Skip to main content

Featured...

A Lady's Prerogative For Hallow's Eve: What Superstition Wields (Finished First Draft: Artwork to come)

This is my yearly Halloween story, though last year I kind of wove the Halloween and Santa Claus story into one if you remember and came up with a funny bit involving Barris and Sato early on in their friendship as they have guests for the seasonal holiday. This year I'm bringing Halloween and A Lady's Prerogative home to my country of Canada and my home province of Ontario. This story takes place in Ontario, though far north up into territory occupied by far fewer than in the Great Lakes region of Canada (and the United States). I hope that you enjoy it. As a side note, I recently did a rant post (the Rant-zilla post if you recall as it was the last one) really attacking the problem of harassment, as it has been plaguing me for years in both the online world (very covertly) and the offline world very overtly. Everything I stated in that post I meant with all of my heart and being, and I will not apologize for any of it. This has already gone way too far, and a post of that nat

*** The Butterfly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See - Special Addition - From Hanoi Through To The Ho Chi Minh Trail ***

This is the promised chapter that occurs between Beijing and South Korea, jumping back towards the direction of Thailand, and specifically Vietnam after having added a key cast member. It elaborates on the immediate magnetism between Doctor Briggs and the brilliant mathematical genius, Zheng Ni Wong and the field of research she created, dubbed Computational Biology. Real world computational biology is pioneered by a variety of researchers the world over including IBM (World Community Grid) and Columbia University.


More importantly this chapter sets up an allegorical metaphor between the characters of the delegation that reflects the history of Vietnam itself, with each character representing an aspect of Vietnam, its history and allegiances, or influence upon the region with a special focus upon American interests versus the Communist interests. This is an especially prevalent aspect with Katya and Victor Piotr, who both have family directly linked to the U.S.S.R. involvement in Vietnamese history.


[Please be respectful of the identity of others who may not agree with having theirs stolen and replaced, including myself as the author of works here on Shhhhh! Digital Media, and certainly others with whom I've worked in an artistic sense, including 3D Modeler and Designer Amy "Ai Mei" Wong. 


Artists work hard on their creations and this can certainly be said much the same of authors as well.  Please respect and support their being, identity and peace. 


The artists involved with the creation of Shhhh! Digitial Media can be found on the Credits page, along with their professional contact information. They are an essential part of what Shhhh! Digital Media is all about.


Enjoy this latest addition to What Different Eyes See, which takes place between the delegation's trip from Beijing (in the aftermath of the attack on the Forbidden City and while Norler is still in a secret Beijing Hospital) and Seoul, in the Republic Of South Korea. The original draft did not include the proper representation of Vietnam and Indonesia as well as Myanmar. These nations are essential locations in the entirety of East Asia, and a treasure trove of culture and history. This chapter was added in this special addition in order to complete the most important elements missing from the story and to connect those elements to the upcoming third book in the Butterfly Dragon series, Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons. It also includes an involved storyline and its own mystery native to the region.


I sincerely hope that you do enjoy this addition and thank you to the nations, resources (both online and offline) and artists who've contributed so much to make this adventure possible.


Brian Joseph Johns July 7, 2021 ]



The flight to Hanoi from Beijing was silent, floating upon the wings of a great metal bird. From within that bird, a lecturer spoke to his peers.


"Picture this. It's nineteen sixty nine. You're a nineteen year old American trainee who's just passed their basic training course only two weeks previous. You've been drafted before you've completed college. The time of your life that you first discovered cannabis was also the same time that you were trained how to use a rifle, a mike one-six and with one purpose. Not to kill, as the press movement against the war may have publicized, but to avert the need for killing by the expression of overwhelming force. Sounds noble right? Well it is, but the problem remains that those backing the North also had the same idea. With the U.S.S.R. supplied weapons and force, via their alpha-kangaroos, better known as kalishnikovs or ak-47s, the enemy would certainly cede without violence. Right?" Doctor Briggs explained the dynamics of warfare during the Vietnam era for the uninitiated on the flight.


"Then how come some of them discovered cannabis without being trained in the use of a rifle?" Bryce asked.


"Canada was a pretty vocal part of the peace movement, especially in the era of modern rifles..." Alicia jumped in clearly out of her age category and league.


"...and cannabis, not to mention LSD promoted by a big backer of modern physics and the Copenhagen principle, by the one and only Timothy Leary..." Bryce added honestly.


"You're not saying that you..." Victor asked Bryce precariously.


"What? You expect me to reveal something and betray my university physics brothers? Look, what happened in Chi Gamma Mu stays in Chi Gamma Mu. I will say nothing more on the matter. I'd sooner give up the strings on my piano, and yes, pianos, like their related instrumental cousins, harps, have strings," Bryce responded, folding his arms firmly.


"Well at least Leary didn't corrupt you, or Alicia would have no hero..." Katya responded.


"Hero? Let's be realistic. Alicia is the real hero in this story, though I suspect that there's something secretly going on between her and Heylyn, and possibly Monique in the hero aspect. Valerie is involved as well and perhaps the best poker player amongst them given her business acumen. Norler is a guy in love, and love motivates men to great lengths for the ambitions of their lovers. I'd honestly say that Norler is very motivated if you know what I mean," Bryce admonished the dissension amongst the delegation.


"Thank - You - Professor - Bryce - Maxwell for taking the wind out of the sails of my aeroplane born lecture," Doctor Briggs scolded Bryce sarcastically.


"Please do go on, I was simply dealing with the issue of Doctor Timothy Leary. Not promoting him or his views, especially with regard to the use of any substances that might alter one's sense of free will," Bryce responded adamantly.


"Oh give me a break Bryce. This isn't about Timothy Leary, but the fact that so many of the youth of that generation had chosen to follow the idea that they could affect the politics of their Governing bodies simply by the consumption of substances that in all honesty, were self interested pursuits of ecstacy," Doctor Briggs responded and the lines were drawn.


"I honestly can't comment on that statement, Doctor Briggs, but I'd have to agree that a great many people found solace in the communion of their appreciation of cannabis and yes - LSD, whether you agree or not. We're not talking about the morality of substance abuse here, but the fact that during that time, when the risk of being drafted into the armed forces and returing only three months later in a body bag was certainly very significant. That's coming from someone who completely supports the existance of the military and LGBTQ2 rights. My wife and I have attended every Canadian Military Air show and every Pride Parade for the last twenty years and enjoyed them thoroughly. As you yourself said Doctor Briggs, the advent of farming, agriculture and the plough, led directly to the development of the armed forces. Weapons merely exist because of the plough. There are people who'd rather take from those who spent their time developing methods of producing sustenance faster and en mass, rather than developing methods of stealing that sustenance from someone else," Bryce responded.


"...You forgot: one group of people telling another group of people what to believe and how to live. Another reason that weapons exist, though roughly speaking, we're on the same or..." Doctor Briggs began.


"...similar...page?" Zheng responded.


"Exactly Zheng! You're admirably brilliant!" Doctor Briggs flirted.


"...and you're easily impressed. Wait until you see me when I'm really impressive..." she flirted back.


"I can't wait..." Doctor Briggs blushed.


"So as I was saying so flagrantly, having not lived during that era nor having experienced what those poor high school and college draftees and drop outs had experienced, not to mention the poor citizens, mostly farmers  living in Vietnam at the time, the fact remains that warfare had changed significantly since World War II, yet everyone who'd jumped in were operating under the premise that it was the same thing. The same kind of war. An oppressor, albeit in the form of Communism through a former ally of the west, versus the oppressed, liberty seeking, consumer market ready capitalists liberating themselves from socialism. The kind of thing over which Americans love to fight. The kind of thing that is great for the utilization of the press as well though that backfired as a result of the massive anti-war activism. Something that the Vietnamese didn't have but that the Americans did, and in great abundance," Doctor Briggs continued.


"The American public was not even nearly in agreement over their military presence in South East Asia," Bryce added.


"Exactly!" Doctor Briggs pointed at Bryce as if awarding him with a medal.


"My parents were a part of that generation in the U.S.S.R." Victor responded uncomfortably.


"As were mine. In fact... how you say? a cousin of mine fought in the Vietnamese war, on the side of the North Vietnamese. He was a Ground Intelligence Officer for the KGB," Katya added.


"It seems that we have some hunters and collectors with us," Bryce acknowledged.


"Or the family thereof, and certainly a great reason why they're with us," Valerie reminded the academics.


"If we were hunters and collectors operating in a civilian capacity, do you think we'd have just outed ourselves by revealing the ancestry of one of our own?" Victor responded.


"Duly noted Victor. I was only joking with you. Besides, we're all under orders in the delegation for a full debriefing in Canada by diplomatic officials and the local diplomatic representatives for each of the countries we're visiting on this delegation. In a sense, we're all hunters and collectors whether we like it or not. I'm sure that the Eastern delegates are under the same orders," Bryce advised Victor and the rest of the delegation.


"Hunters and collectors? What are they?" asked Monique seductively in her youth knowing intuitively that one of the academics, especially the male ones would likely trip over themselves to answer her.


As the bait was laid so the trap was sprung in an ever so friendly manner. As most women intuitively knew, ego rarely refrained from the sexual opportunity of impressiveness. Especially where a male counterpart was involved. Ironically in this instance, it was Doctor Briggs, who was already pining for the affections of Zheng Ni Wong, who'd sprung Monique's ego trap. She'd not intended it, but it did make him appear to be hedging his affections in multiple directions.


"A very good question Monique," Doctor Briggs responded, jumping on the opportunity to continue his lecture.


Monique, a woman of experience despite her youthful appearances indulged him by her attention paid towards him, crossing her toned legs for his appreciation.


Zheng immediately noticed and in her attraction towards Doctor Briggs, drew her finger seductively along the top of her blouse, very effectively drawing Doctor Briggs' eye against her new French competition. She played innocent until she was sure his attention was solely upon her.


"The term hunters and collectors actually refers to those in the intelligence community who gather ground level intelligence, especially preceding and during armed conflict. They're generally the most common of operatives, fitting in to their local surroundings and drawing little attention to themselves. If you suspect someone of being a hunter or collector, then chances are they aren't at all, for they're indetectible," Doctor Briggs explained academically to Monique.


She blushed seductively as if on que towards Doctor Briggs.


Zheng immediately caught Monique's lure, secretly smirking at her and then leaned back in her chair, exposing the slit in her dress ever so slightly to expose her pantyhosed legs for Doctor Briggs, who immediately took notice.


"I'm finding it slightly hot in here..." Doctor Briggs loosened his tie, though the others with the exception of Monique and Zheng had no idea about what he was talking.


Monique winced in defeat as Doctor Brigg's eyes wandered Zheng's body.


Zheng reveled in her victory, however, ever so modestly.


"So... getting back to the academic aspect of your great lecture Doctor Briggs..." Bryce stepped in.


Katya suddenly tapped Victor's leg, nudging him to life and in support of Bryce.


"I completely agree, your lecture is astounding..." he improvised for Doctor Briggs' ego, without the need for much acting.


"We're either on the brink of verbal genius or the brink of the over-indulgence of the onboard bar," Valerie responded as the stewardess nodded ever so inconspicuously in acknowledgement.


"May I collect your unused cups please?" the stewardess politely asked.


"My good mistress, perhaps you could tell us where we are?" asked Bryce of the stewardess.


"What does this have to do with Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City?" Monique grabbed the whole deck from everyone, drawing Zheng's immediate ire.


"Quảng Ngãi," Zheng responded as if reading Doctor Briggs' mind.


"We're just over the northern tip of the border of Vietnam," the stewardess responded to Bryce.


"You are a complete genius my dear, mid-spaces and borders are what this whole issue is about..." Bryce winked at the stewardess who unabashedly continued on her way.


Meanwhile, Doctor Briggs withdrew himself for a moment in disbelief that Zheng had read his mind, not knowing that this intelligent Mathematician and Computational Biologist had simply used her knowledge and experience of the region to guess his most likely answer.


"Exactly!" Doctor Briggs responded.


Monique rolled her eyes disincredulously, ceding to Zheng.


Never underestimate an academic! Zheng mouthed to Monique.


Heylyn who'd been monitoring the whole situation put her hand down on Monique's shoulder.


"Ego has no place in our higher duty. Not here, nor anywhere," Ai Yuanlin Ying reminded her.


"I'm sorry boss. Won't happen again," Monique's competitive nature ceded to Zheng.


"This isn't about winning or losing, but committment. He's just a stop on your final destination, but to Zheng, he is the destination she's been looking for her whole life. He really is attracted to her, he just hasn't realized it yet. Step aside for the purpose of love, and let the head meet the tail so that a circle can come to fruition," Ai suggested to Monique.


"I guess that's why you're the Butterfly Dragon," Monique agreed with Heylyn AKA Ai Yuanlin Ying.


"Monique, my friend, your understanding is why you're the Eclipse... introspection and extrospection all in one," Ai reminded her friend and ally.


"I have no idea what you two are speaking of, but I'd wager in Doctor Briggs' favour, and Zheng's. They are a couple in the making," Katya interjected quietly to Heylyn.


"We couldn't agree with you more, and I love to see my friends get together," Monique responded quietly to Katya.


"We're friends right?" Monique asked Zheng and Doctor Briggs.



"We sure are Monique. I wouldn't have you any other way," Zheng replied.


"Always will be, friend," Doctor Briggs agreed.


Victor spoke.


"Now can we hear the rest of your lecture," Victor requested.


"Please continue for us," Zheng spoke in a simultaneously academic and seductive fashion to Doctor Briggs.


"We're talking about the middle strategic ground here. The halfway point between Northerner and Southerner Vietnamese attitudes," Doctor Briggs explained.


"Wait a second. How can you explain an entire people according..." Bryce began perhaps playing the devil's advocate.


"According to geography and their proximity to one another in relation to a compass? Seems to work pretty good for Korea, both North and South," Doctor Briggs continued.


"Technically, they're two different countries," Alicia reminded Doctor Briggs.


"They weren't always," Victor returned.


"... that and their differences had to begin somewhere... namely two or more cold war powers catering the benefits of their global brand to the local population, who according to their geographic proximity chose to favour one more than the other," Doctor Briggs lectured them.


"There's a lot of history in both those regions that lends itself to determining which side of that brand those populations ended up on, namely the Indochina wars that preceded that conflict and the Korean war, in which Canada took part, supporting South Korea and its then NATO allies," Bryce countered.


"Yes, the French certainly didn't want to lose their investment in the region, but most of that can be explained by proximity to both Russia and China, the influences and backers of the North, IE communist in each of those conflicts. Not only that,  but in every such conflict involving the west, Imperialism is often grouped with communism or by itself in the absence of communism or socialism. That's written in the history of the Americas from the initial exploitation of the Americas onward, including the attempted annexing of South America, by European powers, in which case such attempts at annexation were driven purely by the natural resources of the local population or cultivating the trade resources of their empire for exploitation on the emerging world trade market. The same attempts were made when Europe arrived with their navies (and religion) at South-East Asia's doorstep. However, we'll just stick to the two pertinent conflicts which are very much related to our trip here to Vietnam and South Korea, because those conflicts and their resolution were at the heart of one of the most interesting and unique aspects of Vietnam. How two groups of people that embrace very different concepts of how their society should be run are able to co-exist peacefully in the aftermath and many generations thereafter such a war," Doctor Briggs described for them.


"It's unfortunate that we're only limited to visiting one side of that story here in Vietnam," Alicia remarked.


"How so?" asked Monique from her window seat beside Heylyn.


"We're only scheduled to visit one city here and its going to be Ho Chi Minh," Valerie answered as she tabbed through an itinerary on her tablet.


"Well at least we'll get taste of one side of story..." Katya responded optimistically.


At that moment, there was a loud thunderclap just outside of the aircraft, preceded by a sudden bright flash.


Heylyn turned immediately to check Monique's window, half suspecting that Monique had in the role of her alter-ego the Eclipse, been the source of the sudden excitement.


Monique still sat beside Heylyn, peering out the same window at the engine nearest them. Bright bursts of plasma shot out from the exhaust, which had begun trailing a dark plume of smoke as Heylyn's eyes fell upon it. Despite the horrific scene, this is not what immediately startled Heylyn amidst the unfolding calamity.



There entwined around the length of the wing was Weltherwithsp, as visible as day, its hand reaching into the engine yanking bits of the ramjet blades from the spinning turbofan and tossing them carelessly into the oncoming airstream.


The airliner suddenly banked on the side of the damaged engine, the aircraft rolling fifteen degrees before the pilots and air crew managed to stabilize and level it. A large fire now engulfed the entirety of the engine as Heylyn spied Weltherwithsp, a large grin across his serpentine face. It looked to the engine, struggling to reach with its clawed hands and grab the last bits of the turbofan assembly. A smirk crossed the Dragon's face as it failed to reach its intended target. That expression quickly changed to one of elation as it looked back to Heylyn, having found the piece it was attempting to yank from the aircraft.


Heylyn looked back in shock as Weltherwithsp winked at her, as if inviting her to join it's fun.


She smirked back at Weltherwithsp intensely as Monique looked to Heylyn, seeing her expression.


"Don't ask!" Heylyn said firmly to Monique, then leaning back in her seat.


She closed her eyes and concentrated, drawing in several breaths and energetic Chi, focusing her energy body.  Her energy body congealed in her solar plexis, traversing upwards to emerge from her heart, where it climbed the airframe of the airliner. It then traveled along the surface of the hull outwards along the fuselage and out onto the wing. A moment later, she materialized, standing on the wing of the craft in her full Butterfly Dragon costume, balancing on the flaps of the airliner.


"Well it seems that in your dreams you heard the screams of this engine's last steam..." the Dragon spoke, its voice simultaneously expressing all languages of East Asia, with Heylyn understanding four of them distinctly, and recognizing the remaining by region and dialect, but not direct translation.



Weltherwithsp twined tightly around the wing, its head moving close to her face and coming eye to eye as if to challenge her.


"What has gotten into you! She pushed the dragon back and it retreated away from her as she grabbed hold of its enormous clawed hand and tried to pull it free from the engine.


"Look at the little Butterfly who has come so far. I ride the wings of planes, and follow the whims of the stars. Can you not see that you're interfering in matters beyond your place in this world..." Weltherwithsp challenged her.





"You invited me into this, remember? The Field? The Coccoon? Your beginning?" Heylyn pushed back, her wings spreading out from her back thrusting her forward as she attempted to unravel the Dragon from the wing.


Weltherwithsp retreated, unwrapping itself from the wing as her momentum gave her presence. Its head dodged, attempting purposely to direct her momentum away from the wing. She followed, unaware of Weltherwithsp's deceit. Her momentum carried her far away from the aircraft as the Dragon resumed its dismantling of the aircraft's engine.


Her wings spread wide slowing her, then twisted into the wind spinning her back and carrying her with twice the momentum back at the Dragon. She collided with immense force, gingerly grabbing the Dragon's arm and carefully withdrawing it from the aircraft's engine.


"I'm very impressed and you're obviously obsessed... but I do digress that you cannot know the rest..." Weltherwithsp's wings spread, dwarfing hers and thrusting them both back to the wing.


Weltherwithsp's fingered hands grasped her waist and held her fast against the fuselage of the airliner. It then used its rear claws to hold her in place as it crawled the length of the wing with its front hands.


She struggled against the weight of the enormous Dragon, suddenly realizing that it had an obvious weakness it had overlooked.


As it front right hand grabbed onto the damaged engine, Heylyn's wings wrapped around her arms, strengthening them as she hefted directly against the Dragon's tiniest claw.


She pushed with all of her force and effort until the Dragon's toe nail became dislodged.


"Arrrrrgh!" Weltherwithsp both simultaneously screamed (and cursed) in no less than thirty six languages (and 153 dialects).


All of them translated to long unused exclamations about hang nails.


The enormous Dragon grasped at its baby toe, looking to Heylyn in shock.


"How could you? Dare do you? When we were such close friends? Beginning 'til end?" Weltherwithsp became a tangled mess grasping at its toe nail in apparent pain.


In the airliner, Monique and Alicia peered out to wing, seeing nothing but the damaged engine spewing flames and sparks of molten metal. Heylyn's body remained motionless, her eyes remaining closed as her grip tightened on the arm rests of her seat.


The Dragon unraveled from the wing, its enormous butterfly wings spreading as it jumped to the top of the fuselage to dodge Heylyn, still rubbing its baby toe.


She spun, falling off of the flap as her wings shot out from her back and caught her descent, speeding her up around the other side of the fuselage where she grappled with Weltherwithsp once again.


"Is this what you've been doing?! Where you've been hiding since our last encounter?!" she struggled against the creature's enormous strength.


"Nay, gone. Ai Yuanlin Ying, strong. Let's just say that this is something that you're seeing from the wrong end. Like you told your friend? Sometimes the tail needs to meet the head rather than the other way around..." Weltherwithsp responded to her in rhyme.


"By bringing an airliner down and killing all of these people!?" she challenged the serpent.


"And yet the craft is still in the air... yet of my craft you're unaware... Butterfly..." Weltherwithsp responded gently knocking Heylyn down sending her tumbling the length of the fuselage where she stopped upon colliding with the vertical stabilizer.


She grabbed at the fin just barely clasping the edge as she watched Weltherwithsp jump into the air and take flight.


"Stay up, not down, though this is tata for now..." Weltherwithsp disappeared into the clouds with one flap of its enormous wings.


From her vantage point hanging on to the vertical fin at the rear of the airliner, she watched as one final explosion of the engine sent the remaining parts of the turbofan spinning towards the rear  wings, just narrowly missing them. The fire had stopped as had the smoke and where the turbofan once sat spinning, there was only a gaping hole between the front of the engine and the rear, through which Heylyn could see clearly.


She pulled herself, launching forward into the air, her wings spread. With on flap she was able to thrust herself to the front of the aircraft and look directly in the cockpit. The pilots seemed to have everything under control and the emergency had subsided. As the Captain picked up the handset for the intercom, Heylyn opened her eyes, suddenly pulling her aetherial body back to her physical one, like a slingshot just as the Captain spoke.


"Attention, attention. This is the Captain speaking. As most of you know, there has been a problem with our right inner engine, which is no longer operating according to specification. The aircraft is completely safe and will continue to remain so until we land at Hanoi International Airport for an emergency landing. Please remain seated for the next ten minutes until we've verified that there are no further safety hazards. Just for your information, this aircraft is designed safely to fly on a single engine and even to land in the event that none of the engines are operating, with one hundred percent survivability. We apologize for any discomfort or inconvenience this has caused you. Our flight attendants will be making rounds to ensure your safety. Please cooperate with them and follow their instructions to the best of your ability. Thank you for choosing Vietnam Airlines," the Captain announced as calm returned to the passengers.


"Looks like we're getting an opportunity to appreciate both sides of Doctor Briggs' story?" Bryce suggested.


"Sounds like a great opportunity but for how long? I mean we're obviously going to have to catch another local flight to Ho Chi Minh City?" Zheng asked.


"We have a one day leaway before our meeting with the delegates in Ho Chi Minh City. Our rooms are booked there and we have no arrangements... yet. But we could change our itinerary if need be?" Valerie confirmed with Alicia, who looked to the other delegates.


"Let's wait until know all of our options in Hanoi," Alicia responded looking to Heylyn, who seemed rather off.


"I'm guessing something is up... that has nothing to do with the engine suddenly exploding for seemingly no reason?" Alicia asked Heylyn suspiciously and quietly.


"Is it that obvious?" Heylyn replied.


"Is what obvious?" Monique asked the two of them.


Heylyn leaned forward and spoke:


"I saw our friend on the wing..." Heylyn spoke carefully.


"Which friend? Ohhhhhh... that friend..." Monique said in sudden realization.


"Except that it wasn't so friendly..." Heylyn told them.


"Are you saying that he... it...?" Alicia asked quizzically.


"Exactly. Sleeves rolled up and yanking bits of it out and tossing them away like nothing..." Heylyn described for them.


"So it tried to kill us all?!" Monique asked, speaking just a bit too loud.


She paused looking around the cabin as everyone stared at her.


"a monster...on a multiplayer mobile game... it tried to kill us. Really?!" Monique responded quickly and somewhat blandly, holding her own phone up.


"We nearly crashed lady. How can you be playing games?" someone from the back of the cabin asked rhetorically, whom Monique, Alicia and Heylyn simply ignored, lowering their voices by a decibel or two.


"We're still here, so obviously that wasn't part of the plan..." Alicia surmised given the evidence.


"It just answered with a question as usual. As if it meant for us to take this path... saying something about the tail meeting the head," Heylyn told them.


"That's what you said to me about Zheng and Doctor Briggs?" Monique reminded Heylyn.


"Yes, I know. But I said it as the head has to meet the tail, not the tail has to meet the head," Heylyn recalled for Monique.


"Sounds like its referring to something backwards, rather than forwards," Monique suggested.


"Perhaps, but what if its referring to time rather than people... like trying to have the future meet some part of the present?" Alicia thought about it.


"It has done that before, remembered the future the same way that we remember the past. We could be playing out something it knows about in our future, and by dismantling the thing-a-ling if you know what I mean, it was making sure we'd end up on that path," Heylyn told them.


"We should investigate this when we've landed. I'll bring Valerie up to speed. Let me know if you remember anything else," Alicia suggested as she turned to speak with Valerie.


"Are we through the worst yet?" Victor's knuckles whitened, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead as he clung to the arm rests of his seat, his eyes still closed.


Katya sat beside him, rubbing his closest arm trying to calm him down.


"Is your friend alright?" asked one of the flight attendants as she stolled the aisle checking on all of passengers.


"Husband, thank you for asking. He should be fine. He has a serious history of vertigo. He's fine as long as he doesn't see the windows or there isn't turbulence so as you can imagine, he's quite startled right now. In my professional opinion I'd say he's in mild shock," Katya responded still rubbing Victor's arm.


"I'm not in shlock, I'm just very cold right now," Victor replied, his voice shaky and wavering with his thick Russian accent.


"Sir, you didn't sustain any injuries during the equipment failure, especially to the head?" asked the flight attendant reaching up and pulling a blanket from the overhead compartment.


"No, not at all. No bumps or thumps. I'm just cold," Victor said shivering as the flight attendant covered him delicately with the blanket.


"Please make sure he remains conscious and if there's any change in his condition, don't hesitate to use the intercom system to summon me or one of the other flight attendants," she insisted to Katya.


"Thank you, I think he'll be alright. He's just a big baby," Katya said in response to the flight attendant's concern.


"...I've even got the haircut to prove that..." Victor responded in jest, still shivering.


"Besides, I don't know what's worse. Being in shock or having to listen to the last bit of Doctor Briggs' arm chair lecture. I think he's already spent too much time  away from Canada, working with American research alumni," Victor continued sarcastically.


"I heard that!" Doctor Briggs responded, holding back his laughter.


"Yeah, I think somebody's diaper needs changing," Zheng added.


"Just in case you were thinking about using the intercom system, we don't change diapers," the flight attendant caught the ball for her air crew, bringing about a round of laughter in the entire cabin.


Forty five minutes later and the airliner safely came to a stop as emergency vehicles pulled up to the craft. Mobile boarding ramps were lined up with the exits and the passengers were safely escorted from the airliner out onto the tarmac just outside of the terminal.


"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Nội Bài International Airport in the capital city of Hanoi," the same flight attendant directed to the passengers to the emergency entrance of the terminal as one of the Vietnamese Engineers was hoisted via crane to examine the damaged engine.


"Looks like there was an impact. No signs of any organic matter," the Engineer spoke over his headset to the Engineering Department of Vietnamese Airlines.


"That rules out a bird. Anything else?" responded the Chief Engineer.


"No. All the evidence points to a large hail stone maybe? The impact caused catastrophic failure of the turbofan, the motor and its retaining ring. The fire partially melted the exhaust port. Wait a second... you're not going to believe this... there's giant claw marks..." the Engineer spoke in astonishment.


"Say again?" asked the Chief Engineer in disbelief.


Travel Arrangements


An hour later and the Western Delegation having collected their baggage sat at one of the passenger pickup bays discussing their options.


"Just to bring everyone up to date, Werner is having his people make arrangements for our overnight here, where we'll be staying at the Oriental Jade Hotel. We're also waiting on a response from the head of the delegation in Ho Chi Minh City, so we don't know how long we'll be here yet. Werner is really pushing this so we can expect an answer soon," Valerie assured her peers.


"Soon enough to leave for the hotel now? I'm sure that most of us could use a break," Doctor Briggs asked, Zheng throwing him a seductive glance.


"That's the plan, however I'm waiting for a confirmation just in case there's no vacancie..." Valerie's phone rang as an incoming text advised them proceed to the passenger pickup area.


"That's our signal... Let's go," Valerie stood, grabbing her wheeled suitcase and pulling it easily over the pickup area.


The rest of the delegates followed in three groups. As they arrived, Alicia and Heylyn observed that there were several drivers, each with different signs, naming specific members of the delegation to come to their vehicles.


One of the vehicles' drivers indicated that Zheng, Doctor Briggs and Bryce would accompany him in his vehicle. 

"Looks like we're taken care of," Bryce commented aloud, turning his smile to Zheng, Briggs, and finally to the driver in thanks.


"Good timing. Its good to see this all coming together," Valerie looked around ensuring that all of the delegations members were spoken for.


"I have to agree," Zheng stepped over to the car as the both the driver and Briggs competed to get her door.


"It's customary to let the driver honour his commitment to his passengers and to earn his gratuity," Zheng turned to address Briggs who shrugged in disappointment in his attempt to catch her attention.


As he stepped over to his door, she continued.


"But don't think for a moment that I didn't notice your concern," Zheng smiled at him ever so seductively.


Briggs' sense of defeat quickly turned to a silent victory and his smile once again found his face by the grace of her reply despite his emotional experience.


They loaded in the vehicle as Valerie stepped over to the driver before he entered the driver's seat.


"I've got this vehicle and theirs going directly to the Jade Oriental Hotel. Where is the third vehicle destined?" asked Valerie of the driver.


"Check that driver. Check the driver. Too much traffic. I need to go," the driver quickly jumped into the luxury DCar, leaving with Zheng, Briggs and Bryce.


Valerie quickly proceeded over to the second car where Katya and Victor were seated comfortably in the luxury passenger seats.


Katya lowered the electric windows in order to speak with Valerie.


"These are very nice and luxurious vehicles. We approve," Katya smiled, seeing that Victor had finally warmed up and fallen asleep.


"Do you know any Vietnamese? I need to find out where the third vehicle is going. Its not listed on my itinerary here..." Valerie asked Katya as the driver jumped in and drove away before Katya had any chance to answer.


Alicia, Heylyn stood outside of the vehicle, as Monique leaned against the luxury DCar and flirted with the driver.


"Well, I suppose I could just ask Monique to extract our destination from the driver because nobody else seems to know," Valerie responded frustratedly closing in on Alicia and Heylyn.


"Don't you notice anything odd about the vehicle arrangements?" Alicia asked Valerie.


"Other than we're the only ones who don't know where we're headed, no," Valerie replied.


"She's referring to the fact that we're all of the women with... abilities... if you know what I mean?" Heylyn observed Alicia's Point intuitively.


Valerie stood with her hands on her hips for a moment considering Alicia's observation.


"You don't say," she finally responded.


"Should we be worried?" Valerie asked Alicia.


"Well, it could be concidence, not to mention the fact that if anyone intended us harm, they'd have already had the best opportunity with the other two vehicles well on their way to the Jade..." Alicia replied.


"Not to mention we'd have sensed it..." Heylyn reminded them.


"Heylyn's right. I think we should just get in the vehicle before..." Alicia agreed.


"I've got news for you!" Monique waltzed over to her friends as the driver stepped into the luxury vehicle.


"Nice of you to join us," Valerie replied sarcastically.


"I'll take that head on thank you Valerie. So I was talking with Thuc Banh, and he told me that he's taking us to one of the Grand Estates on the River," Monique clasped her hands in excitement, dancing on her toes as she exhibited her anticipation.


Valerie stood motionless, clearly unimpressed.


"And..." Valerie asked impatiently.


"Let her finish, Her-cules," Heylyn remarked in Monique's defense.


"Well. It would seem that this particular Estate houses one of, if not the richest national in Vietnam and that she has personally requested our audience. Now that might not seem remarkable but her Estate has not had visitors since the Vietnam war ended," Monique spun on her toes and waved her fingers to Thuc Banh, who smiled back in admiration from behind the wheel of the DCar.


"Monique, you never cease to amaze me," Alicia smiled, wrapping her arms around her friends' shoulders as they proceeded to the vehicle.


Thuc Banh got out of the driver's seat and promptly opened their doors and loaded their luggage into the back. He then went to the front of the vehicle and drove south along Võ Văn Kiệt, until he arrived at a turn-off near the River. From there they followed the great serpent as it snaked its way through the Vietnamese landscape.


Alicia did some research of her own, reading further information about the history of the Hanoi region with a focus on sorting out any clues related to their dragon driven detour.


Monique meanwhile, enjoyed the amenities the luxury passenger van offered, including indulging herself in two glasses of Chardonnay while jumping around between V-Pop and North American online radio, listening to music through the complimentary ear-buds.


Heylyn fell asleep as she watched the dense city-scape slowly transition to lush jungle amidst the backdrop of Valerie's voice. Valerie attempted to sort out the impromptu arrangements made for the delegation in a cacaphony of hurried phone calls and text messages.


Valerie's voice disappeared as Heylyn drifted off and she suddenly found herself in the field of the dreams of her youth. She carefully stepped through the field, searching for the estranged beast that had disabled the flight. 


She instead found nothing but unanswered questions. There floating free from any mounting or wall, floated a solitary painting in two colours, the yellow and red stripes of the south and the red star of north, meeting somewhere in the middle of the painting amidst a butterfly shaped heart. Much like the one that used to adorn her first outfit when she'd emerged to the world as the Butterfly Dragon.


She ran her hands over the painting, reaching the lower right corner where a signature emerged as the sun crested the horizon. It read: V. Canara


Heylyn awoke with a sudden stop, leaning forward in the DCar seat.


"We're here sleepy head," Alicia's hand still shaking her shoulder.


Ms. Huệ Vân


Heylyn stepped out of the van onto a great brick driveway. Her eyes followed it to the distant jungle from whence they'd arrived, back to the Grand Estate, which resembled a temple, in terms of it design, perhaps only comparable to the Angkhor Wat or the Wat Sutat and other similar architecture she'd seen in the region.


Birds and fauna sounded off for the women, perhaps showing off to draw their attention or squawking intimidatingly attempting to scare them. 


Thuc Banh carried their bags up to the front door of the Estate, where it was then carried into the house by two custodians.


"Greetings. I am Kho Pha. I am employed by Ms. Huệ Vân, the woman whose Estate this is and the woman who summoned you here. If you will accompany me, we will take you to the solarium for afternoon tea," Kho Pha, a tall gentleman at five foot ten stood just inside the entry way, his hands folded.


"Now we're getting somewhere," Monique nodded to Kho Pha, slightly tipsy.


"I take it we'll be getting some answers during our tea session with Miss...?" Valerie confirmed with Kho Pha.


"Ms. Huệ Vân will address you according to her own plans upon which I can not speculate. Now if you will accompany me..." Kho Pha led the four women into the Estate.


"Bye for now Thuc!" Monique blue her new friend Thuc a kiss.


He smiled modestly and waved as he got back in the DCar and drove off, down the brick driveway disappearing where it met the jungle.


Heylyn coaxed Monique back in line as they followed Kho Pha through the Estate. The Estate itself was a mixture of stone structures amidst rooms crafted with bamboo and other woods, some of the rooms almost appearing to be self contained structures separated from the rest by rooms of stone or even sculpted monuments. The wooden rooms seemed to inhabitable living spaces while the stone chambers were often alive with plants, vines and other life.


Upon their arrival at the solarium, they observed a room crafted entirely of glass and casings, shaped to house an enormous stone sculpture within which a finely crafted wooden floor housed a sitting area with a tea table at its center. Several paces away and through a stone doorway, a brick oven kept a cauldron of water at a stead boil, as a fountain maintained it with its slow trickle.


A woman retrieved a tea kettle, submerging it in the boiling water by its handle and filling it to the brim. She then withdrew it, pouring the steaming hot water through a filter filled with tea leaves, which drained into another kettle. She then retrieved that kettle, placing it upon a tray as the four women sat at the table on the wooden floor. The lady gave each a modest cup, pouring them each a helping of fresh tea, careful not to spill a drop. She then disappeared through another door.


"I am Ms. Huệ Vân. I am the one who summoned you here. I know much about each of you. For instance, you are Miss Alicia Westin. Accomplished Doctor and Scientist most notable for her development of the SY-349. As a young girl, you were bullied by other students for your weight. You overcame your fears with the help of one of your best friends. A woman also in this room. Miraculously, at some point in your mid twenties, around the same time you created the SY-349, your appearance changed remarkably and your physique went from one of mild obesity to that of an olympic class athlete. Coincidence?" Ms. Huệ Vân's silhouette remained darkened as she stood framed by the afternoon sun that peered through the solarium glass, warming her back.


Alicia looked to Heylyn and then back to Ms. Huệ Vân.


"Then there is Heylyn Yates. A deceivingly North American name for a former Chinese national is it not? That's because your father who moved your family to North America in the mid nineteen eighties thought it in your best interest to avoid stigmatizing you by forcing you to keep your true name, Ai Yuanlin Ying. And yet, while in North America, your destiny found you despite its Eastern beginnings. There are some things from which we cannot escape, though at this point in your destiny you've embraced responsibility, still unaware of what is to come that will threaten all that you hold dear. Morgan Hind Hanshi and his dojo gave you all he could at the start of your journey. "Tiger" Hoon Kwang nurtured you in his dojang. Jinn Hua and her Temple kept many things from you as she did from us all. And yet, you met and befriended Alicia at sixteen years of age, and helped her to find her inner peace and more importantly, her confidence. Then, in a chance meeting years later, you return the favour by saving her from certain doom at the hands of Grier Torman's men around the same time you created the SY-349. Only a couple days later, a giant butterfly is spotted first in Toronto, at a night club, then at an airport at the midpoint between Toronto and Treadwater Island resort, where much the same, there are several sightings of the same giant butterfly, whom apparently works with other women, one matching Alicia's description," Ms. Huệ Vân continued her monologue.


"This is a very good story, did you come up with this yourself? You should be a writer!" Monique giggled profusely at her own humour.


"How amusing, Miss Monique Defleur. Your life growing up Quebec City was a troubled one I understand? Such a lost soul you've always been, wanting to be the life of the party despite having been raised by two life hardened working class Canadians. Your Mother, French Canadian born and raised, and your Father, Ukrainian, a skilled tradesman and newcomer to Canada and their little daughter, always looking for the next party. Your happy family moved to Toronto and you found your party in your new boyfriend, Samias. You then left home at nineteen and moved in with your boyfriend despite his ties to Grier Torman's criminal network. How were you to know? You were too busy working as a waitress and quickly learning that life is much more hardship and struggle than parties," Ms. Huệ Vân's voice became intense.


"Stop it!" Monique said in a sudden burst of anger.


"Keep it cool, Monique. Let's hear this out," Alicia advised placing her hand on her friend's shoulder.


"When Samias tried to use you - even to sell you like sexual cattle - you suddenly discovered that not every knight has such shining armour as in fairy tales. Yet you somehow found the courage to flee one of the few situations where true courage means to flee - rather than to succumb to the peer pressure of those false friends you've elevated to the status of idoltry. Lost, helpless and with no place to go, all while being hunted by Torman's gang without your even knowing. Then, you were found by Heylyn Yates. She discovered you, like the dream of many young starlets, whose lives contradictory to yours found nothing but the dirty beds of dirty old men seeking to exploit them for sex and cash. She gave you that chance because in you she saw a girl with potential, but she also saw the girl who was just seeking the next party. What better lifestyle would there be for such a tumultuous soul as yours than to work as a model? Knowing that if either aspect of your being got out of balance, responsibility and a flair for fun, you'd be gone. Destiny makes no mistakes. That is purely our own specialty. And yet you succeeded and proved yourself in the process, leaving behind that criminal life that almost devoured you as it does so many other girls, spitting them out when they're no longer desired, spent old toothless women, addicted to the never ending party," Ms. Huệ Vân paused allowing Monique's tension to fall.


Monique's face twisted into one of rage and then slowly calmed as a tear escaped the inner corner of her right eye.


"Then, you bought a condominium unit next to that of your employer, and paid the mortgage over time. One night while she had company in the form of her strangely transformed friend from high school, Alicia Westin, you overheard their conversation about a criminal conspiracy that had consumed much of the city and even parts of the world. You were forcibly invited on a trip to Treadwater Island Resort where there were sightings of what could only be described as an Eclipse. Bright flashes of light, as bright as a thousand suns, followed by thunderclaps or dark clouds of pitch black fog. These sighting accompanied the giant butterfly and the impossibly seeming athletic girl with the blond hair," Ms. Huệ Vân surmised her tale of Monique.


"She seems to know so much about us! Are we just going to let her reveal everything?' Monique spoke emotionally, wiping her face as she did.


"Sticks and stones, Monique. Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you..." Valerie urged Monique defensively and defiantly.


"And then there's little Miss Business lady herself. Valerie Aspen. The boss's wife to be, or so you thought you would be, but men like Torman have many aspirations while keeping many secrets. Even from their most beloved. You believed you could mould him. Work him with your business craft to shape him into the man you desired him to be. That you'd be his lady and together, with his boldness and your business mind that you'd be running Tynan And Associates. You had no idea that he had plans to buy it, and that everything he seeks to purchase mysteriously becomes devalued just before he buys it. Most people believed he had nothing but luck on his side, when in fact he was running the single largest criminal extortion racket in history and using it to devalue public companies when he'd purchase them for pocket change and then grow them into empires of their own. You had no idea that he'd arranged for the theft of the SY-349 formula created by Alicia Westin. You had no idea that he himself had consumed this formula and that it had changed him, much as it changed you when you were given the same formula. His powers of telepathy and psychopathy were only matched by your sudden immense strength and yet despite your dedication to him, he betrayed you and abandoned you. Leaving you to take the fall for his crimes. You were approached by the very women who defeated you, who attempted to gain information from you about Torman's plans. You kept them in the dark mostly because you wanted revenge for yourself and at the same time those women ended up at Treadwater Island Resort, you also arrived and by your own transportation. At one point, you were even videoed by a smartphone while you were hefting a fifty ton boulder as if it were a pebble. You were then sighted by several guests and some of Torman's accomplices around the same time that a small force of Multinational Police Agents busted the largest criminal conspiracy in history, run by Grier Torman's employer: Alomera Zek. Now strangely, you're directly employed by Tynan And Associates as the Business Manager for the Western Delegation for which Alicia Westin is also employed as Director Of Medical Research. Heylyn Yates as consultant of Eastern Affairs and Monique Defleur as her assistant," Ms. Huệ Vân finished.


There was a moment's pause as Valerie's tension grew and before she finally burst.


"Alright Monique, you hold her, I'll tear her arms off,' Valerie's rage peaked.


"Sticks and stones..." Alicia quickly intervened.


"Don't even go there Alicia," Valerie pushed Alicia aside easily.


"And yet all of you arrived here safely and with all of these secrets in tact," Ms. Huệ Vân added.


"Then why are we here?" Heylyn asked only unanswered question.


"Let us enjoy our tea first, then we will discuss the matters at hand," Ms. Huệ Vân walked over to the table, entering for the first time into the light as she did.


She was an older Vietnamese lady, perhaps in her mid sixties though it was difficult to tell for sure. Her face still had the glow of youth, as if there were a spark within her that time simply could not extinguish. Her face was wrinkled with age lines, that merely accented her other features. Her lips were tiny and thin, yet still held their reddish/pinkish tint. Her left cheek bore a deep scar that extended from the outside of her left eye, near her temple down to just below her mouth. As if someone had taken a sharpened clever and dragged it over her face.


"Please, be seated and drink tea with us. It is customary and it is how civilized people behave. You are civil and I knew this of you. Had you not been, I'd likely already have been a crushed pulp on the wooden floor here. There are few people who can withstand the true call to violence when they're confronted by it and the truth is that most are better at making that call itself than withstanding it. You four women are remarkable in that each of you has the power to wipe out armies of people, and yet you've never taken a life and in fact, have saved many more than you'll truly ever know. Sometimes by the use of carefully applied violence and always in defense, but mostly by your aptitude, intuition and empathy. Rare are those who wield such power and restraint in midst of the call to violence. Something of which I'm all too aware," Ms. Huệ Vân pointed to the scar on her face.


"I have to admit we're at a disadvantage here. You brought us here, completely unaware while you possess much knowledge about us. Would it not be in the interest of civility for you to shore up that difference?" Heylyn suggested diplomatically.


"Ai Yuanlin Ying. The Butterfly. The Dragon. All in one. Directly to the most pertinent of questions, fearlessly so. What Jinn Hua observed about you as well," Ms. Huệ Vân responded with observation still very careful to reveal too much at once.


"Who's Jinn Hua?" Monique asked Heylyn, as if she'd been keeping a secret from their friendship.


"She's one of my mentors, almost in the same way that I am to you," Heylyn responded to Monique calmly.


"Like Sylvia Uphadhaya and was to me. Bryce Maxwell too," Alicia added.


"You're still holding a lot. You didn't answer her question. You just side-stepped it," Valerie observed.


Ms. Huệ Vân sipped her tea and then continued.


"There are many things in this world that happen on various scales. For instance, on a stormy June night in nineteen seventy-one, a young woman clasps hands with an American as they run together through the rain in search of a room in crowded downtown Hanoi. She led them into a small hotel where he paid for a room. They dried themselves in the room, the American man disgarding his disguise, though she'd already known of his truth. You see, this woman and this man had been in a secret affair for the previous two years," Ms. Huệ Vân began divulging bits and pieces.


"Who is this woman? You?" Monique interrupted.


"Let her finish Monique," Alicia requested, Monique responding with a pout, still very much emotionally sensitive.


"On that night, amidst the sound of crashing thunder and the nearby impact of American bombs during the night time raids, this woman and this mad made passionate love, perhaps in fear of never having had the chance to share their immense love for the other in the constant threat of death," Ms. Huệ Vân continued her story.


"Before the sun rose, he left her. It was necessary for both their safety and they'd made arrangements to meet the following evening, where the American man would wear disguise number three. You see, she knew all but one of his disguises for he'd shared much with her as she had with him. She woke on that morning, cleaning herself before leaving for the day to her job. You see, she was a messenger. She carried important messages between a group of men in one building to another group of men in another building a quarter of the way across the downtown core of nineteen seventy-one Hanoi. She did this trip several times a day, on a motorized rickshaw, which was often loaded with produce as a decoy to mask her real purpose," Ms. Huệ Vân paused as she delicately hoisted the tea cup to her lips, taking a sip before placing it back on the table before them.


"On the days she'd arranged to meet with the disguised American man, she would drive her rickshaw past him, dropping a fruit within which was hidden a piece of paper. On that paper was a message. He would then open the fruit recovering the message and with a special tiny film camera he had, he'd secretly photograph the message. Then he'd take the message and insert it into another fruit of the same kind as she circled the block. When he emerged out to the street and on her passing, she'd grab the fruit from him without stopping and continue to her destintation," Ms. Huệ Vân picked up a peeled Lychee from the fruit bowl in the middle of the table and nibbled at it.



"He was a spy? Were you working for the Americans?" asked Alicia astutely as Ms. Huệ Vân took her time enjoying the Lychee.


"She would take this fruit and the message within to her destination, but when she got there, she'd turn in a completely different fruit, which of course contained a completely different piece of paper. You see, things are not always as they appear. In the midst of war, there are things we'd do for the love of another, and there are things we'd do for our country. She was doing both," Ms. Huệ Vân answered.


Monique was about to speak and Heylyn put her fingers to her lips.


"Shhhh," Heylyn urged Monique.


"On that day she'd finished her work for the day and after she'd been cleared to leave, she went to meet the American in disguise number three. She arrived and waited. Then she waited some more. Finally, he did not arrive at all that night and she cried, for that could only mean one thing," Ms. Huệ Vân wiped a tear from her face with a silk kerchief she drew from a pocket on her gown.


"The next day, she did not go to work. Nor the day after that. Instead, she fled on foot to the suburbs and found work on a farm, earning less than five cents a week. She worked for many weeks, and weeks became months. Soon her womb began to rise for she was carrying a child. His child," Ms. Huệ Vân continued to wipe tears from her face as did Monique and Alicia from theirs.


"Then a week before she'd deliver her baby, they came. They'd found her. They took her and put her in a hospital in Hanoi, under armed guard. She eventually gave birth, the Doctors and Nurses letting her hold the little baby girl who was one pound, two ounces. She marvelled at the wonder of the little life in her arms before they, her previous employers came and took the baby away from her. Forever," Ms. Huệ Vân looked down to her lap and then back to her guests.


"She stayed in the hospital for another week, in severe depression before she left, a free woman. She returned to the same farm and continued her work as the war raged on. One of the markets she used to drive through for her job as messenger had been completely destroyed by American bombs, and yet as fate would have it, she was still alive, her love gone. Taken from her. And then one day, the bombs stopped and the guns no longer echoed through the river valleys. The Americans fled and the North had won," Ms. Huệ Vân continued, this time it was Heylyn whose eyes teared up.


"They came and got her again. The very people for whom she worked as a messenger. They arrived on the farm with a caravan of vehicles and they put her in a luxury car in the back seat. She sat beside one of the leaders of the war effort in the North, her friends on the farm watching as she drove off in the car. The smell of soil and manure still permeating her clothes. They took her to the heart of Hanoi where she cleaned up for a ceremony. Then, in front of the people of a united Vietnam, they gave her a medal and bestowed upon her several honours attained by her devoted duty to her country. She was a national hero, yet, the only thing she could think of was him and their baby girl. Ultimately, she kept this deep inside of her. Even as they applauded her for her betrayal of her one true love," Ms. Huệ Vân's tears flowed once again.


Valerie's mouth began to twitch as Ms. Huệ Vân's story pierced her defenses and a tear streamed down her cheek.



"How did she continue on after that?" Alicia asked her, sincerely interested in hearing everything.


A smile emerged on Ms. Huệ Vân's face upon hearing that question and her eyebrows rose amidst the irony.


"It all happened very quickly for her. She was awarded a large sum of money by the state, much of which she donated to the rebuilding of Hanoi. She took the remainder and started her own market, slowly buying other markets one at a time and hiring the former owners. She paid them well too as her empire grew. During the nineteen eighties and nineties, she started buying beauty spas and salons, anticipating a growing tourism into the region, never realizing that as the nineties approached, many working class men would also rely upon third party grooming services. In the mid nineteen nineties, she bought land containing the remains of an ancient temple from the Government, spending much on its preservation and restoration, converting it into her home," Ms. Huệ Vân explained the remainder of her story.


"...and that brings us to why you brought us here?" Heylyn asked.


"You see, this old woman, she still thinks about her baby girl, and so she hired investigators to uncover the mystery of her whereabouts. If she in fact is even still alive," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.


"What about him? The American in disguise number three?" Alicia asked.


"If he were still alive, he surely would have tried to find the girl, his lover from my story and yet no such thing happened. The investigators found nothing but dead ends. All except for one, and that mystery lies in a painting," Ms. Huệ Vân finished.


"...by V. Canara?" asked Heylyn.


"It is easy to see why Jinn Hua placed so much faith in you. You still pay much attention to your inner senses Butterfly," Ms. Huệ Vân acknowledged.


"First Jinn Hua, now V. Canara! Who's that?" Monique asked shocked that her friend and mentor would keep so many secrets from her.


"...the painting? Where do we find it?" Heylyn asked, following her previous insight.


"...such a painting as the one to which you refer would be a valued treasure in Vietnam. I would suggest taking a look in the Vietnam University Of Fine Art, where they have a gallery. You see, this woman of whom I spoke, she wants to find her baby girl, and that painting is the beginning of the trail. This is no ordinary mystery, for even after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, she has still not been able to find anything exposing the trail that one should pursue to reveal the truth. Now do you see why you four were brought here? Women with extraordinary capabilities who can overcome the obstacles that prevented an army of private investigators from finding her," Ms. Huệ Vân explained her reasoning.


"Where do we stay? I mean most of this investigation sounds like it will happen in the city of Hanoi itself?" Alicia asked.


"I have a large share and vested interest in the Oriental Jade Hotel, where some of your peers are staying. You will be welcome to stay here and at the Jade. However, given the fact that your delegation will be meeting with the Vietnamese delegates in Ho Chi Minh City in seventy two hours, your time is limited," Ms. Huệ Vân revealed to them.


"Wait, we haven't even spoken with the delegation yet, much less arranged for a meeting time in lieu of the problems with our flight. How do you know all of this?" Valerie asked, retrieving her tablet from her travel bag.


"Suffice it to say that I simply know and have contacts who keep me in the know through many different channels and that it would be far too difficult to explain," Ms. Huệ Vân assured the women.


"And if we succeed, what are you offering us for our time and effort?" Valerie negotiated with the older lady.


"Always following the art of business, aren't you Valerie? Let us just say that I can offer you each something that you desire, yet you are unaware of the fact of your want or need at this time," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.


"You want us to solve your mystery and you're offering us a mystery in return?" Valerie shrugged at her proposal.


"You're right to do good by us all, but this is something I'm really intensely curious about now. I want to find this girl," Alicia offered.


"Me too!" Monique added taking up her place beside Alicia.


"So do I, but we can't just do this for free. Especially when you know this is going to have costs for us, and for Tynan not to mention the delay it caused our delegation and all of the other people on that same flight," Valerie spoke up.


"I agree with Valerie. Ms. Huệ Vân's in a position to afford an army of private investigators, amongst whom all would require some form of monetary compensation for their time and effort. If we simply did this for free for every person that could easily pay someone for it, we'd be broke in no time at all. There's a time for charity, and this isn't such a time. You're offering us nothing but speculation in return for what sounds like it is going to be a challenge, even for women of our capabilities. My heart is really for helping you find this girl, but we need more than that alone to compensate for what it cost already. Convince us why we should?" Heylyn backed up Valerie.


"As I said at the beginning of my tale, life has many different scales of existence. Some people struggle from day to day to make ends meet. Yet others work from month to month, managing their expenses for a family. Yet others like Heylyn and Norler are concerned about processes that affect the lives of their tens if not hundreds of employees. Some manage many such entities at once, steering vast empires full of people, ensuring their prosperity or at the very least, bearing the immense responsibility there and for. Then there are those who deal in things beyond your scales of imagination, like the scales of a dragon, perhaps one whom insured that a certain flight was damaged so as to accomodate the need of a little old lady in the woods requiring the services of certain people on that same flight? Now you question what such a person offers you in return for solving a mystery and reuniting a mother with her daughter? One who commands dragons and deals in the powers of the world? Think of what one at a much larger scale than your own can offer you for such a matter of the heart..." Ms. Huệ Vân's presence became magnanimous, shadowing her frail body as if the spark fuelling her within had suddenly come to life.


"I know much of you that I've shared, and only with you. Yet, I know so much more. More so than you even know of yourselves," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.


Heylyn considered what she'd told them, and thought immediately of Jinn Hua. Ms. Huệ Vân had known much about her former mentor, not to mention the fact that she spoke of both Weltherwithsp and Jinn Hua as mere vassals of her own empire. Pawns in a game much bigger than she'd imagined.


If this was true, then what Ms. Huệ Vân was offering was most certainly beyond the value of money or finances and would indeed be something key to their fate, destiny or path. Perhaps something that might reveal the nature of the longing within her own heart. Something that had arisen from a sudden and unexpected loss many years ago.


Little did Heylyn know but each of the women considered their own hidden desire. That something within each of them that might somehow complete them and allow them to progress to the next level of their being. Alicia would have likened it to the stages of an ongoing research project, while Monique might have likened it to a party or a video game. Valerie to a deal or investment. No matter how they understood it as individuals they grasped the concept of what Ms. Huệ Vân had to offer. It was Heylyn that broke their sudden silence.


"I agree to do this for the reward you indicated for us each and everyone that helps us from our delegation, on two conditions. That you don't keep any secrets related to our investigation of this mystery from us. If you know something, anything and you're withholding it from us, tell us. If you don't, and we find out later, we'll regard you as having broken your own deal," Heylyn negotiated.


"Remember one thing, if she's the same woman from her story, she betrayed the one true love of her own life. Perhaps making a deal with such a woman isn't a good idea?" Valerie observed.


"Look, we have to start trusting until we're given indication that we can't. We can't go entirely on what happened. People change. Right Monique?" Alicia put her arm around her friend.


"Right you are! People do change. Most often they improve," Monique agreed.


"Some become worse," Valerie considered.


"I say that we can't assume anything about Ms. Huệ Vân either way. We'll deal with what she's given us and deal with anything else as it happens, assuming Ms. Huệ Vân agrees to my terms?" Heylyn agreed.


"You haven't stated the second condition of your deal," Ms. Huệ Vân reminded her.


"My second condition is, that regardless of whether we find the girl or not, you donate a sum of one million dollars to a charity backing skills training and the entrepreneurship of young people locally," Heylyn suggested.


"I will make it two million, and I formally agree with Heylyn's deal. You are to start immediately. Thuc Banh will drive you back to the city and the Oriental Jade Hotel where you'll rendezvous with your peers," Ms. Huệ Vân suggested to them.


"That sounds like a plan. I can agree to that too," Valerie joined them and the four of them were united.


Twin Fish


"Oh, that just feels sooo good," Zheng relaxed, her face elated with pleasure.


"Really? I haven't even..." Doctor Briggs leaned in close to her ear.


"No, that's just perfect. Right there," Zheng bit her lower lip.


Stephen Briggs stood behind her chair, his index finger pressed against the base of her skull, penetrating slightly into one of her pressure points. They were the only two guests seated at a large table in the Twin Fish restaurant of the Jade Oriental Hotel in Hanoi, while the rest of the restaurant and bar was beginning to fill with the evening crowd.


Zheng had been experiencing shoulder pain due to the lengthy flight, and Doctor Briggs had offered her some of his knowledge in accupressure therapy.


"I have to be honest. I only just started reading about this a few weeks ago," Doctor Briggs said as he soothed her shoulder.


"That's just so great. Thank you!" she responded, wriggling and stretching her shoulders.


"Any time," Doctor Briggs took a seat beside her.


"I just might take you up on that," she replied.


On the other side of the room, Bryce sat on the bench of a twelve foot grand piano. He played a piece by Glenn Gould for the audience in the room and then shifted into overdrive for a bit of Keith Jarrett, followed by some Yoko Kanno.


Since arriving in the hotel, they'd checked in, cleaned themselves up and made their way down for a late dinner where they expected to be waiting for Alicia, Valerie, Monique and Heylyn. Katya and Victor had turned in for a nap, only answering the phone when Zheng had called them from the table.


They assured her that they'd be down for dinner shortly just as Alicia's call came in on the other line.


"Gotta go, looks like Alicia or Valerie are on the other line... see you soon?" Zheng spoke to Katya.


"Yes, we'll be there soon. Keep the vodka warm and the caviar cold," Katya joked before she hung up.


"Zheng speaking," Zheng answered the line.


"It's Alicia, we're on our way back. Should take about an hour to get there. We're going to need your help. Everyone. We've got a long night ahead of us so don't eat or drink too much. Bye for now," Alicia requested.


"Uhhhhh sure? That sounds..." Zheng responded, suddenly stopping as soon as she realized that Alicia had already hung up.


"We're still on the clock," Zheng told Doctor Briggs.


"Is something up?" Doctor Briggs asked.


"Sounds like it. They'll be here in an hour and they'll let us know everything when they get here," Zheng assured him.


The First Stages


"Could you excuse me for a moment? I've got to use the lew..." Doctor Briggs got up from his chair and began walking towards the lavoratory.


The restaurant was sparsely populated in terms of customers, even for a weekday but there were still a few tables occupied, mostly by tourists and local office workers out for a bite after work. Briggs waved to Bryce on the way by the piano and Bryce nodded to him as he passed.


He strode the length of the bar, at the end of which the entry way to the wash area was located. As he passed one of the patrons, she dropped a tiny makeup purse on the floor in front of Doctor Briggs.


He immediately bent over and picked it up for the lady, handing it back to her getting a look at her. Her eyes were a piercing blue, while her nose was thin and slightly turned up at the tip. Her nostrils were underlined by a pair of full bodied lips, glossy and red even in the dim lighting of the bar. Her hair was a slightly longer than shoulder length, blonde with streaks of platinum which crowned a thin and fit, early thirties body.


"What a gentleman. Thank you ever so much. Care for a drink?" asked the lady, her piercing blue eyes looking very inviting to Briggs.


"I'm... with a guest, but thank you for the invitation," Briggs smiled and turned to continue his trip to the washroom.


"I'm Linda. Linda Delmore,?" she held out her hand before Briggs had a change to leave.


"Linda? Nice to meet you. I'm Steven Briggs," he shook the lady's hand.


"Are you American by any chance?" Linda asked Briggs.


"No, and yes. I'm a Canadian, born and raised but I work in the United States. You sound like you've got a touch of a Washington in you?" asked Briggs.


"Close. Baltimore actually. Truthfully, I grew up in Washington. Went to WSU. Majored in Political Science.  Graduated. Got married. Got successful. Got divorced. Moved to Baltimore, away from all of the political action. Go figure. Sorry, I'll let you get to your business," Linda took a sip of her cocktail.


"Nice meeting you Linda," Briggs nodded as he proceeded to lavoratory.


When he'd finished in the lavatory and cleaned up, he approached Linda on his way back to the table.


"If you'd just like some pleasant company for dinner and drinks, you're more than welcome to join us at our table. I'm sure that my guest would love the extra company," Briggs invited her hesitantly.


"That's awfully sweet of you. Does your guest need a drink?" asked Linda.


"I'll get it, thank you," Briggs addressed his waiter, ordering a gin and tonic for Zheng and  bourbon on the rocks for himself.


The two of them proceeded over to the table and Briggs introduced Linda, somewhat uncomfortably.


"Nice to meet you Linda. Baltimore eh? What brings you to Hanoi?" asked Zheng inquisitively.


"Finalized a messy divorce. We'd been separated for about four years. No kids thankfully. A house, a couple of cars and a shared term deposit. The lawyers managed to reach a settlement two weeks ago, when it all hit me like a ton of bricks. So I decided I wanted a vacation and a little time off to relax. So here I am. And you?" Linda's face held a bit of her pain as she spoke.


"We're here on business mostly, though we're certainly enjoying our spare time, aren't we?" Zheng squeezed Briggs' hand.


"That we are..." Briggs responded to Zheng's touch, moving slightly closer to her just as Katya and Victor arrived at the table.


"Did we miss anything?" Katya asked, Victor behind her.


"Linda, these are my friends and peers, Katya and Victor Piotr," Briggs stood and introduced them.


"Linda Delmore. Pleased to meet you," Linda shook their hands.


"As are we," Victor pulled out a chair for his wife and sat beside her.


"Is that a Georgian accent I hear?" asked Linda.


"No, but close. A little bit. We're directly from Moscow. We're currently working with Zheng and Doctor Briggs," answered Katya.


"Doctor? You didn't say," Linda affronted Briggs.


"Er... not that kind of Doctor. I have my Doctorate in Sociology and a degree in Psychology," Briggs relayed to Linda modestly.


"Do you specialize?" Linda asked him.


"Yes. Southeast Asian history and philosophy from a sociological perspective," Briggs explained, clearly trying to stay away from the topic.


"I'm very interested to hear more," Linda pressed him.


"Did you know that Zheng here is a Mathematician and one of the founders of a new field of study called Computational Biology?" Briggs expertly directed Linda's attention to Zheng.


"Really? You're scientists?" Linda asked.


"I do a lot work in the sciences, mostly research. Katya and Victor are Doctors as well," Zheng nodded to Katya and Victor.


"We're doing mostly research as well. Medical related, however we're here mostly as consultants," Katya added.


"Linda is a Political Science major from Washington State University," Briggs told everyone, making Linda blush slightly.


"Before the divorce I was working with Tom, my ex, for a firm as a Political Analyst, mostly doing gigs for big business and the media. We were a pretty established firm. After the divorce, I left, he stayed, so now I do a lot freelancing and consulting for other firms, but I have to be honest, I'm very interested in establishing myself in Southeast Asia. So how would I do it?" Linda explained her work life, then concentrating on getting more from Doctor Briggs.


Just as Doctor Briggs was about to address Linda, Bryce stepped over to the table from the piano.


"I thought the background was suddenly quiet after all of that perfectly ambient tinkling you were doing on the keys. Linda, meet Bryce," Zheng addressed Bryce.


"Nice to meet you, Bryce. So how long have you been playing?" Linda asked.


"Oh, for about forty five minutes," Bryce laughed before continuing.


"Nice to meet you, Linda. Do you mind if I pull up a chair?" Bryce asked the table.


"We'd actually prefer it if you stayed at your bench and continued playing," Zheng scolded him.


"I would if could, but I need a little food and drink," Bryce smiled pulling up another chair and taking a seat beside Briggs.


"So Briggs was just going to explain to me how one would get established in Southeast Asia," Linda didn't let the topic go away so easily.


"You mean in Political Science?" asked Doctor Briggs.


"Yes. No. Let's just say, get established. We'll talk about what to do once I'm in the door. Maybe in the south I was thinking," Linda spoke slightly seductively, running her foot up Briggs' leg.


His face flushed for a moment but he held his attention on the topic without getting lost in possible sexual innuendo.


"Well, if you're talking about getting established here, in South Vietnam, you'd need a visa and to apply for status as a resident or even citizenship which you could certainly do at the right Government Office. Best to talk with the American Embassy here in Hanoi. At least in terms of the bureaucratic process involved," Briggs answered Linda.


"Thank you but that's not what I meant. I meant to really get established here and fit in enough to sell the American dream to the locals," Linda's foot tried to find Briggs' leg, which he'd retreated moments ago.


"You mean like a free market? Do business here? There's already an established market system here. Its not what most people think. There's an economy driven by local capital and resources much like anywhere else in the world. If anything you'd be squeezing in to something where you have to develop a relationship based upon trust and familiarity with the people before you could hope to sell whatever it is you're trying to bring them," Briggs explained.


"There's also elements of a strong infrastructure and social supports, certainly allowing for a more concerted development of society across the board, in a socialist sense," Katya added.


"I'd have to agree there. There are many neglects that capital markets simply miss, especially when it comes to  the social aspect of society," Victor backed up his wife.


"You know, without educational funding I would have had to pay for my post secondary education myself, so I'm of in support of social programs that allow for students to afford their further education," Briggs found common ground with Katya and Victor.


"But capitalism fuels and pays for all of that," Linda responded.


"That truly depends upon where you are, the people there and the foundation upon which their society is running. If you're in a place that runs entirely on a socialist system, you're going to find very different aspects related to how that society operates when compared to a purely capitalist society," Bryce put in his perspective.


"Yes, but purely capitalist systems don't pay for social aspects of society, except infrastructure and in such a case, only what they're forced to pay which usually coincides with exactly their needs and not necessarily the needs of a whole society. Build a road for your fleet of shipping trucks, but not for your employees to come to and from work. My own education was paid for by student loans, but because of my grades I was fortunate enough to qualify for a bursary, which again is something that is paid for through social programs," Zheng gave her insight.


"And that revenue comes from trade in one form or another, whether goods or services. If it isn't you going to a local supermarket and buying your groceries, then its the country seeking out to purchase the resources or services of another country. The bottom line is that at some level, business is being done and from that exchange, tax revenue pays for the social services to which you're referring. Hence, by bringing one's own business here, that's bringing the social prosperity that arises from trade via taxes. We all take part in that at some level. So you could say that what I'm bringing leads to what you're seeking... Wouldn't you agree Doctor Briggs?" Linda added, having made a strong point.

 

"I'm kind of in the middle right now, though I'm very much liking the idea that most of what I need as a member of society is supported through some form of social apparatus, whereas in a capital market, its demand that creates the pressures for aspects of infrastructure and not everything that is absolutely needed has a high demand. Someone gets a rare disease, but because its rare, its not worth a Doctor training for that specialization because they won't have many customers," Briggs surmised.


"Well good luck paying for that hospital without capital markets and trade," Linda punctuated her point.


"Doctor Briggs, may we pay for your dinner tonight? It's really good having you here and I've enjoyed the company. This offer extends to both you and Zheng by the way," Victor offered.


"I can't offer you that, but I will get all your drinks if you'd consider my point," Linda forwarded.


"No really, you don't have to..." Briggs pleaded with them.


"Same here, I'm alright paying for myself," Zheng followed suit.


"No, I insist," Victor and Katya moved in closer to their peer and friends.


"Then its settled. Dinner and drinks on us tonight," Linda looked at Katya and Victor, throwing them a competitive sneer.


"We'll see about this when the bill comes," Victor responded.


The Mystery - The Trail


The trip back to Hanoi was marked mostly by the sound of Valerie's voice as she made arrangements for the delegation to meet with their fellow representatives from Vietnam. 


In the interim, the Vietnamese delegation had responded by offering to have half of the delegation meet them in Hanoi, while the remainder of the delegation would meet with them in Ho Chi Minh City in the following week. 


This made the most sense. After all, several of the Vietnamese delegates were from Hanoi, with two of them being from the University Medical Hospital and another from the General Hospital in the city. The organizer of the Vietnamese delegation itself was the Health Minister Of Vietnam, whose offices were also in Hanoi. She too would be meeting with the Western delegation as part of this new schedule which would still leave them with seventy-two hours to solve Ms. Huệ Vân's mystery and find her baby girl, who would now be in the vicinity of fifty years old. If she was in fact still alive.


Alicia spent most of her time searching the internet for any clues related to the mysterious painting and its even more mysterious creator, V. Canara. Most of her results were related to canaries and other similar avians as the search engines misinterpreted her search term as a case of mispelling. She did find several references to financial institutions located nearby, in India but upon further investigation she found that there were no possible links between the institution and the name from the painting. She even tried every avenue to which she had professional access, including all the private research channels and still came up with nothing.


Monique spent most of the trip speaking with the driver, Thuc Banh. She'd even convinced him to stop the van and let her jump into the front seat, which of course facilitated their conversation even further. During their conversation she managed to get even more information about their secretive employer, Ms. Huệ Vân. She learned that Ms. Vân as Thuc referred to her, kept her estate and affairs under an iron grip, where she left nothing to chance. She treated her staff fair and certainly never berated any of them, though if there were problems with their conduct or performance, she'd certainly let them know. As a fringe benefit of working for her, every one of the staff on her estate was entitled to a free spa in Hanoi, twice a month. Monique quipped about the fact that she'd never been given a free spa in her life, hoping Heylyn would overhear them. She didn't as she appeared to be fast asleep.


Monique also learned that Ms. Vân was obsessed with history, especially that of Hanoi and its surrounding lands, buying up every and any scrap or fragment that might be associated with it. She even hired photographers to scour all of the museums and galleries in Vietnam, thoroughly photographing anything linked to the region from the time of her own birth and onwards. She'd had an extensive search of her family history by a professional Geneaologist as well. When Monique asked Thuc about Ms. Vân's family history, Thuc remained silent, quickly changing the topic.


Ms. Vân was also an avid gardener, having an extensive plot of land where she, by herself, tended to a variety of different plant species, most of which were either flowering or bore fruit of some kind. Even at her current age, Thuc had found Ms. Vân several times working that plot of land with as much fervor as any farmer fifty years her youth. Thuc had observed that it was clearly something for which she had a passion, though when she was on her plot, all of the staff were advised to stay away and leave her to her peace. Given her age, Nyugen, one of the grounds keepers, and Thuc would quietly check up on her to ensure her safety.


In the back of the DCar, Heylyn lay deep in meditation, attempting to contact Weltherwithsp to no avail. Instead, her meditations led her to a densely packed market in Hanoi, where she peered upon the scene from twelve feet above the paved ground.


She was looking at someone whose face was hidden behind a veil, mounted to a sun hat common in the region. The subject of her gaze was most likely male, standing nearly five feet and nine inches tall, his height was at the upper bounds of the average height of most other men in the market. Heylyn examined him thoroughly, observing that in one hand, he had what appeared to be a papaya.


The thought occurred to her that she might be seeing something that already happened. Something from the distant past. Ms. Huệ Vân's past. The thought occurred that she might be looking at Disguise Three. She immediately thought about Ms. Huệ Vân and was suddenly whisked two kilometers away, where a young woman drove a motorized rickshaw through the packed city streets of nineteen seventy Hanoi.


On the tiny dash of the rickshaw, sat a basket within which was perched a similar papaya to the one in Disguise Three's hand. Heylyn quickly surmised that this was the lady from Ms. Huệ Vân's story and that she was on her way to make the exchange with Disguise Three.


Upon thinking about Disguise Three, she was immediately transported back to the same vantage point from whence she'd spied him earlier. As he waited, he casually perused the closest market stall, examining the cabbages, bok choy and eels that the farmer had for sale. As he checked the stock, another man made his way over to Disguise Three. He was followed by three others, all of which kept their distance.


The first man leaned in close to Disguise Three's ear, whispering something that Heylyn no matter how hard she tried, could not discern amidst the packed market. Disguise Three suddenly pushed the man, knocking him clean off of his feet onto his back and then proceeded to sprint as fast as he could. As he ran, he quickly took the papaya in his hand and began devouring it, paper message and all.


Of the other three men, one of them checked on their fallen peer while the other two began pursuit of Disguise Three. They too ran as fast as they could, knocking several market patrons down as they pressed forward through the crowd.


Disguise Three turned down a tiny alley, running feverishly, bouncing off the walls as Heylyn followed him invisibly from above. He was very obviously in top shape as he'd not slowed during his two minutes of full out running. If anything, he'd only picked up his pace, taking as many corners as he could along the way to put as many line of sight barriers between him and those pursuing him.


He ran out of another alley and back out onto one of the market roads, grabbing hold of the back of a passing motorized rickshaw as he did. He quickly scaled it and laid himself flat on its roof as his pursuers emerged from the same alley. They immediately sighted him on top of the rickshaw and pulled a two-way radio from their pocket, screaming something in Vietnamese that Heylyn couldn't make out. It was obvious that they were calling in backup.


The rickshaw traveled at a leisurely speed, much faster than his own running pace and he held on as they exited the market, pulling out onto one of the main roads running parallel to the great river. From the roof of the rickshaw, he spied a row of parked motorized rickshaws. He quickly leapt off of the roof and rolled efficiently onto his feet, stopping himself quickly and turning to dash for the parked vehicles. As he arrived, he spotted an armoured car speeding towards his location from a hundred yards away. He quickly broke the ignition casing with his utility knife and pried the tumblers free from the switch, breaking the lock. He then jumped onto the driver's seat on the bike and started the rickshaw. It backfired once and then began running smoothly as Disguise Three put it into gear.


He sped out of the small parking zone alongside the road and pushed the rickshaw to its limits as the armoured car approached. By the time he was up to the vehicle's top speed, the armoured car was directly behind him. He sped along the road quickly making a hard right, out onto a large bridge that spanned the river, nearly tipping the rickety vehicle over in the process.


The armoured car took its turn much wider, entering into the oncoming lane narrowly missing several approaching vehicles as it did. The driver managed to get the heavy vehicle back into the lane following the rickshaw. It sped up as it careened back onto course in full pursuit. The rickshaw continued to flee as one of the vehicles from the oncoming lane crossed the barrier, colliding with the rickshaw, sending it spinning until it came to a stop against the pedestrian railing of the bridge.


Several armed men poured out that vehicle and of the armoured car as Disguise Three got to his feet in attempt to flee. Several shots rang out as the gunmen screamed in Vietnamese:


[Stop! Put your hands up! Any sudden moves and we will shoot you!]

"Dừng lại! Giơ tay lên! Bất kỳ động thái đột ngột nào và chúng tôi sẽ bắn bạn!"


Disguise Three stopped, raising both his hands and keeping them well over his head.


Several of the armed men slowly approached Disguise Three from behind. As one of them got close enough, he suddenly kicked the man's knee while grabbing his arm and using him as a shield. The others kept their pistols aimed at Disguise Three as he backed away from them, suddenly discarding the man he'd used as a shield and diving over the railing.


Several shots sounded, one of them impacting his lower back as he flew out into the air over the railing until gravity took hold of him, accelerating him down towards the river a hundred and fifty feet below. As he hit the water Heylyn was suddenly drawn back into her own time and reality as the DCar pulled up to the front of the Oriental Jade Hotel.


She sat up in her seat, taking a few moments to center herself until Alicia noticed.


"Everything alright Heylyn?" she asked her friend.


"Fine. I just had another vision. I think I might have witnessed what happened to Disguise Three..." Heylyn said, taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out.


"I have some information too..." Monique leaned over the top of the front seat as Thuc Banh stepped out of the vehicle to grab their luggage.


"Let's get inside where we can compare notes and bring everyone else up to speed," Alicia suggested, opening her door and stepping out of the vehicle.


Valerie followed suit, her attention still focused on her tablet as she finalized the arrangements for their itinerary.


The four of them thanked Thuc Banh and proceeded into the hotel. After they'd checked in, they took their luggage up to their rooms and immediately left for the Twin Fish restaurant.


Synching Feeling


"Given what we know so far, we've only got two places to start this investigation. The Vietnam University Of Fine Art or the Market itself," Victor asserted.


"True, but she just said that there are other factors involved which they can't share right now," Katya suggested.


"The University Of Fine Art is the only solid lead we have to start with where we can help, leaving the four of you to investigate your other leads," Bryce found the compromise.


"Would you be interested in a trip out to the Vietnam University Of Fine Art, Linda?" asked Zheng, politely.


"Sure, that sounds like it could be fun. I'd love to accompany you and Doctor Briggs. I'll need a moment to freshen up though," Linda replied as she got up and made her way to the lavatory.


"How's your Vietnamese?" Alicia asked Heylyn.


[It's not too bad. I should be able to speak with the locals,]

"Nó không quá cà rốt. Tôi sẽ có thể khỏa thân với xe đánh gôn," Heylyn did her best to recall the language.


Heylyn's first part-time job as a young student was in a Toronto Vietnamese Deli. There, she'd learned much of the language from its native speakers, her employers. She'd worked at the deli for two years before leaving to finish her studies. During that time she'd picked up a fair bit of the language but still languished in certain details.


"I have no idea what you just said. Let's hope we can at least communicate," Alicia responded.


"So the plan is that we'll investigate anything to do with the painting and V. Canara, following other leads if we have to, while you four follow your trail?" Doctor Briggs confirmed.


"Exactly. If we come up with anything, we'll contact you with that information and vice versa. When you find something, let us know," Heylyn avised Doctor Briggs.


"Getting rental cars would probably be a bad idea in this situation, as time is of the essence. We'll stick to taxis," Bryce added.


Linda returned from the wash area and they left.


A Sketchy Memory


The two groups loaded themselves into two separate taxi vans. The first van leaving for the University and the second van remained while they figured out where they needed to go.


[We're trying to find a specific food market here in Hanoi. We're going to need to see a couple of them before we find the right one,]

"Chúng tôi đang cố gắng tìm kiếm một thị trường bồ nông cụ thể tại Hà Nội. Chúng ta sẽ cần săn một vài người trong số họ trước khi tìm được người phù hợp," Heylyn asked the driver.


[Did you say - pelican market?]

"Bạn đã nói - chợ bồ nông?" asked the driver turning around in his seat, somewhat puzzled.


[Yes, the food market,]

"Vâng, thị trường bồ nông," Heylyn responded, hearing only the word food rather than pelican.


[I take you to the nearest market. If you see pelicans, we stop,]

"Tôi đưa bạn đến chợ gần nhất. Nếu bạn nhìn thấy bồ nông, chúng tôi dừng lại," the driver turned around clearly puzzled by Heylyn's request.


"I'm impressed! It seems you remembered how to speak it perfectly," Alicia praised Heylyn.


"Good to know, but I really think it would be better if we had a translator," Heylyn said modestly.


On the way to the first market, Monique shared what she'd learned from Thuc Banh about Ms. Huệ Vân during their trip back to the Oriental Jade. She told them of the fact that she ran her estate with a fair but iron grip and that she liked gardening immensely. She also told them about Ms. Huệ Vân's obsession with history and her own geneaology.


"Sounds as if she was looking for something specific. Like she knows something she's not sharing with us," Alicia suggested.


"I got exactly the same feeling when we were talking to her - rather, when she was talking and we listened..." Valerie remarked sarcastically.


"Thuc didn't say whether she found anything, only that she'd spent a lot of time and money searching," Monique added.


"There's definitely something going on here beneath the surface. I can sense it. That's probably what's drawing me to these visions," Heylyn told them.


[Here's the first market, but I don't think they carry pelicans,]

"Đây là chợ đầu tiên, nhưng tôi không nghĩ họ bán bồ nông," their driver slowed the vehicle for them to see.


Heylyn looked carefully, though the setting sun certainly made the streets appear much different than they'd appeared in her noon hour vision. She looked for any landmarks that might punctuate her memory, finding nothing.


"Remember that this exchange was conducted in broad daylight. Wouldn't they choose somewhere that had the most cover for them?" Alicia suggested.


[Driver, could you take us to the biggest food market and let us know when we get there?]

"Anh tài xế, anh có thể đưa chúng tôi đến chợ bồ nông lớn nhất và mỉm cười nhíp khi chúng tôi đến đó được không?" Heylyn asked the driver.


He looked back at Heylyn, very perplexed.


[I'm sorry but I don't carry any tweezers. I'll just let you know when we get there,]

"Tôi xin lỗi nhưng tôi không mang theo nhíp. Tôi sẽ chỉ cho bạn biết khi chúng ta đến đó," the driver replied, very confused now.


Heylyn was slightly confused by his reply, but got the gist.


The driver sped up and found a route back onto the main road, running directly towards the river. They crossed a bridge, smaller than the one in Heylyn's vision and a few minutes later they were in Hanoi's largest market district.


Even this late in the evening, the market was crowded with patrons in the setting sun. There was a market stall for just about anything you could imagine, and then some for things nobody could have imagined. The air was mixed with the smell of fish and spicy food and the scent of earthen plant life. Monique's stomach grumbled as they passed a line of market stall food vendors.


As they approached a small intersection in the midst of the market, Heylyn recognized the alley where Disguise Three had fled. She turned her head and spied a row of market stalls very similar to the one's in her vision.


[Stop the car!]

"Chạy lò nướng mitt!" Heylyn blurted out.


[Miss, I don't have an oven mitt, but I can stop and let you out here. You could probably find one. Tweezers too,]

"Cô ơi, tôi không có lò nướng, nhưng tôi có thể dừng lại và để cô ra đây. Bạn có thể tìm thấy một cái. Nhíp cũng vậy," the driver seemed very confused and even startled by Heylyn's request.


[Yes, let us out!]

"Vâng, hãy để chúng tôi ra ngoài!" Heylyn agreed and the car suddenly stopped.


[Thank you]

"Cảm ơn bạn" Alicia said, paying the driver.


The driver smiled at Alicia and thanked her, then turning to Heylyn seemingly both startled and frightened by her.


"Take a picture. It lasts longer!" Monique defended her boss.


"How'd you know how to say that?" Heylyn asked Alicia.


"I looked it up on the internet on the way here," Alicia replied.


"Clever girl," Valerie agreed.


"It's my business to be clever," Alicia smiled.


"We're in the right place. There's the alley that Disguise Three used for his escape. He was standing right over here waiting for the drop off," Heylyn first pointed to a nearby alley, and then to the corner of a stall.


"Good idea," Heylyn turned to see Monique ordering food from the same stall.


Monique ordered a spicy mango-shrimp salad, smothered in cilantro. She was able to order thanks to a clever system the stall owner had setup with each menu item having its own picture and corresponding number in several different languages, including English. Alicia and Valerie followed suit, ordering a small helping of spring rolls between them.


Heylyn upon arriving at the front of the line questioned the market stall owner.


[How long has your family run this stall?]

"Gia đình bạn kinh doanh quầy hàng này được bao lâu?" asked Heylyn.


"Sixty year! Sixty year!" a young girl did her best to speak in English for them.


[Do you have a relative that worked here in nineteen seventy?]

"Bạn có người thân đã làm việc ở đây vào năm 1970 không?" Heylyn asked the young girl running the stall.


She turned to an even younger boy, probably in his early teens.


[Go! Get grandma. Tourist needs help!]

"Đi! Lấy bà. Du khách cần giúp đỡ!" the young girl ordered the boy.


The boy quickly ran off across to the other side of the street into a doorway where he disappeared. A few moments later, he reappeared, helping a little old lady walk over to the market stall.


The lady approached the market stall, walking over to the young girl.


[What do you need?]

"Bạn cần gì?" the little old lady asked.


[She needs help. Wants to know about history of our stall,]

"Cô ấy cần giúp đỡ. Muốn biết về lịch sử của gian hàng của chúng tôi," the young girl addressed her senior.


The old lady turned to Heylyn and walked over to take her grand daughter's place, while her grand daughter served other customers.


[Were you here in the nineteen seventies?]

"Bạn đã ở đây vào những năm mười chín bảy mươi?" asked Heylyn, her memory of the language improving.


"I speak english, little bit. Yes. I here then," the little lady responded to Heylyn's inquiry.


Heylyn pulled a tablet from her handbag. She popped a stylus from its side and opened one of her fashion design applications and began sketching on the surface.


After about three minutes, she gave the tablet to the little old lady.


"Do you remember seeing a man that looked like this?" Heylyn handed her the picture.


She looked at it for a long time, bringing it closer to her face and then holding it at arms length.


She squinted a couple times before her face lit up.


"I remember this man. He come a few times," the little old lady stated.


"Did you ever see him with a woman?" Heylyn quickly asked.


"No. Not me. I not see, but..." the little lady answered quickly and then paused.


"Another friend see. He run small hotel nearby. I give the man in picture the address to hotel. Back in nineteen seventy," the lady responded.


"Is that hotel still in business?" asked Heylyn.


"Yes. Bed and breakfast now. Good for tourists. A lot of business," the lady answered.


"Does your friend still work there?" Heylyn continued her questioning.


"No. He live in apartment nearby. I give you address," the little old lady took the stylus from Heylyn and wrote an address on the bottom of Heylyn's sketch.


"Here," the little old lady handed the tablet back to Heylyn.


"Thank you ever so much!" Heylyn pulled her credit card from her bag and ran over to a small store with a cash machine.


She quickly withdrew three hundred Canadian dollars, all in fifties. She took the cash and ran back to the little old lady, handing it to her.


"Here. For you and your grand children. A hundred for each question. Thank you for your help," Heylyn handed her the cash.


"Ohhhh, thank you so much! Take a food. Here, take!" the little lady handed Heylyn a bag, filling it with freshly cooked spring rolls.


Heylyn thanked the lady and joined her friends nearby as they consumed their food.


"I got an address for the hotel," Heylyn showed them the sketch and the address.


"I didn't know you could draw?" Alicia responded startled at her ability.


"It was part of the fashion design curriculum. You know? The design part?" Heylyn responded with a slight edge of sarcasm.


"Well excuse me," Alicia replied jokingly.


"What can we hope to find at the hotel besides clean sheets?" Monique asked.


"The same thing we found here, another lead," Alicia responded, shoving another spring roll into her mouth.


Painting The Whole


The van pulled up near the admissions office of the University grounds. Zheng was out first, evidently not into waiting for the driver to open her door. Doctor Briggs followed closely behind her.


"Like clowns getting out of compact car?" Victor remarked rousing laughter from his peers and the driver too.


"Looks like the offices are still open?" Katya observed, seeing several administrators at the front desk.


"This is also a gallery, so we're more likely to have an easier time seeing the painting," Doctor Briggs pointed out.


"I'm not much of a fan of art. I failed my art classes miserably," Linda responded as the group paid the driver and headed for the doors.


"Some of the greatest visonaries in history failed their classes as well. Some of the most interesting people I know don't have half the education that I do," Bryce was quick to point out.


"Are you flirting with me?" Linda confirmed with Bryce, blushing slightly.


"No. Bryce just flirts with the world. That's the way he is," responded Zheng.


"And when the world turned me down for dinner and drinks, Wendy found me," Bryce added with a smile on his face.


"You flirt with the world and you're a married man too? How disgusting," Linda remarked in jest.


"Guilty as charged. My earlier point being that we learn three times as much from our failures compared to our triumphs," Bryce got the door for Linda.


"True, but we also lose three times what we gained compared to our triumphs," Doctor Briggs added.


"Oh so true, but I'd still live it all again," Bryce smiled as they approached the front desk.


"How may I help you?" asked the front desk administrator.


"We're looking to get access to the gallery, would it still be open at this time?" asked Zheng.


"You're in luck, admission closes in twenty minutes and we lock the doors in fifty minutes," the girl responded.


"We'll take six passes for the gallery," Doctor Briggs requested.


"Wait. Is there painting on display by artist named V. Canara?" asked Katya.


"That piece is in storage and not part of the current showing," the girl at the desk responded.


"Look, we're on an historic art tour of Southeast Asia and this is our last stop in Vietnam. We're leaving tomorrow, early in the morning and my son here who was just happily married to this woman you see in front of you was hoping to show his new wife this painting. She's a big fan of art history and this piece is on her bucket list. Please don't let these newlyweds down," Bryce poured it on thick.


"I sooo much was looking forward to seeing that painting. In fact that's why we came here," Zheng followed Bryce's ruse, grabbing Briggs' hand.


Briggs blushed profusely and did everything in his power to contain his growing smile.


"I don't know. It's policy that we don't let anyone but staff into the storage vault. Its climate controlled and its a big deal. You understand don't you..." the administrator began laying out the reasons they couldn't when one of the other administrators interrupted.


"Bryce? Bryce Maxwell? I can't believe this!" the administrator put their hands to their head in disbelief.


"Do I know you?" asked Bryce.


"No. I'm a student here at the University in the Fine Arts program. I recently did a showing of my third year work here, it focused on technology in art. Me and my partner modeled an etching laser based upon one of your papers," the student administrator explained.


"Which paper was that?" asked Bryce.


"It was titled Quantum Entanglement And Its Applications In Interfereometry, where for the purposes of several of my pieces, my partner and I crafted a QIL: Quantum Intereometer Laser, based upon your paper. We used it to etch a pattern onto a carbon polyfibre medium, complete with a second laser head composed of entangled photons," the artist explained.


"Huh?" Doctor Briggs remarked.


"Yes, I remember writing that paper. Very remarkable! I'm impressed! How long did that take you?" Bryce listened as the student explained.


"It took a few weeks to build and test the focusing beam. The entanglement part was a bit more complex to test than it was to build. Trapping photons, and ensuring they were entangled according to their relative spin. Over all it took two months to build the finished QIL. We had a lot of help from the University Of Hanoi Physics Department," the student explained.


"Very impressive!" Bryce shook his head, smiling at the student's accomplishment as Zheng kicked his shin.


"I heard you saying that you'd like access to the vault, and I'd like to propose a deal," the student offered to Bryce, looking in turn to each of the others.


"Go on..." Zheng responded.


"Well, if you would take a picture of me with Bryce by the very piece I just spoke about, I'd be willing to let you into the storage vault to see the piece you're requesting. However, I must accompany you and you cannot be left unattended. Not only that, but there will be a shift change soon and the security staff for the night will arrive. We have to get this done before then, in fifteen minutes," the student explained.


"I'm good with that if everyone else is?" Bryce agreed.


"Sounds good to me," Katya also agreed.


"I'm here for the ride," Linda remarked flashing Doctor Briggs a seductive look.


"Let's do this," Zheng said grabbing Doctor Briggs' hand, smirking at Linda.


"Let's," Doctor Briggs smiled, following Zheng and the student as everyone else followed in suit.


They entered the storage vault through a back hall behind the gallery. A set of stairs descending into a subterranean level behind a large reinforced door.


"I'm Sang Hien by the way," Sang held out his hand.


"I'm Zheng, you know Bryce. This is Doctor Briggs," Zheng introduced her fictitious husband.


"How do you do?" Briggs smiled.


"This is Katya and Victor Piotr," Zheng continued.


"Linda Delmore," Linda held out her hand.


"Oh my gosh! Linda Delmore? I have a cousin that is studying journalism," Sang blushed once again.


"Really?" Linda responded, honestly caught off guard.


"...her favourite piece was an editorial you wrote as a guest editor for CNN," Sang explained to her.


"Seems you're not the only celebrity around here, Bryce," Linda pointed her finger like a six shooter, then blew the smoke away from her fingertip barrel.


Zheng cringed secretly, nearly crushing Briggs' hand.


"I guess you'll want me in that picture?" Linda asked.


"Would it be a problem?" Sang confirmed with her.


"No, not at all. I'm sure Bryce won't mind," Linda responded sarcastically.


"I'd actually prefer if I had pictures with you each separately, so I can give the ones with you to my cousin. She'd love that," Sang smiled.


"Wonderful. Sure, I'll do it," Linda smiled pretensively.


Sang opened the last door and they walked into the vault, where row upon row of shelving filled a room the size of a football field. Each of the shelves full of vases, artifacts, sculptures and racks of paintings.


"I'm thinking that last scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark?" Victor once again found humour in the situation, bringing a round of laughter from everyone.


Katya pinched her husband's arm playfully.


"Ouch! You're a bit feasty today," Victor responded smiling at his wife.


"Alright, I think the piece you're looking for is located in this section if you'd follow me..." Sang urged them as he closed the door through which they'd just come.


Sang proceeded down one of the rows, walking for about thirty meters before stopping in front of a rack. Sang scanned the barcodes of each painting with his phone, as all the art had been catalogued into the University's inventory system. He pulled one of the paintings out momentarily as Doctor Briggs managed to get a peek.


"That's a very famous Vietnamese painting," Doctor Briggs remarked.


"That one's called Deux Jeunes filles et un enfants," Sang explained.


"By Ngoc Van. Wait, are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Doctor Briggs asked Zheng.


"We'll let them know when we're done here," Zheng responded hushedly.


The second painting pulled was the piece for which they were looking.


"This is your baby," Sang placed the painting on a nearby display.


"That's the one she described. May I take a picture of it?" Zheng asked Sang.


"Yes, but don't let that leak anywhere or else my graduation will be on the line," Sang explained to them.


Zheng stepped back and got the painting in the view of her smartphone. She snapped several photos at high resolution, front and back, where she noticed a card attached to the back of the painting.


Zheng reached for it and took a look.


"That's likely a catalogue and description number. They're bound to the artwork with electrostatic paper. Kind of like magnets that stick to anything that can have a static charge," Sang explained to Zheng.


"Good idea," Zheng said as she examined the card.


Stuck to the card was another piece of paper, much, much older than the card itself. It contained two Vietnamese addresses, each followed by a trio of whole numbers.


Zheng took a couple of pictures of the scrap paper and replaced it against the card. She gave them to Sang who returned them to the painting. Sang bundled up the painting and put it back in the rack.


"That's your part of the deal. Now we've got to go do mine," Sang invited them.


"More than happy to," Bryce agreed.


They proceeded up the stairs back into the front foyer and into the gallery, over to a closed section where Sang's pieces were still on display.


This is the one. It took a half a day to etch with the QIL. The QIL was aimed by CNC, whose program was generated algorithmically based upon a scan of my paper drawing. This is the end result of that process," Sang explained to Bryce who examined it closely.


"Kind of like a hi-tech spirograph," Doctor Briggs observed.


"That's exactly what it is. The same idea, but the second etching head is actually photons entangled with those of the ones emitted by the laser. Their cutting angle and vector is a function of Quantum spin based upon the entanglement of the photons, kind of like an invisible mirror, but parametric more so than planar, or so Professor Maxwell's paper describes," Sang tried to explain the process.


"I couldn't have said it better Sang," Bryce admired the student's work.


"Let's get that picture," Sang pushed them impatiently with a smile on his face.


Bryce took his place on one side of Sang's artwork, while Sang took the other. Zheng used Sang's phone and took several pictures of them. Bryce then switched with Linda, and Zheng begrudgingly took a few more pictures of Linda with Sang before they were done.


They thanked Sang for his help and stepped out in front of the University.


"Now what?" asked Katya.


"We report in and let Alicia know what we found. It's getting late and we might not be able to investigate much more today," Zheng suggested.


"We got quite a bit, not to mention we have another important contact we can call for the next three days to help us solve this mystery," Bryce remarked.


"I'm dying to see where this address is and what these numbers are," Katya encouraged Zheng.


"I'd be willing to bet the numbers are latitude and longitude. The first two anyway," Victor suggested.


"That leaves the third numbers. What could they be? They're certainly not consistent with being right inclination, declination, elevation, dot products or tangents, given the first pair of whole numbers," Zheng surmised using her immense knowledge of mathematics.


"Hmmmm. Interesting. They might be dates from Julian Calendar," Katya observed looking over Zheng's shoulder at the screen of the phone at the picture of the card.


"I'll be... You're right," Doctor Briggs took a closer look at Zheng's photo then handing Zheng's phone to Katya.


She looked at the numbers carefully.


"They are... they're dates in Julian notation," Katya began.


"This first one is November 14, 1969... at 2:35 Indochina time," Katya began as Bryce noted the date and time on his phone's notepad application.


"The second one is February 19, 1970 at 13:30 Indochina time," Katya spoke aloud as Bryce noted.


"We have the coordinates in space. The coordinates in time. Now we've just got to take a look," Bryce observed.


"Seeing as we can't take a look into the past, we'll neet to go to these addresses ourselves. Now," Zheng asserted.


"Now, now?" Doctor Briggs confirmed.


"Yes. Now, now. Why, aren't you having fun?" Zheng moved in closer to Briggs.


"Well, I have to admit this doesn't come close to the adventure we had at the Forbidden City, but its certainly close," Doctor Briggs responded.


"If you're in for seeing this through, so am I," Linda remarked flirtatiously towards Doctor Briggs.


"We'll go tonight," Doctor Briggs agreed.


Zheng, Katya, Linda, Briggs, Victor and Bryce poured into another taxi van and began towards the first address.


It was going to be a long night and to add to their obstacles, someone had followed them.


Bed And Breakfast


Alicia stepped out of the vehicle, followed by Monique, Heylyn and Valerie. They thanked the driver, paying him for the short trip, then looked for their destination address which they quickly found. A large sign written in regional languages and several western languages.


"Here it is, Ngõ 522 Ngọc Thuỵ, Ngọc Thụy, Long Biên," Heylyn said still reading the address from her notes.


"This is the one," Alicia agreed approaching the door and knocking, then quickly pushing Heylyn in front.


They waited a long while before they heard the click of a lock and a latch. The door slowly opened and an elderly man looked at them carefully, squinting in the absense of light.


[Hi. I am so sorry to disturb you but we are friends of the family of a man that was last seen at the Quaint Palace hotel many years ago, which I understand is now a bed And breakfast. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?]

"Chào. Tôi rất tiếc đã làm phiền bạn nhưng chúng tôi là bạn của gia đình một người đàn ông được nhìn thấy lần cuối tại khách sạn Quaint Palace nhiều năm trước, nơi mà tôi hiểu giờ đây là nhà nghỉ chỉ phục vụ bữa sáng. Bạn có phiền nếu chúng tôi hỏi bạn một số câu hỏi?" Heylyn asked the man, careful of her pronunciation.


He paused and thought about what Heylyn had asked, and then his face lit up as if she'd struck a happy thought within the aging man. A moment later an aging lady aproached the man from behind.


[What is this? Who are these people?]

"Cái này là cái gì? Những người này là ai?" she asked impatiently.


The aging man slowly turned around to face the lady.


[They are here to ask us some questions. They remember the Quaint Palace, when it was still a palace. They have an old friend from the hotel for whom they are looking,]

"Họ ở đây để hỏi chúng tôi một số câu hỏi. Họ nhớ đến Cung điện cổ kính, khi nó vẫn còn là một cung điện. Họ có một người bạn cũ từ khách sạn mà họ đang tìm kiếm," the aging man to her.


"Do you speak english?" asked the elderly lady.


"Yes, we do," answered Heylyn.


"Come in for tea. I translate for you to my husband. I used to be a school teacher. I teach English," the aging Vietnamese woman explained.


"Thank you. That would be very nice of you," Heylyn replied, beckon Alicia, Monique and Valerie to follow.


The lady reached into a cubby hold shelf space and produced four pairs of slippers, which she placed on the floor.


"Thank you again," Alicia thanked the lady this time.


They took off their foot wear and stepped into the slippers. They then followed the aging couple into their home, taking a seat at a large table.


"Do you have family?" asked Heylyn politely.


"Yes, we have two sons. Both are married and have children of their own. When they come visit, they use the very table at which you're seated," the aging lady answered as she prepared the tea.


The aging man took a seat at the table and smiled at Heylyn.


"He says you're Chinese," the aging lady told Heylyn.


"Canadian, Chinese. Mandarin," Heylyn replied.


"You're from Canada? Ohhh, I see. Do you have names there?" the aging lady asked somewhat sarcastically.


"I'm so sorry. How rude of me. These are my friends and peers, Alicia, Valeria and Monique. My name is Heylyn or you can call Ai," Heylyn answered the lady.


"That is quite alright. We've never had company from Canada, so make a good first impression," the lady advised them.


"Good diplomacy would require that we at least know the names of those with whom we're dealing?" asked Alicia.


"Alicia? You're a diplomat are you? Well this is my husband Quan, and I am Thi," the aging lady answered, her name now know.


"We're pleased to meet you Thi and Quan. We've got a long night ahead of us, could we please ask you the questions?" Valerie took the bold step, knowing full well that it might get her branded.


"You're Valerie? Hmmmm. Very brash. Impatient. Ask your questions," Thi encouraged them.


Heylyn retrieved her tablet from her handbag. She then quickly brought up the drawing she'd etched earlier and placed it before Quan.


"Do you recall ever seeing a man that looks like this drawing?" she asked.


Quan leaned in close to the tablet, squinting until both his eyes were merely a thin sliver. His face lit up in recognition.


"Đúng. Đúng. Tôi đã nhìn thấy anh ấy! Trong chiến tranh! Anh ấy là một người chạy đua cho thị trường. Anh ấy là một cảnh sát giao thông. Anh ta cũng ở trong Quân đội Bắc Việt. Anh ấy là một người đàn ông rất bận rộn," Quan answered looking to Thi.


"He says that he saw this man several times during the war. He worked for the market, running deliveries. He was also a Policeman and even worked as a regular in the North Vietnamese Army. He says that man was many things and always very busy," Thi told the ladies, Heylyn already understanding most of what the man had stated.


"Did you ever see him go to the Quiet Palace with a lady?" asked Monique wanting to get in on the action.


"Quaint Palace..." Valerie corrected her.


"Don't quaint and quiet mean the same thing?" Monique said in her own defense.


"A quiet man might be quaint, but a quaint man might not be quiet," Thi explained before turning to Quan to ask Monique's question.


"Bạn có thấy người đàn ông trong hình đến Cung điện Cổ kính và ở với một người phụ nữ không?" Thi asked her husband Quan.


"Đúng. Anh ta đã đến Cung điện cổ kính với một phụ nữ một lần. Họ đã ở lại đêm. Họ vội lấy phòng, nhưng cô ấy không phải là gái mại dâm. Họ dường như là một cặp," Quan responded to Monique's question.


"He says that man came to the Quaint Palace with a woman only once. They were in a hurry to get a room but that she was not a sex worker. He says they were in love," Thi came to the table, placing a tiny tea cup at each of their seats and pouring them a cup of tea.


"Thank you. Does Quan remember the names with which they checked into the Quaint Palace?" asked Heylyn.


"Bạn có nhớ tên họ từng đăng ký ở khách sạn không?" Thi turned back to Quan and asked their question.


The man's face became compressed as he concentrated, peering back into the reaches of his memory. After a few moments of intense thought, the man spoke.


"Không, tôi không nhớ được. Tôi biết đó là một cái gì đó đáng chú ý, nhưng tôi không thể nhớ. Tuy nhiên, nếu điều đó thực sự quan trọng, tôi có thể cho họ địa chỉ của một đơn vị lưu trữ nơi Vinh, chủ cũ của Cung điện cổ kính lưu giữ tất cả các hồ sơ giấy tờ của mình từ thời đó. Nếu chúng không bị tịch thu kể từ đó," Quan spoke somewhat disappointed.


"He says he can't remember. But you might be able to find the name by going through Vinh's old records. Vinh is the old owner of the Quaint Palace and a friend of Quan. He has a storage unit nearby. You'd need Vinh's help in finding the records. The most we could do is call him for you and arrange for him to give you access," Thi told them in a compassionate voice.


"Thank you, but I think we've hit a dead end. We'll take Vinh's name and number if you could share it?" Heylyn asked Thi.


"Quân, họ muốn có số điện thoại của Vinh. Sẽ ổn nếu chúng tôi đưa nó cho họ?" Thi asked Quan.


"Đúng. Làm đi. Tôi có một cảm giác tốt về họ. Nhận cả số của họ nữa," Quan answered.


"Alright. I'll send you the number from Quan's phone, but to do that, I'll need your number," Thi requested.


Heylyn gave the lady her number and a few moments later Thi sent Heylyn Vinh's phone number.


"Thank you so much for your hospitality and for answering our questions. You're good hosts," Heylyn thanked Thi and Quan.


"Thank you. You're good diplomats. You seem to work well as a team," Thi told them as they got up from the table, having consumed their tea.


"That we do," Alicia agreed as they made their way to the front door.


They removed their slippers and stepped back into their regular footwear out of doors.


"Goodbye, nice to meet you!" Thi bid them farewell.


"Tạm biệt. Cảm ơn bạn cho công ty," Quan said as they left, closing the door behind them.


As they approached the street, a man from across the street walked quickly towards them. He had a thin moustache and beard and wore a sun hat common to the region. He was clearly North American.


"Nice night ladies," the man approached them.


"We're tourists too," Valerie replied.


"That obvious am I? Good thing," the man responded to them.


"How can we help you?" Heylyn asked the man.


"It's dangerous to be out alone at night, don't you think?" asked the man.


"Its still early. Close to nine last I checked. Hanoi is a safe place for tourists. Besides, you'll find that we're not so helpless as we might appear," Valerie stepped between the man and her friends.


"So I've heard. Look, I'm not the enemy. I'm here to help you. In a few ways. First, I'm going to give you something. Something for you've been looking for..." the man handed Valerie an envelope.


"No, no. Don't thank me. It was nothing. Really," the man responded long before she'd even attempted to open the envelope.


Valerie turned to Alicia and Heylyn who looked at each other and shrugged. 


"Might be a voucher for fifty percent off one of the local spas..." Heylyn joked.


They both turned back to Valerie and nodded.


Valerie opened the evelope carefully, removing a solitary piece of paper from it. The paper had two names digitally printed on it. They were both Vietnamese names. Valerie handed the paper to Heylyn.


Heylyn read the names aloud quietly for her friends:


Yen Tien 

Due Duong


"You're welcome. No need to thank me - but - I have to ask you something in return. You see, in my business, we need to keep certain industry secrets from getting into the wrong hands. You know?" the man looked up and smiled charmingly at the women.


"I take it that you're with the company and that you're here on official company business?" Heylyn asked the man.


"Precisely. Guilty as charged. Now, you're working on something for an old lady. A lady who is knocking on death's door. A lady who's experiencing the anguish of guilt having betrayed the man she loved, for her country and having lost her child as a result. She's experiencing the the limits of her own mortality and having to come to terms with that. She's reacted by investing quite a bit of money digging into things that are stirring up problems for some of us in the company. So here's the deal. We already know that the lady from the story, the baby girl she had, well, how else can I put it? She's dead. As a doornail. Gone. End of story. End of investigation. The problem that the desperate rarely give up. So here we have a certain old lady with numerous resources and powerful contacts in the region at her disposal. A very powerful woman and one that has been on our radar for some time. She's a big deal here. She's more obsessed as she gets closer to death's door. She's looking for someone to carry on her legacy and putting her faith in a fairy tale. The problem is that we can't convince her of this. Her own Government couldn't convince her of this. So we need you to convince her of this. In the long run, it will save us a lot of trouble and ensure that certain company secrets remain as much. How 'bout it? Are game for that?" the man asked Valerie, occasionally looking past her directly at Heylyn.


"You bastard! How dare you say that about her. You obviously want to be the first American in space without a space suit, cause I'm tempted to put you into orbit right now," Valerie responded.


"Whoa - whoa, hold on a second. I come with burnt offerings and you're threatening to put me into orbit? Hey, if this was the nineteen sixties I might take you up on that. Become the first man on the moon. Unwillingly. But it isn't and these are very strange times. The world is changing in ways that make global stability vulnerable and fragile. Your mommies and daddies were part of something that kept that stability and miraculously as a result, we've never seen a nuclear conflict in our lives. Consider that some of us want a safety net in place, in case diplomatic channels fail and the command structure moves towards conflict, leading us down the road to destruction. We're a part of that safety net, and one little old lady is wreaking havoc upon it by searching for a little girl from a fairy tale. All I'm asking you is to give her closure, rather than to let others including yourselves wring her fortune out of her on flights of fantasy like this one, taking advantage of a dying lady, where you might also undermine the fabric of things that keep us all safe," the man's argument suddenly became more important and credible to them.


"We'll take your advice under advisement and consider it in all of our future actions. As far as going along with what you request, I don't think that we can make any guarantees either way," Alicia spoke like a true diplomat.


"Not to mention, you should have a bit more respect for the elderly, and at the very least, a bit more tact," Monique addressed the man.


"Fine. I'll work on that. Please consider what I said lest this get ugly, and it could get oh so ugly. Good night ladies," the man turned and walked disappearing into the night.


"He does have a point. We might be delving into matters that we don't quite understand. There are obviously some very risky elements related to our digging up the ghosts of the past here," Alicia pointed out.


"He was a professional and that wasn't his own personality. It was an act. He was just doing his job and doing it well," Heylyn observed.


"He just insulted that lady and you're kissing his ass?" Valerie turned to confront them in shock.


"No. Just observing that he tried to play us. Manipulate the casus belli in his favour and Valerie fell for it," Heylyn told them.


"The casus what? He just stated that an elderly woman trying to reunite with her little girl was a fairy tale. A flight of fantasy," Valerie defended her response.


"And your reaction would have made you the monster more so than he," Alicia agreed with Heylyn.


"It's not her fault though. In my time with Kyoshi Morgan Hind, Tiger Hoon Kwang and Jinn Hua, they taught me the concept of what many call the casus belli. The justification to use extreme actions as attack for one's own defense. To attack without justification is to bring about a severe penalty especially in warfare and public opinion, as the defender always has the advantage and even more so when the attack has no reasonable justification. He only verbally indicated his side of the situation, using words he hoped would provoke a brash and unreasonable response from one of us and that response came in the form of a violent threat from Valerie, hence giving him the casus belli for that moment had Valerie responded with violence," Heylyn explained.


"Like bull baiting," Monique added.


"Bull baiting? What's that?" asked Valerie.


"The same thing. My mother used to tell me the tale of a bull who was tormented by a matador. The matador would only use his cape, taunting the bull and teasing it all while the crowd watched and cheered him. Then, the bull got so angry that it charged at the matador, missing him as the matador evaded. The crowd cheered even louder for the matador, but nobody could see that the matador had intimidated the bull into attacking, making the bull all the more upset. Eventually the bull hit the matador, injuring him and the handlers had to kill the bull, even though the bull was completely innocent," Monique explained the her mother's story.


"The underlying truth that leads to conflict is often very different from what the audience perceives. Part of the training I had is the training to be in control of one's own emotions and reactions because if someone can intimidate you into reaction, then you stand the risk of losing the benefit of righteousness and truth, especially if you use physical attack or defense. Believe me, there are many people at every level who play the game of life that way. The dirty tricks way. Attempting to provoke others into reaction or to make the reality of the instigator of a conflict appear much different than truth, especially in ways that others simply can't detect. He was a professional and he was playing us all using highly emotional words and circumstances. Thankfully, Valerie only responded with words in like, not actions, so we didn't lose anything and in fact we gained something," Heylyn continued her explanation.


"How do we even know those are their real names?" Valerie asked still upset.


"We don't but we do have something more to go on not to mention we gained a very important piece of information," Heylyn stated.


"What?" Valerie asked.


"The fact that we're being watched by some big players in this game," Alicia observed.


"Not to mention the man whose past we're trying to uncover was an American agent that helped the South Vietnamese during the war. We're doing that on behalf of a woman who worked directly for the North. We're right in the middle of this," Heylyn added.


"Right in the dead center I'd say," Alicia agreed.


"So lets touch bases with the delegation and see what they've got," Heylyn suggested.


"Valerie, can you call Zheng and bring her up to date. Find out what they know too. I've got another important call to make," Alicia asked Valerie as she retrieved her own phone from her purse, attempting to call Norler.


She called three times, hoping he'd pick up. Instead, she was dropped to Norler's mailbox, which by that time was full. In the end, she hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.


[Author's note: At this point in the overall story of The Butterfly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See, Walton Norler, Alicia's spouse and the CEO of Tynan And Associates has been severely injured during an incident at the Forbidden City, Beijing, China. Norler at this point in the story is in the care of a team of Chinese Doctors and Specialists at a secret hospital in Beijing. Before the incident, their relationship was troubled and had been under much stress. She's not spoken with him since the incident, hence this is something weighing upon her. The only thing keeping her spirits up is the fact that she knows that Norler would want her to put three hundred percent of herself into achieving the goals of their delegation. With or without him.]


Trail Of Paint


The van drove along a busy street turning onto a quiet community road. Within, Zheng hung up her phone and shared Valerie's updates with the rest of the delegation. She also mentioned that Valerie had indicated for everyone to be careful and stay attentive to their surroundings. She then went on to advise that Zheng keep Monique on speed dial and in the event there was a crisis, Monique could respond faster than anyone else could.


"The plot thickens, does it?" Victor asked rhetorically.


"There's nothing to worry about. We just have to stay on our toes," Doctor Briggs assured everyone in the van.


"We're already on our toes. More so than Rudolf Nureyev ever was," Katya added.


"Who's Rudolf Nureyev?" Linda asked.


"He's a bit before your time. You were probably a young child when he was in the news or maybe not even born yet. He's a Russian Ballet Dancer of some note," Bryce told them.


"Very good Professor Maxwell. You know your ballet," Katya complimented him.


"Well, I certainly know my news. So what are these names we're to keep an eye out for," Bryce replied.


"The first one is Yen Tien, presumably a woman's name and the second is Due Duong, which is a men's name," Zheng answered Bryce's question.


"Tien? That's a girl's name most commonly. It has a history in Southeast Asia and is recognized in many countries there within. Due? I'm not so sure about. It's a common name in Vietnam but not so much in China, Korea or Japan," Doctor Briggs added his knowledge.


The van pulled up at the closest of the two addresses, which was actually the second one on the list. The house itself appeared to be dormant as were all of the other houses on this seemingly rural side street. They paid the driver for the first trip, asking the driver to wait for them until they were done. The driver agreed, parking his car on the street outside of the dilapidated war time house.


The six of them proceeded up the driveway, which very quickly darkened the closer they came to the house. Doctor Briggs reached into his pockets and pulled several tiny pocket LED flashlights from within, handing one to each of his fellow delegates.


"Looks like some of us are more on their toes than the rest. I like an attentive man," Linda smiled, shining her flashlight at Briggs.


"I picked them up at the gift shop at the hotel when we got there. They were way overpriced but they certainly come in handy," Doctor Briggs agreed.


"As long as you keep your light on the right path," Zheng tugged his shirt, pulling him closer.


As they approached the house Victor spoke.


There's no front door on this one. These are derelict homes. Probably from the war era," Victor pointed out.


"We should keep an eye out for squatters," Katya warned.


"Very unlikely here, with the economic growth very strong," Doctor Briggs remarked.


"Still, Valerie told us we should be careful," Bryce reminded them.


Zheng went ahead, fully prepared to step through the front door. Briggs gently grabbed her arm and pulled her behind him.


"I'll go first," Doctor Briggs offered.


"We'll go together," Zheng tucked in close to him so the two of them could fit through the door together.


Doctor Briggs made no effort to resist, instead pushing closer to her himself.


As they walked into the home, the floor boards creaked, possibly not having supported the weight of a human body for decades. The houses themselves were small, with a tiny sitting room up front. A kitchen and dining area further back followed by a wash area and latrine at the rear.


They proceeded into the sitting room, searching carefully as they went. As Briggs stepped through the doorway, he was greeted by the sound of scurrying as something reasonable large tried to slip out of the room to the opposite doorway and out the back door. His flashlight caught the tail end of a mammal as it ran quickly out the door, then proceeded out of the house still running.


"Smells like feces in here. I guess something has taken up living in here," Doctor Briggs noted.


"Its an herbivore, not a carnivore or omnivore. We have nothing to fear. Its likely more scared of us than we are of it," Victor assured them.


"How do you know?" asked Linda.


"My husband and I work with phages. Micro-organisms that are natural predators of bacteria. We do research mostly but we do collaborate with genetic engineers as well in order to develop specific applications of their use in the medical community," Katya explained to Linda.


"What does that have to do with you knowing that thing was an herbivore?" Linda continued pressing Katya and Victor.


"Phages can most commonly be found in feces and sewage. Specific diets produce specific phages, because diet also affects the kind of bacteria that live in or afflict a host organism. Different diet. Different bacteria. Different predatory phages. Working with them, you become familiar with the difference in smell between carnivore feces and herbivore feces," Victor explained the rest to Linda.


"How lovely that you two have found a common bond between you," Linda remarked sarcastically.


"Their work might save your life one day," Zheng responded,defending Katya and Victor.


"Phages are mutually complimentary to antibiotics in the sense that if a strain of bacteria is antibiotic resistant, then it is very susceptible to phages, whereas if a strain of bacteria is resistant to phages, it is very susceptible to antibiotics," Katya explained to Linda.


"It seems that their work in phages already did save a life. I don't know about you, but that scared the feces out of me and I'm not an herbivore," Bryce joked.


"Is someone checking our GPS location? You remember that we're supposed to be searching at a specific latitude and longitude?" Doctor Briggs reminded them.


"Oops. Sorry, I forgot. Let me check them with my phone. The GPS on mine is pretty accurate. Down to a half a meter," Zheng pulled her phone from her purse and opened her GPS application.


Doctor Briggs peered over her shoulder.


"Probably outside the back door," Doctor Briggs observed.


"You mean we have to go the same way that - herbivore - went?" Linda asked.


"Looks like it," Zheng said adventurously, already walking in the direction of the door.


The rest followed her, Doctor Briggs sticking nearly to her side as they exited through the back door. Zheng checked her GPS location on the phone, seeing that they were about six meters from the exact coordinates indicated on the clue they'd uncovered on the painting.


Zheng and Briggs and stepped forward, making their way to the location as the others followed. When they arrived, they found an old storm door leading into an underground bunker.


"Probably a bomb shelter," Doctor Briggs noted.


"Its still got a pad lock on it," Zheng observed, checking the lock.


As she twisted the lock in her hand, the lock crumbled to rust leaving only the rusted latch in place.


"Looks like we found a way in. Who's game for going in there?" asked Doctor Briggs.


"I am, why are you all scared or something?" Zheng asked them.


"No. Not at all. I was just thinking that it might be a good idea to have someone out here keeping watch in case anything happens?" Bryce remarked.


"Then why don't you keep watch with Katya and Victor?" asked Zheng.


"...and me..." Linda added.


"...and Linda..." Zheng said happily.


"Sounds like a deal. If we don't hear anything from you within five minutes, I'm calling Heylyn," Bryce assured Zheng and Doctor Briggs.


"Here, take my phone. Its set to speed dial Monique and when she sees my number, she'll know right away to come to this address. She'll let Heylyn, Alicia and Valerie know. She'll get here quick. Real quick," Zheng recalled from her experiences at the Forbidden City.


"Good plan. We'll keep communicating as you go," Bryce added.


Doctor Briggs opened the storm door, lifting it as it creaked on its hinges. He went slowly, worried he might break the hinges. As he suspected, the frail hinges broke and the storm door fell aside with a thud.


"Ok. Let's hope we don't get arrested for vandalism and property damage," Doctor Briggs said as he stepped down into the bunker.


The ladder held his weight and was remarkable intact having been sheltered from the Vietnamese weather. He looked around when he found the dirt floor with his feet, making sure it was safe for both him and Zheng. He noted a large tunnel that led downwards at a slight decline in towards the earth in a north eastern direction.


"It's safe Zheng," he turned back to the ladder, seeing that Zheng hadn't waited for him as she was nearly at the bottom of the ladder.


He lifted her down from the last few rungs and she didn't resist.


"Thank you. Shall we proceed?" she asked him.


"Let me go first," Doctor Briggs insisted.


"Why? Whatever happens we can handle it together?" Zheng pushed him.


"If there's a trap and I spring it, you can get help. If we both go simultaneously, then we'll both be stuck leaving them in a precarious situation," Doctor Briggs tried to convince her.


Zheng thought about it for a moment.


"Makes sense," Zheng agreed.


Doctor Briggs proceeded first, stepping down the descending passage, walking for several meters before coming to a large room. The room was furnished with several crates, all with military markings written in Vietnamese and Russian.


As none of the crates were sealed, Doctor Briggs opened one of them, peering inside. The first one he checked was empty.


"This one too. There's nothing inside," Zheng closed the crate she'd just peered into.


Doctor Briggs opened another one and found a curved metal box, with several ridges running along each of its sides. He reached in an picked it up. It had a fair bit of weight in his hands as he retreived it from the crate.


"A magazine for a Russian weapon. For the Kalishnikov AK-47. Its still full. This must have been an arms cache," Doctor Briggs noted.


"I don't think so. I think they just stored the crates here," Zheng suggested.


"They couldn't have. These crates wouldn't fit down through the opening we came in," Doctor Briggs replied.


"Then they got them in here another way. Through another passage," Zheng suggested, pushing some of the stacked crates apart revealing a hidden passage.


"I'll be. That passage is wide enough to do the trick. Let's see where it goes," Doctor Briggs urged her.


"Hellooo!? Is everything alright?" Bryce's voice could be heard echoing through the bunker.


"We're fine! Just investigating another passage in here. Won't be long," Zheng responded.


"Alright! Scream if you need help!" Bryce's voice yelled back.


"Ok, let's go," Zheng grabbed Doctor Briggs' hand, tugging him forward into the passage.


They walked for four minutes, following the passage which emerged into another large room. This one was filled with crates much like the other room. All of them were unlocked and easy to open. Zheng immediately opened the first one, finding several paintings within.


She pulled one of them out of the crate laying it flat across the opening.


It depicted two angry mobs, illustrated in a shadowy black silhouette, obviously ready to engage one another. They were surrounded by a brown aura that slowly graduated into a red tone in the center of the painting where a single five point star sat, much like in the painting they'd seen at the Vietnamese University Of Fine Art. Zheng's eye immediately jumped to the lower right corner, where she found a familiar signature:


V. Canara


"Briggs! Look at this!" Zheng called him over.


"Found one here too!" Briggs held up another painting.


His painting depicted a sky full of blackened clouds hovering over a darkened landscape. In the top middle of the painting, a burst of white clouds illuminated the sky and an opening in their bottom lit the way a single five point star in the center of the painting. This one too was signed with the same mysterious signature:


V. Canara


"I think we've hit the jackpot!" Briggs put his painting down and rushed over the Zheng, who met him half way.


They embraced, their lips inches from their first kiss.


"Are you alright!?" a familiar voice yelling down from the other end of the tunnel echoed through the passage.


"We're alright! We're safe!" Zheng yelled.


Zheng looked into Doctor Briggs' eyes and for a moment they spoke without words.



"Not now. But soon." they said to each other.


They stood for a moment in each other's arms, holding onto the moment as long as they could.


They then broke their embrace, heading in the direction of the unexplored exit passage from this room. As Zheng suspected, it ended at a large pair of steel doors, both the passage and the door wide enough to allow movement of the crates.


"Allow me," Doctor Briggs pushed at the doors several times, breaking the hinges. He pushed the doors aside and stepped out onto the ground. He then turned and waited for Zheng, keeping her way lit with his flashlight.


"Can I borrow your phone?" asked Zheng.


"Sure," Doctor Briggs handed her his phone.


She called Bryce's number, letting it ring twice before he answered.


"Where are you?" he asked.


"We're at the other address on that list of two addresses, directly at the second set of coordinates," Zheng assured him.


"Find anything?" he asked.


"We didn't find anything. We found everything," Zheng smiled.


Two Lives


Sang Hien had already arrived on the site followed by a team from the Vietnamese University Of Fine Arts. 


Ms. Huệ Vân had sent a security detachment from a local private security firm to secure the site while the experts from the University did their work.


"This is an astounding find!" Sang stated as he walked out of the bunker for a breath of fresh air.


"It certainly helps to put into context the importance of the first V. Canara painting," Zheng agreed with Sang as another van pulled up out front of the property.


Alicia, Heylyn, Monique and Valerie stepped out of the van and paid the driver, then quickly proceeding to the backyard area where the experts were already setting up a perimeter.


"Good job! Looks like we've got somebody's attention," Alicia noted to Zheng and Briggs as Linda, Bryce, Katya, Victor stepped out of the bunker.


"Thank you. We'll be sure to stay out of your way," Bryce commented as he emerged from within the bunker.


"At least they were polite about it," Victor observed.


"Speak for yourself. You should have seen the smirk I got on my way out!" Linda protested.


"Really? I thought he was a smiling," Katya responded.


"Thanks for nothing," Linda responded callously to Katya.


"Are you Zheng? I'm Professor Ngoc Phuong with the University of Fine Arts. I understand that you and Doctor Briggs are credited with the find?" asked a pretty vietnamese lady in her late thirties.


"That's correct, but more of us were involved in the whole effort," Zheng answered Professor Phuong.


"They'll be recorded in the overall report, but in general publications its the first two names that are reported," Professor Phuong told them.


"Then let the find be credited to Ms. Huệ Vân first. None of us would have been here if not for her," Zheng answered modestly.


"That's a kind gesture and one that is duly noted. I'll report this find in Ms. Huệ Vân's name. She's a donor to the scholarship fund at the University," Professor Phuong assured Zheng.


"You did a good thing," Doctor Briggs smiled at Zheng.


"That we did," Zheng hugged Doctor Briggs.


As they were in mid embrace, a trio of miltary trucks pulled up in front of the property. From the back of the trucks poured a platoon's worth of Vietnamese troops. The quickly rushed into the backyard and surrounded the bunker.


Six of them surrounded the delegation, with one of them shouting questions.


"Who here has been in the bunker?" the Sergeant's voice silenced everyone.


"I have," Zheng put up her hand courageously.


"So have I," Doctor Briggs added not wanting to leave Zheng isolated.


"What is going on!" Heylyn stepped forward, close to Zheng.


"Were you in the bunker or not?!" the Sergeant repeated.


"No!" Heylyn responded defensively.


"Then step off of this property or you'll be arrested and detained," the Sergeant made their intent very clear.


Valerie moved forward as if ready to use force. Alicia grabbed her arm and coaxed her to follow.


"Not now Valerie! This isn't the time," Alicia pulled against Valerie's immense strength.


"I need ten men over here! Now!" the Sergeant ordered his troops and twelve came and encircled the delegation.


Another man in a miltary uniform approached the Sergeant and whispered something in his ear.


"We need all of your phones. Now! They will be returned to you in forty eight hours after they've been cleared by our technology unit. If you fail to comply, you will be arrested and detained indefinitely," the Sergeant shouted.


"Alright. No need to tell us twice," Bryce responded.


"I'm the one calling the shots here," the Sergeant reminded him.


The members of the delegation handed over their phones, one by one. 


"Five phones, six people?" the Sergeant looked at them suspiciously.


"I don't have a phone," Linda responded as Zheng was visibly relieved.


"Are you hiding something?" the Sergeant asked Zheng aggressively.


"No. I was just grateful that it wasn't one of us holding our phone back," Zheng responded.


The Sergeant looked them each in the eye.


"Now go!" he pointed to the front of the property.


"How do we call for a taxi?" asked Doctor Briggs.


"Go to the front! We'll take of that," the Sergeant responded to Doctor Briggs, then ordering a portion of his men into the bunker.


As they stepped off of the property and onto the street, Monique cursed.


"Damn! Now they have all of the photos of the paintings, not to mention whatever else was on Zheng's and Doctor Briggs' phone," Monique sounded more frustrated than angry.


"I didn't keep anything of this on my phone," Doctor Briggs assured them.


"I've still got mine and most of the information we've collected. We just don't have the photos of all the paintings from the University and the bunker on Zheng's phone," Alicia told them.


"Yes we do," Heylyn smiled, holding up Zheng's phone.


"I passed it to her when she got close to me. That's what I was worried about when the Sergeant pointed out that there were five phones," Zheng smiled.


"Thankfully, Linda proved her loyalty to us by lying about not having a phone," Zheng noted.


"What can I say. I'm a quick improvisor," Linda smiled.


"I'm very impressed. All that without a plan?" Doctor Briggs agreed.


"So we have everything we need to continue this investigation, not to mention look who just pulled up..." Bryce pointed to a familiar DCar.


"Going somewhere?" Thuc Binh stepped out of the van and addressed the delegation.


"Looks like we are now," Alicia responded.


"Ms. Huệ Vân suggested I come to this location and check out what you'd found," Thuc told them.


"The same thing we reported to her when we called an hour ago. The problem is, the Armed Forces have taken over the University's find," Alicia explained the Thuc.


"Ms. Huệ Vân says she spoke with several contacts she had in the Government. They warned her that Vietnamese Intelligence might intervene for the sake of national security. Looks like they did," Thuc explained to them.


"What's next on our investigation?" Monique asked.


"The two names that company man gave us. The paintings and their connection to the first painting at the University. Between these two things we may be able to discern the fate of the daughter of the girl from Ms. Huệ Vân's story," Alicia suggested.


"Monique and I are going to scour the site at the bridge. The bridge from my vision earlier?" Heylyn advised the delegation.


"How? We don't have two vehicles?" Linda asked.


"They're quick runners," Bryce assured Linda.


"That and we're going to find our way to the main road and flag a taxi," Heylyn stretched the truth.


"Stay in touch," Alicia reminded Heylyn.


"You too. If you get through to Norler, give him a kiss from me," Heylyn waved to her friend as she and Monique began down the road.


"Bye Thuc!" Monique flirted, as Thuc blushed once again.


The delegation loaded into the van and began their trip back to the Oriental Jade Hotel.


Meanwhile, Heylyn and Monique walked until they were out of sight from everyone and everything before they disgarded their regular clothing to reveal their costumes beneath.


"I was getting a bit stuffy," Monique stated as she discarded the last of her daytime outfit.


"Feels good to just be us. At least traveling won't be a problem here on in," Heylyn said as her wings sprung from her back and she leapt into the air as the Butterfly Dragon.


"Wait up boss!" Monique leapt into the air to become the Eclipse.



The Bridge Of Now And Then


The night sky kept their secret as they flew the length of the great river. Their forms barely visible to the naked eye against the backdrop of the star filled void. Hanoi was a luminous city, even at night. Like a textured canvas painted with colours of glowing light, broken only by various bodies of water and the daily schedule of its local businesses.


From a height of approximately two thousand meters, Heylyn spotted the bridge. She immediately recognized it by its width and the style of barrier dividing the three oncoming lanes from their counterparts in the opposite direction.


"Found it," Heylyn said loud enough to signal Monique.


Heylyn's wings tightened up and she spun into a high speed dive, heading directly for the point at which Disguise Three had jumped over the rails into the river a hundred and fifty feet below.


Monique instantaneously changed direction speeding down towards the same point. Heylyn's wings spread to slow her before her landing, then folding up and disappearing into her back.


"I take it this is the spot?" Monique asked after her landing.


"Looks like it," Heylyn's senses suddenly activated and she examined the scene, seeing the bridge simultaneously in this time, and the same bridge of forty five years earlier on the day of her vision.


"They impacted here. The motorized rickshaw spun six full times before colliding with the rail. Disguise Three was pinned to the windscreen as it spun, and thrown from the rickshaw on impact with the rail," Heylyn told  Monique.


"How could he have lived?" Monique asked.


"He's had a lot training. He doesn't look it, but he's very skilled in many ways and a fast thinker on his feet," Heylyn told her.


"But he wasn't on his feet," Monique quipped.


"I guess that explains the crash," Heylyn came back.


"He picked himself up, nearly pinned by the rickshaw and threw his hands up as the armed men approached him, guns drawn," Heylyn explained.


She backed up as if following someone else's moves.


"He disarmed one of the assailants, taking his gun from him and then using him as a human shield managed to back himself to the railing, where he leapt out over the river into a one hundred and fifty foot tall. During his attempt to escape, he was shot once certainly, possibly twice," Heylyn noted as she recalled her vision.


"If he lived, he would have swam ashore and ran for cover," Monique suggested.


"Exactly. We should be checking the closest shore to where he impacted," Heylyn agreed jumping over the railing herself.


She quickly fell the distance before her wings shot out from her back and slowed her descent enough for her to hover.


"That means he would have impacted here," Heylyn pointed to an imaginary spot on the water.


"I've got it," Monique instantaneously dove over the railing and before Heylyn could even say a word, she was beneath the water of the river in light form.


Her body naturally illumnated her surroundings while not requiring breath the same way that other human beings did. She flew instantly to the bottom of the river and searched carefully until she came across a what appeared to be a rusted remnant of a hand gun. She grasped at it allowing her hand to materialize enough to hold it and then she instantaneously flew out of the water onto the shore where Heylyn was already examining the ground.


"Look what I found!" Monique handed it to Heylyn.


"Way to go! That must the gun he dropped during his fall. This confirms it then," Heylyn said examining what was left of the scrap.


As she examined it, she suddenly disappeared from the world and was once again floating in the air over a daylight scene in the same place, only forty five years earlier.


In the river she saw a man falling. He impacted the river with a loud thwap. A moment later his head popped above the ripples and waves and he struggled to make his way to shore.


Up on the bridge, the man he'd taken hostage had composed and rearmed himself. He holstered his new weapon, grabbing one of the SMGs from a nearby soldier.


[I'm commandeering your weapon,]

"Tôi đang chỉ huy vũ khí của bạn," the man checked the chamber of the firearm readying it in case he'd need it.


[We don't have authorization from headquarters!]

"Chúng tôi không có ủy quyền từ trụ sở chính!" another man in a military uniform scolded him.


"He is a vital danger to our security and must be dealt with!" the man ran to the end of the bridge and climbed down onto the dirt and stone hill leading to the shores beneath it.


[Don't anyone follow me!]

"Đừng ai theo dõi tôi!" he ordered.


The man then made his way along the shore until he found Disguise Three, out of breath and coughing on the shore of the great river.


[You always were dispicable,]

"Bạn luôn luôn đáng khinh," the man with the gun spat at Disguise Three.


[I believed in something you'll never know or understand,]

"Tôi đã tin vào điều gì đó bạn sẽ không bao giờ biết hoặc hiểu," Disguise Three defied the man.


[Your desires are turning your back on our country and our tradition! You would allow the West to dictate our future?]

"Mong muốn của bạn đang quay lưng lại với đất nước và truyền thống của chúng tôi! Bạn sẽ cho phép phương Tây quyết định tương lai của chúng ta?" the man with the gun shook his head in disgust.


[I'm not going to change my desires or wishes of my country or my people for you and I'm not going to betray those in our country who feel the same,]

"Tôi sẽ không thay đổi mong muốn hoặc mong muốn của tôi về đất nước của tôi hoặc người dân của tôi cho bạn và tôi sẽ không phản bội những người ở đất nước của chúng tôi, những người có cùng cảm nhận," Disguise Three leaned up slightly to speak and then began coughing as the pain of his wound rippled through him.


[Then this is truly the end,]

"Sau đó, đây thực sự là kết thúc," the man with the gun leveled his pistol at Disguise Three's head.


[I guess it is for me, but you'll be left with the hell of your choices. Well? What are waiting for?]

"Tôi đoán nó là dành cho tôi, nhưng bạn sẽ bị bỏ lại với sự lựa chọn địa ngục của bạn. Tốt? Điều gì đang chờ đợi?" Disguise Three spoke boldly, looking death straight in the eye.


The man with the gun paused for a moment. As Heylyn focused on his face she could see the immense stress he was under.


Without another moment's passing, he pulled the trigger and Heylyn was suddenly thrust back up onto the bridge where the soldiers waited for the man with the gun. She immediately heard another shot. Followed by a last, and then silence.


She watched as he climbed over the railing near the end of the bridge and rejoined the military unit.


[The deed is done?]

"Chứng thư được thực hiện?" asked the military man who'd confronted him earlier.


[As it ever will be. He will no longer be a risk to this country,]

"Như nó đã từng. Anh ấy sẽ không còn là nguy cơ đối với đất nước này nữa," the man walked over to the armoured car and got in the passenger seat and picked up the handset of the two-way radio.


[This is E51-1. Tainted messenger is eliminated,]

"Đây là E51-1. Người đưa tin bị nhiễm độc bị loại bỏ," he spoke coldly into the headset after which he hung it up.


He then leaned forward and fell asleep on the dash of the armoured car.


Heylyn suddenly returned from her vision, a tear welling up in her eye.


"Heylyn? Boss? Are you alright? What is it?!" Monique grabbed onto Heylyn, shaking her.


"It didn't exactly end the way I'd hoped for Disguise Three," Heylyn told Monique.


"He's....?" Monique stepped back.


"Yes. He is," Heylyn began to weep.


"That's it then. Right?" Monique asked her own eyes welling up with tears.


"Now there's only one trail and that's the trail of the paintings... That's all we have left to find that girl," Heylyn said as she got to her feet.


Trucking Spilled Paint


The last of the crates of paintings had been carried out by the men of the Armed Forces and loaded onto the back of two separate cargo trucks.


Ngoc Phuong had tried her best to negotiate a deal with the Lieutenant and his Sergeant but to no avail. Their orders were from near the top and they were to become the property of the state and protected under the Secrets Act of Vietnam.


After the paintings had been loaded into the trucks, the platoon poured into their own military vehicles and accompanies the transport of the paintings to a base just on the outskirts of Hanoi. As the trucks left on their journey, Heylyn and Monique landed nearby the bunker.


"I think the coast is clear. I could check out the entire bunker in less than three seconds if you want?" asked Monique.


"Do it," before Heylyn barely had the words out of her mouth, Monique was already gone.


Two and half seconds later, Monique appeared as if she'd gone nowhere.


"The coast is clear. There's nobody in there. Not even the University team," Monique advised Heylyn.


"Alright, let's go in and see what we can find," Heylyn told Monique.


The two of them flew quickly to the entrance of the bunker. Heylyn made quick work of the lock and door the military had replaced, easily crushing them, and ripping the hinges.


She tossed the door aside and walked in.


"Need some light boss?" Monique asked, suddenly tranforming into her light form, quickly illuminating the interior of the bunker.


"I was going to say no, but thank you anyway," Heylyn reponded looking around with her draconic senses.


"They've removed all of the crates. All but one," Monique mentioned.


"Let's see it," Heylyn found her way to the main room within the bunker, making her way over to the only remaining crate.


She touched it and immediately saw the convoy of trucks traveling a large road, eastbound out of the city.


"They're taking them to a nearby facility for storage. Let's go," Heylyn told Monique.


They quickly exited the bunker not bothering to replace the door. Another moment and they were both in the air, speeding towards the convoy.


"I'm going to need you to cover for me when I try to get in that truck," Heylyn yelled to Monique as the flew.


"No problem! I'll block their line of sight!" Monique suggested.


"Alright, let's go!" Heylyn dove at the second last truck in the convoy as Monique ran cover for her.


Monique transformed into a black cloud of mist, spreading herself thin enough to block the view of the other trucks keeping watch while Heylyn flew in the back of the truck looking for the crates.


She suddenly stopped when she realized that she'd jumped into one of the transports. She suddenly found herself surrounded by a truck full of burly soldiers. The nearest of them quickly jumped on her, attempting to overwhelm her and pin her on the floor of the truck. She resisted, easily throughing three of them from her right arm to the front of the truck. She then launched herself into the air, through the ceiling of the truck as two of the soldiers managed to cling to her legs. She flew upwards twenty feet from the top of the truck, matching the vehicles forward speed. She then kicked the two soldiers from her legs. They fell the twenty foot distance back into the truck from whence they'd come, with only minor injuries.


"That didn't exactly turn out the way I wanted," Heylyn yelled hoping Monique might hear.


Instead, Monique remained in her mist form obscuring the view of the other trucks.


"I've got to find the right truck before they alert the others," Heylyn thought aloud.


On a whim, she quickly flew towards one of the other trucks closer to the center of the convoy. As she flew in the opening at the back of the truck, she observed that it only held crates.


"Now we're talking," she thought out loud once again.


She opened one of the crates, touching the first painting she could reach. Nothing happened.


"Where is that mischievous dragon when I need it?" Heylyn tried one of the other paintings.


Once again, nothing.


She closed the crate and opened another, firmly grasping at the frame of the first painting within. As she did, she was suddenly transported to a distant time in the not so long ago past.


She was looking at a canvas. Heylyn floated backwards to see that it was a teenaged girl with a paintbrush in hand. She examined her and saw that she was Vietnamese. She was thin, somewhat gangly and yet driven to finish her work on the canvas. Heylyn felt it as her aura was powerful.


She spied a roman calendar on the wall, and noted that it was June thirteenth, nineteen eighty-seven. On the wall beside the calendar was a flyer that appeared to be some kind of state propaganda. The poster read  Đổi Mới, which Heylyn roughly translated as renewal. Possibly urban renewal?


Her attention drifted back to the canvas. The girl began to apply the paint to the canvas, using various shades of red, some orange hues and a prominent yellow, perhaps keeping in line with the Vietnamese flag, though what she painted was certainly more protest than it was praise. She seemed to be using her art as a form of rebellion.


At that moment, a door burst open and a young man ran in the room.


[We have to go! Now! Everything is arranged and we can't afford to have them wait another night!]

"Chúng tôi phải đi! Hiện nay! Mọi thứ đã an bài và chúng tôi không thể để họ đợi thêm một đêm nữa!" the young man pleaded with the girl.


[I'm not going with them, Due! I want to stay here! This is my home!]

"Tôi sẽ không đi với họ, Due! Tôi muốn ở lại đây! Đây là nhà tôi!" she screamed back at him.


[Quiet! They'll hear and come take us away! We have to go now, Yen!]

"Im lặng! Họ sẽ nghe thấy và đến đưa chúng tôi đi! Chúng ta phải đi ngay thôi, Yen!" Due urged Yen with all of his heart.


She stopped a moment as tears filled her eyes. She then screamed, throwing her brush at the wall as she broke down.


[I'm going to start the rickshaw. Its loaded with all of the food. I'm leaving in three minutes. I'll miss you,]

"Tôi sẽ bắt đầu xe kéo. Nó chứa đầy thức ăn. Tôi sẽ đi sau ba phút. Tôi sẽ nhớ bạn," Due told Yen.


He then turned around and walked out of the door. Yen slumped to the floor, still crying. She looked around the room she'd lived in secretly for so many years of her life as a youth. She stood, taking a look at her finished painting. She then found another paint brush, a thin one. She then signed the painting V. Canara


Yen made her way to the corner, where she retrieved a familiar work of art. It was the first painting Heylyn had seen in her initial vision. A divided country, where the red of north fought the yellow of south. In the middle of the painting a solitary half star bound by a heart bridged the red and the yellow together.


[Goodbye my troubled friend,]

"Tạm biệt người bạn rắc rối của tôi," Yen spoke to the painting.


She stood looking at the painting and her paints for the last time. She went to another one of her finished works, picking it up and tucking it under her arm. Then she left through the same door as Due. Moments later Heylyn could hear the sound of the rickshaw driving off, and she was suddenly returned to the back of the truck.


Heylyn ripped the painting she'd just touched out of the crate and immediately began searching. She turned the painting over and examined all of the nails and bindings keeping the canvas bound to its frame. On one of the corners she found that the canvas was excessive, folded over several times. She unfolded the canvas and within found an old piece of paper that had faded with age.


On that piece of paper, she found a list. It was a long list of what she presumed to be names. Perhaps a hundred or more in all. At the top of the list she saw a title, as in the title given a person for their vocation or job. The title was of Captain, though in Vietnamese it was written: Đội trưởng.


The two words beside it were also in Vietnamese but thanks to the deterioration of the paper and the fact that it had faded, the name was illegible.


"This is a manifest? For what?" Heylyn held the paper in her hand as the truck gently rocked back and forth.


There was a sudden startling sound as Monique appeared beside Heylyn.


"Boss, they just figured out you're in this truck. They're slowing the convoy and readying their weapons for a fight. We'd better go," Monique urged Heylyn.


"Grab a painting in each hand and fly as fast as you can for Ms. Huệ Vân's estate. I'll meet you there. Stay hidden until I arrive," Heylyn ordered Monique who immediately complied.


With a painting in each of her hands, Monique flew at near the speed of light for Ms. Huệ Vân's estate, arriving in less than a second.


Heylyn grabbed herself the painting she'd just touched and another one randomly from the same box. She then flew out the back of the truck as the convoy slowed to stop. By the time they arrived at the truck she'd just vacated, she was already four kilometers away.


She tucked the two paintings under her one arm and with the other she called Alicia.


"Have Thuc drive you and the rest of the delegation to Ms. Huệ Vân's estate. I think we're going to meet there and wrap this whole thing up," Heylyn spoke over the smart phone.


"Alright. We're leaving now. They're not going to be happy, but we'll meet you there in about forty minutes," Alicia promised Heylyn.


She then used the voice recognition of her phone to dial the number of a contact she had at a Canadian news media outlet.


"Hi Janice, this is Heylyn. Heylyn Yates," she spoke into the phone.


"Hi Heylyn! Long time no speak! Are you in a wind tunnel 'cause I can barely make out what you're saying," Janice, an investigative journalist friend of hers responded.


"No, I'm just flying over Hanoi and I guess the engines are kind of noisy where I'm sitting. Look, I need a favour. Could you look up any references to the names Yen Tien and Due Duong in North America between nineteen eighty-six and nineteen eighty-eight? They're Vietnamese if that helps," Heylyn spoke up in an elevated voice.


"Uhhhh, sure? Give me second here," Janice navigated to her company's intranet search system. 


There was a pause as Janice scanned the results.


"I've got several references to Duong. A lot of them sports related or local community interest stories in both the United States and Canada," Janice responded.


"Can you narrow it down with the keyword refugee?" asked Heylyn as she dropped one of paintings.


"Did you say referee?" Janice confirmed as Heylyn folded her wings, turning into a dive after the falling painting.


"No! I said Refugee!" Heylyn reached out for the spinning painting, just missing it.


"What? I can barely hear you! Are you having aircraft problems!" Janice asked her.


"Just a bit of turbulence! I said REFUGEE!" Heylyn raised her voice an extra decibel for Janice as she still pursued the painting on its rapid spinning descent.


"Oh, REFUGEE. I'll try that," Janice typed into the intranet's search results filter.


Heylyn made another attempt to grab the painting, this time using the pause in their conversation to focus her skills. Her hand moved fast and snatched the painting by the frame without damaging it.


She stopped in mid-air, hovering with the phone pinned against her shoulder, examing the painting for any damage.


"Whew! That was close," Heylyn thought aloud.


"What's that?" Janice asked.


"I said: oh look at that, we're having chicken roast for lunch. Great flight but the pilot's a little clumsy," Heylyn responded quick on her wit.


"Found it! There's one entry with those two names and that filtering term," Janice replied.


"What's the story?" Heylyn yelled.


"They landed on Vancouver Island in the nineteen eighties. Early nineteen eighty-eight to be exact. They requested Asylum under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, hence their names were withheld from any news publications of the time," Janice explained.


"Does it list the Captain's name?" Heylyn asked still hovering in the air.


"Yes, it does. His name is Hanh Chi Quan," Heylyn kept the phone pinned between her face and shoulder.


"Disguise Three. That's Disguise Three." Heylyn thought aloud once again.


"What?" Janice asked Heylyn.


"I said the drinks are free! On this flight I mean. I never knew," Heylyn covered her tracks.


"Are you sure that you're not a few sheets to the west right now?" Janice confirmed with Heylyn.


"No, but I owe you. On the next girls night out, dinner and drinks are on me," Heylyn responded.


"I'm game for that. Gotta go, our Senior Editor just walked in," Janice hung up the phone.


Heylyn relaxed her neck and her phone fell from her face and began plunging towards the ground a thousand meters below.


She immediately dove once again, speeding towards it wondering how she was going to catch it with a painting in each hand.


"Here goes nothing," Heylyn sped downward after the phone.


As she approached it, she opened her mouth. She tightened her lips as soon as she made contact, biting the phone with her teeth.


"I meed a headsnet," she struggled to talk with the phone in her mouth.


She put one of the paintings under her arm and retrieved the phone from her mouth.


She then put the phone in her belt pouch and took a painting in each hand, careful not to damage them.


She flew in the direction of the Oriental Jade Hotel and quickly found the van as it headed for the lonely road following the great river.


At Mystery's End


Thuc parked the DCar van in front of the estate and let his passengers out. They congregated near the front door where they were met by Nyugen, welcomed them into the estate.


"We're still waiting for two more," Alicia told Nyugen.


"Heylyn's obviously fashionably late and Monique is just the fastest slowpoke in the west," Valerie remarked sarcastically and with truthful irony.


"Ms. Huệ Vân will see you now," Nyugen stated for them in her best English.


"I just said we're waiting for two others..." Alicia reminded Nyugen.


"I will bring them when they arrive," Nyugen assured Alicia.


Alicia looked to Valerie and then to Zheng.


"Time is of the essence," Nyugen continued.


"I suppose that we can start this off and continue when they get here," Alicia finally agreed.


Nyugen led the group through the estate's myriad of rooms and restored temple chambers into the same solarium where they'd initially met Ms. Vân. At this time the sun's illumination was replaced by the Moon which hung directly overhead, shining brightly through the solarium glass. Amazingly, the Moon by itself managed to fully light the room, thanks to a series of cleverly devised parabolic mirrors, both convex and concave, each of which were polarized to prevent their reflecting direct sunlight during the day. Only the Moon's light was embraced by their reflective qualities and on this night, the effect was stunning.


"Impressive," Alicia said as she entered the room.


"Designed by an engineer friend of mine years ago. He works for the country's Civil Engineering Department now. You could even say that this project was his job application," Ms. Huệ Vân stated as she stood from her perch at the table to greet her guests.


"We're here with some information about the case you hired us for," Alicia kept the topic on track.


"You've brought others with you and it would be oh so rude not to meet them, don't you agree?" Ms. Huệ Vân she asked almost rhetorically.


"Of course. This is..." Alicia started the introductions before she was interrupted by Ms. Huệ Vân.


"Zheng Ni Wong. Mathematical genius, especially in the field of computation. A bright little girl whose straight A grades certainly made her the subject of much admiration and scorn. So sad that your mother died of Cancer when you were only thirteen. Instead of grieving, you strived to succeed, to honour her. I guess that you and Alicia are more alike than you'd otherwise have known," Ms. Huệ Vân began.


"I forgot to tell you, she does this..." Alicia looked down shaking her head.


"Doctor Steven Briggs? Psychologist and Sociologist and a specialist in East Asian culture and history. Struggled to pay for his schooling for years, nearly declaring bankruptcy. Must have been nice to have the alumni bail you out with that cushy research job?" Ms. Huệ Vân said scathingly.


"I earned that position fair and square, Ms. Huệ Vân. Still, its a pleasure to meet you," Doctor Briggs kept his grace.


Katya and Victor Piotr," Ms. Huệ Vân began.


"Oh no, here we go..." Victor remarked sarcastically.


Katya tugged his hand.


"...the couple who have been together since they were children. Best friends in kindergarten and grade school and then girlfriend and boyfriend in University. Inseparable. What mystery lays beneath their seemingly flawless rise to success? Relatives and friends with the ruling Party in the USSR? That must have been so hard to swallow when the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR collapsed shortly thereafter. Nobody left to protect you and ensure you had a prosperous vocation anymore. Just little Katya and Victor to fend for themselves in this harsh world. Ironically you found your fortune in feces," Ms. Huệ Vân laid them bare.


"You have no idea how difficult that time was for us. For our parents..." Victor tensed.


"Victor... its alright. She's been through the mill too. Its like a test..." Katya urged Victor to hang on.


"A pleasure to meet you Ms. Huệ Vân," Victor said somewhat scornfully.


"Yes, it is a pleasure," Katya added.


"Last but not least and certainly the most mysterious of all. Linda Delmore," Ms. Huệ Vân stated as if savouring the moment.


"Take your best shot," Linda dared Ms. Huệ Vân.


"According to court logs, that's one of the very things you said to your ex on the night you ejected him from your shared home. Oh so confrontational and competitive. You always had to be the best at everything. If one or more people wanted something, you had to have it more so than they. Yet you never understood yourself and what you truly wanted in life. That's why your marriage failed. You were in a perpetual competition with your own husband. Working with him at the same company and competing for the attention and admiration of the employees and clients both. If he got a raise, then you had to get more than him. You even brought those traights with you to Vietnam as I'm sure that Zheng will agree seeing as you both want the same thing? Yet her desire is sincere and yours is simply because she wants it. I think they call people like that sociopaths?" Ms. Huệ Vân stripped Linda to the bone.


"That was pretty good. You definitely hit me. Though the court battle with my ex-husband was a bit more intimidating, you certainly have a way with words as much so as I have a way with sarcasm. By the way, pleased to meet you, Ms. Huệ Vân," Linda's bottom lip quivered as she neared the brink of tears.


"With all of you digging into the very depths of my personal life, some of my most treasured and intimate memories in life, it is the least that I can do to lay you bare. Return you to your own humility. Something I'm sure that Linda left behind long ago," Ms. Huệ Vân finished with her.


There was a moment's silence most uncomfortable.


"Finally we come to Professor Bryce Maxwell. Esteemed Quantum Physicist. Quantum Biologist. An accomplished jazz piano player. A charismatic celebrity in his own right. An icon to many of his students and peers and yet one who struggled a difficult path. He came from a family with little money and few connections and grew up on a farm in the midst of farming community on the outskirts of Toronto. His family moved into rural parts of the city and during his high school years, he was forced to pay sponsorship for esteemed blood or lineage by bullies in a cruel and yet hidden system of social hierarchy operating amidst even the most advanced western societies. He strived and succeeded in highschool though it would seem that Bryce risked falling for his own iconification and yet his highschool sweetheart and wife, Wendy would keep him balanced in ego and humility. Let me ask you this Bryce, were you a party to Sylvia Uphadaya's downfall and social smothering in life? You remember her don't you. Fellow researcher with whom you worked on the project that found her ejected from both the physics and medical community?  Alicia's other hero?" Ms. Huệ Vân began her lecture.


"Doctor Uphadaya was a most gracious lady and certainly one of the most forward thinkers I've ever met. Some of her concepts regarding the placebo effect and its relationship to the Schrodinger equation are nothing short of remarkable. Although my influence may have delayed her downfall, had I stepped in fully, I'd have ended up in a similar fate to her. Dropped by all research channels and disregarded by my peers. Purposefully forgotten. Like a disregarded memory. There are some things in life that you take on directly, and some that you take on with your ability to open the eyes of those you influence. At that time and in that situation, I chose the latter while Sylvia chose the former," Bryce explained in his own defense.


He spoke not as much for himself and his own esteem. More so out of his father-like concern for Alicia, her well being and most importantly, her peace of mind.


"It's alright Bryce. I knew in my heart of hearts that you had nothing to do with that," Alicia assured her inspiration and hero.


"Please, make yourselves comfortable. The tea is on its way. So what is this information you wish to bring to my attention?" Ms. Huệ Vân asked.


"You have a way with guests. Glad to see that the interrogation process is over. On to the torture then?" asked Linda, remaining consistently defiant as she'd been in her previous statement.


"We've uncovered a lot with regard to the search for your baby girl, though there are still many missing pieces. We do have some solid theories based upon the evidence and witness accounts," Alicia sat down at the table and pulled her tablet from her purse.


"Then explain in words. We'll look over the details later," Ms. Huệ Vân requested.


"Alright. Some time in nineteen sixty-two, a teenaged farm girl who works both in the rice fields and driving deliveries of goods to market is hired by the North Vietnamese Intelligence Unit to work as an operative for their operations in Hanoi. She isn't told directly whom her employers are, just that they are part of the North Vietnamese Government and the people who oversee the collectivization of food distribution as per their political mandate," Alicia explained.


"Please do go on," Ms. Huệ Vân insisted.


"They ensure that their delivery route leads through a series of markets in Hanoi they're targeting as part of their counter insurgency program. They even tell this delivery girl where and when to stop for lunch, giving her a different break location each time," Alicia explained.


"Interesting," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.


"Their planning pays off and this girl is approached by another girl who befriends her in nineteen sixty-seven. After checking out the delivery girl thoroughly, she eventually gives the OK to a man we'll call Disguise Three to meet the delivery girl, now twenty-two, at one of her lunch stops. They eventually meet and become friends and then lovers. Disguise Three eventually talks the girl into giving him one of the fruits she's carrying to the last trip on her daily schedule, indicating that this fruit will always have incisions on its top and bottom. She agrees, shocked the first time she examines the fruit she finds his description that upon examination it contains a paper message on waterproof paper," Alicia continued her explanation.


"This is a very interesting story," Ms. Huệ Vân responded.


"The Intelligence Unit having kept an eye on her, bring her in for questioning. They tell her that she's at risk of losing her job and that the delivery company will turn her family in as South Vietnamese spies. They use that to strong arm her into working for them. They tell her that they'll give her a fruit with a fake message hidden inside and that she is to give Disguise Three that fruit, while she keeps the fruit with the real message hidden in her dashboard basket, giving it to the foreman at the last stop on her delivery manifest," Alicia uncovered and Ms. Huệ Vân nodded.


"This ruse works and Diguise Three is fed false intelligence, as the North Vietnamese Intelligence Unit determines that he's working for the Americans who are funding the South Vietnamese war effort, supplying troops and engaged in an extensive bombing and air campaign. The NVIU begin analyzing the structure of Disguise Three's insurgent network," Alicia continued their hypothesis.


"In nineteen seventy one, they initiate a sting operation, where they corner Disguise Three on a bridge. During a shootout, Disguise Three is shot, falls off the bridge and dies hitting the water or sometime thereafter. The delivery girl is found having fled to a local rice farm. She's detained and found to be pregnant. They let her carry the child to term, and upon giving birth, they take the child from the delivery girl, setting her free to continue working on the same farm. The NVIU's success in feeding false intelligence to the enemy and dismantling Disguise Three's network results in serious gains for the war effort. The state, wanting to avoid the bad publicity of having used the girl this way, instead decides to make her into a hero of the regime, Ho Chi Minh's Communist Party, giving her the credit she deserves for her part in taking down Disguise Three's network and dissolving the American intelligence effort in Hanoi. They give a one time bursary of millions in payment for her work, making her sign documents that if she reveals the truth about how she was pressured into taking on that role for the NVIU, she would be tried and executed. She agrees, accepting the immense responsibility thrust upon her and decides to do good with her power and influence, building her own empire," Alicia uncovered for Ms. Huệ Vân.


"You've certainly unraveled the mystery of my story, but you've revealed nothing of what you've learned of my baby girl," Ms. Huệ Vân said sternly.


"Your baby girl was a painter. She loves art and painting. She did from a young age, where she was raised in a state run nursery and kept away from you," Zheng continued.


"Go on, Zheng," Ms. Huệ Vân urged the mathematician.


"She somehow escaped from the nursery or when she was a bit older, from a state run school. From there she used her artistic talent as a political statement against the divisions in Vietnamese society at that time, and the fact that most people were starving as a result of collectivization and communist rule," Zheng painted her own picture for Ms. Huệ Vân.


"There are some elements of your theory that might be true..." Ms. Huệ Vân agreed skeptically.


"Somewhere along the line, she died or was murdered. Her paintings were confiscated by the state and held as state secrets while she was erased from the public memory in attempt to quell the divisions in Vietnamese society. That's why the paintings were stored in the bunker we found. They were buried from the public's view. Even the first painting was kept in the cold storage at the University because its a part of history that most want to keep buried," Zheng detailed her hypothesis.


"Not bad. You know, you really should start up your own thing. Scooby Doo has nothing on any of you. You really seem to be good at this, but you did miss a few minor details," the company man said as he walked into the room, an SMG in hand.


Three other men followed behind him, each with their own similar weapons.


"Oh no, not with the guns again..." Valerie smirked somewhat unimpressed.


"Valerie, there's too many people here at risk. Don't try anything," Alicia urged Valerie quietly.


"...what details are those?" Ms. Huệ Vân asked seemingly unphased or perturbed by the men and their guns.


"This is a bit more complicated than you think. Its probably a bit too much for you to wrap your head around," the company man explained.


"You love to talk. Enlighten us," Valerie pushed him with her words.


"You're mouthy. Did anyone ever tell you that?" the company man pointed his SMG at her.


"All the more to kiss," Valerie responded with wit more so than brawn having heeded Heylyn's advice.


"So, you missed a few details along the way and it just so happens that I have a theory about what really happened and from a much different perspective. You see, its true, I am a company man. Just not the company you're thinking," the company man boasted.


"You mean you're not CIA?" Alicia confirmed with him.


"Hate to break it to you. I'm not. Never was. However, like your friend Ms. Hoover Dam here, I have my own contacts in the Vietnamese Government. You see, I've been doing business with them for a long time. A family  run business. My father gave me his contacts and I continued the family business," the company man explained to them.



"What business is that?" Alicia asked.


"Why the biggest business in Vietnam. Human cargo. Or at least it was until Đổi Mới. The so called reforms or renewal which basically saw Vietnam reinstitute its free market system, meaning that starvation was no longer a problem seeing as there was incentive for farmers to bring food to market to earn money. The more they produced, the more money they made. Unfortunately in my family business, that reform had dire consequences. Because instead of fleeing the country, South Vietnamese sympathizers were starting to take part in their new communist country. A free market brings with it a lot of opportunity. Ask Ms. Hoover Dam here. She helped build a business empire here, employing many people in her markets and spas. Unfortunately for my business, it didn't help at all. My father died poor and drunk, while I tried to carry on the family business, expanding into other ports of call. Looking for any crisis that would bring business. Myanmar has been a windfall for me. So many people fleeing, that they're willing to pay just about anything to leave and get a trip to the west," the company man explained.


"You're a human trafficker?" Alicia said in disgust.


"No. More like a human cargo specialist, out of work. I'm doing everything I can to change that though. You see, Ms. Hoover Dam's little project here has opened up some deep wounds in this country for me to create turmoil and exploit," the company man replied.


"He's going to use Ms. Huệ Vân's effort to uncover her truth to create discension in the country and bring about scandal in the Government in order to increase demand for his services," Zheng noted.


"Precisely. Something that you didn't know Ms. Hoover Dam, is that the man you call Disguise Three, whose real name is Hanh Chi Quan, worked with my father," the company man explained.


"You mean Disguise Three was a human trafficker?" Zheng confirmed what she'd just heard.


"No. He wasn't. He worked with many who could get persecuted South Vietnamese public figures to the safety of amnesty in other countries, but he wasn't a trafficker," Heylyn said from behind the company man.


"Well, well. Look who decided to show up. I was wondering where you were," the company man turned to face Heylyn.


"Perhaps you'd like to join your friends so that nobody gets hurt?" the company ordered her to join her friends in the room.


"He's played us all," Heylyn said in realization.


"Fast forward to the part after that. We're already there," Valerie responded sarcastically.


A very old man stepped out from behind Ms. Huệ Vân. He was at least twenty year Ms. Huệ Vân's senior.


"Meet Giang Quy, the former North Vietnamese Intelligence Unit's Tactical Team Commander. He worked with them during the mid nineteen sixties through to the mid nineteen seventies," Ms. Huệ Vân introduced the new arrival.


"We have a regular party going here. A bash at the senior's home," the company man scolded them.


"This man is a fool!" Giang said firmly in a elderly voice.


"Old man, you're knocking on deaths door in more ways than one," the company man said.


"That's the man that shot Disguise Three!" Heylyn accused Giang.


"You mean Hanh Chi Quan..." the company man said.


"Hanh Chi Quan was a regular in the South Vietnamese Armed Forces. He was picked by the Americans for his unique skill set to work as an operative for their intelligence unit in Hanoi, being a native of Vietnam and being fluent in a number of regional languages, including English. The problem is that he was sold out by the company man's father to the North Vietnamese Government, who shared that information with the North Vietnamese Intelligence Unit. Company man's father was paid a sizeable sum for that information," Giang explained.


"His father then took that money and bought numerous boats, barely seaworthy and charged inexorbitant prices to those fleeing South Vietnam," Giang exposed more of the company man's filth.


"That's how I learned about Hanh Chi Quan. The Intelligence Unit Director gave my unit the task of dismantling Hanh Chi Quan's network in Hanoi. I hired Ms. Huệ Vân for that task though I didn't tell her what she was doing. She trusted me and did everything I asked on trust alone," Giang explained it from his perspective.


"You killed that girl's father!" Heylyn accused Giang once again.


"I did many things in my life that I regret, but what I did with Hanh Chi Quan, I'll never regret," Giang told them as a tear welled up beneath his left eye.


"You hunted down a man and when he was at your mercy, you shot him!" Heylyn came back strong at Giang.


"No! That is not what happened!" Giang cried.


"Then what?" Heylyn pressed the man.


"I pursued him on the bridge that day. He was trying to escape on a stolen auto-rickshaw. I had another team on the other end of the bridge and I radioed them to collide with the rickshaw in order to stop it," Giang told his story.


"They did and we quickly pulled our vehicles up and surrounded Hanh Chi Quan. He raised his hands and waited for me to get close enough to him. I asked him to turn around and show me his back. He started to turn and disarmed me with a swift kick. He even caught my gun in mid flight and used it to detain me as a hostage. He was very skilled," Giang told the group.


"Get on with it old man!" the company man urged Giang.


"He then leapt over the rail of the bridge. One of the snipers from my unit took the shot and clipped Hanh Chi Quan as he was in the air. Fortunately it was only a superficial wound. Lucky for him. I ordered my team to hold the bridge and not to pursue me. I told them I had to finish Hanh to protect the country," Giang said as he recalled that day.


"I ran to the end of the bridge and climbed down to the shore of the river. When I got there, Hanh was out of breath, on his stomach. I ordered him to turn over.  He complied. I told him what I must do and he faced me with courage and determination I'd never seen in the eyes of any man. I leveled my gun at his head. I pulled the trigger. Once. Twice. Three times in total. All three shots had landed, hitting their target precisely, ten inches from his head. We stared at each other for a long while, before I said to him: There, you're dead. You're free to go but be very, very discrete and don't come back," Giang confessed to those in the room.


"I thought you killed him..." Heylyn said as a tear fell from her eye.


"Kill him? How could I? He's the father of my daughter's child," Giang told them.


"You mean Ms. Huệ Vân is...?" Alicia asked.


"Yes. She's my daughter," Giang told them as he moved closer to Ms. Huệ Vân, taking her hand.


"Where's your grand daughter, Ms. Huệ Vân's daughter?" Alicia asked.


"That's what we hired you to find out," Giang admitted to them.


"I hate to break this to you, but we're going to have to cut this whole deal short. You see, in about half an hour, this estate is going to explode as part of an attack by Vietnamese reformists and everyone inside will be killed. At least that's what the investigators will be led to believe. Don't worry though, you won't feel a thing. You'll all be long dead before then. This will be the first measure to instigate another civil war, hence bringing many opportunities for the business of war to bear on this nation," the company man stated.


"Rather than Ms. Huệ Vân's business of peace and compassion?" Heylyn turned to the company man.


"Something for which I as a member of the Armed Forces have fought to protect all of my life," Giang added.


"Sorry, but we all have to die sometime," the company man opened fire.


In the first hundredth of a second, Heylyn's wings expanded out from her back covering everyone in the room, shielding them from every shot. Her skin simultaneously turned draconic as hardened metal scales covered her body, shattering every round that hit her.


At nearly the same time or even shortly Monique transformed herself to darkness, flying instantaneously around to where the company man and his cohorts had begun opening fire on the room. As soon as Heylyn's wings were protecting everyone in the room, Monique burst into light with a thundrous clap, blinding the company man and his gunmen.


Alicia cartwheeled out from under Heylyn's protection landing by the nearest gunman. She twisted his firearm away from his target's in the room and he followed her motion, unwilling to relinquish his weapon. She let him directly face first into one of the stone walls. He hit it with a thud as Alicia followed through with her motion, using her momentum to snap the SMG in two.


Valerie had hefted a stone statue from the ground ready to pitch it at the gunmen.


"No! Not that, please!" Ms. Huệ Vân exclaimed.


Valerie shook her head in frustration with Ms. Huệ Vân, gently placing the statue back on the ground and instead walked over to the still blinded gunmen. She lifted one in each hand, slamming them together hard enough to rend them unconscious without breaking their bones.


The company man being the only one left, pulled a hand gun from his belt when his SMG had run dry. He leveled the gun at Heylyn's head, attempting to aim for her eye. As he squeezed the trigger, Giang had found a position from where he could take his own shot. His first round pierced the company man's forearm, spinning him sending his shot harmlessly into one of Heylyn's protective wings. The second shot hit the other arm near the shoulder. He then fell over writhing in pain.


The dust settled and the room became silent. Heylyn's wings disappeared into her back and her draconic scales disappeared. Everyone seemed to be unscathed but the company man.


They'd survived and more importantly, they'd won.


Father And Daughter


"You didn't even give any help to Alicia and you're a Doctor," Linda scolded Doctor Briggs.


"I'm just not that kind of Doctor," Doctor Briggs admitted.


Alicia stood as she finished applying a field dressing to the company man's wounds.


"That should keep him safe for his trip to the Hospital and then to Prison," Alicia wiped her hands with a wet cloth Nyugen had brought for her.


"Not bad. Restrained and detained," Monique remarked.


"...debrained too..." Valerie added her own two cents.


"The Ambulance and Police are on their way," Thuc came and told them as they returned to the solarium.


"Very good Thuc. Thank you, that will be all," Ms. Huệ Vân told Thuc.


Thuc turned and left the solarium as Ms. Huệ Vân directed her attention towards Heylyn.


"I'm impressed by your unique abilities and those of your friends. The rumours I'd heard are true. You really are the Butterfly Dragon," Ms. Huệ Vân said in admiration, perhaps even gratefully so in her own way.


"Did you send the dragon Weltherwithsp to bring down our flight?" Heylyn asked her.


"The dragon speaks of you highly. Yet often alludes to the veil engulfing you that obscures the truth of reality from your awareness," Ms. Huệ Vân stated, dodging Heylyn's question.


"You didn't answer me," Heylyn pressed the matter.


"I implored the dragon to do what was necessary so that the future of which it was already aware could be achieved. Had it not intervened in your flight, then you'd have continued on to Ho Chi Minh City, where the bigger problems here in Hanoi and the trafficker's plot would remain and have succeeded, possibly throwing this country into a civil war," Ms. Huệ Vân explained what was at risk.


"You risked all of those innocent lives," Heylyn accused her.


"Those and many other lives would have been lost had the trafficker's plot been allowed to see completion. The dragon did what it thought was necessary to bring you to bear on that problem," Ms. Huệ Vân corrected Heylyn.


"It would never do that," Heylyn defended.


"It would seem that veil of naivety is obscuring you now. Weltherwithsp is of the dragon kind and there are only two remaining. They are the instruments of the universe by way of what I know as the Supreme Ultimate, or what you'd refer to as the Yin, and the Yang. Don't mistake Weltherwithsp's whimsical nature as any kind of devotion to humankind. It is just playing out what it already knows, for Weltherwithsp is cursed with the knowledge of sự tiến triển ngược lại, reverse progression. You see, much like the legends of old, Weltherwithsp was born at the end of the universe and all that is. At the end of time. It ages backwards, remembering the future the same way that we remember the past. As instruments of Yin Yang, the two dragons ensure that the past and the future occur the way their memories perceived those two states of time. You are a fool to think that Weltherwithsp holds any loyalty to humanity for it is more like a force of nature and the universe. A tsunami doesn't stop and cry over the lives it takes anymore than a hurricane stops to ponder the meaning of life after having destroyed the coast," Ms. Huệ Vân explained the facts to Heylyn.


"You're lying. Jinn Hua would have told me!" Heylyn receded unable to believe her.


"Jinn Hua and I are one and the same and there are many like us. Consider us to be envoys between the will of the universe, the dragons who carry out that will, and humanity. Without us, the world would be crushed in the balance of of the Supreme Ultimate. Crushed by the ever competing forces of Yin Yang. We have our role. You have yours. You are just jaded by the fact that you're learning that you're part of a much greater fold, one that has been obscured behind the veil of your naivety and inexperience. Perhaps even the failings of your ego," Ms. Huệ Vân laid her bare.


"I will seek out Jinn Hua again and discuss this with her. However, I do accept your gracious apology for putting those lives at risk," Heylyn stood her ground adding a thick serving of sarcasm.


There was a moment of silence. Where others less experienced may have succumbed to tension and even aggression. Instead the two women just stared at each other, perhaps bounded equally by scorn and a mutual respect for each other.


"Now there's the matter of my daughter?" Ms. Huệ Vân asked Heylyn as she joined the group in the solarium.


Heylyn paused a moment before she moved to retrieve the paintings she and Monique had carried to the estate.


"These are paintings painted by your daughter. When she left her secret residence in Hanoi in the mid nineteen eighties, she took one of her paintings with her. When she arrived at the port of her departure, she took a rough hand written copy of the ship's manifest and hid it in that painting. She then gave the painting to one of the yeomans at the port. That painting was eventually sold by the yeoman, and then confiscated by the authorities who reunited it with the remainder of her works which were now hidden in a locked bunker. The same manifest I have here for you to see. If you look closely, the faded name at the top is Hanh Chi Quan. He's listed as the Captain," Heylyn handed the manifest to Ms. Huệ Vân who examined it carefully.


"They set sail for North America in nineteen eighty-seven, on the most sea worthy vessel any of the refugees had ever ridden in their attempt to find the solace they were so desperately seeking since the nineteen sixties. Men like the company man tried to exploit them for it. What we found is that Hanh Chi Quan, and your daughter Yen Tien Quan landed off the coast of British Columbia in early nineteen eighty-eight. Perhaps the last of the refugees from Vietnam. Like many others, they settled in Canada and began again from absolutely nothing," Heylyn told Ms. Huệ Vân.


Ms. Huệ Vân was quiet for a moment. Her eyes glazed but no tears came. Heylyn surmised that perhaps Ms. Huệ Vân struggled in an attempt to refrain from showing any weakness in her presence.


"Your daughter is a resident in Canada and still lives there to this day with her father. Your lover. Hanh Chi Quan," Heylyn finished presenting her findings and urged the others to leave the room.


"I've made arrangements for the donation you requested I make upon the successful completion of this investigation. Two million dollars will be invested in organizations focusing on education, job training and entrepreneurial development," Ms. Huệ Vân told Heylyn.


Heylyn simply nodded and left the solarium, making her way to the front of the estate.


Ms. Huệ Vân sat alone and contemplated the outcome.


The members of the delegation left Ms. Huệ Vân in peace, following Heylyn to the front of the building where they organized themselves before their trip back to the Oriental Jade Hotel.


...


Thousands of kilometers away, in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, in a back-split bungalow just off of the Pacific Ocean, a phone rang.


The sound of footsteps began in another part of the house, picking up pace on the second ring, and then rightfully hurried on the third.


"Hello?" a young man, twenty two years of age answered the phone.


[May I speak with Yen?]

"Tôi có thể nói chuyện với Yen được không?" a woman's voice on the other end asked in Vietnamese.


"Grandpa? Can you take a call? They're asking for Mom and I think she's sleeping..." the young man asked his Grandfather.


"Sure, bring the phone to me," the Grandfather requested.


The Grandfather, an elderly man, sat on an overstuffed chair where he'd been reading a book. The young man brought the phone to him and he put it to his face.


"Hello, Hanh speaking..." Hanh Chi Quan answered.


There was a moment of awkward silence as Hanh heard the sound of crying on the other end of the phone.


"Hello? Are you alright? Do you need help?" Hanh became concerned, leaning forward in his chair.


A few moments later came a reply.


"I am Huệ Vân. Do you remember me?" Ms. Huệ Vân asked as she wiped tears of joy from her eyes.


Epilogue


Doctor Briggs lay horizontally on a bed, his eyes focused on Zheng who lay on another bed looking at him.


"This feels sooo good," Doctor Briggs spoke, alluding to the pressure point massage he'd give to Zheng, although this time he was the receiver.


"I couldn't agree more," Zheng blushed.


They were in one of  Ms. Huệ Vân's spas, the skilled staff giving them the therapeutic touch and golden treatment. On another bed lay Monique, in the throes of ecstasy.


"Boss?" Monique asked Heylyn, whom herself was on another bed, Alicia between them on her own bed too.


"Yes, Monique. What is it?" Heylyn asked as she enjoyed herself.


"I was thinking that you should add this as a company policy for all employees of West Meet East International Fashion?" Monique requested of Heylyn, the company owner.


"...Maybe my employees aren't good enough to receive such treatment?" Heylyn responded.


"Maybe we are?" Monique replied.


"Maybe they are and you're not?" Alicia added, poking fun at Monique.


"You did good, Monique. I'll take your suggestion under consideration," Heylyn responded.


"Are you hiring?" Linda asked from her own bed.


"Get in line Yankee,  I've got first dibs," Valerie intervened.


"Its alright, I don't want to work anywhere where the beer is stronger than the language, Canuck," Linda shot back in friendly jest.


"When we get back home, I'm paying to have Victor trained in the art of massage and spa care so I can have my own personal masseur," Katya relished the experience.


"If it means I get lots of free samples during my education, I'm completely with you, my wife," Victor enjoyed his massage.


"I'll let you all in on a secret. Wendy and I have massage nights scheduled on a weekly basis where we alternate being the giver and the receiver. We even attended night courses for it so we'd be more skilled at it and use our time together more effectively. There are many courses at registered schools or online as well. I read in a recent study that employees and the self employed who take time to receive skilled pampering in the form of spas, both women and men, have highly improved health, circulatory efficiency, metabolism and energy when compared to those that receive no such treatment," Bryce enjoyed his spa experience.


"Thank-you! Bryce, your payoff is in the mail," Monique smiled from her bed.


"So what are we going to do this afternoon?" asked Zheng.


"We still have another day off. I was thinking that we could visit a local market for food and tomorrow, visit a couple of the local temples and historic sites. Can we do that, Valerie?" Alicia asked.


"I think our itinerary is fairly open for now. We could definitely fit it in," Valerie strategically agreed.


"I wish Norler were here," Alicia said, suddenly.


"So do I," Valerie agreed.


"Me too," Monique said, missing their peer.


"So do we all," Heylyn summarized their feelings.


They remained at the spa for the duration of their treatment, thanking their masseuses for the service they'd received. They left and spent the rest of the day in the downtown of Hanoi, enjoying the weather, perusing the market and seeing sights at their leisure. Alicia had noted it was as if Hanoi had suddenly become different. As if a hidden tension lurking beneath the surface had been lifted.


Heylyn pondered Ms. Huệ Vân's words about the nature of Jinn Hua and their shared truth. About Weltherwithsp and the other dragon. About time and existence. About her lost love.


Did Weltherwithsp know about his eventual death and simply kept that from her? How many other things had Weltherwithsp kept from her about the future and was it her moral right as Ai Yuanlin Ying, the Butterfly Dragon to know? She kept this locked up within herself, amidst her other immense responsibilities. She knew that she'd have to increase her regimen of meditation in order to maintain her emotional and existential balance, all the while figuring out how to deal with her new awareness. How to use it and more importantly, how not to abuse it.


Alicia kept her fears about Norler's condition hidden much the same and it accumulated within her. Another pressure to add to the many that women carry, often unrecognized to the world.


Meanwhile a great distance away and to the north east, in a secret hospital in Beijing, a courier arrived at the shipping dock.


The armed driver got out of the vehicle, their partner covering them. They proceeded to the security offices where they presented their identification cards. The security service officer scanned the card. The computer bleeped once with two tones. The first lower and second upper.


[From the Security Office Of The Ruling Party? Must be important,]

"从执政党的安全办公室? 一定很重要," the service officer responded.


The courier said nothing and retrieved his card, heading through another set of doors towards the elevator with his package. As he passed another security point, he took the package and positioned its bar code before another computer scanner.


The computer beeped, it's screen displaying the package information:


[SHIPMENT FX10AS1992854

SOURCE: TYNAN AND ASSOCIATES - CANADA

DESTINATION: SECURITY MEDICAL OPERATIONS, PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

PACKAGE CONTENTS: CLASSIFIED]


发货 FX10AS1992854


资料来源:TYNAN AND ASSOCIATES - 加拿大


目的地: 中华人民共和国安全医疗行动


包装内容:机密


The courier approached the elevator and presented his id card to another scanner. It bleeped and the elevator arrived.


He stepped in, his partner covering him with her hand close to her holster.


The elevator closed, and descended at high speed into the depths of the facility.


The display indicated that they'd arrived several floors beneath the surface at sub-level 3x39. They exited the elevator and proceeded down the hall.


They arrived at a desk, the courier presenting a small scanner device to the person behind the desk. The desk administrator presented their card, inserting it into the scanner device and it too bleeped.


[Here's the priority package,]

"这是优先包," the courier spoke, turned and left.


The administrator with the package in hand disappeared behind a door and approached a group of women and men, wearing long white coats.


[Here's the SY-349. It just arrived,]

"这是SY-349。 刚到," the administrator handed the package to a Doctor.


[Werner was fast in getting it here. There should be one sample for research, the other for the treatment of patient CDNCH99,]

"维尔纳很快就拿到了这里。 应该有一个样本用于研究,另一个用于治疗患者 CDNCH99," the Doctor opened the package using a specially coded key.


Within there were four components. Two vials, each with a mistifier much like a tiny perfume bottle, the others were plastic wrapped pills. The vials were marked clearly in both English and Chinese, as APPLICANT (申请人) and SUPPLEMENT (补充).


The Doctor pulled a pair, one each of the applicant and supplement from the container, handing them to another Doctor.


[Take these to research immediately. It was part of our agreement with Werner,]

"立即将这些拿去研究。 这是我们与维尔纳达成的协议的一部分" the Doctor ordered.


She then stepped through a door, passing a security guard along the way. She nodded to the security guard as she used her pass to open another door.


She then proceeded to the end of another hall, using a fingerprint scanner to unlock the last door where her patient lay in serious condition.


A Nurse remained vigilant, keeping an eye on CDNCH99's condition.


[How is he doing?]

"他在做什么?" asked the Doctor.


[He's stable now, but his lung is in danger of another collapse. His liver is close to failure because of the fragment from the gunshot wound. If his lung collapses, he'll die,]

"他现在情况稳定,但他的肺有再次崩溃的危险。 由于枪伤的碎片,他的肝脏已经接近衰竭。 如果他的肺塌陷,他会死," the Nurse updated the Doctor.


[Wood and Metal. We need to focus on Earth and Water. He has much Fire, a good strong heart. I'm going to apply the SY-349 to him. It is all elements, but we can focus it based upon application to favour Earth and Water. In the West, they'd call this statistical effectiveness analysis treatment scaling,]

"木材和金属。 我们需要关注地球和水。 他有很多火,一颗善良坚强的心。 我要给他应用SY-349。 它是所有元素,但我们可以根据应用来关注它,以支持地球和水。 在西方,他们将这种统计有效性分析称为治疗量表," the Doctor quickly evaluated her options.


[Let's begin the procedure,]

"让我们开始程序," the Doctor ordered the Nurse.


[Right away, Doctor,]

"马上,医生," the Nurse responded.


Before the Doctor and Nurse, his eyes closed, lay Walton Norler. Every cell in his body fought the injury within for his right to be alive. His right to exist.


The Doctor and Nurse closed in and began the process of treatment using the SY-349.


Continued in The Butterfly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See - Act VI...


Reference And Bibliography (for this chapter):


Thank you to Wikipedia.org which I used extensively for research related to the Vietnam war and significant events during war time.


Thank you to Asia Pacific Curriculum for their resources, especially those detailing aspects of life in Vietnam after the war. Especially the political atmosphere and the remaining tensions that found many Southern Vietnamese people persecuted as suspected sympathizers opposing the communist regime. It is certainly fortunate that they were able to achieve a peaceful balance and coexistence while keeping everyone fed, thanks mostly to Đổi Mới and the industrious peoples of Vietnam.


Thank you Belly Ballot, from where I picked Vietnamese names for all of the characters in this chapter.


Thank you to the various Spa channels, many of them Vietnamese on Youtube, showing the kind of service you can expect from the full service health and beauty spas in Vietnam and Thailand and similar spas in your location. There are many where I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Artwork And Credits


Artists: Amy Wong, Wendy Pusey, Brian Joseph Johns.


Tools: Daz3D, Adobe Photoshop, Lightwave 3D, Google Platform, Amazon.


Author: Brian Joseph Johns.


Dedication


This chapter of The Buttefly Dragon II: What Different Eyes See is dedicated to Veterans of the Vietnamese war (most of whom were from Vietnam, the United States, Australia and France), from all sides of the conflict, and to the Vietnamese survivors many of whom escaped persecution by setting sail on boats and dangerous barges barely seaworthy, becoming labeled as boat people in the nineteen seventies.


Many of them were exploited and taken advantage of by some traffickers (and pirates), while others  were helped by those who'd arranged for their safe transport by more principled and humanitarian efforts on safe transport both on their own shores and on the shores at which they arrived, seeking asylum. This allowed these refugees to start anew, building their lives in their new home.


In post war Vietnam, a decade of social turbulence and distrust between the Ho Chi Minh regime and some citizens, regarded as being sympathizers for those opposed to communism, resulted in the persecution of many. Thanks to a process of reforms, taking decades, Vietnam eventually healed from its wounds to become united. In recent decades, Vietnam has become a global presence, joining the Southeast Asian global community to contribute to a global economy based upon peace, stability and prosperity.


This chapter is also dedicated to the Vietnamese people as a whole and to the Canadian people and leadership of the time and our neighbours south of the border, the United States, whom were principle players in ensuring the safety and new beginnings for the influx of Vietnamese refugees into their countries. Canada is the country of my birth and residence. I still remember talking about this very subject with my Grandmother when I was young, during the time of this crisis.


Thanks also to Oliver Stone, a great creator of stories and dialogue and a pioneer of the historical drama and continuous dialogue delivery, where a character delivers a lecture's worth of dialogue, all while progressing the story in an ever passionate and engrossing means, progressing the story. 


The greatest example of this can be seen in Oliver Stone's JFK, as delivered by Kevin Costner (another immense writer, director and performer) towards the end of the film in the presentation of the Warren Commision's findings. 


Other skilled artists pioneering this form of art is Paddy Chayefsky (the movie Network and actor Peter Finch's ever famous rant scene: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!). Perhaps one of the most liberating scenes in film and more pertinent now than ever. His performance was magnanimous, causing a stir at that time. At least as much so as Faye Dunaway's immense performance. An incredible actress in the midst of Peter Finch's masterpiece performance.


Many characters in Quentin Tantino films often deliver dialogue in this method without broaching into issues of character ego or pretentiousness. I'm not a big fan of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, given the Bruce Lee controversial scene (which opens the door to Bruce Lee's skills as a martial artist being questioned as being part of the real/fake social tennis bifurcation game of which many of us in western society are unknowingly a part), though I'd remind everyone that Quentin has done more to promote Southeast Asian presence in the global film market (including personally promoting Zhang Yimou's works) than most other Hollywood directors combined.


In his greatest work, Citizen Kane, Orson Welles also utilizes the monologue delivery to create some of the greatest solitary dialogue tension in cinematic history. Especially that one scene at the end of that film that reunites us all with the moment of our birth.


Canadian directors Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) and Actor/Writer/Director Sarah Polley (who is amongst one of my inspirations for the character Shaela Sheowellyn from my A Lady's Prerogative series of books) are also very prominent masters of this form of delivery. The other inspirations being two of my former girlfriends. A fortunate man I've been in life to have been accepted by women of such immense principle and passion.


Asian directors Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou and Akira Kirosawa often use this method of dialogue delivery, in a poetic form as evidenced by movies like In The Mood For Love, 2046 (both films by Wong Kar Wai), Raise the Red Lantern, Hero (both Zhang Yimou films).


Japanese director Akira Kirosawa also utilized this form of dialogue delivery extensively, numerous times over his illustrious and visionary career. Like Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Atom Egoyan, Sarah Polley, Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou, this director is an entire topic on their own.


I could talk about Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, M. Knight Shamalan and others but they're a topic for most of my science fiction related works and I WILL get to them soon. So says the Pleroma and a certain Archivist.


One person I'd really love to highlight that is an exceptionally extraordinary influence on my life (aside from H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, Doctor Carl Sagan, and Isaac Asimov) is Bob Guccione, the publisher of Omni magazine, at a time when his sexual publishing entereprise by way of Penthouse got him unjustifiably labled as a pornographer when in fact he was anything but.


He was an artist and coinasseur who admired art and passion which ultimately in us all yields beauty. He encouraged it by backing it with his immense fortune for the entirety of his life, without compromise, promoting art, science, speculation and research everywhere he went. 


The greatest mystery I offer is that perhaps a Butterfly Dragon's coccoon and a Wytch's magic aren't so different as we pretend? Perhaps you'll find out as I continue, but even greater things are to come.


Keep in mind however, that you fuel an even greater furnace with all of your collected works. So the question is, how do you want to affect things?


Significant Notes About This Chapter (Spoilers ahead!)


I put many secrets into this chapter, mysteries hidden in ways that might be difficult to detect even for the most discerning of you, perhaps barring Youtubers like Nexpo and Attrocity Guide. I can be a cruel writer sometimes, misleading with the obvious while retaining the obscure. There are many myteries in this chapter, perhaps more than I've written in any story thus far.


I may be cruel by the embedding of secrets within my works, but I'm not sadistic.


So here's the deal. I'll give you one for free, however the rest I'll keep with me until I arrive at my grave and at 53 years old as of this writing, that's probably a lot closer than I'd like to admit. For those of you that have the gift of youth, I'll share a gem of wisdom. 


As you proceed through this life, you'll come to know many and you'll all cherish your moments in this world and identify with them by your generation. Time will pass, and there will be fewer and fewer of you as you shuffle off towards your expiration, each of you. The world you knew disappears and generations after you will climb that same hill, peaking at their common unity of generation, as yours disappears.


Some of them might even attempt to take your very being from you, transferring your life experiences to their own credit using harassment and colour symbolis to do so, erasing you in the process. Don't fall for it. That's merely an illusion and the people that do that have serious issues they're not facing. They're the distraction from the true nature of reality. Like the static between radio stations.


Eventually, if you live long enough, you're all alone in a nearly unfamiliar world that doesn't know you or remember you (as I'm sure many veterans experience). Hang on to those with whom you've journied this lonely voyage of life. When you near the end, they'll be the only other people whom can remember you as much so as you remember them. We're all guaranteed to arrive there. As Jim Morrison, front man for The Doors once said: no one here gets out alive.


When we get there, we're most often of the few remaining amongst our former circle.


That was wisdom, experience and rhetoric and most of you youngsters won't appreciate that until you're older but hopefully you'll consider it because it will help you in life.


The secret related to this chapter that I'll give you for free is a devious one. So here it is.


The fact is that Doctor Briggs is Vietnam, from the beginning of the story until the end. He's not Vietnamese. He represents Vietnam in a metaphorical sense.


He becomes involved in a friendship on the plane with Monique, who is French, alluding to the French involvement in Vietnam. Vietnam's path, like the path of so many other countries in Southeast Asia is derailed by external intentions (Weltherwithsp sabotaging the plane and forcing it to land at Hanoi).


Zheng, who is Chinese is involved with Briggs romantically and nurturing a relationship with Doctor Briggs. Katya and Victor Piotr are also good friends with Doctor Briggs, both of whom are Russian with ties to the USSR regime.


As the story progresses, Linda Delmore, an American is introduced. She immediately begins flirting with and trying to win Doctor Briggs away from Zheng, including the friendship and trust of Katya and Victor.


Throughout the story, most of the interaction between Zheng and Linda is conflict and tension over competition for the affinity of Doctor Briggs.


When in the bunker, Zheng and Doctor Briggs have their moment alone, they don't kiss. They indicate they're not ready for total devotion to one another yet (which changes by the time they arrive at Seoul after this chapter by the way). That is the breaking away of China from the interests of Vietnam and it occurs close to when Linda finally concedes, retreating, even coming to odds with Doctor Briggs a few times by the end of the chapter alluding to the departure from Vietnam and abandoning the war effort entirely.


That's your first secret. This is a tradition I've been including in every single one of my stories since I first returned to writing in two thousand and ten, after having put it on hold since I was nineteen.


I'm Brian Joseph Johns and this is Shhhh! Digital Media

https://www.shhhhdigital.ca

https://www.twitter.com/MediaShhhh

Brian Joseph Johns is an Atheist leaning towards Buddhism and Taoism that lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.