous viewpoint.

"Yeah but we all know that if you caught them, you'd kick their sorry butts, little miss Sifu Sensei tenth degree black belt master." Doctor Briggs joked once again.

"Well, maybe a good butt-kicking anyway. But that's more satisfying to think about than it would actually be to do it.

I think this topic is especially relevant given the fact that a majority of the upcoming stars of the most recent generation got their start on services like YouTube. That means there's a whole generation who are just learning the ropes about the kinds of things that the celebrities and public personalities of prior generations have dealt with and known for a long time about human nature and the social animal.

We're a species that regards public displays in a measured sexual sense in one form or another. Almost everything related to our interaction is governed by that aspect of our being yet some people are able to make a distinction between the context of being social and learning from one another and the context of violating one another in the midst of that aspect of our sexual nature.

Like the difference between those who can make the distinction between make-believe and reality and those who can't." Heylyn did her best to sum up her views on the subject.

"That's some pretty profound insight. Are you sure you haven't been taking philosophy classes on the side?" Valerie asked Heylyn.

"No, just life experience. You learn a lot about human nature from designing fashions for other people to wear. There's a whole philosophy associated with design that is linked to psychology, sociology and human sexuality." Heylyn answered.

"I'll bet you're secretly an internet dominatrix, Heylyn. Moonlighting are we?" Monique joked.

"A girl has to have some secrets..." Heylyn winked.

Meifeng, who'd been hovering close by appeared to the diners at their table.

"I take it that everything is enjoyable so far?" she asked politely.

"Absolutely perfect, thank you for asking," Norler answered.

"I assumed so from the number of fires you've set on this day." Meifeng spoke somewhat cryptically and perhaps sarcastically.

"Meifeng, they are not burning down the Pagoda. They're lighting the forge." Kōngxū stepped out of the shadows, sharing his insight.

In the kitchen, James recalled a bit more of his youth in Hong Kong, before the cession of Hong Kong to China. How his ancestors had arrived in Hong Kong as part of the administration assembly. How they became the Hong Kong Chamber Of Commerce. Running the trade administration for a land that was not their original home.

For all the horrors wrought by expansionism, colonialism and the global empire, there was one thing that it left that allowed the world and the economies of countries everywhere to flourish more so than they would have in isolation. The world's trade network. A vast and interconnected marketplace that brought every continent to the table.

James' family, like many others in the decade before the cession had left, fearing the worst from the transfer, never really understanding that to mainland China and the ruling party, the real invader was the Westernized Hong Kong.

In the aftermath of the cession, both China and Hong Kong retained their sense of unique self-identity. Hong Kong did not become mainland China and mainland China did not become Hong Kong. Instead, they became as they were prior to the arrival of the British fleet in the 1800s.

Canton, Shanghai, the children of Guangzhou and the land of China.

Rigid And Unrelenting - The Metal Is Cast

The flames danced beneath the tempered steel of the Wok, radiating its heat evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the metal vessel. Within, pieces of chicken were seared and browned, sealing their moisture as they cooked in a mixture of peanut and sesame oil, with a hint of ginger, garlic and lemongrass. A few moments later Bao added a complement of vegetables and almonds to the preparation wafting him in an immense aroma of flavours. Even after having done this for thirty years, his senses were as sharp as they'd been when he'd started. Perhaps even more so as a result of time, knowledge and the selective application of experience. In fact, this applied as much to recognize the scents of cooking food to indicate their progress through the process, as it did to just about any other aspect of life where time and purpose were the chief ingredients.

Bao's path to ultimately arrive at this moment in time was a long and convoluted one. Most of the last thirty years were predictable as his fortune in procuring the position of preparation chef at the Three Families Restaurant was very good indeed. Prior to that, Bao had experienced the struggle common to many people in the post-recession 1990s of Toronto.

Prior to being hired at the Three Families, he worked as a cook at a local greasy spoon, The Fragrant Daisy, preparing mostly western dishes, fried foods and breakfast on cast iron frying pans for the many working-class customers who'd start their day at 5 in the AM. It wasn't exactly in their vein of Bao's commendable cooking experience, but it was closer to his goals than his prior job. Before working at the Fragrant Daisy, Bao had been hired by one of the fortunate investors who'd managed to procure a license to operate a taxi cab. It was a sizeable initial investment for the license itself and the insurance involved, and those who'd managed to procure one or more would run their cars into the ground. The real commodity wasn't the car itself. It was the license. The longer the license was idle, the more money the license owner lost.

Fortunately for the license holder for whom Bao had worked, the car he ran was a Chevy Malibu four-door sedan, with a 150 horsepower two-barrel V8 engine. It was a steel beast built to last and at 150 horses, built with some power to spare. As far as a taxi is concerned, engine power plays into the long term durability of the car and power train. The greater the power, the less strain there is upon the engine over time. Much like the human heart, though that doesn't stop the wear and tear on your hips, knees and elbows, or the build-up of cholesterol, much like that doesn't stop the same on the transmission and exhaust system or the oil filtration system of a taxi. As long as the engine and chassis were in good shape and parts were available for repairs and maintenance, he had a good car to run for the task at hand. We weren't quite at that point for people in the medical field in the 1980s although if people ran on the commodity of oil, we probably would have had replaceable parts for humankind a long time ago.

Prior to his time as a taxi driver, Bao had worked in convenience retail, as a custodian, in a factory and just about any other employment which he could procure. He'd finished his high-school education while working part-time at his parents' own restaurant, the Green Lotus from whence he'd acquired invaluable experience as a chef until his parent's business folded with the arrival of the recession.

Bao's parents themselves had been residents of Toronto since their birth, back in the 1940s as had their parents (Bao's grandparents) who were born in around 1910. They had lived through many difficult and prosperous times alike, such as the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Immigration Act. Despite their having been residents from before these Acts of Parliament, they suffered as a result of the growing anti-Asian sentiment that had begun to spread throughout the country at the time. Despite those hardships, Bao's family were always very grateful for their lives in Canada.

Bao's Great-Great-Great Grandparents had arrived in Canada in 1850. From the onset of their arrival, Bao's Great-Great-Great Grandfather found work constructing the growing railway systems in Canada while Bao's Great-Great-Great Grandmother raised Bao's Great-Great-Grandfather. In fact, his family, women and men alike had for three generations helped to build the railway system in Canada. The steel veins that would connect Canada's limbs to its heart from all extremities and coastlines across the country. In fact, many of Bao's early family alliances in Canada originated from this time and their family's contribution to the building of the nation. In fact, for many newcomers of the time, especially those who originated from the Far East of Asia, working the railway construction projects was the foundation of their arrival in Canada. A fact often unrecognized by many. As George Stanley once wrote: Bonds of steel as well as of sentiment were needed to hold the new Confederation together. Without railways, there would be and could be no Canada. Without workers to build it, there would be no railway and hence, no Canada. Many of those workers came from the Far East of Asia. From China. Japan. Korea. Vietnam. Many of them were quickly hired because they were willing to take risks that few others would for the rate of pay they received.

The steel that produced those rails was part of the growing mineral mining, refinement, casting and machining operations throughout Canada. The most notable of these operations was Massey Manufacturing, who would later become Massey-Harris and then more recently, Massey-Ferguson. The same Hart Massey who in Toronto in 1894, financed the construction of Massey Hall. The same Massey Hall which housed, Toronto's Symphony Orchestra for whom Bao's Great-Great Aunt was a violinist along, with one of his current nieces and a cousin as well. His same Great-Great Aunt was a part of the Orchestra when it performed for The Prince Of Wales in its premier Royal performance in 1927 and again for the Queen in 1939. Performances that were built on the back of the steel industry and the workers who made it all possible, though metal would continue to play an important part in history.

Noranda Inc. later would begin mining operations to extract copper from the Earth within Canada. Another of Bao's relatives, his Great Uncle was one of the skilled geologists hired to survey regions in Canada for mineral extraction. One such site he'd specified proved to be very rich in copper, used for minting coin more so than for other purposes until much later, it was selected to replace aluminum in the electrical wiring that formed the veins for Canada's power production and distribution industry, leading directly to Canada's post World War I and World War II immense growth. In fact, Copper had this same effect upon much of the industrial world for the very same reasons. Again, the binding element of metal prevailed in providing for and sustaining humanity, yet it was once again to serve an even far greater purpose.

That same copper mined and refined for use in the wiring for power systems throughout the country would eventually become the tendrils that bound information technology, in the growing electronics industry which gave rise to the communications revolution. It was that instance in the history of the world that as a result of our ability to communicate quickly, we had been able to avert the destruction of another world war. The metal through which the power ran to give life to our machines, was now the nervous system for the body of our world. When during the Cuban Missile Crisis, there arose the threat of imminent nuclear war, it was a single copper wire that ran between two land-line phones, one in the Whitehouse and one in the Kremlin that prevented our nuclear destruction. All because the two leaders of the most powerful nations in the world could speak directly with one another through the medium of a metal wire half a world's circumference in length. Since the era of global communication, humankind has never had another war, and all because of the metal veins through which we're connected to one another, though our greatest weapon against the threat of war would ultimately be forged without wires, yet still be made with metal and yet once again, one of Bao's own family would be a part of this history.

Bao's Aunt was an astute student and one of the first in Bao's family to receive a University degree in the sciences. One of her contributions to the field was related to information theory by way of something called the Cantor Set, whose initial research in terms of its application to telecommunications was conducted by Claude Shannon. Bao's Aunt had contributed to the field by way of deriving an optimized formulation of Shannon's Mathematical Theory Of Information that allowed for the rapid calculation of information recoverability versus line loss per unit of distance (entropy). This same formula found its way into the wireless communications industry eventually leading to widespread cellular communications. Of course, the receiving and broadcasting mediums through which these wireless signals are produced are largely made up of metals like steel, copper and gold. Yet, Bao's gold like that of so many others was his hidden legacy within a country that was barely aware of its own real history and the commitment and dedication of the contribution of families like Bao's to a much greater whole. Not only within any one country but as a country within the community of the world.

In a moment's thought, Bao was suddenly returned to the kitchen, where the meal he prepared was cooked to perfection. He quickly returned his memories to their places in his mind and focused on his task at hand. He scooped the meal out onto a serving dish, placing it under a warming lamp where it was picked up by a waitress who brought it to the table for the man who'd ordered it.

He served it from the plate onto the plates of some of his other family members and then sampled it himself.

"It is good. It might be a little overcooked, but still good enough to eat," he commented not knowing or appreciating the true hundred years effort from which that plate of food had originated.

Yet this did not bother Bao. By the time the man had tasted Bao's cooking, Bao was already preparing another meal for someone else. He didn't worry himself with the small few who didn't appreciate his cooking. He instead focused on pleasing the vast majority who enjoyed it.

Heylyn took a sip of her dessert bubble tea. She normally would have stayed away from sweets but she figured that for this occasion she'd let it pass.

Doctor Briggs' tension had visibly eased and he felt much better having been able to speak of his plight. Both Zheng and he were laughing a bit more and enjoying the evening, even at Monique's dirty jokes which had helped to relieve the group of their last bit of remaining tension and dignity.

There was a moment of silence at their table which was strategically broken by Bryce.

"I think that I should call it a night. I've got to be up at 4 AM to pick up Wendy from the Airport. I've scheduled a massage and spa for her tomorrow in the late afternoon. I think that might help her to recover from all the recent travelling." Bryce signalling the waitress for the bill.

"Don't be silly Bryce. I've got this one. It's all on me." Norler responded.

"In that case I'm thinking there might be a massage and spa in order for you later tonight compliments of masseuse Alicia..." Alicia leaned over and kissed Norler on the cheek.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that..." Norler responded.

"Thank you Norler. For everything." Doctor Briggs said sincerely.

"Not a problem. I'll let you know in the next week all the details of what my investigator finds." Norler assured Briggs.

"Thank you for a lovely evening. The next one is on me." Valerie told her friends.

"Things are going that good? Glad to hear it." Norler replied.

"Well if everything goes well tomorrow, I'll have another sizeable contract which will push my company up another notch. At least enough to afford a night out with my friends." Valerie responded grabbing her purse.

"So I take that you're not coming with us?" Monique asked Valerie.

"What? You didn't say where you're going?" Valerie confirmed with Monique.

"Yumiko, Hiroyuki, Monique and I are going out for a little clubbing and dancing. You're more than welcome to join us. In fact, any of you that want to come may join us." Heylyn told Valerie.

"It's past my bedtime already." Bryce replied causing a bit of laughter.

"I guess I could go. Only a few drinks though." Valerie agreed.

Alicia looked longingly to Norler.

"It's been ever so long since we've done anything like that. Wanna?" Alicia enticed him.

Norler looked at her skeptically for a moment and then smiled.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Norler said calling for the bill.

Meifeng arrived with the waitress, who attended to the bill with Norler.

"We are truly grateful for your presence at our restaurant. Thank you so much for coming. Heylyn, I take it that I'll see you again soon?" Meifeng asked.

"I'll be calling you this week with regards to doing a training class and lecture for some of our staff at West Meet East. Thank you so much for everything tonight. You too Kōngxū." Heylyn stepped over and planted a tender kiss on Kōngxū's forehead.

She then hugged Meifeng.

Heylyn then marvelled at the interconnectedness of it all. The way in which she was connected to Alicia, who had helped her to stop the organized criminal empires of Grier Torman and Alomera Zek and who was connected to deceased Scientist extraordinaire Sylvia Upadhaya, who had at one time been a collaborator of Professor Bryce Maxwell, who in turn had met Hiroyuki while gigging as a pianist in Japan, who is a representative of Kawaī kao Cosmetics, one of the firms with which Heylyn's company, West Meet East International does business.

Hiroyuki had also been an associate of Meifeng, who was, in turn, one of Heylyn's original fashion school teachers. Whose father, Kōngxū was the founder of this very restaurant and good friends with Heylyn's own descendants in China, who in turn were friends and business associates with Bao's family before they'd left for North America and what would become Canada in the mid 1800s. She thought of Bao's family connections to the railway industry and to the building of her country, to which her family had emigrated when she was a little girl of only one year's age.

"Maybe we're not so far removed from one another as we pretend to be," she said aloud.

From within her, a distant dragon answered:

"No. Maybe we are much farther from one another and yet so much closer than you know..."

And when the Butterfly Dragon went out dancing that night, a Dragon Butterfly followed...

The End

I am Brian Joseph Johns and this is

written by