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Red Versus Blue - Polarizing Society

Please don't take the use of colours in this post as being anything related to the symbolism of political party colours, because that's not what it relates to. Colours are symbols. Ambiguous and can literally mean and be interpreted as anything.  Problems always arise when you worship the symbol more so than what it stands for. In these times, polarization refers to being bounced around between diametrically opposed symbols, via colours. So these colours are not a reference to party politics. Here's something quite interesting, and its certainly indicative of a much larger and more complex challenge in society. On the morning of the Uvalde school attack in the United States, in my own community in Regent Park in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and about two to three hours before the actual time of the attack, several people in my community, many of whom I refer to simply as a cult, began harassing me excessively. This started in the wee hours of the morning of 24th of May of this

The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Book I (Completed First Draft at 70000 words, more artwork to come)


Everything produced here is created at 200 Sherbourne Street, Suite 701 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Also, I don't want any of this to have its context changed. There are nasty people in the world who use the symbolism of the colour blue to redefine the context of other people's statements when they disagree with them. For this reason, I am not on the blue team and never will be. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I am not a "gun", or a  blue rose as they say and never will be. Likewise, I am not a member of any blood centric ideology or cult. My own love interest is Mandarin Chinese by the way, and I don't play guitar and have never owned a guitar in my life.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Mature Content Warning: This book is a step into darker territory in the Butterfly Dragon narrative and as such, it deals with mature topics, including sex, strong language and violence as much so as it deals with the concepts of philosophy, morality and innocence. This story is intended for mature readers and I cannot stress enough that viewer discretion is advised.


The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Music Playlist


Listen to the music specially selected to accompany this book by way of the YouTube Music Official Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Book I Playlist.


The playlist includes many artists who reflect and symbolize aspects of the world of the Butterfly Dragon through their art. With The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons being of Canadian origins, many of the artists in the playlist are also Canadian, though I've gone to lengths to select a wide variety of diverse music from around the world reflecting elements of the story. I've also included music from artists who are part of the inspiration for some of the character of these books. Please do enjoy.


The views of this website or its books, stories and articles do not necessarily reflect the views of any of the artists included in this playlist, and hence, should not be held responsible in any way for the material here.


THE BUTTERFLY DRAGON III: THE TWO DRAGONS

BOOK I


The Last Dance


The paper lamps shone in the darkness of a Temple that had long stood throughout the ages. The walls were adorned with scrolls and epitaphs espousing the wisdom of the ancestors and their eternal quest for enlightenment. 


There upon a red cushion, laced with pure golden thread sat a solitary woman. Her legs crossed. Her hands rested palm up on her knees in the half-lotus position. The cushion was a gift given to her ancestors by one of the Emperors of the Song Dynasty and had only been used for the purposes of meditation and cultivation by them alone.


She sat before a scroll written in the first pictographic language, illegible to all but a few. Scribed long before the Temple itself was built, it depicted a place known only as the Field. In three verses it described the methods needed to find it, and once there within, one would come to know the true secrets of existence, time and immortality itself.


Some would toil for years, struggling to find this mystical place through exercise, meditation and even sorcery. Others were born inherently with the nature of the Field built right into their living essence, and found their way there naturally in their dreams.


c/o Wikimedia Creative Commons
This secret remained with the people who'd first discovered this place until through the conquest of war, its secrets were discovered by another peoples from whom such knowledge had been hidden. 


First it was Ghenghis Khan, who through the unity of a thousand tribes invaded China and conquered much of Asia, becoming the Emperor of the largest land empire in human history.




At that time one of the few Monks, a man named Cho who kept the secret, fled to Vietnam where a Chinese and (Vietnamese) resistance held off the Mongols. At their darkest hour and when all seemed lost, the Monk Cho tested one of the Vietnamese Monks, whose name was Linh Mai. When she passed Cho's test, he taught her the secret of the Field. The two remained in hiding in Vietnam for the remainder of their lives as the conflict continued and China fell to Mongol rule. 


Another Monk under grueling torture had revealed the existence of the Field to the Mongols. The secret of this Field was taken directly to Ghenghis Khan himself. The fact that it existed had become known, but the means of getting there remained hidden to all but those who'd kept the secret. Ghenghis Khan eradicated all the Temples in China, threatening to wipe them all out lest the secret of the Field be revealed to him.


c/o Laitimes
A Monk came forth and offered this knowledge to Ghenghis Khan on the condition that he pass a test of worthiness. If he passed, he would be required to allow one Temple to remain and continue teaching its traditions to the people of China, and another Temple to secretly be built where the teachings of the Field would be held and taught to the worthy. 


From this Temple he would allow Ghenghis Khan to learn the secrets of the Field under the final condition: that he share it with no more than three people, and that they all passed a test which he would understand upon learning the secrets of the Field.


Ghenghis agreed honorably to the conditions and the Monk himself tested Ghenghis. He proved himself worthy of the secret and so the one Temple remained in the city of Kaifeng, while another was secretly built in the region of Southern Sung, in the city of Guangzhou.


c/o Wikimedia Commons
In 1368, Ghenghis' Empire in China, the Yuan Dynasty, would be overthrown and China would once again be ruled by its own Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang henceforth as the Ming Dynasty. Their lessons learned under generations of Mongol rule, the Ming Emperor established the million man army, and navy dockyards that were the largest and most advanced drydocks in the world.



For years the secret remained between a few, the line kept alive by Cho and Linh Mai in Vietnam whose students would carry the tradition. In the Temple in Guangzhou, the secret remained a protected asset of both the Empire and the people where it merged with the growing traditions of martial arts in the region.


Peace being the fragile thing that it is, didn't last and though the Ming Dynasty remained for centuries, it wouldn't be long before another adversary would come for the secret of the Field in the time of the Chinese People's Revolutionary Army and the precursors and entry into World War II.


c/o Wikimedia Commons
The great empire of the Rising Sun, Japan's invasion of China began in Peking during a revolt by Japanese soldiers. This turmoil quickly boiled over as the Japanese Generals took advantage of the confusion to begin their full scale invasion, hence beginning the Sino-Japanese War and Asia's entry into World War II. 




It was clear to the Monks that the Japanese Empire was no longer under the command of the Emperor. He was merely being used as a figurehead through manipulation by the aggressive stance of the Generals and Admirals who'd embraced the weapons producing industrialist movement and the immediate power it afforded them. The same movement that saw the near eradication of the Samurai tradition and many other aspects of Japanese tradition. Modernization was a practical necessity as both the Monks and likely the Emperor saw it, but not at the expense of both Japan's tradition and innocence.


Once again as it had been centuries earlier, the secret of the Field was once again at risk when the Japanese Army occupied Guangzhou. The Temple had been warned of this threat by a loyal friend and Japanese Monk by the name of Satoshi. As a reward for his friendship and loyalty, an established Tea Shop owner and Monk, her name Xiu, tested Satoshi and when he passed, taught him of the secret under the same conditions given to both Linh Mai and Ghenghis Khan.


When an Imperial Intelligence Officer of the Japanese Army discovered that the two were colluding, they were forced to flee to Korea where they hid with Korean nationals. Korea too soon fell under the same threat and madness of war. Xiu and Satoshi learned that they could no longer just flee the conflict. That they too would have to stand against it with the people.


They befriended a secretive underground group opposing the Japanese occupation of Korea, and there within shared the secret of the Field with one of its members under the same conditions as they'd been sworn. Myung-Dae, having narrowly escaped becoming part of the Japanese Army's concubine harem, became the first Korean to possess knowledge of the Field.


As no fury can continue indefinitely and all fires except the fire of the heart eventually extinguish, the threat posed to the secret of the Field ceased ironically with the fires of the detonation of the second atom bomb dropped on Japan. With that, the war was over and along with it, the threat to the secrets of the Field.


c/o Wikimedia Commons


The surviving members who'd learned the secrets and the traditions of the Field soon merged their respective martial arts into a style and regimen that became known as the Butterfly Dragon, for it combined the grace and elegance of a butterfly with the deadly strength and dexterity of a dragon. This was the first time they taught this growing tradition under this name in the years after the war. But as they would soon find, some things that have been found, are only the remnants of other things that have long been lost.


What once was, will be again, to be remembered and forgotten from either end of time.


For the Temple itself has two histories just as time has a beginning and an end.


From the beginning of time there has been one dragon, who treads forwards through time, from past to present. Beginning to end.


Yet, from the other end, there is another dragon who treads backwards in time, from future to past. From the end to to the start.


The former remembers the past the same way we do, but knows nothing of what is to come.


The other knows nothing of the past, but remembers the future like it was yesterday.


"And what happens when they meet?" asked a woman who'd snuck in through the open door of the Temple Of The Butterfly Dragon.


"They dance of course," Jinn Hua responded from her place on the red cushion, keeping her back to the mysterious woman.


"Funny isn't it?" asked the woman, whose heels could be felt as they stepped across the gleaming hardwood floor.


"Isn't it all?" asked Jinn Hua.



"A laugh to one is to cry another..." the woman responded to Jinn Hua's Zen.


"To live and laugh is to die a lover..." Jinn Hua responded, very familiar with the verse of the dragons.


"Tell me Jinn Hua, what do you remember?" asked the woman.





Jinn Hua stood by extending both her crossed legs until she'd risen to her feet. She then carefully kicked the red cushion aside away from harm's way.




"The moment..." Jinn Hua took up a defensive stance facing her opponent.










"I've come to take back what was rightfully mine from the beginning. The gem. So let's fight, shall we?!" the woman spoke boldly.


Jinn Hua examined the woman for the first time, seeing that she was fully from neck to toe covered in elaborate and colourful tattoos.






Many of the tattoos were of serpents. Dragons from an age long past. Venomously, viciously and viscerally, they protected the butterflies intertwined in their midst. They seemed to slither and move in the lights and shadows with a life all their own.








Jinn Hua's focus returned to her opponent's blazing eyes once again and she spoke.




"No. Let's dance," Jinn Hua said calmly as the two met for battle.










Under Pressure


The late afternoon sunlight shone through the large bay windows of one of Toronto's largest office towers, illuminating the front security desk and its three occupants. One of them, a large rotund Afro-American male of thirty nine years baked in the sunlight beside his coworkers. Beside him, a much younger white man in his mid twenties wore glasses and fiddled with a pen, drawing doodles on a pad before him. The third occupant had just returned from the cafe around the corner with a trio of large cups. One for herself and for each of her coworkers.


"What's it like out there?" asked Officer Lehaskin, the large Afro-American security guard.


"A bit chilly for May. The traffic's just picking up though. Come to think of it, a bit early at that," Officer Curran replied, handing Lehaskin his coffee.


"That's 'cause everyone is getting out of town early for the long weekend. The May two four. Don't you have any plans Curran?" asked Dunn, peering through his glasses at her as he accepted his coffee.


"Nope. Just go home. Put out some salmon for my cat. Call for some take-out. Shower and get into my house coat. Open a bottle of my favourite vino and curl up with a good ebook," Curran responded smugly.


"Traffic eh? I've gotta get home in time to take my kids to the show tonight. I promised them I'd take them to see that one about the talking dog..." Lehaskins checked his watch.


"You're leaving the same time as us. When the evening shift gets here, so don't try and fool us," Dunn joked with Lehaskins.


"You don't miss a thing, do you Dunn? Actually, the show was a lie, but takin the kids out this weekend is for real. My wife will kill me if we don't do something," Lehaskins recovered just barely from his ruse.


Dunn heard Lehaskins but was paying attention to a tall burly man who'd stepped out from the elevators into the foyer area, a large brief case in hand, pulling a luggage trolley behind him.


"That's Mr. Forseth isn't it?" Curran asked aloud.


"Yep. Looks like he's got the same idea. Get out early and get the weekend started. I wish I was a big wig right about now," Lehaskins leaned back in his chair, watching as Mr. Forseth pulled his luggage out through the foyer doors out onto the sidewalk.


"That's not what caught my eye," Dunn spoke.


"Then what did?" asked Curran.


"He came in with the same rig this morning at eight thirty and checked in at the front desk," Dunn told them.


"And what's wrong with that?" asked Lehaskins.


"Well he drives to work every day. Why would he need that luggage?" asked Dunn.


"Maybe he's got his computer in it? Maybe a change of clothes for a business trip? Who knows?" Lehaskins responded.


"If he's just going out for a coffee, why'd he bring it with him then?" asked Curran, catching on to Dunn's observation.


"Yeah, why'd he go for a coffee with his briefcase too?" asked Dunn.


"Who knows. Maybe he's going down to the garage after he gets his coffee, gettin' in his car and driving away like we should be doing this weekend. You're seeing a mystery and I'm seeing a man that's got his priorities right," Lehaskins answered.


"Look, if he's running the floor upstairs in management, I figure we're not going to understand half of the reasons he does what he does. Sometimes its better not to question stuff that isn't on your home turf. You get me?" asked Lehaskins, leaning back with his coffee.


The lid popped as he went to take a sip, spilling half the cup on his security suit.


"Damn! I just had this uniform dry cleaned!" he cursed.


"I'll get the paper towels," Curran said running off to the nearest bathroom.


"Should I get the mop? I mean it isn't on my home turf you know. I'm a security guard, not a cleaner," Dunn responded.


"Cut me some slack, Dunn. I think these burns are serious enough that I just might have to leave early," Lehaskins replied.


"Hold off, I'm getting the mop," Dunn responded slightly agitated.


The three of them quickly forgot about Mr. Forseth, who strode his way along the King Street sidewalk with his briefcase in hand and luggage rolling behind him. The air was fresh with the smell of spring. The raw potency abound of an eager city emerging from another harsh winter. It was in the stride of everyone around him, but it was entirely absent in the step of Mr. Forseth. While others around him strode with vigor and determination, he walked as a man might, were he stepping up to the gallows.


He crossed Bay Street, pulling his luggage across the busy intersection in the direction of the bank on the other side. As others passed him, he heard their voices quietly.


"He's really going to do it!" a passing man said to him.


"I can't believe this! This is so exciting!" another voice spoke as its owner passed.


"I'm so proud of him. Really, I am," another voice spoke from behind him.


"Leave me alone..." Mr. Forseth mumbled under his breath as he fought with the last vestiges of his conscience.


He focused on the bank ahead of him and picked up his posture and step. The voices for the time being stopped as he passed beneath the enormous arch. Beside him the tremendous pillars of an institution that had kept an elaborately carved stone roof suspended for nearly six decades. He eyed them for a moment, as if in awe of the giant he was about to face.


A pair of panhandlers bracketed the front door to the bank. Like guards to the front of the giant's cave.


"Spare a dollar mister?" asked one of them, who looked burly enough to easily work a hard day's labour.


"I have no coins. We're living in a digital world now. You're going to have to start accepting PayPal or Bitcoin I'm afraid," Mr. Forseth checked his pockets, coming up empty.


"That's alright, we'll get you on the way out," the other said to Mr. Forseth, who ignored him.


He continued to the front doors of the bank and in through them as the security guard opened one of them for him.


"Mr. Forseth," the security guard nodded to him.


Mr. Forseth nodded back, apprehensive towards the other guardian of the institution with which he was about to do battle.


Inside, the large interior of the bank was full of patrons. A line driven by the market forces of the long weekend wound its way to the front desk, rounding several corners before ariving there. Mr. Forseth stepped into line behind a large man in a heavy trench coat and stood patiently as the line inched forward.


Music played in the bank's background music system and the lyrics to a familiar song found their way to Mr. Forseth's ears:


Pressure...

pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, 

no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on streets


He reached into his front pocket and pulled a kerchief from it, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead as the music reasoned with him. Once again he was lost in the maze of his own conscience upon hearing another voice.


"He's going to do it. He's really going to do it!" a voice ahead of him in the line said quietly.


"Shut up!" Mr. Forseth responded firmly but quaintly.


"I beg your pardon?" asked the man ahead of Mr. Forseth.


"Nothing. I was just thinking aloud. Sorry, no cause for alarm," Mr. Forseth responded to the man as if he'd interrupted another conversation.


The music continued and the lyrics once again found his attention:


It's the terror of knowing what the world is about

Watching some good friends screaming

"Let me out!"

Pray tomorrow gets me higher

Pressure on people, people on streets


"He's really going to do it! He planned this for months! He brought everything! I can't wait to read about it! See it on the news!" someone in the line ahead of Mr. Forseth spoke quietly.


"Shut up!" Mr. Forseth said a little bit louder this time.


"Hey man, you have a problem with me or something?" asked the man ahead of Mr. Forseth in the line.


"No, really. I'm just a bit stressed with work and thinking out loud. Really, pay me no mind," Mr. Forseth replied calmly to the larger man.


"Good, cause if you got a problem, I'll take you outside and fix you right now," the man turned to face Mr. Forseth, looking him directly in the eye.


Mr. Forseth looked back at the man casually. He was in his mid twenties. He was tall, nearly as tall as Mr. Forseth, and very fit. Muscular too. Like he'd spent a lot of time training with weights and calisthenics. His nose had a large bump in the middle, like he'd been punched there one too many times. Ahead of this man in the line, another of similar build yet shorter turned and took notice of Mr. Forseth. 


"You're going to wish you didn't get a peek, old man," said the man ahead of the one who'd confronted him.


"I'm in position!" a third man spoke aloud from somewhere in the middle of the line causing Mr. Forseth some confusion.


Mr. Forseth then watched as the three men he'd identified retrieved masks from their pockets, pulling them over their faces. They then pulled firearms from the insides of their jackets.


The front doors of the bank burst open as the two panhandlers, now wearing masks stepped into the bank with firearms of their own.


One of them fired a couple of warning shots in the air, nine millimeter rounds plunging into the stone and ceiling of the bank, sprinkling powered rock and dirt on them below.


"Everybody on the floor right now!" yelled the panhandler bank robber with the black, yellow, green shirt.


He wore a sad puppy dog mask.


"Don't be a hero! You don't get paid enough!" the other pandhandler, wearing a happy duck mask leveled his sawed-off shotgun at the security guard by the door.


The guard quickly raised his hands, got to his knees and lay down face first on the floor.


"See! He's just doing his job, which doesn't pay him enough to die! If you all do the same, you'll get to live. Now get on the floor. I said do it! Now!" yelled the man with the broken nose ahead of Mr. Forseth, who'd produced a sleek looking SMG from his jacket.


He'd chosen to wear a simple Hockey mask, much like that of a blade wielding maniac from horror films.


He used the butt stock of the gun to punch Mr. Forseth in the stomach. Mr. Forseth keeled over forward, coughing, falling to his knees as he dropped his briefcase.


The man then kicked the luggage Mr. Forseth had been wheeling behind him for the whole time.


"Careful!" Mr. Forseth demanded, still coughing.


"Why? What's in there? Your expensive whiskey?" asked the broken nosed, Hockey mask bank robber.


"My wife's wedding dress. She'd died recently. She's being buried today!" Mr. Forseth responded.


"Look, leave the old man alone. Just get on the floor face down or you'll be joining your wife before your time!" yelled the other smaller bank robber who wore a Mummy mask to cover his face.


The third ahead of the Mummy wore a clown mask.


Mr. Forseth counted five of them when the sixth one revealed himself at the front of the line.


"Welcome to this exciting episode of How To Rob A Bank!" yelled the bank robber, his face covered with the mask likeness of a Wolfman.


"We have some rules to go over quickly and then we'll be out of your lives as quick as we came into them..." the Wolfman yelled.


"Stay on the floor. Any sudden movements will get you killed. Simple as that," the Wolfman began pacing.


"Don't speak unless we speak to you. If you do, you die," the Wolfman continued.


"The last rule is simple. Stay on the floor until the Police give you the clear. By that time, we'll be long gone..." the Wolfman ordered the patrons of the bank, many of whom were on the floor whimpering in fear.


"Do you think you're going to..." a brash man in his early thirties began voicing his disdain with the situation when a triple round burst from Mummy's SMG pierced the silence, shattering his jaw and silencing him instantly.


"See? Did you all see his mistake? And it all ended that quick! Don't make the same mistake!" the Wolfman responded to the man's sudden demise.


"Alright, we need the cooperation of the bank tellers now along with their management. Can we have you all to the front desk, and if you try anything funny, another one of your customers will bite the dust just as quickly as Mister can't shutup for a second did..." the Wolfman demanded of them in the growing silence.


The ten tellers got up from behind the bank desk, and the manager appeared from his desk further back. They all approached Wolfman with their hands in the air.


"Alright. Here's the fun part. We need you to authorize the maximum bank transfers to these overseas accounts from these source accounts. See, I've even got a bar coded list here for you. You just scan it like you do your cheques and it will do the rest. These are the source accounts. We need you to authorize and transfer ten million dollars from each account, to its corresponding overseas account. Simple as that. I couldn't have made it any easier for ya. There's twenty accounts in all, so if you're as astute as I suspect you are, you'll quickly figure out that's two hundred million. Get that done in under three minutes and you'll still be alive at that point. In less than three minutes, I'm sorry but you'll be pushing up daisies a week from now," Wolfman told the tellers, handing them a sheet of paper.


"Careful, its the only copy I have..." he released it to the first teller who handed it to the Manager.


"I can't do this without..." the Manager began as the sound of gunfire erupted and another customer gasped their last breath of air.


"Don't lie you f#cker. You might not have had your finger on the trigger, but you just killed that man. You can do it without transit numbers, so don't f#ck around with me. You and your tellers have got two and a half minutes left to live. Get the job done!" Wolfman reminded the Manager.


He immediately turned to the nearest terminal and began authorizing the transfers one at a time. With each authorization, a receipt printer printed a transaction authorization which one of the tellers would take and process. The time on the clock quickly lapsed and before long there were five transactions remaining and thirty seconds left to complete them.


One of the Tellers began to cry.


"We're going to die..." she sobbed.


"No we're not... we're going to..." another one of the Tellers reassured her coworker as another round of gunfire erupted.


At that exact moment, an enormous flash as bright as the sun exploded around them, instantly blinding everyone in the bank.


As if to add to the sudden cacophony, the confident and playful voice of a woman broke through the sudden confusion.


"Hi everyone! Sorry we're late!" Monique exclaimed landing in the middle of the bank in her Eclipse outfit.


Monique spied one of the injured customers who'd been shot. She quickly sprung to life flying instantly to their position, grabbing them and then flying them out through a window onto the street some two hundred meters away before returning for one of the other injured. By that time only one second had passed.


"You're going to pay for that bitch!" yelled Mummy, who turned to one of the customers on the floor, a young woman whose mascara ran down her face which was wet with tears.


The Mummy leveled his gun at Shravya, a younger woman as the glass skylight from above broke. A large winged figure appeared, landing just before the gun that had been leveled at the woman.


From behind her mask, the Butterfly Dragon looked the Mummy in the face.


"Monique, I think we've got another pyramid scheme here..." she said just before he unloaded his weapon.




As the first shots erupted from his firearm, her scales appeared instantaneously, encompassing her upper body. The rounds bounced harmlessy off of her scales, then caught by her butterfly wings before ricocheting into the bank and causing any other harm.


"Get to cover! You need to go!" the Butterfly Dragon gestured towards one of the signing tables and Shravya quickly ran for cover.


Before the Mummy had time to respond, the Butterfly Dragon quickly spun her leg in an arc, kicking the Mummy in the face, sending him sliding unconscious across the floor. She then leapt unexpectedly to the Sad Puppy Dog.


"Bad Puppy!" she said before landing two flying fist punches into his face, rending him instantly broken and unconscious.


The Happy Duck turned and fired on Heylyn's back, again her dragon's scales protecting her and her wings shielding others against the richochets.


Monique appeared before the Duck, delivering a flawlessly executed spinning punch rending him quickly into the land of nod.


"A little cheese with your quackers?" Monique spat at the Duck who lay motionless on the floor.


The Wolfman had managed to grab a customer, holding her hostage with a gun to his head while Hockey ran for the Butterfly Dragon.


In the commotion, Mr. Forseth opened his briefcase and retrieved a large handgun from the interior amidst several other firearms. He then got to his feet keeping low and ran for one of the bank's signing tables, using it as cover. He leaned around the signing table base and shot at Hockey as he ran towards the Butterfly Dragon.


"One of the guards has a gun!" Clown yelled, running for the other signing table firing at Mr. Forseth's location as he did.


"Shoot the customers! He'll drop his gun!" yelled Wolfman.


As he ran for the cover of the signing table on the opposite side of the bank, Clown turned his gun on one of the customers still laying on the floor. A younger man, possibly a student lay as flat as he could on the floor as watched his death approach.


Mr. Forseth held his breath, leveled his handgun, exhaling slightly as he pulled the trigger. The first shot impacted Clown's left leg as he ran. The second caught his right shoulder as he fell, ripping his gun from his grip. Clown law on the floor groaning in pain.


Another bank robber they'd missed peered from behind the signing table for which Clown had been running. This one wearing a Grim Reaper mask. He leveled his SMG aiming it directly at Mr. Forseth's head. Just as he pulled the trigger, Monique appeared behind Mr. Forseth quickly pulling him back into cover as the rounds cut through the air where his head had been moments earlier.


"It's alright. We've got this. We appreciate the help but lay low!" Monique urged Mr. Forseth.


A tear emerged from Mr. Forseth's eyes as he once again found a small helping of his faith in humanity.


"Thank you young lady. You don't know how much that meant to me," Mr. Forseth thanked Monique, who by that time was already gone.


She reappeared behind Wolfman, who'd instantly felt her presence, tightening his grip on his hostage.


"Don't try anything or I'll paint these walls with her insides!" Wolfman ordered Eclipse.


"I'm not going to do anything except to try to help you find the way to the right thing to do..." Monique replied quietly and calmly, though her heart was racing and anxious.


By that time Hockey had arrived to confront the Butterfly Dragon.


"I'm an Ex-Champion MMA fighter. They used to call me Mr. Takedown! I've been looking for a piece of you for a long time!" he challenged the Butterfly Dragon.


"Fight him Butterfly or I'll kill the hostage!" the Wolfman yelled from the other side of the bank, confident that Hockey would best her.


Butterfly Dragon turned to face Hockey.


"Is that a hockey mask or are you a maniacal killer from an eighties movie? This is going to feel a little unpatriotic..." Heylyn remarked seeing his Hockey mask.


"Want a shot at the title?" asked Hockey, putting up his guard.


"Only if this is for the Stanley cup..." Heylyn replied with a whimsical smirk on her face.


Grim Reaper in the meantime had made his way along the back of the signing table towards the end facing the Butterfly Dragon. From behind his mask, he carefully examined the Butterfly for any weaknesses in her armour as Hockey began the first assault on her.


Hockey threw a barrage of punches at her as she effortlessly dodged them without the need to block.


Hockey kicked at Heylyn with his knee to her gut. She caught his leg mid flight, pushing him forward on his one foot. He hopped backwards to maintain his balance, eventually falling backwards as Butterfly Dragon simply walked him to the floor.


"Are you sure they didn't just leave you in a ditch by the side of the road? You don't seem like the title type to me," Heylyn responded to Hockey who quickly flipped himself back up onto his feet.


"You're going to die for that bitch!" Hockey advanced tactically.


Grim Reaper suddenly found an opening in Heylyn's dragon scales, near the top of her back where her neck met her shoulders. A small uncovered piece of skin exposed itself to his keen eyes.


"Gotcha!" he said quietly as he leveled his gun at her weakness.


Mr. Forseth in the meantime spied what had transpired from behind the signing table. He worked his way to the other end of the signing table and looked out to see the Grim Reaper.


The Grim Reaper fired at Butterfly Dragon and Heylyn fell forward as the shot impacted her exposed weakness. She grabbed her neck gasping for air.


"Yeah! Ya got her!" Hockey exclaimed, turning his attention to Grim Reaper who stood up and started with his own victory dance.


"Butterfly!" Monique screamed as Heylyn fell forward to her knees, her wings suddenly slack like two limp pieces of cloth that dangled from her back onto the floor.


Monique instantaneously disappeared, moving at near the speed of light to Grim Reaper's location, where she let fly a series of punches and kicks that ended with the Grim Reaper falling unconscious to the floor.


Wolfman by this point had let the grip on his hostage slip ever so slightly as he watched their victory over the mysterious Butterfly Dragon. The one nobody, not even Torman had been able to best. Even if they ended up in prison as a result of this botched robbery, they would be treated as legends. His own SMG now pointing away from his hostage and more towards the fallen Butterfly.


To anyone watching, the next moments were a blur of activity as Heylyn suddenly leapt from her knees across the room blazingly fast grabbing at Wolfman's SMG. Once she'd taken it from his grip, she punched it hard in the center letting out a pronounced Kiya as she did, breaking it in half as she freed the hostage. She then delivered a kick to his groin.


"Maybe next time you won't be so rough with women again," Butterfly scolded the fallen Wolfman.


"Butterfly! Lookout!" Monique yelled as Hockey leapt at Heylyn with a large knife in hand.


Heylyn quickly stepped to one side as Hockey missed his mark, instead slamming headfirst into the bank's marble front desk. He remained on the floor and motionless. Heylyn kicked the knife away from his unmoving hands.


"He was offside, wasn't he?" Heylyn turned to Monique asking her about the rules of hockey.


"Way offside! He's in the penalty box now!" Monique responded, instantly moving to Heylyn's position and checking up on the hostage.


"I'm alright, thank you! Thank you so much!" she said to both Monique and Heylyn.


"We got the injured out. They'll be getting medical attention in no time..." Monique assured the Manager.


In the midst of the sudden calm, the Police stormed the bank full force.


"Freeze! Nobody move!" several heavily armed Tactical Officers entered the bank simultaneously through three access points.


Heylyn Yates aka Ai Yuanlin Ying aka The Butterfly Dragon

"Time to go... Thank you. Don't forget to search Hockey mask there for the Stanley Cup... You can thank Eclipse here for her help too," Butterfly Dragon gestured to Monique as she took flight leaving through the skylight.


"This one's on your side. He's a real hero. He tried to save us. See ya guys! Gotta go!" Monique pointed at Mr. Forseth before instantly leaping into flight, following behind Heylyn as the two disappeared into the afternoon sky.


"Sure. Just take all the glory and leave us with the cleanup," Officer Angus Ford said as he eyed the situation from behind his Tactical mask and gear.


"Yeah, what glory hogs!" another Officer responded behind Angus.


"Secure the premises, the perps, and I want you covering the floor leading the hostages to safety! Now move it!" Officer Ford ordered his team.


...


The bank patrons were cordoned off in another section outside of the bank where some of them were being questioned by the first Police to arrive on the scene. Others were being treated for the minor injuries they'd acquired during the commission of the bank robbery.


In the mean time, four ambulances drove off with the casualties, one of them speeding towards St. Michael's, two towards Toronto General and the last to Mount Sinai Hospital.


With the crime scene setup and investigators already piecing things together, Detective Farnham approached Officer Ford.


"What have we got so far?" asked Farnham.


"Seven Suspects, armed robbery, with an element of technology involved. We have an eighth suspect, armed to the teeth like he was expecting a war..." Officer Ford reported.


"Care to elaborate?" asked Farnham.


"Seventh suspect is one Mr. Ronald Forseth. Manager for a local investment firm. He was packing six firearms in his briefcase, all of them restricted weapons, and his luggage there which is tagged and bagged already thanks to bomb disposal, was filled with primed Semtex. Enough to level the entire bank and then some," Officer Ford explained to the Detective.


"He was an accomplice?" confirmed Farnham.


"Not as far as we can tell. Witnesses say the robbers assaulted him in the early stages. He wasn't wearing a mask and there were only seven masks retrieved in all. So it was just a coincidence that Rambo here happened to be in the bank ready for war," Officer Ford explained to Detective Farnham.


"Any early impressions from Psychology?" Detective Farnham asked.


"The RCMP have him now and under their Behavioural Sciences microscope. Seeing as his situation puts him in the domain of terrorism, he's in their juristdiction now, though I know the Detective working on his case and she's pretty good. There's a good possibility that we'll be sharing information to crack this one," Officer Ford fed the Detective the rest of the details.


"The Butterfly again?" asked Detective Farnham looking at the skylight.


"And the other one too. The flying strobe light. They both showed up shortly after the robbery began. Witnesses say the human strobelight began ferrying the injured out onto the street while the other one foiled the robbery with Kung Fu. Hai Karate kind of stuff. Tae Kwon Do too... You know?" Officer Ford explained.


"Yeah, my kid loves those movies. Any casualties?" asked Detective Farnham.


"No deaths thankfully, though one of the injured is going to need some serious reconstructive surgery. He got shot in the face, but he lived thanks to the flying lightbulb," Officer Ford informed him.


"I'm just grateful this isn't another crime scene of the Chameleon Killer. I still have nightmares about the last one. Been a few months now, thankfully,"  the Detective pondered.


"I'm sure the Chief will be under a lot of pressure from the Mayor to keep a lid on the Butterfly thing again. You know how City Hall are?" Officer Ford agreed.


"I catch you there. Alright. I'm going to do the rounds with the witnesses. Here's a stack of my cards in case you need 'em. Good to see you again Angus. So when are you going to join us Detectives?" asked Farnham.


"As soon as the paygrade beats Tactical..." Officer Ford joked.


"Don't hold your breath unless you like wearing the Walmart special designer suits..." Detective Farnham returned the humour.


"Might not cost like our Tactical gear, but it sure looks stiff enough to stop a bullet to me..." Officer Ford smiled.


"Catch you around Angus," Detective Farnham made his way over to where they'd gathered the witnesses to the attempted robbery.


There he was met by a pretty yet unfamiliar face. She approached him as Detective Farnham made his way over to those being questioned.


"Detective Farnham?" the lady asked.


"You must be the Fed Officer Ford told me about?" Farnham asked.


"I'm Inspector Tricia Camden with the RCMP. We need to talk for a moment before you speak with any of the witnesses to this crime," Tricia addressed Farnham.


"Sure thing. This isn't about jurisdiction or anything is it?" asked Farnham.


"Yes and no. You were obviously informed about Mr. Forseth's relation to the events here. I have to let you know that all aspects of this investigation relating to him are being handled by us. Consider it a fluke that he happened into this bank when this robbery unfolded," Tricia informed the older Detective.


"Maybe he was an undercover accomplice. We've had that in other robbery investigations. There's a lot in his being here that just doesn't add up. The Semtex for instance? He could have used that to help the masked robbers hold out with a bank full of hostages. He'd essentially just hand the explosives off to them without making any association. Then we'd think he was another victim of the robbery and let him go where he could take steps to hide the money trail," Detective Farnham insisted.


"I can't discuss those details of the investigation right now. You should keep in mind that this in no way will affect your investigation and seeing as our specialized Cybercrime unit is still a bit of a ways off, you'll have the jurisdiction involved in the technological aspects of the investigation which from my having gone over the details so far, seem to be a pretty big part of this investigation... Is it Detective?" Tricia looked sternly at Farnham, examining him for any signs of a badge or identifying features.


"Farnham. Detective Farnham," Farnham responded hesitantly.


"Though our Cybercrime unit isn't fully operational yet, we still have expertise available to assist in your case should you require it," Tricia continued.


"I think our boys will be able to handle the tech stuff. So will we have access to Mr. Forseth at all? For instance, his account of the events?" asked Detective Farnham.


"We'll provide you with our transcript of his questioning..." Tricia responded.


"...with the parts we're not supposed to know omitted," Farnham replied in a disappointed tone.


"Precisely, though we'll do our best to accommodate you," Tricia replied to Farnham.


"Will that be all Inspector?" asked Farnham.


"Unless you have anymore questions, I think we're done. Its the Friday of the May two four Detective. I'm sure these people want to get home and recover from their ordeal." Tricia smiled at him professionally.


"I was thinking the same thing believe it or not. I mean I've got a wife and a cold beer waiting for me at home too," Detective Farnham responded somewhat frustrated by this new hurdle.


"Its good to know we're on the same wavelength. I'll let you get to your questioning now Detective. Thank you for your time," Tricia turned and started walking to the section the RCMP had reserved for their investigation.


"No Inspector, thank you," Detective Farnham responded somewhat sarcastically.


She continued her stride, used to this sort of rivalry that did sometimes occur with a woman with her responsibilities.


He approached one of the first responding Officers, a Constable and spoke with him.


"Got anything I should know before I begin my questioning?" asked Detective Farnham.


"You're going to want to talk to that teller over there. She's observant. Says she got close enough to smell the breath of the Wolfman robber. You're also going to want to talk to that Bank Guard there too. He has some training in the Military and Martial Arts as well. He has some information for you. Other than that, you can go over what we managed to get..." Constable Hannover handed Farnham a copy of the testimonies they'd collected so far.


"Just between you and me son, did you or anyone manage to get anything from this Forseth fellow before the feds showed up?" asked Farnham.


"Sir, I'm with you in the sense that we've had a serious rise in violent crimes..." the Constable began.


"Yep and all of them with a terrorist bent. Bombings. Arsons. Mass shootings. Yet with every case, the feds show up and snatch the investigation from us. That's why I'm trying to get this information from you about Forseth. It might help us with the robbery and help us with our own investigation into these other mysteries..." Farnham pressed the younger Officer.


"That Forseth fellow didn't say a thing to anyone. Wouldn't talk with the Police at all. Like I said, you definitely want to talk to the Teller and the Bank Guard," the Constable replied.


"Thanks son," Farnham patted the Constable on the shoulder and made his way over to question the two victims of the attempted robbery.


Overcooked Dinner For Two


Norler stirred the contents of the frying pan delicately. He reached over to the counter where a bottle of rather expensive wine sat uncorked. He grasped it in his hand and splashed the contents of the pan with a few dashes from the bottle and continued stirring. He then opened the oven and retrieved the biscuits and yorkshire pudding, placing them on the counter.


From the yorkshire pudding and the biscuits, he selected the best of each and populated the two plates he'd set aside. He complimented them with a helping of vegetables. He then took the contents of the frying pan, now cooked to succulent perfection and poured them over the yorkshire pudding, arranging the contents of each plate perfectly.


He took a quick sip from his glass of wine and then took the plates to a specially prepared glass table, which from the top of their penthouse condominium looked out over the Toronto Harbour in all of its colourful magnificence.


He then went around to every one of the candles that populated the room, lighting each, one at a time. When he passed the stereo unit, he turned the volume up on the romantic music he'd selected for their night and continued until he'd lit the last candle.


After he'd quickly tidied up the counter, he went over to the bookshelf and retrieved a little book he'd hidden from her a week earlier, entitled: Baby Names For Little Girls And Boys.


He then brought it to the table and placed it between the two dinner plates when he heard the front door to the condo opening.


"Wait! Don't come in yet!" Norler said aloud, grabbing the wine he'd poured for her just minutes earlier giving it enough time to breath.


He grabbed his wine glass in his other hand and went over to the front foyer where Alicia stood, her face absent of frown or joy.


"Traffic? Here, take this. Have a sip. Follow me. Maybe a quick dance in the living room..." he wrapped his arms around her and prompted her to move with him.


She neither resisted nor followed.


"Ok. We can work with that. Hungry? Follow me here where we can partake of your favourite..." Norler showed Alicia to the table, and sat her down at her place.


"Alright. This is serious. What is it?" Norler asked her.


Alicia looked him in the eyes, as if she were distant and lost. Looking through a thick fog at him. Without words.


She then turned her gaze downwards to see the book Norler had picked for them.


She looked back to him again.


"I'm not pregnant," Alicia's eyes began to fill with tears.


"Alright. Its alright. We'll try something else. We'll find a way," Norler moved his face to her field of view.


He tried crossing his eyes for her. He tried smiling. Anything to distract her from where he knew her mind was headed.


"This is the tenth time. There isn't anything we can do. We're at the end of this journey. Its done," Alicia said wiping her eyes.


"No. We're not done. There's still invetro fertilization..." Norler began.


"We tried that!" Alicia reminded him.


"Not in Switzerland we didn't! We'll try it there next!" Norler assured her.


"That's not how it works! Damn you! I'm a Doctor of Biology! We can't just do this like we're getting an oil change!" Alicia cried at him.


"We can do it whichever way works!" Norler pressed her.


"No we can't because my body won't produce eggs correctly!" Alicia cried even harder.


"We went over this. We can either give up and spend the rest of our lives miserable with one another or we can keep going until we find a way!" Norler got down on his knees beside her chair and used his hands to steer her shoulders and head to face him.


"This is all because of that damn formula!" Alicia screamed.


"Don't say that Alicia! You've saved the lives of millions of people with the SY349," Norler responded, shocked with Alicia's statement.


"The production version of the SY349 was version 2. The SY349 that I took was version 1. I was the first test subject and I remember wanting it to work so badly!" Alicia cried, pulling her hands away from Norler's to wipe her face.


"The tests had all been immensely successful with the nearly a ninety six percent rate of the elimination of the Cancerous cells or degenative diseases in the bodies of the lab animals. We would have had to wait another ten years if I hadn't tested it on myself," Alicia confessed to him.


"I know. I was the one who helped deal with the legal fallout of your decision to do that, but I didn't know that you used the version 1 formula on yourself. I didn't understand that there was a difference," Norler suddenly understood what was at the root of her despair.


"What did you think! That the formula was just perfect the first time around? Damn you Norler, with your head so caught up in being that business icon and trying to live up to something that is all just an illusion! There's the you the world wants and thinks it knows and then there's the real you. The one I need you to be!" Alicia's face was shiny with tears.


"This isn't about me. I'm fine with the fact that we've tried ten times, even using serious technology and medical procedures to get pregnant and yet we can't. I'm fine that's the case because the eleventh might work," Norler's face became firm.


"Don't you even feel an inkling about this? About me? What I might be feeling? Like its something that I can just shrug off and spend a few weeks in another procedure with even more strangers poking around in my uterus and that everything will be fine?" Alicia screamed at him.


"Can't you even for a moment understand what I'm feeling? You're acting like it means nothing to you. Like this is a problem you can solve with a speech to your board of directors!" Alicia cried furiously.


"I could hear it now... Good morning fellow members of the board. I know you've seen the recent news that we've tried ten times to get pregnant. Statistically speaking this is looking more and more like a trash investment but, just around the corner is our greatest success. Forget what you've heard about Alicia's uterus and her tubes. Forget that she took the version 1 of the SY349 before approval, because if you fail to back me, to back us, you'll miss out when we hit the ball out of the park with attempt eleven!" Alicia imitated Norler nearly perfectly.


Norler sat before her motionless, not knowing what to say.


"I just need to know that you even feel," Alicia suddenly stood up and ran to the bedroom.


Norler sat on the floor for twenty minutes completely flabberghasted that they'd had that argument. He then stood up and began cleaning up, carefully wrapping her supper for later. After he'd loaded the dishwasher, he went to the family room sofa and passed out in front of the fireplace.


They each had a long and troubled sleep.


And the treacherous voices in their sleep spoke to them, their vitriol unending.


"Do you think they'll do it? Breakup?"


"Are they really done?"


"She'll get her tubes tied, watch!"


"It's about time!"


"Hate paid!"


And from somewhere in the late night Queen's Quay traffic below their condo, a car stereo could be heard. Much like the same song had earlier found its way into Mr. Forseth's ears in the bank on that same day. The lyrics found Alicia's and Norler's dreams and nightmares:


Pressure...

pushing down on me

Pressing down on you, 

no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on streets



Brandy Cam


Brenda, her real name rather than her stage name, had left the bar at three in the morning. The staff had pushed the last of the clients out into the night and they each disappeared in their own direction. A small group composed of three couples for instance found their way to a local all night pizza eatery. Another couple who'd hooked up at the bar that night made their way to the nearest of their residences together. Brenda struck out into the night on her own and walked silently tipsy in a westerly direction along Queen Street West and Bathurst Street.


For her it was just another night and another means to keep herself from being completely isolated. As much so as some residents of the neighbourhood had sought of her and their torment of her. Something that had been going on for years and to think that it all had started with an argument she'd had with her parents at the young and tender age of fourteen. Brenda had been an independent girl, strongly confident and self assured. Enough so that she seldom fell for the peer pressure afforded her by other students. Especially those who tended towards their own cliques. These qualities she had seemed to come to a head when her parents put their foot down, indicating that they wanted her to shape up, especially in the department of her grades. She argued with them for the better part of half an hour, explaining that she was smart enough that she didn't need school, while her parents argued to the contrary and based upon their own life experience.


Brenda had grown up in the late nineteen eighties and had developed a strong sense of independence. Partly as a result of some of her more rebellious school teachers, and partly as a result of her own friends at school. When she first turned fourteen, on that very day, she cut class with some of her school mates. Something she'd never done before. Hanging out with her friends and cutting class seemed exhilarating and exciting. Like she'd suddenly grown up and was in charge of her own life. At least as much so as she was considering the fact that her parents still footed all the bills for her clothing, her makeup and most importantly, her room and board in their two bedroom bungalow. As time went on the summer approached, she'd cut classes more and more if only to hang out with her friends at the Eaton's Center. They'd get high together, and hang out just outside of the subway station, watching the patrons go by and trying to figure out who they were and what they were up to. Then as it often did, the conversation would drift onto the topic of what they wanted to do when they grew up.


All of them had some semblance of an idea. All of them except for Brenda. Though she wouldn't partake of the cannabis they'd smoke, she'd still hang out with them. She'd simply answer claiming that she'd decide when she got there. On one of those days when she'd returned to her parents' home, she was confronted first by her mother who challenged her with a letter from the school indicating that Brenda had been missing class for the last two months. Her mother scolded her, explaining that she'd better shape up or she'd lose all of her privileges. When Brenda asked what that meant, her mother explained that she'd be barred from going out after dinner and that she'd have to study her homework every night and to prove it to her.


Brenda immediately walked for the door, and when she opened it, she exclaimed that she didn't have to listen to what she was being told. That she could survive on her own. At that very moment, she left home and went to her friend's house in attempt to find a place to sleep for the night. When she'd arrived and found that her friend wasn't home, she instead went to a local park and found a bench and layed her weary head down on it and fell asleep. When she awoke, it was one in the morning and that night, she spent her first night outside, simply because she didn't want to go home. That same confidence and self assuredness that had protected her from the hefty peer pressure of those at her age, had also led to her being unable to come to a compromise with her parents. And so from the age of fourteen, Brenda began her life on the streets.


Surviving was difficult at first, but she quickly found that there were jobs she could take instantly if she knew where to look. For instance, sweeping front of stores for a morning coffee and donut. Cleaning up around the dumpsters for some of the local businesses, who'd throw her a few dollars here and there every time she did. She continued innovating in this way for a year, surviving fairly well until she got a break and landed a gig delivering flyers door to door for a man in his late twenties. He'd pick her up from the corner of Queen Street and University Avenue and from there he'd drop her off with a bag full of flyers in one of the local communities. She'd spend the day until seven at night delivering flyers for him and at the end of the day, she'd make herself a even forty five dollars. She never realized that she was being way underpaid, but it was also the most money she'd made in her life, so she didn't dare spoil her winfall by complaining. Instead she accepted the money and he'd drop her off at the same spot every night and pick her up the next day.


This continued for another six months and then one night when he dropped her off, he'd instead pulled over to a dark industrial side street rather than the busy corner of Queen and University. He handed her the flyer money she'd earned for the day, and when she accepted it, he was upon her in the front seat, holding her down and trying to strip her top from her. She screamed and punched him several times quickly throwing the door of the van open and running full tilt down the street screaming as loud as she could. Her employer quickly jumped back over to the driver seat and sped off into the night. Fortunately she'd not dropped her money, though she'd lost something much more valuable. 


Her innocence.


She found a park bench on a busy street where she stretched out and slept well within the view of the passersby, crying herself to sleep. When she awoke the next day, she'd returned to her original routine, even showing up to see some of the customers she'd known from back then. They greeted her happily and gave her what they could afford for her cleaning services and this continued until on her sixteenth birthday, she was finally old enough to legally check in to a women's shelter, which she did for the first time. Having learned the survive on the street, she was well prepared for anything the other residents might throw at her and she quickly learned the dynamics that occurred in the shelters. Once again it was much like school except there was a common acceptance of the situation amongst some residence who were essentially lifers. They knew they were permanent residents of the system and had to play it in such a way that was conducive to the continued employment of the staff. If they failed to do that, they might find themselves on the street and quickly replaced by someone else who was more of a "team" player.


Once she'd understood this, she consciously made the decision that she wanted out, but she wanted out into her own place and so she played her cards as she thought best would help her achieve this, and eventually it did happen. She received her first apartment and a lump sum of money to get it furnished and groceries in the fridge. Again, being very disciplined from her experiences, she didn't spend the money on drugs or substances and seeing as she was still a solid three years from the age where she could legally drink, she refrained from alcohol. Instead she did her best to get furniture and food and spent a week cleaning herself up. For the first time in her life, she shaved her legs fully knowing that from that point it would become a chore she'd have to do every two or three days. She got a kit to remove the hair around her top lip and cleaned herself up. Then, she taught herself how to do her own makeup and by the end of the week, she was quite good at it. She took a look in the mirror and saw a struggling street urchin girl that had suddenly grown to become a woman. The change had nothing to do with the grooming or the makeup at all. The change wasn't a change at all but a realization of what she'd gone through to get there. She decided that if she was going to survive in this world, that she'd take advantage of every advantage she had, including her thin and attractive features as she was quite visually appealing she soon realized. She'd need all the help she could get given the fact that she'd practically thrown her education out the window. Something she regretted, but seldom lingered upon.



The following week she went around to the local businesses in her community and handed out resumes she'd typed up on the new AMD K6 computer she'd purchased with her startup money. Keeping in mind this was all happening a year after MindSpice was founded by Gabriel Asnon and still seven long years before the video site VideoFeed would be created. The internet was only just starting to become popular and it was still mostly used by universities, business and the military. Brenda being an adventurous soul had learned how to use them by renting a computer in the first all night internet cafe in the downtown core. On cold nights, she'd often rent a computer and just sleep at the desk. By the time she'd had her own place, she was fairly proficient at the basics, and could use a word processor.


After she'd spent a week handing out resumes in person, she sat by the phone in her new apartment and waited. Then she waited some more. And some more. Before long, a month had gone by and she'd not received an interested response to any of her resumes. So, she picked up the phone and started calling them one by one. She eventually called a local Drug Store, who by chance had an opening at the Cosmetics Counter. In fact, the manager was about to place an ad looking for help, but instead asked Brenda if she'd like to come in for an interview. Brenda accepted and was groomed, dressed and out the door in ten minutes and on her way to the interview. She spoke with the Manager for a half an hour before the Manager gave her the news that she'd like her to start the following day. Brenda agreed and left the Drug Store with a smile from ear to ear. She even stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought herself a tray of brownies and a tub of ice cream to celebrate. That night she curled up with an ice cream sundae and fell asleep watching a comedy movie.


Excited and eager to start the next day, she woke up early and got ready a full two hours before she'd be starting her first real job. In fact, she'd even had to use her Social Insurance Number which would mean she'd be paying taxes, which would also mean that her location could possibly be found out by her parents, whom she was not ready to speak with quite yet. She worked that day and found that she really excelled at it and that it was something she did well. Her natural artistic ability and eye for colour worked well when dealing with her customers and before long, the cosmetics sales reps would show up, giving her quick lessons and tutorials for their products, increasing her ability substantially over time. She continued working for the store for years to come, and after more than eight years in that position, having literally started from the very bottom, she and the other employees received the news that the store's lease had run out and that the owner had been unable to renegotiate a new one. The bottom line was that the store would be closing for good.


She was devastated and for the first time in a long time, she had no idea what she was going to do. On one hand, she'd been very successful working for the counter, but if she applied to another store, she'd be starting from the bottom once again, and given the lifestyle she'd become used to, she realized she couldn't afford it. She pondered all the different ways she could earn money and then one night when she'd dolled herself up in her makeup and a rather revealing outfit, she came up with the idea that would change her life.


She reasoned that it was her body and she was fully in charge of it. She'd come to admire her femininity over time and the power her body and curves had afforded her. During her time in the shelter and on the streets, she'd often encountered some fixated on the Church, many of whom had tried to make her feel guilty simply for being a woman. For her role in original sin, which they'd often guilt trip others over attempting to have them feel a sense of disgust for their nudity or their own body. Or even their feminine nature. She came to dislike being near such people and would often stay clear of them where she could. She found many of them were mostly upset that they'd never enjoyed the youth and health of their own body, and were jealous and sometimes even hateful towards others who'd not been hoodwinked out of one of life's greatest pleasures. Despite the fact that Brenda still had never slept with a sexual partner, she felt strongly about having her say about her own body and what she did with it. She found it disgusting that there were people so ashamed of the greatest gift they'd ever had, that they spent most of their time trying to make other people feel miserable and guilty about it.


She sat herself in front of her computer, pulling her chair out a bit so that the web camera she'd recently purchased could take in her entire body from head to toe. She then started recording herself performing a striptease, albeit a very amateur one. She was a little stiff and purposeful at first but when she loosened up after a glass of wine, she found she had a natural knack for it. She then spent the night practicing setting up lighting in her place, and then doing her makeup so as to match her camera setup. She didn't want to look like a painted doll, but rather a naturally aesthetic siren, with all the right colours accentuated. Then she tried the striptease one last time before she went to bed and what she'd recorded was a work of art. By the next night, she was already looking into setting up one of the earliest Webcam girl businesses in the city.


She realized that she'd be at risk of people recognizing her. So she instead gave herself the stage name of Brandy Cam and her brand was born. Within the month, she'd setup her own website and was accepting money online for her camera striptease shows and within her first week, she'd made more than she'd earned in an entire two months of working behind the Cosmetics Counter. It was like she'd found a pot of gold. A diamond in the rough. From there, her life once again took a significant change as it once had long ago when she'd first started working for the Drug Store. Within a half a year of running her own webcam business in the late first decade of the new millennium, she moved out of her residence and into a much larger and nicer place. She was able to afford clothing she could only dream of and she quickly became a bit of a material girl, albeit a woman of determination and philosophical substance. Well earned through the school of hard knocks rather than Fort Knox.


Her new business continued to grow until she found she was spending as much if not more time administering her business and doing her accounting as she was spending in front of the camera. It was at that point that she decided it might be a good idea to look into joining another web studio brand. One who would take care of the accounting and administration and simply pay her for her time and performances. She got on her email and sent out a number of inquiries to which a reply came quickly from a contact at another website. He simply replied under the name of Jean.


He wanted to meet her, and to do business, in the form of a date where they could talk at ease with one another about the webcam business and negotiate an alliance if possible. Brandy agreed to this and a few nights later, he picked her up in his four door sedan. They drove to the restaurant, enjoying small talk along the way and by the time they got to the table, they'd become comfortable speaking with one another. He'd indicated that he'd like to have her as a star attraction given her brand and name, and to have the rights to advertise using her name, while she could work directly from her own studio but under their brand. He'd pay her directly and she wouldn't need to worry about the accounting and administration costs. She'd simply strip, do a little show and then collect the payment from him.


She sat on it for the length of the dinner, and then by the time they'd gotten to desert, he'd charmed her enough that she trusted him. She agreed to his terms and the following night after he'd dropped her off, she started her first gig with him. She found that she was working very frequently and for ever growing audiences. Occasionally, she'd be asked to do a private, which she agreed upon as long as the pay was not below a certain threshold. Not long after her first agreeing to the private dances, Jean had called her urgently wanting to meet with her for a business opportunity. She on the other hand being astute, had figured out that what she was being paid was well under what she was making doing her own administrating, even when she took into consideration the fact that she was doing it all herself. And so she agreed to a meeting with Jean, under the idea that she would bring up her grievances with him about the money situation. She didn't see it as greed, but rather as a realistic consideration of what she was worth.


Jean once again picked her up, and they went to the same restaurant once again and even ended up with the same table. Before Jean had a chance to speak, she presented her grievance to him, explaining that she felt she was being ripped off and that if the situation wasn't dealt with, that she'd leave and resume working for her own website brand once again, terminating their previous agreement. He nodded in all the right places and listened as best he could, and when she'd finished, he responded.


"I've got an opportunity for you to make a lot of money. I mean a LOT of money as our top producing girl. I have to admit I've had a lot of requests specifically for you, and so here's what I'm willing to offer you. You'll essentially be doing the same thing. Getting naked for my customers. Doing a little dance or two. Then you'll get frisky for them and do whatever they want, and for a lot of cash," Jean told her.


"How much more?" she asked him firmly.


"Six times what you make currently, plus gratuities," he explained to her.


"Really? What happened? Did you attact a different class of clientele suddenly? How can you afford to pay that to cam girls?" she asked him inquisitively.


"You won't be working as a cam girl. You'll be going directly to the location of the paying customer and dealing with them in person," Jean looked her squarely in the eye and her jaw dropped.


She just stared at him for a moment in disbelief.


"You'll be making a fortune doing this. I've never had so much demand for a girl as there has been for you. If you do this, we'll be rich and you'll be fixed up for life. You'll have some powerful friends and we'll all make some money and have some fun. I'll be driving you around to your gigs, or as need be, dropping you off at the airport for your flights. You'll be in demand and making money like you've never seen," Jean leaned in close to her, never removing his eyes from hers.


"You got one thing right," Brandy responded to his offer.


"What's that?" he asked her, backing off just slightly.


"It will be something that I'll never see, because its something that I'll never do!" she stood up, grabbed her drink and dumped it in his face.


She then grabbed his drink and dumped it in his lap and stormed over to the door.


"I really thought you might be different, but you're not. You're just the same as any pimp out there. You're blowing sunshine up my glory hole in the hopes that you can charm me into your schemes. Within a week of my agreeing to you, you'd be slapping me around like a two bit hooker and I'd become nothing but a commodity to you, that you'd gladly replace when you found another girl who could draw as much fanfare as me. I'll never work as a prostitute ever in my life. I'm an exotic entertainer and a web cam girl, not a hooker and least of all your slut! Don't ever call me again you bastard!" she yelled at him from the front door, before turning around and storming out of the restaurant onto the street.


She then found a cab, and went home. When she let herself in, she fell on the sofa and cried. Recalling that night the flyer delivery man had tried to rape her. She fell asleep having a nightmare based upon that memory, but when she looked into the flyer man's face, she saw Jean's.


When she awoke the next day, she took a week off, starting it all by treating herself to a spa and pedicure. When she got home, she spent the rest of the afternoon doing her yoga and tending to her garden. The flowers helped, for they simply looked back at her in joy and glee. Every one of them somehow still having a smile on its face despite what the world threw at them.


The next day she went out into the community and did her grocery shopping, bringing a cart with her so she could enjoy the walk back rather than take a cab. While out in the community, she suddenly found herself under verbal assault. On her way to the store, a pair of men followed her the entire way. They walked a distance behind her, close enough so that she could hear their words. They talked their own conversation but mixed in references that were clearly taken from the context of her life. Mentioning aspects of the web. Of web cam girls. Of striptease performance. Even some of the customer's names. They followed her and soiled her verbally in this way for the entire trip there and by the time she arrived at the store, she was on the brink of an anxiety attack.


She hid behind her sunglasses, hoping that nobody would recognize her but they did. Some of them made comments about the internet and what a source of evil it had become. Others went on about the sinful nature of flesh and the body, giving her scornful looks as they passed her. Others would do as the two men did who'd followed her the whole way. They'd mention names and lingo all related to her web cam business. Sometimes they'd even mention some of the web sites she'd visited the day before and by the time she had a full cart of groceries, she was once again on the brink of anxiety.


When one of these people stalking her made another comment behind her in the line, she turned around and faced them.


"If you have something to say, why not say it directly to my face!" she yelled at the customer who played naive.


"I'm sorry, did I do something?" he said innocently, in the full protection of other like minded stalkers.


"No. Must be mistaken identity. I thought you were a man," she turned back around around ignoring him from that moment on.


She paid for her groceries and left the store as quickly as she could.


This time on her way home, a couple had followed her, closer than the pair of men had on the way to the store. For the entire trip back home, they made squeaking noises with their lips. Those sounding much like a mouse or rat might make.


She picked up her pace and tried to leave them behind, but they kept up with her, only leaving her on her own when she'd arrived at her home. She watched from the front doorstep of her home as they continued walking.


"Nice day isn't it?" one of them asked her as they continued.


She ignored them and pulled her cart inside the front door after unlocking it.


When she got in, she turned on the fifty-two inch flatscreen television on her wall and the news came on. She then went to the kitchen and began unloading her groceries when she heard Jean's name mentioned on the news. She quickly dropped what she was doing and ran into the living room.


The story had claimed that Jean had been arrested as part of a sex trafficking ring that he'd been running under the guise of his web cam girl site. For three years he'd been luring his webcam girls into prostitution, setting up gigs with his clients where he'd deliver the girls and collect payment on their behalf, taking his own business management fees. She quickly turned off the television and suddenly it all became very clear to her. The people in the community were harassing her because they assumed that she informed on him, when in fact she had no idea what he was doing was illegal. From her perspective, it would seem that he'd found a loophole through which he could somehow traffic these women while averting any of the legal consequences. Seeing that he'd been arrested, it was clear that she'd been wrong. And yet, she was bearing the weight as if she'd snitched on him herself.


She reasoned to herself that she'd done the right thing by confronting him and not taking part in it. Yet, the rumour of her having informed on Jean would be damaging enough to wreak havoc on her own brand, while the fact that she didn't might be enough to put her at odds with the Police. She'd been seemingly been played into this vulnerable position and despite the fact that she didn't believe in conspiracies, she was closer to the truth than she'd have been ready to accept.


From that point on in her life, she'd become the subject of those seeking to deliver misery and torment unto her. Everywhere she went she was followed by people who'd do much the same to her as they'd done to her that same day on her way to and from the grocery store. When she'd become familiar and comfortable with a method they'd use, they would switch it up and do something different and less predictable so that she could never become comfortable with them. After years of the same thing, she simply began to accept it, doing her best to keep herself collected when in public.


Her pocket book was affected adversely by this change as well, and before long she could no longer afford the same house in which she'd been living. Once again she moved and for the first time in a long time, she downsized. Her webcam business though negatively affected was still quite profitable, yet she had to tighten her belt buckles if she wanted to survive comfortably. She'd kept track of Jean's trial in the news and before long he was a distant memory to her.


Years passed once again and she was approaching her late thirties by the later part of the second decade of the millennium. She'd noticed accumulating changes in her face and body over that time and she realized for the first time that she was mortal. That though she kept her age very well, she was still subject to the passage of time as some level. She began to consider that a day would come where she'd have to retire. Where nobody would simply pay for a forty-five year old web cam girl. Her thoughts returned to the idea that she might in this situation meet her prince charming. Someone who was living through similarly difficult circumstances who might understand her well enough to become her lover, and soul mate. She'd never really fantasized in her life, as she tended to be more practical minded but the turmoil she'd experienced had opened her eyes to her needs. Many of which she'd simply neglected in the name of earning an honest living.


She decided that she wasn't going to let these malicious groups take her life and well being away from her. So she decided to take Tuesdays and Thursdays off from her webcam business and started frequenting a singles bar nearby. She'd pack up her ebook reader, settle into a table in the back corner where she'd have a few drinks and spend most of her night reading by herself. Her logic was that if she was going to meet her soul mate, that she'd need to be somewhere where she could seen by him. And what better place than in a singles bar.


When she first arrived, the regulars, who'd had their own cliques attempted to play her a few times, competing to see which one would be the first to bed her. She caught on to their game quickly and was able to manoeuvre herself to sabotage their efforts and they quickly got bored with her until another new customer started showing up. They then turned their attention to her.


She continued the same routine, week after week for several more years until on this one night, she left the bar at three in the morning, quite tipsy and slightly drunk. As the other customers left, making their way out for food or home, she walked in her heels west along Queen Street from Bathurst Street in the direction of her home. It was a nice spring night, the air was rather warm and inviting and for the first time in a long time, it was peaceful. Understanding that moments like that were gold, she cherished the moment and enjoyed the walk in the silence and anonymity the night had offered her.


She continued along finding herself having reached a stretch of road where the light was blocked by an orchard of willow trees which peered out over a twelve foot high cement wall. A wall that had been erected to block the sound from the passing street cars and traffic along Queen Street, though at this time it was quiet. She continued along, careful to keep her balance as she walked, regretting once again having worn her heels. Next time she vowed to bring a pair of sneakers with her that she could throw on for the walk home should a similar night happen upon them.


In the sound of a slight breeze, she heard movement behind her and she turned to contront its source. She saw three men, two of whom quickly grabbed her left and right arms while the other grasped for her face, trying to muffle her screams. She didn't attempt to scream at all. Instead she bit down on one of the man's fingers as hard as she could while delivering a firm kick to his groin. He fell backwards onto the sidewalk without making so much as a sound. He rolled around quietly, holding both his hands between his legs while the others forced her quickly against the cement wall, slamming her into it with a slap. She too was winded much like her victim on the sidewalk. She gasped for air and after a moment found it. When she did, she started screaming.


"Arrrghg! HELP!" she yelled as loud as she could before the from the sidewalk slammed one of his fists into her solar plexus.


She once again gasped, completely winded and feeling herself on the brink of losing consciousness.


Then as she began to fade, the man who'd punched her began peeling her like a banana. Removing her clothing from the neck down. Stripping away the layers he didn't want, leaving only her undergarments on her body and her clothing clinging to her feet as bindings.


"Alright, lets have a free go at this Brandy cam girl..." he said as he moved in for her underwear.


As he reached forward to remove her panties, a voice spoke from atop of the cement wall.


"Unhand her if you value your health," a deep and husky voice spoke.


The man ignored the voice and continued for her panties.


In a blur of motion, a shadowy figure from the top of the fence spun into a triple somersault landing perfectly quietly in their midst.


He only wore black slippers and pair of black trousers. The rest of him entirely naked.


Even in this dim light they could see that this man was carved from stone, like a statue. Solid, with lines and the curvature of muscle. Not mass but pure tone.


He moved so quickly that it could be said that he'd barely moved at all. Both his fists struck out at the two holding her against the wall, instantly shattering their jaws. They fell unconscious to the dirt and remained still.


He turned to face the one going for Brandy's panties. He instead had turned his attention to the newly arrived man with no shirt, taking several swings at him. The figure once again moved like a blur, dodging everything this man could throw at him, eventually delivering a decisive fist to his solar plexus much like the man had given Brandy.


"Why don't you just not pick on anyone at all!" he said as he delivered the blow.


The man clasped his gut, and fell forward unconscious giving Brandy full view of her saviour.


"You might want to cover yourself?" he turned his back to her, allowing her to get herself dressed.


"Its alright. I'm comfortable with my body," she said as she got dressed, still shaking horribly from the experience.


She examined the man as she returned her clothing on her body. He was truly a sculpted body with one tremendous piece of artwork that encircled his torso three times before coming to face the world in the center of his chest. Two glowing eyes at the lead, a pair of horns followed by a long serpent's body. It was an Asian Dragon and it peered into her soul as it looked on.


"Are you... are you...? The butterfly? I though she was a girl? Like me?" she asked him.


"No. I am not the butterfly. I am the Dragon," he responded.


"Are you two friends?" she asked him.


"We've yet to meet... at least in this form. You'll be alright. You will make your way home safely and I can already see you at your door a half hour from now," he turned to face her and upon seeing her clothed, he offered her his hand and lifted her to her feet.


"Thank you," she said, on the brink of tears.


"You are a fearless soul. The thanks should be mine," he responded to her and a moment later he'd leapt into the air, flipping over the twelve foot wall as if it were nothing but a curb.


One of the three men groaned and she quickly turned to him and gave him a swift kick in the side.


"Don't you ever touch another woman again!" she scolded him as she began walking home.


On her way, she heard the sirens and moments later the Police arrived to the location of the three men who'd been incapacitated by the mysterious Dragon man. She considered going back and telling them what they'd done, but she suspected correctly that they were already in far more trouble than they could handle. Surely enough, when the Police ran the identification of one of the men, they found that his DNA had been discovered at the site of a rape three months earlier. The Police arrested and detained the three men for drunk and disorderly while the following day they'd interrogate them and find that they'd committed several rapes over the last three years in the Queen Street West area of Parkdale.


Brandy made her way home and she arrived at her door safely exactly as the Dragon man had predicted. She opened the front door, locked it behind herself and began to cry.


It wasn't until the next day that she'd find out that on the other side of the city, the body of another woman, a younger woman, would be found in the bushes off the side of a road. That woman would become the sixth victim of the Chameleon Killer. A serial murderer operating in the Greater Toronto Area.


The Politically Incarcerated


The limousine drove through the streets of downtown Bogota, two escort cars bracketing it, front and back. Within the luxury vehicle in the back seat, sat a man in his late fifties. Adorned in a business suit and tie, he sat reading the prelimary documents for the extradition order. He shuddered again when he read the name, though he'd seen it many times over the course of his career.


He closed the folder within which the documents were contained and placed them in a small attache case he kept in his lap. He then looked to the pedestrians of the streets of Columbia's largest city as his car bore him to his destination.


The lead escort vehicle pulled up to a large stone building, the sign: Bloque De Oficinas Gubernamentales prominently  fastened to the front wall. The limousine pulled up behind the lead vehicle and the rear escort followed. A sextet of agents emerged from the escort vehicles, and began a customary search of the immediate vicinity for any threats. When they were certain the coast was clear, one of them gave a thumbs up to the driver of the limousine, who unlocked the passenger door.


The man in the suit stepped out into the late morning sunlight and with the attache case in hand, he proceeded up the stairs into the building with three of the escort agents covering him.


Once inside, he found his way to the foyer elevator and allowed the agents to secure the premises. After they gave him the signal, he proceeded into one of the elevators up to the tenth floor. The agents stepped out of the elevator first, once again ensuring the way was clear of any potential threats to their package, and when it was they once again signalled the elevator's only remaining passenger. He stepped out of the elevator and turned right, making his way into the offices of the Juez de la Corte Suprema through its entry door.


Upon his arrival, a similarly clad man, whose gray cropped moustache was salted and peppered with white and black hairs stood ready to greet him.


"Senor Carmen? It is good to see you again," the man offered his hand in a firm handshake.


"Mister Casavetez. Glad to see you in good health," Mister Carmen responded politely.


"So tell me, what brings you to Columbia so soon after your last visit?" Mister Casavetez asked Mister Carmen.


"Perhaps we should retire to your personal office to discuss this matter?" Mister Carmen suggested.


"Yes, of course. Would you like a coffee? Our finest. You must know that it is one of Columbia's best exports, alongside sugar and rubber. Our coffee is world reknowned for its full body and aroma," suggested Mister Casavetez.


"Certainly. I'd like that," Mister Carmen agreed as a show of trust.


"Sylviana, could you please?" Mister Casavetez gestured to his receptionist.


"How would you like yours Mister Carmen?" Sylviana asked him, her curvaceous figure appearing from behind her desk.


"Cream, no sugar thank you," Mister Carmen waited for his coffee.


"Here you go. Please do enjoy," she responded, handing him a black mug.


"Thank you. My agents here will be more than happy to keep you company," Mister Carmen smiled to Sylviana.


"My pleasure I'm sure," she responded.


"No. Believe me, its theirs," Mister Carmen responded, drawing a seductive giggle from Sylviana as he followed Mister Casavetez into his office.


"Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable. So tell me, what is so urgent that you came to my office in person?" Mister Casavetez asked Mister Carmen.


"Well, I wish I could say it was a social visit but its not. I'm here officially representing the World Court. I'm sure you've kept up with this issue on the news. Its been fairly prominent for the last two weeks. Several countries have put together a World Court request for the extradition of one of your own nationals so that he may stand trial separately for his for crimes in seventeen different countries," Mister Carmen explained to Mister Casavetez.


"And what crimes are these?" asked Mister Casavetez.


"If I gave a list of crimes he hadn't committed, it would be shorter. At the forefront of his crimes are criminal extortion, obstruction of the law, obstruction of due process and money laundering. That doesn't include all the other allegations against him," told Mister Carmen.


"Against who, Senor?" asked Mister Casavetez.


"Who else? Alomera Constanza Zekestes, whom you may know by his nom de plum, Mister Zek," Mister Carmen opened his attache case, making Mister Casavetez visibly uncomfortable.


Mister Carmen handed him the extradition order folder, watching as Mister Casavetez read it. The colour slowly drained from his face until he was a sickly pale white.


"I'm afraid the man to whom you're referring has already been tried to the fullest of the law, and is serving his sentence lawfully in La Modelo. I'm certain you've heard about how deadly this prison is?" Mister Casavetez asked Mister Carmen.


"Yes, I have. Its quite fitting that a man of Mister Zekestes' repute will finish the remainder of his life in such a hostile facility, probably fighting to survive every day. However, that does not exempt him from his responsibilities to the world community, to whom he must answer for these remaining charges in the courts of those seventeen countries. If you agree to an extradition, I am authorized to offer a loosening of trade tariffs on all Columbian exports to those seventeen countries. Essentially you'd be getting the benefit of a free trade agreement without the formal agreement. This way, we keep it out of the press. Columbia can charge the difference and pocket that money, while we still get our coffee, sugar and rubber at a premium price. Justice is served and Columbia's face in the world community is revered more so than its reviled," Mister Carmen played his hand.


"I see. You make an excelent offer. How could Columbia refuse such a show of trust, even if it is selling off one of its own citizens?" Mister Casavetez got right to the bottom line.


"A citizen who has been an embarrassment for Columbia while being a bane for both Columbia and the world," Mister Carmen responded to Mister Casavetez observation.


"I'm afraid it isn't quite that simple. You see, Mister Zek as you refer to him is a folk hero to many of our people, and from what I'm understanding, to many the world over. The little man who stood down the goliath of the combined Governments of the industrialized world. Many of our people and those who admire him the world over would see this as a validation of his martyrdom, and as you know, martyrs, especially dead ones, are the most dangerous people of all,"  Mister Casavetez confronted Mister Carmen with a profound truth.


"A martyr who is responsible for masterminding the murders of more than a thousand people. Both women and men. All of whose bodies were exhumed from the bottom of a harbour outside of his estate on Treadwater Island. He'd lined the reefs there with death as a warning not to cross him. It took our best forensics experts nearly four years of around the clock work to identify all nine hundred and fifty six bodies. That's their martyr. Are you telling me that Columbians and others around the world would discard their own conscience and souls to follow such a man?" asked Mister Carmen with both his words and a firm gaze.


"Your point is one with which I whole heartedly agree, but the people that follow such a madman cannot always be made to see reason. Tell them the truth and they will deny it, claiming it was fabricated to dirty the man's reputation. The World's Governments conspired to destroy the man who was defying them. That would be their response, however, you might convince those who actually worked directly for him on Treadwater Island of his cruelty, for they were witness to things that they will likely never be able to forget. You can destroy a single man, but you can't destroy a legend," Mister Casavetez explained to Mister Carmen.


"If we can connect the man and the legend to his own truth, then both will fall. That's a chance we're willing to take and we're humbly asking for Columbia's help in this matter," Mister Carmen spoke as an expert diplomat.


At that moment, both of them jumped as the office phone on Mister Casavetez' desk rang. Mister Casavetez answered it on the first ring.


"Mr. President? I'm speaking with him at this very moment," Mister Casavetez spoke.


"Yes, we were discussing the matter, but I'll let him know your stance on this issue right now. I'm certain that he will be happy to hear," Mister Casavetez then hung up the phone.


"Mister Carmen, that was the President of Columbia calling me about this very matter. I have some good news for you. We are willing to agree to your terms, and will comply with the criminal extradition of Alomera Constanza Zekestes under the terms you laid out verbally for me. I will have my secretary draw up the agreement and we'll sign it before you leave. I will arrange to have the prisoner you indicated delivered alive and in good health to the Central American Court Of Justice, where he will be remanded into the custody of the World Court. Does this agreement serve your interests?" asked Mister Casavetez.


"I think we've found solid ground to mutually push forward together on this matter," Mister Carmen agreed.


"Good, then is it too early for a drink to celebrate? I've got a bottle of sixty year old Scotch whiskey. Agreed?" Mister Casavetez offered Mister Carmen.


"Certainly, thank you," Mister Carmen agreed.


"Miss Sylviana, I need you to type up an agreement. Could you come in here and I'll give you the details. We need this within the half hour, highest priority," Mister Casavetez activated his intercom and addressed his secretary.


"Right away, Senor Casavetez," Sylviana's perky voice rang through the intercom.


"Good then, here's to a new future without a most troublesome man," Mister Casavetez handed Mister Carmen a fine crystal glass of scotch.


He stood and accepted the drink, taking a sip.


"Very nice. To the future," Mister Carmen sat back down when Sylviana had a seat.


"Now, lets get down to business, shall we?" Mister Casavetez smiled, sitting back in his chair feeling like he'd had an immense weight removed from his shoulders.


A weight he'd carried for the six years since Mister Zek had fallen into his lap.



Federal Express


Another luxury vehicle of a different kind made its way along a road pocked with cracks and pot holes. It too was bracketed by a vehicle at its front and back, both of them armoured. The luxury vehicle itself was a limousine of sorts, though not very comfortable, it was guaranteed to get even the most dangerous of packages to its destination.


Like the vehicles that escorted it, armour covered its outer hull which was shaped like that of a large cube van. Within the vehicle a driver and a gunner sat as the convoy pulled through the open gates of La Modela prison. They drove the length of the driveway up to the large cement building.


The driver of the protected vehicle remained in his seat while the gunner got out and went around to the back of vehicle where he opened a door. Ten men in full body armour jumped out of the back of the armoured van and marched into the prison through its service entrance.


The gunner proceeded to a desk, handing the armed clerk a paper. The clerk read it, immediately recognizing El Presidente's signature.


"We've been expecting you. Constable Tabo here will take you to his cell and retrieve him for you," the clerk advised the gunner.


The clerk hit a large red button on the wall, and a series of sirens and klaxons blared throughout the prison facility. A moment later and during the blaring noise, a large Constable appeared through a back office door and addressed the gunner.


"Give it a minute. We're just getting everyone back to their cells. You can collect him from there," the Constable told the gunner.


"Alright," the gunner responded without emotion.


They waited for two minutes before the Constable used his keycard to open the first barricade door. The electric motor hummed and the door slide open for him, the gunner and the ten armoured guards following closely behind.


They marched through a series of corridors until they found themselves in the pen and in the main range. They proceeded through the range as a host of prisoners from within their cells yelled and screamed obscenities at them. Some of them laughing, some of them silent knowing that it could only mean one thing.


The constable took them through another jail door and then into the high security wing, where after a short walk they found themselves in front of the door of the most notorious criminal in the world. Alomera Constanza Zekestes.


"Face the wall! Hands up and against the wall. Don't turn around or look at us unless we tell you to or you will be shot. There will be no warnings," the Constable yelled through the cell door at the only prisoner in the cell.


The Constable opened the door with his keycard and proceeded to body search the prisoner thoroughly. When he was satisfied that the prisoner had nothing hidden on his person, he retrieved a pair of handcuffs from his belt, and cuffed the prisoner's hands behind his back. He then led the prisoner to the gunner.


"This is the prisoner you requested. I present him for your inspection that he has not been harmed or mistreated while in our care, and upon your agreement, we will remand him into your custody, for which you will sign a document at the front desk where we first met," the Constable addressed the gunner, who'd already began to inspect the prisoner.


"Prisoner. Lift your left arm high," the gunner ordered the prisoner, examining his left arm for a scar.


Once he'd found the scar, he compared it to a similar photograph and then forced the prisoner's arm down. He then made his way around to the prisoner's back, examining the rear right side of his neck. The gunner compared a birthmark he'd found on the prisoner with another photograph in his possession.


The gunner then examined the prisoner's face closely, once again comparing it to a photograph he had. Once he was satisfied that the person indicated in his records was the person before him, he gave the thumbs up to the guards who then surrounded the prisoner.


"You will follow the Constable through the prison, keeping pace with your guards. If you fail to comply, or attempt to run, we will use lethal force against you. Do you understand?" asked the gunner.


"Yes!" the prisoner responded abrubtly.


"Now move it!" the gunner ordered the prisoner as the Constable led the armed convoy through the prison.


When they returned to the range, upon seeing Mister Zek, everyone in the cells went wild, cheering him as if he were their messiah. Some of them climbed the bars, cursing the guards. Others held their hands out through the bars using finger gang symbols and signs to salute their messiah as he left the building.


The prison guards walked around the range, using their batons in attempt to force the prisoners to keep their arms in their cells to little effect while the convoy proceeded quickly through at a quick march. Before long, they were gone leaving the prisoners with their last vision of the legendary Mister Zek. They'd not see him again until he'd make the news one last time.


The convoy finally arrived at the front service desk, where the gunner signed the forms that indicated that the prisoner was in his custody and that he was of good health and treatment.


They then took him out through the service doors and loaded him into the back of the armoured van, surrounded by the ten guards.


Mister Zek felt the movement of the van as it backed up, making a three point turn as it found its way onto the Modelo prison driveway. They drove straight for a minute and the van stopped as it exited the facility. It then turned out onto the rural road and began its long journey to the nearest airport.


"Am I being relocated? To A different prison perhaps?" he asked the guards, all of whose faces were hidden behind masks.


"That prison was too overcrowded anyway. That and the Warden himself was a drunkard. How do I know? Him and I had many face to face meetings. He was practically my best friend. Especially once I found he had a soft spot for liquor. I don't drink you see. Dulls the senses too much and life is ever so retreating as it is. Disappearing off the horizon never to be seen again. Why I practically was running that prison you see. I even had the final say over who would get in and who would get out. I kept it perfectly balanced between the Columbian Rebel Cartel, and the Minimalist Government Futurists, another gang. It is simply the names that are different, for in those gangs the only politics are death and avoiding it," Mister Zek paused for a moment to let his words sink in.


"So I guess this is it. The end of the line for me," Mister Zek speculated.


"You're being taken to another facility where you'll be delivered to court in order to defend yourself against charges pertaining to your time at Treadwater Island and sometime before," one of the guards spoke.


"Is that what they told you? Seems innocent enough, but I can tell you that this move is strictly because they're going to assassinate me. You see, I'm a very dangerous man, though you'd never guess by looking at my frail older condition. At fifty-nine years of age, I know things about the other men and women of power in this world that would bring down entire Governments. They know this of me and want me dead. That is the only explanation," Mister Zek reasoned, once again giving pause for effect.


"If you keep talking, I'm going to assassinate you," one of the guards spoke in a husky monotone voice, causing the others to laugh at his words.


"You'd be doing me a favour, though when they kill me, my death will be quick. One shot from a long range rifle, or possibly a well placed bomb. They'll blame it on one of the other Cartels, but in all truth, it will have been them, the people in power in the world that will have had their fingers on the trigger," Mister Zek paused again.


"You see, this world and system that you protect. Its all a lie. An elaborately woven illusion with enough mystery and the potential for something better to happen as bait. You've all bought into it, hook line and sinker," he once again paused, licking his lips for good measure.


"They'd never fish you all out at the same time. Never. They only pull you out to eat you one at a time because they already know the rest of you will watch and simply do nothing, if not because it was only one rather than three. They know that if they took you in numbers, that you'd catch on and seek a way to destroy them. Rise up against them. You're all just fish they keep separate from each other, waiting for your baited hook to arrive and take you away," Mister Zek reasoned with them metaphorically.


"One by one, you'll all go this way. Mark my words in black ink and you'll regret the day you let me, the one man who could save you from them all be sent to his death," Mister Zek solidified the possibility of his martyrdom to the guards around him.


The van bounced slightly as it dipped into a pothole. The van slowed ever so slightly and then picked up speed again as they found fresh asphalt and roads in good repair. They were back on the road as Alomera Zek was driven in an armoured van unto his ultimate destiny.



The Star Crossed Lovers


Troy stood before the stove stirring scrambled eggs and fried potatoes in a pan. A tray sat beside him on a marble countertop with two glasses of orange juice, two mugs for coffee and two empty plates whose future contents he was currently preparing.


The coffee maker slurped its last slurp as it finished brewing the pot. Troy quickly emptied the contents of the frying pan onto the plates and started pouring the coffee when he felt a warm hand on his back. A moment later, he felt Valerie's warm body pressed against him, her breasts firm and warm like her hands.


"I was just going to bring this to you in bed. I thought we could have a little breakfast together..." he returned the coffee pot to its cradle and turned to meet her lips.


"...and then what?" Valerie asked him, opening her house coat so their skin could meet as they remained close to one another.


"What, you want to spoil both surprises at once?" Troy joked with her, kissing her scalp.


"So you admit you had two surprises in mind..." she lifted her chin to meet his lips once again.


"Actually I had nothing of the sort in mind, but that hidden part of myself. The one that secretly wants to ravish you in the morning might have something different in mind..." he aggressively kissed her and she walked backwards until she reached the bedroom and ultimately her bed.


She then fell over backwards onto the bed as Troy decorated her body with passionate kisses. He worked his way up her thighs and onto her muscular stomach, and then up to each of her breasts before finally reaching her mouth. Then, the monster in him awakened and he ravaged her.


She awoke with a start, noticing the clock. It was a quarter to ten. She quickly shook Troy awake and he found her lips again.


"We haven't got time! Its quarter to ten! We're both late already!" Valerie tried to squirm away from, pretending that she was barely strong enough to push him off.


In reality, she could have hefted him into orbit had the need for such a move arisen.


"Seriously! We've got to go!" she giggled as he continued to kiss her neck.


He gave her one last peck on the lips.


"We can shower together quickly. Then you go get ready and I'll put our breakfast into containers. I can get dressed and we'll just leave from here. We can eat in the car or at the cafeteria at West Meet East. Your pick," Troy suggested.


"I love a man with a plan," Valerie kissed him, dragging him by the hand into the shower.


After they'd emerged, she remained in the bathroom doing her morning makeup routine while he quickly gathered up the breakfast he'd made and put it into containers. He smelled the coffee, which by that point was mostly evaporated and strongly pungent. He switched it off and dumped the pot, instead adding the option of a trip to the drive thru on their way to the office.


He then made his way into the bedroom and gathered up his clothing, and upon finding one of his other shirts he'd left at her place from the night before, he got dressed.


"I'm going to have to go home some time and get more clothing, unless you'd like to come to my place for a change?" he asked her.


"Your place is too small," Valerie responded.


"What did you expect from a photographer? A mansion?" he asked her.


"No. A studio. Wouldn't you like to take some erotic photos of your secret girlfriend?" she asked him playfully.


"I don't know. I guess I'll have to ask her. In the meantime, what about you. How would you feel about that?" Troy joked with her.


She smirked at his joke, pausing before beginning to apply her lipstick.


"I'm ready when you are," he snuck up behind her, planting a kiss on her bare back.


"Is that a hint? Are you saying I'm too slow?" she asked him.


"Slow and steady is much better in many cases you know, but a quickie would be fun every once in a while?" Troy tickled her slightly.


"That could be arranged. There's many secret places at West Meet East where we could rendezvous, as Monique might put it?" Valerie suggested seductively.


"What if we got caught? Could you imagine?" Troy asked her, a wide smile upon his face.


"That's the thrill, isn't it?" she asked him.


"We'll have to find out, won't we?" he replied, kissing the back of her neck again.


"No plans, Mister Plan Man. Just surprises if we do," Valerie agreed.


"Improv at the office. Gotta love it," he smiled, giving her one last peck on the neck.


"Alright, go start the car. I'm going to get dressed and then we'll leave," Valerie pushed him out of the bathroom.


"Whose the planner now?" he asked as he gathered their breakfast and made his way out to the car.


He took in a large breath of the fresh late morning air and got in the driver's seat of his car. A moment later, she stepped out of the front door, locking it behind her. She then did her best to run in her heels and found her way to the passenger door.


They then drove off from the downtown suburban street out into the late morning traffic, never noticing that they'd been watched the whole time.


Jack Warren sat in his car, watching as they drove the length of the street and pulled out onto Dundas West.


"So that's how its going to be Valerie?" Jack scoffed, shaking his head.


He started his own sports car and drove off in another direction.



Butterflies Aloft Of The Field


Warai, a little girl of six years had barely learnt to speak English when the test was beset upon her.


"What is a berry if it is bound within straw?" asked her teacher.


"..." Warai looked back in confusion, her brown, even black irises absent of context though deep within she fully knew well what her teacher was asking.


"Answer me!" the teacher demanded of the young girl.


"A berry-bound!" Warai deceived, purposefully.


"No! It isn't! Bad girl!" the teacher slapped her on the wrist with her yardstick.


Warai grasped at her wrist in pain, on the threshold of tears.


"It tastes of berry, I sample it through a drinking glass straw. What is it?" quizzed the teacher.


"A strawberry!" Warai revealed her answer rather than risk more emotional pain.


"That's better," the teacher responded.


"If its an apple, but it votes, what do I mean?" asked the teacher, holding the yard stick close to Warai's knuckles.


"Pyo?" asked Warai, a tear poised precariously on her left bottom eyelid.


"No!" the teacher's yardstick smashed down hard upon Warai's desk.


"Pyo-apple? Don't hurt her," begged Warai.


"That body slut model? She'll be fine! If not harmed by her body sin!" the teacher responded.


"You can't!" Warai demanded of her instructor.


"No, Warai! I can!" the teacher responded.


"Tell me Warai. If there's butter on bread, and it could fly, and it was eaten by a dragon in the sky, then what would it be?" the teacher asked her.


At that precise moment, the front door of the school flew open and a man stood in the doorway brandishing a tire iron.


"Come right now with me Warai. These people have kidnapped you! They are not right for you!" the man exclaimed as she sat watching him from her desk.


"Braden? Is that you?" Warai turned to see a familiar face.


One she'd known, in fact as an English teacher, from some time ago at the very same facility.


"You are not permitted on these premises. Leave at once or suffer the consequences!" the lady demanded of him.


"Let her decide that for herself. Warai, come with me and we'll leave together. Find a place of freedom far from here," Braden opened offered his right hand, tightly brandishing the tire iron in the left.


Warai looked to the teacher and then to Braden. A smile spread across her face and she jumped up from her chair and ran for his hand.


The teacher's hand quickly found a large blue button which was wired beneath the surface of her desk. She pressed it and a loud klaxon and siren blared from the school's intercom system.


Warai's hand tightened around Braden's and they ran together from the lonely classroom down the hall to the exit. From there, it would be a long and difficult journey.


"Come on! We need to flee. These people are a blight upon us all! Their days are numbered. Literally to minutes!" he promised her, pulling her little fragile body forward. 


Together they fled from the main Re-Education Center over a gravel covered surface towards the camp exit.


By the time they'd made it in the open nearly half-way, the gunfire erupted and the schrapnel flew.


Braden picked her up in his muscular arms and covered as he ran. She clung to him tightly, allowing him to run full force as he attempted to use the vehicles that littered the grounds as cover.


He reached into his shirt and retrieved a hand radio which he'd secured with a string to the inside of his his armpit. He stopped behind a van on the gravel parking way using it for cover. He then held the radio to his face and yelled into the microphone.


"Its me, Dragon. I've got the girl. Hold your fire! We're just about out of the camp!" he yelled into the radio in Korean.


"Dragon, this is Combined Forces Command. You're receiving fire from the within the camp. Keep your head down and get outside of the AO and to the LZ. Quickly! We've got a Joint South Korean F-35 and North Korean J-16 strike inbound on your position. You've got three minutes to get to the minimum safe distance." a frantic voice blared over the radio's crackling speakers.


"Hang on tight sweetheart!" the Dragon urged Warai.


She tightened her grip around him as much as she could as the impacts from gunfire sent sparks from the edges of the vehicle behind which they were hiding.


"I'm scared, Braden!" Warai began to cry.


"That's alright. It's ok to be scared. Remember the field? Remember?" he asked her as he kept his profile low behind the van.


She sobbed and then she spoke hesitantly.


"I remember..." she spoke, keeping her face tight against his chest.


"Remember. Don't rely too much on hope, and never - ever be paralyzed by fear. Do you remember?" he asked her again.


"I remember... Welly told us," she smiled reluctantly at him.


"Good. We're going to get out of here alive. You just hang on and we'll do this. Together. Do you understand?" Braden told her firmly, clinging tightly to her.


"I believe you Braden," she clung tightly to him.


"Good. As long as at least one of us does, we'll be alright together," he assured her as he held her tightly.


So much so she could hear his heart pounding from within his chest.


"Hang on tight sweetie!" he got up sprinting as fast as he could for the camp exit.


The rounds impacted around his feet as he ran, dodging as best he could.


As she clung to him, he rolled, keeping his profile as low as he could. When he emerged from the tumble, he was on his feet again running.


He dashed through the parking area, running directly into one of the other teachers, both of them falling over as he did.


"Kirokiya? Run from here! As fast as you can!" Braden yelled at his peer.


"Braden? Where have you been? You're asking me to run when the pay is so good? Bah! I always knew you were a fool!" Korokiya resonded when a round clipped the rear view mirror of his mini-van, shattering it to pieces.


"Hey! You'll pay for that! I'm a teacher! I have rights!" Kirokiya yelled at the gunmen as they fired from the school grounds.


"Not as long as you're here! Run Kirokiya! I beg you!" Braden demanded of one of his only friends at the Re-education establishment.


One of the rounds buzzed closely, grazing his toupee, knocking it clear off onto the gravel.


"Ho-lee!" Kirokiya exclaimed.


"I think you dropped something mister!" Warai exclaimed, frightened to see a piece of the man's head and hair fall to the gravel beneath them.


"Remember what I said, Warai. Keep your mind on the field," Braden assured her.


"Those bastards took my hair-job! Now they've got an enemy!" his balding hairline fully exposed as much so was his ego.


"That won't do you any good if you don't get out of here! There's an air strike inbound!" Braden yelled at his peer.


"An airstrike! We're in No-Man's Land! Which of them would attack us here?" asked Kirokiya.


"Uhhhh, both? South and North!" Braden told him.


"Ho-Lee Cow! We better run!" Kirokiya quickly found an opening and dashed, zig-zagging, his feet ahead of him ever so slightly as he did.


"You assholes are going to pay for my hair job!" he yelled as he ran.


Braden smiled at his friend's spirit, taking advantage of the opening he'd bought for the both of them.


Braden clung to Warai as he took advantage of his friend's effort, running full tilt for the edge of the forest just beyond the entrance to the Re-education Center.


Despite his prime physique, when the round impacted his calf, Braden tumbled, attempting to roll, relying on his martial arts training to help him reduce the impact of his fall. His effort paid off and Warai was protected as he collapsed to the gravel. He came to a stop on his back, as Warai still clung to his body. When he felt sharp sting of of pain climb his leg, he knew that he was done.


"Come on Braden! We have to run!" she shook him as she got to her feet, the rounds impacting all around her.


"Run, Warai! You have to. Follow Kirokiya! I'll be right behind you!" he lied.


"Promise!?" shed asked him.


"Yes! Go!" he responded, unmoving.


"On the field? Promise?" she refused to let him remain.


He looked deeply into the little girl's eyes and pleaded with her. He knew he was done. His calf was ruptured and blood poured profusely from the wound as his body temperature cooled. If his life was going to mean anything at all, she had to escape.


"On the field... I promise... But even if I can't keep up Warai, you need to run... and keep running. Find Kirokiya..." he pushed her, getting to his one good foot and hopping as fast as he could.


"Welly will save us!" she exclaimed as she ran.


"...don't rely entirely on hope... ...and don't ever be paralyzed by fear... Warai..." Braden spoke as he hopped on his one good foot.


Out of the corner of his eye, and from the south, he saw the low flying F-35 fly overhead silently. 


"RUN WARAI!" he screamed at the top of his lungs but he knew that it was already too late.


From North, the J-16 followed through on a low bound trajectory, silently, its screaming sonic footprint trailing behind it.


His last vision was of Warai finding the boundary of the forest and dashing quickly into the cover it provided.


When the sound of the F-35 and the J-16 found him in the center, he knew that his life was done.


He fell to the gravel one last time as he laughed, thinking about Kirokiya raising Warai. Kirokiya, absent of his toupee and expensive hair job.


When he realized that she might actually live, he allowed himself to die.


Impact of the South Korean GBU cluster bomb carried by the F-35, and its North Korean equivalent delivered by the J-16 was nearly silent.


In Braden's last vision, he swore he could see Kirokiya's toupee flying through the air, free and liberated from his scalp once and for all.


That's when the shockwave hit. One from the South. One from the North.


It was somewhere between the impact of the two that Braden's old life ended, and his new life began.


Within the forest, on the other side of a small hill, Warai clung to the dirt as she waited for Braden.


Somewhere deep inside of her though, she knew that he was already gone.



The Alarm


On the other side of the world, Heylyn had been deep in the recesses of a dream deep within the field when she felt an urgent if not intrusive eruption of cacaphony in her ears. Almost painful if not for her heightened threshold. Without her eyes so much as blinking, she rolled over, her hand for the first time in a while, struggling to find the snooze button on the alarm clock.


"Take that you denier of winks..." she mumbled as she rolled over, pulling the pillow over her head.


The peace, though fleeting was only temporary, for a few moments later, the wall mounted televison in her room came to life, the daily City TV Morning news announcing its arrival.


"Damn. If silence is golden, then I've been robbed of my fortune..." she mumbled from beneath her pillow, stretching out in her bed to find cool spots to aid in her comfort her.


"...South and North Korean officials aren't commenting on a joint strike carried out in the neutral zone between their two countries. NATO however having several carriers in the region responded by saying that if North Korea shows any signs of aggression, that they are ready to defend South Korea's sovereignty. And in other news, tensions continue to rise as Russia moves its armed forces to the Ukrainian border. NATO has called an emergency meeting in response to the crisis..." the news headlines responded to her unwilling ears by the time her hands found the remote and clicked the off button.


"War. What is it good for?" she spoke aloud as her bedroom door suddenly opened.


"Nothing... Hua!" Monique responded, finishing Heylyn's thought.


"And who let you in?" asked Heylyn of her friend.


"You did, boss. You gave me that big old red key a couple of years ago? Don't you remember? I just thought in light of today's news that I might use it!" Monique responded, opening the drapes wide.


"You realize that there are people who've died for lesser crimes than interrupting their employer's sleep..." Heylyn responded, tugging the pillow tight over her head.


"None though after having busted a bank robbery gang..." Monique announced as she flicked the remote.


"...and in other news, the Mysterious Toronto Butterfly and her sidekick foiled another crime in progress. The Police are baffled after the two stopped a bank robbery..." the news blared through the speakers of the television.


"So we've won another victory in the constant war against crime. I'm sorry Monique, but did anyone explain to you that this is a never ending battle? That and you should never interrupt your employer's sleep afterwards?" Heylyn pulled the pillow tight to her head.


"Unless said employer needs to see something important..." Monique opened the drapes to Heylyn's bedroom.


"And what might that be, lest said employee wishes to have their employment suddenly ceased?" Heylyn pulled the pillow tighter to cover her.


"...the answer might be in the news Heylyn..." Monique responded.


"Correction. The answer is in the keys... The ones I gave you to get into this apartment when I was fast asleep?" Heylyn replied to Monique's perkiness.


"Alright boss, check it out for yourself. If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to her," Monique responded.


Monique turned up the volume on the television as the cameras focused on a little girl of no more than five or six years old.


"...one of the survivors of the air strike was this little girl, Warai Jeong-Min Tokama, who was found yesterday morning by a South Korean Neutral Zone patrol. The other, thirty eight year old school teacher Kirokiya Otomo," the camera then focused on Kirokiya, whose head was covered by a brand new hair piece.


"...it was utter and complete devastation. Its a miracle that we lived! I'm going to use the gift I've been given to make a difference, in the name of my fallen friend and brother, Braden Holden," with his left hand, Kirokiya adjusted his new hair ever so slightly.


"Officials won't say why a strike was ordered in Korean neutral zone territory, but one thing is certain, since the bombing, tensions between the North and the South have never been higher.


"That's the girl from my vision... she was in the field... What was she doing in the middle of the Korean neutral zone?" Heylyn remarked from under her pillow.


"She lived through a bombing that took the life of her best friend," Monique said as she made her way to the kitchen to get Heylyn's morning coffee started.


"...she lost her family?" asked Heylyn, though Monique didn't hear her.


"Alright, I'll get up..." Heylyn dragged herself out of bed and to the bathroom to relieve herself.


When she emerged from the bathroom, Monique had gotten the coffee maker going and was already starting on breakfast.


"For the life of me, I can't figure out why the most healthy and athletic person I know, actually slept in? Care to enlighten me?" asked Monique.


"I went out again after we foiled the bank robbery... It had something to do with my vision... of the little girl..." Heylyn told Monique.


"What?! You went out on a patrol? Without me? Your loyal and trusted equal?" asked Monique.


"...are you sure you weren't going to say sidekick?" Heylyn didn't wait for the coffee maker to finish before pouring herself a cup.


The hot water poured onto the hot plate, sizzling and steaming, staining the steel.


"You'll ruin your coffee maker that way. Remember that speech about looking after the environment Valerie gave a couple of months ago?" Monique scolded Heylyn.


"Leave me alone, its my coffee maker. Want a coffee?" asked Heylyn grabbing a second cup for the cupboard.


"Thank you! I didn't think you were going to..." Monique began.


"I caught you! Red handed! You weren't protecting the environment. You were hurt that I didn't pour one for you!" Heylyn stirred Monique's coffee and handed it to her.


"No I wasn't. I was hurt that you didn't come get me for your second patrol last night!" Monique exclaimed.


"Ha! Caught you again. It was too late. I didn't want to knock on your door and wake you up, which brings up an interesting point. How is it that you have a key to my condo, and I don't have a key to yours?" Heylyn asked her friend and employee.


"You're practically talking like we're involved! Are you coming out of the closet now? I mean you've been been single since before I met you. Since your lover was killed in that terrorist hijacking. Get over it and move on! He would have wanted you to have a fulfilling life because he obviously loved you. Like the rest of your friends and family. What gives? Why haven't you hooked up yet? Don't you think that maybe you, the Butterfly Dragon, deserve to be with someone who cares about you as much as you care about everyone else?" challenged Monique.


Heylyn slammed her empty cup of coffee down on the counter, with an ever so slight effort to ensure it didn't shatter from her strength.


"This topic is off limits Monique!" Heylyn confronted her friend.


"Even for me? The friend who has for the last six years put her life in your hands every night we go out there and try to make a difference?" asked Monique, unwilling to back down.


"Never mix responsibility with matters of the heart, Monique," Heylyn stood her ground, her intense gaze never leaving Monique's.


"So why did you go last night?" Monique changed the subject, knowing full well that they were at an impasse.


There was a moment of awkward silence between the two friends as the coffee maker slurped up the last of the water from the reservoir.


"I had a vision last night. After you left," Heylyn admitted to Monique.


"...and?" asked Monique cautiously.


"I saw him... Brad. In a dream. A vision of the field... He was lost... The little girl was there too, looking for him. He was out there somewhere in the city... trying to stop the Chameleon..." Heylyn's gaze broke and Monique uneasily observed uncertainty in her friend and saviour for the first time in years.


"We've been trying to find that sick murdering bastard for nearly a year now! What makes you think that you could go out there without me and find him by yourself?! We're a team! When it comes to family, true friends and teams, there is no too late!" Monique challenged her friend.


"Aren't you going to ask me what I found?" asked Heylyn.


"Alright. I'll ask. What did you find?" Monique asked her best friend. 


"Funny you should ask. I found another Butterfly... well kind of," Heylyn replied to Monique, looking at the coffee maker and then her empty cup.


Monique took the empty cup from her, pouring her a fresh cup.


"Then what was kind of butterfly was it?" asked Monique as she stirred Heylyn's coffee, handing the full cup back to her.


Heylyn smiled, not really willing to say thank you just yet.


"It wasn't. A butterfly I mean. Like you or I. Yet, it was. I mean, he was," Heylyn admitted to Monique.


"A guy? A male Butterfly? Really? What did he look like?" Monique suddenly became excited by the possibility.


"Monique! Where is your mind? Is that all you think about?" Heylyn asked her, sounding shocked by the fact that her friend would even go in that direction.


"Well?" Monique didn't back down.


"...he was a hunk. Buff. Cut like a work of art," Heylyn admitted.


"Really! Tell me more!" Monique leaned in close for the details.


Heylyn's smirk slowly upturned, becoming a devious smile.


"He was doing butterfly stuff. You know? Like we do. When I arrived, I hovered above them...I stayed out of sight. Carefully," Heylyn explained to her friend what had happened.


"Then what?" asked Monique enthusiastically, as if they were sharing details of a vaginal fantasy novel.


"He jumped down from a cement divider. Like the ones they use as sound barriers between closed communities..." Heylyn recalled the events of the previous night.


"And then what?" Monique waited with baited breath.


"Well... he did what we do," Heylyn continued.


"And what is that?" Monique leaned in even closer.


Heylyn craned her head sideways, unbelieving that Monique didn't know what Heylyn was referring to.


"He kicked butt. Majorly. Quickly too," Heylyn added.


"He kicked butt did he? I bet he had a great one too," Monique smiled at the thought.


Heylyn's smile grew ever so slightly, but she revealed little if anything.


"He rescued a woman. They tried to rape her," Heylyn explained.


"Who tried to rape who?" asked Monique as if it were a friendly interrogation.


"Three men attempted to rape a woman. A Webcam girl," Heylyn explained.


"So maybe that was Mr. Butt's girlfriend or something?" Monique suggested.


"...no. He wasn't her boyfriend. In fact, it was like he wasn't... real," Heylyn continued.


"Wait a minute, you just said he kicked their butts. I mean, how can someone who isn't real kick butt?" asked Monique.


"I'm still working on that, but it was like he was there, but he wasn't there..." Heylyn explained to her friend.


"Then how did you know that he was a butterfly?" asked Monique.


"I didn't. I said he was like a butterfly, except for one thing," Heylyn continued to explain.


"And what was that?" asked Monique.


"He was a dragon. A real dragon," Heylyn admitted to Monique.


"That, and his name was similar to Brad's. Brad Leeman I mean," Heylyn continued.


Monique listened astonishedly.


"His name was Braden, and within him I saw that little girl. Warai," Heylyn looked down, suddenly having pieced everything together.



Mr. Forseth's Dossier


Inspector Tricia Camden sat in her office examining a file on her computer. The file in question was a record and dossier for Mr. Ronald Forseth, a man who'd gone from being a hero during an armed robbery, to becoming the subject of a Federal investigation into an attempted terrorist attack.


Going over the evidence, Tricia had pieced together a timeline, detailing all of Mr. Forseth's activities over the two years leading up to his arrival at the main branch of his company's bank in the mid-afternoon two days ago. The trail actually began two years earlier, with Mr. Forseth's application for a firearms permit. After a background check, revealed the fact that he had no previous criminal record or history of violence, the permit was granted without delay and he received it within two weeks. Tricia had by that point collected enough evidence to indicate that the motive for the attempted bombing of the bank, had within a window of probability, become a factor in his life. Whatever the motive might be, the trail led back to something that happened just before he'd applied for the permit.


From that point, Mr. Forseth joined a gun club in the downtown Toronto area close to his place of employment. He worked for Werner-Goldstein Holdings, a sizeable investment brokerage located in First Canadian Place, where he was a respected forecaster. He'd worked for the company since its founding in 2002, having been hired directly by Helmut Werner and Mark Goldstein, the owners. His forecasting helped pave the way to a growing portfolio, leading to many customers including Realistate Realty, Cheerify and even MindSpice CEO Gabriel Asnon.


At that time he'd been recently married, while him and his wife were starting a family. In 2002, they had their first and only child, a little boy whom they named Cody. Mr. Forseth was making enough to afford a Nanny, and promptly hired one so that his wife could continue her career path as a Sales Associate for an office supply company.


As the Werner-Goldstein grew, Mr. Forseth had been put in charge of the growing team of forecasters, becoming the Executive Manager for the department ten years later in 2012. At that point in time, he'd sold his first family home and bought a larger home in the pricey Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road area. His son now ten years of age had been in school full-time for nearly five years.


In 2017, he'd been summoned to court to testify in the case of criminal mastermind Grier Torman, which was held posthumously as Torman had died during the International Policing Agency's incursion into Treadwater Island. Mr. Forseth had been called in both as a material witness, having dealt directly with Mr. Torman on a number of occasions and as a defendant with regard to a fraudulent investment, which had involved what was now known as the Torman-Method of de-valuing and increasing the value of a company before selling it for a sizeable profit.


The process was possible simply because Torman was essentially a local gangster and thug who'd commanded much fear and respect from the local gangs in the various hoods of Toronto. His scam involved having the local gangs work together to sabotage a target business. They'd do everything they could to increase the debt of the business and reduce the market. That included terrorizing the customers, making fraudulent orders and then returning them and any other means they could to stretch the limits of the business and undermine its value.


When the business was at its lowest possible value without bankruptcy, Torman would show up and offer a quick purchase of the business from the poor victim of his scam. In most cases, the victim would sell quickly and for a low price, but in the case that other victims held out, he'd have the gangs terrorize the business owner themselves until they agreed to the sale.


Once Torman had possession of the business, he'd have the gangs promote and market it, while conducting their destructive activities to any of the competition. This would continue until the dying business Torman had purchased would suddenly be resurrected from the grave, making loads of cash for him and the gangsters who'd helped him to achieve it. He'd pay his own gang accountants to doctor the books and shop for a buyer for the business. By the time everything was said and done, he'd sell the business for nearly twenty to forty times the price he'd paid for it. Doing this, he managed to become a board member with Tynan And Associates, until other board members secretly put him under investigation.


Shortly after he'd been relieved from the board, he fled the country with material assets belonging to Tynan And Associates, and was killed during the arrest on the island. The same island where the mysterious Butterfly Dragon had been sighted along with the Eclipse and the Night Style. Three mysterious women who'd also been sighted in Toronto numerous times before and after Torman's fall.


Mr. Forseth's involvement with Torman turned out to be very trivial, though Torman's Estate lawyers and some of the surviving gangsters attempted with futility to hang everything on Mr. Forseth. Thanks to his own professional demure and a very efficient accountant in his employ, the attempt by the gangsters failed, even leading to further charges against them.


It was during that time that Mr. Forseth suffered a major loss in his life, when his wife of fifteen years left him for another man. He fought in court for custody of their son, but in the end lost the case, gaining only visitation rights two weekends per month. He then sold their Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road home, settling with his ex-wife for half of the return and a modest support payment for their son, which would remain only for another three years.


There wasn't much information on his dossier from that point, up until he'd applied for the firearms permit. Tricia was able to ascertain that the Officers involved with the approval had evaluated the possibility that the divorce may have triggered a risk of latent violence in Mr. Forseth, but had been ruled out given the fact that Mr. Forseth was seeing a counselor, who shared Mr. Forseth's file with the RCMP. Behavioural Sciences had gone over the file from top to bottom and had found no indicators that Mr. Forseth held any animosity or vehemence towards his ex-wife or her new husband. Their evaluation determined that he was taking a natural step that many post-middle aged men would likely take in the event of divorce, if not only to reassert their masculinity though the pursuit of a hobby or sport.


They'd even discussed whether there was evidence that Mr. Forseth was projecting his wife's or her new husband's being onto the shooting range target he'd used. An anthropomorphic embodiment in the form of a target for the aggression he felt towards his wife and her new lover. That whole theory had been shot down (pun intended) when they'd discovered that he'd also evaluated joining a tennis club and a batting range. Given the fact that Mr. Forseth was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in one of his hips and his left shoulder, they'd correctly identified that the only factor initially for him choosing the sport of shooting was purely sport. A sport that the growing limitations of his aging body could handle. Something, that should he become apt at the skill of shooting, would allow him to regain the power of his masculinity, hence a pursuit of confidence and self discovery more so than vengeance or rage directed at the shooting targets.


When two years later, Mr. Forseth had applied for a restricted weapons permit, that was the first time the alarm had been raised and his file had been flagged. There was no concern about immediate violence originating from Mr. Forseth, but rather that he'd shown signs of obsession over his new hobby. In the long history and experience of the Federal Police, Mr. Forseth now had two out of three factors that put him into a potential risk category, but once again given the fact that he was a man of responsibility and a somewhat upstanding member of the downtown community, these flags were evaluated but had gone under the radar once again simply on the grounds that there was not enough information about the hidden factors that might contribute to the eventual outcome in his case.


"Twenty-twenty hindsight," Tricia remarked as she removed her non-prescription reading glasses.


In the months that led up to Mr. Forseth's growing list of purchases, the majority of which were conducted illegally, there had been an intelligence blindspot, especially in the area where Mr. Forseth had been spending those most recent years of his life since his divorce. He'd moved into a downtown condominium unit on Queen's Quay, while he'd invested most of his money, bequeathing it to his son and his ex-wife in both his will, and when Cody reached the age of twenty-one. Given these facts, it was clear that Mr. Forseth was still operating as a family man, having concern for both his son and his wife. Yet, his conduct had taken a turn that was devastatingly dark and dangerous. In fact, Mr. Forseth was preparing to become a martyr, and mass murderer. Not only that, but there was no palpable motive for his intended target. It was as if he'd chosen simply on the grounds of a dice roll or a coin-flip.


"What'd you say?" asked William Halmand, another inspector who'd been sitting at a desk just outside of her office.


"Twenty-twenty hindsight. You know. When the facts line up after the event, but not before," she explained to the younger Inspector.


"You're working the Forseth case aren't you?" asked William.


"One and the same.. Why?." Tricia responded.


"Because I've got something here that might interest you. I'm working the Dupree case. He's another timebomb, no motive. He cooked for a while, and then one day he just decided he'd go for it," William told her.


"...and?" asked Tricia.


"Well, it turns out that he's somewhat of a computer specialist. A hacker. A white hat as most people know them. He's a pen tester. Tests networks for their security, and if he can break in, he advises his potential customer, hoping to get hired to patch up their security. So ask me what's his bomb?" William leaned over and looked in through her office door, which remained open just slightly.


"Why don't you tell me. Seniority has its privileges," Tricia asserted herself.


"Fair enough. So hacker here wakes up one day and decides he's going to completely screw a bank over. No theft. No violence. He just decides he's going to destroy their data. Not just their local data, but everything related to the bank's business accounts and their transactions for the last year. Even the backups..." William explained to her.


"Nooo? You mean..." Tricia leaned up in her chair and looked out between the opening in her office door.


"One and the same from the Forseth case. King Street at Bay," William got up and made his way to the front of her desk, handing her a folder.


She reached for it, and he pulled it back.


"Not so fast. I'll show you mine if you show me yours," William smiled.


She quickly grabbed it from him while he thought he had the upper hand.


"Hey!" he responded.


"Seniority has its privileges," Tricia fingered her way through the file, looking for the bank's security audit and the summary of their financial audit.


"Want to come for a ride?" she asked him.


"The Computer Security Team?" William asked.


"No. The Accounts Manager. We're looking for motive, not method. Remember, we're dealing with an attempted bombing, not hacking," Tricia stood up, grabbing the keys to her unmarked car.


"Why not?" William asked her.


"We need to see which accounts are common between your perp and mine," Tricia closed the door to her office.


"...at which point seeing the Computer Security Team suddenly has a lot more relevance, and with the right information to ask about," William figured out quickly.


"You're learning quick. You're buying the coffee," Tricia smiled.


"Coffee? I was going to ask you out for a beer," William smiled at her as they made their way out to the car.



Jack's Back


Fay knocked before entering the dressing room, as the red light above the door indicated that her client was likely preparing for studio photo shoot.


"Enter," Julie responded aloud to the knock, her voice chipper and positive.


"Hi Julie, how are you?" Fay asked, bearing a package in which she cradled between her hands.


"I'm doing very well thank you, how about you?" asked Julie, both chipper and positive, her smile accenting her optimism.


"Well I'm glad to hear. I'm going to be testing something new on you today. I received this package from Kawai kao Cosmetics. This is the whole reason for the photo shoot today, so you better make it look good!" Fay joked with the model.


"I was just going to say the same thing. I'm ready when you are," Julie responded, laughing slightly as Fay retrieved the contents of the package.


She examined the kit carefully before opening the product packaging itself.


"Well its easy to see why you're here Julie. They sent us the spring colours kit, which should go well with your fair complexion and honey blonde hair," Fay set the package contents out on her counter area as she prepared to do Julie's makeup.


Sienna waited in the office area, inside of what most WME staffers called Heylyn's playroom. It was a room designed to be the equivalent of an artist's sketch pad, but for a fashion designer. It had a compact, network integrated sewing machine which Heylyn could setup with the built-in touchscreen, or connect to it from any of her company computers or tablets. There was a 3D printer specialized in printing for garments. It handled printing items like specialized buttons, cuff links and decorative touches which she'd always considered to be an important yet neglected area of modern design. There were several cutting tables, each currently covered in fabric clippings and other discarded cuts she'd been working with the previous day.


"Sienna, Heylyn just called. Her and Monique are running a little bit late. She said the dress for today's shoot with Julie is on Queen," Jennifer, a tall red headed lady and one of the receptionists at West Meet East pointed to one of series of mannequins in Heylyn's playroom.


Heylyn kept six mannequins of various sizes upon which to work on her designs within her playroom. As if that wasn't enough, she'd given each of them their own name. There were Queen and King, the two adult fixed form mannequins of adjustable height. There were Frick and Frack, two mannequins whose dimensions were customizable, so she could adjust her designs for different sizes on the fly. Then there were Tina and Timmy, her two child sized mannequins, which she'd use when designing garments for children and youth. 


"Alright. Thanks for letting me know Jennifer," Sienna moved away from the cutting table and began removing the dress from Queen. She then folded it up carefully in her arms and made her way to the dressing room.


Inside of her head and through her eyes, someone else was looking out into her world and from her exact perspective. Almost as if they were a secret passenger in a car, he watched through her eyes and saw everything she did. Wherever her vision focused, so would his. For now, he was bound to her whims and was merely a spectator in her life. He used this opportunity to collect the information he needed to proceed further and Sienna was completely unaware.


The only indicators she'd felt since the stow away had become a part of her, were occasional headaches, anxious feelings and behaviour and a discomforting tingling sensation in her abdomen and her sacral chakra region, which would be the closest to her sex organs. She wasn't affected by the stow away in any sexual capacity, but rather as a result of the proximity of that part of her body to one of the mechanisms in human physique that made it possible for someone else to connect to another person's body, as if it were some form of computer WIFI.


For the time being he kept silent, and looked out into her world, observing carefully to prepare for the eventual invasion and overtaking of West Meet East.


She made her way through the hall, passing Lisa, one of the techies at West Meet East. She waved, throwing a friendly smile at Lisa, who raised her hand and waved with her fingers.


"Oh, Sienna, I almost forgot. I'm going to be installing an update to the colour management database later today. You and Fay are going to be offline for about half an hour," Lisa told Sienna.


"Alright, what time?" Sienna asked, cocking her head to one side.


"About two thirty. I'll call you and let you know a half hour before," Lisa assured her.


"That's fine. Fay and I should be done by then. Thanks," Sienna confirmed.


"We'll talk soon," Lisa turned and made her way to her cubicle.


Sienna continued, eventually arriving at a door familiar to both her and her stow away.


She knocked once.


"We're decent, come in," Fay and Julie both responded.


Sienna opened the door and was greeted by Julie.


"Sienna, so great to see you again. You're looking good today!" Julie smiled upon seeing her favourite stylist.


"Thank you. You're looking up to the shoot today, how are you?" Sienna asked while from inside of her the stow nearly gagged at all of the friendly small talk.


"I'm doing awesome, but looking forward to the perfection of your work. Should make the shoot that much easier," Julie smiled again as inside of Sienna, the stow away shook his head in disbelief.


"A little bit of confidence from the hair can help, can't it?" asked Sienna, accepting the compliment.


"Is that the dress? Oh my gosh, its sooo lovely!" Julie accepted Heylyn's dress from Sienna.


"Heylyn finished it up last night. She stayed until seven to make sure it was just right for you," Sienna told her.


"I'll be sure to thank her later," Julie checked the dress front and back once again.


"Alright there champion, we need to get your makeup done so we can get your hair done so we can be ready for Trey in Studio C in an hour," Fay directed Julie back to the makeup chair.


Julie hung the dress on a wall rack and made her way back to the makeup chair.


Inside of Sienna, the stow away was confronted by another voice.


"Is she ready yet?" it asked of the stow away.


"Soon. I'm just collecting information. We could link her to the rest of us early. If its too much for her, we'll have everyone withdraw and I'll stay until she's been acclimatized. It will be some time before we're able to hijack her though," the stow away responded to the voice.


"We need to have her firmly on our side and soon. Any sign of the one blocking us?" asked the voice.


"No. Seems to be no interference today so far," the stow away responded.


"Alright. Stay quiet and let nothing reach her cognition to let you know you're inside of her. Make sure that nobody else on the outside gives it away," the voice told the stow away.


"I'll make sure. I made sure with Torman. I made sure with Valerie and Monique too. I'll make sure with this one," the stow away assured the voice.


Sienna from deep within her subconscious, began hearing voices. At first quietly, though over time their presence grew. She shook her head a couple of times, even opening and closing her jaws a few times as if she were trying to clear her ear passage and sinuses.


"Something wrong?" asked Fay.


"My ears are ringing. Tinnitus maybe?" Sienna smirked at the prospect.


"Well at least your head is getting better reception than my phone. Whenever I'm down here near Queen and Beverly, I can't get any text or phone calls..." Julie joked, causing both Fay and Sienna to burst out in laughter, which consequently cured Sienna's problem temporarily.


From that point, she continued her day as if nothing had happened while her stow away kept a close eye on her surroundings.


After all, he was a scout preparing for an invasion.



Innocence Lost


Aikiko Tanaka stood on the wooden floor of the Dojo, in her bare feet and in a full Gi uniform. Her black belt, though typically a western custom designed to make martial arts marketable in North America during the height of Bruce Lee's and Chuck Norris' careers, was tied snugly to her waist. Four red stripes adorned her belt along its length, and at each end was the symbol of a dragon's head.


Her dark shoulder length hair, was tighed tightly in a pony tail to keep it out of her face, which fully revealed was a wondrous sight to behold. Her shapely nose emerged perfectly from between her brow line, each of which sat atop of two big brown eyes. Beneath the trio, her full lips though not very wide, were nearly like a perfect red ribbon.


She'd just finished her workout and her daily repetition of kata and was winding down for the end of the day. She stood looking to the wall and a Sumi-e painting there upon which depicted a butterfly, whose wings were intertwined with the serpentine body of a dragon. The eternal dance between rage and grace.


"One day..." she said aloud to herself.


She bowed first to a photograph on the wall, that was taken years before she was born. It was a black and white photo of her Grandfather, next to her Grandmother. One of her grandparents had achieved the rank of Hanshi, while the other was Kyoshi over their family school. 


After she spent a great deal of time admiring their image, she then turned to the painting and bowed both to the butterfly and the dragon.


She walked to the edge of the training area and then turned, leaving, careful not to lift her left foot as she backed off the Dojo floor. Once on the boundary of the floor, she bowed one final time.


Her Father, Rukyo was at this time still at work in the factory, while her older brother was at Tokyo University, where he was working towards his Doctorate in Biology.


She made her way into the change room and got into her silk robe. From there, she headed out to the natural volcanic spring, which her family home and Dojo neighboured. She slipped into hot spring, discarding her robe and letting the water touch her skin directly. She relaxed for five minutes in the heat, as much as her body could handle, before she got out, found her robe and sandals and headed home.


When she arrived, she heard someone from within rummaging around in the den. She quickly slid the door open and ran inside to confront whomever it was.


She was shocked to find her Father in the den, with six other large men, their bodies covered from head to toe in tattoos.


"Aikiko! Run!" her Father yelled upon seeing his daughter.


"Father?!" she confronted him and then turned to one of the tattoo clad men.


One of them attempted to grab her, his grip impossibly strong.


She quickly yanked her arm in a direction, finding the weakest point in his grip and slipping through the opening. She then quickly delivered six blows to the man's body. The first to his throat, on the larynx. The second to the center of his rib cage, making contact on a point no bigger than a quarter of an inch, yet with enough force to crush a cement block to powder. Two of the other blows, connected with the man's two floating ribs, each of which bent and punctured his gall bladder on one side, and his large intestine on the other. The final pair were delivered by her feet, upon his knees, breaking both his legs.


He fell to the floor before even having a chance to scream, unconscious and in shock.


The other two by that time had gotten a firm hold of her arms, their strength and experience compensating for their fallen comrade's sloppy attempt to restrain her. They held fast, following her movements so as not to lose their grip. They overpowered her and eventually restrained her with a nearby rope.


"We'll take your house, the school and your daughter as payment. You are to immediately leave Japan and never return. You have disgraced your family. I may be a cruel man, but I am not completely without reason. I will grant you your son's life and freedom. If he or you ever return to Japan, you will both be executed by the Satori Clan! Do you understand, Tanaka-San?!" asked the oldest of the men confronting her Father.


Her Father looked to her, and then looked down in disgrace.


"Father! Don't let him do this! This is a disgrace to our family! A dishonour!" Aikiko yelled, struggling against the two larger men.


"Take her. Take my home and my school, if it will leave me with my son and clear me of my debts to the Satori Clan," her Father kept his gaze down at the floor, giving only the dwindling black hair on his head to them.


"A fool you are to have ended up in this debt. A genius you are to have agreed to my terms. Now gather your things and go! Never return to this place, ever!" Shogo Satori ordered her Father, whose face she never saw again.


"How can you do this?! How?! He has no debts! This is our home!" she screamed at the men, struggling to break free so that she could rend them unto their graves with her bare hands.


"I like this one. She's very powerful for her age. Only eighteen? She has a much older spirit fighting within her. Struggling to get out. Tanaka-Chan, you may think you got the better end of the deal, but now I'm certain that it was me who did in reality," Shogo used his hands to examine her face carefully.


She spat several times as he simply smiled and laughed.


"Soon, you will see things from a very different perspective, considering that your Father sold you for less than pocket change compared to your true value," Shogo smiled again, a grim rictus revealing several gold teeth bracketed by his real ones.


Aikiko struggled again, suddenly getting one hand free. She immediately used it to strike Shogo in the cheek just beneath his eye.


The blow hit with an immense force, breaking Shogo's cheek bone.


He winced at the pain, immediately catching her free hand in his.


"My dear little miss Yokai, I've had much worse and from far more deadly than you," Shogo looked to her as his cheek began to swell.


He then saw another painting on the wall of the den. Similar to the one in the Dojo, depicting a butterfly intertwined in the dance of death with the dragon.


"My dear, you've just taken the life of my peaceful side. My compassionate side. You've just killed the butterfly. Don't, and I mean don't, try to kill the dragon, because my dragon will never forgive. You've no more grace with me," he looked at her with a sinister smirk on his face.


He then wound up with all the force he could muster and punched her square in the face, instantly knocking her unconscious.


With the lights suddenly out and the pain gone, she found herself waking up in an elegant silk dress beneath the moonlit sky of night. Her Father was gone, and her Mother long before him. Her Brother no longer mattered, for her entire family had sold to the devil himself their gem.


She found her way through the night up a hill, then through some woods, following the lead of the moon. She emerged from the forest finding another hill that lead up to a plateau. Thereupon she found a field.


She ran through it, the colours of a million flowers embracing her like the sunlight of a thousand dreams and when at the height of her joy, she was elated. The dragon found her.


She awoke with a start, and found herself on a bench, now twenty three years old. She turned around to see that she was still in territory owned by the Satori Clan. Behind her, the famous Love Hotel, Plucked Petals, in all of its underground Akihabara glory. For she was its most valuable attraction. A prostitute, whose image was used on pictures to draw the customers, who never understood that it was all a bait and switch. She'd never in her life had to sleep directly with any of the customers, but her sway was quickly dwindling amongst the clan as its highest advertising draw.


One cannot simply grade a product without first trying it. Shogo would often joke with others of his clan when referring to Aikiko.


"What happens when she's too old?" another would ask.


"What happens with the horse that can no longer run the race?" asked Shogo, answering the question with another.


"They go quietly in the night and are never heard from again," the answer would come from one trying to climb the ranks.


"You're a cruel man Masu. I'm glad you said it before I did!" Shogo would respond, then laughing, knowing full well that Aikiko could hear him.


She heard him through the window of the hotel office. Frustrated and still lost in her dream of the field, she went inside to her room and fell into a troubled sleep on her bed.


She knew that her days as a marketing ploy used by the clan to lure in customers for their more provocative business were coming to an end. She knew that soon she'd be required to give up the only remnant of her innocence that remained, since her Father had sold her in order to pay his debts. 


Then, that night came and without warning. 


It was a night when Shogo needed to form a strategic alliance with another Clan, the Tanto. The Clan Sensei, Mutano had requested her directly to be his concubine for a night. Should Shogo renag on his deal with the Tanto, it would lead to a war between their two clans, and the Tanto were one of the most powerful. When one as powerful as Mutano wants, he gets, or people die.


On the night of her delivery to Mutano, two of the most trusted Clan guards were assigned to deliver her by hand to Mutano. They went by car as far as they could, for the streets in that part of Akihabara were closed to traffic. They had to travel the remaining distance to his temporary residence on foot. So the three of them left, together, the two guards bracketing Aikiko on either side. They followed the directions they'd been given, which led them to a dark alley behind one of the red light districts, which were the territory of another, third clan. One of the most powerful clans. The descendents of the original Ryoji, some of whom had broken away with family tradition to partake of the other side of society.


"We're in Ryoji turf now," one of the guards commented.


"On our best behaviour. You too, soon to be fully realized prostitute!" the other commented to her.


As they ventured into the alley, they got the feeling that they were being watched. It wasn't uncommon in 2012 for the members of one clan to be tracked when they entered another clan's turf.


They kept going, following the winding alley until they happened upon a small crowd of similarly tattooed men.


"Where are you going with this fine doll?" asked one of them.


"We're here on official Satori Clan business!" the guard showed part of his tattooed forearm to one of the men.


"You're a bit far from your territory, aren't you? You know this isn't your turf!" the man challenged him.


"This doll is a gift for the head of the Tanto Clan. You wouldn't want to mess with his prize, would you?" asked the Satori guard.


"Really? You must be the ones we're looking for then," the man said calmly, as the other pulled silenced hand guns from the inside of their jackets.


A barrage of silenced gunfire popped and clicked in the air, the muffled thumps of high velocity rounds impacting their flesh echoed through the alley.


Aikiko covered herself and waited for death. But on that night, it didn't come.


The other man went to grab her hand, being careful not to be aggressive. As soon as one had touched her skin, she grabbed his wrist, twisting his arm into a lock he couldn't break. She then spun him grabbing his hand and hitting a pressure point on his wrist. She then leveled his gun at the men, warning them to back off.


They backed away, keeping their guns leveled at her.


"Easy! easy! We're not here to hurt you! We're here to help you," one of them said in a calm and rational voice.


"Great. You're a killer that speaks softly. So do I go with the killer who bears his teeth, or the one who hides the knife behind his back?" Aikiko asked the man.


"Mutano is the real monster. He would have... and forgive the expression... screwed you many times... and then he would have killed you. Violently. He's known for that. That would have dealt with Shogo's problem. Namely you. And it would have bought him an important alliance to fight us, the Ryoji. Yeah, we're killers alright, but we don't kill women. Especially not after screwing them," the man responded to Aikiko's swift observation.


"Great, so you're rapists with a cause and a conscience! Where do I sign up? Listen, I don't care that Mutano was going to kill me, because I had plans to kill him and now you've gone and screwed them," Aikiko cursed him.


"At least somebody's getting screwed..." one of the men remarked.


"Shut up!" the man negotiating shot back at him.


"I don't know you. I don't know how you got where you are today. I don't really care. To them, you're just cattle that thinks itself the cattle handler. They round up women like you all the time and they all think they're so special, until they're handed down into the gutter and they find out that nobody really cared about them in the first place. Even less so when they lost everything. So you can be their next meal, or you can live a life enjoying the gutter at its finest, fighting for something you believe in. We know, because its in our line and we've been fighting for this for centuries. That, and we like women. We even treat them pretty good, because in our clan, we're a team," the man answered Aikiko honestly and it was his honesty that caught her off guard.


"On the other hand, if you don't like men and prefer women, we have that too. They might not accept that but we do. To them, you're just cattle. So we might be the killers with a cause and a conscience. But more importantly, and especially so to your situation, we're justified to do this by six hundred years of the family Bujustu. We don't make money the same way other clans do, by selling the destruction of the body and the mind. That means we protect the health of the body. We feel it in our hearts. We think it in our minds and it flows through our blood," he reasoned with her.


Aikiko loosened her grip on the Ryoji guard she'd restrained. He withdrew his hand from her trained grip, quickly as he could. Then he began massaging the circulation back into his hand.


"What's your name?" she asked.


"I'm Jun, Ryoji-san Jun, at your service," Jun responded to Aikiko.


"I'm Aikiko. Tanaka Aikiko," she replied.


"You're pretty well trained, aren't you. Are you part of the Tanaka family school I've heard of?" Jun asked her.


"One and the same," she responded.


"Is that school still around?" asked Jun.


"Yes. It is. I'm it," she replied.



The Way Of The Clan


They took the wallets from the dead bodies of the Satori guards, making it look as much like a robbery as possible. They then split up into smaller groups while Aikiko followed Jun back to his home in Akihabara.


"So you're a walking school. Does that mean you'll share your training with us?" Jun asked her.


"Only if it means you'll share your training with me," Aikiko responded, trying to get a closer look at Jun's face.


She saw a young man, possibly a couple of years younger than herself, with a smug handsome face and a couple of scars that gave him a sense of dignity. Like he'd lived with enough passion to fight for something worth fighting for, rather than living simply to fight.


"So what happened to your Sensei?" Jun asked.


"Look, I don't want to talk about it," Aikiko responded, withdrawing slightly from him.


"Fine, but you're going to have to trust someone sooner or later," Jun advised her based upon his own personal experiences.


"Are you saying you're worthy? In the time since I first met you, you've killed two men, and held a woman I'm rather fond of at gunpoint. What reasons do I have to trust you?" Aikiko reasoned with Jun, hoping that he'd see it from her perspective.


"I like the way you put things. You're right. Maybe you have no reasons to trust me except that you're truly free now, but that freedom came at a price that will likely lead to your death if you choose not to trust me. Mutano is a very dangerous man. When you don't arrive as he was expecting, he will go into a rage, putting his own clan members at risk. He'll order Shogo's assassination and a clan war will ensue. Shogo may not be as powerful as Mutano, but he is as clever as Mutano is dangerous. He will likely avert death, and figure out that you escaped and betrayed him, hence he'll order your assassination. If you choose to go it alone, you will surely be found and murdered. Another prostitute dead in the night," Jun told her honestly.


Aikiko suddenly grabbed him by the neck and threw him against a wall, holding his right arm across his chest so as to prevent him from using his left.


"Don't you ever call me that again! Do you understand?!" she held him fast on the wall and he looked back innocently, his eyes pleading mercy.


"I won't ever call you that again. I understand," he mumbled through the pressure of her hands pressing his face into the wall.


"Good. We're making progress then," she released him and they continued walking.


"I mean even I've seen your picture plastered all over the Satori Love Hotel ads they give to foreigners. If you're not a prostitute, then why was Shogo giving you to Mutano?" Jun asked her.


"I've never been with a man. Shogo received me as a debt payment. My Father was in debt to Shogo, unbeknownst to myself and my brother. In order to protect his son, my Father gave Shogo our family home, our family school and dojo. And me. All of it to pay his debts to Shogo. Then my Father left, his eyes glued to the ground, his very being devoid of honour. I never saw him again, while I've since spent my life with Shogo, whose first act of compassion was to knock me unconscious with one punch, in order to spare me the rage he felt against my defiance of his ownership of my person and family home," Aikiko explained to Jun.


"You really aren't cattle like the rest of us. You're above the cut, aren't you?" Jun asked her.


"I had my sights set on a higher calling. One with purpose and value to life, society and most importantly: innocence," Aikiko admitted to Jun.


"You mean you wanted to become a Monk? Or a Televangelist maybe?" Jun asked her, drawing a bit of laughter from her.


"No. A little bit like a Monk though. Virtue without the commitment. At least as far as I understand it," Aikiko explained to him.


"Commitment is something that you'll find at either extreme. By the side of the law, or those of us who skirt it," Jun explained to her.


"Well it seems that the wrong side found me. So how did you end up in this life? You seem to be a bit too philosophical to be an ethical killer," Aikiko became frustrated by the thought.


"Most of us end up in this life after we're disowned by our families, our friends our employment or education circles or all of them at once. The Ryoji are careful to pick and choose who they take under their wing. The rest fall through the cracks and the Satori, the Tanto and the other clans pickup what's left. Me, I had a hard working Father and a Mother addicted to cocaine. He worked his hands to the bone for her as a carpenter, and she snorted it all into her sinuses until he had nothing left. When he could take it no more, she pushed me to quit school and start working a full-time job so I could pay to live at home. Being fourteen, I listened to her advice, quit school and found a full-time job working at the docks. I learned first hand what my Father went through with her, because soon all of my money was going to keep her fill of nose candy. When that wasn't enough, she started encouraging me to steal goods from the shipments. Expensive stuff. Electronics. Jewelry. Then she'd fence it to her dealer to pay for her habit," Jun told her about his earlier youth. 


"Then one day, three years into this scam, they had a sting operation at the docks, and I was nabbed with the goods. I was arrested, charged and found guilty of high value theft. They linked the stolen goods to my Mother's dealer, and I said nothing about her habit. She got clean I hear, and I spent years in prison, dealing with drug councilors for a habit I never had. I paid for her habit, and I never went back. When I was released, it turns out that the Ryoji had learned the truth behind my story and they approached me to join their ranks. Said I was too good to let slip through the cracks. So here I am," Jun told her.


"By the way, if you don't deal in anything that harms the body, what do you do for money?" Aikiko asked Jun.


"We don't make money by selling harmful things like narcotics, and that makes our options a little narrow in scope. We're not into theft or scams either, but we do have a lot of members that are into financial trade. We call them the suits. Of all the clans, we do tend to make money the most fun way, in a matter of speaking," Jun admitted to her.


"When it comes to fighting, we sell our services for protection against the other clans, to any businesses operating on our turf that live by our rules. No prostitution. No harmful products, and no harm to customers or the public. When it comes to the fun way, we make money with the oldest profession since the invention of the camera, and I don't mean the lens cleaning business," Jun smiled deviously at her upon finishing his statement.


"There's always a hidden cost, isn't there?" Aikiko looked at him skeptically.


"Yes, there always is. But ours is the safest bet. Not only that, but you get to choose your partners and they get to choose you. You're never at risk of violence. You're never at risk of disease. You'll never make less than your fair share, and you'll never be abused by a pimp. The only catch is that you have to do it on camera," Jun explained their primary means of finance.


"Even a woman who has never been with a man?" Aikiko asked Jun.


"That's a first for me. I don't know what would happen in that situation. That explains why Mutano wanted you. He has a thing for vicious murder as much so as he does for women. Especially virgins from what I hear and in this life, virgins are very, very rare. You're the first one I've met that's admitted it. If someone like Mutano started preying on the public, seeking victims that way, the other clans would quickly have him killed. So instead, he has people scout for prospects for him. We have sources that let us know, much the same way we found out about you, and whenever we can, we try to liberate them before he gets them, because when he does, they're never seen again," Jun told her the horror of Mutano's being.


"Just like a dragon," Aikiko responded.


"Yes, like the most horrific of dragons," Jun admitted.


"He's never met my dragon, but he almost did," Aikiko responded, suddenly having another reason to despise the man.


"And you were going to assassinate him? If you did, then our problems would have amplified a thousand fold. His two heirs are twice as bad as he is, and they'd have ended up as the clan leaders many women would have died horribly as a result, including you," Jun explained to Aikiko.


"You don't understand. I can't die," Aikiko told him.


"Really? Then why did we save you?" asked Jun.


"Because I'm the gem," Aikiko admitted her interpretation of the prophecy to Jun.



The Transformation


Aikiko walked out from behind the change screen, her black and white skin tight dress hugging her muscular curves like a second skin. They'd also dyed her hair to match her dress, with strands of black and white dangling seductively from her head. Her heels clicked on the floor as she walked, even shaking the room slightly as if a goddess had entered the room.


"How do I look?" Aikiko asked Nozomi, the photographer.


"Very seductive. Very nice. You are naturally photogenic," Nozomi admired Aikiko's appearance.


"I feel very... exposed...?" Aikiko said very innocently.


"I suppose in a way you are, from what you're used to. But you are helping us in this capacity, while missing out on the natural joys of the body," she aimed her camera at Aikiko, coaxing her to adjust her stance.


"I prefer to see it that the rest of you are sharing the wonders of your bodily joys with me, while I'm sharing potency of my virginity with the rest of you. In this way, we both get what we want," Aikiko reasoned with Nozomi, her understanding of the terms to which she'd agreed to work with the Ryoji.


A man clad in a black suit stepped into the room, examining Aikiko carefully from behind the camera.


"Mr. Ichiban," Nozomi turned to see the man, and bowed to her.


He returned the gesture, remaining silent.


"Takana Aikiko? You look most appetizing, however there is something missing from you. Something that is needed in our tradition to make this official. After this shoot is done, I'd like you to come see me in my office," Mr. Ichiban advised Aikiko.


"As you request. When I'm done, I will meet with you," she responded, respectfully nodding several times.


The photoshoot continued for a half an hour, before Nozomi indicated that she'd finished. Remarkably, Aikiko had been entirely comfortable in the heels the whole time, her leg muscles perfectly up to the task thanks to her daily routine. She remained in costume and went to see Mr. Ichiban in his office.


"You requested me?" Aikiko spoke as she entered the office.


"Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable," Mr. Ichiban stood and bowed to Aikiko, gesturing to the chair before his desk.


"So what is so imperative that it is entrenched in tradition?" asked Aikiko of Mr. Ichiban.


"You have been with us for a year now, and we've protected you from Mutano's wrath. The clan war between the Tanto and the Satori is over and you are still safe. We have done our part in the Ryoji clan to earn your trust and honorably so. True, you are lending us your image to further our advertising reach and to entice new customers into our adult video and still products, however you are not representing us to your fullest. Considering the investment we've made in you, we would prefer if you reciprocate, by agreeing to participate in an important tradition," Mr. Ichiban negotiated.


"I cannot agree to that with which I'm unfamiliar," Aikiko assured Mr. Ichiban protectively. 


"Then I shall let you in on our tradition, so long as you never divulge this secret to anyone else. Even at the threat of death. Do you agree to these terms?" asked Mr. Ichiban.


"I agree," Aikiko answered after giving the matter some thought.


"As you have seen, every member of our clan is grafted with important artwork that symbolizes their relationship with the Ryoji family and tradition. Especially those of us who've tread a different path from our ancestors, to embrace both the darkness and the light, and their constant struggle for dominion over Honshu, Asia and the rest of the world," Mr. Ichiban explained to Aikiko, elaborating on important aspects of their philosophy.


"I understand as you say," Aikiko agreed with what Mr. Ichiban described.


"You, as a representative and protected member of this clan must also enter into one of our most fundamental customs. You are required to wear the art of the clan tradition, however in your case, we're going to make an exception as to the nature of the art itself, but that does not exempt you from the nature of the ink that will be etched onto your body. You see, we use the services of a learned scholar, who is formally trained and a master in the traditions of our region of Asia in this part of the world. He is whole for this purpose but you are lacking, for it is the blood of the Ryoji and the blood of the entered that must be present in the mixing of the ink. For you see, this Sensei of the arts is giving you the most important mark you'll bear. The Sigil Of The Clan," Mr. Ichiban wrote down a note on a scap of paper from a pad on his desk.


He then tore it off and handed it to her.


"You must memorize this address, and then go there tonight an hour before the turn of the day at midnight. There, after the blood and ink is mixed, you will receive the Sigil and you will officially be one with our clan," Mr. Ichiban explained to Aikiko, who read the note, memorizing it.


She then handed it back to Mr. Ichiban, who burned it with a lighter he used for incense.


"Our meeting is done. It has been an honour," Mr. Ichiban stood, but it was Aikiko who stood first and bowed low.


"No Mr. Ichiban, the honour is mine," she said humbly, fully in appreciation of what they'd gone through to protect her since they'd liberated her from her being gifted to Mutano.



Sigil


She got out of the car a block away, and then walked down the darkened alley finding a non-descript door with a single symbol inscribed just under a peep hole. Still wearing the same dress she'd been given, and the same heels, she tapped on the door with her knuckles.


A moment later, she heard a latch slide on a lock somewhere behind the door. The door opened ever so slightly and the face of an old man emerged. A scholarly hat sat atop his head.


"Come in. I've been preparing for your arrival," he opened the door, allowing her to step in before closing it behind her.


He then passed her, asking her to walk the length of the hall inside and into his den.


She looked for slippers by his front door.


"You will not be needing them. You can keep your shoes on as I will not be doing the feet," he told her.


"Fair enough," she bowed respectfully to the man, slightly confused.


She then stepped into his home and through the sliding rice paper door to the den.


There within was a folding bed, much like what someone might find in a doctor's office. There was a desk and various ornaments, each adorned in its own symbols. Numerous sticks of incense burned, each of a different scent and colour. There were several reservoirs as well. A couple of them had cinnabar ink mixed for the creation of paper sigils, while another reservoir contained the inks used for his tattoo sigils.


"Your middle finger please," he asked her.


"Left or right?" she asked.


"The one you favour," he responded.


She gave him her favoured hand and he unfolded her middle finger, exposing the tip. He then held it over one of the tatto ink reservoirs and pricked her finger with a small knife.


"Ow!" she attempted to withdraw her hand, but he held fast to it.


"If the first drop is spilled and misses the reservoir, I must spend an hour recanting the Sigil and start over," he explained to her.


The first drop pooled on the tip of her finger, and fell into the reservoir perfectly. He squeezed two more similarly sized drops from her finger and then grabbed a special cloth from his table that he'd prepared earlier.


"Don't let any more drop. Keep it dry with this cloth," he explained to her.


He then began mixing the ink.


"Where did you get the Ryoji blood may I ask?" she asked him.


"Don't ask. Please disrobe," he responded as he continued stirring the ink.


"I'm sorry? You want me to..." she asked him.


"Yes. I'm an old man. I've seen hundreds of women in the nude, and the vast majority of them lived to tell," he assured her.


"Alright. As you wish," Aikiko reluctantly began to remove her dress, carefully hanging it on a nearby chair. She then cupped her breasts with her hands, feeling very vulnerable.


"A woman who can fight is deadly. A woman who can fight her fears is even more so.  The most deadly of all though is a woman who can fight naked. You are now truly deadly," he said to her and he guided her over to the bed and encourage her to lie on her front.


"We aren't going to fight, are we?" she asked him, hoping he might smile.


"No. We are going to dance, for your fate is sealed in your aura. Your Chi," he spoke to her, seeing her fully though without looking at her directly.


"You dream of a dragon in a field. A dragon who protects butterflies, yet your fate is nowhere near this dragon, and yet there is a dragon in your life. One that has been pursuing you for your whole life, and one that you are about to meet. Of the two dragons, you will become the one you feed," he said to her, she lay silently giving his words thought.


The incense seemed to grow in smell, becoming ever the more pungent in her nose. She inhaled it and began to feel dizzy, as the room began to spin. The lights then disappeared as the room dimmed and then all at once, it opened its eyes: the dragon she'd been seeking.


When she awoke, she was startled to find that her hands and legs were bound. She looked closely as her eyes cleared, seeing that her entire body was covered from head to heel in one tattoo. Her skin was now covered in dragon's scales and atop them in all were an army of dragons. Each different and unique, as were the butterflies they protected, which fluttered near their serpentine bodies. She examined them closely, swearing that she was them move.


"Must be... hallucination..." she said, shaking her head as her vision cleared and her eyes stopped watering.


"I can't tell you how overjoyed I am to find you here, Aikiko. My lost treasure," Shogo's familiar voice punctured the silence.


"What did you do with him?!" Aikiko struggled against the bindings.


"Who? The old man?" asked Shogo, admiring her tattoo covered naked body.


"Where is he! He did nothing to you!" she asked him.


"On the contrary, he did a lot for me. Before he died," Shogo told Aikiko, who became furious as she struggled against the bindings.


"What did you do with him?!" she screamed.


"Don't worry, nobody will come here to make sure you're alright little Miss Aikiko. We were careful to take out the Ryoji guards in this territory first. A little payback for the murder of ours a year ago. You remember that, don't you?" Shogo asked Aikiko, he grabbed her chin and turned her head up to face her eyes.


"Let me go and I'll kill you quickly!" she said to him confidently.


"You are in no position to be making demands my dear," Shogo reached into his pocket, producing a medium bladed weapon.


He dragged the blade along her leg and up to her thigh. He then followed her curves up to her breasts, admiring her delicate skin and the instrument ready to pierce it.


"I've learned oh so much from Mutano in the last year. You see, him and I have become the best of friends. Your little ploy was a blessing in disguise," Shogo tapped the blade on her chin.


"Mutano?!" she said, shocked by the name.


"Yes. He's here too. Actually he will be. After he deals with your new friends. You see, the old man after a lot of coaxing, revealed the location of your offices. He died as a result of the severity of coaxing, but he did manage to curse us before he died. Stupid old man and his superstition!" Shogo smiled and then laughed as he remembered the old man's words.


Aikiko struggled some more, her wrists becoming bloodied as the bindings tore her skin.


"I called Mutano and told him the address of the Ryoji offices. With that information in hand, he left. Only a few minutes before you awoke. He said he'd be here to pick you up after he dealt with your friends at the office. So, I'm here to make sure you don't run and don't hurt yourself, so I can hand deliver you into the soon to be most powerful clan in Japan," Shogo seemed smug with his confidence in the plan.


Something in Aikiko broke upon his words, and she recalled Shogo punching her in the face six years earlier when he'd taken possession of her. She was once again in a room of blackness. Her rage building within her. She pictured herself punching Shogo so hard that first time, that it knocked his head clear from his body. She then, using the power of her fists and legs, proceeded to take apart Shogo's men, dispatching them easily. From within the darkness she realized that she was no longer alone, and she heard the old man's last words to her.


"You dream of a dragon in a field. A dragon who protects butterflies, yet your fate is nowhere near this dragon, and yet there is a dragon in your life. One that has been pursuing you for your whole life, and one that you are about to meet. Of the two dragons, you will become one with the one you feed," the voice said to her.


And in a moment's darkness, all became light as the dragon opened its eyes.


It moved through the air like a snake. A dark serpent floating - slithering through the air. She could see it out of the corners of her eyes, but never when she tried to look directly at it. It passed behind Shogo, and then around to her.


If found its way to her bindings, its breath passing through the metal like a hot knife through butter. She'd assumed that when she'd seen it break her bindings, that she was hallucinating, yet the relief she was feeling was real.


All at once she realized that it was no hallucination and once again, she'd heard the old man's words.


"A woman who can fight is deadly. A woman who can fight her fears is even more so.  The most deadly of all though is a woman who can fight naked. You are now truly deadly," his words still fresh in her head.


She suddenly leapt from the table, her leg connecting with Shogo's neck as she kicked him with the protected side of her shin. Shogo fell backwards over the table, one of the old man's Sigils stuck to his back.


He stood, getting to his feet as her next blow impacted the center of his chest. He flew backwards into the wall. He shook off the blow, and charged at her with the bladed weapon. He swung several times, coming within inches of her face, but missing the mark narrowly. On his last swing, she caught his hand and redirected the blade around to his lower back, where it punctured his skin and entered his kidney.


He coughed as he fell to his knees, dropping the blade to the floor.


"Where are the keys to your car?" she punched him in the same place on his cheek he had on her's years ago.


"My guards have them... they're with the car down at the end of the alley... two of them. They have guns. You're dead. They all are and by Mutano's cruel hands," Shogo assured her.


She grabbed up the knife in her hand, and upon leaning over, she saw the old man's body, his face looking up lifelessly at the ceiling.


She grabbed Shogo by the hair, holding his head back and his neck open. She then held the blade against it, ready to slice his neck and let him bleed to death there.


"...the one you feed..." the words went through her head once again.


She then noticed the Sigil stuck to Shogo's back and it all became clear to her. She threw the knife in a random direction up in the air, and it bounced off of the ceiling, rebounding against the desk, then rolling across the floor flipping up pommel first into one of the old man's open hands. There it stood upright as if he'd grabbed it himself and was now in his death wielding it against his foes. Aikiko then got to her feet and ran for the chair upon which she'd slung her dress and shoes.


As she did, Shogo took his opportunity with her back to him. He reached for another blade he had in his back pocket, and leapt up onto his feet attempting to drive it into her back. Ironically as he did, he tripped on the old man's other free hand, falling neck first into the blade the old man's dead hand had caught moments ago. Death came slowly to Shogo, but not so quickly as his sudden shock that he'd been killed by the old man who'd cursed him.


As Shogo gurgled his last breaths, Aikiko put the dress on her body, followed by her shoes. She then ran out the door, sprinting full out in her heels towards the end of the alley.


The Satori guards at the vehicle suddenly spotted a heeled woman running at them in the darkness of the alley. It was like a scene from their worst nightmare. They immediately pulled their weapons from their jackets, and before they could fire a single shot. The dragon's breath sliced through the firearms, and their fingers as the woman arrived.


She spun into a round kick, puncturing the abdomen of the first guard with her heel. She pulled it from his body, delivering a punch to his face that sent him to the concrete, limp and lifeless. By the time the other guard had reacted, it was too late. Her fist had already found the meat of his bicep, and with a swift chop, had rendered his entire arm immobile, dangling from his body.


She then delivered a final blow to his solar plexus, and he fell breathlessly to the ground.


She searched them both for their keys, and when she'd found them, she got into Shogo's luxury four door, started it and sped off back to the office, the dark serpentine trail of the dragon following behind her.


War Zone


Aikiko drove the car around to the front of the building, pulling up onto the sidewalk and skidding to a stop just outside of the revolving doors. She got out of the car and walked quickly into the main foyer where Mutano's men had left a trail of death. She examined the dead, finding only the unfamiliar faces of civilians who just happened to work in the same Ryoji protected building. She realized that Mutano was not here to live, but to die a glorious death and to meet his fate head on. That prospect meant that he'd be all the more dangerous and more importantly, the less merciful.


She ran for the elevators, calling all four of them to the lobby. When they arrived only seconds later, she then went to each of them, sending them all to the same floor except the last one, which she entered and sent to the floor above. The correct floor. The floor the old man had sent them to was empty, and under construction for extensive renovations. Essentially, it was empty except for the construction equipment used during that same working day. As she passed the floor in her elevator, she heard gunfire erupting, very obviously at the elevators she'd sent to their floor. When her elevator arrived, she quickly ran out and into the reception area of the Ryoji Studio.


"Call Jun now! Have him send over everyone! The Tanto clan are attacking! They're on the wrong floor, but it won't be long before they figure out their error and start searching the building! Then get yourself to the top floor and barricade yourselves in there with the others! Do it now!" Aikiko ordered the receptionist, who followed her instructions.


After she'd called Jun, the receptionist began paging others in the office one by and letting them know what Aikiko had told them.


Meanwhile, Aikiko ran to Mr. Ichiban's office where he sat just about ready to finish his day.


"Aikiko! What is the meaning of this interruption! You were supposed to be..." then he saw her body tattoo and realized that she'd followed his instructions.


"...they killed him. The old man. The tattoo artist. The Satori and the Tanto have declared war on the Ryoji. They're on the floor below right now but it won't be long before they start searching the building for this office. Get to cover on the roof and I'll delay them until Jun and his men get here," Aikiko told Mr. Ichiban.


"You? By yourself?!" he asked her as he got to his feet and prepared to leave.


From the corner of her eyes she saw the dark streak of the dragon's body. It had followed her to the office building and it was now protecting her.


"No. Not alone. Now go!" Aikiko pushed Mr. Ichiban out the door as she made her way to the reception area and checked the fire map by the elevators.


"All the stairs bottleneck to this point. One way in, one way out," Aikiko suddenly heard footsteps in the stairwell, far too faint for the others escaping from the office to hear.


As the workers from the Ryoji studio left the office, Aikiko detoured them to a different stairwell for their safety. She then got behind the stairwell door as it flew open and Mutano's men charged in.


As the gunfire erupted, she cartwheeled out from behind the door, bringing her legs down on the shoulders of the first man, breaking one of them clean. He fell to the floor, as she pushed him down using him as a launch pad to assault the next. Her fist lead the assault, impacting the second gunman's face sending him backwards into the third.


A fourth one tried to get a shot at her as she found the door and slammed it shut on him. Gunfire erupted, impacting the steel stairwell door. She then disappeared to the other side of the doorway as the fourth gunman kicked the door open again. As he entered gun first, she grabbed the firearm with one hand, the barrel still hot. With the other, she sent her fist into his forearm, breaking it as her two knuckles perfectly impacted the weakest point on the bone.


The gun misfired and as it climbed in her grip. She controlled it, keeping it away from the stairwell through which the remaining office workers had escaped. One of the rounds riccocheted off of the metal casing of the fire extinguisher, impacting just beneath her arm-pit. She winced in pain, but kept her focus. She then threw herself around the corner forcing the fourth gunman, the one with the broken arm down onto the others coming up the stairs with her heeled foot. He flew through the air, landing on them as they ascended the stairs. They fell backwards, landing on and crushing the last man on that flight of stairs, as others continued up, attempting to make their way into the office.


The pain in her side from the wound continued to grow as she retreated to the office door. Just as she arrived, a pair of Mutano's gunmen emerged from the stairwell, leveling their machine guns at her. As they fired, the elevator door opened on the other side. Jun and three of his men quickly returned fire, dropping the first two men as the others took cover behind the concrete doorway.


"Aikiko!" Jun yelled as he made his way to the other side of the stairwell doorway.


"I'm here..." she grasped her side as her life began slipping from her.


"It's a standoff! If they come in, we got 'em. If we go in, they get us!" Jun yelled to her.


"So I hear you're one of us now?!" Jun asked as if making small talk.


"...that I am..." she responded, struggling against unconsciousness.


"Welcome to the party!" he yelled as one of Mutano's gunmen attempted to enter. 


He turned and fired, Jun's rounds impacting the assailant's chest, dropping him quickly.


Down in the stairwell, Mutano quietly directed a group of his men in another direction, pointing for them to go around.


Jun remained while one of his other three men attempted to breach the stairwell.


He ran through the doorway and instead of going down the stairs, he went for the flight going up. He made it to the next landing up, positioning himself to their rear flank if they attempted to come up the stairs at all.


"I think we have them..." Jun said as the stairwell door on the opposite side flew open, one of Mutano's men emerging and firing upon Jun.


Several rounds impacted his chest and he fell gagging and struggling to breath.


Another one of Jun's men returned fire on the opposite doorway, unable to cover both stairwells. Another one of Mutano's men bounded up the first stairwell and breached into the elevator foyer. The distraction proved to be enough and Mutano's men at the opposite doorway breached simulaneously. There was a lot of gunfire and several bodies fell.


"Aikiko, you're going to need to take this the rest of the way... we're done here. You were a real treasure. A diamond in the rough," Jun spoke with the last of his breath, aiming his gun at the recently breached doorway as two more of Mutano's men came in.


He fired, taking them both down as another came in through the first stairwell doorway and silenced him forever.


"Jun? Jun!" Aikiko screamed.


"Aikiko my treasure? You were supposed to be mine all that time ago and yet here we meet finally, for the first time. You have something of mine that I wanted. You'd better still have it," Mutano spoke, his sinister voice referring to her virginity.


He snuck up the stairs and through the stairwell doorway, when the last of Jun's men fired upon him.


The rounds hit him in the back, and he had time to turn and return fire. Jun's last man died quickly.


Mutano opened his buttondown shirt, revealing his kevlar body armour.


"Looks like its down to you and the six of us," Mutano bluffed Aikiko, whose consciousness hung on the border.


Mutano directed his last two men to the office doors, where Aikiko lay propped against the receptionist's desk.


She heard the crunching sound as they walked across the splintered wood studs and drywall shot from out of the walls.


She saw the mouse from the receptionist's computer laying on the floor, its wire severed amidst the commotion. She pulled it over to her and then threw it in the opposite direction from her position relative the doorway. It bounced off the wall, landing on the floor and Mutano's last two gunmen turned and fired upon in terror. As they did, she quickly leapt over the desk driving her fist into the first one's face, then delivering a spinning punch to the second. A kick and several more blows later and they were both dispatched.


"It's only you and I Mutano... I only hear one heart beat other than mine, though I'm surprised you even have one," she said to him, attempting to draw him out.


"Then let us fight!" Mutano said to her as he stepped out and into the open, a machine gun in one hand, his favourite knife in the other.


"No. Let's dance!" she responded, revealing herself.


Mutano immediately fired with the machine gun. 


A few rounds managed to get off before the gun was empty but by that time she'd anticipated that action. The rounds plunged harmlessly into the receptionist's wall behind her.


"Even should you die, I'll take your virginity," Mutano ditched the gun and held the knife ready for combat.


"Of the two of us, only one dragon will leave today..." she responded, accepting her fate.


"So be it," he said, charging with his large obese yet muscular body at her.


He swung the knife wide in an arc trying to catch her abdominal skin. She stepped backwards narrowly escaping. When she hit the desk, she changed her tactics and instead moved in close to him leaving him no space to use the weapon in a wide arc. He instead tried to stab at her and she caught his hand. Even with her considerable strength from training, she couldn't stop the blade.


He plunged it into her chest between her ribs and she looked back in shock as she realized that she was going to die. She struggled with all of her might against Mutano's weight as he lurched forward, pushing her to the floor on her back, the knife still in her.


"It looks like the Tanto dragon killed the Ryoji dragon today. This will be a day long remembered by the clans," Mutano said as he leaned in close and licked her face.


Aikiko could have sworn he had a forked tongue as her vision faded.


Her eyes still open and her last moments of life slipping, she watched as the Mutano stood over her looking down at her face with amusement. As if this moment paid for all the death through which it arrived.


It was then that she saw the true dragon. The one from the sides of her vision and the one she could never look at directly. It was now above her and behind Mutano. Its flesh dark and scaly, it hissed at Mutano as it flew into her body.


As her vision slipped, she was suddenly energized. She convulsed a few times, which Mutano had seen as normal in his vast experience with death. It made him laugh as he savoured his victory over her and her new family.


At the moment her heart had stopped beating, she felt another heart from within her. This one primordial. A heart that had been beating since the beginning of time. With her new found strength, she reached up and pulled the knife from her chest. She looked at it with disgust, and tossed it helplessly beyond the reception area as Mutano backed away in horror.


"This can't be! It is impossible!" he said as she got to her feet.


She moved forward, pressing him back as she did. He retreated backwards in fear from her, seeing within each of her butterfly tattoos, the faces of all his women victims. All of the dragons that adorned her body looked on at him in anger and ferocity.


He then turned and threw himself out the large bay window by the elevator foyer.


He fell thirty three stories to his death. 


Aikiko ran to the window, seeing his lifeless body in the distance below. Then she spied what she thought was a shadow, leaving him. Leaving his body, much like the dragon that had entered her own. She puzzled over this for a moment before considering that this might not be over.


She turned to find Jun's body, and struggled to peform cardio-pulminary resuscitation on him.


"Jun!" she pushed his heart, unable to get it beating as blood escaped through his mouth.


Deep from within her she felt a growing rage, as the last remnants of her own butterfly died with Jun.


She sat beside him on the floor, the tears leaving her nearly as quickly as her own blood had been moments ago. She then stood and ran for the stairwell, up to the roof. She found the door and opened it. There at the top of the building were the remaining staff of the Ryoji Studio, Mr. Ichiban standing protectively in front of them.


"Aikiko!" he said in amazement and joy.


"You are safe now, but this safety has cost a great deal of life. Jun is gone as are many others. Mutano and his men are dead, but his spirit escaped. I must go, and find him and those who robbed me of my destiny as the gem!" she exclaimed, her anger lining her voice.


"You will always be welcome with the Ryoji, and you will always be remembered, Aikiko. Dragon Butterfly," Mr. Ichiban bowed before Aikiko, as the rest of the office and studio workers did as well.


Dragon Butterfly turned and walked across the cement covering of the roof, her heels clicking as she walked through the doorway and down the stairs. She then used the elevator to leave the building before the Police arrived.


Several days later, she returned to the old man's house. The crime scene tape still blocked the doorway though she broke it and the door lock to get in. She rummaged through his records, not recognizing some of the languages he'd used to journalize aspects of his Mystic practice. Amongst some of his documents, he found a journal titled Apirations Of The Butterfly And The Dragon. She opened the journal and found that he'd been studying the mysteries of an ancient sect of worshippers of something called the field. 


At once, she recalled her own dreams of the field under the moonlight. She grabbed the journal, and several others, throwing them into a bag knapsack she'd brought with her. She then left, closing the front door, leaving Tokyo behind her for the time being. 


Her next leg of her journey of self discovery and the matter of her fate would take her to her old home. The one Shogo had taken from them when he'd taken her to pay their father's debts.


Where she would continue her search to find those who'd robbed her of her role as the gem.


A New Direction


Norler pulled his car up to one of the parking spaces out back of the building, just aways off of the loading docks. He got out, his sunglasses perched on his face and walked over to the back shipping door and pressed the buzzer.


The receiver opened the door for him.


"I didn't hear the truck pull up. What've you got for... whoa! Mr. Norler! Sorry, I didn't..." the receiver responded upon seeing the older man's face.


"That's alright. I just wanted to be discrete. You know? surprise her," Norler told the receiver.


"You know the way... tell Doctor Westin I said hi," the receiver waved as Norler made his way through the back door and into the offices of the Tynan And Associates Medical Research Facility.


He walked the hall and rounded a corner, emerging just beyond the clean rooms. He then took another turn, left this time and walked for a bit passing several offices until he'd arrived at her office. He peeked his face in and saw she wasn't there. Alex, one of the interns spotted Norler and approached him from behind.


"Doctor Westin is in the lab. You can go there if you want. Its not a controlled environment," Alex told Norler.


"Thank you, I know where it is," Norler turned and followed his instructions.


He rounded another corner and found the first door. He slowly opened it and snuck up behind a blonde haired woman in a lab coat within.


"What's cooking? Dinner for two?" Norler asked her as unbrazen as one could possibly be.


She turned to look at him, and her eyes watered slightly as if tears were about to flow.


"Dinner for one. We're feeding a bacterio-phage we're developing as an Anti-Biotic against superbugs. Her name is Gaia. We engineered her. We hired Doctors Katya and Victor Piotr, you remember them don't you?" Alicia turned back to her work.


"Of course I remember them. Is it a bad time?" he asked.


"No, I'm having a wonderful time. This is what I do," she said, looking into a microscope at her specimen.


"When I woke up, you were gone and I didn't know..." Norler began.


"If I was still your girl?" Alicia asked him.


"No. You're your own girl. I just wanted to make sure that you were alright. We kind of left each other hanging..." Norler said over her shoulder.


"I just needed some time," Alicia replied without looking back at him.


"What kind of time? You mean like away from me?" he asked her.


She paused for along moment and he didn't know whether she was doing so on purpose, deep in thought, or deeply into her work.


"No. I just needed some time," she began weeping as she stepped away from the microscope.


She stood and turned around, throwing herself at him.


"Its going to be alright. We're going to figure this out," he said to her.


"I know, but you don't know how this feels and what I'm going through," she cried into his shoulder.


"We'll give everything some time. As much as you need, but I did have an idea that might ease the stress  just a little," he said to her as she slowly stopped crying and turned her face sideways against his chest.


"What kind of idea?" she asked him.


"Well, I'd like to take you somewhere and show you something," Norler told her.


"When?" she asked him.


"Right now if you're available," he told her.


"Alright. Just give me one minute..." she said turning back to her microscope and peering inside.


She observed that the bacterio-phage, Gaia, had attached itself to their inert sample superbug bacteria and that in the time she'd been away from microscope, it had commandeered the bacteria and was successfully using it to produce an army of other similar phages.


She then picked up her phone and hit her speed dial.


"Katya? It worked! It didn't reject the host! We can begin testing on live specimens. You can begin engineering other strains based upon Gaia so that we have the first full spectrum  bio-adaptive antibiotic available in the world," Alicia assured Katya.


"Great! I'll talk to you soon," Alicia hung up the phone.


"Another victory for the Doctors?" Norler asked her.


"No. Another victory for humanity. As you might already know, more and more bacteria is becoming immune to antibiotics and that has become a significant danger. This new approach which was investigated by Katya and Victor more than a decade ago, is definitely the future of antibiotics, until nano-tech is widely available for use in biological research that is," Alicia got up and wrote a quick post it note, leaving it on the frame of the microscope imploring her coworkers not to touch the sample.


"Nano-tech. That's the one with the microscopic machines? So what's the difference between phages and nano-tech?" asked Norler, sincerely interested in her work.


"Phages are a pseudo viral organism. They have DNA like most other cellular organisms, but they're parasitic to bacteria and rely upon them as hosts for reproduction. The thing is, we can develop them genetically, altering them to suit our purpose and from there, they'll adapt according to the evolutionary changes bacteria undergo. In essence, they'd be a very effective antibiotic but with one drawback," Alicia explained to Norler.


"What's that?" Norler asked her, knowing full well that this could be another big breakthrough for Tynan And Associates.


"Phages are specialists. So for one kind of bacteria, one or more kinds of phage are its predator. If you broaden the spectrum of any strain of phage, you're taking away its effectiveness. Its a trade off in the phage versus bacteria arms race, so in order to overcome that, we're developing a package that delivers a billion different strains of phage all in one pill. Half of them are specialists, the other half are generalists. The specialists can effectively wipe out any of the more dangerous bacterial infections known to humanity, while the generalists can get anything missed by the specialists," Alicia continued her course on phage biology.


"Beelions and beelions of phages eventually wipe out the vast majority of bacteria in the cosmos, making Doctor Westin the mortal enemy of bacteria everywhere..." Norler did his best impression of Carl Saga, rousing an inspiring laughter from Alicia.


"Come on, we can talk about this in the car," Norler grabbed her hand.


They left the lab together and left through the shipping door.


"It feels like school and we're playing hooky," Alicia remarked causing Norler to laugh.


"Maybe. One time is alright," Norler unlocked and started the electric car with his keychain.


They both got in and he pulled out along the driveway along a small road and out into the Victoria Park and Lawrence Avenue traffic.


"So how are Katya and Victor engineering billions of phages? I mean wouldn't that take longer than a human lifetime?" asked Norler.


"If you had a lab of a hundred people working on it by hand with something like CRISPR, around the clock, it would take about ten million years. Katya and Victor are working with a research group in McGill University developing the physical elements of the automation process. The hardware and processes that will literally create billions of varieties of phages from a genetic blue print in a single batch. Those phages are then farmed and used to populate the delivery package, a standard ingestible capsule pill via a process that's similar to freeze drying. The blue print and the algorithm that varies the genetic structure are being developed by a computer science team located in the University Of Toronto. The same team that helped Zheng Ni Wong develope... Wait a minute. Where are we going?" Alicia stopped her lecture to satiate her own curiosity.


"Somewhere a bit closer to home. Actually the office is just around the corner from our condo," Norler told her.


"You didn't shave this morning," Alicia noticed.


"I woke up late. I didn't have time," Norler admitted.


"What about that electric razor I bought you for your birthday?" she asked him.


"I totally forgot about it. I should put it in the glove box," Norler remarked.


"I'll remember it when we leave together tomorrow," Alicia assured him.


"Thank you honey," he put his hand at the halfway point between them. 


She looked at it skeptically if not playfully for a moment before she was ready to put her hand on top.


The rest of the drive was silent and they simply enjoyed being with one another without having to say a thing.


They got off of the Don Valley Parkway, one of Toronto's thoroughfares for daily traffic and drove along Queen Street West until they arrived at Queen Street and Yonge Street. Norler turned north onto Yonge Street and pulled into the underground parking.


They walked hand in hand and arrived at the elevator, taking it up to the eighteenth floor.


"Its just this way," Norler led Alicia, who was enjoying the adventure.


"Honey, I'd like you to meet a personal friend of mine. One that I've been keeping secret from you, but one that ultimately led me to you," Norler showed her the office reception.


"This is the home of the Noble Group, and this is our receptionist, Thierry," Norler showed her the entry way as they stepped into the offices.


"Pleased to meet you," Thierry stood and shook hands with Alicia.


"Thank you, nice to meet you as well," Alicia smiled.


"Soooo, what do you do here?" she asked Norler.


"Come in and I'll show you," Norler brought her into the offices giving her a tour and then taking her directly to his.


"So are you going to make me figure this mystery out myself?" she asked him.


"We're a philanthropical group of like minded business people. We look for organizations and people in society who are in need of the kind of help we can offer. We evaluate them carefully, and if they should meet our strict criteria, we help them," Norler explained to her.


"How, give me an example?" Alicia asked him.


"Just last week we approved the release of three hundred thousand dollars to pay for the building of a medical facility in Northern Ontario. The week before that we approved and paid for the expenses of a young boy to receive a special life-saving operation that was only offered in Switzerland. The week before that, we funded a small start-up, giving them enough finances to operate for two years or until they started turning a profit," Norler explained to her.


"So why are you showing me this?" Alicia asked him.


"Because I think it might help you. Help us both if you were a part of this," he told her.


"You mean because of my other identity?" she asked him.


"Its been a year since the last time you put that suit on," Norler reminded her.


"If you helped us with this, you'd be a superhero. A hero of our own. We do this every week, the only difference is that we don't put on spandex to do it. I spoke with the rest of the board and they agreed that you should be brought on," Norler told her.


"As far as the other issues we have with getting things going in the family department. We'll take a break and do it one step at a time in the near future, right from the beginning," Norler assured her.


"So what do you think?" he asked her.


"Maybe the stress is a big factor in our tummy problem. We'll take a break and when we feel the time is right, we'll try again," Alicia agreed before she continued.


"However, if it turns out to be the SY-349, I'm going to have to tell Heylyn, Monique and Valerie too, because they're the only other people alive who've taken the SY349 as well," Alicia told him and he began to get a glimpse of the weight on her shoulders.


"Fair enough," Norler agreed with her synopsis.


"As far as this is concerned? The Noble Group? I'd love to join you on this. Let's do it and see how it goes," she wrapped her arms around him and they kissed deeply and tenderly for the first time in a long time.


West Meeting East


They all sat in the meeting room at the West Meet East offices, every employee shy of one receptionist (Helen) who remained at the front desk to keep vigil while Dylan kept an eye on the back of the building from his office near the sewing rooms. Fay had finished with Julia's makeup and left her with Sienna to finish her hair.


"So when are we going to get this show started? I have a photo shoot in like forty five minutes!" asked Troy, speaking aloud above the chatter in the room.


"I'm sorry, but we're still waiting for Heylyn and Monique to show up. They called in earlier and they're running behind," Valerie stood addressing Troy's concern.


"Sorry but we can't start without them. Wait a minute, let me see if any of Heylyn's notes are on her desk. I'll have Helen open the office for me and we'll have a look-see. In the meantime, Kori will entertain you all with her skills as a modern dancer..." Valerie introduced Kori as she left the room.


"Oh no. Here we go," Lisa slapped her hand to her forehead.


"This is the stardom I've been waiting for my whole life!" Kori exclaimed in glee as she got up, stepping into the center of the room and the tables and performed her elegant yet classy dance moves.


After a few moments it was obvious that she'd been professionally trained or was simply naturally gifted as everyone in the room stopped and began to clap on the beat for her as she moved.


"You go girl!" Troy yelled, enjoying the show as much as everyone else in the meeting room.


When Valerie returned, she even waited a minute or two before ending the performance by her applause.


"That was fabulous!" Valerie exclaimed as she continued her applause.


"Why isn't she working the runways? She'd bring the house down!" Troy suggested, drawing an innocent and flirtatious smile from Kori.


The rest of the room eventually quieted down and Valerie took her place at the table.


"Thank you Kori. Consider yourself booked at the next meeting if anyone else is late," Valerie thanked Kori, who bowed graciously and found her way back to her seat.


"Alright, I have Heylyn's notes here, so I'm going to improvise as best I can and she'll fill you in on the details when she gets here," Valerie began the meeting.


"The first thing on the list I'll have to put off until Heylyn gets here. This one too. And that one. Oh, the Eco-friendly line and materials arrived last week. We've made arrangements with our suppliers and they're now following suit in a similar fashion, pun intended," Valerie went through Heylyn's list highlighting each of the topics and informing the employees about the progress being made.


"Ebtissam worked closely with Heylyn on this and they've managed to come up with a set of colours and materials for the fashion lines of the four seasons, all of which are eco-friendly and sourced from renewable sources as per our guidelines. Thank you Ebtissam and the rest of the sewing department," Valerie gave a little applause for them, the rest of the room following suit.


"Also, our cosmetics and hair care team is working closely with our suppliers and hopefully we should see eco-friendly products that meet the protocols we've laid down within the next two months. Thank you to Fay and Sienna for that," Valerie applauded again as did the rest of the office.


"Don't forget about the systems upgrading I'll be doing over the next three weekends. We're outsourcing for additional techs to help as well. In case you don't know, we're switching to a less power intensive line of processors for our in-house computer workstations. And next month we're having solar panels installed that line the roof of the building except for the solarium above the showroom," Lisa found an opening and presented her efforts to the room.


"Thank you Lisa. I don't see that one on the list so thanks for letting us know," Valerie added.


"Oh, and Heylyn wanted to comment on the busy bodies becoming militant about our eco-friendly effort here. While we support the military, we don't support the use of militant force and zeal to get us to eco-friendliness. As Heylyn stated, we have to get there together, meaing we all have to understand why and make it a force of habit rather than inquisition. We have a few offenders on the busy body side, I'm not mentioning any names but her initials are Monique Defleur..." Valerie paused for the laughter.


"Why are my ears ringing?" Monique said as she walked into the meeting room, a Latte in hand.


"Good morning everyone," Heylyn said as she walked into the meeting room looking at her watch, drawing another round of laughter seeing as they were already into the early afternoon.


"So what was this about me?" asked Monique.


"Nothing to worry about Monique. You won the award," Valerie announced.


"I did? Really? I'm going to need a date then!" Monique started a little victory dance.


"Not that award... You won the Busy Body Of The Month Award," Valerie said jokingly to Monique.


"I'm honoured! This is the happiest day of my life!" Monique responded, playing along with it rather than against it.


"So where were we in this important meeting?" asked Heylyn of Valerie as she looked around the room.


"We just finished making all of the announcements related to our move to an eco-friendly environment here. I put off the three big notes you have there for obvious reasons. If you'd like to take over?" Valerie offered Heylyn the floor.


"Thank you everyone for showing up on time. I won't be able to make it for our next meeting, so in lieu of my tardiness, instead of buying everyone coffees for the next meeting, I'm going to buy us all lunch today. We'll order in. Its all on me," Heylyn announced bringing a round of applause.


"Why can't you make it for next meeting?" asked Fay.


"Because I'll be in South Korea. With Kori Jonglyu," Heylyn announced.


"You do realize that we've got one of our biggest shows next month not to mention the You're Worth It summer event?" Fay challenged her.


"I realize everything. I'll be back in time for the show and at that, well in advance to help everyone prepare. Nothing in that arena has changed," Heylyn informed them.


"I'm going to Korea?" asked Kori.


"Unless you have better plans than an all expenses paid trip to Korea?" Heylyn asked Kori.


"I'll have to put aside the plans I had of watching my plants grow and my paint dry. Boo hoo. I'm definitely with you on the Korea thing," Kori gave Heylyn her thumbs up.


"I thought you would take me?" Monique asked, looking somewhat shocked.


"I need you here to help Valerie look after things while I'm gone," Heylyn winked as best she could.


Monique thought about it for a moment.


"Oh, you mean help. Valerie and I? Sure, we'd make a good team," Monique agreed suddenly understanding what Heylyn had meant.


"You were going to speak with me about this weren't you?" Valerie seemed suddenly caught off guard, understanding full well what Heylyn meant.


"I was, but seeing as you're here and you clearly understood what I meant, I figured we could do with that," Heylyn responded as discretely as possible.


"So just like that you're going to dump that on me?" Valerie seemed shocked as she hadn't put on her costume since the delegation's trip to Asia.


"You and Monique work well together. I personally think that you two will cover all the bases in my absence," Heylyn replied.


"I have a life you know. A personal life? You know, with friends and people I want to spend more time with?" Valerie pushed the issue with Heylyn.


"Valerie, I wouldn't be asking you this is if wasn't a big business related... and personal favour to me. You're one of the few people I can really trust with this. I need your help now, like we helped you back then? You know what I'm talking about?" Heylyn responded in like.


"You're not calling in that favour are you?" Valerie confirmed with Heylyn.


"It was never a debt. Its your choice, but I need you to do this. For West Meet East. For my business. For Toronto," Heylyn practically begged Valerie.


Valerie was silent for a moment as she thought about it. She looked over to Troy, who smiled back at her and even nodded at her and winked. As if he supported her helping Heylyn. She blushed momentarily and turned back to her employer.


"Alright. I'll do it. But I'm calling the shots, Monique," Valerie confirmed.


"You'll work together, and be fair to one another, but you'll have the final say," Heylyn advised them.


"I guess seniority is out the window," Monique responded in a frustrated tone of voice.


"We've all been working together for a long time. Valerie, you'll do well to heed Monique's advice. She's far more experienced in many aspects, not to mention she's still flying on her own nearly every day if you know what I mean," Heylyn insisted.


"Alright. I agree," Valerie nodded, looking back to Troy as everyone in the room applauded unaware of the duality of their conversation.


"Now, lets go over the details of the summer lineup show and the You're Worth It event and party," Heylyn insisted as she returned to lead the meeting.


...


Everyone filed out of the meeting room and back to their desks eagerly waiting for Heylyn's late lunch to arrive. As they left, Heylyn pulled Monique and Valerie aside.


"I want a meeting with the two of you in my office pronto," Heylyn told them firmly.


"Yes M'aam!" Monique responded, still clearly upset that she wasn't going to Korea with Heylyn.


They left the meeting room and followed Heylyn back to her office where they each pulled up a chair on the other side of her desk.


"Close the door, both of them," Heylyn told Monique.


"Sorry. Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed," Monique got up and closed the door to Heylyn's sewing room, which was the room you had to go through to get to her office, whose door Monique also closed.


Heylyn waited for Monique to get seated before speaking.


"This is important. I need the two of you to work together while I'm gone, and for once to get along," Heylyn asserted herself to them.


"We get along! We're the dream team if you add in Kori, Lisa and Troy. We all eat lunch together, and get along just fine," Monique crossed her legs and turned slightly sideways as if put off by Heylyn's suggestion.


"That's not what I meant. You need to work together when I'm gone in case..." Heylyn asserted herself again.


"...the Chameleon? What makes you think we have any chance of finding that one? The Police have been hunting for him for over ten years. Didn't you see it on the news, they linked another seven murders that happened over the last ten years to the Chameleon. Same M.O. They're experts at what they do. What makes you think we'll do better than them?" Valerie asked Heylyn, challenging her authority.


"This isn't a competition. We're on the same team... sort of. When I'm gone, you need to be on your toes and keep a vigil. For the people. Its them we're protecting. If by some miracle you find that sick murdering bastard as Monique put it, then you stop him, and let the Police take it from there," Heylyn told them firmly.


"We do that and they'll lambaste us all over the press, like they did when people started talking about us after we took down Zek and the Treadwater incident," Valerie returned, unwilling to back down.


"This isn't a glory show. The people we've saved and helped know us and know the truth of the matter. More importantly, we know ourselves and that's what counts the most because at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself and your choices," Heylyn held her ground.


"If all of this is so important then why don't you stay behind and help us hunt that bastard and let someone else go save that little girl?" asked Monique.


"Because its important to me! Were either of you two ever little girls? As little girls, have you ever been lost in a dangerous situation without your parents or anyone who knows you and loves you? Someone there to protect you? It might not mean something to you, but it means something to me. I'm willing to take the chance that I can find her and be back here fast enough to help you take down the Chameleon!" Heylyn stood up leaning over her desk and peering at them.


"So this isn't about rescuing a little girl at all. This is clearly about you fast tracking your way to maternity. What happened? Did you wake up this morning and realize that your maternal clock is ticking? Guess what Heylyn. Me and a few hundred million women over thirty wake up every morning to the same feeling. Now you're mixing this little girl's life up in your quest for maternity and maybe even the guilt you feel for being a successful woman! I'm telling you this as both your business advisor and as your friend. It is my opinion that you need to rethink this impromptu decision of yours," Valerie kept her gaze firmly on Heylyn and the two women stared each other down until Heylyn sat back in her chair calmly.


"My decision is final and I do not need to justify my reasons for doing this to either of you, but I welcome your opinions. My point of getting you two in here was to stress the fact that you two work great together in the office, but you're going to have to relearn to work together doing patrols," Heylyn crossed her legs behind the desk, sitting back slightly.


"Why don't you call Alicia? Her and Monique have a much better rapport when it comes to two grown adults indulging themselves in comic book antics," Valerie responded.


"She's taking a break. She told me it was important and that was all I needed to hear to not press the issue with her," Heylyn answered.


"It's important to me to have a life too. Are you going to respect my wishes?" asked Valerie.


"Its important to Monique as well, so are you going to let her patrol all by her lonesome?" Heylyn replied.


"Torman already took years of my life from me, and now you're stepping into his shoes and doing the exact same thing," Valerie shook her head disapprovingly.


"This will only be for the time I'm away. No more than four days. I promise," Heylyn held up her left hand and put her right hand to her heart.


Valerie, Monique and Heylyn sat silently in her office for what seemed like minutes until Monique's stomach made a groaning noise that cut through the tension in the room like a pin puncturing a balloon.


"Alright, I'll do it. For Monique's sake. I wouldn't want to see her starve to death in here..." Valerie responded to the straight faces of the other two women.


Three seconds went by and the three of them burst out laughing.


...


When the food arrived, they convened to the lunch room. Kori upon seeing Heylyn, pulled heer aside for a quick chat.


"When are we leaving for Korea?" asked Jonglyu playfully, honestly expecting to have time to prepare.


"In about five hours," Heylyn replied, checking her phone for the time.


"Waaa? Five hours? Are you kidding me? You throw this on me without any warning?" Kori responded anxiously stressed.


"I could always ask Monique if you can't make it?" Heylyn bluffed.


"Are you kidding me? I wouldn't miss this for the world! Spontaneity is a girl's best friend! At least this one," Kori replied, jumping up and down on her feet like a winning contestant on the Price Is Right.


"You can leave early and I'll pick you up at home," Heylyn offered.


"I'll leave after I finish up prepping the studio for Trey's photoshoot," Kori replied.


There was a moment of awkward silence as Heylyn went through the messages on her phone.


"So why exactly are we going to Korea?" asked Kori.


"What's that? Oh, a little sight seeing..." Heylyn said as they left the meeting room.


"And?" Kori continued.


"And... we have to find someone..." Heylyn responded, somewhat confused.


"Who?" asked Kori.


"Warai," responded Heylyn.


"Who's Warai?" continued Kori, a curious look on her face.


"Oh she's a little girl... cute too," Heylyn replied, unsure of how to respond.


"She's family? You're going to visit her? That's so niiice!" Kori said blushing.


"You'll like her. She's a real gem..." Heylyn smiled as they continued to her office.


Court Date


Alomera Constanza Zekestes sat in his holding cell at the Central American Court Of Justice. Where he'd been kept for the last thirty six hours. There were no windows in the cell, and it was in its own tiny range so to speak, so there was nobody with whom he could speak to be aware of the passage of time.


The risk of escape with such a man was sizeable, so one of the precautions the authorities took with him was to keep him temporally in the dark. If he had no way of knowing what time it was, or how much time had passed, he'd have no way of coordinating an escape.


As much so, the risk of assassination was significant as well, for he'd blackmailed the vast majority of the most powerful people on the planet in order to obtain control of it. With the secrets of Kings in your grasp, you become their King he would say to his personal assistant, Maelena back on his Estate on Treadwater Island. She of course would smile politely or nod, acknowledging that she was listening, but she never dared to express any semblance of opinion when it came to his personal orations.

He longed for her company now, though he'd never spent any romantic time with her. He abhorred any animal distractions that would take his focus away from his management of the world. He even saw sex as a weakness, pursued most often by flawed men, many of whom would eventually become his puppets via the reach of his blackmail empire. Often as a result of their extra-marital sexual pursuits. Much the same, he did not drink alcohol. In fact, he didn't use any narcotic substances whatsoever, as he believed that they dulled the senses. He preferred to keep himself pure and clear of any obstacles that might take away from his ability to run the world. In this sense, his time in prison had been pretty easy on him, not to mention that the three most powerful gangs in La Modela often fought over his favour for they saw him as a Messiah amongst the mortals.


Much the same as he'd been revered on Treadwater Island, though he'd also been the most terrifying man on the face of the Earth to most who knew him. For instance, one of the guards on his estate had coughed while walking by him, though Mr. Zek swore the guard had uttered the word asshole to him while coughing. Shortly after, Mr. Zek had one of his Elite guards round the man up and disemboweled him on the beach of his property, leaving him there to die as the tide rose. The next day, the guards gathered what was left of him after the oceanic wildlife had assumed him a meal, and tied it to the coral reef  bounding the bay inlet of his Estate. There it dangled, floating on a steel wire along with the remains of nearly a thousand other people.


He then ordered an audit and investigation of his entire security force. The Intelligence unit of his Elite guard told him that the guard in question had been known to the other guards to question his leadership and to say things of an unsettling nature.


The results to the investigation had hence justified his wrath against the guard, and had solidified the unity they all had to Mr. Zek's will. After all, it was far better to hold one's tongue and receive a paycheque every two weeks than it was to speak carelessly and end one's day in the bottom of the lagoon.


Mr. Zek had contingency plans for just about every possibility. For instance, he had plans in the event that his guards formed a mutiny against him, that involved blackmailing the Governments of other countries into military action against the Island. Had his own Elite guards mutinied, he had a plan whereby he would play his regular units and the security forces of other resorts against them, until they were weakened enough to be dealt with by mercenaries he'd secretly employed throughout the Island.


This is what had kept him alive in the most dangerous of all games. The game of power and holding onto it. Even from his prison cell, the power of his legend alone was immense for it had kept him safe and protected in the most hostile of environments. He'd never once been assaulted or even so much as looked at by anyone with any sort of ill intent in their eyes or stride. He was living under the umbrella of his own myth.


The electric door just outside of his cell suddenly buzzed and the electric latch clanked, followed by the door swinging open. Three heavily armoured guards stepped into the hall outside of his cell, one of them making their way directly to his cell door.


"Open C1!" the guard yelled, and a moment later, the electric cell door slid open.


"Prisoner 22A51, stand and face the back of your cell. Keep your hands in the air above your head, reaching for the ceiling," the guard ordered him.


Mr. Zek did as the guard requested.


The guard approached him and took each of his hands one at a time and cuffed them behind his back.


"Prisoner 22A51, follow behind me one half body length and no more. If you stray, you will be tazered. Do you understand?" the guard asked him.


"Yes. Perfectly. I'm allergic to high voltage," Zek joked.


"Follow me now," the guard orded him as he marched his way out of the cell and out the door into the hall beyond.


Zek followed him and the two other guards followed behind him. One of them a tazer at the ready, the other, a 9mm SMG.


They marched for a short time, turning left twice and down another hall before they arrived at a similar door to the one through which they'd exited.


"Open E Block!" the guard yelled.


The door buzzed and the latch clanked much the same as the last door. The guard pushed it and it opened easily. They walked down the hall and arrived at another cell, a prison sat in it with his back to the bars.


"Prisoner 22A34! Standing up, reaching for the ceiling with both hands!" the guard ordered the prisoner.


The prisoner who wore a fishing hat and wore a pair of sunglasses, stood, keeping his back to the guards.


"Open E1!" the guard yelled.


The cell door opened and the guard cuffed the prisoner, removing his hat and sunglasses. Then what he did next was astonishing even to Zek. The guard led the prisoner out of the cell and handed Zek the hat and sunglasses. One of the other guards unlocked his cuffs and ordered him into the cell.


"Close E1!" the guard yelled as soon as Zek was safely in the cell.


"You might want to wear those," the guard said to him.


Zek waisted no time and put the hat and sunglasses on.


The trio of guards left with the other prisoner, closing the outer door behind them, leaving Zek to himself. That was when Zek noticed an FM radio sitting in the corner of the cell on a bedside table. He quickly turned on the radio, keeping the volume low, listening for any indication of the date, time and his location.


After fifteen minutes of listening, the outer door clanked and opened and a solitary guard in nothing more than his uniform arrived.


"Prisoner 22A34, you're outta here. Get your stuff and I'll escort you to the quartermaster where you can pickup the stuff you had taken from you when you were brought in here," the guard looked to Mr. Zek, who looked back at him like he'd seen a ghost.


"Well, don't dilly dally in case they change their mind," the guard said as Zek came to life, springing to his feet and following the guard out of the cell and into the hallway.


"There's a payphone in the front in case you need to call for someone to come and pick you up, and a coffee machine out there too in case you need a pick-me-up," the guard told him as he led Zek to the quartermaster's office.


A moment later, Zek was facing a counter protected by a bulletproof glass screen. The man behind the desk approached.


"What's your number?" asked the quartermaster.


"Uhhh... 22A34," Zek said as best he could without sounding suspicious.


"Just a minute," the quartermaster went over to a set of locked drawers and found Zek's number on hem.


He unlocked the drawer and pulled a box from within. He then opened the box and pulled a packing slip from it. He then sat down and began handing the items one at a time to Zek, checking them off of the packing list.


"One black plastic lighter," the quartermaster said.


"Yes. That's mine," Zek accepted the item.


"One package of spearmint gum, unopened," the quartermaster handed him the gum.


"Thank you. Yes its mine," Zek lied.


"One MindSpice Smartphone. MindNote X11. A nice phone. Where'd you get the money for that?" the quartermaster asked him.


"It was a gift," Zek told the truth.


"One keychain with three keys on it," the quartermaster handed the keys to Zek.


"Yes, I'll take that," Zek accepted the keys.


"That's it. All of it. Sign here," the quartermaster offered him a pen.


Zek forged a quick and illegible signature hoping that it wouldn't be checked by the quartermaster. The quartermaster didn't even look at it as he took the paperwork and filed it in a box.


"We're done. You're free to go," the quartermaster told him pointing to the exit.


Zek didn't waste any time and made his way out through the exit into the public pickup room. He went over to the coffee machine and realized he didn't have any change. All of the sudden, his phone rang.


"Hello?" he answered it carefully.


"There's a compact car outside. Dark green finish. Get in the passenger side," a voice told him.


"Nice to hear from you. I look forward to seeing you," Zek feigned a conversation as he headed for the exit and at that moment it hit him that he was free.


He took his time getting to the car, traversing a large flight of stairs to arrive at the pickup area. When he got there, he nonchalantly walked around the car to the passenger door and got in.


The driver, a large muscular bearded man didn't say anything to him until he started driving.


"Put your seat belt on," the man told him.


"Certainly," Zek agreed, buckling his seatbelt.


They drove for a few minutes before Zek spoke.


"Where are..." Zek began and the man interrupted him.


"Don't ask. You'll know when we get there," the man replied.


"Fair enough," Zek responded, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes.


The air rushed in through his window and for the first time in a long time he could taste freedom.


Farnham's Gamble


Edward Farnham sat in a conference room at a boardroom table with three others, each of them clad in formal attire. Tablet computers sat before each of the them seated at the table.


"They're all well educated, except for Lamar. He was the Hockey Mask. He's an ex-heavy weight boxer turned mixed martial artist. He dropped out of grade school before high school and fought in his first match when he was only fifteen. He has no criminal history, but his name has shown up in a lot of other cases, including one having ties to Grier Torman's former gang," a man with both thick glasses and a moustache to match spoke.


"Thanks Rob. What about the ring leader? Anything on him?" Farnham examined a dossier and file photo on his tablet as he spoke.


"Calvin Deeks? Our Wolfman? He's an interesting one. This is guy's an outspoken populist, on and offline. He even has a MindShow channel where he uploads video rants, speaking out against the wealthy elites. He's pretty popular online, but still avoided by the general audience. Ironic that we should find him as the ring leader in an armed robbery attempting to get away with two hundred million dollars," a heavy figured woman with a pretty face spoke from behind her glasses.


"Sounds like a real hero, Denise. Modern day Robin Hood maybe?" Farnham asked.


"No. No indication in his profile that he had any intent of giving anything to the poor. He grew up in a wealthy family himself, so the shrinks say - excuse the expression Morris - that his outspoken populism was more than likely a manifestation of his declaring his independence from his family, but of course, not their money. Unfortunately his activism got him kicked out of the family, including his access to their bank roll, so the robbery was likely his way of getting out of his pending financial crisis and crying out for their help," Denise added.


"And the rest?" Farnham asked.


"They all appeared to have been along for the ride in Calvin's pipe dream, though two of them have experience with both armed robbery and firearms. Calvin tends to be very charismatic so we did a little checking into their friendships and it turns out the gang only met each other just over a year ago. We figure Calvin cut ties with his family about two years ago, thinking that he'd survive on the advertising money from his channel. When MindShow cut his advertising revenues, citing that some of his content was too controversial, he found himself in a financial situation. He likely did his math and upon figuring out he'd be broke within a year, he starting planning this heist," Denise surmised her evaluation of the gang's motive and timeline.


"What about the two experienced hoods?" Farnham asked.


"That would be the Clown and the Grim Reaper. Greg Corso and Martin Fletts. They're actually partners. Met in jail. They weren't associated prior to their crimes, each were in for a different case. Mostly petty crimes, but a lot of them. When the smoke cleared, they were free and they started their life of love and crime together. Their thing was hitting liquor stores, and hitting them hard. They were active in Manitoba, robbing more than seven liquor stores to the tune of twenty eight thousand dollars," Robert explained their recent history to Farnham.


"I'm guessing that for each robbery they didn't want to hit the 5K mark?" Farnham confirmed.


"Precisely. There are reports that during the robbery if they thought they had more than five thousand, they'd leave a portion of their lump sum on the liquor store property to ensure their crimes never crossed the 5K boundary. That's why they changed locations and their modus operandi and moved to Ontario. They wanted to ensure that they avoided the bigger charge. I guess their experiences in jail taught them that with the right defense lawyer, a stack of theft under five thousand charges was easier to defend than one or more theft over," Robert continued.


"Alright. So they brought their experience to the table in this gang. Acted as consultants to our boy Calvin for a sizeable chunk of the gross. The others were mostly lost sheep. Following Calvin's extravagant vision," Farnham weighed their case.


"There's a bit more to it than that. There's something else eating Calvin that I didn't get into extensively on the record because I wanted to discuss it with you here, and that's that he seems to believe that he's being guided by some unseen force to his destiny, to use his own words," Morris, a thin elderly Psychiatrist explained to his peers at the table.


"This isn't in the case file," Farnham was quick to debunk anything relating to mental illness.


He didn't want anything to unravel the case they were building against the gang.


"Its in my own transcript though, and you'd be wise to listen because that transcript will be available to the defense, so if you take this case before the courts, you'll be encountering these facts before a Justice of the Peace. This is very pertinent to the case, however it opens the doors to a defense for Calvin built around mental illness. Remember, his family are going to be funding his case, even if they've broken ties with him because they don't want the family name run through the gutter. There's a lot riding on this for them and they'll jump on this, if not just to make themselves look like good parents, regardless of whether their intent is sincere. This is both about publicity and damage control for them. So would you like to hear it?" Morris asked Farnham, who was already rubbing his face with his hands in frustration.


"Shit. Alright. Thanks for bringing it up here, Morris. Would have been a bitch to run into that unsuspectingly in open court. So whaddya got?" asked Farnham.


"Calvin described symptoms that are in line with several other well documented mental illnesses. Paranoid Psychosis. Schizophrenia. A few others as well," Morris began.


"...he might have been playing the part? He's a clever lad. He knows that with an insanity plea that he could reduce his sentence significantly," Farnham suggested.


"No. I tested him for that possibility and he's really experiencing this, whatever it is. However, there's some aspects to whatever he's experiencing that isn't a case of textbook schizophrenia. For one, he's not delusional. Like anyone as idealistic as he can be, he can be misled, but he's not delusional. Secondly, he claims that he received the instructions to contact Greg, Martin and Lamar through these voices. Not directly, but built up over time via a complex language of metaphor and allegory. According to his testimony and my examination, he began planning this robbery more than a year before he met any of his co-conspirators," Morris informed Farnham about this critical information.


"Are you claiming that Calvin had a psychic experience that led him to his co-conspirators?" asked Farnham.


"No. I'm claiming that Calvin had an experience that through means we are not able to explain, ultimately gave him enough information about whom he'd be looking for and where to find them. Through didactics, it should be fairly obvious that what I'm claiming is truth," Morris informed Farnham.


"There's one way to verify that... just a minute..." Farnham fingered through the records of the file on his tablet computer.


"Alright, here we are, February 17th, 2021. We have two live messages sent via Cheerify to Greg and Martin, originating from... holy shit. DeeksTheFuture. That's Calvin's alias on Cheerify. So they didn't find him. He found them," Farnham couldn't believe that he missed that key fact, but he didn't hold it against himself for long because any experienced investigator knew to never harp on their misses but rather pursue their hits.


"Where's Lamar in all of this? He had ties to one of the worst criminal rings in Toronto's recent history via Grier Torman," asked Robert.


"Only in speculation. No solid evidence has ever appeared that has linked him to the Torman conspiracy. However, he does have ties to the man we suspect provided the gang with the weapons used in the armed robbery," Denise pulled up a court record taken during the case against Torman's gang more than five years ago.


The link popped up on Farnham's notification tab, on his tablet. He clicked it with his index finger and was taken to the court records file that Denise had sent him.


"So Lamar was muscle for the gun runners," Farnham extrapolated.


"It appears so, though he seems to be protected," Rob assured Farnham.


"Undercover maybe?" asked Farnham.


"No. We asked the Undercover Unit to confirm if his name was a part of any operation historically and they sent us a big: no such personnel reply," Denise informed Farnham.


"His name was mentioned in several court transcripts linked to the Torman case..." Farnham's eyes shrunk as he concentrated, filtering the court transcripts based upon criteria he'd selected.


"That's because Lamar's not the muscle for the gunner runners. He was the gun runner. Torman's gun runner. He was running the gun runner's show," Farnham's filter had confirmed his theory.


He sent the database link to the others at the table with him, and they each checked his theory. They found that he'd filtered the database on the criteria of cases related to Torman, transactions involving firearms, that included the name Lamar in their transcripts. Every single one of the cases made mention of Lamar as muscle or a lookout, but in fact it was clear they were protecting him and his bigger role in the case.


"This is serious. Are there any other cases outside of the Torman case linked to this guy? Even just mentioning him?" asked Farnham.


Denise, the faster finger typist did a search on her tablet.


"Yes. One case. A recent one, involving cyber crime, but the case file is locked," Denise responded having found his answer.


"By who?" asked Farnham.


"Who else? The RCMP. By Inspector Tricia Camden," Denise replied.


"Looks like I've got a date with a Fed," Farnham grabbed his tablet and stood up.


"Great work. Thank you for your time. We'll run another brainstorming session next week and try to wrap this case up with the new information I find in the field," Farnham stood and waited for the feeling to find its way back into his legs.


"Morris, Robert. Good day," Farnham shook hands with his experts.


"Thanks, you too," Morris responded.


"Good to see you Ed," Robert responded as he left the room.


"Looking a little shaky there Detective," Denise poked him with words.


"Not like the old days. You know, I get this tech stuff, but I miss getting my hands dirty, especially in a robbery case," Farnham commented.


"Why'd they move you from homicide to robbery?" asked Denise.


"Homicide is up to its armpits in the Chameleon case. Detectives from other departments are working the case. So much so that robbery was short handed. So when it came up, they gave it to me," Farnham told Denise.


"I'm guessing that the Chief's logic was to take one experienced man versus several less experienced men to solve the case," Denise suggested, making Farnham feel uncomfortable with her boot licking.


"I don't know about that, but I do know that I've got twenty years working robbery before I even got near homicide. Thanks Denise, I've gotta make a call," Farnham thanked her and pulled his cellular phone from his pocket and dialed a number.


The phone rang for two rings before it was answered by a familiar voice.


"Inspector Camden speaking," Tricia answered.


"Detective Farnham here. You remember me?" Farnham asked.


"How could I not, Detective? What can I do for you?" asked Tricia.


"I'm looking at a case file, on my tablet. However, the file is locked and your name is on the lock. Know anything about that?" asked Farnham asked her.


"That depends. I've locked quite a few you know. What's the case?" Tricia asked him.


"One Dupree, Michael A, and no, that wasn't a Canadian eh, rather Dupree, Mike indigo charlie hotel alpha echolon lima space alpha," Farnham asked her.


"Yeah, I know the Dupree case, but I'm not authorized to discuss that or any other protected case under the Official Secrets Act," Tricia explained to Farnham.


"Then I guess you don't want to know what I've got then, because my case recently became connected to the Dupree case. But thanks to a a very discrete Inspector, I'm at a dead end," Farnham explained to her, laying out the bait.


She paused for a moment.


"Oh, you're good. I'll tell you what. I'll show you mine if you show me yours," she responded.


"That sounds like a fair trade. Where can I find you?" Farnham asked.


"We're on our way to Milton. You know the place right? If you throw on your gauchies and get your car keys, you can meet us there when we question Dupree himself," Tricia invited him.


"Wouldn't miss it for the world. See you soon," Farnham finished.


"Ciao," Tricia responded hanging up the phone.


"Where are you off to now?" asked Denise of Farnham.


"I'm sorry, but I can't tell you. Official Secrets Act and all..." Farnham pocketed his phone and made his way to the elevator.


"Does that mean I have to start bringing you shaken martinis instead of your morning coffees?" asked Denise.


"Since when have you brought me any morning coffee?" asked Farnham as he stormed off to the elevators.


"Point duly noted," Denise responded as she grabbed her tablet from the table and returned to her office.


Moments later Farnham left the garage at College Street and Bay Street and was on his way west along the Gardener Expressway to Milton.


Dupree In The Hot Seat


Farnham locked his car and made his way into the offices of the Milton Detention Center. Farnham approached the desk and upon entering the duty officer's field of vision, he spoke.


"She's in interrogation room C. They've been at it for about ten minutes now..." the duty officer told Farnham.


"Thanks," Farnham responded as he walked down a connecting hall.


"The other one way," the dury officer corrected Farnham.


"Thanks again. I haven't been here for ten years," Farnham turned himself around and found the correct hall to the interrogation rooms.


He found the first and second interrogation rooms empty, and the door to the third closed. He pressed the buzzer and heard Tricia's voice through the intercom system.


"Get in here," Tricia's voice blared through the intercom as she buzzed him in.


The latch clicked as voltage passed through its magnetic locking system and Farnham pushed the door open and entered the room. He was greeted by two Inspectors, the first one an attractive yet compact package he'd come to know as Tricia. The other was a tall handsome, yet dubious looking fellow who sat beside her. He looked the part of a fledgling Inpsector, his hair was trimmed with a crew cut and he wore a dapper suit besides. His nose appeared to have been broken more than once, giving him a somewhat intimidating appearance. Farnham chalked that up to his being Tricia's counterpoint. She appeared very attractive and nurturing, which she used to effect while the other one appeared very menacing.


Farnham took a seat on the other side of the menacing fellow, leaving Tricia between the two of them. He remained silent, trying to measure with some degree their level of progress in the process.


"You must be the one in the middle. The balance guy? 'Cuz I know these two are the good cop and bad cop. He even looks the part. Like a guy from that show years ago... the cop one... uhhh Flashpoint?" asked the Dupree, the man they were questioning.


Dupree's laughter was somehow both humourous and irritating at the same time. The two Inspectors and the Detective all kept their faces featureless, as if they were pros playing at a poker table.


"So what prompted you to start probing the bank's network for vulnerabilities? I mean, doesn't that take some skill?" asked Tricia, who brushed her hair seductively away from her right ear as she asked, causing Dupress to blush.


"I know their network setup, 'cuz I used to work for a company that installed the software for banks until I got..." Dupree explained to Tricia, mostly ignoring the other Inspector and Farnham until Tricia interrupted him.


"That's alright honey. We don't need to know the details of how you lost your job. We all make mistakes..." Tricia began as William interrupted her.


"Look, if we're dealing with this low life punk who was essentially involved in a scam attempting to steal pension payments from seniors directly through the bank, I think the details *are* important. I want to see this scumbag crawl..." Inspector Halmand spoke, pounding his fist on the table.


"Inspector! Didn't you read his file? He was absolved of all charges in that case when we found out it was the guy who hired him that was the mastermind behind the whole scheme. Cut Dupree some slack considering what he's been through!" Tricia defended Dupree much to Halmand's chagrin.


"I got most of the detailed specs I needed during that installation. For instance, when I checked out the software's mechanisms for the transfer of authorization, I found a loophole that I could exploit by writing a small python script that would hammer the authorization messenger. A service program that runs in the background that handles all access authorization requests. It creates a token, and that token is passed from bridge point to bridge point until it reaches the destination of the request..." Dupree explained the details to them, seeming somewhat proud of his accomplishment.


"You did that? That's remarkable! What we could do with a person of your skills helping us," Tricia marveled at the possibilities visually hoping to open Dupree up some more.


"That's not all I did. When I got into that bank, the Canadian Commerce Union, the one where that robbery attempt occurred? I found an audit trail in their transaction ledger that indicated they were doing their own skimming..." Dupree told Tricia excitedly.


"Skimming?" Tricia asked, Farnham leaned forward as if the word caught his attention, though in all honesty he had no idea what Dupree was talking about.


"Yeah. Skimming. Its a basic scam where someone sets up a fake recurring service charge that is usually hidden from bank employees, and is applied to all accounts managed by the branch, because the security token is local. If you try skimming from accounts of other branches, you'll have to overcome another security barrier and that one has its own logging process. So its very dangerous in terms of the audit trail it leaves. That's why most skimmers only operate at the branch level. So this bank I hit already had skimmers setup, and all the footprints led to an internal job. By someone in the bank..." Dupree explained to Tricia.


"Damned no good skimmers!" Farnham got in on the action.


"The bank manager himself claims that you setup those skimmers!" Halmand challenged Dupree with an edge to his voice.


"Honest! It wasn't me! They were there when I got in! Kind of like breaking into a jewelry store and finding another thief there who was in the process of stealing the jewels?" Dupree backed into his chair away from Halmand.


"So what prompted you to continue your hack?" Tricia gestured to Halmand with her hand as if she were gesturing to a dog to back off from attacking.


"When I found the skimmer, I looked into it deeply and found that it was customized specifically to gouge more from certain accounts, based upon the current balance. It wasn't using a percentage. It was using different levels. So it would take a small percentage from accounts that had between this much and that much. Then for accounts that had more than that, it would take a higher percentage and so on. The skimmer was designed to handle amounts all the way up to balances of hundreds of millions of dollars and that bank is in the heart of Toronto's financial district, so there were a few accounts that were at that level of finance..." Dupree continued his explanation to Tricia.


"If I gave you the name of the account handler for that account, could you remember it?" Farnham asked Dupree.


"I've got a good memory when it comes to names," Dupree answered.


"How about Ronald Forseth?" asked Farnham.


"Ron... Ron... Oh Ron? Ronald? I remember that name. Wait. Yes, I do. That was the name of one of the account holders..." Dupree explained.


"So you saw his name on one of the accounts that was targeted by this skimmer charge you described?" Farnham confirmed.


"Exactly! His name was on one of the accounts. A big one. A lot of money in that account. Uhhhh Werner-Goldstein! That's it! It was close to half a billion in that one account," Dupree explained.


Farnham jotted the details down on a paper notepad he carried.


"So you still haven't answered what you were doing on that network?" Halmand pressed Dupree.


"Like I said, I was in the network checking out their network security. I'm trying to grow my business as a penetration tester," Dupree responded.


"A what?" Farnham asked.


"A network security tester. I try to hack networks, and if I'm successful, I get information indicating I was successful and show it to the owner of the network, hoping they'll hire me to patch the vulnerability," Dupree explained to Farnham.


"So you're saying that you didn't create the skimmer. That someone working for the bank did?" Tricia asked him.


"In all likelihood yes because the charges were all deposited in an unmarked local account. It was setup as a temporary account which would at the end of the week get deleted, after all the money had been transferred somewhere else. They'd create a new temporary account to hold the upcoming charges from the skimmer. They'd be making loads of money every week," Dupree explained.


"Where did they transfer this money?" Tricia asked.


"I don't know. That part might have been done by hand in the bank, or by another program like the skimmer. I didn't get that far," Dupree admitted.


"So you guys are going to tell the judge I've been good right? For when my bail is set?" asked Dupree.


"You aren't going to flee the country are you?" asked Tricia.


"No. Not at all. I'm going to remain put and deal with my case in court. I mean, I'd like to see the bastards who framed me get caught. Would you two be arresting them? If you do, could you tell them they're assholes?" Dupree asked of the Inspectors and the Detective.


"If they get caught, I'm pretty certain they'd already know they're assholes," Farnham responded, underlining the mentality of their potential suspect, then looking to Halmand and Tricia.


"Good point," Dupree replied.


"We'll tell the Justice that you've been very cooperative in this case as long as you promise not to run. Deal?" asked Tricia.


"Deal. Ma'am," Dupree agreed.


"One more thing. If you do get bail, where can we expect to find you?" Tricia asked slightly balding obese man.


"At my apartment. I rent a first floor apartment just off Dufferin and Bloor. Here's my card..." Dupree handed her one of his penetration testing business cards.


"Alright. We're done. Just wait here and I'll have a guard come and fetch you. Would you like a coffee, maybe a snack?" asked Tricia.


"Sure. Could you get me a cola and a galaxy bar?" asked Dupree.


"Inspector, get this man a cola and a galaxy bar," Tricia asked Halmand.


"Alright. He earned it," Halmand said, leaving the interrogation room and returning shortly thereafter with a can of pop and a candy bar in hand for Dupree.


They left Dupree by himself in the interrogation room and went out to the front office to discuss their findings.


"So it appears we've got a situation here," Tricia spoke first.


"I'll say. How are we going to broach this? If we start asking questions of the employees at the bank, the perp will get suspicious. They've certainly already covered their tracks," Farnham observed.


"We could approach Werner-Goldstein. Tell them to move their account to another bank. That might cause the perp to flinch enough for us to get a warrant," Halmand responded.


"Better yet, we could have Werner-Goldstein threaten to relocate their account and then watch what happens from there. That's obviously one of the larger accounts at that branch. If that doesn't stir up things and give us a lead, we'll have to subpoena access to their ledger and have a forensic accountant go over it with a fine tooth comb," Tricia surmised.


"I'm thinking that Forseth might have something to say about this?" Farnham suggested.


"We could arrange for you to speak with him. That would have to wait until tomorrow. We have him safe and sound in our facility across the street from Bay and College," Tricia told him.


"You have a facility that close? I didn't know that," Farnham replied.


"That's because you weren't supposed to, and as far as your knowing that, you still don't know it, right?" Tricia demanded.


"As you wish. I only work here," Farnham replied.



"By the way, this is Inspector William Halmand. The Dupree case is his puppy, though we're playing this one together. There seems to be a little more going on at that bank," Tricia introduced Inspector Halmand.


"Pleased you meet you. You work well together. Especially interrogations," Farnham commented to Halmand.


"You know how it is. We've got Dupree's file. I'm under the impression he's more of a type B personality, but he has A traits sometimes," Halmand remarked to Farnham's comment.


"He did take the initiative himself to hack the bank, even if it was to drum up business for his security firm. He got caught and it was that one blemish on his record that led to his arrest. Someone at the bank turned the tables on him when they discovered the hack. That blemish on Dupree's record just reinforced the justification for an arrest, though we wouldn't have known that without talking with him," Tricia cited.


"He didn't have to share the information on skimmers with us. He might seem a little off, in some regards but he's no spring chicken. He could have kept that vulnerability secret and tried to hack the bank again after he'd been released and probably could have made a small fortune too, knowing the bank would never have reported it. Especially with someone potentially on the inside having crafted this skimmer scheme. Dupree acted with good conscience, despite a bad situation for him. I can't help but feeling a little guilty when I have to rough talk a guy like that," Halmand spoke honestly.


"He'll get over it. Probably won't even think about it once he's behind his keyboard and mouse again," Tricia noted, being somewhat familiar with Duprees character having read him well.


"That brings up an interesting point with Ronald Forseth," Farnham thought carefully, considering the perspectives of the two Inspectors.


"We got him with the goods. Enough Semtex to level a city block. He's definitely going to be doing some time," Tricia stood Farnham down.


"What if Forseth is in the same situation as Dupree?" Farnham suggested.


"I guess it would all come down to intent, wouldn't it?" Tricia cited.


"Something doesn't add up with Forseth. I got a peek at his file," Farnham responded.


"His file was locked. Are you admitting to misconduct? May I remind you that his case is being handled at the federal level!" challenged Tricia.


"His case is connected to the bank robbery, and in the event that his file is locked and on a need to know basis, there's a loophole in the law books that states that Psychiatric Professionals operating under the capacity of the Police or the Courts, may have access to locked suspect files if the suspect has implied involvement in a Police case at the Municipal or Provincial level," Farnham cited, having spent some time speaking with the Attorney General on the matter.


"His psychiatric profile doesn't fit the crime, and that information is a protected secret. Do you understand?!" Tricia moved closer to Farnham and spoke quietly yet firmly.


"Perfectly. That's exactly why we need to talk to him!" Farnham stood his ground, though respecting the Inspector's candor on the matter.


"Quietly. That's the plan, or were you listening?" Tricia insisted, turning and heading out the door and to her car.


"She's a real control freak, isn't she?" Farnham asked aloud, not expecting an answer.


"Don't take it hard, Farnham. She's like this with everyone. That's why I like working with her," Halmand admitted.


Halmand made his way to the passenger side of Tricia's car while Farnham got in his and drove off, tires squealing ever so slightly.


As Tricia and Halmand drove towards Lakeshore Boulevard, the sun dipped behind the buildings and houses that pocked the horizon. By the time they'd made it to the Gardener Expressway, it dipped beneath Lake Ontario behind them as twilight set upon the city of the meeting place, also known as Toronto.


As much as the light had the run of that day, the darkness soon took its claim.


Dream Team And Pearson


Heylyn had arrived in an SUV taxi at Kori's house at 7:30 PM and they were back underway to the Pearson International Airport by 7:40 PM with all of Kori's luggage in tow. Heylyn, Monique and Valerie accompanied Kori in the passenger seats from where they sat.


"So promise me you'll bring back something for me?" Monique asked Heylyn.


"Let me pick! Its my home country. I know it like the back of my hand... wait a minute... what's that blemish?" Kori responded, looking at the back of her hand.


"Its an age spot that you didn't have when you were twelve. About the same time your parents moved to Toronto?" asked Heylyn.


"We actually moved to Vancouver first where my dad setup the warehousing operation for Daesung Data, the company he works for. When I was eighteen, he got offered a comfy position at the Daesung Data Canadian headquarters in north Toronto and the rest is history. He still works there, too. But he's retiring soon," Kori explained.


"What about you?" asked Valerie.


"I figure I've got another forty one years before I think about retirement, being in my early twenties and all," Kori responded jokingly.


"That's not what I meant. How'd you do? Moving from Vancouver to Toronto is what I think Valerie was trying to say?" asked Monique.


"Oh, it was sad. I had to say goodbye to a lot of friends, but the internet makes stuff like that easier. I still talk with my bff in Vancouver..." Kori admitted.


"I thought I was your bff?!" Monique responded to Kori.


"She thinks everyone is her bff," Valerie responded sarcastically.


"Better to be loved for the right reasons..." Monique began.


"...than to be liked for the wrong ones!" Kori replied, holding her hand up and accepting Monique's high-five.


"Don't worry, Monique. I'll pick up something nice for you," Kori replied.


"And... remember, its the thought that counts," Heylyn interjected.


"I think Kori is chronically impaired in that department," Valerie said coldly.


"If I am, that'll save me some money, won't it?" Kori replied.


"She got you there," Heylyn smiled at Valerie.


"That's alright. I'll be thinking about her wheeling your bags around in Korea while I'm in the hot tub at Trey's building this weekend with a glass of champagne in hand," Valerie's cynicism promptly vanished.


"Woaaa! Someone is having a steamy affair! So what's he like? You know..." Kori became all giddy at the mention of romance.


"...in the hot tub you mean? I don't kiss and tell," Valerie admitted.


"I don't think she wanted to know as much about the kissing so much as she did about..." Heylyn's grin was obvious as she kept her gaze at passing scenery out the window of the taxi.


"...his camera lenses? Right? That's what you were going to say?" Monique covered for both Valerie and Kori, which comforted Heylyn considerably.


"Guilty as charged. Its a relief to hear you two are already beginning to gel again," Heylyn responded, recalling the rapport they had as a team when dealing with the situations in both the Forbidden City and Edo Castle with the western delegation.


"Valerie, I want you to have the keys to my condo. If you have a late night working and you want to avoid the trip back to your place, you can crash at mine. As often as you like," Heylyn handed her an extra keycard she'd had made. 


On the radio, the words to a song caught their ears.


With illusions of someday
Cast in a golden light
No dress rehearsal
This is our life

And that's where the hornet stung me
And I had a feverish dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoke them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century


Valerie accepted it hesitatingly.


"Can I...?" Valerie was about to ask.


"Yes, you can have Trey over too. There's a washer and dryer. Just make sure you do the bedding," Heylyn smiled awkwardly.


"Can I be their chaperone?" asked Monique.


"You can be my chaperone any time, bff. As long as you know when to leave without being told," Valerie smiled.


"I don't think anyone will need to shine a light on that topic for me," Monique spoke, the duality of what she'd actually communicated to Valerie missed Kori completely.


"Alright, and no parties," Heylyn smiled at them.


"I don't think you'll have too much to worry about with us on duty. After all, we're the dream team," Valerie held her hand up and Monique returned her high-five.


"Its not the dreams I'm worried about with you two. Its the nightmares..." Heylyn said quietly under her breath as they pulled into the drop off area of Pearson International Airport.


But that's when the hornet stung me
And I had a serious dream
With revenge and doubt
Tonight, we smoked them out

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century

You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
You are ahead by a century
And disappointing you is gettin' me down



Valerie and Monique said their farewells from the departure gate. They were soon in another taxi on their way home.


A half an hour later, they were on board a plane for the first stretch of their flight from Toronto to Vancouver. From there, it was direct to Seoul in the Republic Of Korea.


Forseth's Freedom


Forseth lay in his cell on the bed provided him, a legal thriller paperback in his hand.


Since the last time he was questioned a day ago, things had been relatively quiet in the small RCMP run facility in a building basement on Bay Street, directly across the street from the Toronto Police Headquarters building.


His meals had been adequate and tasty he considered, as he continued reading. He'd even pocketed a few snacks in his solitary cell for bedtime and morning, as he'd had difficulty sleeping for the last six months.


Initially when he'd been arrested, there had been a quiet time in his mind, when the voices had ceased and his anxiety had all but disappeared. He'd assumed that whatever forces were behind the phenomenon he was experiencing had backed off in the face of the law. 


This had comforted him a great deal, despite the fact that it was rock bottom for him. This was the lowest he'd fallen for the entirety of his whole life. Even when he was a youngster, around the same age most other boys would become affine to mischief, Forseth had only become more cerebral and introverted. On those days when he was invited by his suburban neighbourhood friends in the Morningside Avenue and Kingston Road area, he'd often preferred to go to a park by himself with a good book, where he'd simply read, while taking in the sun.


While his friends were putting firecrackers in the exhaust pipes of parked cars, perhaps hoping to blow them up, he'd be at the library studying for school or out for a ride on his bicycle, getting some air.


Most of his life he'd been sheltered from the worst situations, if not by his own introvertedness, then by his own better judgement. Ironically, it would be this very quality that would also make him somewhat undesirable to many of the girls his age at that time, while they gravitated to the more daring. The risk takers, as Forseth's dad had referred to them.


"Sometimes son, you just have to be ready to take a risk. That's what being a man is about. Even a quiet one like you. You're never going to meet anyone if you don't," his dad would say to him.


"I've met all the people I need to know. That I want to know," Forseth would say to his father.


"Well, you might think that now, but there will come a time in your life when you'll see someone, and you'll know they're for you. If you don't speak up, you're going to miss out," his father would reply.


"What if she speaks up first?" asked Forseth, to which his father would reply.


"I never thought of that. I suppose if that happens, then maybe you got yourself a keeper," his father would smile as he began to understand his son more and more.


As it turned out, that's exactly how he met his wife in the late 1990s, when it had been her that had spoken up. When Forseth had told her about how his father thought he'd remain single his whole life because he couldn't take risks, she responded: "the risk you took was in responding to me, so maybe you're a risk taker after all?". 


As it turns out, that would have been the first and last time he'd taken a risk, but when he'd suspected her of having an affair years later, he'd taken the risk of checking her phone unbeknownst to her. From there, he was taking the road to risk every day from that point onwards.


Ironically, that was when the voices had started. Quietly at first, but noticeably so enough that they could not be denied. Being somewhat more informed and analytical than most, he simply assumed that it was related to tinnitus or possibly even a sensitivity to radio frequencies as he'd heard of others with similar problems.


For the first few years he could easily put the voices in the back seat of his mind. They initially sounded like the background chatter in a crowded room. Disjointed and coordinated conversations between smaller groups within. By the sixth year of his having dealt with the issue, the voices had somehow become more unified. Not only that, but they began to take on a more vile tone. Vitriolic even. Like a secret poison constantly seeping into him through his mind's ears, for lack of a better term.


During the confrontations he'd avoided with his wife, knowing that she was seeing someone secretly behind his back despite their having children, he started to notice that the voices would coincide with his daily interactions in life.


He noticed several people in the offices at Werner-Goldstein seemed to have a role in the voices he heard, for when he passed some of them, they would verbally repeat many of the things he'd been hearing in his head.


"Pardon?!!" he'd confront them.


"I didn't say anything?" the employee would often lie, though Forseth couldn't be too sure.


When he became skeptical that many of his coworkers were involved in a secret conspiracy against him, he started carrying a voice recorder that he'd purchased from an electronics retailer. He'd paid a hefty price for the device and considering its size, it was actually very sensitive. So in order to verify his own sanity, he started carrying it every day.


When he'd arrive at work in the morning, he'd start the recorder. At night when he'd leave for the evening, he'd stop it and review it when he got home.


Initially when he'd bought the recorder, the voices completely stopped for several days. He could neither hear the voices in his head, nor the voices from the employees he suspected of taking part in the conspiracy against him. By that point he'd become rather gaunt, even losing a bit of weight in his cheeks, and dark circles forming under his eyes as he slept less and less.


One would think that the sudden absence of voices would have elated him but in fact, it frustrated him that they'd disappeared exactly when he'd taken countermeasures to detect them and gather evidence of their existence. As if they'd known exactly when he'd taken action against them.


Of course, another explanation crossed his mind and that was that they were simply in his mind and that he'd become deluded. Either psychologically or physiologically. A chemical imbalance he thought? Hormones maybe?


That very night he'd pieced that possibility together, he called an old friend. One of the risk takers from his childhood who'd gone on to become a Doctor. Walter Basley. A General Practitioner with a matching degree in Psychology.


Walter was delighted to hear from Forseth and even invited him and his wife for dinner at his family home. When Forseth admitted that his marriage was on the rocks, Walter immediately understood.


"So how about we meet tomorrow at the Tap And Eatery. Its about the halfway point between us," Walter asked Forseth.


"Thanks Walter. I knew you'd understand," Forseth spoke, relieved that he would finally be able speak with a professional on the matter.


"Hey, what are friends for? I'll tell Lena that I'm working late tomorrow. Meet at about 7 PM?" Walter suggested.


"That would be perfect. Thank you so much Walter. I'll see you tomorrow," Forseth replied.


"Hey, thanks for calling. I'm looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. Do you golf?" asked Walter.


"We'll cross that bridge tomorrow," Forseth responded discretely.


"Bye!" Walter hung up and Forseth was alone in the den of his home when his wife tapped on the door.


"What is it honey?" asked Forseth, trying his best to sound of a healthy demeanor.


"I'm going out to do some shopping. Need anything?" his wife notified him.


"What on earth for Celia? At 10 PM on Tuesday?" asked Forseth, though not sincerely interested.


"Joey needs some roller blades? David's father is taking them to a skating park on Saturday. I'm going to Dealmart. They're twenty-four hours," Celia answered him, no sign of any stressed inflection in her voice.


"Uhhh... thanks for asking. I'm alright. Just working on some charts for tomorrow," Forseth lied.


"Ok. Remember, Joey has to be in bed before midnight if I'm not back. Bye honey," Celia said as she walked away from the den's closed door.


"Alright. Midnight. Bye," Forseth responded, both of them beginning to suspect that they were both lying to each other and merely putting on a show for Joey.


At eleven thirty, Forseth placed the voice recorder on the charger and went to put Joey to bed. He found his nine year old son passed out on the couch. On the television, a popular Canadian late night talk show host had introduced his first guests.


"...thank you for tuning in to CBC for Strombo Tonight. Our guests include University Of Toronto Professor of Psychology, Jordan Peterson. We also have Alex Enard, a Doctor of Biology and published author of Cognitive Illusions: Paranormal In The Age Of Modern Medicine. We're also fortunate to have Quantum Physicist and Quantum Biologist Professor Bryce Maxwell with us from the University Of Windsor, Ontario. Welcome gentlemen. We're here talking about some of the modern myths permeating North American society because this phenomenon isn't strictly Canadian, is it?" Strombo asked his guests.


"Well I think its important to distinguish between myth and illusion, because they're two very different things. Myths tend to be inflated confabulation of real situations, while illusions are tricks that make the every day phenomenon seem like something impossible..." Professor Peterson begin.


"Or at the very least, improbably," Doctor Enard added.


"So how would you explain these recent sightings in Toronto of the giant Butterfly, or the flying strobe light? Would you say this amounts to unidentifed aerial phenomon?" Strombo asked his guests.


"Certainly. This exact kind of thing... and there's accounts of it in our earliest texts, are simply meteroids or birds, simply because modern life and our scientific awareness has diluted all of the mysteries in our life. Think about it? What is there driving a young mind to go out there into the world and study the universe if there's no mysteries? In Psychology, these phenomenon would be like the placebo - an emergent effect of neurology at the cognitive level keeping mystery alive in the human psyche," Professor Peterson explained his interpretation about the sightings of the mysterious Butterfly.


"Doctor Enard. What about you? What are your views and how do they differ from those of Professor Peterson?" Strombo asked Doctor Enard.


"I agree with Professor Peterson in the sense that there is definitely something going on at the neurological level, though I don't concur with his view that its an emergent effect resulting from the evolutionary development of information processing in the human brain or nervous system. Everything we experience comes in through our senses, so perception is definitely a feat of information processing. However, perception and cognition are two different things. Consider perception to be related to the hardware through which we are aware of the world via our five, sometimes six senses, whereas cognition would be the post processing of that information and hence key to its interpretation. Because much of that process is dependent upon our biochemistry, our interpretation of reality depends upon what holistic health practitioners and some Doctors like to call, homeostasis. An even balance of the hormones in our body that have the least potential of interference with our cognitive process. Any alteration to that balance can drastically change our interpretation of reality," Doctor Enard explained his views which were obviously more founded in biochemistry rather than information processing.


Forseth was glued to the television as the show continued.


"But there's definitely something going on at the information processing level, and this is a link between evolutionary biology and the nature of information processing in the human neural network. Where does information go from being without context, to having context if its just chemical processes? That would mean that aspects of our evolution, including the evolution of our mind, would be purely based upon deterministic processes of a physical nature found in chemistry. What we've found in Psychology is that the context of information has as much of a role in the evolution of the mind as does the physiological nature of information," Professor Jordan responded to Doctor Enard's theory.


"Professor Maxwell. You've been reserved this far in the conversation, which from what I've been told by your peers, is a considerable feat of constraint on your part..." Strombo paused as his other two guests laughed, drawing a smile from Bryce.


"...I'm interested to know what your views are? Both with respect to Professor Peterson's and Doctor Enard's perspective, and as it stands on its own?" Strombo asked Bryce.


Bryce Maxwell
"Perception and cognition are both integral processes of what contributes to the emergence of consciousness, though we're still a ways from understanding how. From the perspective of a Quantum Physicist, the challenge is similar to that of deriving a theory of gravity for Quantum Physics. The concept seems simple enough, but the nature of information and context are inextricably linked at the Quantum level in much the same way as say... superposition, the problem of knowing both the exact position and velocity of a particle at the same time. You can have one, or the other and even more frighteningly, you can have varying degrees of either, though they're linked through the second law of thermodynamics and the total energy of a system, to a unit vector. If we regard context as one extreme of information, and the absence of context as the other, then we essentially have a dichotomy from which we can derive a theory about the role context plays in the development of a physical system. In essence, we can describe the evolutionary relationship intrinsic in both contextual information and processing at the classical and quantum level, and de-contextualized information at the biochemical level. I don't know how far we are out into the deep end here or if everyone got that?" Bryce asked his guests modestly.


"What we've observed in the lab is that information processing plays a very small role in defining interpretation. It is chemistry that is the most pertinent factor when it comes to cognition for every single mammal species we've tested, including humans," Doctor Enard described.


"That's like saying that if I hand you a book, and we take all of the letters used in that book and their specific counts throughout, that those letters in any order, jumbled or not are irrelevant to the context of the book, when in fact, they are the only relevance because jumbled, they simply don't matter, because they have no context at all," Professor Jordan responded.


"Now wait a second. You have varying degrees of context. So in the case of your book example, if we were to create a spinning dial. Like the volume switch on an old stereo..." Bryce began, pausing momentarily as Strombo spoke.


"A volume dial. He's describing something all you Generation Z kids out there will likely never see in your lifetime thanks to smartphones and wireless speakers..." Strombo joked, a smile on his face.


"...exactly... A volume dial. Its an ancient device... and it might go up to eleven if you're the guitar player for Spinal Tap..." Bryce spoke, Strombo and the guests laughed.


"A dial where one extreme is jumbled letters and the other extreme is the completed book. The total number of letters is the same on either side of the dial. Cognition and our interpretation of reality are largely dependent upon the nature of information in this example, because those exact letters might only have one legible context. In other words, you couldn't take those exact letters and write a completely different book without using all the letters and having none left over without some form of alteration to context. Like taking the word dial itself where it occurs in the book from Jordan's example, and rearranging the letters to spell laid. Though it is legible, the original context is lost. Not only that, but it might not work at all contextually. You can dial a phone, but you can't laid a phone. A washing machine might have a dial, but it doesn't have a laid. So you could say contextual information can retain its uniqueness while having varying degrees of context loss the more that arrangement of letters is altered, but any single step is more than likely going to take it away from having fluid meaning throughout. How this relates to our topic is that genetics, DNA, is like a book. That book has a context that ends with the program to reproduce an entire lifeform. Any changes to that context are more often than not, going to lead to failures in that genetic program and because context plays the biggest role as expressed through genes, context is an integral part of evolution on both the scale of contextual information processing, and chemistry. Uhhh... Where were we?" Bryce scratched his head looking around somewhat confused, drawing another round of laughter from the guests and the crew.


"I get what he's saying. He's saying we're both right, but neither of us can be wrong without both of us being wrong," Professor Peterson agreed.


"And there you go. I couldn't have said it better without a piano," Bryce smiled.


"So how does this relate to these sightings? I mean are these delusions a social phenomenon like unidentified unaerial phenomenon or is there something more to this?" asked Strombo.


"We're also finding in the lab that there are people whose cognition can become affected adversely by radio and electromagnetic waves. In the modern world, our bodies are bombarded by a variety of electromagnetic waves across a huge frequency spectrum. Microwaves from our smartphones. EMF from Wifi hubs. Relay towers. Radio stations. In certain instances, these waves can outright interfere with cognition and lead to some of the most bizarre experiences ever reported," Doctor Enard responded to Strombo.


"And that would be classified as a myth. An explanation of an event where interpretation is affected at the information processing level, in terms of cognition which would act to the benefit of our evolution by spurring people to understand our universe. To step away from the tribal fire. Go forth, explore, understand, and conquer mystery.  That always pays off, and always has throughout history and if its built into our evolution, its like the eternal carrot leading the mule," Professor Peterson surmised.


"With mystery being the carrot, and humanity being the Ass..." Bryce jumped at the opportunity for humour, spurring a round of laughter from the studio.


"Dad? I want to go to bed..." Joey woke up from the couch, rubbing his eyes.


Forseth hit the remote and observed that the time was nearing a quarter to one in the morning.


Forseth grabbed his son's hand and walked him up the stairs to his bedroom, tucking him and kissing his forehead. He turned on the nightlight for son and left the room.


"Dealmart eh?" Forseth shook his head after he'd closed his son's door.


The truth was that he and his wife had been playing the lie for so long that it no longer hurt him that she was most likely in bed with another man. He'd become fixated on what he'd seen on the talkshow that night. 


Could his voices be a problem of cognition? A myth whose existence was merely related to biochemical health problems or electromagnetic waves altering his bodily chemistry? Maybe he was hearing some kind of crowd noise simply drawn from his speech centers as a result of altered hormonal balance? Maybe the WIFI in his own home was the culprit.


He shuddered when he remembered that the voices had stopped almost immediately when he'd purchased the voice recorder, and hadn't returned since then.


He then remembered what Professor Peterson had said about context and the truth was that the voices had stopped when the contextual evidence was that they would be found out through a recording device, hence proving they existed once and for all.


If these voices were originating from an external source. A group of people with intent of some kind, then there could only be a couple different explanations as to why they'd stopped.


They'd stopped because they knew there was an effort to uncover them. If the source was indeed everyday people, an ideology of some kind, they probably had no idea of the science behind what they were doing and therefore no idea of whether they could be detected or not. 


For them, in any instance where someone was trying to detect them it would be safer for them to cease until they'd had time to evaluate the threat of exposure carefully. If there was no such threat, they'd eventually continue and Forseth would have to find another way to deal with them.


The following day at the office was rather uneventful. In fact, so much so that Forseth even began to wonder if his coworkers might be ignoring him. He'd usually eaten lunch alone. He'd take the soup and sandwich his wife would often prepare for him and find a suitable bench in the sunlight just outside of the foyer doors. There he'd find peace and quiet, usually bringing a book with him to make use of the hour.


On this day however, he'd made his own lunch, as his wife had slept-in that morning. He'd not heard her come home the night before and he couldn't bare the thought of waking her to deal with the situation. So, he quickly made his lunch and his son's together at the same time, dealing them both a healthy helping of sliced meat and processed cheese for their sandwiches. Instead of soup, he threw a frozen pizza in the oven and cut it up into an even number of slices, giving half to his son and half to him. After some digging in the fridge, he found a two bags, one with a couple of apples and the other with oranges. He split them between the two lunches and he was done.


Having made it himself, he couldn't help but think given the circumstances that it somehow tasted better. Like there would be life for him after they'd confronted one another about the situation. After he'd finished and ten minutes before the turn of the hour, he headed upstairs to the office and decided to test his theory to determine if they were ignoring him.


He first approached one of the financial forecasters.


"How's your day going Dianne?" he smiled confidently, his fragile state hidden behind a thin veil visible in his eyes.


"Good. How about you? Did you need anything?" she turned to face him, flipping her hair seductively though he knew somehow that it wasn't intended for him.


"No, I just wanted to see how our star player from the forecasting team is doing. Remember that we've got that meeting with Werner on the sixteenth. He'll be needing a full set of the forecast numbers and I bet he'd love for you to be the presenter," Forseth offered, hoping to inspire some kind of enthusiastic reaction from her.


"Great. I'll let Carl know," Dianne replied, referring to her counterpart in the forecasting department.


"Great talking with you," Forseth smiled waveringly for her.


"Yep," Dianne replied nonchalantly as she returned to her desk, ignoring him as before.


His sudden inspiration disappeared and his enthusiam dimished as he returned to his office.


"Hey Ron!" Julie, one of the techs said to Forseth as he walked by, lifting his spirits slightly.


"Oh hi Julie!" he said back in a friendly demeanor.


He couldn't help but notice Dianne cringe from the corner of his eye as Julie passed. Julie had only been working for the office for six months, and hence wasn't really considered a staple of the firm. She was kind of like an outsider, walking to her own beat. Forseth in that moment found her independence and attitude energizing.


"Here, catch!" she tossed him a box.


"A gift? For me?" he asked her.


"Its a new mouse. Wireless. One of our suppliers is giving them out as a couresty to customers. There's batteries included too, so you can just plugin the receiver to your usb port and you're a happy camper. I guess its your lucky day," Julie's eyes smiled from beneath the visor of her baseball hat.


"I guess so? Thank you," he smiled back innocently at the twenty something woman as he disappeared into his office, leaving the door slightly open behind him.


The rest of the day, his notion that he was being ignored was only confirmed as many others returned from lunch. Nobody during that day, or during the last two weeks during the time he'd attempted to secretly use the voice recorder to catch his tormentors in the act, had dealt with him at all. They wouldn't deal with him when directly confronted by him, and only glancingly. As if they were trying to rid themselves of him.


He also noticed that they'd rarely use his name, the ones he'd assumed were trying to ignore him. Instead they'd refer to him via substitute pronouns or proper nouns, such as you and yours, avoiding the use of his name entirely. As if by the use of his name, they'd somehow be acknowledging his existence.


Then he recalled that Julie had used his name, his first name at that. How much more familiar could you get? he asked himself. Then he reasoned that because she was still essentially an outsider to the veteran employees of the firm, that she may not have been indoctrinated into their secretive clique. The one he'd imagined existed up until this point.


He stayed late that night, working on his report for Werner's meeting and then packed it up at 6 PM. He called his wife to let her know he wouldn't be home until late, only getting the answering service on her smartphone. He then left, making his way to his car in the underground garage and made his way to the Tap And Eatery on Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. He found parking and then his way back to the eatery.


"Ron!" Walter stood and waved to his friend when he saw him walk in.


"Good to see you!" Walter's hand found his and they shook confidently.


"Look at you! Dressed slick like one the Bay Street big wigs. Things certainly change, don't they?" Walter smiled at his childhood friend.


"You're one to talk Doctor," Forseth patted Walter on his back.


"Well... you know. One thing I'll say as a GP is that people are either really happy or really terrified to see you. So I just try to make the best of their day any way I can as a Physician," Walter and Forseth sat down at the table.


"What'll you have, Ron?" Walter flagged the waitress as she passed.


"Just something light on tap," Forseth responded, looking to the waitress.


"We have our own IPO on tap, both lager and light. Would you like the light?" asked the waitress.


"Sure. That would be great, thank you," Forseth answered.


"I'll have the same, and a plate of veggies and wings for two if you could, honey?" Walter smiled to the waitress.


"Would you like mild, spicy, hot or radioactive sauce on your wings?" she asked them.


"Spicy is fine for me. How about you Ron?" Walter asked.


"Spicy is good. Thank you again," Forseth smiled as the waitress collected their menus.


"So, you're looking healthy. Good pigment, though a little pale. You've managed to keep the waistline down. Any digestive issues? Maybe trouble with bowel movements asked Walter, getting right to the nitty gritty.


"No. Celia trained me early on to eat a lot of fiber in my diet. A bowl of bran cereal in the morning and a bran muffin with my coffee when I get to work. I'm fine in that way," Forseth thanked the waitress when she arrived with their tankards of ale.


"Celia? She's got a nice name. Are you married and if so, how's that going?" Walter asked him.


"I've been married since 2002, and we had son shortly thereafter. He's a good kid," Forseth answered Walter, careful not to look him in the eye.


"You must really care for her. So what's the problem?" asked Walter, already having a good idea of what was going on based upon his experience as a GP.


Forseth sighed heavily.


"That obvious? I do care for her, but we've grown apart. She's been seeing another man for a few months now," Forseth hung his head over his ale.


"Ahhh damn. I'm sorry Ron," Walter looked at Forseth both through the eyes of a friend and a professional.


"That's alright. I mean its part of why we're here talking, now. Thanks for inviting me out, Walter. You don't know how I needed this," Forseth turned his tankard carefully in his hands as he spoke, painting dry spots on the glass with his finger.


"Have you spoken with her about the situation?" asked Walter.


"No. And its like we both know that we're living this facade, but we've not yet talked about it, *directly*," Forseth explained to Walter, who waited until he'd finished speaking before he responded.


"Does your son know?" asked Walter.


"I don't think so. Nnnn... No. He doesn't, but I'm pretty sure he suspects something's up between us. Celia and I," Forseth shook his head as he spoke, the memories playing back in his mind.


"You know, in all my years as a general practitioner, I can tell you the number one cause at the root of every illness, is stress in one form or another and the inability to manage it. You're a man in your early forties, and you've both, you and your wife, suddenly ended up in this stressful situation. If you continue to live this lie, its going to lead to health problems. She's already got an important support in her life, and you don't, so you're going to feel the brunt of this more and more over time, unless you confront her honestly and openly about the situation. You don't have to be a jerk about it, but you do have to talk with her about it, for your sake and for that of your son," Walter laid it out for him honestly and professionally.


"There's more to this than that," Forseth admitted.


"What else?" asked Walter as the waitress brought a tray of veggies and wings to the table.


The aroma permeated the air and made their eyes water slightly. They waited for the waitress to leave, thanking her as she did for her service.


"You know, I... I... I've been hearing things," Forseth admitted to Walter.


"What? Like ringing in your ears? That can sometimes accompany stress..." Walter observed.


"Its a bit more than that. Its, very obscure... but it has intent. I'm sure of it..." Forseth shook his head again as he remembered his experiences before he'd tried recording them.


"I'm hearing voices... in my head..." Forseth finally admitted.


"Are wearing a hearing aid or anything to assist your hearing?" asked Walter.


"No. No hearing problems whatsoever. Passed my last physical less than four months ago with flying colours," Forseth admitted.


"Do you have any history of mental illness in your family? Schizophrenia for instance?" asked Walter compassionately.


"No. Yes. Maybe on my father's side, through a distant great uncle, though family gossip often cites that it was his drinking that led to that conclusion more so than any actual diagnosis. You know how it is when families have their secrets, their grievances and allegiances. It can be petty, at times. I'd mark that up to rumour more than any factual diagnosis," Forseth admitted to Walter.


"Have any factors about your diet changed recently? Your chemistry can have an extreme affect upon things like your hearing," Walter added.


"No. This is something... with malice intent. Its not a delusion coming from my head. It coincides with events in the real world quite often. Sometimes hearing stuff in my head, and the source of that in real life as an actual sound. The voice of someone actually speaking. When I'm near them, it comes from them as a sound. When I'm nowhere near them, it comes from my head, but its like I'm hearing it through my ears," Forseth explained to Walter.


"Stress can have many dire effects upon our neurology, Ron. Have you gone to a specialist about this? There are medicines that are quite effective at muffling noise in our nervous system. If you're not getting enough sleep, I could write you a prescription for a mild ascetative. I wouldn't do this for anyone else, but getting a few good night's sleep might make a world of difference for you, Ron," asked Walter.


"Its funny, but the voices stopped a couple of weeks ago. When I bought a voice recorder. I was going to try to catch them on recording, if not just to confirm that I wasn't hearing things," Forseth explained.


"...and?" asked Walter.


"After I'd bought it and got it ready to use, they stopped. Like the voices had been aware that I was trying to catch them. So they stopped. Just like that, and ever since, a lot of people who used to be close with me have been giving me the cold shoulder. Ignoring me. Treating me like I don't exist anymore," Forseth explained to Walter.


"Do you believe you exist?" asked Walter, clinically.


"Of course I do, Walter. This isn't a case of solipsism. This is something very real, and from the impression I get, its trying to drive me crazy," Forseth told Walter honestly and openly.


Walter sat silent for a short time, contemplating his friend's words before he spoke.


"Alright Ron. Let's work with this. I'm going to ask you a few questions, and I hope that you answer them honestly. If you do, I'll give you my diagnosis, both as a physician with a degree in psychology, and certainly as a friend," Walter assured Forseth, who sighed uneasily again.


"Alright," Forseth nodded.


"Ok. Have a few wings and some beer first. We'll change the subject for a bit and then come back to the questions. Sound good?" Walter asked Forseth, putting him at ease.


"That would be just fine. So how about you? How's your life been going since way back when?" asked Forseth of his friend.


"I don't know if you remember Olivia, do you?" asked Walter.


"Sure, I remember her. Didn't she say that she wouldn't date you even if you were the last guy in the world?" Forseth recalled the summer after they'd graduated from highschool.


"One and the same. Well, as it now stands, we have two kids, and we're expecting the third in two months. When all is said and done, we'll have two little girls and an older brother to watch over them," Walter grinned as he thought about the time that had passed.


"I eventually convinced her to go out with me that summer. I think your parents took you camping with them in Southwestern Ontario around that time. So she finally gave in and we had a great time. Went to a concert and a movie, and the deal was sealed from there. We were married a year later. She really pushed me to do my best in medical school. If it wasn't for her, I'd have never gotten through the experience with the grades I achieved," Walter smiled, pulling his smartphone from his pocket and showing Forseth.


"That was taken a couple days ago, during a barbecue at home," Walter told him.


"She really held her age well. She doesn't look a day past twenty-five," Forseth admitted to Walter.


"Might be the filter on the camera, but she's still looking very good and keeping healthy at thirty-five. We're carrying the pregnancy very well," Walter grinned, retrieving his phone from Forseth.


"I'm honestly happy for you, Walter. Must be nice to be living in paradise," Forseth remarked to Walter.


"Oh believe me, its not paradise. Its been a bumpy road, but we deal with the challenges and try to grow from our experiences, just like any healthy couple. As long as there's a roof over our heads, the children are fed, the mortgage is paid and there's a cold beer in the fridge, everything is just hunky-dory, as we used to say. Cheers, my friend. Here's to a better future," Walter smiled, clanking tankards with Forseth.


"So what about these questions?" asked Forseth.


"How are you feeling?" asked Walter.


"A lot better to tell you the truth. Especially having finally spoken with someone about this," Forseth admitted to Walter.


"Do you exercise?" asked Walter.


"Besides a brisk walk on Sundays, and throwing the ball with my son, I don't really get much exercise," Forseth confessed.


"How many times a week do you have a conversation with friends. Something like this one we're having now?" asked Walter.


"I'd honestly have to say this is the first time I've had a conversation with a friend in a long time. You're the only one around from the old neighbourhood. Everyone else has moved out of the city, or the province and scattered to the four winds," Forseth answered him honestly.


"How's your relationship with your employer?" asked Walter.


"Good. I work directly for the board, though I'm not a part of it, but I report to them. I get along with them, and my boss, Mrs. Chattlefern is a decent professional. She's fair with me and everyone under her," Forseth replied.


"How many hours a week do you work, on average?" asked Walter.


"About forty-five, maybe fifty hours a week," Forseth drank the last of his ale and ordered another for the two of them.


"Alright. Have you ever considered talking with professional help?" asked Walter.


"You mean like a psychiatrist?" Forseth asked him.


"Or a psychologist. Yes. Either," asked Walter.


"I though you had to be..." Forseth began.


"No, you don't have to be diagnosed. You can be recommended to, by a physician though," Walter told him.


"Is that an offer?" asked Forseth.


"I couldn't be your therapist, but I could recommend you to someone. A psychiatrist. It might help if you simply have someone with whom to speak about these issues. Like a guide, helping you to find your way out of a difficult experience," Walter honestly suggested.


"Will he help me with the other issues? The voices?" asked Forseth.


"Maybe not the way you'd want him to, but in a constructive and healthy manner nonetheless," Walter assured Forseth.


"Its not my imagination, Walter," Forseth challenged his friend's suggestion.


"Look, I'm going to suggest that you give this a chance. In cases like yours, where the patient actively participates in a cognitive therapy or other approved psychiatric treatment program, there's a ninety percent success rate of treatment. Period," Walter told him, giving him the numbers.


"What about the ones who don't," asked Forseth.


"I know there's some difficult things in life. Even some things that are difficult to explain, or maybe that don't want to be explained. Of the people who go down the road chasing these things, in my experience the vast majority of them fall through the cracks in the pavement and are lost forever. Often wandering the streets, muttering to themselves, having lost everything. The question is, which do you want to be?" Walter asked him, clearly concerned for his friend.


"I just don't think this thing is going to yield for me, even if I do go to therapy. I think it will find a way to do whatever its trying to do and I think the answer to dealing with it is in uncovering it," Forseth stood by his instincts.


"I can't make you see a therapist. That choice is yours alone, but that option will remain open to you and you alone anytime you choose to contact me. Just call me up and I'll make the arrangements and I'll bet you'd feel much better if you did," Walter assured Forseth.


"Lets keep that on hold for now, and if I change my mind, I'll definitely take you up on it," Forseth agreed.


"Alright, as long as you don't start using me as a sounding board, because that's another potential outcome, and that's something we both don't need," Walter set down the rules for Forseth.


"Alright. Well, I've had a few beers, so I'm going to take a cab home and pickup my car in the morning. You want to share the ride?" asked Walter.


"Put your wallet away, Ron. Your money's no good here. I'll call my wife and have her pick us up here, with the kids. You can meet my family and we'll drop you off at home," Walter offered.


"Thank you Walter. It was good seeing you again," Forseth was grateful for his friend's advice.


Walter got the bill paid, leaving the waitress a generous gratuity and the two of them went out onto Queen Street and waited for Walter's family mini-van to arrive and pick them.


Forseth sat in bed, the pen in his hand as he recalled that night. A tear streamed down his face as he began to weep. A week after Walter had dropped him off that night, Walter had been killed in a traffic fatality. His last memory of Walter was that of his happy face in the passenger seat of the mini-van, his kids in the back waving to him as they left.


And that was when he'd decided that he was going to do something about *them*.


He wrote another note in his book alluding to that decision, if not for his own sanity, then for the record. His recollection of things.


After Walter's funeral, Forseth and his wife had their final talk as man and wife, where Forseth agreed to a separation, assuming that he'd keep their son. On the day that Celia left, she'd snuck out with Joey before he'd gotten home from work.


Forseth went to the Police, attempting to report their son missing, but when they found out there was a separation involved, they began questioning him rather than her. Though the Police were polite and fair, they suggested that he handle the issue of the custody of their son in court. From that moment, Forseth's faith in due process began to descend.


It wasn't until a year later that he'd started attending a gun club after having received his license. Starting with rifles, he gradually over the course of a year applied for his special arms permit, and bought his first hand gun.


It wasn't so much about the act of violence or vengence that drove him, because that was the farthest thing from his mind. It was part of his quest to seek the affirmation of his own manhood, though he often questioned himself in associating that idea with the ability to use a firearm. He thought about Walter, and wondered how things might have been different had he accepted his invitation to go golfing.


Men were either bludgeoning balls with metal clubs, or firing lead balls out of metal tubes at supersonic speeds to affirm their own masculinity. He envisioned it as a sport, like any other, though he often wondered if at some fundamental level there was a psychosis operating behind the scenes within him. One in which he'd take his knowledge of firearms and put it to the test against *them*.


By that time, *they* had returned from their hiatus after his attempt to record them and in force. The night they returned had been a stressful one. He'd long since sold the house and was living in his own condo unit much closer to his work place. He was alone in his room getting ready for bed when the voices suddenly started.


He'd felt strangely unsettling sensations in his abdomen and after a few such experiences that night, he began to feel the anxiety kick in. It panicked him, slow but sure and coincided with the voices, which grew in volume with each of the sensations in his abdomen. As if something was trying to establish a foothold upon his body. Like an invasion of his senses.


As the night progressed and his awareness of the voices grew, he heard voices which he'd recognized. The voices of several of his coworkers, including but not limited to Dianne. The voices of his neighbours in the next condo unit from his, a strange couple who never seemed to talk with each other, but only to others whenever he'd encountered them in the hall in the morning.


He also heard familiar voices whose names he did not know but whose faces he could visualize. He heard the voice of the accounts manager from his bank, speaking clearly to him, accusing him of embezzling funds from the Werner-Goldstein company account.


These accusations continued well into the night, until Forseth responded verbally to them for the first time.


"I've never embezzled money in my life!" he responded to the accusations aloud, but they simply continued.


"You gave syphilis to a hooker!" one of the voices accused him, much to his shock.


"I've never used a hooker in my life! Leave me alone!" he yelled aloud from his condominium.


The voices continued and his anxiety remained for the night. By the next morning, he'd only slept a half-hour for the whole night. Realizing that he only had fifteen minutes to get ready and leave, he jumped into the shower, and got dressed when he finished, his clothing wet from his not having dried himself. He then quickly rushed out the door, and found his way to the streetcar.


When he arrived at the office that morning, he was a haggard mess, with a stubble covered face and dark patches under his eyes.


"Are you alright Mr. Forseth?" asked Dianne, though her empathy was detectably artificial.


"I'm a little under the weather. Where's Neil?" asked Forseth, clearly not in any mood for games.


"He's here, in the coffee room maybe?" suggested Dianne.


Forseth didn't respond to her. Instead he stomped off to the coffee room, pulling the door open aggressively. When he spied Neil, in the middle of acting out something from a show there were talking about in the coffee room, he interrupted them.


"Neil! Could you come with me for a moment!" Forseth demanded.


Neil cringed, looking to the other employees before he decided he'd better follow Mr. Forseth.


The other employees laughed at him as he shrugged his shoulders, a stupified look of terror on his face.


Mr. Forseth stepped into his office, waiting for Neil as he did. When Neil arrived, Forseth closed the door and sat in his office chair behind his desk from where he addressed the younger man.


"I want you to print a full report of all the transactions for our asset management accounts at the Canadian Commerce Union, ASAP," Forseth ordered Neil.


"Uhhhh... alright. How far back do you want to go?" asked Neil.


"Back to their date of creation. 2004. Have it on my desk before lunch today," Forseth demanded of Neil.


"You know I was supposed to help Carl and Dianne with their..." Neil began, frustrated that he'd suddenly been coopted into this menial task.


"I don't give frig about Carl or Dianne. You get that friggin' report on my desk before lunch and you get to doing it now!" Forseth asserted himself for the first time in his life.


"...ok," Neil replied fearfully, able to smell the man's morning toothpaste on his breath.


He wasted no time, immediately leaving Forseth by himself and found his way to his cubicle where he opened up the transaction history for their asset accounts.


By that time, Forseth had made his way to the bathroom and was shaving in front of the mirror as best he could with hand soap and a fresh shaving blade. After cutting himself a few times, he washed his face clean and tried to massage some colour beneath his eyes, but the dark patches remained.


As he finished, the voices began again, having ceased just shortly after his morning shower.


"You're embezzling company money!" he heard the voice of the accounts manager from the bank.


"Damn you, I've never taken a cent from this company!" Forseth yelled.


"Is that you? Are you alright out there?" a voice asked him from within one of the stalls.


"I don't embezzle money! Leave me alone! Maybe its you that's doing the embezzling?!" Forseth responded to the stall.


"O-K. Uhhhh... Embezzling. That's a pretty serious. Look if you need some help I can call the paramedics. The Police maybe?" the man in the stall replied as Forseth heard the toilet flush shortly after.


The stall opened and a tall slightly obese bearded man with thick glasses stepped out, adjusting his tie.


"Mr. Forseth? Are you having health problems? Can I be of assistance?" asked the man.


"No... I'm alright. Just leave me alone," Forseth rubbed his face in the mirror, not happy what he saw.


As he looked in the mirror, the voices continued in his head.


Some of them had even become agitated that he'd looked in the mirror. As if they'd wanted him to have not seen himself.


"How could they see me in the mirror?" he asked himself aloud.


"Pardon?" the bearded man asked.


"Just leave me," Forseth replied to the bearded man.


"Alright, Mr. Forseth. I'm just going to leave, ok?" the bearded man asked, backing away from him towards the door.


Forseth looked to him and then back to the mirror.


"How could they see me in the mirror?" Forseth asked, as the bearded man ran for the door and back to his cubicle in the office.


Forseth thought about the C.S. Lewis book, Alice Through The Looking Glass. He considered that maybe these voices were on the other side of the mirror from him, clearly having reached the limits of his scientific knowledge. 


He was now lost, in the land of radical speculation. A man on the brink of his sanity and without explanations that would satisfy his inquiry into their nature and origins.


"The people on the other side of the mirror! You! Leave me alone!" he screamed into the mirror at his own reflection.


Amongst the voices, he could clearly hear laughter, as if he were the source of their comedy, which angered him even further. He then broke down and began to weep, much as he had on the dismal day of Walter's death. It was when he reached that extreme of depths that something within him caught hold of reality, clinging to sanity desperately but firmly.


He bent over and opened the valve to the cold running water in the sink, washing it through his hands. He then splashed the water onto his clean shaven face, rubbing his skin vicariously until he was calm, even in the midst of the voices.


"Alright, Ron. You're going to go back into that office and face this day like a man. You're going to get to the bottom of this problem, and then you're going to deal with it," Forseth spoke quietly to his reflection in the mirror.


The voices huddled quietly in the background, dimished by his sudden focus, but still ever present.


He then gathered what remained of his impromptu shaving kit, and walked back to his office. Dianne smirked at him as he passed, though he ignored the expression, he still politely smiled nonetheless.


He spent the rest of the morning going over the aquisitions journal, checking it to see if there were any questionable purchase decisions within. When he was satisfied that it the purchases on record were all sound of sound justification, he went through the General Expenses Ledger, checking it carefully for any expenditures that might indicate embezzlement.


At ten minutes before 12:30 PM, Forseth's lunch hour, Neil arrived with a stack of printed papers, atop which a tablet was perched.


"Here's the report you requested Mr. Forseth," Neil dropped the stack on his desk, slightly out of breath.


"Oh, and Dianne says this is a present from Walter..." Neil pointed to the tablet atop of the stack.


Upon hearing Walter's name, he immediately grabbed up the tablet in his hands and examined the screen. Thereupon were photos of him and Walter having dinner that night at the Tap And Eatery from a week before Walter's death. They'd very obviously been taken from another table with an equal vantage point of both Walter and himself.


Forseth felt himself ready to explode as he stormed out of his office and threw the tablet on Dianne's desk.


"What the hell is the meaning of this!" he yelled at her.


In every one of the cubicles in the surrounding area, faces could be seen peeking over their respective partitions. Like gophers peeking up and out of their holes at a menacing predator.


"How dare you confront me like that!" Dianne stood her ground against him.


"Answer my question!" Forseth did not back down.


"I gave him the tablet, and your message," Neil looking to Dianne, had stepped out of Forseth's office to check up on the situation.


"Its a gift. From Walter. Walter Kinnear? You know. From purchasing?" Dianne spoke, completely oblivious to the context which had quickly radicalized Forseth to anger.


"What about these! The photos! How'd they get on there?!!" he picked up the tablet and thust it in her face.


She looked at it quizzically, smirking again, which further angered Forseth.


"What photos? What are you talking about?!" she responded.


Forseth turned the tablet around to find that the photos he'd seen only moments ago were now gone.


He frantically searched through the tablet's interface, looking for anything with a reference to photos. He opened a camera app and found nothing. Then a gallery and still found nothing. It was as if the photos had just disappeared.


He turned around to Neil, who was a much younger man than he and likely more familiar with the technology of the tablet and thrust it into his hands.


"Find them! The photos dammit! Bring them up again!" Forseth demanded of Neil.


Neil in a panic, began looking through the interface as Forseth had moments earlier, looking mostly in the same places, though finding additional locations the missing photos might be. After a minute of frantically searching, he looked at Forseth dismally.


"There's nothing. No photos... sir," Neil handed it back to him.


The entire office had suddenly become quiet enough to hear the hum of air conditioning through the vents.


Forseth then thought about another possibility. That maybe he'd imagined the photos, and that he'd been pushed over the edge by the use of Walter's name, when in fact, Dianne had been referring to an entirely different man. A young family man who worked in the purchasing department of Werner-Goldstein.


"Hmmph," Forseth responded, suddenly realizing he'd gone over the edge.


He then turned around and faced Dianne, struggling to speak.


"I'm so sorry, Dianne. I don't know what came over me..." he said, as if he were speaking from within a prison cell.


Dianne arms remained folded across her breasts and her gaze pierced his brashness, rending him back to the helpless man he once was.


"This is unacceptable! I'm going to have to report this. You can't treat women, let alone your fellow employees like this!" her expression remained stern as Forseth shrank even further in demeanor.


"I understand. If you need anything, I'll be in my office," Forseth turned around and walked back to his office.


"Oh, and thanks for that report, Neil. I'll add a note for human resources for your next review," Forseth closed the office door behind.


One by one, the gophers returned to their cubicle desks and the regular sound of a working office resumed.


When Forseth returned to his computer, he observed that his desktop image had been replaced with one of the photos he'd seen on the tablet. He quickly shook his head to ensure he wasn't hallucinating. When he was certain, he grabbed his own smartphone and tried to take a picture of his computer screen so that he had lasting proof. Before he had the camera pointed at the screen, the desktop image suddenly disappeared and was replaced with one of the default images from the operating system.


He then sat back in his chair, thinking for a moment about what had happened when he looked upon the mouse that Julie had gifted him. He suddenly had an idea. He used his smart phone and dialed into the company phone system, asking the receptionist to connect him with Julie Calister.


"Julie speaking," her chipper voice broke the tension.


"Hi Julie! How are you? Its Ron Forseth. Sorry, I'm calling you from my personal phone. I was wondering if you had a moment for a quick meeting?" he asked her.


"Sure. What time would be good?" she asked him.


"Now if you can?" Forseth confirmed with her.


"Having a problem with your mouse? I'll be right up," she responded, hanging up.


Moments later she knocked on his office door.


"The door's unlocked Julie. Come in and make yourself comfortable," Forseth felt himself calming.


She opened the door and took a seat in the chair before his desk.


"What can I do you for?" she asked him, playfully.


"I need you to be like a secret agent for me. You know, keep an eye on things?" Forseth asked her.


"A secret agent? You mean a spy?" she asked.


"Not a spy so much as keeping a protective eye on the network. Specifically, anything that is affecting the hub on this floor. Especially my office. Could you do that?" he asked Julie.


"Are you having problems? Viruses or ransomeware?" Julie looked confused.


"I'm having some strange behaviours happening on my computer. The desktop image randomly changing... that sort of thing," Forseth explained to her.


"Let me take a look," he got up from his chair and she sat in it, grabbing his mouse and quickly navigating the user interface to find the settings application.


She ran the settings under her own domain administrative account, checking them carefully.


"You don't have it set to slide show, so I don't see how the image would change randomly..." Julie confirmed for him that he wasn't simply going insane.


"Thank you Julie. So humour me if you could. If something like that was happening, could you keep an eye on the network up here and make sure nobody is playing with my computer through the network?" Forseth asked her.


"I suppose, but you're such a gentle man, why would anyone want to mess with you like that?" Julie asked.


"That, Julie my friend, s the million dollar question," Forseth responded.


"Alright. I'll get to work on setting up some network firewall filters and I'll add your node to a log of all network activities. So if you're secretly checking out porn, or anything like that, I have to let you know that it will be logged," Julie informed him.


"If I ever did something like that, I certainly wouldn't do it on company time," Forseth blushed at her candidness.


"Just letting you know. I respect your privacy, but from what I'm gathering about what you're asking me, someone else isn't," Julie replied as she checked some of his other settings.


"Exactly. We're on the same page, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this," Forseth told her sincerely.


"Alright. I'll get on that. Anything else?" she asked him.


"That's more than enough, Julie. Thank you again," he replied as she made her way around his desk and back towards the door.


"Bye for now Mr. Forseth. I'll call you if I find anything," Julie waved with her fingers as she left.


"Fair enough," he smiled as she left.


Forseth had finished another paragraph in his holding cell journal, covering the time he'd just recalled from his memory, as another difficult and trying circumstances found its way in. He perched the tip of the pen on a free line and began to write as he remembered what happened next.


"Come in, Ron. Have a seat," Werner leaned back in his chair.


"So what can I do for you, Mr. Werner?" asked Forseth.


"Normally, human resources would be dealing with this matter, but I intervened and thought it would be best if I dealt with you directly. As your employer, and as a friend. I know the last few years have been trying times for you, but your recent behaviour does not reflect a healthy attitude, nor the views of this company. I've known you since we grew this company from the ashes of the Moore-Tate Holdings aquisition. You've been a model employee for the entire time. So I'd really like to hear your side of the story. About your altercation with Dianne. About your recent behaviour in the bathrooms and around the cubicles. What's going on Ron?" asked Werner, peering at him piercingly.


"Mr. Werner, as you know I've been under a great deal of stress," Forseth admitted to Werner.


"That's a part of this business, Ron. I mean between my time here and as the chair at Tynan And Associates, I deal with my share of that. Are you drinking? On drugs?" asked Werner.


Forseth sighed as he could see where this conversation was leading.


"No. I have the occasional drink. Moderately. No narcotics. This isn't an issue of substance abuse," Forseth assured Werner.


"Well then there's really no excuse for your behaviour, because if it isn't as a result of your consumption, then it must be as a result of your inability to handle the role entrusted you as the head of the forecasting department!" Werner became agitated with Forseth.


"Sir, I really think I'm being targeted by people who are trying to ruin me. Maybe they want my job. Maybe they want me out of the company. For whatever reason, there are people trying to ruin me," Forseth went for broke, playing the honesty card, pleading with the only man who could save him.


"Now you're blaming this on other people, when it is clearly you that are out of line?!" Werner became agitated with him again.


"Sir, I'm being honest. In all my years, I've never done anything that would prove detrimental to this company or its repute. Ever. Given what I've been experiencing for the last few years, I can only say that someone is out to get me," Forseth sought sympathy in the face of his employer, but was only met with adversity.


"I'm relieving you of your duties as head of the forecasting department. You won't be fired, but you are being demoted. I'm going to move you to operations as the corporate manager. Its a lower grade pay, and much less responsibility, but you won't lose any of your benefits packages or company RRSP contributions. If you can keep yourself together before retirement, you'll get the full deal. That's the best I can do for you, Ron," Werner's face softened up just a little.


"I've been a dedicated employee from the beginning and you're demoting me?!" Forseth challenged Werner's decision.


"The change won't be effective for another three months, so you have time to clean up your loose ends," Werner advised him, sliding a paper note across the desk towards him.


Forseth picked up the note and read it carefully.


Check the bank ledger itself for any discrepancies.

We're being watched.

Destroy this note.


"Do I make myself clear?!?" Werner's voice became gruff again and his earlier anger returned.


"Very much so, Sir," Forseth spoke, sounding like a man who'd been forced from the team and was now being thrown to the wolves.


Forseth took the note, crushed it into a ball and put it in his mouth and began to chew it.


"This meeting is over. Now if you could leave, I'm a busy man," Werner turned to his computer and ignored Forseth from that moment on.


"Thank you, Werner," Forseth spoke distraught, yet gratefully.


Werner remained silent, as Forseth left the office.


Despite the outcome of the conversation, Forseth actually felt better than he had for a long time, because Werner had clearly confirmed his suspicions and from that moment of reading the note, he knew he wasn't alone.


When he returned to his office, he used his smartphone and dialled the number to the Canadian Commerce Union, where he requested a meeting with the accounts manager. The receptionist at the bank confirmed his appointment for the following day at 2 PM in the afternoon, to which Forseth agreed. He committed himself firmly to get to the bottom of this matter, as the voices continued in the background of his mind. Poking and prodding for any weakness in his psyche through which they could provoke him to reactive behaviour.


The following day he felt much better, and the presence of the voices did not seem as intimidating as they had been for years. It was as if they'd lost the power of their presence and the ability to affect him.


As the hour of his appointment approached, he readied himself, leaving with nothing more than his briefcase in hand. He quickly made his way down through the elevator and out onto King Street, crossing at Bay Street from where he made his way to the bank's front door.


He made his way to the accounts desk, where he was directed to the account manager's office. The receptionist welcomed him, offering him a coffee which he politely declined.


A moment later the accounts manager stepped out of his office.


"Mr. Forseth, I've been expecting you. I'm Dick Carson," a tall imposing man presented himself to Forseth, shaking his hand firmly.


"Nice to meet you Mr. Carson. I need to talk with you about our ledger?" Forseth asked the accounts manager.


"Why, what seems to be the problem?" asked Mr. Carson.


"Oh there's no problem at all. We've just changed some of the accounting policies regarding our retention of records and ledgers. So we're going to need to change those policies here as well and from what I understand, I have to go through you to get that addressed," Forseth explained to Mr. Carson.


"Certainly. Why don't we step into my office to discuss this," Mr. Carson stepped aside and allowed Forseth to pass.


Forseth found his way to a seat in front of Mr. Carson's desk, where he opened his briefcase and pulled a file from within. He then took a sheet of paper and passed it to Mr. Carson.


"What's this?" asked Carson.


"Its a summary of the kinds of changes we'll need with regard to what gets filtered from the bank ledger. We'd like you to ensure that we're receiving the full ledger, and that nothing is filtered. Normally, service charges that are less than one tenth of one percent are filtered from our books, and written off under capital operating expenses. I'd like that and any other policy that seeks to filter those expenses removed from our ledger, so that we get the whole picture?" Forseth explained to Carson, who seemed perturbed by the request.


"Technically, charges that small aren't kept from the ledger. They don't appear on your bank transactions ledger, but they are sent as quarterly reports to your own accounts payable department, as they should be. You're asking us to confuse the clarity of your statements, rather than keeping them confined to their appropriate department," Carson explained in turn.


"This is the new policy laid down by our CEO, and I'm going to see that its honoured. I'm asking you as one of your largest customers to meet our guidelines in the interest of a good business relationship," Forseth expertly negotiated.


"The most I can offer in this matter is to put it before my staff and see if it meets our guidelines. If it doesn't though, I will suggest that the quarterly reports sent to your accounts payable be included with any transaction ledger requests for your aquisitions account. That's the best I can do Mr. Forseth," Carson offered as an expert negotiator.


"Then I guess we'll have to work with that for now. I'm going to request a complete copy of the acquisitions ledger tomorrow at 10 AM. I'd appreciate it if your team could have these options setup on our account by that time, pending the alternative," Forseth requested.


"Certainly. Will that be all, Mr. Forseth?" asked Carson.


"That would be it," Forseth replied.


"Then I bid you a good day. I'll have my receptionist see you out," Carson paged his secretary who opened the door and led Forseth back out into the bank.


Forseth returned to the office where he prepared for the following day. The day he intended to uncover the discrepancies he expected to find in the ledger.


That night, the voices returned in force, as if they'd anticipated his effort to uncover their efforts. That night he realized that their activity heightened specifically in advance of situations for the upcoming day and that those situations, might be linked to the originators of these voices.


He's all but ruled out the possibility that the voices were part of bizarre science fiction or magical dimension. Of all the evidence that had presented itself, he began to fathom the idea that it could all likely be explained by science, if he'd himself had such knowledge. Given the fact that when he attempted to record them years ago that they'd remained silent for nearly three months after his attempt, he assumed that they likely had little or no scientific expertise amongst them. That they'd merely laid themselves low to avoid the risk of explosure, unsure of whether Forseth would have been able to gather evidence of them or not.


When they'd given enough time and they were certain that the coast was clear, they returned in full force, which had led to Forseth's breakdown with Dianne and Neil and had nearly led to his being relieved from the company. If not for Werner's note, he'd have found himself alone and may have given up. Instead, every time they'd reappeared in force, he'd gained a new insight to their nature. He very much intended to use this against them.


When he returned to work the next day, as he'd scheduled he requested the transaction ledger from the bank through their web based asset delivery system. Three minutes later and he'd had the entire ledger in front of him on their company spreadsheet program.


As he began examining the ledger, his smartphone rang.


"Hello?" he answered.


"Hi, Mr. Forseth? Its Julie. I think we need to talk. I found something suspicious. I went back over the logs for the last three months and I found a number of accesses to the hub on your floor, originating from outside sources," Julie spoke, her enthusiastic voice sounding a little frightened.


"Are you alright?" Forseth asked her.


"I'm fine! Its just that... well this looks like professional hack. Not only that, but there's a lot of other side traffic as well from various sources that don't conform to random hacking attempts. All of it seems to be aimed at your hub, and at corporate," Julie explained.


"So we are being targeted?" Forseth thought aloud.


"Not only that, but when I began investigating this, two of the other techs here started questioning me about it. Like they were offended or something..." Julie told him.


"Look, Julie, don't talk with anyone about this. Make as many copies of the logs as you can. Print them too if that's possible, as long as there's at least one original in existence, we have more evidence," Forseth advised Julie.


"This is getting really scary Mr. Forseth. Since I've been looking into this, people have been treating me very... strange... and mean too... Maybe we should tell the Police?" Julie suggested.


"We have to gather evidence, Julie. If we go to them without it, they might put it on our record as public mischief or something that might undermine our credibility to report anything. We need evidence first. Just remain calm and remember you're alright," Forseth assured Julie.


"Ok. I'll call you if anything else comes up," Julie hung up the phone quickly.


"Thanks Julie," Forseth said to a dead line.


As Forseth scrolled line after line through the ledger, the voices grew louder and louder as he did. He felt the invasive sensations in his abdomen and the accompanying presence of stress with it. Like the threat of anxiety was poised and ready to strike at the drop of a hat.


He realized that his heart was beating faster too. Pounding in his ears, while his nerves were very sensitive. He even felt the tinges of a migraine headache finding its way to the forefront of his senses. All of it coinciding with the voices and the sensations in his abdomen. He rubbed his temples with his hands momentarily before returning them to the mouse and keyboard as he continued to go through the bank ledger.


It was then that he found the first charge that was less than one tenth of one percent. He scrolled horizontally to the transaction code column, finding that instead of a code, it only had the text in lowercase letters *bank common fees HX1* associated with it.


Using that text, he searched the entire spreadsheet. When he realized that there were too many results to search manually, he created a filter that yielded another spreadsheet with only those transactions included.


"Gotcha!" he said aloud as his head pounded with pain.


He opened the drawer to his desk and found a bottle of extra-strength acetaminophen. He opened the bottle, eating two pills at once.


He then copied the spreadsheet to a CD, which he tucked into the inside pocket of his suit as he watched the spreadsheet on his screen disappear.


"So, they're still watching are they? Its too late for you anyway. I already got ya!" he said aloud, rubbing his temples.


He ate pill after pill for the rest of the day in order to deal with the sudden onset of headaches and migraines he was experiencing. On his way home, he stopped in at a local Drug Mart and bought a few extra bottles of acetaminophen, suspecting that he might be using it quite a bit. As it turned out, he was right, but acetaminophen wouldn't be enough to help him deal with the following day.


When he returned to work the next morning, despite his headache, he was quite satisfied with the progress he'd made. He even fantasized that Werner might promote him for his efforts in protecting the company, as the evidence he had was clear cut enough to expose that something was going on financially, but Forseth wanted to ensure that he'd exposed the whole operation. Not just the financial crimes, but their efforts to gaslight citizens like himself and he assumed Werner as well.



He sat in his office, drinking his morning coffee and reading the news when a he saw a startling picture on his screen.


It was Julie's photo. A profile picture taken at the company and it was on the front page of the MindSpice news site. He quickly read through the story, discovering that Julie had been brutally murdered the night before, as the sixth victim of the Chameleon Killer.


Forseth's tears began, and he lifted his glasses to wipe his eyes as the saline water quickly started to flow.


Beneath the tragic story involving Julie's death, Forseth saw a photograph of his son, Joey in an unrelated article. It stated that Joey Forseth had been killed while riding his bicycle the previous day. He shook his head and began screaming.


"Nooo! You bastards!" Forseth's voice pierced the walls.


His eyes found the computer screen again and where the story of his son's death had been, it was replaced with another similar story, absent of his son, while the story of Julie's death remained.



He quickly opened another browser window and searched for his son's name in the news. Much to his relief, there was no news story returned relating to him in any context.


"Oh please..." Forseth spoke as he typed another search with Julie's name.


He watched as result after result, yielded news of her brutal murder. He realized that the voices were involved in her death, and that the hacker was letting him know that his son would be next if he continued.


That was when he'd made the decision that would forever change his fate.


A few days later, he met with Johnny Benacelli.


Johnny had been a contact Forseth had retained in the years since Grier Torman's attempt to involve Werner-Goldstein in his criminal operations throughout the city. Though Forseth had never been involved in any of the activities connected to Torman's operation, his testimony had ended up benefitting Johnny Benacelli. Benacelli was a protected associate of the high ranking members of the mob.


As chance would have it, Forseth's association with Benacelli had lasting benefits for him. For one, Forseth was accepted as a friend, but one who was kept clear of any illicit dealings, for his protection and that of his family.


In this situation, it gave him access to what he'd surmised he needed to deal with this problem for good. To deal with those who'd wreaked so much havoc upon his city in such a short time.


"Ron? How are ya my friend?" Johnny welcomed Forseth to his table, shaking his hand vigorously.


"I need your help," Forseth didn't waste any time.


"Sure, what ya need? Money? Protection? You name it, buddy," Johnny asked him.


"Hey! Bring me and my friend here a bottle of grappa and some focaccia and olive oil," Johnny demanded of the waitress.


"I need guns and explosives," Forseth didn't wait for the grappa.


"Why don't you get a drink or two in ya before we talk. It sounds like you're having a difficult time. One that's causing you some grief, but from what I can tell, you're taking a walk down a road that is only one way my friend. Once you take this road, there ain't no turning back," Johnny advised him protectively.


"I know what I'm doing. Can you help me or not?" Forseth demanded of him.


The waitress didn't waste any time, arriving with a bottle of grappa and a plate of pesto and olive oil, with sliced focaccia on its borders.


Johnny poured them each a cup of the sweet ambrosia and raised his own glass to a toast.


"Here's to knowing when to do what you need to do, and knowing when you need to stop," Johnny clanked the tiny glass to Forseth's and drank the grappa down, pouring another glass.


"Did you get me? Ron, you're taking a trip down a road you don't want to go. I won't go down that road, and I'm a lot more dangerous than you my friend. Stick with the suburbs and family life. Don't go poking around in dangerous matters," Johnny advised Forseth, who ignored the man's request.


"Are you going to help me or not?" asked Forseth.


"Look, by giving you the advice I'm giving you, I am helping you a great deal. You don't want to mess with stuff like this, cause it only ends in one of two places, prison or a graveyard," Johnny told him.


"How do you even know what I'm messing with?" asked Forseth.


"I don't know, but I've seen men with the same look in your eyes now. Every time I've seen that, within a few weeks they're either in prison or the morgue. I don't care who your enemy is, as long as its not me and my associates. I do care though, that someone I call a friend has the best advice that I can give them. Especially when it comes to avoiding prisons and morgues. So what you say to that? Enjoy life, have a few drinks. Break some bread together and have a good time. By tomorrow, you'll have forgotten why you needed those things in the first place and we'll all be the much better for it," Johnny advised him.


"If you don't give me what I want, I'll go to someone else who can," Forseth assured him.


"Who?" asked Johnny.


"Lefaut. Torman's old second in command," Forseth told him.


Johnny suddenly coughed on his grappa upon hearing the name.


"Torman is old news. He's gone, but I'll tell you something about Torman. He was never part of our thing. Ever. He was all about doin' things his way, and when it comes to having no scruples about dealing with insiders or outsiders, Torman was at the top of that list. Saying his name... even hearing his name makes me want to spit! Lefaut is not the man you want to deal with, my friend, because he's as outside of the circle as Torman was. If you get these things from him, I'll have to tell my friends, and they won't be very happy with you," Johnny told him in a matter-of-fact tone of voice.


"I'll get them for you, but you have to assure me that the people you're going to use them against have harmed your family, and your friends," Johnny told him, looking him firmly in the eye.


"They've harmed both. I can assure you," Forseth looked Johnny straight in the eyes, and at that moment, Johnny knew that Forseth was completely sane.


"Alright. Here's how this is going to work. You're going to buy a smartphone, in your name and activate it. You'll also add your own smartphone number to the contact list on the new phone. Then, you're going to send it to the address here on my business card. You're going to write happy birthday on the package, and I'll know who its from. Then, one day soon after I receive that phone, I'm going to call you and let you know where to pickup your order. I'll leave this phone with your order and all of it will be cleaned thoroughly for any prints, and we'll never speak again. You sure you want to do this?" Johnny confirmed with him.


"I'm sure," Forseth confirmed.


"Fair enough. Well Ron, it was a pleasure knowing you. I just wish it didn't have to end like this," Johnny said to him, pouring another glass of grappa for each of them.


"Believe me, I wish it didn't have to either, but enough is enough. Right?" Forseth asked him.


"You got that right. If you don't enforce your limits, may you comfort the feet of those who walk all over you. I may not like it Ron, but I respect a man who knows when enough is enough," Johnny told him.


"To family and friends," Johnny raised his glass again.


"To Walter and Julie," Forseth raised his and they drank.


The paper notebook had only a few pages left, but Forseth figured that it would be enough to complete his recollection of events. That should anything happen to him, the investigating parties would have a trail to follow that might lead to his redemption.


He found a fresh blank page and continued in his journal.


He remembered the night he received the call, only four days ago. It was late on a Wednesday night and he'd already turned in to bed. The phone startled him, as he answered it.


"Hello?" Forseth answered.


"Inside the wrecked utility building at the Toronto Harbour Lighthouse, you'll find a wheeled trunk," a digitally altered voice spoke once and then the line went dead.


"Toronto Harbour Lighthouse... Toronto Harbour Lighthouse..." Forseth repeated it a few times until it was permanently in his memory.


He quickly threw on a pair of slacks and a black sweater. He grabbed a toque to wear over his head as he went out the front door. After he started the car, he was on his way to Commissioner Street and the Toronto Harbour Lighthouse in the pouring rain.


Within the hour he loaded the wheeled trunk into his car and returned home. He wheeled the trunk up to his condominium unit where he prepared everything for the following day. He put the semtex with the detonator pack into a luggage trolley he had, while the firearms he'd requested he put into his briefcase.


He figured he'd just walk into the bank, deal with the account manager first. Then the others he suspected of participating in the scheme. He'd order the customers out of the bank and have them inform the Police that he had a large bomb that he intended to detonate at 3 PM. By that point, everyone would have been evacuated and he'd be able to deal with the vitriol of the voices and to pay them back for the deaths of Walter and Julie.


Funny how fate intervenes, he thought to himself as he finished the last few lines in his journal. How a seemingly random bank robbery had interfered in those plans and had resulted in him being regarded as an unsung hero, even helping the mysterious Butterfly and the Angel of light.


He tucked the journal between his mattress and the bed, hiding it well.


Since writing everything down, he'd felt much better. Deep inside of himself though he knew that he was severely damaged goods and would be for the rest of his life. If his life was to mean anything at all, it would be to ensure that whatever had wreaked such havoc upon him and his family, would be made to answer to a court of law. 


Whether that court was part of the system, or part of the nature of the world made little difference to him. In his lack of understanding and awareness of the current nature of the world, he had no idea that everything he'd written down. Everything he'd thought, was subject to scrutiny by the enemy he so reviled. 


Without the use of words at all, they laid down the plans of how they'd deal with the problem he posed.


The Night's Claim


Claire made her way through the system of alleys and pathways running parallel to Yonge Street, north towards the Ryerson faculty building. It was approaching 9 PM and she had to make it there before 9:30 lest she fail the homework project required for her next class.


She was a hard working girl, employed at two different part-time jobs which she managed to schedule around her hectic post secondary education. On that night, she'd managed to convince her employer to let her off early from her job in the Eaton's Centre so that she would have a fighting chance of finishing her school assignment on time.


Her boss had studied at business college himself and sympathized with her, probably more so than any of his other employees. In all truth, he respected her immensely and dreaded the day that he'd have to find a replacement for her when she'd completed her education. He valued the fact that where employment ends, future business contacts begin and so it was mutually beneficial to facilitate her education.


On this particular night she'd made her way through the back alleys just east of Yonge Street, wading into the darkness there within in order to make good time. It was through the second of these alleys where she got the feeling like she was being watched. Followed perhaps.


She stopped and turned around. Pausing to check behind her.


"Hello?" she spoke aloud so as to break the muffled silence as much so as her own sudden sense of terror.


She jumped slightly when she heard what sounded like a hub cap fall to the asphalt, spiraling loudly until it found its own stillness. She then heard the mewling of a cat and felt a sudden sense of relief.


"You little rascal..." she spoke aloud in a friendly and much relieved tone.


In the midst of her sudden relief, her blood chilled when she saw a shadowy figure standing against the incoming light of the entryway into the alley. He was clearly a large man, perhaps six feet two inches tall or more and standing as if transfixed on her from a distance of twenty meters.


"Hello?" she spoke, her voice projected with slightly more volume.


The man remained still, very clearly peering at her from the discretion of his own shadow.


Then, without warning, he began a quick and steady pace towards her. Both his arms remaining in his pockets as he strode forward.


She felt a sudden tinge of terror. Her feet momentarily frozen to the pavement. Like a nightmare from which she could not awake, she found herself unable to move.


She had the sudden idea that maybe she was asleep in her dorm and that if she made enough noise, her room mate would wake her to check up on her.


"hhhheeeelp..." she tried to yell, but the word only came out at a quiet speaking volume.


Now ten meters from her and closing, she panicked. Her first scream belted from her lungs like a jet that had broken the sound barrier. Piercing the menacing silence as he approached to nearly within arm's reach.


Her paralysis subsided and she found the use of her limbs once again. Just before he had hold of her, she broke into a full out sprint. She ran for the other end of the alley some fifty meters away, screaming and crying as she did.


"HEEEEEEELP!!" her voice blared and echoed through the alley as she ran.


Her foot suddenly impacted something solid and ungiving. She found herself in flight for a moment before she hit the pavement, tumbling and rolling to a stop.


A sharp pain found its way through her nerves and to her brain, letting her know that her right forearm was broken. Most likely a fracture though the pain was indistinguishable from a clean break.


Behind her, the menacing figure of the man kept its steady pace, nearing her quickly. She found her way to her feet and once again began running not nearly so steadily as before.


She kept her pace, gradually picking up speed as she saw the light at the other end of the alley. She began to scream and cry as the potential of her escape became more and more a reality.


At the end of the alley, a young man in his twenties. In fact, another student, heard her cries from within as he strode across the entryway. He turned to face her, just slightly seeing the silhouette of a younger girl. Then, he saw the tall figure looming forward behind her, reaching out in attempt to grab her.


At that moment he no longer filtered his actions through any processes of his head. He moved as fast as he could, running for her, remembering the headlines of the last Chameleon murder on the front page.


The Chameleon Eviscerates Another Victim


As the shadowy figure grabbed hold of the back of her shirt, the young man plowed into him full force, breaking his grip on her. She ran as fast as she could, stopping only when she realized that the young man was now likely in danger himself.


She turned to see that the shadowy figure had entered part way into the light. He now brandished a blade of nearly ten to twelve inches in length and was slashing the young man repeatedly.


He then gripped the knife in his palm and drove it into the young man's chest several times viciously, dropping the body lifelessly to the pavement. The figure then looked to her and at that moment she could clearly see his face.


He had a face pocked with scars of acne from decades ago, that he'd tried to cover with a thin layer of stubble. As he peered at her she could clearly see that he had one lazy eye that appeared to be looking away from her rather than at her as the other eye did.


She saw the glint of the blade, which was now covered in a shiny liquid she assumed to be blood. Its shape was unlike any other blade she'd ever seen. As if it were a weapon from the dark ages, or perhaps from Europe or Asia.


With the image burned into her mind, she turned and began to run. The shadowy figure also ran, but in the opposite direction back down through the alley to the opposite end just as the first of the sirens could be heard.


She ran back out onto Victoria Street and into the midst of light traffic. Cars honked their horns at her as she blocked their path.


"Heeeelp!" she screamed at them until eventually one of the drivers got out and checked on her.


As others were drawn to the scene, a crowd began to converge on her as an army of sirens approached from all directions.


A man dressed in a light jacket and what appeared to be track pants and sandals arrived at the entryway to the alley, his hands still in his pocket.


He looked to the girl who'd run from the alley and started towards her when someone pointed at him and yelled:


"That's the killer! That's the Chameleon!"


The entire crowd stopped and looked at the man, who peered back at them, his jacket opening slightly to reveal a chest covered in the tattoo of a dragon. His torso a perfection of chiseled muscle.


He looked to the crowd and realized that they were pointing in his direction and down the alley. He immediately turned and began to pursue the real killer, running as fast as he could.


He made a quick sprint through the entire alley, seeing the shadowy man exit the alley and run across Dundas Street dodging traffic into a crowd of concert goers at Dundas Square.


As the Dragon Man ran, he concentrated on his surroundings and visualized a trail left by the shadowy figure. One that would be unseen to the unaided eye. 


He then found momentum enough to continue his pursuit, following the glowing trail he saw out of the alley, leaping across Dundas Street into the concert crowd on the other side.


Ahead of him he could see the Chameleon pushing his way through the crowd.


...


Monique opened the door with her one free hand, using the keycard that Heylyn had given to Valerie. Valerie in the meantime had the remainder of the groceries and was carrying them with ease given her immense strength.


"At least we're going to eat good while she's away," Monique remarked as she ran her bag of groceries into Heylyn's kitchen.


"I can't stay tonight. I want to be settled in for my night with Trey. I'll help you unpack and then I'm outta here..." Valerie put the groceries on the counter and began emptying the bags into Heylyn's cupboards and fridge.


"What about our first night patrol?" Monique asked Valerie enthusiastically.


"What about it?" Valerie replied.


"Well, we promised Heylyn that we'd keep vigil over the city. You know, as our other egos..." Monique reminded her friend.


"Look. Monique. I was just trying to make sure that Heylyn was comfortable with leaving for a bit. I really don't think that..." Valerie's voice trailed off as they heard the sirens.


Not just one, but an entire cavalry of Police sirens coming from just about every direction could be heard emerging from several places at once.


"...My costume is in my portfolio bag... I'll get it," Valerie quickly dropped what she was doing and ran for her portfolio bag at the front door.


"Ohhhh dang! I'll just get changed here!" Monique began pulling her outer clothing off, revealing her Eclipse costume beneath.


"Almost ready?" Monique pressed Valerie.


"Not even close!" Valerie dropped her skirt in the front hall and barely balanced as she threw her pants on.


She then grabbed her blouse, boots and mask, running to the balcony.


"Ready?" Monique asked her as they met at the balcony door.


"Wait! I don't fly!" Valerie reminded Monique.


"Oh yeah. I forgot," Monique responded.


"Let me think..." Monique began pacing while Valerie pulled her blouse over her head, spinning it around to line it up with her arms.


"Carry me!" Valerie said as she quickly threw her boots on.


"Uhhh... alright!" Monique said trying her best to pick Valerie up. 


Monique struggled getting her off the floor given the fact she was fairly heavy thanks to  her muscle density.


"I'll hang on to you!" Valerie grabbed onto Monique's back.


"Ready?" Monique asked.


"As I'll ever be!" Valerie responded when Monique let loose full tilt.


Within a second, they went from Queen's Quay West at Lakeshore Boulevard to Dundas Square, where the sirens seemed to be converging.


"Can you see anything?" Valerie asked Monique, unable to get a peek from Monique's back.


"I think so... could you loosen your grip. You're strangling me..." Monique replied, flying towards the crowd where she spotted a man pushing his way through towards O'Keefe Lane.


"That's the tattoo man Heylyn told me about!" Monique yelled at Valerie.


"Who?!" Valerie asked her, completely having no clue about whom Monique was speaking.


As Monique landed, Valerie's feet touched down and she ran to a stop beside her friend.


Dundas Square Concert
"Its too busy here!" Monique told Valerie.


"I can clear the way!" Valerie assured her friend.


"No! You'll hurt them. Close your eyes," Monique told Valerie.


Valerie wasted no time, covering her eyes with her hands protectively as Monique ignited herself as bright as the daytime sun, if not brighter.


The music suddenly stopped as the performers and concert goers found themselves suddenly blinded. In the sudden silence and cacaphony, the sound man, whose eyes had remained protected behind his sunglasses, browsed his computer for a specific MP3 file to play in order to keep the calm.


"The show must go on!" he yelled as he hit the playback button.


The song, a modern DJ remix of a classic, began to play through the speakers as Valerie and Monique ran through the opening the tattooed man had made in the crowd.


Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night


Along Dundas Street and Yonge Street, the Police cars pulled up lining the street nearly from Gould Street down to Queen Street as they left their cars and began closing the area in hunt of the Chameleon.


A Tactical Operations Van pulled up to Dundas Square, skidding sideways and spinning until the back door was facing the square itself.


Tactical Officers began pouring out of the van as Angus gave the word.


"This is it, team! We have a confirmed sighting of the Chameleon called in... We're looking for a shadowy guy... with tattoos... No lethal force until we know for sure! Over," Angus yelled into his headset.


His team of eight heavily armed officers followed him into the crowd behind Valerie and Monique.


"Sir, we've got the flying lightbulb in our sights... and another one we've never seen..." the section leader for Squad B told Angus over his headset.


"Hold your fire, we're switching to rubber rounds. No pistols either. Use your tasers instead if you need to," Angus ordered the entire team.


They stopped taking up a protective positioning, as they knelt to pavement and began changing the magazines on their MP5 SMGs.


"Reloading..." Angus sounded off.


"Covering..." another officer signaled the rest of the team.


When they'd finished the munitions change, they continued their pursuit, running as fast as they could to catch up with Valerie.


"Monique! I've got cops on my tail! Stay close in case we need to vacate!" Valerie yelled.


"I'm going to speed up and try to catch hunky man!" Monique exclaimed to Valerie, who was still getting used to Monique's style having been out of action for nearly a year.


Monique transformed into her light form and flew at the Dragon Man as fast as she could. She arrived behind him in less than a thousandth of a second and tried to grab his shoulder.


He immediately spun around, blocking her gripping arm, grasping her hand attempting to put her in a restraining hold. He paused when he saw it was a woman.


"Stay away! Its dangerous!" he yelled at her, pushing her back as he continued his pursuit of his quarry.


"Ohhhh, he's good that one... He knows some of the Butterfly's tricks..." Monique yelled but Valerie was too far behind her to hear.


But she was blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night


When they'd cleared the crowd at the concert and found the entrance to another alley, across Dundas Square Road, the Dragon Man and Monique followed the Chameleon into the nighttime darkness of O'Keefe Lane as Police pulled up, blocking the entryway through which they'd gone.


Valerie ran as fast as she could, though she'd lost sight of Monique and began to panic as the Police closed in on her.


She ran for the entryway to O'Keefe Lane only to find it blocked by at least fifteen officers.


"Look! I'm trying to help the city catch the Chameleon! I don't want to hurt you!" she yelled at them from behind her mask.


"On the ground face down! Hands behind your back!" one of the Police yelled, their pistols out and aimed at her.


"Alright. Have it your way..." Valerie responded as she charged at the first cruiser blocking the alley.


The Police held their fire, instead allowing the pursuing tactical unit to make the call.


"She's going for it! I'm going to encourage her to stop with a bit of rubber!" Angus yelled as he stopped and aimed at her leg.


He switched to burst mode, and pulled the trigger. Three rubber rounds left the SMG at supersonic speed, impacting her leg and bouncing harmlessly off of of her densely packed muscles.


She quickly got under the cruiser with her arms and lifted it easily over her head, laying it down on its side behind her to cover her against their incoming fire.


"Alright... All units, She's a freak. She's clearly with the flying lightbulb. No question about that..." Angus responded over his headset.


Valerie as Kyra
Valerie having put the cruiser down, didn't waste time running into the cover of the alley and trying her best to catch up with Monique, as officers converged on the alley behind her.


"Have we got someone else sealing off the other end?" Angus yelled into his headset.


"...eta thirty seconds..." a comms officer from the tactical van responded.


"Good, we'll seal them all in and bring home the gold," Angus made his way into the alley with his team.


At the other end, before the Chameleon had already emerged, he threw the knife into the alley towards the Dragon Man and then wiped his bloody hands with a cloth from his jacket and dropped it on the ground.


He then ran for the exit of the alley and made his way into the Eaton's Center and down to the subway level.


The Dragon Man stopped when he saw the knife. He picked it up to examine it, seeing the bloody cloth beside it.


Monique who'd caught up with him again, confronted him as Valerie sprinted towards her.


"Drop the knife! I know you aren't the one responsible! We're trying to catch the same bad guy!" Monique urged the Dragon Man.


"I don't know who you are, but you're in way over your head young lady. There are things here that are beyond you and your world," he looked to her, both handsome and menacing at the same time.


"I lost his trail... and he lost his body... you'll never catch him now. Its too late," the Dragon Man told Monique, almost pleading with her to leave.


"So, should I tear this guy apart Monique?" Valerie arrived, slightly out of breath.


"Freeze! Drop to the pavement now face down and you will not be harmed!!" Angus yelled at the trio as his team of eight tactical officers setup around him, covering all angles.


"No disrespect meant mister, but you're going to need a bit more fire power than that," Valerie assured Angus, turning fearlessly to face them as another squad car pulled up and blocked the exit of the alley.


"Nobody will be harmed here. I will ensure that," the Dragon Man answered Valerie.


"Perhaps you didn't hear me? Its going to take a lot more than guns, dragon tattoos or a secret four leafed clover society to take us down. Isn't that right, Monique? We're here to catch the Chameleon and you're not going to stop us," Valerie addressed both Angus and the Dragon Man.


"I'm with her on this. We're not leaving until we stop the Chameleon!" Monique backed her friend.


"Your trapped now! Just lay down face down and everything will be cool..." Angus ordered Valerie, Monique and the Dragon Man.


"I said the one you seek can't be found. He's gone and beyond even your heightened abilities to deal with him. We'll catch him another day, hopefully before he strikes again," the Dragon Man told Valerie, Monique and Angus.


"Wait! Don't!" Angus ordered the Dragon Man.


The Dragon Man suddenly leapt upwards, grabbing hold of a second floor fire escape. He then quickly pulled himself up and climbed the ladder, breaking a window through which he jumped as he ran into the building.


Angus and his team opened fire on him with the rubber munitions, missing him narrowly as they followed his path. When he disappeared through the window, they found a steel door to the same building in the alley and breached it with an explosive charge.


"Squad B, pursue our suspect into the building, I'll handle these girls..." Angus ordered his team to split up.


"Come on, why don't we end this without the violence. There's already been enough of that tonight," Angus reasoned with Monique and Valerie.


Monique looked to the knife, and then to Valerie before she answered Angus.


"You're right about that," she replied, suddenly flying and grabbing Valerie tightly and hefting her up at nearly the speed of light.


In a blink they were both gone.


"Alright. We'll play for keeps next time," Angus responded.


"Squad B, any sign of the suspect?" asked Angus.


"We've got a trail but we lost him. Elvis has left the building. No joy," the Squad leader replied over his headset.


"Alright, lets salvage what we can from the situation. We've got one of the biggest crime scenes in Toronto history. Let's help Toronto's Finest get it sectioned off," Angus ordered his team.


...


Monique and Valerie crashed into the wall adjacent the window inside of Heylyn's balcony with a thud, bouncing off of it and onto the concrete floor.


"Monique, we have to do something about your landings..." Valerie struggled to her feet, still dizzy from the impact.


"My landings? Girl, you have to go on a diet!" Monique replied, clearly offended by Valerie's comment.


"It's muscle, not fat!" Valerie replied.


"That's what everyone who has a weight problem says! You need to admit it!" Monique replied, getting to her feet and brushing herself off.


"Muscle is more dense than fat!" Valerie responded.


"Look, just forget it. We have to find a different way to do this," Monique turned and stepped into the condo through the balcony door.


"We did pretty good out there. We almost caught the Chameleon. That's better than you and Heylyn ever did together!" Valerie reminded Monique.


"Don't you dare speak about Heylyn like that again! We scoured the city for that bastard since he started his murdering spree. If I was with her instead of you, we'd have caught him!" Monique scolded Valerie.


"Look, you know what? I don't need to take this. I don't have to accept being treated this way. I'm helping you. You're not helping me. Goodbye!" Valerie stormed towards the front hall to find her clothes.


"You're right. I'm not helping you. I'm helping the city. I'm trying to protect the people!" Monique responded to Valerie bluntly.


Valerie stopped suddenly when she thought about what Monique said.


"Why don't we just put tonight behind us and try again tomorrow. I mean, given the situation and the hurdles against us, we did pretty good together. You did. If Dragon Kung Fu man there had been the Chameleon, you'd have bagged him and the city would be safer for it. You're right. Lets do this for the city. Not for us," Valerie put her boots down and made her way to the fridge and pulled a wine cooler from it.


She opened the bottle and took drink from it and sighed, grabbing another for Monique.


"Thanks for not throwing that cruiser at them," Monique smiled at Valerie, who handed her the unopened cooler.


"You saw that?" asked Valerie.


"I took a quick peek. When I saw the reflection from the sirens climbing the walls of the alley, I knew you must have picked one up and turned it on its side. I didn't hear any crashing sound or grinding metal, so I assumed you just picked it up and put it down," Monique told her.


"No sweat. Really, it wasn't. Literally. I could have taken one in each hand," Valerie took another drink from the bottle.


Monique then turned on the television and the news was already on, live.


"Downtown Toronto is ablaze with Police and investigators tonight after the eighth Chameleon murder near Victoria Street and Dundas Avenue," the news anchor reported from the live broadcast.


"...no details yet on the victim, though we have information that it was a young man in his twenties, which begs the question, is the Chameleon changing his victims and modus operandi?" the reporter spoke from the scene at Dundas Square.


"...Police aren't saying much in response to the latest murder or the fact that the night's events included an appearance from what some people have been referring to as the Angel of Light... Possibly to intervene and rescue the murder victim, though that much is not clear..." another reporter continued.


"...this just in, Police are in pursuit of a suspect with body tattoos, possibly of a serpent or a dragon... anything else you can tell us Colleen?" the news anchor asked his correspondent at Bay Street and College Street.


"Police made an official statement only moments ago, though they're remaining tight lipped about the details. They've indicated that they're searching the downtown core for a man in his late twenties, early thirties in peak physical shape, who may or may not have body tattoos. He is also said to have bad scars and pock marks from adolescent acne on his face, which would explain why he isn't clean shaven..." Colleen Marston reported.


The camera shot switched to a recording of the Police statement and one of investigators coordinating the downtown crime scene.


"Right now as it stands, we're searching for one suspect and want two others for questioning. Here's a composite of the suspect. As you can see he's very fit, in his late twenties, and he sports a dragon tattoo on his chest. The other two we want for questioning are two women in their late twenties possibly early to mid thirties. One has long hair, tinted black and white, she's thin has a pale complexion, about five foot eight inches tall and perhaps a hundred and thirty pounds. The other is a bit taller at five foot ten, very slim but muscular, with dark hair and a light complexion. We advise the public to approach both with caution. If you see anyone matching these descriptions we urge you to contact Toronto Police at..." Monique muted the volume.


"So we didn't prevent the murder. We were only chasing him afterwards..." Monique fell on her butt on the floor, frustrated.


The tears began to flow in her eyes.


"We might not have stopped the first one tonight, but we definitely stopped the second one. The one that didn't happen," Valerie reminded Monique.


"That's what Heylyn says... that's how she says she doesn't go crazy from all of this," Monique wiped her eyes.


"We should get some rest. I'm going to stay here. Trey can have me another night. We're just too good for men on this night," Valerie said as she finished the wine cooler.


"Good idea. I'm going home," Monique said, getting to her feet and heading for Heylyn's front door.


"Goodnight Valerie. Thanks... you know. For being on my team..." Monique turned to face her friend, who stood at the end of the front hall.


"We did good. We did our best. He did bad. Not us. We'll get him next time," Valerie assured Monique.


"I know. I just hope we get him before he gets another one," Monique opened the door and left, walked down the hall to the front door of her own condo and letting herself in.


Night Flight To Seoul


"Are you seeing this?" asked Kori of Heylyn, who sat gazing out onto the wing of the aircraft and the night sky beyond, a pair of plugs in her ears obscuring Kori's voice.


Kori leaned forward and into Heylyn's field of view.


"Hello?! Heylyn? You need to see this! Now!" Kori's face seem perturbed by something.


Heylyn immediately retrieved the earplugs from her ears, looking to where Kori's attention had been.


On a small LED viewing screen, a live news broadcast replayed a drone shot taken of a scene that had occurred a half an hour earlier in Dundas Square.


Heylyn could clearly see a large concert going crowd dancing to a set of music when from off to the side, a streak of light landed in the midst of the concert goers. 


"...Monique?" Heylyn said aloud.


"She was probably just getting home when this happened. It looks like the flying light girl showed up again. What a coincidence. Right after we left all the action begins," Kori remarked.


"Impeccible timing," Heylyn said, sounding jaded by something as she pulled her phone from her purse.


They continued to watch as the report switched to a press conference held by the Police.


"...is most likely the eighth victim of the Chameleon Killer. Paramedics arrived on the scene shortly after he was attacked. Attempts were made to revive the fallen victim who succumbed to his injuries within minutes of their arrival..." one of the public relations Officers delivered the briefing to the public and press as numerous flashes went off around her.


Heylyn found Monique's speed dial and pressed the interface to make the call. She then held the phone to her ears for several minutes until the answering service answered.


"Monique, this is Heylyn. Give me a call ASAP and let me know how you and Valerie are doing," Heylyn hung up and returned her phone to her purse.


"...Police are remaining tight lipped about the possibility that there may have been a witness to the Chameleon Killer and the attack itself, which occurred less than an hour ago near Gould and Victoria Street in the downtown core of Toronto. Only a few hundred meters away, concert goers packed Dundas Square, which Police cordoned off minutes after the attack..." the report continued.


"...we responded to reports that some of the more rowdy concert goers had interfered in the Police pursuit of a possible suspect, one of them even using a Flashbang, a non-lethan munition often carried by our tactical units to suppress threats against the public. How these concert goers had one in their possession will be a part of this investigation..." the public relations Officer continued her address to the public.


"See?! See! They're covering it up! That was clearly the light girl! She's a hero! She was probably trying to help them catch the Chameleon Killer and they're covering it up!" Kori responded, clearly frustrated by what she was seeing.


"...one of our cars was involved in an accident when an officer lost control outside of O'Keefe Lane and Dundas Square road, capsizing his Police cruiser onto its side. Fortunately there were no injuries..." the Police explanation continued.


"...this smartphone footage clearly shows a masked woman lifting the Police cruiser and gently putting it down on its side outside of O'Keefe Lane, where tactical units of the Toronto Police Service are seen moments later pursuing the same masked woman into the alley..." one of the on scene reporters narrated the smartphone video.


"And once again, Police are asking for the public's help. If any members of the public see anyone resembling these composite sketches, we advise them to immediately contact the Police Service at the number shown on-screen or..." the report continued as multiple sketches were shown on-screen clearly depicting the Dragon Man Heylyn had seen only the previous night.


"That's the Chameleon? Funny how my mom always told me never to fall for a hunk or a nice guy. They always treat women like trash, not to mention they're always into the weird kinky stuff!" Kori remarked after seeing the composite of the Dragon Man.


"Looks like Bruce Lee...? He doesn't look like a killer..." Heylyn remarked, attempting to keep cool about her connection to the Butterfly Dragon.


"He doesn't? Yeah. He doesn't," Kori replied, suddenly absolved of her having found the Dragon Man sketch to be quite handsome.


"They said the latest victim was a male. That's the first male victim the Chameleon has taken which means its a different modus operandi, and likely a different psychology and motive involved as well. If this is the man they're looking for, they're probably looking for the wrong guy. Like the flying light girl? Maybe he's trying to help?" Heylyn tried to make sense of the information the Police had released.


"Are you like Sherlock... I mean Shirley-Locke Holmes or something? That's mind blowing that you figured that out. You should call them and let them know your theory," Kori advised her employer.


"I'm certain they know what they're doing. I'll pass that along to Monique though when I can get a hold of her. I've been following this case for a bit of time as a safe measure to protect the models we often employ at West Meet East. That's why I never let a photoshoot run through until or finish at night. I'm just being a good boss," Heylyn assured Kori.


"If we don't find your little relative... Warai was her name? There might not be a Toronto to go back to," Kori remarked.


"Don't worry. We're going to find her, and then get back to Toronto. I don't want to leave Monique and Valerie in the middle of this all alone," Heylyn's face seemed grave with concern.



Followed By Dinner, Drinks And Dessert


Alicia walked with Norler hand in hand as they left the hospital. They rounded the entryway and stepped out into the parking lot over to Norler's car. As they approached, Norler clicked the keychain and the doors unlocked.


"Do you want to drive?" asked Norler.


"No, its alright. I'd actually prefer it if you did," she smiled at him as they got in either side of the car.


"So. How did that feel? I'm curious," Norler asked her, craning his head sideways to take a good look at her.


"That was the best feeling I've ever had in my life..." Alicia looked to Norler, leaning in close to give him a long, wet passionate kiss.


When they parted lips, he spoke.


"Thank you, but that wasn't just my doing. You were the one that made that happen. You made the difference in their lives, not me," Norler told her.


"It kind of feels like being a hero. Like different heroes... from the kind I used to be," Alicia thought about it.


"You mean like heroes of our own?" he asked her.


"Yeah, except without the violence... without all the other stuff that went along with that stuggle. At the end of the day, I don't have take a shower to wipe the sweat, blood and dirt from my hands. I don't have to tend to my wounds either. I can just be me, though I can't help but feeling guilty. Like I'm somehow abandoning Heylyn," Alicia said to him, leaning in once again for another kiss.


"You're not abandoning her or what she stands for. You're just coming at the same thing from a different angle. Don't you think?" Norler spoke softly to her.


"Doctor Westin," Norler leaned closer, an inch from her lips.


"Doctor Westin-Norler," Alicia kissed him again.


"I could get used to that. So why don't we go home and have the dinner, drinks and desert that we were going to have the other night?" Norler suggested.


"A redo?" Alicia joked with him.


"Exactly. I have everything ready to go. Just the two of us. A quiet night," Norler promised her.


"Why don't we decide later?" Alicia suggested.


"Later? Is that an invitation?" Norler asked.


"I guess you'll just have to find out..." Alicia leaned back in her chair, showing a bit of thigh from the slit of her skirt, running her finger up her leg.


"I see..." Norler quickly put the key in the ignition and started the car.


He put the car in gear and pulled out through the driveway, passing a promotional poster mounted to the side wall of the parking attendent's stone hut.


The poster had a picture of a young child. A little boy of four years old. He'd been diagnosed with a rare degenerative disorder and could only receive treatment in a facility in Dusseldorf, Germany.
At the bottom of the poster, in bold green text was written the words:

Little Gary Travers had no hope at all until he was

SAVED BY THE NOBLE GROUP

CASE CLOSED


Officially Gone


Tricia pulled the forensic laser-tool from her inside pocket and pointed it at the lowest point on the fire escape after placing the laser on the ground. She then took a reading of the digital display.


"Thirteen meters," Tricia pulled a small tablet computer from the same pocket and noted the exact distance.


"Did he make a run for it?" asked Halmand of Angus, who was still examining the area in case forensics had missed anything.


"From a stand still. The guy practically flew that height without so much as breaking a sweat," Angus pulled a handheld uv lamp from his pocket.


"Somebody call Cedric. Got another blood stain here people! A small one and its not tagged! Might be our guy!" Angus yelled down the alley to another one of his team members, who flagged one of the forensics officers.


"What about the two women? Did the cam on your combat webbing get anything?" Tricia asked him again.


"I already told you. They were obscured and it was way too dark in here. Now if we get the budget for thermal imaging on our webbing, we won't run into this problem again... ahem!" Angus remarked sarcastically.


"What do I look like, the finance minister?" Tricia responded as Halmand checked his distances to denote where the two women had been standing when they'd suddenly disappeared.


"I figured because you're operating at the Federal level that you might put in a good word," Angus replied to her.


"I have a cousin whose a cop in Toronto. His name's Steve. You know him?" Tricia asked Angus, who looked at her like she was crazy.


"Are you kidding me? There's nearly four and a half million people here and enough cops to cover that and you're asking me about one of them whose name is Steve?" Angus responded.


"My point exactly about the finance minister comment. Just because I'm on the Federal payroll, doesn't mean I sleep in the same barn with the rest of the horses," Tricia replied to Angus.


"I guess that means we have nothing," Angus responded.


"I guess so. Thank you for your time Mr. Ford," Tricia turned to Halmand.


"Have forensics notify me the moment they've scoured the fire escape for prints. I'm going to run them against the knife, and if we get two different sets, we'll know our Dragon Man here wasn't the only one to hold that knife," Tricia told him as her phone rang.


She reached into the inside pocket of her jacket and retrieved her smartphone.


"Inspector Camden speaking," she answered.


"Tricia, you'd better get here quick. Something's happening with Forseth... He's snapped... Just like the other two," Tricia could hear yelling and screaming in the background.


She immediately turned and ran for her car at the closest end of the O'Keefe Lane. 


"How am I getting back?" Halmand yelled after her.


"Take the TTC," she yelled back to him.


She leapt over the hood of the car and landed on her feet on the driver's side. She then got in the car, started it and pulled out narrowly missing a Police barrier along the way.


She sped over to Bay Street and then proceeded north all the way up to College Street running her sirens. She pulled up onto the sidewalk and stopped outside of the front doors to a building. She then leapt out of the vehicle and ran to the elevator and with a key, put it on service.


"I'm sorry sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the elevator!" she ordered a passenger off of the elevator.


He left immediately and she took the elevator down to sub level three. When the door opened she stepped out of the elevator and though another door into the RCMP facility there.


In the distance down a hall, she heard the unmistakable sound of Forseth's voice yelling and ranting.


She walked down the hall, keeping her gun ahead of her as she did. When she arrived in the holding area, she saw that Forseth's cell was open and that he had his arm around the neck of a guard and was holding a service pistol against his head.


"What do you fffff... you... fffff Inspector Camden? Is that you?" Forseth sounded as if he were a driver in a struggle against a passenger to keep control of the same vehicle.


"I'm here Forseth? What gives? What is this? This isn't like you at all," she confronted him, keeping her gun aimed directly at a nerve beneath the round bump at the right back of his head.


If she had to, she could could put one in there and turn him out instantly like a light switch. He wouldn't have time to respond and pull the trigger because that nerve would have been severed.


"I'm leaving... you today. I'm.... fffff! fuuuuu! STOP IT!" he cried, pounding his hostage's head several times with the butt of the service pistol.


"You're staying. You're going to relax and take it easy. We're going to talk about things, you and I. We're going to solve this right now. You know this isn't you and I know what you're going through. More so than anyone else here. So lets put our guns down and we'll talk about this, alright?" Tricia showed him her handgun, careful to keep it pointed in the air when she did.


She then slowly began lowering it to the floor.


"Come on now. This is a business deal here. You have to be fair. I'm giving everything and you're giving  me nothing. I heard that you were a top notch forecaster and a good businessman to boot. Let's see some good faith from you," Tricia was nearly at the floor with her gun when Forseth began to pull his away from his hostage's head.


His hand pulled away with the gun, then as if he were struggling against himself, he put the gun back against the hostage. He fought with it a few more times.


"Awwww fff fff fuuuuuu... you fuuuuu  oh I'm going to get you... you fuuuuh! fuh!" he said as his hand moved away and then back several times.


"You know Forseth, its all just hormones. You're in there and someone's cranking up the dial on your hormones... I know... I know what its like. You have to find it in yourself to fight it... Its like trying to drive with someone on your hood, isn't it? They're fighting to get hold of the steering wheel, and you're just trying not to run yourself off the road and not to hurt anyone else. I know. If you can do this, I promise you that you and I are going to bring these people to justice. You and I. But you have to win this! That part of you that isn't going to pull the trigger is stronger," she said to him calmly as she placed her handgun on the concrete floor.


Several other officers remained in the background not daring to move or so much as make a peep.


"Now come on. You have to be fair. I'm doing all the giving here," Tricia urged him.


"I feel angry... and scared... my body does... feel it. I can think but my body feels the bad... and its like trying to see through... a dirty windshield... I can't drive anymore... I can't caaaa caaaa fuuuuu fuuuuuh!" Forseth struggled as his hand pressed the gun against his hostage's head.


His finger then began to close around the trigger.


"No! Forseth! Don't let it! Don't!" Tricia begged him.


"fuuuuhhhh fuuuhhhh! I.... I.... I'm sorry..." Forseth in a sudden motion pulled the gun away from his hostage's head before his finger had closed upon the trigger.


Instead, he put the gun to his own forehead and it discharged, sending a red spray of bone and brain matter onto the wall behind him.


Tricia quickly grabbed the hostage and pulled him away from Forseth's falling body. She then grabbed Forseth, examining his forehead to ensure that it wasn't a grazing shot. She saw the polished pearls of shiny bone matter and bits of pink that were quickly oxidizing to become brown as most blood exposed to air did.


Her eyes teared.


"He's gone," Tricia started to shake as she backed away from his body.


"Tricia! Tricia!" one of the Constables grabbed her shoulders and shook her.


"I was going into shock. I'm alright. Really," she shook her head as the air around her suddenly felt freezing.


She retrieved her gun and holstered it, struggling to lock the clip over it with her shakiness.


Her phone rang and she jumped.


"You alright?" asked the Constable who'd just brought her back from the brink of shock.


"Fine. Fine," she reached into her coat and pulled her phone and held it to her ear.


"Inspector Camden speaking," she answered.


"Farnham here. You're never going to guess what happened. Our bank robbers? All of them? Dead. Murder. Suicide. In the holding cell," Farnham sounded tired and devastated.


"Forseth too. Just a minute ago," Tricia was still shaking.


"We're back at square one. Are you going to let me in on what's happening so that this doesn't happen again?" Farnham asked her.


"...Oh nooo... she held the phone away from her ears momentarily as she thought before putting it back to them.


"Dupree!" she yelled into the phone.


"Call them! I'm on my way to Milton! I'm around the corner from them!" Farnham told Tricia.


"I'm on it. See you soon," Tricia hung up the phone and searched her contacts for the Milton front desk.


When she'd found the number, she called it.


"This is Inspector Camden. I need you to check the status of a prisoner and get him to protective custody immediately!" Tricia spoke quickly.


"Prisoner name?" asked the desk officer.


"Dupree, C. Maurice," Tricia told the officer.


"...you're not going to believe this but..." the officer responded to her.


"He's not in his cell? Where is he?" Tricia asked him.


"He has another officer hostage. They're in a car and on their way downtown..." the officer informed her.


"Call O division and have them send four teams to the Canadian Commerce Union bank at King Street and Bay Street. Do it now!" she yelled at him as she ran back out of the office and to the elevator.


She then called Farnham.


"What's his status?" Farnham asked her.


"He's got a hostage. He's on his way to the Canadian Commerce Union. He's probably going to try to take matters into his own hands!" Tricia told him as she got in the elevator and pressed the button.


"I'm on my way. You're way closer. Talk soon," Farnham hung up as she retrieved her keys from the elevator.


She then ran out to her car, which was still parked on the pavement outside the front door of the building. She sped off and onto Bay Street, running her sirens all the way to King Street as she spied Dupree in a squad car skidding up and onto the sidewalk barely missing a pedestrian as the car skidded to a stop.


She pulled up onto the sidewalk blocking his path to the bank. She then got out and took cover behind her car.


"Tricia?" she could hear Dupree's voice.


"Yeah Dupree?" she responded.


"It was impressive, wasn't it?" asked Dupree.


"What was?" Tricia asked him.


"Watching a man blow his forehead open. It was awesome wasn't it?" Dupree asked her, laughing a screechy high pitch laugh.


"Don't listen to him! He's not me! They're in me!" Dupree began crying.


"You're going to be alright Dupree!" Tricia yelled back to him.


"Tricia?" Dupree asked her, still sniffling and whimpering as the tears flowed.


"Let the hostage go and I'll do what can I for you Dupree," Tricia urged what was left of him.


"Its way too late for that. I've got to go now. I'm going be with them," Dupree replied, his crying having stopped.


"Who? Who are you going to be with?" Tricia asked him.


"The Wolfman. The Mummy... and all the rest... and... and... Fffffuuuu ffffuuuuh fuuuuh... Forseth!" Dupree yelled.


There was a moment of silence, and then Tricia heard a struggle coming from the other side of Dupree's car.


"No! No! Dooon't!" she heard another voice different than Dupree's and then a single shot.


And then silence.


She held her gun in front of her, and rounded her car keeping low. She then checked her corners and made her way to the other side of Dupree's car and saw his lifeless body on the sidewalk, his hostage had crawled away from him in the other direction.


"Are you alright?" she asked him.


"Fine..." he nodded, out of breath as she ran over to Dupree and found a similar injury to that Forseth had delivered to himself.


She pulled her phone and called 911.


Then, she kept herself from going into shock as she setup a crime scene.


Just before Farnham arrived, she received a call from the RCMP basement facility at Bay Street and College Street.


"Tricia? Sorry about everything," a male voice responded on the other end of the line.


"I do have something for you. Good news," he told her.


"Oh yeah? What's that?" asked Tricia.


"Its a journal. Forseth's. It was hidden between his bunk and the mattress. It's big too," he told her.


"Alright. Listen to me. I want you to lock it up in the safe, and guard it with your life until I get there. Do you understand?" she asked him.


"I'm already opening the safe. Hello? Hello?" he asked her but she was already on her way.

Staying Afloat


The car pulled up to a pier and stopped as the driver turned the car off and pulled the keys from the ignition. The music on the radio continued playing the ending of Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper as the DJ faded it into Tears For Fears' Everybody Wants To Rule The World.



The sun had fallen beneath the horizon, while a few stubborn shafts of light struggled to maintain control over the receding power of day. The beams of the car's headlight pierced the darkness of the pier like a pair of tunnels whose ends disappeared in the distance. Two men a good distance away stepped out of the shadows and began walking towards the car, each brandishing Heckler and Koch 9mm automatic weapons. Surprisingly, their faded stamped metal gelled well with their designer suits. Upon seeing them, Zek realized that he might actually have a chance after all.



He realized that they were not hired killers, but more concerned about their appearance than their effectiveness. The real killers were their firearms. The men brandishing them were merely the weapon's feet.


"This is the end of the line," the driver didn't bother to look at Zek.


Zek used the opportunity to examine the driver, if not glancingly. Upon turning his head, he spotted the silenced 9mm Beretta packed into a holster that sat under his right arm pit. *A lefty Zek* thought. 


How interesting.
 

"Follow them," the driver said without acknowledging him in the slightest.


Mr. Zek unlocked the door, uncertain about how much longer he'd be alive. Based upon the circumstances, if the two men outside the car led him down the pier by walking behind him, then the shot would enter the back of his skull through his neck, having been fired by the driver of the car. The men in the suits would choose such a path in order to avoid being sprayed by the splatter of the exit wound.



"I'm grateful for the prompt pickup and certainly for your company during the drive," Mr. Zek's expression remained still and completely obscured despite his obvious sarcasm.



He opened the door and stepped out of the car, walking over the the two men with the guns.



"Down to the end of the pier," one of them ordered Mr. Zek.



"Very well," Zek replied, unable to see the other side of the pier from the angle which they were standing.



Much to Zek's relief, one of the two men walked ahead of him while the other trailed behind. Zek concealed his relief by coughing a few times, which allowed him to take in a greater volume of air without rousing suspicion from the two men in case he had to run.



As they continued their approach, it became clear than the pier had a dock that branched out from it and there moored to it was a military frigate that had clearly been converted to a luxury craft of some kind, though it still bore artillery cannons on either side.



"You arrived in style I see. How profound," Mr. Zek commented, though his escorts remained silent.



As they proceeded, Zek could see a man in an old time Captain's hat standing atop of the gangplank ramp. He leaned against the railing at the top, waiting on the deck for his quarry.



Zek proceeded up the ramp and onto the ship, eventually coming to stand before the man who looked down, hiding his face until the last moment.



Of the two men, it was Zek who spoke first.



"George Steadman I presume," Mr. Zek addressed him.



"Amongst many other names, that would be correct. Alomera Constanza Zekestes. You have no idea what I went through to ensure that we had this meeting," Steadman told Zek, who peered back at him as if through the eyes of a snake.



"I am here as you've arranged. Clearly no man would go to such lengths if they intended to rid the world of me. What is it you desire?" Mr. Zek asked him, knowing fully well that the cards were stacked in his favour from this point.



"Nothing much. Something that I know you still have. Access to the entire backup of your blackmail database," Steadman made no attempt to curtail his request of the man.



"Tonight, we will dine. Tomorrow, you will die if you deny me of what I've asked of you," Steadman informed Zek.



"Then what choice do I have but to oblige the hospitality of a desperate man," Mr. Zek responded.



"You're more in that role than you've ever been since you were extracted from La Modela. You had everything you needed there. I could never figure out why you double-crossed me with Cora Hau and the investment capital I needed, given the fact that had you not pulled out, you'd once again be the wealthiest and most dangerous man in the world," Steadman spoke, leaving his back open to Zek as the two gunmen walked behind the two of them.



"I thought I already was," Mr. Zek asserted.



"Not anymore. To the civilized world, you're their laughing stock. They've learned not to fear you having dismantled your blackmail empire, but I know you better than that. I know that you have not just one backup, but many," Steadman turned the latch on a metal door, stepping over the lip and into a water tight deck, down a set of metal stairs.



"Then why did I not retrieve these backups when I was in La Modela? Wouldn't the power they'd have afforded me justifed it?" asked Zek.



"You knew the world was watching you carefully. You're little cadre of local supporters in Columbia might have been able to protect you from the borders north of Mexico, but they couldn't protect you from NATO. From the EU or the Asian Alliance. Had you retrieved your backups, all your enemies would have their own copies, and would have worked tirelessly to undermine the credibility of each entry in your database. Your power only works when they don't know what you know about them. Not when they do. Had they your database, they'd have all tried to use it against each other the same way you used it against them. It would become another cold war, this time with secrets rather than nuclear weapons," Steadman assured Mr. Zek, who simply kept his cards closer.



"My liberating you before you were brought before the world court has given you the means to retrieve your blackmail database while retaining its true power. Their ignorance of it. If you do this for me, I will restore you to your rightful throne," Steadman promised Zek.



"And what would be in it for you?" Mr. Zek asked Steadman, still keeping his playing cards carefully hidden.



"A chance to turn the Cora Hau facility around and to use its guaranteed share of the market as a means to purchase Future Tangent Industries," Steadman smiled, also keeping his cards hidden.



"You already clearly have everything you need and then some. Especially with this boat. Why would you want more. If you gave me that throne, I'd certainly see to it that you received your life's desires, whatever they may be," Mr. Zek assured him.



"A life of things is fleeting, while a life not lived is grieving. I want to live. To experience what only one man alive can, and that is to be the CEO of Tynan And Associates. However, he is nothing if not with his love. I would also have that, his one true bride to be, Alicia Westin. Her hand as my own. There is no throne you could possess that would promise me those things. So I propose that you indulge me, and my plan to ensure that goal, both Tynan And Associates and Alicia Westin, both become mine," Steadman presented Mr. Zek his chair at Steadman's table.



"Then let us break bread to seal the deal between us," Mr. Zek proposed.



Steadman pulled out his chair and sat, pouring himself a healthy glass of bourbon from a bottle perched on the table. He then grabbed the glass and held it up to Mr. Zek.



"Let's seal the deal," Steadman agreed as Zek broke bread while he savoured his bourbon.



The crew activated the ramp controls and the frigate's engines roared to life as it made its way for open ocean.


Return From The End To The Beginning


Jinn Hua stood by extending both her crossed legs until she'd risen to her feet. She then carefully kicked the red cushion aside away from harm's way.




"The moment..." Jinn Hua took up a defensive stance facing her opponent.











"I've come to take back what was rightfully mine from the beginning. The gem. So let's fight, shall we?!" the woman spoke boldly.


Jinn Hua examined the woman for the first time, seeing that she was fully from neck to toe covered in elaborate and colourful tattoos.






Many of the tattoos were of serpents. Dragons from an age long past. Venomously, viciously and viscerally, they protected the butterflies intertwined in their midst. They seemed to slither and move in the lights and shadows with a life all their own.








Jinn Hua's focus returned to her opponent's blazing eyes once again and she spoke.




"No. Let's dance," Jinn Hua said calmly as the two met for battle.










The End Of Book I


Stay tuned for The Two Dragons - Book II


Thank you to all my loyal readers and supporters of Shhhh! Digital Media. I am truly grateful to be able to create these stories and present them here at https://www.shhhhdigital.ca

Artwork: Amy WongWendy Pusey, Ghastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3D

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3D, Borderline Obsession...

Writing: Brian Joseph Johns



Brian Joseph Johns

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The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Copyright© 2022 Brian Joseph Johns, Shhhh! Digital Media


The text of this book was written at 200 Sherbourne Street Suite 701 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and written by Brian Joseph Johns.

The song Under Pressure written by: Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, John Deacon, Brian May

The song Ahead By A Century is written and performed by The Tragically Hip: Rob Baker, Gordon Downie, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair

The song Blinded By The Light is performed by Manfred Mann and written by Bruce Springsteen.

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