The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Act II [First Draft Finished 94000 Words]

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

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.

The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Act II

The Last Dance

The click of heels on hardwood broke the silence as two women slowly circled one another amidst walls bound in ancient scrolls.

One, dressed very traditionally in garb that dated back to before the Song Dynasty of China and to the earliest Emperors. Most of her body was concealed behind a gown which covered her from her neck to the floor. Her hair bound by ornamental decorations whose purpose served to balance between the body's connection to heaven and the earth beneath her feet.

The other woman, dressed in what one might wear had they gone for a night of clubbing in the Akihabara red light district of Tokyo. Her skirt left little to the imagination, though she was as much obscured as her counterpart, though not by the material of a gown but rather tattoos that covered her skin from neck to ankle.

Each were liberated from an aspect of their inherent being, though in terms of what that meant to each of them, was that they were in fact nearly perfect opposites.

"I've come for what was mine. What was promised me!" the woman in tattoos demanded as she closed in on the other.

"And who are you that demand promises for whom heaven has made to none?" asked the other.

"I am of the Tanaka family. The sole daughter and family heir Aikiko. I held the vigil of the Butterfly Dragon in our family Dojo from the age I could walk and fight, until the age I could confront one such as yourself. I demand what was mine to begin with, for I am no longer a Butterfly Dragon. I am but the Dragon Butterfly!" Aikiko began walking forward at the other woman.

"You are ego and flesh. You live in praise of things that will abandon you over time, and as your body withers, you will panic and seek to keep it from aging and deny yourself the greatest treasure of all," Jinn Hua did not back away from Aikiko but met her in the center of the temple.

The first punch flew from Aikiko, narrowly missing Jinn Hua's face though as far as she was concerned, it might have been a million miles away. The second punch followed shortly thereafter, trying to connect where Jinn Hua had been half a second ago.

Aikiko's knee was levied as the front of another attack, barely missing Jinn Hua's abdomen as Aikiko spun, extending the same leg in a round kick at Jinn Hua's head. Jinn Hua once again was absent when her leg arrived, instead catching Aikiko's foot between the backs of her two palms and stepping forward in attempt to bowl Aikiko over onto her back.

Instead of resisting, Aikiko allowed the direction of Jinn Hua's force, rolling onto her back gracefully in a perfectly executed display of Uekemi. Without any effort she was up and on her feet again through which she'd found the floor over her shoulders, while Jinn Hua was over extended.

This time Aikiko had levied the advantage and instead of interfering with Jinn Hua's momentum. She simply facilitated it. Aikiko stepped aside and followed, lining herself up with Jinn Hua's back and readying herself for the killing blow.

When Aikiko launched her attack, using her left heel as a piercing weapon, she'd not anticipated that Jinn Hua would be able to change direction so rapidly, but as fate would have it, she did.

Aikiko's leg thrust forward, her heel leading the charge like a tremendous stabbing weapon. Jinn Hua had side stepped at nearly a perfect ninety degree angle and in the same motion had turned her body so that it was now facing the lower vulnerability of Aikiko's post-kick stance.

Jinn Hua's arm folded around the back of Aikiko's balancing knee, folding her leg and forcing her to the floor with her kicking leg still extended. Aikiko fell, landing in the splits as Jinn Hua pushed off against her falling body and was up onto her feet. With her other leg, she braced Aikiko's knee flat on the floor preventing her from getting to her feet.

Jinn Hua spoke to the back of Aikiko's head, for the other woman could not right herself to face her adversary.

"It is true. You had kept the vigil of the Butterfly Dragon and most honourably so. Clearly demonstrated in your ability, but you've fallen from grace. It's as much written all over your ego as it is your fighting style. Like the stain of wine upon the canvas of what might have been a perfect painting. With your every movement, I can see both the perfection of what might have been, and the shame of what you've become," Jinn Hua stepped off of the back of her knee.

Aikiko's legs immediately spun as Aikiko put her hands down on the floor elevating her body inches from the floor. Her legs swept repeatedly at Jinn Hua's, forcing her further and further back. One of Aikiko's heels clipped Jinn Hua's sandaled foot, bruising it without breaking the skin. Jinn Hua stumbled backwards into a stand, atop of which was perched a plant that had been kept nurtured and alive since the fall of the Tang Dynasty.

It teetered over and fell, still in its vase. Jinn Hua dove and rolled, catching the vase and plant in her hands. As she emerged from her roll, she put the plant back atop of its stand and continued her momentum upwards in an arc, coming down at Aikiko's shoulder's.

Aikiko had withdrawn her legs and was ready to launch herself back onto her heels when, Jinn Hua caught both of her shoulders with her hands. The momentum of her launch was transferred to Aikiko and countered her ownb attempt to get to her feet.

Instead Aikiko extended her arms above her head, catching the floor with her palms and executing a perfect cartwheel while Jinn Hua side stepped from between her legs.

Both women were once again facing each other and at the ready.

"Time has not been kind to you Jinn Hua, though it has shown you some graces it hasn't shared with many others. You speak to me of my worship of things material? Of the flesh? Of lust? What is life if it isn't tasted with every sense of our being at every moment? You cover yourself and abhor the vessel that has kept you for all this time, like every other woman, you feel this sense of guilt and shame over your body! For being a woman! You locked yourself in a Temple when you were denied the right to marry because your family... your community, disapproved of him... And from that time, you stopped living when you gave up on your flesh! On your senses! You gave up on what it was to be alive! So don't lecture me about my path, when you abandoned humanity long ago, chasing dreams so far from what it is to be, that you may as well just cease! Allow me to help you with that!" Aikiko challenged her.

"You speak with the tongue of a serpent, Tanaka-heir. Your words bear great pain for me, but none so great as what it must have been like to be disowned by your own father so he could pay his debts to the Satori Clan. A girl only approaching eighteen? I may have missed many great things, sometimes things for which I long. But you were forced to grow up so fast, learning the true nature of what it is to be from the harshest of worlds. How is it that a woman who's not yet given up her virginity, has so readily lost her innocence?" Jinn Hua seemed sympathetic more so than angry.

Her eyes pleaded with Aikiko's and their gaze met in the struggle of the inability to resolve.

"You place far too much emphasis on either of those ideas. I would never give up what I learned from the moment my father sold me to one of the clans! One of the most vile of those surviving. I learned what life was like from the other side of the fence. The side that everyone knows is there, and yet everyone denies. I learned that what you protect actually makes all of the worst of it possible, and that the most honourable of us alive are cast out as worshippers of the fleetingness of flesh. You see, everything you protect is about making us guilty and shameful for who and what we are!" Aikiko confronted Jinn Hua with the scars of what seemed to be many lifetimes.

"Everything the Butterfly Dragon stands for is part of that innocence. You're mistaking me for the cause of these ills, when I am yet another casualty..." Jinn Hua tried desperately to make the woman see reason.

"Then let us deal with this together! Let us make them pay for their ways! For what they've done to us!" Aikiko demanded of Jinn Hua, her fury as extreme as her pain.

"I have seen this kind of rage before Aikiko, and I know that it only leads to one place. I beg of you to reconsider your path and you may yet still change your fate," Jinn Hua asked her one last time as the darkness behind Aikiko grew, and from within that growing shadow, a pair of eyes peered out.

Aikiko felt something wrap itself around her, and within a moment's time she was plucked from this world and into a land of darkness.

Behind Jinn Hua, the air itself opened up and time and space unfolded itself, enveloping Jinn Hua and extracting her to the shelter of a clear and starry night. She was standing in the midst of a field, flowers scattered amongst the natural turf. The air was fragrant with petals and the fluttering of butterfly's wings.

"Jinn Hua. You and I have not spoken for an eternity, yet you I see, and where you've been..." Weltherwithsp's voice shook the ground upon speaking, the dragon's serpentine body uncoiling from a place on the ground as it rose up to its full size before her.

"How can you see where I've been, when your past is my future?" asked Jinn Hua of the great beast.

"A good question from your point of view and if I answered thee, confused you'd be too. Like saying that something can from the end to the beginning, live a life in reverse, rather than its subjective underpinning, don't you think?" asked Weltherwithsp of her.

"We are nearing the great convergence dragon, and you still speak in rhymes?" Jinn Hua confronted Weltherwithsp about its propensity for playful language.

"...The Dragon Butterfly... I can sense you've been speaking to someone not yet born from my point of view..." Weltherwithsp explained.

"She's already made her choice... She thinks this is all about her," Jinn Hua explained to the dragon.

"And Ai Yuanlin Ying has already left for the gem to bring, and yet the forces ready themselves for the day we all know is coming..." Weltherwithsp's neck snaked through the air until its head met her face to face.

"They're not ready for this... We must give them more time," Jinn Hua asked the dragon.

"This is the way of things. Is it the ocean that gives rise to fish, or the fish that gives rise to the ocean? The universe is not arisen from them. They are risen from it. They had ample time to be ready, and yet their path has left them at risk. There is no other fault to be had from this than their own..." Weltherwithsp responded to Jinn Hua's request.

"There is much confusion in the world and people are on the brink of something extraordinary..." Jinn Hua continued trying to reason with the dragon.

"And yet look how they've squandered that possibility. These things that have risen against them are part of their own doing. They are part of the fold. We cannot help them by altering the convergence. All of this must happen as it does, and should they prove not to be ready, then another eternity shall we have to wait for the same possibility to rise again, if in fact it ever does again. Nothing is guaranteed," Weltherwithsp reminded Jinn Hua.

"Then something is guaranteed. Remember, that works both ways, dragon," Jinn Hua stood her ground against the great beast.

"That something will have to wait another thousand trillion years then," Weltherwithsp asserted.

"...unless they get it right this time," Jinn Hua folded her arms and defied the dragon.

"Agreed. Unless they get it right... this time," Weltherwithsp's wings flapped as it took to the air.

"Where go you now?" Jinn Hua asked Weltherwithsp.

"I sense a little girl's dreams are about to come true. I will not alter the convergence, but I may be pursuaded to give a little guidance where it is needed," Weltherwithsp winked at Jinn Hua.

"You know, I'll never understand dragons," Jinn Hua said as Weltherwithsp flew off into the sky in search of a little girl's dreams.

Into The Darkness

Aikiko could see nothing. Literally nothing, if it could be said to be seen at all. She could hear something else near her. Something ominous. Deadly. I slithered at the extent of her other senses keeping its distance from her.

And then all at once, it opened its eyes and Aikiko could see as if through the moonlight itself.

There before her was a large serpentine dragon. Its scales metalic. Silvery and untarnished. They seemed to not to reflect the light, but to absorb it. What was returned to her eyes was almost like the negative from an old film camera. Like the one her father used to take their earliest family photos. She followed the serpent's body with her eyes from its mid-section upwards along its neck and finally to its head.

There she saw two enormous glowing eyes.

"The Tanaka heir. You've come to me sooner than I'd expected, though I assumed that you'd have arrived again as a corpse. Much as you had near the throne of the old empire with that knife protruding from your chest," the dragon spoke to her in a thousand languages simultaneously.

"What want you of me, serpent!" Aikiko asked the dark beast.

"The only thing that I've ever wanted of any of my disciples, and that is compensation for their pain, and you've endured ever so much of that, haven't you Tanaka heir?" the dragon suggested.

"Then it was you who brought me back?" Aikiko asked the dragon, her brow raising slightly as if surprised she could trust such a beast.

"The old man brought you back. I merely honoured a debt through which I was bound to him, and now with that debt paid, I am free," the dragon informed her.

"How could one such as yourself owe money to the world of men?" Aikiko asked the serpent.

"Money? Ha! A tool through which most of humanity has become enslaved. You've all shed your steel chains and replaced them with paper and digital ones. Chains of peer pressure and stature, while you all huddle in your cells behind prison bars made of nothing but colour. I am beyond any such debt for I am not bound by money or social stature. However, the old man knew much of our ways, and as his lack of ignorance and good luck would have it, he happened into a situation where I required his succor in order to preserve my throne as the one true arrow of time," the dragon explained to Aikiko.

"I've heard of you... the one who speaks in rhyme to confuse men? Come to think of it, that describes most music of the last decade..." asked Aikiko, who thought about the irony of her statement.

"You speak of a myth that is long overdrawn and overdue for its expiration. I speak not in rhyme, but in reason itself as surely as your standing here before me today is directly correlated to the fact that you existed yesterday," the dragon assured her of its namesake.

"Sound reason..." Aikiko considered what the dragon said.

"I offer nothing less. Everything you know is based upon what came before. If this happened, then that was the result. If yesterday it rains, then today the sun might shine and the flowers will bloom. If no water falls from the sky and the sun returns the following day, then your next generation of flowers are never born and the ones living will die. I am the one thing that brings all great men to their knees, their backs and then to ultimately to dust. All their palaces, castles and wonders crumble before me. And yet if any man seeks to know how they arrived at today, they only need to remember yesterday, for that is my domain, for I am the true direction forward and all will fall before me," the dragon's neck coiled around her body once and then rose to come face to face.

"And who are you?" asked Aikiko.

"I am the first. I am the last. I am the beginning, and I will be the end. I am the great dragon. I am Witherwyrm," the dragon's eyes narrowed as it spoke its own name.

"Then you were the one that raised me after I'd fallen?" asked Aikiko.

"Yes, to honour a debt I had to that... tricky old man, but it seems that he expired at the hands of another of my disciples?" asked Witherwyrm.

"Shogo followed you?!" she stepped forward at the beast, whose head backed away from her pulled by its elongated neck.

"He did, as did many. As many still do," Witherwyrm's head rose above her.

"Fierce you are, with my blood flowing through your veins," the dragon admired her figure and form.

"Your blood?! I have nothing of the foul sort, creature!" she challenged the beast's claim.

"You are mistaken, Tanaka heir. When you fell by the blade of Mutano, it was I who resurrected you with the very same blood flowing through my veins. Your heart is beating with the very essence of time itself and there is no wound done to you that can't be undone. How fortunate for me that I should be freed from my debt to that old man just in time to ensure that you are compensated for the ills exacted against you by humanity itself! By the butterflies of that temple... the ones who follow that rhyme spouting serpent," Witherwyrm suggested.

"They have what was supposed to be mine. They took everything from me and yet I learned the value of true friendship. True honour. Beside either of them, all else pales," Aikiko's pain momentarily subsided and she found focus within herself.

"YOU WERE TO BE THE GEM! THE GREATEST GIFT TO ALL OF HUMANITY! Have you forgotten what they took from you? See how their people left you? Betrayed. Sold by your own father to pay his debts to the clans. You were to be the heir to the great Tanaka Dojo, friend of the butterflies and ally of the temple. Yet these very people took all of that away from you. They even tried to bury you and cover over your grave, all while you were still alive and breathing the same air as they. If as you claim, you truly know the value of friendship and honour, then you must also recognize their antithesis: enemies and treachery! How can someone who knows the one extreme allow the existence of the other! Especially when they've taken so much from you! Take what is yours from them and together we will deal justice to the butterflies for their deceit and treachery!" Witherwyrm suggested to Aikiko who paused to think about what the dragon had said to her.

"At the lowest of my lows and they abandoned me... Practically led me into the hands of those predators who sell young women on the streets for a few Yen, or a snort here and there, so that men may avert the price of their sins and put that weight upon women! The ways of the Tokyo Ryoji Clan must be restored, for they are the true butterflies!" Aikiko clenched her fists as she thought about it.

"The body is oh such a vile and disgusting thing, it is. But what a great weapon it makes!" Witherwyrm smiled mischieviously, smoke coming from its nostrils.

"If I allow them to get away with what they've done..." Aikiko began.

" long will it be before they do it again?" asked Witherwyrm, who'd laid the path before her.

"I must stop them! Stop them from spreading this vile treachery upon the Earth. I will restore the true butterflies to their glory and deal with these impostors once and for all!" Aikiko looked to the dragon.

"May I depend upon you serpent?!" Aikiko asked the beast.

"Now that is the true question of merit, is it not? The answer is complicated, for I came to you again in your moment of need for you were about to fall before Jinn Hua, and I rescued you once again. This time however, I was not implored to do so as a payment for any debt. However, I do believe that puts you in mine, does it not?" asked the dragon of Aikiko.

"Jinn Hua never would have bested me. You've admitted to me that you cannot see the future, dragon," Aikiko challenged the serpent.

"I am the true direction of the arrow of time, and therefore as you say, I cannot see the future. However, Jinn Hua deals with another of my kind that can. Had she seen her own defeat, she would have fled. Instead, she stood you down with the knowledge that if you had pressed for combat, she'd have vanquished you. Therefore, you are alive once again solely because of me," Witherwyrm offered a sound argument in support of its assertion.

"You just said that there is no wound done to me that cannot be undone!" Aikiko reminded the dragon of its own words.

"Only because I would not allow you to fall as long as you serve a purpose to me," Witherwyrm admitted to her.

Aikiko stood and pondered what the dragon had said to her. The dragon had indeed saved her twice, though she was only bound to one of those times as a debt. She reasoned that one of her skill and prowess would be able to pay such a debt to a dragon with ease and so she agreed.

"Very well, dragon. I am in your debt to the tune of one life. I will labour to repay this debt to you," Aikiko bowed for the dragon, getting to the floor and pressing her nose to the ground.

"If you are loyal to my path, I will reward you beyond your wildest dreams, though you will be tested. Possibly pushed to your lowest limits and beyond. It is then that I shall deem your true worthiness of what I have to offer," Witherwyrm declared.

"You have grown into a fine woman, Tanaka heir. One who will restore her honour and make these impostor butterflies pay," Witherwyrm coiled around her as she stood, tightening and tightening until the world disappeared.

When she opened her eyes, she was seated on a bench in a park. Across from her on a similar bench, an old Asian woman fed bread crumbs to birds who'd lined the path for her bounty.

Aikiko looked around, attempting to find any indication of where she was. When she saw one of the street signs, she realized that she could only be one place.

She was in Seoul, Korea.


"I'm sorry to have dragged your already over worked asses out of bed this early, but this is important. As many of you know, I called this meeting today so that we may address the recent disaster involving the loss of our suspects and several material witnesses. Those that might have allowed us to unravel this mystery once and for all, while still retaining some semblance of a public confidence in the Policing community of this city, province and country," Tricia stood at the front of the quiet room, a room that had not seen use for thirty years.

It was a meeting room, an asset held by the RCMP specifically for its utility as a sound and bug proofed room. In fact, it passed the full specification for NATO TEMPEST Compliance. What that meant was that any attempt to eavesdrop or surveil the activities taking place in the room could not be accomplished from anywhere else but from inside of the room itself. Initially, it was designed as a meeting place for NATO representatives during the height of the cold war.

When the RCMP was tasked with operating as Canada's Intelligence Service, they acquired the building, upgrading and repurposing it for their day to day operations in Canada's largest city. When CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was created, the RCMP shared the use of the room with the new service, while splitting the budgetary requirements of keeping it modern.

The last time it had been used formally, involved a meeting between high ranking officials of the City of Toronto, the Toronto Police Service, the OPP, the FBI from the United States, and finally the RCMP. All were there to address a growing trend they'd observed with regard to organized crime operating from within the city.

Initially what they'd uncovered was Grier Torman's operation, which involved an extortion scheme centered around the hostile takeover of hot property companies and the sources of market commodities. After their having worked together on the matter, they uncovered the link between the elusive Mr. Zek and Torman himself. From that point onwards, the room would act as a base of operations, with daily morning briefings to coordinate the gargantuan investigation of Alomera Constanza Zekestes blackmail empire, focusing on Torman's activities locally.

After the tactical incursion into Mr. Zek's island fortress nearly a decade ago and the years of court cases that followed, the room was no longer required and was locked as the city enjoyed years of peace, having been rescued from the clutches of criminal tyranny.

"Forseth was in your care, not ours!" Gardner, a veteran of the Toronto Police Service spoke up.

"You're making those accusations while you were keeping the robbery suspects in an open population holding cell?" Williams, a ranking OPP officer shot back.

"...Not to mention Dupree! How in the world did a guy with no violent criminal history suddenly go berserk like that?! Why didn't we see any of this coming?!" Farnham, a Detective with years on both robbery and homocide raised his voice.

"There's something you're not sharing with us," Angus was nervous about speaking, given the tension in the room.

"That's why we called this meeting. So just give Inspector Camden a chance and everything will become clear," Inspector William Halmand responded from a table at the front of the room.

"First of all, lets go over what we do know. All of us here in the room. Forget the stuff you're holding back to get an edge on your part of the investigation. We'll get to that in a moment. First, lets go over the details of what we know and what we think we know, meaning what the TPS thinks the RCMP know and what the OPP thinks the TPS know and so on. Got it?" Tricia asked the sombre faces in the room.

"Starting with victim one. All the way back in 2013. Michelle Remlin, aged 26. Worked for a..." Tricia began before she was interrupted.

"Look, we know what you're trying to do but this isn't the way to go about it. We've been working this case for a long time. We all know the case inside and out. Let's start with what we're holding back. You, us and the other guys. Let's share what we know so we can shore up the holes in these investigations and make a difference," Farnham suggested knowing most of the officers in the room with him.

"I'll start if it makes any difference, becaused you weren't the only ones playing things close to the hockey net," Farnham continued.

"Fair enough, Detective," Tricia responded, crossing her arms.

"With every murder, except for the most recent, within at least 24 hours, we've received a printed message from the Chameleon. We were keeping a tight lid on this in order to filter out the whackjobs that try to claim responsibility for the murders. There's some nutty people out there who'd go to great lengths for a few minutes in the spotlight," Farnham started.

"Tell us something we don't know," Gardner spoke aloud.

"It always has the same text which reads as follows: with words betrayed the hidden toil of gods" Farnham told them.

"Same print hardware for every print?" asked Halmand.

"We checked that. No. The Chameleon uses a different printer setup each time. Different printer. Different print head. Different ink, not to mention a different source for the paper as well," Farnham told the rest of the officers in the room.

"That key piece of information is more valuable than you know and might give Behavioural Sciences something against which to cross reference their prior analyses. Thank you for sharing, Detective," Tricia responded, careful not to confront him on the issue of having kept that information secret.

"How many of you in the room knew that?" Tricia asked.

Of the twenty people in the room, six of them raised their hands.

"We're already making progress then. Thank you Farnham," Tricia responded.

"Just don't tell the Chief," Farnham replied.

"One good turn deserves another. This one is going to be very hard for many of you swallow, but it might spur some something in you, give us an edge," Tricia paced the front of the room, looking her audience fearlessly in their eyes.

"Behavioural Sciences has informed us that the Chameleon is not a single person. That every murder was committed by a different person, with a different psychology who followed the exact same modus operandi in each case, with the exception of the most recent murder, which as you all know, was the male victim," Tricia announced.

"Multiple personality disorder maybe?" asked Fredericks.

"No, though borderline personality disorder may be involved, but neither would explain the variations in methodology that were used in each murder. For example, victim 3 was killed by someone right handed, while victim 4 was killed by a lefty. In each case the person was the same height, not to mention they were the only two murders where forensics was able to determine height as you all know," Tricia informed them.

"The most recent murder puts the height of the attacker between 6 feet and 6 foot 2. Isn't that a far cry from the height of the suspect involved in victim 3 and victim 4's murder?" asked Gardner.

"Yes, it is. Why? That's the big question," Tricia looked to those in the room who'd just been let in on these secrets.

"Have you got anything on the fact that our dead suspects, the robbery suspects, all spoke about hearing voices that instructed them on various aspects of the robbery?" Farnham asked Tricia.

"Not much. We do know of certain biological phenomenon that are precursors and sometimes accompany such experiences..." Tricia explained, clearly holding something back.

"Such as?" Gardner asked.

"Tinnitus. Sinus infections... all would lead to..." Tricia was interrupted.

"We clarified that with an MD. None of the suspects had symptoms of tinnitus or sinus infection. None of it lines up with medical science, and given the fact that the suspects all passed their psyche evaluations, they were either lying with all of the same corresponding elements and keeping their stories in perfect sync despite having been kept isolated from one another from the time of their arrest until they were placed in holding, or..." Farnham verified.

"Don't be shy detective..." Fredericks turned to face Farnham, sincerely interested in what he'd left unsaid.

"...or we should be calling Scully and Mulder from the X-Files to help us, seeing as it sounds like a case of psychic phenomenon," Farnham suggested hesitatingly.

"...Sure thing. Next we'll be assuming that the Chameleon is big foot and that Forseth was secretly working for aliens. You all see where this is going?" Gardner responded with scathing skepticism.

"Might I remind you that we're already dealing with a number of unknown elements that seem to defy explanation, and yet have been witnessed by thousands?" Tricia did her best to encourage thinking outside of the box rather than oppressing it.

"The flying lightbulb and the giant butterfly...?" Gardner smirked, suppressing his own laughter.

"I have a whole Tactical Operations Unit that all saw the same thing, Gardner! You laughing at us?" Angus stood up in defense of his men.

"Easy officers. Let's keep the testocerone to a manageable level," Tricia quickly spoke to moderate the contention between them.

Angus sat down and returned to his case notes.

"I think Gardner's point is that we're dealing with something unconventional, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a scientific explanation for it. To outsiders that didn't know the connection between us here in the room, it would seem like magic that we all manage to keep on the same page... mostly. We're looking at something entirely from the outside, in. Until we can get a better look, we're going to have difficulties understanding it. Just because we didn't see it and don't understand it, doesn't mean that it didn't happen. Every traffic accident before the advent of smartphone and dash cameras was as much a mystery, yet we still had traffic accidents despite the fact that nobody witnessed them. The entirety of investigative work is based upon that idea. We're here to understand so we can put the pieces together and do our part in the service of justice," Tricia reminded them in the room.

There was a silence as many of those in the room pondered, and nodded to what Tricia had said.

"That wouldn't be the reason that you picked this room for the meeting, would it?" Farnham asked.

"What would?" Tricia responded.

"This room is approved according to the TEMPEST MILITARY GRADE specification for protection against eavesdropping and surveillance. Both auditory and electronic. Is the reason that we're meeting in this room related to the TEMPEST specification?" Gardner clarified the question.

"We don't have enough data to make that call, but for all intense purposes, evidence suggests that we need all the protection we can get. Especially when we discuss matters within this room. If - and I'm not confirming this, but if we're dealing with a group of people who've managed to somehow breach the sanctity and secrecy of the human mind, I'd like to be sure that we're taking all of the precautions we can to ensure the secrecy of this investigation until we know more," Tricia explained to them.

Once again, there was a silence in the room as those present contemplated the repercussions of such a possibility.

"Anything else you'd care to get off of your chest?" asked Detective Micks.

"That's it. That's the bulk of it. We'll be having one of these meetings every week until we catch the Chameleon, and wrap up the robbery, Forseth and Dupree's respective cases. Thank you for your time," Tricia replied.

The room cleared as Farnham shook hands with a couple of his peers. He then made his way over to Tricia and Halmand.

"So what now? Our robbery suspects are all in the morgue along with our weekend Rambo Forseth. Dupree too," asked Farnham.

"I was hoping you'd ask. It seems Forseth was being as careful about this as we are. Now," Tricia informed Farnham.

"Are you gonna keep me in the dark?" Farnham asked.

Tricia fished a stack of photocopies from her jacket pocket and handed them to Farnham.

He started reading. After a couple of lines he realized whose it was.

"When did he write this?" Farnham asked, recognizing details related to Forseth.

"He started sometime after his divorce. He got about a third of the way through it and put it aside. When he was arrested during the robbery, it was with his belongings. I checked with the quartermaster. He says Forseth requested it, so they gave it to him. He'd been writing up until the point of his death. There's a lot more. The part I gave you is related to something I want you to check out," Tricia informed Farnham.

"So I take it you're showing this to me, because you want to work with me on this?" asked Farnham.

"You're working with us on it. We need you to speak with Johnny Benacelli about Forseth. The details are in those photocopies. If we approach him, it will make him and a lot of other people very nervous. As things stand right now, we need their cooperation on this" Tricia told Farnham.

"Why?" asked Farnham.

"There's a connection between Forseth and the Chameleon case, and it was you that uncovered the fact that Lamar had been operating as a gun runner for Torman's outfit. A fact that eluded detection for eight years despite having been directly under the magnifying glass several times during that span," Tricia revealed secrets she'd been keeping close.

"You saved that tidbit for me? You are a crafty one, aren't you? Where are you and Halmand off to?" Farnham pocketed the photocopies Tricia had given him.

"We've got a date with Helmut Werner. Forseth's employer. My phone's on if you need me," Tricia flashed her phone and then pocketed it as she made her way to the underground parking.

"Say hi to Johnny and his dirty rats for me," Halmand said, doing his best James Cagney imitation.

"At least I get the interest ones," Farnham said as he wrote a few notes.

"Hold that elevator!" Farnham pocketed his notepad and made his way to catch up with Halmand and Tricia.

Morning Coffee

Trey sat at a table at the local Café, two mugs in front of him and a tablet computer in his hands. He took a sip from one of the mugs as he browsed the morning news. Since Valerie had contacted him the night before, he'd been worried sick about her. The news was covered with sensational stories about the sightings of the Angel Of Light and about another woman who'd tipped a Police cruiser over with nothing but her bare hands. Numerous video posts showing both of the women in action could be found on news and video sites across the digital headlines though by and large were the stories of the Chameleon.

All of the stories were captioned with the composite rendering the Police had released of the suspect. It detailed a man between 6 and 6 foot 2 inches tall, in his mid to early thirties with severe adolescent acne scars. The composites also detailed that he had several tattoos on his body, possibly of a serpent or dragon. Trey examined the composite carefully, so as to memorize it with his photographer's eyes.

"Sorry I'm late!" Valerie walked briskly into the Café, a night bag in slung across her shoulders and her face absent of makeup.

She leaned in and kissed him on his lips. He pursued her for a more thorough kiss and she yielded.

"Does he make better breakfast than me?" asked Trey, smiling playfully and gesturing to her overnight bag.

"You mean she. I stayed at Heylyn's condo last night. It was pretty late when we got back from dropping Kori and her at the airport," Valerie backed up into her chair and sat.

She then grabbed her mug and took a sip of her coffee.

"Perfect. Still warm too," she smiled at him.

"They got their flight safely I gather?" Trey asked her.

"They sure did. To tell you the truth I think it will be a good thing for her to take a little break," Valerie glanced briefly to Trey's tablet, the headlines still obvious from her vantage point.

"I have to be honest. With the Chameleon and all... I was worried sick about you," Trey admitted, leaning in closer to her.

"Well I'm here now, and early enough for us to have our morning coffee together," her foot found its way to his under the table.

"So are you good for tonight? I have all the fixings for awesome Mushroom Soya Burgers and a side of Chipotle chicken fingers," Trey reminded her of their plans.

"I might have to work on something tonight with Monique..." Valerie started.

"I thought Heylyn was leaving you in charge?" asked Trey.

"Well, technically speaking I have the final say if we can't contact Heylyn, but Monique figured that it would be best to have the department heads help me with that responsibility. So she's going to go over some of the finer details related to how they do things in the various departments," Valerie tried her best to tell a half lie to her lover.

"That makes sense. Well, I guess you could let me know before I leave today?" Trey asked her.

"Absolutely, and that doesn't mean that we can't do tomorrow what we couldn't do today," she said seductively to him.

"Why not every day?" Trey asked her, his hand finding hers on the table.

"Why don't we cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's take it carefully for now. At least until Heylyn gets back?" Valerie suggested.

"I think I can wait three days," Trey ran his finger along the top of her hand.

"Three nights, two days. Technically speaking," Valerie corrected him.

"I'll take that. That's one day less," Trey agreed.

"Why don't we go to work and park in the back? I only need fifteen minutes to put my makeup on. That leaves us a whole forty five minutes alone," Valerie suggested to him, again pouring on the seduction.

"You want to park? With moi? I'm in!" Trey replied, grabbing his tablet and their coffees.

Valerie remained silent for most of the trip, thinking about the fact that she'd had to lie to someone with whom she was trying to build a relationship. She instantly thought about Torman and all the times he'd lied to her. All the ways he'd manipulated her to keep his little secret.

She considered that despite her best effort, she was headed down the same road with Trey. She knew that every lie she was forced to tell in order to keep her secret, that she'd be condemning herself ultimately to a life alone, breaking the hearts of those she loved along the way. 

Trey was not a passing ship in the night. He was the voyage itself for her. Sooner or later she knew that no matter how dangerous it might be, she would eventually have to let him in on her secret. On Monique's secret. On Heylyn's secret.

They made their way out to Trey's car. Then they drove to the back parking of West Meet East International and then they parked. 

For forty five minutes.

A Worthy Cause

Norler opened his car and clicked his keychain to lock it, he checked his hands and noticed that he wasn't carrying his attache case.

"Dang!" he blurted out, clicking his keychain once again to unlock his door.

He opened the driver's door, retrieved his case and closed and locked the door again, arming the alarm in the process. He then made his way over and into the lorise building and lobby elevators.

Alicia sat at her desk, going over some of the details to one of their latest potential investments when Norler walked in the door, making his way to her side to give her a gentle kiss on the head.

"How as your day at the office?" she stood and gave him a passionate kiss.

"It went well overall, but there were a few challenges. Tynan shares dropped a notch or two, but it was expected given a supply chain hiccup. Hopefully in the next day or two that situation will be resolved. You're here early. Everything alright?" Norler asked her.

"Still waiting for a round a tests back at the lab. They won't be finished for at least another thirty six hours, so I thought I'd make good use of my time here," Alicia told Norler as she sat back at her desk.

"Now that I've got you here all to my self, could I ask you something?" Alicia asked Norler as she examined a spreadsheet on her screen.

"Sure. What is it?" Norler responded, looking over her shoulder at the screen.

"Alright. The recipient name column is easy enough to figure out. So is the recipient code," Alicia started.

"The recipient code is just a numeric link to the same record in the database," Norler explained.

"Right. I got that. What I need to know is, what are the Class and Type columns for?" asked Alicia.

"Good question. We have two of each class and type. One each for projected, the other for approved. Class is an alpha-numeric based code that refers to the range of the investment. A equals hundreds of dollars. B equals thousands. C equals tens of thousands and so on. Any numbers that appear after the letter are multiplied by that level. So for instance, C12 would equal twelve thousand dollars, and E3 would equal three million dollars," Norler began to explain their coding system.

"So projected would mean the amount estimated for that cause?" asked Alicia.

"Exactly, while the approved amount would mean what was actually dispersed to them," Norler clarified the distinction.

"Alright, I've got that. So what about type?" asked Alicia.

"Type refers to the kind of bursary it is. For instance, if we're giving money to someone so they can afford the survival costs while receiving a debilitating treatment, such as Cancer chemotherapy for types of Cancer for which the SY349 can't be used as an option. That would be money to cover their rent/mortgage, living expenses and caregivers, etc, we would typify that as TLC for treatment living costs. In the case that someone needs to receive a specialized treatment outside of the country, we typify that as TOC for treatment out of country, which would include their traveling expenses, living expenses while there, and the cost of the procedure. When we're giving a bursary to someone struggling to get a business off the ground, an artistic project with potential or that is innovating some way that is beyond their financial means to support, we would call that an EIB for entrepreneurial investment bursary. The last one is the LWB which stands for the last wishes bursary. If a young person has a terminal illness, we try to come up with something that serves as the fulfilling of one of their wishes, maybe a trip to a famous resort. A meeting with a famous actor they idolize. Like a bucket list for terminally ill young people. Everything we do tends to fall into one of those four categories," Norler told her.

"Great. That really clears up a lot. What about this column then?" asked Alicia pointing to her screen.

"That's the AAF or the active assessment funding. That's how much we spent confirming the recipient's need. So for instance, when we're evaluating someone, say someone who is seeking TLC, we might send a private investigator to evaluate their situation and their potential need. Generally, the EIBs cost the most to evaluate, and they often involve the most fraudalent attempts to attain a bursary to which they wouldn't otherwise be entitled according to our policy, but many of our success stories involve EIBs. In one sense, your lab is the result of an EIB. We actually evaluated your company through Noble Group initially, and then made the decision to purchase your company through Tynan And Associates, hence giving you the capital you needed to produce the SY349," Norler explained to her.

"So what would I need to do if I wanted to evaluate a recipient myself?" asked Alicia.

"Technically you'd have a pretty difficult time. The private investigators we hire have a variety of licenses, so they have access to information that most other people simply aren't licensed for. That would be one hurdle for you. Not to mention, the investigators we use often have contacts in law enforcement and that can help in situations where there's a potential risk element involved. Especially with fraud," Norler told her.

"So how was it that I verified the one we finalized yesterday?" asked Alicia.

"We lucked out on that one in the sense that all of the verification process was possible over the phone and computer. But it took someone smart as a whip like yourself to know the right questions to ask," Norler pointed out.

"I want to work on some of these EIBs then. If that was the birth place of the SY349 in terms of our financing and Tynan's purchase of the lab, then that's how I want to pay things forward. I want to find and approve a few EIBs," Alicia volunteered herself.

"I'm not saying that you can't do it... Wait. You know what? Why not? I'm hiring an investigator tomorrow to do one of the EIBs on your list there, and that process generally takes a day or two. I'll ask him if you can accompany him and he'll show you the ropes," Norler promised Alicia, who stood and kissed him promptly on the lips.

"I'm so looking forward to this. I don't think I could handle being inside the office all day making calls from here. I'd like to do this in person. Out in the field as they say," Alicia wrapped her arms around him again and gave him another peck.

"Alright. I'll be your inside man here. If you need any help while your out and about, you just call me. That doesn't mean though that you can't help me with the phone interviews we initially do. As a matter of fact, there's a handful here," Norler leaned over and used her mouse to bring up another list of potential recipients pending interviews.

"O-K. I'll get started on that right now," Alicia said, both hestitantly and enthusiastically as she sat back down at her desk and dialled the first number.

Eyes On The Inside

Monique picked up her pace in the morning sun as she approached West Meet East International. A pair of sunglasses were perched on her head while she carried her portfolio case in her hand. She walked in through the front door and greeted Helen on her way through reception.

"Good morning, Monique. Its looking like a nice day out there. A tragedy about the Chameleon," Helen greeted Monique as she approaced the front desk.

"Good morning, Helen. I know. It makes you feel so helpless," Monique responded carefully.

"I take it Heylyn and Kori got to their flight safely," Helen asked.

"They sure did, but I have to admit I'm still kind of envious. I love to travel. Are there any messages?" Monique asked.

"There's one from Amibello Cosmetics. They're rescheduling their photoshoot this week to Friday. The details are on the company schedule," Helen told Monique, who nodded with a tightlipped smile on her face.

"Thanks," Monique turned and headed into the offices as Helen addressed her one last time.

"No coffee today?" she asked.

"I didn't have time. I'll get one in the lunch room," Monique responded as she picked up her pace.

"Morning Monique! Looking good!" Lisa said as she made her way in the opposite direction.

"Morning. Thanks. You too," Monique said in a chipper voice.

As she approached the modeling department, she passed Trey in the hall.

"Nice lipstick buddy. Don't worry, I won't tell Valerie," Monique remarked, drawing a laugh from him.

"I thought you'd recognize her brand," Trey said as he wiped his face.

"You shouldn't kiss and tell... Besides, I'll get all the details from Valerie," Monique waved her index finger in the air as she continued walking.

She dropped her portfolio, her purse and her sunglasses at her desk before pulling her tablet computer and immediately made her way to the Makeup and Styling department. As she walked she used her tablet to pull up the company schedule, from where she searched Amibello, which was part of the most recently used list of contextual items seeing as there had been changes to the schedule involving that company. She clicked on the Amibello text and was quickly given a list of all recent activity related to their company. She found the entry for the scheduling change, clicked on it and was given the full details, such as the new time and the studio in which the shoot would be held.

"Look at that. They're bringing the cosmetics with them," Monique remarked, recognizing that would likely cause some grief to Fay and Sienna.

She went directly to the makeup and styling department to address the changes. When she got to the door she quickly saw that the change room wasn't being used and entered, politely tapping first out of habit.

"Good morning, Monique. What can I do for you?" asked Fay who was currently going through the cosmetics inventory with her tablet in hand.

"I just wanted to follow up about the rescheduling of Amibello," Monique told Fay.

"Yes. I saw that. We should be fine with that. They're bringing the products they're focusing on with them for this shoot, which kinda sucks because Sienna and I won't get a chance to do our colours analysis," Fay told Monique who considered Fay's point.

"I'll call them and have a courier pick-up those items today if you'd like?" Monique suggested, loving the opportunity to solve a problem.

"Would you? That would be great! That takes a weight off of our shoulders, not to mention its much better for the client as well..." Fay explained.

"I understand. The shoot won't be delayed while you figure out the correct colours to go with the product because you'll have access to the product and the model a couple days in advance," Monique empathized having worked as a model at WME for years.

"Thanks. Its the small things that can sometimes make the biggest difference," Fay agreed with Monique.

"Where's Sienna?" asked Monique.

"She's in the lunch room having her morning coffee," Fay responded.

"Great. I'll let her know. I'm on my way there myself. Au revoir!" Monique waved as she left.

Sienna sat in a chair in the lunch room by herself, sipping her coffee as she read the morning news on her tablet. Every so often, she'd stop and take a look around the room before returning to her morning reading. The morning crowd had nearly filled the lunch room as they attempted to get their coffee in before 9 AM. Most people who knew her from West Meet East knew that she liked to do her morning thing alone. So they respected her wishes and most people would simply wave or nod to her in the morning. She sat there as she had many mornings before doing essentially the same thing. Catching up on the news and enjoying her morning coffee. From her perspective everything seemed perfectly natural but in all truth it was far from that.

She'd unknowingly become the host to the scouting forces of an invasion of which few if any were aware. As she conducted her business as usual, a multitude of different people were utilizing her senses as their own. They were looking out into her world through her eyes. They were listening to her world through her ears. When she had a thought or recalled a memory, those same people would perceive it through her mind's eye. Her life and the lives of just about everyone around her had become an open book. They were simply the spies sent in via a trojan horse of the human body and mind, and they would hide in the most trusted and least suspected of their prey.

Since Sienna had started to experience the side effects of their long and arduous effort to overtake her sensory perception, they'd withdrawn considerably. She'd first complained of her headaches and a ringing in her ears to Fay, who'd suggested she get diagnosed for tinnitus. Sienna had initially put off the idea of going to her Doctor for such a superfluous irritation. When she'd had a monstrous headache accompanied by a night of hearing the same ringing in her ears accompanied by voices, she quickly scheduled an emergency meeting with her Doctor the next morning.

She'd gone over Sienna from head to toe and assured her that she was perfectly healthy. Her Doctor suggested the use of mild pain killer such as acetaminophen for the headaches, and a mild anti-psychotic to deal with the ringing and voices in her ears. She agreed and accepted the prescription, thanking the Doctor for her time. She picked up both the acetaminophen and the prescription in the pharmacy at the same location.

Ironically, when she'd left the pharmacy, she started to notice that people began making hidden comments to her as she passed them on her way to the subway.

"Shouldn't take those pills. Its not natural," one commented to her in passing.

"If she starts taking those she'll be in the looney bin in no time," another woman remarked in passing Sienna.

"...I heard about one girl who overdosed on those..." another person commented as they passed her.

As she found her way to the subway line, she found herself quickly approaching a high degree anxiety. She found a seat at the back of the train and hid herself away in the nearly empty car. Towards the center of the same car, a man in weather and wash worn clothing kept looking to her and then looking away.

He stood up and then began walking directly toward her, keeping his eyes fixated on her. As he stopped in front of her, she panicked:

"I don't have any money!" she yelled at him, on the brink of a panic attack.

"Ma'am. Do you have any extra pills?" he asked her, one of his eyes looking in a completely different direction from her.

"No! Just leave me alone!" she screamed at him, looking to the emergency strip on the train as if ready to leap for it.

"Those pills are going to take you away from the path of the righteous..." he said as he turned away from her and returned to the exact same seat upon which he'd been sitting in a nearly empty train.

Then, the voices began. They were quiet at first but quickly grew to fill her ears, sounding like the roar of a crowd. She ripped a hole in the bag and quickly opened first the bottle of acetominophen, and then the anti-psychotic, careful to heed the correct dosage. She took the pills and put them in her mouth, crunching on them like bitter candy. She then swallowed as best she could, even popping a stale mint from her purse into her mouth in attempt to wash the taste away.

For the rest of the train ride, she closed her eyes and did her best to ignore the voices. As the medication slowly took effect, the voices didn't subside, but her body's response to the stress of anxiety was greatly relieved. She had no idea but she'd fought the first battle against the forces that would see her used as a preliminary tool to their takeover of West Meet East International.

Since that morning, she'd recovered considerably as the voices hadn't returned with such fervor and force again after that. Nor had she been confronted innocuously or in any other means on the street or anywhere else.

What had actually occurred was that those responsible had merely withdrawn to the point of obscurity to protect their scheme, while their figurehead formulated a plan. That figurehead was Jack Warren.

In all of the victims they'd preyed upon throughout the years, Sienna had been the first who'd become tuned to the side effects so quickly, and that had caught them off guard. Usually, their process was a long one, taking months if not years, though Jack operated under the assumption that time was of the essence in Sienna's case. If they were going to deal with the greatest threat to their existence, it would require their taking down West Meet East International. For they'd already waged their secret war on many other fronts.

So Sienna sat quietly in the lunchroom while her stowaways listened in on every conversation around her collecting the information they'd need for their eventual hostile takeover.

"Good morning, Sienna! How are you?" Monique approached from the coffee counter with a coffee in hand.

"Monique!? Good morning. Why don't you have your coffee with me?" Sienna invited her coworker and friend.

"Perfect timing because there was something I had to discuss with you regarding the scheduling of the Amibello photo shoot," Monique began.

From within Sienna, a multitude of eyes and ears observed as one of their greatest threats sat before them, unbeknownst to any of them.

However Jack, seeing through Sienna's eyes, immediately knew who she was. Both Monique Defleur and what the press had called the Angel of Light: The notorious and mysterious Eclipse.

Good Things Come In Small Packages

Kori's eyes fluttered as she clung to her night's dreams. Her first slow dance with a boy, and then that same night, her first kiss. Her memories played back in the context of her dreams before the earthquake hit that would be Heylyn Yates shaking her bed.

"Hello sleepy head? Its time to get up," Heylyn stopped shaking Kori's bed and made her way over to her kit.

"We barely went to bed. Let me sleep another hour at least," Kori replied, pulling the pillow over her head.

"We have a busy day ahead of us and besides that, you've had five hours of sleep already. Enough for a busy day," Heylyn pulled her clothing from her kit and prepared for her day.

"Where have you been?" asked Kori.

"I've been out for a jog and a swim already and I'm alright. You're almost ten years my junior and you're complaining about not having had enough sleep?" Heylyn reminded Kori.

"I bet you didn't wake me up just so you could say that to me now, after you did both of those things without me," Kori tightened the pillow around her head some more.

"I did try to wake you up, don't you remember? You said: nnnnrnnngnngh! and something else about a high school dance and then went back to sleep," Heylyn responded.

"Oh yeah I forgot. Look, you slept for most of the flight. No wonder you have so much energy," Kori pulled the pillow tighter over her head.

"And I encouraged you to do the same, but you wanted to watch movies..." Heylyn reminded her.

"How could I turn down that opportunity? I haven't binged flicks in at least two months," Kori responded.

"Poor you. Come on, I need you today. You're my guide to Seoul. We can be Heart and Seoul," Heylyn urged Kori as she setup her purse kit in front of a small mirror and began doing her makeup.

"Let me take a shower and get cleaned up first," Kori said, getting out of bed and making her way to the bathroom.

"I'm done with the bathroom. Its all yours," Heylyn responded as she finished applying her foundation.

"I thought we were going to pickup Warai?" Kori popped her head out of the bathroom.

"We're doing that first. Then we're going to do some sight seeing. You know, to get to know each other," Heylyn told her.

"You don't leave anything to chance, do you?" asked Kori.

"No. Yes. Sometimes. But no, generally," Heylyn replied confusingly.

"You're dealing with a little girl. You've gotta leave some things off the itinerary so there's a little adventure, you know?" Kori responded as she ran the water and rinsed her face.

"You're in your mid-twenties Kori, besides being a little short, you don't qualify as a little girl any more," Heylyn replied.

"Ha ha!" Kori responded abruptly, laughing a bit before she jumped into the shower.


Heylyn and Kori found their way to the front lobby of the hotel where Heylyn arranged for a rental car. A few minutes later and Heylyn had the keys in her hands.

"A driver will bring it to the front door for you, Miss Yates," the desk clerk smiled for Heylyn, pointing the way to the front doors.

"Thank you... I mean... gomabseubnida," Heylyn responded, and the clerk smiled back at her.

"Dangsin-eun mueosboda hwan-yeonghabnida," the clerk responded.

"Maybe your Korean isn't as rusty as you think?" Kori assured Heylyn, who tossed the keys to Kori.

"Let's hope its the same deal with your driving," Heylyn replied.

"I thought I told you? I don't drive," Kori seemed suddenly smitten with stage fright.

"That's not what it says on your resume, young lady," Heylyn recalled that detail from when Kori had applied for the job at West Meet East.

"Alright. I do have a driver's licence, but I don't drive. I haven't bought a car yet," Kori admitted to Heylyn.

"I'm handing you the keys to the rest of your life. Do you want to be a passenger or a driver?" asked Heylyn.

"Does that mean that you're going to a be my passenger for the rest of my life?" asked Kori, with a smug smile on her face.

"Don't push your luck. Now drive!" Heylyn smiled back with equal smugness.

Kori accepted the keys and they thanked the driver who'd brought them the luxurious car.

"This looks expensive. I don't know if this is such a good idea," Kori told Heylyn.

"So you'd prefer that I crash it? Consider this a risk you're taking for yourself. I trust you. Maybe the only person that doesn't trust you is you," Heylyn asked her.

"Here's goes," Kori put the keys in the ignition and started the car.

The electric engine hummed to life quietly beneath the hood.

"Where are we going?" asked Kori.

"Good question. We'll never arrive to any destination when we don't have one, will we?" Heylyn pulled her phone and scrolled through her contact list.

"We're going to the Seoul Government District. Let me plug the address into the GPS for you..." Heylyn did her best to navigate the GPS menus before Kori got frustrated and did it for her.

"There. All done. Let's hope I can remember forward from backward," Kori put the car in gear and pressed the accelerator.

The car began to move forward as Kori pulled the car out of the pickup area and along the driveway out onto one of the main roads.

"This handles way differently than the car I did my driver's test in eight years ago. Much better, not to mention its a bit too comfortable if you know what I mean?" Kori explained to Heylyn.

"I trust you," Heylyn responded as the car closed in very rapidly on another car stopped ahead of them.

Heylyn closed her eyes as they quickly approached the rear end of the other car.

The car suddenly emitted a few chirps and engaged the brakes itself.

"Neat. Exactly as I thought. It has a collision avoidance system. I was just checking," Kori assured Heylyn.

"What would you have done if it didn't?!" Heylyn scolded Kori.

"I thought you trusted me?" Kori smiled smugly at Heylyn.

"Trust-ed as in the vernacular of trust. Get us safely there and we're good again," Heylyn said nervously.

Kori did well for the rest of the drive and after fifteen minutes of driving through downtown Seoul, they'd pulled into a large parking lot outside of the Korean Government Offices. The license plate camera snapped a picture of the plates on the rental vehicle as they drove through a queuing point. It stored the plate number, along with the date and time their vehicle entered the lot.

"I see one there!" Kori responded, accelerating the car as she began navigating the lot towards the parking space.

"There's one right by the entrance there," Heylyn told Kori, having used her unique abilities to see the entire parking lot from the perspective of the field.

"How'd you see that one?" Kori asked in amazement as they approached the spot Heylyn had referred to.

"I saw it as we were pulling in. The driver was just leaving," Heylyn bluffed.

"Alright, let me try backing it in now, because I'd rather not have to back out into the parking lot traffic," Kori suggested.

"Good thinking, but you're the driver. It's your call," Heylyn sat firmly in her seat.

By the time Heylyn had finished speaking, she was already lined up. She put the car in reverse and backed it into the spot with distance to spare on either side.

"Well done. I'm impressed," Heylyn said as Kori pulled the keys and opened her door.

"I guess its coming back to me. It's a little like riding a bicycle. You may not do it for years, but its something you never forget how to do," Kori responded.

"That's the attitude, though don't be fooled. You're more likely to be distracted by your successes than you are your failures. So be aware," Heylyn advised her, drawing from her own personal experience.

Heylyn led the way into the revolving front doors of the building. They quickly found a directory and looked up the Ministry Of Health And Welfare. When they'd gotten their bearings in the building, they headed over to the elevators and took them up to the twelfth floor. When they exited the elevators, they quickly found the only door, as the Ministry took up the entire floor.

They stood in the reception area for a short period of time, both of them looking around trying to see if they were at the right desk when a lady in her early thirties and a man in his mid forties approached them. Heylyn was delighted to see their familiar faces.

"Professor Iseul?" with a bow, she greeted the Professor she'd once met during the Western Delegation's trip to Seoul.

"Good to see you again Heylyn. You remember Hye Sung Ki?" the Professor asked Heylyn, politely bowing for her.

"How could I forget? Bryce even serenaded you. You're the Nursing Specialist, correct?" Heylyn asked Hye as they bowed for one another.

"Not any more. I'm no longer working as a Nurse," she said feigning disappointment.

"Hye received her Doctorate two weeks ago. She's now a full MD," the Professor announced.

"Congratulations!" Heylyn bowed again for her.

"We're very proud of her at the hospital," Professor Iseul looked to Hye and smiled.

"For her graduation, we even tried to contact Bryce to get the music transcription for the song he sang to her, but he wasn't available at University of Windsor," Professor Iseul told Heylyn.

"That's because he recently retired. He'd been working for MindSpice on a big project, which apparently was a big success. Him and Zheng, you remember her? The Mathematician? Well last I heard from Alicia (Doctor Westin) was that MindSpice shut down the project and that Bryce had decided to retire, amicably," Heylyn explained.

"How is Doctor Westin?" asked Hye.

"Oh, she's fine. Her and Norler are doing well last I heard, though to be quite honest, her and I haven't spoke in a few months now. We've both been so busy," Heylyn told Hye and Professor Iseul.

"And Zheng? Are her and Doctor Briggs doing well?" asked Professor Iseul.

"Last I heard they're still happy together, though its been months as well," Heylyn explained to them.

"And who is your friend here?" asked Professor Iseul.

"How rude of me. This is Kori Jonglyu, the Production and Photoshoot Coordinator for West Meet East International. Without Kori, none of our photo work would make it to the fashion magazines or the marketing companies we deal with. She really is an imperative part of our operation, and a big part of the reason we're doing so well," Heylyn introduced Kori, who bowed both for Professor Iseul and Doctor Sung Ki.

"So pleased to meet you. You know, I heard about the delegation's trip so often since their having returned. It really is a pleasure to finally be able to put faces to the stories," Kori flashed her dazzling smile at them.

"This is so much of a coincidence. I'm curious, how is it that you're here at the same time as Heylyn?" asked Kori.

"I called them before we flew here and arranged to have them meet us this morning," Heylyn told Kori.

It all suddenly made sense as to why Heylyn had pressed Kori to get up earlier in the morning.

"We're here now, and I've spoken with the Minister Of Health And Welfare herself on the issue. Apparently she's sent a recommendation, citing Hye and myself as character witnesses for you to the person we're about to meet. If everything goes well, there's a good chance you'll be approved today," Professor Iseul told Heylyn.

"And what if it doesn't?" asked Heylyn, a little concerned with the possibility.

"...then your application will end up in the appeal process, which can take up to ninety days, at which point you'll be required to speak before a tribunal," Professor Iseul explained the process.

"Can I bring you or Hye if we reach that point?" asked Heylyn.

"No, I'm afraid not. A representative familiar with your application will be appointed for you. They'll be present at the tribunal," Professor Iseul explained.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's focus on the other outcome, but prepare for this one," Heylyn suggested.

"That's the attitude that will help you most here, and that's the attitude of the woman I remember from the delegation," Hye smiled at Heylyn.

"You'll need to check-in at the reception desk," Professor Iseul directed Heylyn to the right place.

Heylyn quickly made her way over to the desk and shared her information. The receptionist gave Heylyn a number and asked her to wait in the seating provided.

The four of them took their seats, and within ten minutes their number was called. The four of them went to the appropriate Child Welfare office and took their seats on the other side of a large desk behind which an older woman sat. She scrutinized them carefully as they sat down.

"You're all together?" asked the lady.

"Yes, we are... Mrs. Cheong. I'm the applicant, Heylyn Yates, and these are my character witnesses," Heylyn responded, quickly taking note of the name plate on her desk.

Mrs. Cheong carefully read the cover letter of Heylyn's file on her computer screen. It says here that you come with high recommendations as a member of your community with good standing, not to mention your prospects as a good role model. From the Minister Of Health and Welfare herself. I should let you know that though such a recommendation does help, it will not sway our decision in the event that we find you unfit for the role in a child's life for which you're applying. You aren't buying a car, or adopting a pet. This is a young woman's life and livelihood that you're taking into your hands," Mrs. Cheong explained to Heylyn.

"I am fully aware of that fact, Mrs. Cheong. Please, I'd ask that you don't patronize me or my peers here. I won't accept that attitude being directed at anyone in my care, including my own daughter," Heylyn looked her squarely in the eyes as she spoke.

"Very well Miss Yates. As long as you understand. Now, how long have your character witnesses known you?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"We've known Miss Yates indirectly for eight years, professionally through mutual contacts and directly for three years, since the initial planning stages of the Korean representation for the Asian Alliance in our meeting with our western counterparts" Professor Iseul explained.

"You can confirm this...?" Mrs. Cheong addressed Hye.

"Doctor Hye Sung Ki. Yes I can and do," Hye responded confidently and firmly.

"And you are?" Mrs. Cheong looked to Kori.

"I'm Kori Jonglyu, an employee working for Hey... for West Meet East International. Miss Yates' own company," Kori represented Heylyn as best she could.

"How long have you known Miss Yates?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"I've known her for six years. In fact, I can still remember the day she hired me like it was yesterday. The interview. Everything," Kori looked at Mrs. Cheong, hoping to see a shred of humanity in her eyes.

"Your comments are noted. That will be all, Miss Jonglyu," Mrs. Cheong cut Kori off mid sentence.

"No! That won't be all and you can't speak to my employer like that, because this woman has practically been a mother to me since taking me under her wing! If every one of her employees were here today, they'd in all likelihood say the same thing!" Kori addressed Mrs. Cheong courageously but out of turn.

"Enough Miss Jong..." Mrs. Cheong looked scathingly at Kori.

"Without her guidance, I'd probably back down rather than deal with people like you. I'd know my place by society's hidden acumen. I'd know my place as a woman by the same hidden social restraints you mistake for etiquette. When I needed to step forward and speak up, I'd probably sit down and stay quiet, while when I needed to sit down and stay quiet, I'd probably stand up and speak out. Heylyn has helped me to find me, in this mess we call society, and if that isn't a good mother in your eyes, then I don't think you're the right person for the job," Kori folded her arms having spoken.

Out of the corner of Heylyn's eye, a tear began to bead as it gained the weight to break free of her eye lashes.

"And you are gainfully employed I see Miss Yates?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"I am. I'm a business owner and have been ever since having graduated from design school," Heylyn told Mrs. Cheong.

"Her company is an internationally reknowned success by the way..." Doctor Sung Ki spoke up.

"I am quite aware of that, Doctor Sung Ki," Mrs. Cheong assured Hye hastily.

"Alright, Miss Yates. I'm going to ask you some questions, and you will answer me strictly with a yes - or a no. Do not attempt to justify your answers or you will be penalized for that question. Do you understand?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"I understand. When you're ready," Heylyn replied confidently.

"First question. You've prepared a dinner for you and your family. You all eat the main entree except your child, who refrains from eating at all. When you place dessert on the table for the rest of your family, do you give a helping to your child?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"Yes," Heylyn responded.

"Question two. Your child has finished their dinner and wants to spend their free time playing, though you're aware that they have a homework assignment due the following day. Do you allow them to play?" asked Mrs. Cheong, seemingly absent of emotion.

"No," Heylyn responded.

"Question three. Its a weeknight and one of your adolescent child's friends arrives to pick them up in a car, having just gotten their driver's license. When you meet the friend, you smell cigarette smoke on them. Do you allow your adolescent child to accompany their friend?" Mrs. Cheong read the question aloud for Heylyn.

"Yes," Heylyn responded.

"Question four. You're at a crowded amusement park with your young child. You have a large stuffed animal that they won at a confection stand. You are both hungry and want to eat, but the line-up at the restaurant stand is very crowded. You suddenly see an opening that if you ran for it, you could get your meal right away, however it would require you leaving your child where they were to wait for you. Do you run for the food?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn responded.

"Question five. You're at the same amusement park with the same child. In a passing crowd, you and your child somehow become separated. Do you go looking for them?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn answered after thinking about the answer for a moment.

"Question six. You're having dinner and drinks with some friends you've invited to your home from work. Its early in the evening and your adolescent child who is under the age of majority asks if they can join you in having an alcoholic beverage. Do you allow them to?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn replied almost immediately.

"Question seven. You are having an evening social event at your workplace, though you forgot that you promised your child that you'd attend their school musical performance. Do you attend their school musical performance instead?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"Yes," Heylyn responded.

"Question eight. You have scheduled a family movie night at home, but the only movies playing are all 18+ restricted, while your child is only 14. Do you watch the restricted movies?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn answered.

"Question nine. You are getting ready to drive your nine year old child to the Doctor's. Your child has gotten in the car but says their seatbelt isn't working. Do you drive anyway?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn responded.

"Question ten. Your young teenaged daughter comes home from school early, complaining of headaches and soreness in her body, while she also explains that she's bleeding from her vagina. Do you send her back to school?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No," Heylyn answered.

"Question eleven. Your son and some of his friends come home one night with a car you've never seen. Later the next day, you see a sign posted in your community picturing the same car and license plate claiming it to be stolen, asking that you call the Police if you've seen the car. Do you call the Police?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"Yes," replied Heylyn.

"Question twelve, the last question. Your sixteen year old daughter is out on a date with a student friend of hers who picked her up in a car at 8 PM. They promised to return before midnight, but it is now 3 AM and you've still heard nothing from her. When you call her phone, there's no answer and she hasn't returned your messages. Do you call the Police?" Mrs. Cheong asked.

"Yes," Heylyn replied, sighing after having answered the question.

"What is your relationship to the adoptee?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"I'm related through a second Aunt on my Mother's side. Her name is Young-Suh Jeong-Min" Heylyn recalled the name.

"You are or were a Republic Of Korea National?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"No. My family and I are former Chinese Nationals. We emigrated from China to Canada in the 1990s when I was a young girl. My second Aunt removed on my Mother's side married a Korean man, hence her last name. His family is directly related to Warai, the adoptee," Heylyn explained.

"And the reason you give for making this request is to provide Warai with a safe home, a solid foundation and loving family life from which to build her future in my home country of Canada, while retaining her cultural heritage and ties to South East Asia? Am I correct?" confirmed Mrs. Cheong.

"Yes, that is correct," Heylyn responded, conceiling her impatience with the clarifications.

She reasoned that Mrs. Cheong might be trying to push her to the point of losing her cool. After all, it was her job to ensure that these children ended up in a safe home, and as importantly, the right home. Evaluation must include so many other aspects other than answering a few multiple choice questions correctly. However, Heylyn did not have to agree with it. She only had to see fit that she represented herself and her interests fairly enough so that a decision could be made. She set her compass in the direction of the best possible outcome, trying her best to keep herself on course.

"What do you expect to have in common with the adoptee?" asked Mrs. Cheong.

"We're both women. I was a little girl at one time, and she'll grow up to become a successful woman. I think we both already have much in common, but I can't wait to get to know her," Heylyn responded to Mrs. Cheong question, though intuitively more so than out of reaction.

"Once again, Miss Yates, I remind you that she's a child. A little girl. A young mind at the starting gates of life. She's not a trinket you can acquire just to quicken your energy and to feel the rush of young blood through your veins, discarding her when she interferes in your affairs," Mrs. Cheong stood boldly on her guard.

"If I in any way have given you that impression, then your final decision will reflect that accurately and justly. I do know this, that when my mother had me, she didn't have to fill out an application and answer twenty multiple choice questions about how she'd raise a little tyke like me, and yet I stand before you now, the woman that I am. By implication I'd assume that you're trying to say I'd do worse. Much worse, based upon the answers to a few questions. If you intend to block my application today, then so be it. I'm a busy woman who is trying to bring a young life into her's, and I've got things to do in order to deal with that possibility, because yes, I will appeal for as long as it takes to win the approval of your office! Good day Mrs. Cheong," Heylyn responded, standing from her chair ready to leave.

Mrs. Cheong looked shrewdly at Heylyn, as the tension built up in her. Her tension suddenly ceased and a smile crept across her pursed lips.

"Miss Yates. I hereby grant you your rightful answer to this application," Mrs. Cheong's face seemed to harbour both a smirk and smile simultaneously as she reached for a stamp.

She dipped it a number of times into what appeared to be a cinnebar ink well, before slamming it down on to one of the forms before her.

"Approved," Mrs. Cheong said, stamping the form with the seal of her office.

"Yeeaaaay!" Kori jumped out of her seat, jumping up and down excitedly and then throwing her arms around Heylyn.

Doctor Sung Ki and Professor Iseul enjoyed a friendly hug between them as well.

"Thank you, and good day to you Miss Yates. It was a pleasure meeting you and your associates," Mrs. Cheong smiled for them, handing the stamped form to Heylyn.

They left the office, closing the door behind them, their faces full of smiles.

"Hye, Areum? Thank you so much for doing this for me. Any time you need a favour or help with something, please I urge you to call me first. And even if you don't need help, but just someone to talk to, give Kori or me a call. Can we drop you off anywhere?" asked Heylyn.

"That's alright. Hye drove us here from the University Hospital. We still have the rest of the day there, so we really should be getting back. You know the way to the Child Care facility?" asked Professor Iseul.

"Not really..." Heylyn said looking to Kori.

"It's not far from here. Maybe about a ten minute drive and its on this side of the Han river," Professor Iseul explained to both Heylyn and Kori.

"We're on our way there now. You sure you don't want to come with us? We'll pick up Warai and then all of us will go out to a nice restaurant for lunch. My treat," Heylyn offered Hye and Areum.

"No, thank you so much though for the offer. We'll be heading back to the University Hospital. We're glad we had this chance to help you. Good bye Heylyn. Perhaps we will see you again," Professor Iseul bowed, and both Heylyn and Kori did sincerely in like.

"Good bye Hye," Heylyn said to her friend.

"Good bye, Heylyn. Kori. It was nice to see you," Hye bowed as did Heylyn and Kori.

The two pairs then went forth, each in their own direction.

The drive to the Seoul Child Care Facility was short, though not quite as short as Professor Iseul had described. Kori at one point missed a right turn and was then trapped in traffic thanks to a lack of ancilliary right turns from the same road from that point onward. She eventually found an intersection from which she could make her turn and circled back to the correct road only to find that she couldn't make a left turn. Eventually, she just bit the bullet and made a u-turn when someone had recognized her intent and let her in. She blew the driver a kiss and continued on, finally making her right turn at the right intersection.

The facility itself was a large one, even for a long term care facility, though considering it serviced the majority of the country itself some might have seen it as rather quaint. Kori navigated the parking lot, eventually finding the perfect parking space (without Heylyn's extra-sensory assistance), though she did prefer to back in when parking rather than on her way out. Once they were situated they made their way in through the front door and were greeted by the front desk clerks.

"May I help you?" one of the clerks asked (in Korean).

"We're here to pickup an adoptee. I'm her custodian," Heylyn introduced herself, handing the stamped form to the clerk.

"Ohhhh. I see. She's been a busy girl, this one. Especially with all the press given the nature of her arrival here. Give me a minute while I check this out, if you want to have a seat," the clerk informed Heylyn, directing them towards the chairs.

"Thank you," Heylyn and Kori found a seat quickly in the empty reception foyer where they waited for the clerk.

They saw the clerk speaking with two men dressed in traditional business attire suits. One of them was clearly Korean, while the other appeared to be North American or European in origin. She pointed to Heylyn and Kori and they made their way over to the two women.

"Heylyn Yates?" the Korean one asked her in perfect english.

"That would be me, can I help you?" she responded, seeing instantly through their suits that they were both armed with service pistols.

"We're here keeping an eye on things for certain powers that be, who are interested in recent events. Namely the bombing of a facility in the Korean neutral zone, from which this girl you've come seeking was extracted. Would you have a moment to answer a few questions for us?" he asked her.

"Is this part of due process, or a legal investigation or are you just some thugs sent here to rough up impressionable and defenseless women?" asked Heylyn confronting them head on.

"No Ma'am. Sorry to have frightened you. We're not disposed to say exactly who we represent, but you can rest assured that we represent the law of both American and Korean interests, and the interests of maintaining a civil order in Southeast Asia," he answered her.

"I guess I'll have to accept your explanation. Ask your questions," Heylyn said calmly, keeping a close eye on the correlation between their heart and respiratory rate.

In particular, she took note of where the other one chose to stand while she was distracted speaking with the first one. She figured that in any event, it would be far safer to play helpless than it would be to dispatch them both. However, in the interest of playing her part and protecting Kori, she maintained her awareness so that she could take either path until she was certain of their good intent.

"Do you have any affiliation with regional militias, be they official or unofficial, Miss Yates?" the first one asked.

"No. I do have a cousin in the armed forces back in Canada," she answered truthfully.

"Have you enrolled in, or worked as an instructor for any educational organization in the region whose methods you feel were unorthodox?" he asked her, rubbing his chin with his hand.

She could his eyes on her face, and he was likely reading her in much the same way that she was reading the both of them. She could see that he'd been professionally trained to recognize cues in a person's facial movement that would betray their spoken insincerity. That ruled out their affiliation with any possible criminal organization that might be seeking vengeance on the part of Alomera Zek or Grier Torman.

"No. I've neither enrolled in any educational program nor worked for one in this region. I did attend post secondary education in the last twelve years back home though," Heylyn admitted honestly.

"Do you know, or have any affiliations with a man by the name of Habus Macill?" he asked her, leaning in a little closer to her personal space.

He was testing her in some way. Perhaps watching for her bodily movements as much so as her spoken answer.

"Habus Macill? No. What's the meaning of this?" she asked, feigning offense to his having overstepped her personal space.

"We're sorry Ma'am. We had to ask you these questions. Before we continue, we have to make sure that you understand that what we discuss here remains confidential. We'll discuss with you what we're allowed to, on the grounds that it makes it easier to keep secrets when you have some form of solid context to back you up. Not to mention the fact that this involves the little girl you're here to give a new life," the man informed her.

"I understand. I agree to your terms," Heylyn replied.

"Mums the word," Kori gestured with her hand, closing a zipper across her mouth, to which Heylyn rolled her eyes.

"The little girl you've come for, Warai? She's been through a lot. We're still following up the details to this investigation on behalf of the Government of South Korea, and in interests of maintaining the neutral zone pact between the North and the South," the first one stepped aside and the other, whose voice was much softer, began to talk.

"You see Ma'am, Warai has been held captive by a clandestine organization. It was lauded secretly as an educational institution and lured in followers via their enrolement program. It initially setup in Seoul, where after an investigation by local authorities, it was promptly raided. The founder, Habus Macill managed to avoid arrest while most of his staff were released, though the school's operating licenses were revoked. We tipped Korea off about this fellow and they stopped him from setting up shop again. However, he later setup another operation, this time using the Korean neutral zone as his area of operation. Right in the middle of the brush. He reacquired some of the same followers, also drawing in new ones. Together they cleared out a patch of land in the forest, building most of their buildings under the tree canopy so as to avoid detection by satellites. They got the materials from local smugglers. You see, Habus had quite the purse strings as he was the heir to a large fortune, so he paid for it all. From there, they operated their school, luring in trainees in much the same way they had in Seoul. Before the air raid," the second man informed Heylyn.

"Who is Habus Macill? He doesn't sound native to the region," Heylyn asked.

"He isn't from this region. Originally he's from Toronto. Your neck of the woods I'm told. Now do you see why we had to press you?" the second man asked her.

"So he came here and setup a *clandestine organization*? What was it? Was it like a cult?" asked Heylyn.

"That's one way of saying it, but we have no intelligence on where or how he learned about the methods employed by his organization, though we're certain that he's put his own sick twist to it. Most likely he was trained back in Toronto, from where he broke ties. He then tried to start his own thing somewhere else. We've been working closely with Canadian investigators on this to find the source of who or what got him started down this road," the man explained to Heylyn.

"So how does Warai fit into all of this?" asked Heylyn, now using the full extent of her senses to know whether the two men were answering her correctly or not.

"She was brought into their preschool educational program, after her father fled the Korean city of Busan. He and his wife had a falling out and they separated and eventually got a divorce. He'd lost the custody battle for possession of their only child, their daughter, and had been ordered to relinquish her to his ex-wife. Instead of following court orders, he chose to flee Busan. Why he made this choice, we don't know. His profile doesn't line up with him being the kind of person who'd seek the allegiance of such an organization, so we're assuming that he had alterior motives," the man answered her.

"Where is he now?" Heylyn asked.

"He was killed in the air raid upon the complex. A raid carried out under the neutral pact agreement that both sides would employ their own measures to ensure that any facilities operating in the zone were completely dispatched. After the air raid, a Special Operations Unit was sent to the area, where they found Warai and several other survivors. We have intelligence that before the bombing, someone tried to extract both her, her father and an English teacher who had no idea of what the cult was up to. Its unclear as to whether the person that tried to extract them made it out alive. In all truth Miss Yates, as much as we were defending the neutral zone pact, we were just making sure that the little girl didn't end up back in the hands of that same organization," the man assured Heylyn.

"Where's her mother? Isn't she still in Busan?" asked Heylyn.

"I'm sorry to say that Warai's mother was killed in a traffic accident shortly after her ex-husband had fled. We're still looking into the matter to verify that foul play wasn't involved," the man informed Heylyn.

"If they were a cult, what was their purpose? Don't cults usually have a purpose?" asked Heylyn.

"We don't know, but their training seemed to gear their students towards never questioning orders given by a more senior cult member, and to operate with extreme aggression when dealing with non-members. During the debriefing of the survivors of the boming, one of the former instructors, nothing more than a basic English teacher they'd hired to faciliate their effort regionally, he explained to us that the other instructors were using unorthodox methods in the instruction of their classes, such as aggression reinforcement, operant conditioning, polar conditioning and sleep and food deprivation. The thing is that Habus brought in all of his own instructors. People he'd taught just before leaving for Seoul. Seeing as his AO was in Toronto before he fled to Korea, we needed to make sure you weren't one of his crew, coming over here to clean up the aftermath and resume operations. I'll be honest with you. We did an extensive background check on you and you passed, but we had to make sure in person," the man explained to her.

"This is a shock. No. I'm not a member of whatever this Habus fellow was a part," Heylyn assured them.

"We're part of the West Meet East International cult," Kori responded, Heylyn tapped her leg in response.

"How do one's beliefs become classified as being dangerous enough to warrant a raid?" Heylyn asked the men.

"When members of the cult enforce rules upon citizens that violate their inherent civil rights, those rights guaranteed by civil law, such as the right to life, liberty, health, peace, identity and privacy or when they deny the right of other citizens to hold alternate or contradicting beliefs to their own," the man began stating.

"Doesn't the government violate privacy? They spy on people don't they?" asked Heylyn, asking the question that needed to be asked.

"The threats posed by violations of privacy is a difficult issue, especially in our modern world where it requires at most, a trivial effort to breach. Let us say that the issue of privacy isn't about privacy itself, but who violates it and what they use the information gained through a violation of privacy for. The government and most businesses the world over use anonymous forms of tracking, that identifies people according to a profile of their habits, rather than their name or address, for most common citizens. That data has value to both the government, to better streamline its operation, and to business, in order to better serve its customers," the man explained to Heylyn.

"So how was Habus using privacy violations to his advantage?" Heylyn asked.

"When a clandestine organization such as the one Habus Macill was running breaches privacy, it is usually used as a tool for social engineering and agressive conversion of citizens to their ideology, and in some cases, the destruction of their opposition. Your privacy has value, but your secrets have even greater value to such an organization because with your secrets, you can be denied of so much, even your liberty, without anyone knowing that you're experiencing violations thereof," the man explained to her.

"I'm finding this a little difficult to grasp if not, understand," Heylyn responded, trying to empathize.

"You're somewhat of a celebrity, so I'm sure you understand that threat. Imagine the ordinary citizen that doesn't have the finances or protection that you do? When their secrets and profile are violated? Its a difficult world we're living in, this modern world. As we all know as the result of the aftermath of Alomera Zek's case, there's a lot of power in knowing other people's secrets. I saw in your dossier that you collaborated with authorities during that investigation, so I assume that we're on the same page on this issue. That secret helped you in your dealings with us. Now if the wrong people knew that about you, that might prove dangerous to you. Do you see how secrets can be both a benefit and a hazard?" the man addressed her.

"Mostly, so far," Heylyn responded honestly.

"That's just one example of how Habus' organization was influencing citizens and forcing its way into society. In this case, the issue became a serious legal one, as they were employing the methods I told you about against citizens in Korea, which resulted in an investigation and summary warrant for the raiding of their headquarters in Seoul. That led to Habus forming a second base of operations in the neutral zone, and we all know what happened from there because from that point, it became an international incident. We're here cleaning up the mess and the international embarrassment that ensues when such a thing happens. The damage to regional diplomacy has far reaching implications. Especially in the day and age of modern smartphone communications and the internet. As you can probably imagine, tensions in the region are impossibly high as a result of the air raid, and that's without the effects of the situation playing out in Europe and the Baltics right now," the man explained to Heylyn, indicating that he very well could have been an operative of her own government or from the United States.

Heylyn became relieved once she'd affirmed that their intent was closely aligned with her own views on the subject.

"Thank you for letting me know these things. That really puts a lot in perspective. If I hear anything that you need to know, is there a way I can contact you?" she asked them as much so to confirm their identity, as to assist them.

"Here are our cards. You can reach us at these international numbers if you hear anything in passing, or if Warai informs you about experiences she had and you feel that they're something about which we should know. Thank you for your time Miss Yates. We hope that with your help, Warai will have the happy life that she deserves," Heylyn accepted a card from each of them, examining them closely.

The first business card, the one from the Korean man read:

Sigeul Bak Cheung
Special Agent
United States Embassy
Seoul, Republic Of Korea

The second one read:

Darryl Hanson
Canadian Embassy
Seoul, Republic Of Korea

She noted the contact numbers and committed them to memory. She hid the cards inside of a hidden pocket on her butterfly dragon top, which she was currently wearing under her daytime clothing.

She watched as the two men went over to the clerk. One of them raised their hand, giving a thumbs up to the clerk, then looking back to Heylyn before he proceded through a door and into another part of the building.

"Miss Yates?" the clerk gestured her over to the reception counter.

"Yes?" Heylyn got up and walked quickly over to the counter.

"Warai is just getting ready now. I'm delighted to tell you that she's very excited, though its quite funny, but she already knew you were coming. She even knows your name, though she keeps calling you butterfly," the clerk informed Heylyn.

"Oh, isn't that adorable! Did you hear that Kori? Warai's calling me a butterfly?" Heylyn smiled, even curtsying for the clerk in an attempt to distract them from the truth.

"I always pictured you more like a Queen bee. You know? Maybe even a dragon fly, the way you run your business?" Kori joked with Heylyn, making her a little bit more nervous.

"Naaaw. I'm more the adorable little bunny, don't you think?" Heylyn fluttered her eyelashes and used her hands to mimic two pointy ears protruding from her head, once again as a distraction from the truth.

"Oh Warai's going to love you," the clerk commented, seeing how playful Heylyn was.

"Good, though I'm sorry that we're going to have to tell her that I'm allergic to butterlies," Heylyn improvised.

They both looked at her in disbelief.

"What? Its the pollen!" Heylyn responded as a tiny figure walked up behind her quietly.

Heylyn turned around when she heard the footsteps, and there before her was Warai Jeong-Min Tokama, a six year old little girl.

"Hello Warai. I'm Heylyn. Heylyn Yates, and this is my friend Kori Jonglyu," Heylyn kneeled down on her legs to bring herself face to face with Warai.

"No you're not! You're Ai Yuanlin Ying. You're the butterfly! Welly told me," Warai blushed upon seeing Heylyn face to face.

"Welly is her *imaginary friend*. He's a flying dragon. He talks to her sometimes, apparently and she tells us the funniest stories about him," the clerk told Heylyn with a smile on her face.

"Oh Welly eh? Hmmm, it sounds like Welly and I are going to have to have a *little* talk about speaking about other people," Heylyn responded, her face scrinched up in a combination smile and smirk.

"Welly told me you'd say that. Welly knows you very well!" Warai began laughing, with Heylyn hesitantly joining in along with Kori after the tension about the butterfly incident had faded.

Warai said her goodbyes to the clerk and some of the other staff, before accepting Heylyn's hand, while she gave the other one to Kori. Together, they proceeded out to the car as from that moment, Warai's life and destiny truly began.

Out To Sea

Alomera Zek stood defiantly before the court, his hands cuffed behind his back. On each side of him, a large bailiff had grasp of his shoulders. One of the left, one on the right. From the judge's bench a large spotlight shone down upon him, making it difficult for him to see the face of the judge, but when he heard the voice, he knew immediately who it was.

"Alomera Constanza Zekestes, we the jury find you guilty of more than ten thousand counts of blackmail and extortion. Guilty of murder a thousand times over as evidenced via forensic investigation of the harbour reefs on your former property on Treadwater Island. The sentence is to be carried out immediately," the judge announced.

"Wait... what sentence? WHAT SENTENCE!" Zek began to panic as the bailiffs forced him out of the court room, through a door and into a dark and forboding chamber.

"What is this? Wait, I didn't hear my sentence? What about the case? Where's my lawyer?" Zek's statements flowed one into the next like a stream of gibberish, gaining no response from any of the court appointees.

He stood in the darkness of the room, still aware of the presence of the bailiffs by his side.

He then heard the metalic sound of a switch being thrown, and then the hum of electricity. A moment later, the fluorescent lights flickered one, revealing a large chair furnished with straps in the center of a cold, metalic room.

"No! Where's my lawyer! The case? We didn't... My testimony! What about the..." Zek mumbled helplessly, resisting the bailiff as they dragged him over to the chair.

As he struggled, they sat him in it and bound him using the straps. They placed a large electropad on the top of his rapidly retreating hairline, finding a bald spot to which they applied a conductive gel first. They then placed the electrode there firmly, binding it in place with another strap that wrapped around his jaw.

"Wait! My lawyer! No... You can't... don't I get a hood? Wait..." his words fell upon deaf ears to his pleas.

He could clearly see through a glass window in the room, a large lever switch on a wall. He watched as the judge went over to the switch, and looking right at him, flipped it.

"Noooooo!" Alomera Zek screamed at the top of his lungs as a beam of sunlight poured in through a port window in his quarters.

He leaned forward in his bed, wiping the sweat from his forehead as his feet found the cold steel floor. He could feel the boat's movement through the ocean waters as it lurched from trough to crest of the waves surrounding it.

"From one prison to another," Zek looked around at his quarters.

They were small and certainly sparse, yet in the absence of amenities, there was a bookshelf with a few books on it. One of the books was Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Beside that was Catch A Killer by George Woods. The one next to it was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

Zek forced his eyes away from the bookshelf and found that the room was also equipped with a tiny washroom, including both a sink and a toilet. He got to his feet, looking for his shoes quickly given the cold temperature of the floor. That and he quickly surmised that should he stub his toe anywhere in his quarters, he'd likely end up with a broken foot, for just about everything on the ship was made of steel.

Once he'd procured and donned his shoes, he stepped into the washroom and ran cold water over his face and head, using his hands to cup the water over him. Seeing as there was no towel, he used his blanket to wipe himself off.

He heard his stomach growl and at once he thought about getting something to eat. Towards the end of the bed, he noted a door on the wall adjacent to it. He got up and went to the door, turning the metal handle. The handle creaked loudly as he struggled to turn it, finally unlatching the door and revealing a tight corridor beyond.

He stepped out into the cooridor and a voice startled him.

"Your breakfast is in the galley, Mr. Zek. I will take you there," Zek turned to see a large muscular man who bore a compact SMG strapped around his right shoulder.

The man radioed someone using a headset with which he was equipped and then led Zek down the cooridor. Zek found it difficult to walk steadfastly as a result of the ship's chaotic motion. Regardless he pressed on, bouncing off of the walls as he did. Eventually the man led him into another cabin which Zek remembered as being where he'd had dinner the night before. 

There at the same table at which he'd eaten, was a plate of breakfast for him. A few sausages and some hash browns, as Mr. Zek never ate eggs. He was amazed to see how much Steadman had learned about him.

"Thank you," Zek addressed the man who'd led him to his breakfast and then sat down and began to consume the food hastily.

It wasn't long before the movement of the boat caught up with him, and shortly after he'd devoured his breakfast, he found himself feeling dizzy and nauseous. He gulped down his water and upon feeling the contents of his stomach surge, he ran for the door outside.

The man with the SMG followed him as he struggled down the stairs, nearly falling down them for their run, and finding his way to the main deck. He then slung his head over the railing, looking out to the tumultuous ocean thirty feet beneath him. And then he vomited, launching the contents of his stomach into the ocean to feed the local fauna.

"Getting familiar with the sea, are we?" asked Steadman, who'd crept up on the two men, taking a place at the railing beside Zek.

"A little too much so, I'm afraid," Zek gagged again after he'd managed to get the words out.

"What better prison is there than the ocean to keep a man like yourself, one who fears water so much, at bay?" Steadman posed to Zek.

"I suppose I'll have to get used to it," Zek spat a glob of bile, wiping his lips with his hand.

"In much the same way you got used to your prison cell in La Moderna, don't you think?" asked Steadman.

"I was as much King, as I was a prisoner," Zek assured Steadman.

"Who's to say that you aren't still a King now? You certainly will be if we find the backup to your blackmail database at the location you shared with me last night," Steadman assured him.

"Why would I deceive you?" Zek asked him, lifting his head slightly.

"Why else? To buy time to figure out how to deal with me. I figure that you'd probably try to create a mutiny, attempting to buy my own men off of me with the lure of the promise of riches. How else does a snake tempt the hearts of men but through the wiles of greed? Then you'd dispose of me at sea, take the ship and acquire your backup database and setup in another part of the world, under your own terms," Steadman looked out across the magnificence towards the horizon.

"And if I've deceived you?" Zek asked lifting his head ever so slightly higher.

"Well, that would cost you then. I figure an arm or a leg would suffice. Not enough to kill you, but enough to remind you of the real, visceral experiencing of pain. The pain of having a limb surgically removed without anesthesia would be enough. You'd live. Recover, and I'd ask the same question of you again. Where are the blackmail database backup copies you've hidden? Then, depending upon where your commitments lay, you'd either be loyal to your database, or to your body parts. The one question you should ask yourself is, what happens when you run out of limbs?" Steadman spoke his words like poetry.

As Zek's eyes found the boundary between the horizon and the ocean, his stomach somersaulted again and a fresh stream of bile shot out from his mouth and nose into the ocean.

"Don't worry. You have all the power you need right now. The power to affect your own destiny. A week from now, will we be calling you Sire? Or will we be calling you Stubby?" Steadman patted Zek on his back, causing him to eject the last of the bile and air in his stomach out into the ocean.

Brandy's Choice

Three nights had passed since she'd been liberated from an attempt to violently and sexually assault her. Ironic she thought, that such a thing would happen to her when she'd decided to give people another chance. It was irrelevant that her living and livelihood was based around sexual and physical aspects of her being. Just because she worked as a web cam girl, did not mean that she was expected to service the public in her own off-camera life. In fact, to her, the camera was a barrier of safety where she could sell fantasy from the safety of her own environment, all the while keeping a hidden profile in her off-camera life. She wasn't hurting anyone, nor was she imploring anyone else to hurt themselves. Yet, when she'd been implicated by association with a filmmaker who attempted to lure his adult actors into the world of prostitution, she'd been scalded by her own community, simply because they'd branded her as a having informed on said filmmaker. In other words, she'd chosen the sexual vocation that did not involve contact with her customers, as she was simply fulfilling her customers' visual fantasies. Why she'd been scalded over the fiasco went beyond all logic, for such people were in fact encouraging women to put themselves at risk by forcing them away from the cameras, and onto the street.

Despite her having been treated as a pariah since that situation, she'd continued her life honestly, maintaining her web camera business and online identity despite the pressure. Over the years it had weighed upon her heavily and had essentially isolated her locally from all but her customers and her online friends. She was an outcast simply for enjoying the greatest gift that any of us in life have ever received. None of us had to pay a thing for it either. We only had to take care of it. Our own body.

For years, these self righteous bigots had taken it upon themselves to cast out another woman simply because she'd chosen to live that way. Yet, the same people promoted putting women on the streets to sell themselves as sexual products for their customers. Putting women in situations where they'd be exposed to the risk of robbery. Violence and assault. Substance abuse. Sexually transmitted diseases. And all for what? If anyone could figure it out, she'd follow them for a lifetime.

Fortunately on that fateful night, three nights ago, another citizen had taken action to stop those three men. The ones who would have taken from her body, without her permission. He'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere, from atop of a highwalled cement fence. He jumped down and dispatched all three of them in seconds. From the moment he'd arrived, the situation had played out like an old karate or kung fu movie. He'd quickly and effortlessly stopped them before they could sexually assault her. He then made sure that she was alright, and then leapt over the twelve foot high fence like it was a track and field hurdle, then disappearing into the night.

She'd kept a close eye on the news from that point on. Looking to find any stories on the news that matched the situation, as she'd seen the Police cars arrive from a distance, where they cuffed and arrested the men. One night later, after she'd spent the evening working her camera, she went onto the MindSearch site, MindSpice's internet search engine technology and she searched for the terms "three men arrested" Parkdale OR Toronto. To her surprise, a news clip was returned in the first page of results. She'd quickly clicked on it and was taken to a local news and journalism site where the story was published.

The story claimed that the three men were wanted in connection with a string of rapes that had occurred in the same area, and in Mississauga over the last twelve years. Their mugshots were captioned in the story, and she immediately recognized their faces, all three. She shuddered upon seeing their faces again, feeling a sense of joy and gratefulness that they'd been brought before justice before they could harm another woman. She slept soundly that night for the first time in years, feeling like someone out there actually cared enough to make a difference. Even in the life of a web cam girl like herself.

The following day, her community stalkers punished her for reading that story online. The harassment began has it usually had, with her stalkers saying something to her in passing that was related to the story. Then they'd slowly build up a context. A message for her, in the same way, delivered over the course of multiple people who'd said something in passing her. The context in this case was that if she continued defying them, they would take harsh action against her.

She kept herself calm and collect despite the threat, for she knew that if there was a man out there who defied them even when they were in superior force, she knew that there were more like him, and that ultimately she was not as alone as she was made to feel. From the moment of that realization, they had somehow lost their power over her. Their ability to terrorize her. To push her to the brink of her sanity, and often over the edge into anxiety. They no longer had power over her.

In the two days since she'd realized that, she'd lived with more freedom of mind and conscience than she'd had since these nasty people had set upon her. She would go out freely into the community, wearing a sun hat and a smile. She even sat on the porch of her own home and read a book in the daylight sun. Many of her stalkers had passed her that day, some of them trying to rock her foundations, all of them failing miserably.

The following night when the news had broken about the most recent attack by the Chameleon, she became anxious again, and could feel all of her same fear and nervousness return. She went over the news again and again, finding descriptions of the man who'd rescued her that fateful night only three days ago. Then, when she saw the composite drawing the Police had published, she broke down crying, for there he was. The man who'd saved her. Yet now he was being painted as the Chameleon Killer.

She picked up her smartphone and went to dial the Police tips number, but before she could finish keying the number into her phone, she suddenly heard a voice in her head.

"Rat in. You always were an informer," the voice said clearly.

"Who said that?" she asked aloud, looking for a source of the voice in her room. 

She looked to her computer speakers, shutting them off when she saw they were on.

"You're still a rat. Rat in," the voice said again.

She jumped when she heard it the second time. She even recognized the voice as that of one of her community stalkers. She could almost see his face. Then she heard another voice, this one a woman.

"You turned Jean in, now you're going to try to save your hero," the voice accused her.

"Don't save your hero or things will get bad for you," another voice said to her.

She quickly got up from her chair, and ran into other parts of the house, checking to see if someone had somehow gotten in through a window she'd left open. When she'd ruled that out, she checked her hifi audio system to see if the speakers were on, and when she saw they weren't, she was out of explanations.

"Think..." she said aloud to herself.

She thought about it carefully and then came up with an explanation. She ran into the hallway and up the stairs to her master bathroom. She opened the medicine cabinet and found a plastic container with cotton swabs. She grabbed one and stuffed it into her ear, poking around in attempt to see if she'd somehow gotten anything in her ear. Perhaps a piece of her earphones had broken off and was receiving audio, making her think it was coming from inside of her head.

She spent ten minutes and thirty cotton swabs poking around in her ears before she finally gave up. She'd not heard any of the voices, so she ran back downstairs to her phone and tried calling the Police again.

As soon as she resumed her attempts to call them, the voices returned. This time en force.

There were so many that it became a cacophony of noise. Sounding much like the random chatter of a crowd, except that she could pick out some of the statements, when most if not all were certainly directed at her. Most of them were warnings, forbidding her from making the call lest she have very bad experiences every day from that point on.

Frustrated, she went upstairs again to her bathroom and pulled a bottle of Aspirin from the cabinet, taking a couple of them with a cup of water. After she cleaned up the cotton swabs, she went and lay down in her bed, pulling the pillow over her ears in attempt to block the sound of the voices.

After fifteen minutes without success of trying to cease them, or fall asleep, she sat up in bed and grabbed her phone from the night table.

"If I'm going to be abused by you despite what I do, I'm going to do what's right," she said aloud, clearly defying their torment of her.

She finished entering the Police tips phone number into the phone and pressed call.

A half an hour later, they were at her door to question her. From that point on, her life changed forever.

Johnny Be Good

Farnham having worked traffic for five years before moving to robbery knew all of the places to park in the city, and the Little Italy district was no exception. He quickly found parking on a side street just off of College Street and made his way on foot for a short walk over to Montrose Avenue where he found his quarry: Mama Benacelli's Kitchen. He took a quick look about the street, then examined the folding sign menu on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant before finally stepping in through the front doors.

"How are you today?" she asked him.

"Good, thank you for asking. Its a nice day out there. How about you my dear?" he asked her, throwing in a modest dose of charm.

"I'm doing well, thank you. Would you like to eat on the patio?" she asked him.

"No my dear. Actually I'm here looking for Johnny Benacelli? You wouldn't happen to know if he's around, would you?" Farnham asked her.

She was about to speak when a bold voice spoke from one of the tables near the back.

"Johnny? That good for nothing bum? You won't find him here. Why, are you a debt collector? A loan shark?" the voice pierced the silence in the restaurant.

"No. I'm Detective Farnham with the Toronto Police Service," Farnham responded, flashing his badge.

"What did Johnny do this time? Huh?" asked the same voice.

"Probably skipped out on another bad bet at the horse track..." another voice responded to the question from another table at the restaurant, bringing about a round of laughter from the two tables.

"You tell me. I'm not here to arrest him. I just want to ask him some questions," Farnham responded with dead seriousness.

"He's no snitch you know," the first voice responded.

"I didn't say he was. Do you mind telling me who I'm speaking with?" Farnham asked.

"No, I don't mind," the voice responded, the patrons at his table laughing.

Farnham approached the table.

"You must be Johnny?" Farnham addressed the man, a daftly dressed man in his early forties.

"What if I am?" came the response.

"I'd ask your company to leave so we can talk," Farnham responded.

The man looked to his two peers at the table across from him.

"Alright, you heard the man. I'll meet with you later over that matter we were discussing," Johnny told his associates at the table.

They both got up, one of them much bigger and taller than Farnham. Farnham stepped aside politely and let the two men through. He then took a seat at the table across from Johnny as the same hostess arrived.

"Would you like something from the bar?" asked the hostess of both men.

"I'll have a cappuccino with a little extra cream. My friend the Detective here will have a coffee?" Johnny looked to Farnham.

"That will be fine, thank you," Farnham replied, pulling out his notebook.

"That'll be all sweetheart," Johnny dismissed the hostess.

"So what can I do for you Detective?" asked Johnny, cool and collect.

"I need to ask you some questions about someone recently deceased..." Detective Farnham began.

"Awwww I'm sorry to hear. Anyone I know?" Johnny responded.

"I was hoping you could tell me? His name is Ronald Forseth. He was in his forties, about your age. Dirty blonde hair. Blue eyes. Soft spoken. Years ago he was associated with one of Grier Torman's scams, though he had no criminal involvement. Do you know the man?" asked Farnham.

"No, Detective. I can't say that I do. He sounds like he was a real nice fellow though. I'm sorry to hear of his death," Johnny spoke in half truths.

"So were we. You see, we were holding him for his part (allegedly) in an armed robbery. The Canadian Commerce Union at King Street and Bay Street," Farnham replied, looking carefully but inconspicuously to Johnny's face.

"He was a bank robber? I like him even more. The banks have been stealing from the hard working people for years, you know. By the way, this Forseth person: he didn't hurt anyone, did he?" asked Johnny.

"I think you already know the answer to that question," Farnham said honestly, making it that much harder for Johnny to read him.

"I have no idea what you're talking about Detective," Johnny responded calmly leaning back in his seat as the hostess arrived with their order.

"Here's your coffee Detective, and here's your cappuccino Johnny. Can I get you anything else," the hostess gave them a tight-lipped smile.

"I think we're fine here for now. Thank you," Detective Farnham replied to her.

"Enjoy!" she responded and went to attend to a nearby table.

"Did you ever know of a man named Lamar? Lamar Raystone?" Farnham asked Johnny.

"In my business, the restaurant business, you meet lots of people every day. Take you for instance. You're already the third person I've met today and we're only just halfway through the day. Do you get what I'm saying?" Johnny replied.

"So you're saying that you've likely met him but you've possibly forgotten about it, am I right?" asked Farnham.

"Alright. I knew him. Way back when. He was running with the good fellas, and I was on the fence. I think he'd already had a few charges against him. Assaults mostly. Growing up, there would be a lot of us who were just trying to survive, between their hard working parents and the local hoods. Lamar was someone who it paid to know, but was risky to associate with if you get my drift," Johnny explained.

"So he was muscle mostly. If you had trouble with someone, he'd be like your big brother, am I right?" asked Farnham.

"Exactly," Johnny replied.

"But you guys preferred to stay away from him," Farnham asked Johnny, looking up from his notepad.

"He was a heat score, but nobody ever turned him over. Once he'd cleaned himself up, then people started warming up to him," Johnny said remembering the old days.

"Like during the Torman case, am I right? Nobody ever brought up the topic of Lamar, or his other business activities for the good fellas as you said?" Farnham asked Johnny.

"I was only on the stand a short time for that, I walked as you know. That means that the jury has spoken when it comes to me," Johnny reminded Farnham.

"I hear Lamar was innocent too? Nobody ever brought up his name during the Torman trials, yet he was a big player from what I understand. A lot bigger than most people were led to believe," Farnham pressed Johnny on the issue.

"Was innocent? As in he's no longer innocent?" Johnny confirmed.

"No Johnny. As in he *is* no longer. Period," Farnham informed Johnny.

"Another death in a big city. How many tears are there Detective, for those sheep who lost their way?" Johnny asked Farnham, who brushed Johnny's answer aside.

"He died shortly after having taken part in the same armed robbery. Actually, on the same day that Ronald Forseth died," Farnham purposely mentioned the two in the same sentence and watched Johnny's reaction.

"Where is this going, Detective?" asked Johnny, who already knew the answer to that question.

"Funny how the suspects, all eight of them managed to get a hold of the munitions they'd used during the robbery," Farnham dropped the bug.

"Funny? You call two men dying funny?" Johnny responded, trying desperately to put all of the weight on the Detective.

"No. That wasn't funny, because it wasn't two men that died. It was eight. And eight counts of murder would carry a long sentence don't you think? Even for an accomplice to that fact. The humour in it is, that the same person who provided the arms for that robbery, would essentially be an accomplice to the murder of those men. That's the funny part. I think in comedy they call that the punch line," Farnham wrote something down in his pad after having observed Johnny's response.

Johnny took his cappuccino and drank it all down in one swift gulp. Wiping his mouth afterwards.

"We have the phone, Johnny," Farnham told him.

"I think this discussion has ended, Detective Farnham, unless there's anything else?" asked Johnny.

"So you wanna do this the hard way. Alright. You're throwing away your freedom, though. If you'd have just come clean, you'd have probably gotten off with parole and community service, if that. Now you're definitely going to do some time in the big house and from what I know about you Johnny, you're all rep, and no *il affidamento*, as they say Italy," Farnham pocketed his notepad and slid out of his bench seat across from Johnny.

"Wait!" Johnny stopped the Detective.

Farnham had stood up and was now looking down on Johnny, who remained tucked into the corner of the other bench seat.

"I gave the message to a confidant that Forseth was looking for hardware. That's all. I had no involvement. I didn't make a cent from it. I just took Forseth's request and passed it along to a friend of a friend who deals in these matters. That's all. If you check the phone records, you'll probably find that there's nothing connecting me to what you're talking about. That's all there is Detective. Nothing more. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to," Johnny slid out of the bench seat and stood in front of Detective Farnham, slightly taller than him by an inch.

He then went to the front and paid for their order.

"Get a good lawyer, Johnny and you'll walk. Again," Farnham replied, having found the answers he was seeking.

Farnham then went to the cashier and paid for his coffee before leaving.

Meeting With Werner

Tricia and Halmand stepped off of the elevator, checking a sign on the wall for directions to Werner-Goldstein Holdings. When they'd oriented themselves correctly, they proceeded into the offices and directly over to the receptionist.

"May I help you?" the receptionist responded cheerfully.

"I'm Tricia Camden. We're here for an appointment with Helmut Werner," Tricia told the receptionist.

"Just a moment while I verify with Mr. Werner," the receptionist responded, already directly connecting to his line.

She spoke on the phone with him for a short time before turning back to Tricia.

"You may see him. The corner office at the far end. You can't miss it. Tell his receptionist who you are and she'll let you in," the receptionist told Tricia.

"Thank you," Tricia responded, as they started towards the corner office.

"His own receptionist? He must be a big wig?" Halmand said jokingly.

"He's *the* big wig here. Or at least one half of the big wigs. Kind of like me and you," Tricia replied to Halmand.

"What, we're big wigs too?" Halmand asked.

"No. I'm like Werner, and you're like my receptionist," Tricia replied.

"Oh you're very funny today, can I get you a coffee Sir?" Halmand responded.

"No, but you can cancel my three o'clock meeting. I'm going to the spa instead," Tricia joked in response.

"Is it me, or do these people seem kind of apprehensive?" Halmand leaned in close and asked her as they walked, referring to the people in the office as they passed.

"You were getting that feeling too, eh?" Tricia observed.

"I guess they don't get many visitors," Halmand responded.

"Or at least not many who are on their wavelength," Tricia and Halmand passed through a door at the corner and into the reception area of Werner's office.

"We're here to see Mr. Werner. I'm Tricia Camden," Tricia announced to his receptionist.

"He's expecting you. This way please," the receptionist got up and led them into his office.

"Mr. Werner? Tricia Camden and William Halmand are here to see you," she announced.

"Have a seat please," Werner stood from his desk and shook hands with his guests before sitting down again.

The receptionist closed the door on her way out.

"I'm sure you're aware of why we're here Mr. Werner," Tricia asked Werner.

"Such a tragedy about Ron. He was such a gentleman too. A real gentile. Its absolutely baffling to me how he ended up in such a dire situation," Mr. Werner told Tricia and Halmand.

"How long did you know Mr. Forseth before his death?" asked Tricia, as Halmand retrieved a pad from his inner pocket and began taking notes.

"Ron and I go back a ways. He started with the company in 2004 if I'm correct. As a Financial Forecaster, an entry level position for a man of his qualifications. I hired him myself, after Mayer and I talked about it," Werner informed them.

"Mayer?" asked Tricia.

"Mr. Goldstein. The other partner of this company," Werner replied.

"How did Mr. Forseth get along with everyone here at the company? Did there seem to be anything *off* in his relationship with others?" asked Tricia.

"As I already told you, he was a very gentle man. Soft spoken too. I find it hard to believe that his final days involved that incursion into the bank and his eventual death days later. Most of us here are shocked as well. As far as my other employees are concerned, we strive towards an environment of close community here at this company, and putting aside the occasional rivalry that often occurs between departments, I think most people would agree that Mr. Forseth was a peaceful man and had no qualms with anyone here," Werner lied, instead passing a sheet of paper across the desk to Tricia who picked it up and read it.

We are being watched.

Can't be candid.

Meet with me at 7 PM at

Tynan And Associates 

at Commerce Court

on the thirtieth floor

in the board room.

Tricia pocketed the note and continued.

"Did Ron and Julie Calister know each other?" asked Tricia.

"Oh, poor Julie. Another grave loss for us all. Ron didn't know Julie any more so than she knew any one of us. She was a network technician who was constantly managing and upgrading our systems here, so we'd all pretty much see her every day at least once. So she and Ron did know each other, or more aptly, know of each other, but I believe that's where their association ends," Werner spoke truthfully in terms of his awareness.

"Were there any emotionally charged relationships going on between any of the people here or have you heard rumours of any such thing?" Tricia asked Werner.

"Again, we are a tight knit company, but we draw the line with regard to any policy that interferes in the social or personal lives of our employees," Werner assured her.

"That stance must be a difficult one to maintain given today's access to information. Information online of both a private and personal nature. Are you certain you didn't hear of anything going on in that regard that might help us with this investigation?" asked Tricia.

"Again, I'd have to say that I've heard of no such rumours nor observed any such behaviour of that degree from my employees. Nor do I watch for it. That is outside of our company policy," Werner responded.

"Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Werner. If you hear anything that might assist us in this case, could you please let us know and yes, we will meet again with you very soon," Tricia assured Werner, who looked visibly relieved.

"Let me show you to the door," Werner stood and made his way around the desk.

"This is a nice office you have here. In particular quite an impressive library," Halmand said as he folded his notepad and put it into his jacket.

"Nowadays I tend to read financial projections and reports more so than anything, but years ago I used to be an avid reader of the paper bound variety of that beast. I've read every book on that shelf. I've always felt it pays to spend a modicum of time learning from the perspective of others. Through their written words more so than the direct experiencing of their sensory input from the world," Werner gestured to his bookshelf which was filled with a variety of books on both finance and philosophy.

Tricia understood him at once and she knew they were on the same wavelength.

"Have a good day Mr. Werner. We'll call in advance if we plan on coming here to question your employees tomorrow," Tricia stepped out of the door.

"That will be fine, thank you. You have a wonderful day," Werner led Tricia and Halmand out of his office.

"Good day to you," Werner's receptionist bid them as they passed.

Halmand nodded to her and flashed her a smile.

"Got any ideas about the rogue's gallery here?" Tricia asked Halmand as they passed the workstations of the open office.

Several employees eyed them carefully and conspicuously as they left.

"I don't know. I get the feeling there's a few of them that are nervous about our having spoken with the man in the corner office," Halmand replied.

"I get that feeling too. I think there's a bit more going on than he let on about," Tricia kept her eyes ahead, careful not to give the employees any body language.

"I guess we'll find out tomorrow when we're in the thick of it," Halmand responded, opening the door for Tricia as they left the company offices and headed out to the elevators.

"So what are we going to do, wait here until later?" asked Halmand as he got into the car on the passenger's side.

"No. We're going to go have a chat with Mr. Forseth's ex-wife," Tricia responded as she started the car.

They pulled out of the garage and drove down to Queen Street, traveling east their next destination: the Toronto Beaches East.

The mid-afternoon traffic was sparse and their drive was uneventful, with the exception of a small pocket of construction near Coxwell Avenue and Queen Street. Once they'd passed Kingston Road, the traffic, with the exception of Toronto Transit Commission street cars, had dropped off considerably.

The Beaches area, a part of the "Old" City of Toronto was established in 1932 when the Lake Ontario boardwalk and supporting facilities were officially opened to the public. From that point, tourist driven businesses and a thriving arts community became part and parcel of the beach front recreational experience.

"Just winding up for summer by the looks of it," Halmand noted as they turned right onto Maclean Avenue.

"Still a month and a bit before the Jazz festival," Tricia remarked.

"When is it?" asked Halmand.

"July 2 and it runs through until July 24," Tricia replied.

"You know seem to know a lot about it," Halmand commented.

"That's because I have a cousin who is one of the performers. She's a Jazz vocalist. A good one too," Tricia raised her brows when she spoke.

"Must run in the family?" Halmand asked.

"Nope. I haven't got a musical note in me. I even flunked out of the RCMP Musical Ride. I signed up for it when I passed the entrance exam and training. My horsemanship is second to none. My rhythm however, leaves way too much to be desired," she responded, laughing about it.

"So you ranked up all the way to Inspector instead. I guess you can't have it all," Halmand joked.

"Nope. I guess not," Tricia turned right onto Selmond Avenue and pulled up in front of the house.

"Grab a package of tissues. I have a feeling we're going to need them," Tricia told Halmand.

"Why, do you think you're going to cry?" asked Halmand.

"They're not for me. They're for her. I'll get them," Tricia reached over and opened the glove box, pulling out several small packages of tissue paper.

They then got out of the unmarked car and walked up to the front door of the house and tapped on the door.

A moment later they heard the lock click and the door opened, revealing a woman in her late thirties. She opened the screen door and addressed them.

"May I help you?" she asked Tricia, who was in front.

"Hello Miss Ulnick. We're from the RCMP. I'm Inspector Tricia Camden and this is Inspector William Halmand. I was wondering if it would be convenient for us to ask you some questions about your ex-husband?" Tricia asked Celia.

"Yes. Certainly. Please come and make yourselves at home," she answered, opening the door for them to let them in.

"...Ulnick is my maiden name. I remarried three years ago. I'm Celia Ashton now," she said to them as they stepped in.

"Sorry about the confusion. We do our best to keep our files up to date. Do you have a dining room table where we could do this?" asked Tricia.

"In here please," Celia directed them to the dining room where they each took a seat.

"Would you like some coffee or a tea?" asked Celia.

"No thank you, that will be fine. We'll get started any time you're ready," Tricia suggested.

"This will probably be difficult, but I'm ready," Celia responded, taking a seat across the table from Tricia and Halmand as Halmand readied his notepad.

"When did you first meet your ex-husband Ron?" asked Tricia.

"We met in April of 1998. We met at an office party hosted by his company. It was for the opening of their company's office at First Canadian Place. My employer thought it would be a good oportunity to build a sales relationship for our office products, so I went," Celia told Tricia while Halmand wrote it down in shorthand.

"At that time, what was your husband like? His personality? Social qualities? Mannerisms?" Tricia asked Celia.

"He was very timid, and a great listener. He didn't lack confidence, he just preffered to stay more in the background than anything. I think he preferred a tête–à–tête rather than a crowd. That's when his charm really shined through," Celia explained, a smile crossed her face as a memory played out in her head.

"Did he discuss his childhood with you at all?" Tricia continued her questioning.

"Yes, a few times we spoke with each other what it like growing up. I get the impression he was probably bullied quite a bit when he was younger. Mostly as a result of his shyness, because he was an easy target and he often didn't fight back," Celia explained about her ex-husband.

"When you were with him, during the earlier years, within five to ten years of your marriage, did you ever see him have any difficulties with people socially?" Tricia asked Celia, tilting her head to the side ever so slightly.

"Not really. He did raise his voice one time on the phone when we were double billed by the bank hosting our mortgage. We had just made the down payment so we were a little cash strapped. This occurred three months in, so we hadn't had enough time to build up our safety net. Joey, our child was only two years old at the time so that left us in an awkward position financially. He was on the phone for a half and hour speaking rationally with the mortgage representative at the bank before he raised his voice. I'd like to think he did it for Joey's and my sake," Celia answered the question, once again playing the memories back in her head.

"Did he ever have any other encounters like that?" Tricia asked.

"No. Not while I was with him, though by the time our marriage started to break down, neither of us were paying attention to each other the way we used to. At that point, when Joey was around seven or eight years old, Ron had started to become obsessed with something at work that was clearly eating him. At that time I wasn't attentive to him, and I'd met my second husband, though we were only lovers at that time. Ron knew, and he never raised his voice to me, even knowing that I was sleeping with another man. He could manage a lot of pressure, but something was eating him other than our marital problems," Celia looked down as the tears began to flow.

Halmand looked to Tricia, who pulled a package of tissue from her jacket and placed it before Celia.

"thank you," she said quietly as opened the tissue, extracting one to wipe her eyes.

She sniffled as the tears flowed ever more. Tricia waited for a moment before speaking.

"We could continue this some other time if you're finding it difficult?" Tricia asked her respectfully.

"No. I want to do this now," she said in defiance of her emotions.

"Talking about it is part of the healing process, and you understand that the information that you provide us may help his case, even posthumously. Not only that but we'll have a better picture of the dynamics involved that led to his eventual arrest," Tricia explained to Celia, who wiped her nose.

"Excuse me for a moment," Celia got up and grabbed one of the trash bins from her den and brought it to the dining room and placed it beside her chair.

"An ounce of preparation..." Tricia remarked, smiling to Celia.

"Let's hope speaking about this is the cure," Celia wiped her face with a fresh tissue.

"Was Ron ever impatient or aggressive with your son, Joey?" asked Tricia.

"No. He was very encouraging, always, but never abusive. Even in the thick of whatever he was enduring, he was always very patient with the two of us. That's what made it so difficult. I wanted to hate him, but I couldn't. I wanted him to be the bad guy of our marital troubles," Celia admitted.

"Did you ever provoke him or attempt to get a rise out of him?" asked Tricia.

"No. We both just pretended like there was no problem, but we both knew there was. He knew I was having an affair and yet he was able to keep himself together. Maybe attempting to be overt about the affair without actually telling him was my way of provoking him. I so much wanted him to be the bad guy, so I could justify what I was doing," Celia's face became intense.

"Do you feel that you contributed to the pressures upon him?" asked Tricia.

"No. Not in any way that life doesn't already naturally dish it out to us all. We were just two people who didn't love each other any more, trying to keep our family together. For our son's sake," Celia's face calmed.

"Please allow me to confirm this with you. So according to your perspective, Ron wasn't venting any of the pressures to which he was being subjected at home. Do you suspect that he had an outlet through which he was managing his stress?" asked Tricia.

"It wasn't sex, or at least he wasn't getting it from me. That's for sure. Maybe that's how I was able to handle it so well compared to him, though he was going through something else, but I was never around enough to experience it with him. I think maybe he tried to get it out through his work? He had a good enough reputation there, so he didn't take it out on people. Maybe the work itself?" asked Celia.

"I don't know. You tell me? Did you know of anything affecting him from work? Conflict with his peers? Trouble with his boss? Struggling to meet deadlines? Anything?" Tricia responded, careful to keep the questions in one direction.

"If he did, that all happened after I left him with Joey. I didn't see him much from that point on," Celia told Tricia as Halmand noted everything.

"You said that the two of you had stopped having sex. Did you suspect that he might be having an affair with anyone from his work?" asked Tricia.

"No. Even though I was only in bed at our home five nights a week, I didn't notice any of the tell tale signs, but I wasn't looking for them," Celia admitted.

"Mrs. Ashton, we're finished here. Thank you for answering our questions. What's the best time for us to contact you in the future, should we need to?" asked Tricia.

"I work from home now, so any time during the day is good," Celia answered.

"Here's my card. If you need to get in touch with me, for instance if you remember something pertinent to the questions I asked, don't be afraid to call. I'm available up until 11 PM under normal circumstances, or any time in the case of an emergency related to this case," Tricia assured Celia.

"Thank you Mrs. Ashton for your hospitality," Halmand thanked her as he stood.

"That's quite alright, Inspector," Celia smiled and led them to the door.

"Have a good day," Celia let them out.

"Thank you for your help," Tricia waved and made her way down the stairs to their car.

"That was rather unproductive. I kind of felt like a marriage counselor more so than an Inspector," Halmand remarked as he got in the car.

"Unproductive? Are you kidding me? That was a considerable contribution to the overall picture of Ron Forseth, and no we weren't marriage counselors. We did provide a valuable service to Mrs. Ashton, don't you think?" Tricia put her keys in the ignition and started the car.

"How did that contribute to the case other than we now know he was just a super nice guy?" asked Halmand.

"We know that he was in the pressure cooker at home. He was just eating it better than most. It wasn't something that was part of a dire plan, per se, but it did contribute to the overall effect. Now if we can get the other side of his life, his work life under the microscope, I'll bet you that we'll find our culprit there," Tricia told him her reasoning.

"What culprit?" asked Halmand.

"The one that pushed him over the edge and into the abyss, except its not just one culprit. Its a whole bunch. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?" Tricia put the car in drive.

Alicia Out In The Field

Alicia got out of her car and walked over to the front of the Noble Group building where Norler and another man met her. 

"Hi honey," Norler leaned in and kissed her on the lips.

"I'm here for my first day in the field. Now what?" asked Alicia enthusiastically.

"Alicia, this is Charlie Fergeuson. He's one of the Private Detectives that we use to check on the validity of a potential receiver of one of our bursaries or grants," Norler introduced Charlie to Alicia.

"Pleased to meet you Alicia. Norler's told us quite a bit about you," Charlie shook hands with Alicia, peering at her from behind a moustache that covered the area above his upper lip like a garden hedgerow.

"Hopefully nothing too bad," Alicia smiled at Norler, who smiled back at her playfully.

"No. Not at all. But he did tell me that you were interested in learning the ropes about how we check our potential recipients for validity. So that's what I'm going to show you today," Charlie put his hands in his pockets and pulled out a paper notepad and handed it to Alicia.

"You'll need this ancient tool for good measure, though a compact tablet computer can be just as good," he told her.

"Great! So lets go do this," Alicia suggested.

"We'll take my car if you don't mind," Charlie bid Norler a farewell and began walking to the parking lot.

"Bye!" Alicia ran up to Norler and kissed him on the cheek.

"Don't eat. It's Pad Thai and spring roll night tonight," Norler said as she followed Charlie.

"Mmmmm... I can hardly wait," Alicia waved as she got into Charlie's car.

"Alright. So the first thing we need to do is know is the type of potential recipient that we're checking out. You see this three letter code?" asked Charlie, holding up a tablet displaying a PDF file derived from the Noble Group's records.

"EIB? Yeah, that's Entrepreneurial Investment Bursary. I know what that is," Alicia confirmed, nodding her head.

"Exactly. So we're doing a validity check on a small business," Charlie told her.

"How do you know that part?" Alicia asked.

"This PDF report is actually a record from the Noble Group database, a copy of the recipient's file. They keep all the usual contact information, plus a few notes that describe what kind of operation the EIB is running. So right here is where you'll find a paragraph long description explaining what they do. If any patents or copyrights are involved, they're cataloged here..." Charlie pointed out to Alicia.

"Alright. I see. So what's the process you go through to check out the validity of this business' potential to be a recipient?" asked Alicia.

"I usually read a bit about the file and try to understand what they're about. What is it that they're doing that is going to be benefitted by the bursary, should they be deemed worthy to receive it. So in this case we can see that they're an inventor and have created a device that allows them to use their smartphone as a non-invasive full spectrum medical diagnostic device," Charlie explained having read from the description.

"Can I see?" asked Alicia, beckoning for Charlie's tablet.

"Here you go. So first we're going to get a bit of an idea aboutg the guy by checking out his background. For that, I'll need to go in person and apply for a limited background check at College and Bay Street," Charlie said, pulling the car onto the driveway and out into traffic.

Alicia read the description of the device, which appeared to be part of a marketing package which she'd assumed to have been created by the inventor himself, due to its home-made amateurish appearance. She didn't hold that against him, but rather found it inspiring, for she could remember times back when she'd spent ages trying to convince the lab she worked for to go forward with her SY300 idea. They were on a limited budget and with tight purse strings, and hence denied her approval for the research and development. She eventually went ahead with it on her own, and got half way through the process on her own cash, when the company finally approved her biochemical designer pharmaceutical.

She was thankful that she'd never had to make her own marketing materials, but she did have to make the sell before a board who approved the budgets on all of the lab's bigger projects. She'd even agreed on a cut in her wage to get the budget approval, though in the end, she received her full wage. The board had seen it as a symbol of her dedication and hence had approved her budget. Seeing this inventor's dedication was like looking in a mirror to her own past.

She read more of the device's specifications and found that it could not only deduce external (dermal) bodily temperature, but it could also measure internal temperature at a user definable focal point a distance from the smartphone itself. It could also produce a resolution limited MRI and even a magnetically imaged ultrasound. It could image circulatory system flow diagrams, which would highlight regions where circulation was near a stand still, making it easier to diagnose arterial clogging. Most of it was powered by a small device that plugged into the camera through its USB port. The device itself was a combination thermal imager and a macro-powered magnetometer, though the real heart of it all was the software suite, which the inventor had developed himself.

"This is really a remarkable device, if it in fact lives up to all of these claims. Does your field evaluation include an evaluation of their product or service?" asked Alicia.

"Generally, we do that sort of thing with what we call a blind inquiry skit. Basically, Noble Group will hire an expert in a related field to inquire about the work of the EIB, and evaluate it directly if at all possible. In this case, we'd hire an MD or a Medical Biologist..." Charlie began.

"Or a Quantum Biologist?" Alicia smiled, batting her eyelashes.

"...or a Quantum Biologist to play the part of an interested party in their product. That person would do all of the perfunctory tests to evaluate the product or service and their report would be added to the validation that I do. From that combination of reports, the Noble Group would then make a decision about their bursary or grant, possibly even partnering as investors much like they did with the lab that produced the SY349," Charlie explained to Alicia as they drove.

"So how does the background check factor into this?" asked Alicia.

"We aren't very well known, but there are those who are aware of investment groups like ours. So naturally, there are predators in the wild who prey upon investment money and target organizations like ours that try to back those in need, including burgeoning entrepreneurs. Many of them often have a bad history in one form or another, but we also find that many of the legitimate EIBs themselves also have a bumpy history. Financial problems. Debt. That kind of thing. Seems to go hand in hand with being innovators, entrepreneurs and inventors. We usually become aware of scams through the background check, but the final criteria really comes from the product or service inquiry skit. If Its the real deal, then we might ignore the background check in the case of bad credit and what not. If it is clearly a scam, we avoid it," Charlie explained.

"Sounds fair. I used to have a lot of debt after I graduated. I had to pay back my student loan and so my history would have been a bit bumpy with my debt load, missed rent payments and struggled to keep food in my fridge. Nicolai Tesla essentially died broke, yet his legacy is valued in the trillions of dollars in terms of patents and inventions. Our entire alternating current electrical system is his design. He and Edison competed to design a cost effective and efficient means ot electrical distribution for the energy grid. Tesla won with his alternating current design. Both Marconi and Edison even relied on his parts to build their inventions. The electrical grid globally is worth trillions of dollars, yet Tesla died broke in a hotel room," Alicia explained.

"Tesla eh? Isn't that something," Charlie remarked, seeing all of the wire towers around them as they drove.

"When you have something that other people think might make them a lot of money or bring them fame, those people get kind of crazy, maybe even thinking that they're justified to take it from you. I know that from when I was working on the SY349. Before we had the protection of a big corporation like Tynan And Associates, there were a number of others who literally tried to take my design notes, and the DNA/RNA diagrams. So it can be tough for the people who are innovating," Alicia continued.

"That's part of the reason why we do the validity check. We try to be lenient, but objective. We're dealing with investment capital here, but we're providing the services of a charity, while most of our donors are big business. There's a lot of wealthy big wigs out there who want to leave a legacy for the next generation, not to mention that society has a way of making the wealthy feel guilty for it. So it suits many of them to donate so such a cause as the Noble Group, because it embodies the areas they'd like to impact directly themselves: medical financial crises, entrepreneurial investment and the last wishes fund, for those who are on their way out way before their time," Charlie continued as he got onto the 401 westbound.

They drove west to the Don Valley Parkway, Toronto's main north - south artery and then south to Richmond Street, close to the heart of Toronto's downtown business sector. From there they made their way along Bay Street up to College Street where they found a pay lot where they could leave the car.

"Now we just head into the Police Station and submit our the materials here for the background check. It usually takes a week or so. Fairly standard," Charlie explained to Alicia.

"What about other checks?" she asked.

"Credit check? History?" he asked.

"Yeah? What about that stuff? I want to know it all," she asked.

"For a credit check, you just need a financial institution such as a bank. Not only that but it can be done online. For their history, we check with educational institutions such as the Ministry Of Education, though we've had instances where a potential recipient's educational history has was not on record for one reason or another. I always get suspicious under those circumstances, especially in the case of EIBs," Charlie remarked.

"Why?" Alicia asked.

"Two reasons. One is that the EIB themselves might have a fraudulently indicated educational background. The other is that with EIBs as you said, they're often targets of scams themselves, often geared towards taking their creations from them, though for the most part, that's very rare, but we did find one situation where records had been purposely altered to discredit the potential recipient, but that was a situation connected with the Torman case. Another Private Investigator, Stacy Ellenam worked on that EIB, so I don't know the details. I do know that they were required to take the evidence they uncovered to the authorities, as per the terms of their investigator's license. So sometimes during the checks, you can find situations that indicate other factors, but those situations are usually rare," Charlie explained.

"Or well hidden," Alicia responded.

"Or that too. But we have to draw the line somewhere and keep ourselves focused on our job. We can't go snooping around when we're putting it on the Noble Group's tab, and I for one don't work for free," Charlie admitted.

"You have set your boundaries. I understand," Alicia responded knowing about that all too well.

They arrived at the front desk and a uniformed officer greeted them.

"Can I help you?" she asked them.

"We have a background check request here, I'm handing it in under the bond of my Investigator's License," Charlie presented the background check paperwork and his investigator's license.

She took the paperwork, examining the name of the request.

"Looks like you're the second party interested in this one. We had a fellow in here yesterday, another investigator. Handed in paperwork checking up on the same one. Must be in high demand. Hopefully the good kind rather than the bad," she remarked.

"Was the other investigator a man or a woman?" Charlie asked.

"A man. About your height, clean shaven," she responded.

"Thanks for the tip," Charlie replied as they left.

"So do you know the other investigator?" asked Alicia.

"No. I thought it might be Stacy. Sometimes two of us can end up with the same file. Again, that's rare, but it looks like this EIB has another interested party," Charlie told Alicia.

"So is that good or bad?" she asked.

"That depends. It could be an interested investor doing their homework, or it could be something else. Maybe legal problems? Debt collectors? We can't concern ourselves with that because we can't affect it, whatever it is. If its an investor, the recipient can still legally receive a bursary from us and then benefit from third party investment. That's what we're encouraging. When it comes to anything else that could entail, we can't spend our time looking into it. Also, its a professional courtesy," Charlie responded.

"Maybe I could do the blind inquiry skit today? I'm qualified," Alicia suggested.

"You'd have to check with the decision makers on that," Charlie told her as they made their way back to the car.

"Like Norler?" Alicia confirmed, already having fished her phone out of her purse.

"Norler can make that call," Charlie agreed.

"Then I'll call Norler," Alicia hit the speed dial.

"Walton Norler speaking, honey," Norler answered, already knowing who it was.

"Hi sweety. We're downtown right now. We just left the Police Headquarters and were discussing the EIB we're working on. I was wondering if I could do the blind inquiry skit for Noble Group with this one? I mean I'm a Doctor, a Quantum Biologist. I'm way qualified for it," Alicia pushed Norler.

"I don't see why not. You might want to ask Charlie for some of the guidelines about it first, but you have my permission," Norler agreed knowing her qualifications.

"Thank you! Big kisses! See you tonight!" she hung up.

"So it looks like you're going to do it? I'll drop you off at his location while I check his insurance and property ownership history, and you can take it from there," Charlie told her.

"I guess I'll be posing as an interested investor?" she asked him.

"If you feel comfortable with that, that's a good cover story," Charlie agreed.

"I think I've got an angle I can use. I can just rely on my experiences at the lab for any details," Alicia opened the passenger door as Charlie got in and started the car.

"Tell Norler that if Tynan wants to make a fortune, that they should start investing in downtown parking," Charlie paid his parking fare and quipped about the fee.

They drove off to drop Alicia at the home of Gregory Epsen, not knowing that they were being tailed by another car.

And In The Evening

Farnham's phone rang as he pulled into his driveway at home. He put the car in its parking gear and retrieved his smartphone from his jacket.

"Farnham speaking," he answered.

"Are you still out and about?" asked Tricia.

"I just pulled into my driveway and was about to open my wife, and kiss a beer," Farnham joked.

"Well keep your bottle cap on, because I'd like you to accompany us to a private meeting," Tricia informed Farnham.

"With who?" asked Farnham.

"Werner. Something's up. He tried to tell us he couldn't talk in his office so we secretly arranged to meet him. Can you make it down to Commerce Court by 7 PM? We're meeting him in the Tynan And Associates boardroom. Its on the thirtieth floor," Tricia informed Farnham.

Farnham checked his watch.

"Yeah, I can make it. I'm on my way now," Farnham hung up.

His wife opened the drapes on the front bay window and waved at him. He waved back, gesturing that he'd call her. She nodded, letting him know that she understood him as he pulled out of the driveway and made his way over to the eastbound 401.

He became curious about what Werner might have to say that he couldn't in the office of the company he'd co-founded with his business partner Goldstein. Obviously a man at his level would likely have difficulty relating with most of the working class in the city, if anyone other than others of his position and endeavor. Perhaps from his perspective, he was privy to awareness that others simply could not fathom.

Farnham had known men like him before and regarded them well, despite his own grass roots upbringing. They tended to spend less time on trivial matters in life and focused on the matter of prosperity, ableit somewhat objectively. Not just for one's self, but often for the benefit of many, though that was more often than not just a side effect of their own pursuits. Farnham found himself considering the possibilities from many different angles, like trying to piece together a puzzle in his mind.

The drive back to the downtown core was remarkably quick, seeing as most of the evening traffic was in the other direction, workers leaving and on the way to their respective homes. From the highway exit he made his way to Commerce Court and into the parking level where he left his car. 

The building by that point was mostly empty except for the security and the cleaners, though Farnham had no trouble finding and using the elevators.

When he arrived on the thirtieth floor, Tricia and Halmand both were waiting in the elevator lobby for him.

"You made it. Glad you could. Another set of ears and a noggin between them certainly won't hurt," Tricia smiled.

"And I was beginning to think you liked me," Farnham chuckled.

"How'd it go with Johnny?" asked Halmand.

"Well, he was a middle man in Forseth's acquisition of that Rambo kit he was packing. He's clearly nervous about it, but he confirmed the contents of Forseth's journal. So we pretty much know that Lamar was the provider. Quite a coincidence that he took part in that robbery," Farnham explained.

"Maybe its not a coincidence," Halmand suggested.

"But that would imply that Lamar was a part of whatever radicalized Forseth," Tricia suggested.

"Would it? Maybe that was a coincidence?" Farnham added.

"Its almost 7 now. We should find the boardroom," Tricia opened the door to Tynan And Associates and found the reception desk empty.

"Must have gone home," Halmand remarked.

"I guess we'll just have to find it the old fashioned way. With good old Detective work," Farnham remarked.

Tricia walked around the receptionist's desk and found the company phone. She then hit the intercom button and spoke:

"Attention board members. There are guests waiting at reception," she spoke, hearing her voice echo throughout the entire office area.

"Good idea. That should get his attention," Farnham responded.

A moment later Werner stepped in to the reception area.

"You made it? Glad you could. I wasn't sure if I was clear enough," Werner greeted them.

"Mr. Werner, this is Detective Farnham. He's working with us on this case," Tricia introduced Farnham.

"Pleased to meet you, Detective Farnham. We should make our way to the boardroom as its pretty air tight," Werner suggested.

They followed Werner to the boardroom. He let them in and closed the door behind them. A moment later and they were all seated and ready for their meeting.

"What was it that you wanted to discuss that you couldn't at the other location," Tricia asked directly.

"Well. For one, I suspect that Ron was under a great deal of pressure from within the company itself. Not only that, but from outside as well," Werner explained.

"Pressure? Work pressure? Life pressure?" confirmed Farnham.

"No. Not the normal kind of pressure that everyone else experiences on a daily basis. He was under pressure of a very different kind," Werner told them.

"What kind of pressure and how do you know this?" asked Tricia.

"I know, because I'm under attack in the same way, and have been since a year before Ron's tragic death," Werner assured them.

"How? Under attack in what way?" asked Tricia.

"Its all very difficult to explain, but let me say that I can empathize with what Ron must have been going through, because apparently he'd been going through the same thing for decades. Since just after having joined our company and just before his marriage. Its remarkable that he kept himself together for so long," Werner explained.

"So you still haven't told us what you are experiencing," Tricia reminded Werner.

"Well. The definite sensation that I'm being watched nearly all of the time, though if I tell you that, you'd likely write me off as paranoid or possibly even mentally ill," Werner looked at them quizzically.

"Not necesarily. Can you elaborate?" Tricia asked him gently.

"Well, its as if I'm under constant scrutiny by both people I know, and some that I don't know. They seem to be aware of details of my life and business dealings with remarkable accuracy. Now I don't say this out of any guilt of wrong doing, because my dealings are all very fair and just. So this isn't a case of my own guilt of misconduct getting the better part of my conscience, because there is no such guilt," Werner explained.

"What kinds of things happen to you that give you this impression?" asked Tricia as Halmand and Farnham wrote it down.

"For one, when I'm walking through the office, one or more of my employees might make a quick remark about something related to work I'd recently done on my business. For instance, if I worked on a ledger managing the budgets, then the employees might make specific remarks about the ledger itself," Werner tried to describe his plight.

"Don't some of your senior management have access to those ledgers?" asked Tricia.

"Yes, but not before I've signed off on them. I work on those very private ledgers on an isolated system. What our techs call an air gapped system. A computer that is not connected to the main company network or the internet for that matter. So there is no way that they could know this information unless they were using other means to scry it directly from the screen," Werner explained.

"Do you still experience these incidents?" asked Tricia.

"Every day and by the numbers," Werner assured Tricia.

"Do Tynan And Associates own the floor below and above this office?" asked Tricia.

"Yes. We actually operate on four floors. Three of them are completely ours, while the fourth we have a mailroom and our tech area," Werner told Tricia.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Tricia looked to Halmand.

"TEMPEST?" asked Halmand.

"Precisely," Tricia responded.

"That's high tech stuff isn't it? Military?" responded Farnham.

"The Military build their systems to be protected against TEMPEST vulnerability," Tricia explained.

"Excuse me, but what is TEMPEST? What are you talking about?" asked Werner.

"You know about wires and electricity right? Well when an electrical current is on a completed circuit with power, it creates a magnetic field. Computers are essentially circuits, albeit really compicated ones, where the current is the medium through which the information is carried. So because an electrical charge creates a magnetic field, in the case of computers, all of the circuits in a computer also create magnetic fields. All those fields contain the same information that you see on the screen, but in a different form," Halmand explained, having a bit of background in TEMPEST applications.

"So you're saying that someone could be listening in on this magnetic field?" asked Werner.

"That's the best possibility given what you're explaining," Tricia answered.

"So how would we know if this equipment exists and is spying on me?" asked Werner.

"It would have to be setup in an office close enough to yours. Within twenty to thirty meters," Halmand told Werner.

"Is Werner-Goldstein closed and locked?" asked Tricia.

"That question is irrelevant when you hold the key," Werner produced the keys to his company's office.

"We could go right now, and do a search without a warrant. Its your lease, therefore we won't be held liable for searching any offices without a warrant. Your call," Tricia suggested.

"Let's do it if it will give us resolve," Werner agreed.

The four of the them headed to the parking level and were on their way shortly thereafter, Werner riding with Farnham.

"Its been a long time since I've ridden in anything other than a Rolls Royce, and I must say that its quite exhilarating," Werner remarked.

"Glad you like it," Farnham responded.

They pulled into the parking at First Canadian Place and found their way up.

"Halmand and I will take the floor beneath Werner's office. You and Werner take the one above. When we've swept the offices nearest his corner office, we'll meet at his office and do a sweep of the neighbouring offices," Tricia ordered them.

"Alright Mr. Werner, you've got my back," Farnham told Werner.

"I'll do my best, though I hope this isn't dangerous," Werner said to Farnham as he handed a copy of the keys to Tricia.

Tricia got off the elevator with Halmand and they checked the office door. It was open. They went in and immediately in the direction of Werner's corner office, though his office was one floor up from them.

"The thirty meter mark starts around here. There's four offices with doors in that area," Tricia unclipped her holster and drew her service pistol and a field light.

Halmand followed suit.

They took up position on either side of the first office door. Halmand turned the knob and Tricia pushed the door open, her pistol in front of her and her field light illuminating the way.

"Clear. Just a desk and a chair," Tricia told her partner.

They moved to the next one and did the same thing, finding nothing.

Meanwhile, up on the floor two floors above them, Farnham had positioned himself similarly in front of an office door that was directly above Werner's office. He held his gun in front of him and opened the door, urging Werner to stay back.

Farnham hit the switch in the office, and the floruescent lighting lit the scene.

"What do we have here?" Farnham said as he examined a peculiar looking contraption on a tripod stand.

The device sat on a tripod, and had several arms extending from a central axis which was attached to a gimble. On first inspection it looked like a heat sink, but when Farnham saw that there was a coax wire runing from the device to a nearby computer, his suspicions were confirmed.

"My son is into astronomy, but that's not a telescope on that tripod," Werner remarked upon seeing the strange contraption.

"Close the door and get the switch," Farnham told Werner as they left the office.

"We'll check the two remaining offices, and then call Tricia and Halmand and let them know what we found," Farnham told Werner.

Meanwhile, two floors down, Tricia and Halmand checked the last office, finding that it was locked.

"Kick it open?" Halmand asked.

"That will damage the frame and alert anyone to the fact that someone was in the office," Tricia said, pulling the keys Werner had given her.

She tried the first key and the knob unlocked with a click.

"Okay, same way," Tricia readied herself.

Halmand turned the knob and Tricia pushed the door open, entering first with her pistol.

"ET Phone home..." Tricia remarked when she saw the tripod.

"That's a high gain antenna," Halmand responded as soon as he saw it.

"There's a coax cable. Like the ones we use for a tap. It runs to this computer," Tricia holstered her pistol and clipped it tight.

"That carries the signal. Its an antenna for sure. Looks like its connected via a DSP dongle of some form. An SDR most likely," Halmand examined the hardware.

"What's a DSP?" Tricia asked Halmand.

"Digital Signal Processor. Its an integrated circuit kind of like a cpu. It can be programmed to operate as a filter processing unit on any signal. Audio. Video. In this case its part of an SDR, which is Software Defined Radio. SDR relies on DSPs for their implementation. It looks like we have our culprit here, because this is the exact kind of setup that is used for TEMPEST intrusions. So they're definitely spying on computers in this office," Halmand told Tricia who was already searching the desk for any identifying features.

She found a couple of packages of chewing gum, each of them with several pieces left.

"They like gum. Now we know what brand," she told Halmand as she checked the other drawers.

As she continued checking the desk, her phone rang.

"What have you got?" Tricia asked Farnham.

"Remember that War of the Worlds movie?" asked Farnham.

"What about it?" Tricia asked.

"I've got one of those giant alien things. A tripod, only a lot smaller," Farnham told Tricia.

"Its an antenna. We found one down here too," Tricia informed Farnham.

"Looks like we found Werner's and Forseth's culprits. Who's going to take this? You or me?" asked Farnham.

"We'll take it. We'll give you Forseth's case and call the whole thing a joint operation," Tricia suggested.

"Fair enough. I'm good with that," Farnham replied.

"Help us setup the crime scene and you can go," Tricia told Farnham.

"My wife will love ya for that," Farnham smiled.

"Bye for now," Tricia hung up.

"So I take it that we've wrapped up this case?" asked Werner.

"Not wrapped up, but its definitely a first step in filling out the bigger picture," Farnham replied, returning to the office with the tripod.

"Then I take it that tripod thing is responsible for everything," asked Werner suggested.

"That depends on what you mean by *everything*," Farnham replied as he began tagging evidence.

"Well, I meant them being able to see what I was doing on my computer, but also that I was able to hear their voices when nobody was around," Werner told him.

Chills ran through Farnham as he realized that Werner was describing the same phenomenon that all seven of the suspects of the robbery case, Forseth and Dupree had described before their death.

Farnham immediately called Tricia.

"We've got another problem. A big one," he said to her, looking to Werner intensely.

Seoul Survivors

Heylyn's eyes opened as she lay on her front, her eyes facing the wall of the hotel room just beyond her night table. Her head remained still as her eyes looked over to her phone which was in its cradle on the night table. It read 5:30 AM. She closed her eyes and from beside her bed she distinctly heard the sound of giggling.

As she slowly opened her eyes again she saw Warai's little round face peeking out over top of the mattress from the side of the bed. When Heylyn's eyes were completely opened, Warai screamed as she descended behind the side of the bed again and once she was completely hidden, her sounds were replaced by giggling.

As Heylyn waited, she put on a scrunched up mean face. Sure enough, a only twenty seconds later, Warai poked her head up again and upon seeing Heylyn's face, she screamed and ran for her own bed, pulling the covers over her face, laughing.

Heylyn could hear the water running in the bathroom as she got out of bed. She put on her slippers and checked first on Warai, who was still under the covers in her tiny bed, laughter having died down.

"Are you there scary monster?" she said, slowly pulling the covers from over her head.

"Boo!" Heylyn was right over her, with a big mean face.

Warai disappeared beneath the covers again, screaming and laughing as Heylyn went to tap on the door to the bathroom.

"Can I use the sink?" Heylyn raised her voice a little bit.

"It's open!" Warai yelled from inside of the shower.

Heylyn went about her morning facial rinse followed by brushing her teeth before she vacated the bathroom, leaving it for Kori to get out of the shower and dry herself.

"Do you want to come with me for my morning jog?" asked Heylyn of Warai.

"What's a jog? Is it good? Do you eat them?" Warai asked.

"No. You can't eat a jog," Heylyn said.

"Awwwe, but I want to try one," Warai replied, pouting slightly.

"Do you know what running is?" asked Heylyn, running on the spot for Warai.

"Yes, I know. I can run," she responded.

"Well a jog is like running, but slower," Heylyn showed her by slowing down from a fast on the spot run, to a moderate jog.

"In here?" asked Warai.

"No, we'll go to the playground. This hotel has one. I saw it when I went swimming yesterday," Heylyn told her.

"Can I go?" Warai asked.

"You most certainly may. But first you have to get ready. You've got to wash up and brush your teeth," Heylyn told her.

"I only brush after I've eaten," Warai told Heylyn.

"Well, I like to brush my teeth when I get up. In fact, its one of the first things that I do," Heylyn told her.

"But you have no food on your teeth," Warai responded, looking at Heylyn as if the concept puzzled her.

"When you sleep, overnight, little germs can build up in your mouth and hurt your teeth. So if you brush once in the morning, you're getting rid of them," Heylyn told Warai.

"I'm getting rid of my teeth?" asked Warai.

"No, silly. The germs," Heylyn laughed a little as she realized how Warai had pieced her statement together.

"So when Kori gets out of the washroom..." Heylyn began as Kori emerged, her hair in a towel, wearing her pajamas.

"I heard my name. What's up?" Kori asked Heylyn as she passed, going directly to Warai.

"What's up sleepy head?" Kori ran her hands through Warai's hair.

"I'm not sleeping," Warai said innocently.

"We're going to the playground now. Would you like to come?" asked Heylyn.

"Sure, let me throw on some clothes," Kori said, grabbing her kit and heading back to the bathroom.

"You go first, I'll go next, then Warai and we're out of here," Heylyn told Kori as she closed the door.

Kori looked after Warai in the playground, while Heylyn did her morning jog by doing a hundred laps of the area surrounding it. Warai became interested in what Heylyn was doing and even tried to follow her once for a lap, but changed her mind quickly when she saw Kori on the swings.

Once they'd finished, they had breakfast in the restaurant together and from there they were off to the market. Their first trip was a shopping excursion to find Warai some more clothes. They found a goods market near the Gyeongdong Food Markets, and ventured through the crowded alleys and mini-streets that made up the attraction.

"It looks like you two are taken care of. Do you feel better in that outfit Warai?" asked Heylyn.

"It's itchy," Warai said, scratching her arm.

"Probably needs a wash or two. If its really bothering you we can go back and change into one of your outfits?" Heylyn asked Warai.

"It's alright. I want to look at the market some more," Warai said enthusiastically.

"That's the spirit, Warai! I've satisfied my shopping itch for the year," Kori said, with a bag full of knick-knacks for the West Meet East staff and the clothes she'd picked out for herself.

"Lets go there!" Warai pointed to a section of the market with flowers.

"We could do that. Kori?" Heylyn asked.

"Sure, that sounds nice," Kori took Warai's hand and began walking as Heylyn suddenly sensed a chaotic presence.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she thought she saw a serpent, flying through the air, invisible to the rest of the patrons, just over their heads. When she looked directly to the area, she saw nothing but the patrons doing their shopping and browsing.

She then heard the click of heels, and as she turned, she saw a woman covered from head to toe in tattoos. She focused upon them, seeing that they were intertwined with butterflies.

"Impossible..." she said quietly to herself as she saw that the woman was going for Warai.

As the woman reached out to grab Warai's free hand from behind, Heylyn swiftly caught her arm, stopping it dead.

"She's mine. Back away now!" the woman turned to face Heylyn, her eyes furious with vengeance.

"I'm sorry lady, you've got the wrong kid," Heylyn said to her firmly.

The woman then with her free hand attempted to enter into Heylyn's space and push her backwards and off balance. Heylyn quickly blocked the attempt with her left arm, maintaining her grip on the woman's other arm, while adjusting her own stance to maintain equilibrium.

The woman then with no room to move swept upwards and outwards with a kick of such force that it caught Heylyn's chest and sent her flying backwards across the market and into a brick wall. Dust and fragments of brick fell onto her as she got up to her feet. The shoppers and market vendors around her fled for their safety. Others at a safe distance watched in amazement.

"Alright. We do this the hard way," Heylyn said as she got to her feet.

She realized that she couldn't be seen in public as Heylyn engaging in this fight, for it would put everyone she knew in danger. She looked around, searching for a place to remove her outer layer of clothing. She spied an alley behind one of the market buildings, lined with empty crates that would make good cover.

She ducked into the alley and behind the crates, removing her outer layer of clothing, revealing her suit beneath. She then dawned her mask as her wings emerged from her back. She took to the air after the woman.

Meanwhile, Kori grabbed Warai's hand and began running deeper into the market away from the tattooed woman.

"You! With the little girl! Stop!" Kori heard such a fierce voice from behind her that she had no choice but to turn and look.

Kori ran with Warai until she found herself in a dead end. She turned to see the woman, her body covered in tattoos, a black and white mini-skirt clinging to her body.

"Get behind me Warai!" Kori pushed Warai behind her protectively as the woman advanced.

Kori turned her face and braced for the impact.

Just as the woman was about to strike Kori in the abdomen, a blur caught her fist as the Butterfly Dragon intercepted the punch in mid-flight.

"You again? What's with the outfit?" asked the woman of Heylyn.

"I was just going to say the same thing to you," Heylyn grabbed hold of the woman and flew her up and away from the market, to protect the patrons from their combat.

As she flew upwards, the woman punched her in her kidney and then flung herself around to Heylyn's back. She then braced her heels against Heylyn's rump, launching herself from Heylyn's grasp. She fell a hundred feet back into the market narrowly missing one of the patrons. She broke the force of the fall by rolling, coming up on her feet perfectly and ready for another round.

Heylyn shook off the pain and turned herself around, flying back down to the market and landing in front of the woman again.

The woman began to launch a series of punches and kicks at Heylyn, who backed away as she blocked every one of them. As Heylyn backed away, she recalled a lesson given her by Jinn Hua. Jinn had been launching a non-stop series of attacks, forcing a sixteen year old Heylyn backwards as she blocked each attack, losing precious ground. The blocks were so familiar to Heylyn that they seemed effortless, even automatic. The clarity of the situation found her and she realized that she could think freely while she blocked. 

It was then that Jinn Hua spoke to her:

"It seems that repetition of your exercises has paid off? Now do you see why they're so important?" asked Jinn as the two women engaged in physical combat, yet found a moment's grace where their minds could meet.

"Yes, but this is a stand-off, isn't it?" asked Heylyn.

"That it is, and you're losing ground. So tell me, when defense is automatic, almost routine, what's your best weapon?" asked Jinn Hua.

Heylyn thought about the question for a moment, contemplating it as she continued to block every one of Jinn Hua's attacks, losing more ground as she did. The wall approaching her from behind, where she'd have nowhere to go.

Then it occurred to her, that she was able to think while all this was going on. It was then that she answered.

"My mind," Heylyn responded as she thought carefully about Jinn Hua's attacks, finding a pattern to them.

Heylyn quickly discerned the pattern, perhaps even using an aspect of her want to be a designer, she used that knowledge to break Jinn Hua's attack.

Heylyn found the weakness in the woman's pattern and quickly exploited it. After she'd blocked a foreward punch, Heylyn instead of stepping backwards, moved into her defensive space, closing the distance she needed to effectively kick. When one of the woman's kicks failed to connect as a result of their close proximity, Heylyn simply grabbed her leg behind the knee as Jinn Hua once had done.

"You're Jinn Hua's student, aren't you?" the woman responded instantly recognizing one of her opponent's instructors simply by the fact that Heylyn had chosen the same move when faced with a similar situation.

"And you're not," Heylyn responded pushing the woman backwards attempting to force her down on one foot.

Instead the woman adjusted her weight, allowing the flow of Heylyn's direction to complete itself, leading her onto the pavement. Heylyn didn't follow through completely, instead rolling over her shoulders and back up onto her feet, demonstrating that she'd also had training in Uekemi, or something similar given that it reflected Jinn Hua's style, which was more based in Kung Fu and Wing Chun.

"More than one teacher? You must be the butterfly?" the woman asked in disbelief.

Warai's eyes lit up when she heard the word.

"See Kori! I told you!" Warai said peeking out from behind Kori.

"Heylyn...?" Kori said in the disbelief that she was seeing her employer in a different light.

The two women faced off against one another carefully circling each other looking for an opening.

"You're from the Tanaka school, aren't you?" Heylyn asked the woman, causing an intense fury to arise from her.

"Don't you say that name! You have no right to taste those words upon your lips!" the woman scoffed at Heylyn.

As the woman's fury rose, from the corner of her eyes, Heylyn once again saw the shadowy serpent flying over the heads of the shoppers and market vendors who looked on upon the battle. It circled and then without warning, at the height of the woman's fury, it charged directly at Heylyn.

Her wings immediately and effortlessly formed a protective barrier around her as the serpent collided with the shimmering translucent immaterial form of her wings. It impacted, stopping dead, even bouncing backwards and falling to the interlocking brick walkway of the market.

From the corner of her eyes, she saw it rise from the brick and flee, disappearing into the distance.

"We'll finish this some other time, butterfly," the woman responded, somewhat taken back that the butterfly had a defense against her ally.

The woman turned and started running, even in her heels, at full tilt. 

"No you don't!" Heylyn said, giving pursuit.

She took to the air and dove at the woman as she turned into a nearby doorway, getting into the building just as Heylyn landed outside of the same door. She jumped in through the same doorway, but by that time, the woman was already gone. She examined the building even with her intensified senses and found no sign of her.

"She's working with a dragon whoever she is," Heylyn said aloud to herself, perhaps hoping that Weltherwithsp might hear her.

Heylyn took the opportunity to don her regular clothing, quickly throwing it on over her butterfly dragon costume. She then went to leave the building through the same door.

"Whew, I almost forgot," Heylyn took her mask off, folded it and returned it to her belt pouch.

She then stepped out through the doorway, brushing herself off of any of the dust she'd accumulated and found her way back to Warai and Kori.

She leaned down to Warai, as Warai reached out for a hug.

"You're not hurt, butterfly!" Warai said excitedly.

"Who? Oh don't be silly. Let's keep that our little secret, ok?" asked Heylyn of Warai.

"Ok," Warai replied quietly, looking down and somewhat disappointed.

"Don't tell anyone. Even your new friends at school," Heylyn said to Warai.

"I'm going to school?" asked Warai.

"When we get back, and you're going to make a lot of new friends. Not only that, but you're going to meet my friends. Like Kori here," Heylyn gestured to Kori, whose arms were folded as she looked scornfully at Heylyn.

"Do you care to tell what's going on?" Kori asked her firmly.

"I don't want to talk about it right now Kori," Heylyn responded.

"Look, I just saw my employer flying around in a butter-" Kori began before she was interrupted by Heylyn.

"I said, I don't want to discuss this here!" she raised her voice, underlining the fact that she was deadly serious.

Kori looked angry and flustered at the same time.

"Alright then. What now?" asked Kori.

"We've got to book a flight to GuangZhou," Heylyn told Kori.

"You mean China? I thought we were going back home to Toronto?" asked Kori.

"We were. But now we're going to China for one day. Can you handle it, or would you like me to book you a flight back to Toronto tonight?" asked Heylyn.

"I can handle it. But we're going to talk about this when we get back to the room," Kori told Heylyn.

"Fair enough," Heylyn agreed with Kori.

"Let's go Warai, we're going to get some dessert. It was Kori's idea," Heylyn said.

"Yay Kori! What kind of dessert?" Warai asked.

"I don't know, maybe some cookies and ice cream?" Heylyn said, looking to Kori, whose smile slowly returned to her face.

As they left, Heylyn carefully examined their surroundings keeping a close eye out for any trouble.

One of the vendors at the market stalls looked to them and in Korean spoke:

[Must be tourists. They must have had too much Soju!]
"그들은 관광객이어야합니다. 그들은 소주를 너무 많이 마셨을 것입니다!" he said to one of his customers.

The Serpent And The Darkness

"You ran from the butterfly! Fled, like a coward!" Aikiko stood before the dragon which loomed over her menacingly.

"That wasn't me, my dear and if you value your mortal life, soul and the blood which flows through your veins, you'll dare not use that word in reference to my being ever again. Do I make myself clear?" the serpent's head moved down to meet her's face to face.

Its eyes looking as much into her as through her.

"Yes. I will heed your request, but if you flee in battle again like that, you can consider our contract done! Debt or no debt, if you've violated the terms of your own honour, I have no place for you," Aikiko said fearlessly to the dragon.

The dragon's eyes flared for a moment as Aikiko smelled the scent of sulphur emerging from the dragon's nostrils. Then, without warning it began to laugh, arching its head up high as it did.

"There is a fine line between the courageous and the foolish, and you walk it better than any mortal I've ever known, and I have known many in my time," the dragon continued laughing.

Aikiko suddenly found herself floating above an immense field. It was daytime and clearly near noon judging by the sun overhead. She could hear the sound of marching. The feet of thousands of soldiers. When she craned her head to one side, she saw a vast army, at least a hundred thousand strong advancing to a point somewhere near the center of the field. Some of them were clad in what appeared to be bronze armour, while others were wearing padded piece-mail. The front lines were armed with spears and primitive polearms of an origin that Aikiko did not recognize.

On the other side, another army, clad and armed similarly yet bearing a different banner approached, their numbers roughly the same.

"You see Tanaka-heir, I've been around since humankind's beginning and long before. I know you for what you are, especially my favourite of your qualities and one of your very worst. Your propensity for war," the dragon spoke as the ground rumbled, though the armies seemed oblivious of its words.

The two armies stopped perhaps three hundred meters or three football fields apart. Two parties from each of the armies strode forth, each of about ten men. They met in the middle of the field, where they stopped and began a dialogue in a language that Aikiko couldn't understand.

"Allow me to help you with that," the dragon spoke.

Aikiko felt a tingling in her head, blurring her vision slightly for a moment. After her vision cleared, she could understand their words clearly.

"We have come forth bearing arms to protect our lands against you claim over them," one of the men spoke, addressing a member of the other party.

Another man beside him, whom Aikiko assumed to be a translator then repeated the message but in another language, all of which were clear to her.

"It is you who have made false claims over our land, and we are defending our right to the land," the counterpart on the opposing faction stated clearly to his interpreter, who then relayed the message back to the other side.

"Then if we are at an impasse, perhaps we can find compromise rather than bloodshed?" asked the man on other side.

"We have come here to show our dedication to protecting these lands by a show of force. It would be advantageous to us both, and to our people to find a common ground rather than the brutality of war," the reply came from the other side.

"It is a shame that diplomacy must be so backed by such a show of force, for mustering these forces from far beyond our standing armies has likely cost both of our peoples' much," came the response from the opposite side.

As the men on both sides stood in the heat of the noon time sun, they trembled anticipating the heat of battle, though none of them truly wanted it in their hearts. Yet, they stood ready to defend what was theirs.

"Then we shall compromise and draw this line here, in this field at this very spot, so that all of these men may return home safely to their loved ones unharmed and so that another generation can live without the fear of war looming over them," the reply came, courageously and honourably.

"The hearts of men are the most fragile when at the peak of their hope, and all it takes is a twitch or a spasm " the dragon spoke.

Aikiko suddenly was aside of one of the men in one of the armies. A row of men with something that appeared like a slingshot, using treated intestine as the twine and a hardwood for their frame. They held what appeared to be droplets of forged metal, nearly perfectly round, they were aimed at the enemy.

The dragon then blew a slight breath from its lips and tongue, the air shimmering as it cascaded towards the men with slingshots. As the air passed over them, one of them slipped, the shot fired out directly at the delegation in the midst of negotiations.

The shot entered into the faction leader's throat, severing his carotid and he careened over from his horse, gurgling as life escaped him.

"We've been deceived! It's a ploy! Attack!" yelled the commander who rode into battle against members of the other delegation.

Soon the fighting was joined by both armies, who closed ranks and began viciously slaughtering one another.

"You see, when a former enemy is at the height of one's trust, that is when the fall is the greatest, and in such circumstances, men never restrain themselves of their true nature. The nature of conflict and bloodshed," the dragon told Aikiko.

"That was just one such war, and I've seen them all throughout your history, for I've been here since before the beginning. Even the infancy of your home planet here, I watched it grow from scattered ejecta from your own star, Sol," the dragon showed Aikiko who could clearly see the Sun's corona as it ejected hydrogen and helium in bands and streams that followed the Sun's magnetic field.

"It formed into the first protomatter, clumps of the first fundamental elements and then into rock and ice. It conglamerated further to become bigger and bigger, even colliding with its smaller, and sometimes larger neighbours until it was nearly the size you know of it today," the dragon showed her as the minute matter slowly congealed via gravity into clumps of molecules, which then combined ever more to become complex matter such as rock and ice as the dragon had explained.

"It acquired a moon, the result of another massive collision and eventually cooled enough to melt the ice it had acquired by cometary impacts. Soon your world was a primordial soup of sludge and filth, not too different the world it is today. Then, from in that mixture, and through some freak of nature, the first life began," the dragon brought Aikiko in close to the surface where from a surface bombarded by lightning, within a goey sludge, the first matter became the first proteins, none of which Aikiko could understand, but she somehow appreciated for these were her ancestors.

Everyone's ancestors.

"You see, your birthright was, is and always will be violence. The universe, your sun, your planet and you were born from it as you saw. From lifelessness came life," the dragon explained.

"Through millions of years, your ancestors struggled to survive against species much more powerful than they," Aikiko watched as a curious looking fish nibbled on plant life and decaying matter near the seabed as another much larger fish ate it in one gulp.

"You left the ocean and struggled against other life, once again in an arms race of violence," Aikiko once again saw another four legged creature, that had a hybrid of what appeared to be feathers and possibly even a fur mane, snatching the remnants of meat from a carcass.

Another larger creature, a dinosaur then leapt upon the four legged beast and ripped its flesh open, devouring it.

"Then, by a stroke of immense good luck, your ancestors started their ascent to the top of the food chain. Once again, with the help of violence. The violence of an asteroidal impact," the dragon showed her as a giant mountain of stone sped towards the young earth.

It impacted somewhere in the Yucutan Peninsula, igniting like a hydrogen bomb of such immense power and light that it burned everything in what would become the lower edge of North America and the northern tip of South America into cinders. Instantly. A shockwave expanded out from the point of impact, levelling forests and destroying ecosystems and biospheres as it did.

The entire globe very quickly became a much like the coal elements on a barbecue. Glowing red hot, as the sky heated to the temperature of a pizza oven with the returning ejecta that had circled the globe as a result of the impact itself.

"You see? The earth was sterilized nearly to the last creature, yet from this violence your ancestors came," the dragon showed her as the most of the only life to have survived was of the mammalian variety.

Small little creatures much like Minks.

"Over time, millions of years, your ancestors changed, and eventually you learned how to use tools. Of course, their first use were to commit violence against other forms of life in quest of food. Against plants... Against other animals... and sometimes, other men..." the dragon showed her once again as humanity's ancestors first used stone tools to crack open clams scattered along a beach, eating them directly from the broken shell.

Then, another group of humanity's ancestors, wielding rocks, lay hidden as a gazelle-like creature moved cautiously near a bush while grazing. One of the ape-like creatures threw a rock, hitting the gazelle in the head, knocking it unconscious. The others quickly jumped out from behind the bush and started battering the beast's head with their rocks until it was dead.

A group of ape-like creatures gathered, armed with rocks began throwing them at another similarly armed group. The two tribes converged on one another, battering each other with crudely crafted stone weapons, until only a few of them remained. The victor then vanquished the remaining survivors of the other tribe and scavenged them for their primitive tools.

"You began to become sophisticated, cultivating land and even other animals to assist you. What was the first thing you did afterwards? You developed weapons to protect the land you'd cultivated," the dragon showed her the first early humanbeings, now very similar to us, yet somehow different.

They were working a plot of land, turning over soil with primitive tools and sewing it with seeds they'd collected in animal skin bags. Another group was feeding several goats handfuls of a grain, while another group milked them into animal skin bags.

Then, a group of savages approached these early farmers, slaughtering them easily for they were unarmed. Aikiko saw another settlement where they'd begun developing the first primitive weapons of warfare, adapting what they'd used to hunt for the purposes of killing other men.

"Your creativity in this regard was quite remarkable. You see, when humanity is given a challenge, it rises to meet that challenge in the most innovative of ways. Especially when that challenge involves violence," the dragon showed her.

Aikiko saw a man get skewered by a simple spear. Then by a spear with a sophisticated head. Another man had his head cleaved clean from his neck by the first bronze weapons. She saw them smelting the orange metal in primitive forges, crafting swords and shields from it. She then saw more more fighting, one having his head pierced by a sword, another whose sword pierced the metal shield of another, right through the arm muscle and bone on the other side.

"There are histories that have risen and fallen of which you are still unaware. And yet all of them, including yourself are all the same. You've been playing this crude game of trying to dodge your true nature since you first began to speak and write. As is the ability to communicate somehow exempts you from your birthright?" the dragon asked her.

She looked back to the dragon not knowing how to answer.

"When that happens, it pays to step in and to help things along in the right direction," the dragon said as the scene returned to the same field of war from the very beginning and the first shot that killed the faction leader of the other side.

Aikiko then saw the same perspective through numerous battles. Some of the cultures she'd recognized, with some even being of her own native Japan, during the feudal era. Some had been Chinese, obvioulsy during the wars of the dynasties. Some had been Siamese, others Indian. There were Baltic wars, and wars fought over religion. The Turks versus the English. The Arabs. The Africans. The Incas. The Mayans. The Europeans. All of them, every single one that she'd seen, she saw humanity's birthright. It was written all over their history. It was written all over their conduct and none were innocent.

"When you speak to me of honour, Tanaka-heir, keep in mind that you are the offspring of vile creatures who have never truly comprehended it," the dragon sneered at her as they returned to its place of darkness.

"And yet, within some of you, there is the propensity to stand against this tide of your legacy. Like a disease, they cast humanity from its true path. You call them the butterflies. The one you know as the Butterfly Dragon. The one who is the true obstacle to your reclaiming your right to the title of being the Gem," the dragon smiled mischieviously.

"Then what place does the Gem have in all of this?" asked Aikiko.

"The Gem is the ultimate projection of the power of humanity. The power of tomorrow, but in the present. That's why its the domain of the other," the dragon once again moved its head in close to hers.

"The other who?" asked Aikiko.

"The other one. A dragon. Like me. Yet so, so different. Where I am the beginning, it is the end. Where I am yesterday, it is tomorrow. Where I am Witherwyrm, it is Weltherwithsp. Your true enemy," the dragon explained.

"Then why couldn't you pierce the butterfly's wings?" asked Aikiko.

"They aren't hers. They belong to the other one. To Weltherwithsp. Like you have my essence that is a part of you, she has the essence of Weltherwithsp that is a part of her," the dragon explained to her.

"I thought you were powerful? Yet I saw you flee today!" Aikiko reminded the dragon of its failure to harm the butterfly.

"That, which you see isn't all of me. I am greater than the universe, yet more minute than the smallest scale. There are however some limits to what I can do to interpose in the world of mortals and the more humankind stays from its path, its birthright of violence, the less power I have to partake of the matters in their world. After all, I am your history, everything that has come to be. If you are unlike your own history, how can claim to be yourselves and not something, even someone else?" the dragon asked her, weaving its trap for her.

"My father is a disgrace!" Aikiko spat.

"I rather like him. He put you on the path to me, and through his choices, you found Shogo, then Mutano and ultimately, humanity's true birthright. You are only beginning to understand your own place in what is to come," the dragon implored her.

"Then what do I need to do to reclaim my rightful place as the Gem? Kill this dragon? Weltherwithsp?" asked Aikiko.

"No. How bold and foolish, for you cannot have a past without a future. You cannot destroy what is intrisic to everything without destroying everything. To murder Weltherwithsp would truly be impossible, especially for a mortal," the dragon assured her.

"Then what do I need to do?" asked Aikiko.

"If you want to dampen the bee's stinger, then you need to break the partnership between the flower and the bee, don't you? If you want to reclaim your rightful place as the Gem, then you need to break the bond between the butterfly and the dragon," the dragon's grin stretched from side to side, a vitriolic yet rictus.

"Then consider it done!" Aikiko replied to the dragon.

"Then you will begin the next step of your journey," the dragon's eyes brightened as the air around her became turbulent and at once, the darkness crashed in on her.

When she awoke, she was again sitting on a park bench. She examined her surroudings, seeing that she was off the side of a bicycle path. She looked from side to side, even standing to get a better view. She then saw a familiar sight.

"That's a tower of some sort," she said, squinting to get a better view of it.

She then flagged down a male bicyclist, using a bit of her power of seduction.

"Excuse me, you couldn't help a damsel in distress could you?" she asked him flirtatiously.

"Sure, I'd love to. How can I help?" he asked her, adjusting the strap on his bicycle helmet.

"What's that tower over there?" she asked.

"Oh, you must be a tourist. Nice tattoos by the way. That's the CN Tower. The second tallest freestanding structure in the world," he replied.

"And I suppose you're the first?" she asked flirtatiously.

"Excuse me?" he asked her, obviously blushing.

"You men are all the same. You play coy on the outside but you all see one thing in all of us, don't you?" she asked him.

He suddenly felt a terror within him from which he could not run. He stood rooted on the spot, as if in the midst of a nightmare in which he was paralyzed by fear.

"You see me, and size me up, probably imagining me naked, even taking me sexually, but you're so phony on the outside. Pretending to be civil. Good men, yet you cast women into the fire every single day! Your city is going to be seeing more of me!" she said grabbing him by his collar and pulling him close to her face.

He looked at her, paralyzed, only able to breath.

Her eyes grew fierce. She then pulled him in tight for a passionate kiss.

Then she pushed him away.

"Thank you so much!" she smiled at him, waving goodbye.

"Glad I could help?" he responded, puzzled by what had just happened and unsure if he'd imagined it.

He got back on his bicycle and rode off in the direction from which he'd come. She then began walking in the direction of the tower, from the west end lakeshore bicycle path east, towards downtown Toronto. 

The Inventor

Alicia stepped down the front stairs and as she walked, she could see a lawn that hadn't been tended to and a garden absent of flowers that lined the outside of the house. The home itself appeared to be one of the older baby boomer homes, built just after World War II by the inflow of skilled trades people into the city. Its real brick walls and were furnished by a base of interlocking stone work, as were many of the other homes along the street.

With the house itself resting lower than the sidewalk around it, there was a greater degree of privacy as most people could only see the upper floor and roof. She noticed a drainage well that had obviously been placed there to deal with the water drainage problem afforded by the house's altitude versus the sidewalk, though there was no flood damage aparent anywhere.

She checked the windows and saw that most of the curtains were drawn as she stepped onto the front patio. She quickly found the doorbell, the only piece of hardware that appeared to be new, and having done so, pressed it. A few moments later, a little old lady opened the door. Her white hair was tied behind her head in a bun, while her face was lined with wrinkles and the crow's feet of smile lines graced the corners of her eyes.

"Can I help?" she asked in a thick European or Slovakian accent.

"Hello? Mrs. Epsen? I'm here to see Gregory?" Alicia spoke with an inviting smile on her face.

"Grigori?" she leaned in closer to Alicia, pushing the door open ever so slightly more.

"Yes, Gregory. Is he here by any chance?" asked Alicia.

"One minute," she said, then turned, closing the front door again.

Alicia waited patiently for a whole two minutes before the door opened again, and she was greeted by the face of a much younger man than the lady, possibly even younger than herself. His hair was somewhat long and unkempt. A bedraggled mess atop of his head, while his thick framed glasses sat crookedly on his face.

"Can I help you?" he asked her, speaking timidly but clearly.

"Gregory? I'm Doctor... Rachel... Franklin... Lovelace...! Yeah. I've been informed by my colleagues at the University of Toronto that you're working on a cutting edge invention. Would you mind if I came in for a moment?" she asked him as he looked back at her somewhat puzzled.

"I don't have any money to give you so could you just go away and leave me and my mother alone?!" he asked her, a bit of an edge on his voice.

"I'm not a debt collector," Alicia responded.

"You're not? Well I don't have any money to donate to the University..." he continued.

"I'm not here asking for any donations," Alicia continued.

"Uhhhh... My mother's a Roman Catholic immigrant and I'm a Secular Humanist. We're not interested in reading your literature or considering what happens in the after life. I love voting, birthdays and pharmacology too, so its a dead end for you here...!" he responded.

"...Uhhhh, I'm not part of any religion trying to convert you either..." Alicia replied, now the one puzzled more so than him.

"You're not? Great, why don't you come in Doctor," Gregory opened the door for her and letting her into his house.

"Wait, did Nick send you?" he suddenly asked, stopping her before she got inside.

"No. I don't know anyone named Nick," she responded, again puzzled.

"Alright. Sorry for the third degree there, but I had to make sure. When I first started my work here... well... Let's just say I got a lot of people showing up at my door..." Gregory closed the door after she'd stepped in.

"Don't mind the mess. Did you meet my mom?" asked Gregory.

"Yes. Briefly, at the front door," Alicia replied.

Gregory went and dragged his mother back to the front hall foyer.

"Mom, this is Doctor Rachel Franklin Lovelace. Doctor Lovelace, this is my mom!" Gregory proudly introduced his mother, who smiled revealing two rows of distraught teeth protruding from both her gums.

"You marry? He good boy," she said, pointing first to Alicia and then to Gregory.

"No M'aam, I'm engaged," Alicia replied, stepping backwards slightly.

"You have friend he marry? Only good wife. Good cook. Good clean," Gregory's mother continued.

"Mom! Thank you mom. Its alright. She's a great woman, but sometimes she's a little too old-old-school if you know what I mean," Gregory responded.

"It was nice to meet her. So do you think we could speak somewhere. Privately?" she asked him.

"Uhhhhh... sure. We could go to my workshop, though I've never had a girl there before..." Gregory said somewhat timidly.

"Then I can be your first. Who better to have into your workshop than a Doctor?" asked Alicia.

"Look, don't feed me that institutional education stuff. I know I'm a dropout but don't rub it in," Gregory responded.

"Benjamin Franklin was a drop out. So was Albert Einstein. Yet they went on to change the world, and intitutional education. When I was in school, I used to get bullied about my weight..." Alicia started.

"You? You're cut like an athlete!?" he asked in amazement.

"When I was in school, I carried a lot of my baby fat and there weren't too many students that let me live that down, so I can understand that it isn't the schooling that's difficult. Its the social environment too. It looks like it can be a little bit cruel these days too," Alicia assured him that she understood.

"Yeah, well I guess. Getting bullied really sucks. I used to get bullied all the time, and then my bullies turned the tables. They painted me as the bully, and them as my victims. They stole my identity. They gave me theirs. What are you going to do? One against a ten? Who's word are you going to take? They really harassed me too, trying to get the kinds of reactions that would back up their story and make it seem consistent. They stole my homework and turned it in as theirs. They did a lot to me. So I had a run in with the school over this, and I left and never looked back," Gregory told her.

"I'm sorry to hear..." Alicia's face became visibly saddened by Gregory's admission.

"Don't be. I had some of the most inspiring teachers a guy could have. I certainly wouldn't be interested in half the stuff I am without them, not to mention that the foundation of what I know is based on stuff they taught me, and I learn fast. Its not the institution that's the problem, its something else... there's something really damaging it for the rest of us," Gregory told her.

"You sound like you've taken it well," Alicia said sympathetically.

"I have my moments. Good and bad. I still get upset over what they did and it keeps me up at night sometimes, but I believe it will catch up with them eventually. Not mine to carry. I need my energy for my baby! Speaking of which, do you want to see it?" Gregory smiled, adjusting his glasses which had slid part way down his nose.

"Uhhhh... sure?" Alicia responed, unsure of how to react.

"Alright, but first you've got to drink a can of pop and eat a bag of chips in my workshop. Official initiation. Its kinda the hacker diet of choice," he said to her.

"As long as you start eating something nutritious before you're thirty, I'm sure you'll be alright," Alicia responded.

"You're already sounding like my mom, so you can't be that bad," he said to her as he made his way to the fridge and retrieved two cans of no-name pop and two bags of chips from the cupboard.

"Do you have a father?" Alicia asked cautiously.

"What kind of a question is that? Of course I do. He's dead though. He disappeared when I was three. My mother met another man, a hard working guy. Smart too. Real smart. They bought this house together. He worked and she took care of the home stuff and they both raised me. Then, a few years ago his time was up and he's not with us any more," Gregory told Alicia.

"I'm sorry to hear," Alicia responded.

"Don't be. He left us a great legacy, not to mention that if it wasn't for him, I'd have never started working on my baby! Speaking of, lets go get this initiation under way..." Gregory opened a door in the hall and found his way down the steps.

The stairs were illuminated by motion sensing lights, which elaborately decorated the way down into his laboratory and workshop. The walls were covered in RGB LED lighting, some of which flashed in patterns that Alicia instantly recognized.

"That' Conway's Life algorithm, isn't it?" she asked him.

"Yep. But I added a variation to it, so you get more stable emergent life from it. I wrote it all on a PC, compiled it for a Raspberry Pi, which runs all the secondary devices here such as lighting and security," Gregory explained.

He found a bar stool for Alicia and placed it beside her.

"You're really like my friend, Zheng..." Alicia remarked, suddenly realizing that she'd slipped and revealed something related to her own real identity.

"Yep. But I added a variation to it, so you get more stable emergent life from it. I wrote it all on a PC, compiled it for a Raspberry Pi, which runs all the secondary devices here such as lighting and security," Gregory explained.

He found a bar stool for Alicia and placed it beside her.

"You'd really like my friend, Zheng..." Alicia remarked, suddenly realizing that she'd slipped and revealed something related to her own real identity.

"Zheng Ni Wong? She's like one of my coding heroes! You know her?!" Gregory fell to the floor and began bowing like a servant before her, worshipping her.

"You obviously don't get much company," Alicia smiled, amused by him.

"Is it that obvious?" Gregory asked her.

"That's alright. I know what its like to be you, more than you know. So how do we do this initiation?" Alicia asked Gregory, trying to be more humble towards him.

"There's no real way per se. We just sit together, drink pop. Eat chips and talk nerd stuff. You know?" asked Gregory.

"I can do that. So what's your favourite invention?" Alicia asked him.

"That's a tough question. I'd have to say the telescope. The microscope. The antenna, maybe. What about you?" he answered, then asking her the same question.

"Let me see... I'd have to pick the electron microscope in terms of modern inventions. Its one that certainly affected the study of my field. The lever or the wheel in terms of their overall impact upon humanity," Alicia smiled, eating a few chips she'd cradled in her hands and washing them down with a healthy sip of the pop.

"True. The lever is definitely a big one. What's favourite equation?" asked Gregory.

"Good question. The second law, I'd have to say. It crops up all the time in my field, especially for error checking amino acid sequences and the energy use involved with protein formation. What about you?" Alicia asked Gregory.

"The most interesting one for me is definitely the Collatz Conjecture, though I've never really found a way to use it except maybe in constraining or filtering pseudo random numbers. You know, as an alternative to Gaussian distribution. That would leave me with Ohm's law or the Mandelbrot Set. Z=Z^2 + C, where C is a coordinate on the complex number plane. What's your favourite movie?" Gregory recalled.

"Hmmmm. I don't know. My fiance and I have a movie night twice a month, so I see quite a few. What about you?" Alicia asked.

"I'm kind of on the fence there myself. Music?" asked Gregory.

"Mostly electronic dance kind of stuff. Some alternative rock too. You?" asked Alicia.

"Post industrial dub step. Drum and bass. Kick beat too. So you wanna see my baby?" asked Gregory.

"Sure, let's see it," Alicia agreed putting the empty pop and the bag of chips in a nearby bin.

"Ready?" he asked her.

"As I'll ever be," Alicia smiled.

Gregory grabbed an odd looking contraption from his bench and handed it to her. She examined it carefully in her hands, careful not to break anything. It appeared to be a tablet, or at least had a tablet screen. On its back it had a hump on it that was covered in duct tape. A pair of wires with alligator clips protruded from the top of the device.

"That's it. That's my baby," Gregory smiled.

"So what can it do?" asked Alicia.

"Not much right now. It can do ultrasound, though it utilizes the magnetic field rather than sound. It can do a full field MRI, with or without the magnetic dye compound. X-rays, again, without radiation as it only relies on magnetism," Gregory tapped the screen twice in the upper right corner and the screen came to life.

Standing beside her, he then tapped several buttons on the screen, navigating to the Ultrasound. He then activated it. Almost immediately, Alicia could see the interior of her body one the screen of the device. Her car keys and phone showed up as all white patches, while her clothing and flesh didn't show up at all.

"Use this slider on the screen for field strength, which will allow things of lower density than bone to show up. That slider over there will change the depth," he explained to her as she examined her body with the device.

She adjusted the field strength until her internal organs started appearing, one by one. 

"That's very remarkable for such a tiny device," Alicia commented, having seen ultrasound images before.

"Oh, wait," he said, clicking another button on the screen.

The image went from monochrome, absent of colour to full colour, where she could see her own insides as if she was looking at them with camera.

"How did you achieve this?" asked Alicia.

"I used a MindSpice compiled version of TensorFlow to build a statistical database of colour image histograms. I used only images from the operating table, so the palette is drawn directly from the colours of the real thing. Once I'd built the palette, I wrote a small piece of shader code to assign colours, using substitution from the palette for correction," Gregory explained to her.

"What the MRI?" asked Alicia.

"Let me show you," he hit the back button and then navigated through the menu to the FMRI function.

Again, Alicia was given an image from inside of her body. This time, one detailing the signalling of her nervous system. She examined her hand under the device, noting how the image changed as she moved her hand. She saw the cascading flows of information fields through her nerves, just barely.

"Can you hone in on the nervous system activity?" she asked.

"Sure. Just use these sliders here to adjust what you see. This one changes the sensitivity of the field detection SQUID..." Gregory began.

"You're using SQUIDs?" confirmed Alicia.

"Well, they're home made. But they're real SQUIDs and they use a lot less power too. I was going for phantom power, but realized after fighting with that for weeks that it would be impossible, given the low strength of these fields. So I went for low power and had to trade off against the resolution. It scans in fields. Odd first, then even. On the second pass, it weaves the two images together so that it looks like full res, but in reality its only half res," Gregory explained.

Alicia adjusted the image until she could clearly see the cascading cycle of information propagation through her nerves. She noticed that when she went to move her hand, that a moment before her hand actually moved, the activity in the nerves on her arm and hand would peak, and then drop when her hand actually started moving. 

She was seeing the actual electrical field that carried the signalling from her brain and other parts of her nervous system to receptors on her muscles, which then translated the signalling into the appropriate alterations to the density and tension of muscle.

"How many cycles does this register per second?" asked Alicia.

"Thirty in low power mode. Sixty in regular mode and up to six hundred in high powered mode. If I had the funding, I could probably push that number to twelve hundred, but the parts I'd need are very expensive, not to mention I'd have to go from 5% to 2% tolerance on all the components, and that doesn't even include the new code I'd have to write to deal with the extra speed because of the refresh difference between the instrument and the screen," Gregory explained.

"Gregory, there are definitely people who would be interested in funding your work on this technology, not to mention I might be able to get you a spot with a University research team. Not only would you be working with people who aren't that different from you at all, but you'd also get credit towards your education and maybe, even be given an honorary degree for taking this project this far already," Alicia explained to Gregory, fully seeing the potential of what he was creating.

"Look, Alicia, I appreciate what you're doing, but you don't understand. I've been traumatized by the people who did that to me and any time I'm in a room with a lot of people, I struggle against anxiety, and that doesn't even account for the voices..." Gregory told Alicia, who was puzzled by his statement.

"Did you say voices?" she confirmed with him.

"That's exactly what I said. Don't you hear them too? Can't you feel it? Like something is coming? Something big is going to happen. Like we're being culled off, one by one. I was culled from the school. Others are experiencing the same thing, and even dying in the process. So many of you have your head in the clouds you don't see it happening, or maybe you just don't want to see it," Gregory said to her.

"Gregory, I have to admit, I'm at a loss. I don't know what to say about that. What I do know, is that what you're building here has very real applications that could help humanity immensely," Alicia pleaded with him.

"And you want me to help the same people who did that to me? I want to do the right thing, but I don't want to work around other people. After my experiences, I don't trust too many people any more. Besides, there's people already trying to take this thing from me," Gregory folded his arms against his chest.

"Then that's all the more reason to team-up with people who can help you," Alicia urged him.

"You'd get to meet and maybe even work with Zheng..." Alicia threw some bait at him.

"That's not fair!" Gregory told her.

"Well its true," Alicia raised her eye brows, a quaint smile on her lips.

"I'll call you and let you know. If you don't mind, I have to go and take a nap now," Gregory said to her.

Gregory got up and started up the stairs, pale as if he'd suddenly come down with a sickness.

"Are you alright?" asked Alicia as Gregory fainted backwards onto her.

She caught him on the stairs, using her strength and balance to prevent herself from falling backwards. She then carried him up the stairs and found a sofa in the family room where she lay him.

"What did you do to my Grigori!" his mother yelled at Alicia.

"I help! I help! I'm a Doctor!" she yelled back, waving her hands to ward his mother off.

"He's in mild shock. Do you have a blanket?" Alicia asked.

"I get," Gregory's mother scuttered away to retrieve a blanket.

Alicia ran down the stairs into his workshop and retrieved his baby. She then ran up the stairs and used it to examine him. She quickly figured out how to navigate the device and found a thermal imager setting which she used to take his temperature. She then used the device to examine his body in the magnetic ultrasound setting. When she was satisfied with what she saw, she pulled her phone and called the hospital.

"I've got an unconscious friend here who is experiencing cardiogenic shock, his temperature is 36 and falling," Alicia then reported the address to the operator.

Gregory's mother returned with a suitable blanket, which Alicia quickly threw over him.

"Does Gregory have any health issues?" asked Alicia.

"Asthma. Low pressure too," she responded, interrupting her quiet prayers for her son.

"Well he's breathing alright. Wait, he's weezing a bit but there's definitely unrestricted air flow. Gregory, can you hear me?" Alicia asked the younger man.

Alicia waited but there was no answer from him.

"We're going to take you to the hospital. Just hold on tight," Alicia assured him in his unconscious state.

A few minutes later and the ambulance arrived. Alicia stood back as the attendants loaded Gregory onto a gurney and carefully hauled him out onto the veranda and up the front stairs.

"You go with him, I'll take a cab to the hospital," Alicia addressed Gregory's mother as she pulled her phone to call for a cab.

Gregory's mother got in through the back of the ambulance and took a seat beside her ailing son while Alicia closed and locked the front door. The ambulance drove off and Alicia stood at the curb waiting for her cab to arrive.

"Honey? I'm going to be a little bit late tonight, there's been an incident," Alicia got on the phone to her fiance.

"Nothing serious I hope?" Norler asked, concerned.

"The EIB I was visiting for the evaluation skit, he's got a minor health problem. We're on the way to the hospital with him. I can say for sure that he's the real thing and what he's developed is a very important diagnostic tool with a lot of promise," Alicia assured him.

"We'll worry about that later. I'll keep your Pad Thai warm, and put your shrimp and mango salad in the fridge," Norler replied to her.

"Thanks honey. You're a real star. Gotta go," Alicia kissed him through the phone's receiver as the cab pulled up in front of her.

As the taxi pulled off down the street to the west end medical center, two people in full faced masks emerged from the house neighbouring Gregory's home. They quickly and quietly made their way through the hedges that divided the properties and made their way to the veranda.

One of them produced a key, a copy of the master key for the particular brand of lock on Gregory's front door. They opened the door and went in carefully, looking for the basement door. When they found it, they made their way down the stairs and began rummaging through the clutter on Gregory's bench.

"Its not here..." one of them said quietly.

"Maybe he took it with him?" suggested the other.

"Let's grab the computer. He's got all the design docs stored on it," the first one said.

"But we already hacked and downloaded all of his files. Why do we need the computer too?" the second one asked.

"The security video. He's got a security system in here and its probably recording us right now," the first one went over to the computer and began disconnecting plugs.

"How come the rgb lighting isn't turning off?" asked the second one.

"Its on another line. Maybe a lighting controller or something. Are you going to help me, or not?" responded the first one.

The second one helped him disconnect the computer from the multitude of cables plugged into the back. They then hauled the computer up the stairs and out the front door, locking it behind them. They then brought the computer over to their house and down into their basement.

"Now we just need the device, and we're as good as rich," the first one told the second.

"Maybe we should call Jack? Tell him we didn't find it," the second one said.

"Why do you want to go making problems like that?" asked the first one.

The truth was though, that Jack already knew.

There's Fishing And Then There's Phishing

George Steadman piloted the tender himself as three crew stood at the bow of the smaller craft as it rode the waves approaching the buoy. A two hundred meters away, the Many Faced Maiden remained anchored to the upcropped seabed beneath it. 

George pulled the boat up along side the buoy, which was nearly as big as the boat itself. One of the crew quickly and precariously clipped a mooring line to the buoy in the moving sea, preventing them from drifting far from it. They then reeled the mooring line in so that the boat was snug beside the buoy.

George himself walked carefully along the length of the tender to the side of the boat and boarded the buoy. He then looked around beneath the tower of the structure and found a sealed metal box welded to its side. The box had a door, which had a tiny latch handle that George opened, bracing himself against one of the poles on the buoy for stability.

There before him were a row of six switches, each of them labeled one through six.

"Its here as he said," George spoke into his headset.

On the Many Faced Maiden, Mr. Zek stood, his hands and legs bound as he looked out to the buoy from the deck. Beside him on either side were Steadman's armed crew.

"You're one step closer to keeping your right arm," one of the crew said to Zek.

Meanwhile, back on the buoy, Steadman looked at his hand and noticed that the numbered sequence he'd written on it had smeared as a result of sea water and his sweaty hands on the steering wheel of the smaller craft. He could make out all of the numbers except two, which were nearly completely faded from visibility.

"Tell him to repeat the numbers, and then tell me what they are," Steadman spoke into his headset.

One of the armed men beside Zek on the deck of the Many Faced Maiden poked Zek with the barrel of his SMG.

"We need you to repeat the sequence you told our Captain and you'd better hope they're the same," the crew man urged Zek.

Zek considered for a moment giving Steadman the wrong code. The results of doing so would have been catastrophic for Steadman and the smaller tender craft moored to it, as he knew it was wired with a bomb. A considerably large bomb that might even damage the Many Faced Maiden itself should it go off.

At worst, Steadman and his three crew would survive the blast by some miracle and Zek would find himself short of his right arm, if they didn't decide to disembowel him and dangle his body over the rails and into the ocean from a mooring line, allowing the sharks to tear him to bits.

At best, Steadman and everyone on board of the tender craft would die instantly, and the crew beside him would be temporarily winded and blinded by the blast. He might get his hands free, but by the time he'd started working on his legs, they'd have shot and killed him. Zek wasn't a spring chicken or nearly as young and spry as Steadman. He'd never been athletic in his life, and doubted very much if he could pull off any stunt that required him to be physical against the crew. 

So he opted for the much more survivable truth.

"THREE... FIVE... TWO... ONE... SIX... FOUR..." Zek proclaimed loud enough for the crew to hear, as the crew echoed his code to Steadman.

Steadman checked the numbers on his palm against those being relayed to him by his crew on board the Many Faced Maiden. When he got to the smeared numbers, he etched them in with a pen he'd drawn from his front pocket.

"They're consistent," Steadman reported back to his crew.

Steadman then braced himself, waiting for enough of a lull in the waves to begin entering the sequence, using the press button switches.

He pressed switch three, and it lit up green. He proceeded to the five and pressed it. It too lit up green. Then the two and one, both of them lighting up green. When he went to press six, the buoy was suddenly jarred, his finger missing six and pressing four instead. The switch illuminated blue and began flashing, as a klaxon somewhere on the buoy sounded.

"I accidentally hit the wrong button. Ask him what I should do. Quickly!" Steadman spoke quickly and firmly into his headset.

"He pressed one of the wrong buttons, what can he do?" asked one of the crew members of Zek, who smiled.

"Press it again. From the time of that mistake, you only get thirty seconds and then kaboom. Three mistakes and kaboom," Zek told the crewman who quickly relayed it to Steadman.

As soon as the crew had told him, he quickly pressed the blue button, which had begun to strobe and flash as it counted down to detonation.

The button was no longer lit and the klaxon had ceased. Steadman breathed a sigh of relief.

He then carefully pressed first the six, and then the four. All the buttons were now lit and green as the box began to move as tiny servo motors pushed it out, revealing a compartment within which was a hard disk drive in a waterproof casing.

Steadman retrieved it and carefully placed it into a satchel bag he'd brought with him.

He then returned to the tender craft and took his place at the helm.

"Unclip the moor line," Steadman ordered his crew mate.

The crew man did as instructed and once the craft had drifted a sufficient distance, Steadman accelerated the tender craft back to the Many Faced Maiden.

Zek watched as the gantry crane hoisted the tender craft to the stern, just shy of the two 80mm Howitzers. Steadman had jumped out of the boat one it was over the deck and approached Zek.

"You are very close to being assured the retention of your right arm. I should assure you that once we've checked the validity of this data, that your restraints will be removed and you will once again take your place at your throne," Steadman assured Zek.

"I need to tell you something about the data," Zek told Steadman as he walked to the crew cabin where he would test the data.

"And what is that?" asked Steadman, turning around once again to face Zek.

"That's not the data. That's only the data definition and the indices. Like the names of the blanks you fill out on a form, and the table of contents in a book. I told my data specialists to separate the definitions and indices from the data itself," Zek told Steadman.

"Take this man to the surgical table and have the surgeon prepare to remove his right arm," Steadman ordered the crew.

"Wait! The data isn't far from here!" Zek responded, panicking.

"Where is it?" asked Steadman.

"Near Hawaii and Treadwater Island. A few hundred nautical miles south. On the tributary Island of Whenua Koi," Zek told Steadman, whose face became intensely menacing.

"That's on the other side of the Panama Canal. Do you realize what's involved with getting this boat safely through the canal? The bribes necessary? This is going to cost a small fortune. At least five million," Steadman became furious.

"If you want me to have that data, you're going to have to do it. Why not just travel around the coast of South America to the other side?" asked Zek who had very little understanding of ocean going travel.

"To circumnavigate the coast of South America around to the Treadwater Island side would take three months. I don't have three months to do this. I can handle the money, but my bank account, unlike yours, has limits. I'll make the arrangements for our trip through the Panama Canal, but you're going to reimburse me thrice that amount," Steadman had calmed just slightly.

"And if I don't?" Zek responded boldly.

"Then I guess the fishies and sharks are having Zek legs and wings for dinner, Stumpy," Steadman turned and began walking to the crew cabin.

"If there are no definitions or indices on this disk, that might be as soon as tonight," Steadman kept walking as he spoke.

"Take him to his quarters and secure him to the foot of his bed," Steadman ordered his crew.

In the distance, a brewing tropical storm gathered its strength for an assault upon the Golf Of Mexico.

Night Of The Eclipse

Monique awoke to the sound of silence in the late evening darkness of her condo. She'd fallen asleep on her sofa shortly after having gotten home from the office. Her stomach gurgled as she'd not yet eaten dinner. She reached for her phone and checked the time.

"Uh oh. Its getting late. I must have overslept," she said to herself in the darkness.

She got up from the couch and made her way to the shower, stubbing her toe on the coffee table.

"Damn! You're fired!" she cursed at her furniture as she disappeared into the bathroom.

When she emerged, she went straight into the bedroom and found one of her clean Eclipse outfits and quickly put it on. She searched through her underwear drawer for an extra mask, eventually finding a pair of clean ones stuck together near the back and bottom.

Then it was off to the kitchen to find something quick to eat. She searched the cupboards and then the fridge, but found nothing that didn't require less than twenty minutes of preparation.

"I guess I've got to do some more shopping for quick bites," she said, closing the door to the fridge.

From there, she went over to the coffee table, her feet protected this time, and grabbed her tablet computer.

She opened the MindSpice Mapping application, where she'd kept a journal of all of the Chameleon murders and other relevant information to the case.

Most of the murders had been confined to the downtown core of the city. None further north than Saint Clair, none further west than Bathurst Street and nor any further east than Greenwood Avenue.

She figured that by herself, she could probably patrol the entire downtown in under two hours, given the fact that she'd learned to control her flight ability enough so that she was approaching the speed of light itself. In fact, if her geography was good enough and she'd known where Heylyn was, she could have flown to Korea in less than a second. But visual flight reckoning was not her strength and she was only good for short local trips.

Maybe it was better that Valerie had decided to take the night off. After all, she could patrol the entire city in three hours if she so chose, but with Valerie, she had to slow herself down and accomodate the fact that Valerie couldn't fly.

Even Heylyn was slow compared to Monique's maximum flight speed, but at least she could fly. When the two of them patrolled together, there were no transportation logistics problems. They could just go where they needed to go directly.

Monique put the tablet to sleep and went out to the balcony and took off into the night sky.

She landed in a discrete location behind a fast food restaurant. She walked around to the front door of the establishment, where she received a number of whistles and cat calls from some of the rowdier patrons at the tables outside.

"Cosplay party. I've gotta eat. I didn't want to change. Gimme break, ok?" Monique responded.

"You're lookin' reeeal fine!" one of them said to her.

"Nice duds!" another one commented.

"Thanks. Gotta go," she said, stepping in through the front door and getting in line.

The other customers took a couple of looks and generally paid her little attention. One or two of them took pictures of her with their smartphones, and she even posed for one of them. By the time she got to the counter, it was a non-issue.

"I'll have a fish filet sandwich. Some fries, and a small cola. Oh, and a strawberry sundae! All to go," she ordered.

She received her order a short time later and stepped out the door. She figured the polite patrons in the restaurant had earned a show.

"So why don't you come sit with us honey?" asked one of the rowdy guys at the table outside.

"Because, I'm going to eat at the top of the CN Tower," she replied.

"Your food will be so cold by the time you get there. We're talking a few kilometers drive and then the trip up the elevator, not to mention they won't let you bring your own food. So why not just take a seat with us over here, little miss hottie?" asked one of them, drawing a bit of laughter from his friends.

"You don't get it. I'm not going to eat at the restaurant. I'm going to eat on the roof," she replied.

She allowed herself to brighten to the point that it wasn't blinding. All the patrons inside the restaurant turned to look at the source of this light. Monique, with her takeout in hand, waved to them and then took off into the air as they took photo after photo of her.

When she was high enough, she switched off her lights and flew at full speed to the top of the observation deck of the CN Tower.

It was one of the first places Heylyn and her had taken a break after their first night's patrol. They'd landed atop of the tower in the place no people have been except for the odd engineer to two and the crew that had mounted the top of the tower five decades earlier.

She took her usual spot, leaning back against the column wall, looking out into the city at night as she retrieved her meal from inside the paper bag. She then quietly ate, hungrily devouring the whole meal in less than six minutes. When she spotted a series of sirens converging on a spot somewhere near Nathan Philips Square, she gathered her trash into the paper bag, compacting it all into her belt pouch.

She then flew at full speed to Nathan Philips Square.


The three young women strode their way along Queen Street, just having crossed University Avenue. Two of them were on their way to their off-campus dorm, while the other, a friend of theirs was on her way to her part-time evening job.

"We should cut through Nathan Philips. It'll cut our time in half," Allison said, brushing her long hair away from her face.

"No way. Are you kidding? The main part is well lit, but the back part is way too dark. It creeps me out," Nikki responded.

"I'll go. I've got to start my shift in twenty minutes," Sandy backed up Allison.

"Come on, don't do this to me," Nikki urged her friends.

"We'll be fine. Besides, the butterfly will protect us," Sandy joked with Nikki.

"I'll protect us," Allison added.

"Oh and what are you going to do? Throw your homework at them?" asked Nikki.

"I might. I can barely carry it," Allison responded as they arrived at the south east corner of Nathan Philips Square.

The Square itself was more of a north-south inclined rectangle, with the north end being home to a trio of futuristic buildings, all designed with the element of curvature as their main theme. Gone were the square edges, all replaced by the rounded structure of the main city hall building itself. It appeared like a dome with a curved hat atop its upper extremity. The place within which city policy was laid out and debated by the various parties representing the public.

On either side, to the west and east the dome was bracketed by two taller buildings, vertically inclined, the western most shorter than the eastern. These two buildings mirrored identically the outside curvature of the city hall building, and stood like taller siblings watching over it.

During the day, the entire area was well lit (obviously), but at night, only the Square itself was lit, while the northern most reaches just outside of the city hall buildings, were often considerably dark. Not just good darkness, where some would simply go for peace and quiet, but bad darkness, where others might go to prey upon the unwary and unaware. Given the city's situation with the Chameleon Killer, Nikki's concern was not unreasonable.

Regardless, the three women ventured forth into the Square, attempting to cross it from corner to corner, south east to north west. The first part of their trip was covered by the artificial light of the lamp posts and spot lights that adorned the Square. As they crossed into the upper third of the Square, the light became scarce and the dark shadows became the ruling majority. It was from one of these shadows that they were addressed by its resident.

"Do any of you have a light?" a man's voice asked them from the darkness.

"No. We don't smoke," responded Allison.

"Wrong answer little lady," the same voice responded.

A group of men surrounded the three young women. Twelve in all.

"We don't want any trouble," Sandy said, her voice wavering.

"Yeah, but we do, and you'll do nicely. You see, my brother here, he doesn't have a girlfriend and in our special little club, if you haven't had a girl, you have to go out and get one," the voice that had asked them for a light spoke again.

"...and what do you do with these girlfriends?" asked Nikki, rousing a round of rambunctious laughter.

"She's asking us what do we do with girlfriends? What else do you do with girlfriends?" the same voice answered, drawing another round of laughter.

"We have a group of friends coming behind us. They're from the University football team. They'll mess you up if you hurt us," Nikki said, struggling to keep herself from crying.

"Ohhhh did you hear that? University boys are gonna try and walk through our turf. Nobody messes with our turf. Nobody. During the day, this place belongs to the city. At night, its ours. Even the Police don't mess with us," the voice lit his cigarette with a lighter, exposing a scar riddled face with several tear drops tattooed beneath his right eye.

He wore a blue bandana, and a blue jean vest, revealing two muscular arms, both covered in crude, home made tattooes.

"You see, the only thing a woman needs to be afraid of around here is the Chameleon. And you got boyfriends now, and there ain't nobody that messes with us. Not even the Chameleon. The problem is, your new boyfriends get lonely you see. We need a little attention," the voice spoke to them in a sinister, matter-of-fact kind of voice.

"Yeah, we need some of that," one of the men wrapped their arms around Nikki, who quickly turned and pushed him away violently.

"Come on, is that any way to treat your boyfriend?" the one Nikki pushed responded.

"Yeah. You see, my friend here needs you in order to complete his initiation into our special club here. So for the price of our protection, we're askin' you kindly to give it up for us. Just once. If you don't, we might not be so kind," the voice snuck up behind Sandy, pinching her bottom, making her jump.

"As a matter of fact. We might just take it. I mean fear is fair. We protect you, you pay us," one of them wrapped his arms around Allison.

She struggled to get free, kicking him in his jewels. She then, while he was in his agony, pushed him to the concrete.

The sound of switch blades could be heard as many of them went for their knives.

"I guess we're gonna take from you what you won't give freely," the voice said, advancing on the three women.

"Can I have your protection too?" asked a woman from the darkness.

The men stopped at once and turned to face this new quarry.

While they were distracted, Allison, Sandy and Nikki began running full tilt for the north west corner.

"You interrupting us? On our turf?" asked the voice.

"Interrupting? No. Not at all. Why have hors d'oeuvre when you can go directly to the main course?" asked the woman, who'd now stepped into the only spot lit by the moon.

As she walked, her heels clicked on the concrete. From the sound they made, the voice expected to see sparks flying from their points of impact. They could just barely see her body, its entirety covered from ankle to neck in elaborate tattooes.

"Who you running with girl?! You come here onto our turf like that?!" the voice challenged her.

"Your turf? Really? Didn't anyone tell you that its my turf now?" she answered them, no fear in her voice.

"Where?!" the voice asked her.

"All of it. The whole city," she replied.

"Awww, she's messin' with us. She crazy or something bro. You high or something?" asked one of the other men.

"Way up, high on these heels wouldn't you agree?" she replied.

"Oh she's messin' with us. Let's take her. Puddy and I can get our initiation that way. Besides, she don't look too bad. Kind of kinky," the one who'd grabbed Nikki insisted.

"The initiation girlfriend needs to be innocent. This one's lost her innocence something fierce, but we'll take her for fun anyway," the foremost one charged at her, his knife leading the way.

The woman simply side stepped, grabbing his knife hand and with more force than he'd thought she could muster, forced him quickly to the pavement, keeping his hand tightly in her clasp. With a quick twist of her hand, his arm became dislocated at the shoulder and his grip on the knife ceased. The knife fell blade down, driving itself into the tender skin of his arm pit.

"Aaaooow! She cut me bros! She cut me!" he screamed.

She swiftly kicked him in the face, rending him instantly silent and unconscious.

"Twelve little piggies, came to town. One brought a knife and he fell down!" she wiped her hands.

"Get her," the voice tapped one of his brothers on the shoulder.

The one instructed charged at her, this time moving in like a boxer ready to fight.

"You're going to hurt your hands without your boxing gloves little boy," she said to him.

He tossed his knife, and went after her purely with his fists. She reckoned that he'd had a fair amount of boxing training, and that in the ring he was probably a force with which to be contended. Without his gloves, he was simply as vulnerable as those he'd tried to prey upon.

He swung at her several times, dodging back quickly to avoid any counter attack she'd attempted. She could easily see that he was more afraid of her than she was of him.

"Slow down or you're going to end up seriously hurt," she warned him.

"You're going down bitch!" he exclaimed, charging at her.

Instead of going for her face, he opted for her chest, dead center. She made no effort to block the incoming punch, because he skin had become hardened much like the dragon's scales tattooes that had adorned her body. When his knuckles impacted full force, his bones shattered, leaving him without the use of his hand.

He screamed in pain, falling to his knees in front of her. She then kicked him in the face, sending him to the concrete beside his fallen brother.

By that time, the sound of sirens could be heard converging on the Square.

"Get her!" the voice with the blue bandana ordered, and all ten remaining men charged her.

Before they arrived, something bright blurred before their eyes, as if a meteorite had found its way to the surface before them.

There was no sound or explosion upon impact, as most of the charging men had dived for cover. They got up and looked on at the point where the light had landed. There they saw the form of a woman in red, white and black tights with long red, black and white multi-tinted hair.

"Backup boys! The cavalry is here!" Monique proclaimed, as they looked on.

They stopped to address this new additional threat. As soon as they'd all placed their eyes upon her, the sun suddenly emerged before them. It was as if the night had suddenly become day, immediately coinciding with a loud thunderclap as she sped away and behind them at ultrasonic speed. Now they were both blinded and stunned by the sonic shockwave.

They stumbled around, rubbing their eyes, unable to see anything in the night's darkness. The tattooed woman remained standing, though she too was rubbing her eyes.

"I had the situation under control," the tattooed woman explained, rubbing her eyes as she'd been temporarily blinded by Monique's display.

"Don't tell me. Tell them. I'm here to save you," Monique replied.

"I can handle myself, little girl in a costume," the tattooed woman responded.

"You're one to talk. Didn't mini-skirts go out a half a century ago with bell bottoms and hippy beads?" replied Monique.

"Believe me, I'm not here to give peace a chance," the tattooed woman responded, advancing on her assailants.

Three of them got up at once, jumping onto her. One grabbed her arm while the other tackled her, wrapping his arms around her waist. The third went for her only free arm but before she'd hit the pavement, she skewered his neck with her heel. He fell gurgling to the pavement.

On her back now, she struggled against the two of them who'd pinned her to the concrete. She punched with her left fist, the one who'd secured her right arm, hitting him square in the dead center of his forehead sinus. It collapsed under the force and he instantly fell into shock, limp beside her.

The remaining eight men turned their attention to Monique.

"Now just a second boys. This is the age of equality. You should divide yourselves up evenly between her and me," Monique responded as they charged at her.

Monique flew instantly behind them again, hitting one of them in his back, launching him face forward onto the concrete. Remained motionless on the pavement where he'd fallen just as the first cruiser pulled up onto the Square.

"Freeze! Toronto Police Service! Hands in the air, NOW!" the officers had gotten out of the car and were using the doors as shields.

The tattooed woman had lifted her legs and wrapped them around the head of the one who'd tackled her. She twisted with her hips and snapped his neck like a twig. She threw his lifeless body off of her and was on her feet once again.

"All units, we've got a flying light bulb sighting here! She's here in Nathan Philips Square right now! We need backup!" one of the officers got on the radio requesting backup.

Monique in the meantime had flown around to their front once again, appearing before one of the men farthest from the squad car. She delivered a sminning kick, sending him unconscious to the pavement. She then flew, taking a place beside the tattooed woman.

"I'm here to save her!" Monique waved to the Police, pointing at the tattooed woman.

"All of you, on the pavement, face down! Move it!" the officer yelled through their voice amplifier.

"That's what we're doing? We're encouraging them to the pavement, face down!" Monique responded, yelling back to the Police.

"I don't need your help, little girl," the tattooed woman scolded Monique.

"Fine! What do you need then?" asked Monique.

"The butterfly. Where is she? This is the city she protects, isn't it?" asked the tattooed woman.

"She's on vacation. I'm protecting the city, along with these other protectors here telling us to lie down on the pavement, which doesn't exactly fit with my plan if you know what I mean?" Monique explained to the tattooed woman.

"You have one last chance to comply or we'll be forced to use non-lethal force!" the officer ordered those remaining on their feet to follow their instructions.

"I'm sorry little girl, but I've got to go. No hard feelings?" the tattooed woman waved to Monique as a tremendously large shadowy serpent appeared from out of nowhere behind her.

Its mouth opened and enveloped the tattooed woman, who disappeared within. Seconds later, it faded into nothing as it flew off into the sky, leaving no sign of the tattooed woman or the serpent.

"Last chance light bulb!" the officer yelled to Monique.

She looked around and saw that all of the remaining hoods were lying face down and complying with the Police's instructions.

"Fair enough. Good job boys! Oh, and girl. Uhhhh, can't stay and chat. Gotta go. Bye for now!" with that Monique took off into the air faster than they could respond and a second later she was on her balcony back home.

In the length of time it took a beam of light to reflect off of the parabola behind the LEDs on a hand held flashlight and find its way beyond the bezel of the device, she was home, landed safely on the balcony of her condiminium unit.

"Get a hold of yourself Monique. Whew. Things are certainly getting complicated," she removed her mask and wiped her forehead.

"Dragon man. Dragon woman. Maybe the little girl, Warai, Heylyn has gone to rescue is one of their dragon children? Throw in a dragon dog and a dragon station wagon and we're good," she joked still slightly out of breath from the exertion.

Monique suddenly jumped when her phone rang from inside of her belt pouch.

She struggled with the zipper and her fingerless gloves, cursing a few times under her breath. Finally she pulled the smartphone from her belt pouch and answered.

"Hello?" she said, suddenly realizing that she had the phone upside down.

She took a moment to spin it around in her hands and held it to her face.

"Monique?" asked Valerie.

"Val? Hi. What's up?" asked Monique, a little distant.

"I just saw a news report about something going on at Nathan Philips Square and wanted to make sure that you're alright," Valerie asked her friend.

"Well no thanks to you, I'm fine," Monique replied, still upset that Valerie had not upheld her promise to Heylyn.

"The reason that I called you is that you do realize that this flying light bulb is now wanted... for murder..." Valerie told Monique.

"What! I didn't... I mean I thought she didn't kill...?" Monique responded, completely caught off guard by Valerie's exposition.

"Apparently there's a number of dead amongst those arrested. That's all I heard," Valerie told Monique, the hesitancy of guilt heavy on her auration.

"They also said something about a tattooed woman?" asked Valerie.

"Oh really? You mean with like scales and dragons and stuff all over her body?" asked Monique.

"Yes. Exactly like that," Valerie responded.

"Well isn't that something, especially just after their having found the dragon man?" Monique turned the faucet on and drank a healthy gulp of water from her cup.

"Look Monique, I'm truly sorry that I couldn't go out with you tonight. But I promise, I'll make it up to you. Not to mention, I'm going to help you with you're new problem. I promise," Valerie promised Monique.

"Just like you promised Heylyn?" asked Monique.

"Yes. Just like I promised Heylyn. You and I both know that if I was there, that it would be the two of us that would be on the wanted list. We're going to figure this out together," Valerie assured her friend.

"Well Valerie. The truth is that we're going to need you, because there's some big players in this. Really big. Like giant dragon big?" Monique told Valerie.

"We'll talk tomorrow at the office. Get some rest," Valerie urged Monique.

"Are you kidding? I'm just getting started!" Monique replied, hanging up the phone.

"How does the Chameleon fit into all of this?" asked Monique aloud to herself.

"Not only that, but I honestly have to build in a pee trap to this suit so I can go to the lew without having to completely take it all off," Monique said as she disappeared into the bathroom.

A few minutes later, she emerged and made her way out onto the balcony, donning her mask.

In the blink of an eye, she was off into the night.

Second Encounter

Since she'd gone to the Police, explaining how what the press now called: "The Dragon Man" had rescued her from certain tragedy, she'd been lost. Like she'd tasted a piece from a much bigger cake. One that had been there all along, though one to which she'd felt herself and others of her vocation not entitled. Like she'd been cast from society simply as a result of her chosen profession. Yet, she'd never touched a single man in her life. It was as if she were being prosecuted about the thoughts that others had towards her. 

Simply because she was a woman. A liberated woman. A woman who'd chosen to not let a supposedly liberated society decide how and where she could enjoy or display her body for her own enjoyment or the enjoyment of others. A society who'd decided that it was alright for other women to perform sexual acts upon others to support their habits. Their dependency upon addictive substances. A society who'd agreed that it was alright for suppliers to their dependency, to set the terms of their dependency, and therefore controlled the market of what they had to offer, as well as what they had to supply. From her experience, a supposedly free society had actually oppressed supposely free women. Instead creating the means through which they'd be offered up as products to support the drug dependency supply chain.

To those policy makers, women of the sex trade had merely become marketing tools of the drug habit, and the dependency thereto and by. They were becoming instruments for the promotion of the distribution of dependency substances.

Her customers certainly never required her to consume any such substances to fuel their fantasy. After all, what they wanted was fantasy. They didn't want the reality, but the thought, *the fantasy* of her being in whatever situtation they'd wanted her to be. They wanted her to be herself, but ultimately her. A party to their fantasy world. Their thought. Their ambition. 

The woman they never had and the woman they never could.

They required a thought of her. An image. Not her physical being. Her customers wanted the least. Society wanted the most, yet were willing to yield the least. As if policy had yet again become the instument of the pimp. Those who'd exploit women for the market of their narcotic product. After all, both were of the merely products of the sensual consumption. The fantasy was merely a marketing ploy for the product, which wasn't women, or their immaculate beauty.

The product was the drug. Women were merely the marketing tool. Sex another facet thereof. Combine them, and you had something that was truly capable of creating the cruel future of humanity. A future at women's expense.

Brandy threw on her boots, pulling them over her nylons, perfectly complementing their sexual value, which in all purposes was an aspect of marketing, though at that particular moment they were utilitarian to her cause. After all, her sexuality was her weapon, and one she wore not to harm, but rather, to heal. Something her antagonists failed to realize, though she suspected had they, she would more become their product rather than her own.

She locked the door to her town home, stepping confidently down the steps and out onto the sidewalk. She walked purposefully, her purse under her arm, to the bar. Her chosen reading material for the night? *Mary Shelley's The Last Man*.

In all irony, the voices followed her the entire trip to the bar. They chided her. They mocked her. They pointed out her flaws. They cast her into the pulpit of their failures and elevated themselves by her strengths.

Yet, somehow. Through it all. She held on to herself.

She retained her inner strength. Her dignity. Her smile. Yet and foremost, she retained herself and what she had to offer the world. A woman of courage. A woman of strength and integrity, who was essentially down trodden by society simply because of her vocation.

We all enter into this world the same way, yet we spend our lives in denial of it. Most of us disgusted and ashamed by our origins. Even more so towards the women who took charge of their own sexual nature. On their own terms rather than those imposed by society.

If she'd instead, became a prostitute, she'd experience none of the same ills to which she was now being subjected, simply because she'd fit into society's scheme. She'd be a woman that was helping men to avoid the repercussions of their social taboo. Even were she exploited by a pimp to such ends, she'd be better treated than the women who share their sexuality online. To many, they saw women of her vocation as the leading source of a social anathema, while prostitution averted it completely.

Yet, prostitution was often fueled by substance abuse issues, which drives the motivation for working the streets. Most such women did it simply to earn enough to keep themselves in supply of their drug of choice, which, in many cases would be supplied directly by their pimp.

The vast majority of women who work online in the sex trade, have no substance dependency issues at all. Nor are they subject to any of the risks associated with prostitution, such as violence, robbery and disease. Ironic how society elevates the most harmful thing to women, and crushes the most sexually liberating under foot.

All in the name of keeping men from the risk of sin, taboo, while making women bear that load.

Brandy wasn't a religious person at all, though she would regard herself as being spiritual to some degree. More so philosophically than dogmatically, and never, according to any book of religion.

She'd never subscribed to the machinations of a Church to any degree, and when she'd found herself confronted by the voices, she didn't go seeking religion as an answer or a possible way out. 

She imagined that if others experienced what she was currently, that many of them likely converted to a religion in order to cope. Possibly even escape. It wasn't so much that she was opposed to the right of belief. It was more so that she was opposed to the hypocrisy of it all, especially where it concerned the sexuality of women and their ultimate right to have the final say over what happens to their body.

Here she was, an adult earning an honest living by self sexual exploitation. She was her own manager, though many other girls often worked through a common service under whose brand they were marketed. She had become her own brand and hence did well in terms of her earnings. Well enough to make her own living.

Since she'd become victimized by the voices, her business had been harmed, but nowhere near enough to put her out of business. She stood her ground, seeing that it was important that she did. Ironic that those trying to put her out of business, would actually rather see women working as prostitutes and dependent upon a narcotic substance, in order to act as cushions for the sins of men, rather than independent and in charge of their own sexuality. They simply didn't want women in control of anything to do with their own life or body. 

It was a war of control, with women struggling against an unknown assailant over the hold of their own steering wheel. Their right to self determination, and their right to free will.

In all irony, much of her chosen vocation was spent providing her customers with a visual fantasy, as there was no touch involved. She'd simply act out whatever it was that they'd expressed to be their desire. Once she'd understood it, she'd audition it. Wait for their approval, and pending such a response, she'd either alter her performance or continue it. 

Her on camera life was spent in performance of the instructions of others, and yet, her real life had become a fight over command of her own will and consciousness. Her head had become as an auditorium, filled with strangers who peered out through her eyes. They heard through her ears. They experienced everything she did first hand, as if her body was theirs, though they'd entered into that arrangement without any kind of permission. They were unwanted intruders who'd violated a woman in the worst possible way imaginable, her intruders a multitude of both women and men.

She'd estimated by her careful observation of the characteristics of the voices, that she'd been occupied by hundreds of different people. All of whom were peering out through her own eyes.

With her vocation, she couldn't imagine how such a group of corrupt people could profit from such an arrangement. She couldn't advertise herself as part of the mainstream media in the same way that other independent entrepreneurial women could, so they couldn't take anything from her except her own experiences. Like an audience that hadn't paid a cent to see the show, but it was much worse than that.

Once they'd figured out who she was, and linked her identity up with someone in the real world, she assumed that to be the point where her real problems began. She wasn't far from the truth, because her passengers had arrived shortly after her problems with Jean had begun, though she assumed that they'd affected him as or much worse than they'd affected her. 

She wasn't too far off, because his tenure in prison quickly became littered with trips to the psyche ward. Their only palpable method of dealing with his occasional fits of violent psychosis were carefully administered doses of Chlorpromazine. In all irony, the pharmacological drug was designed and manufactured by Tynan And Associates.

Though the voices had lost much of their presence since she'd begun taking Paroxentine (again by Tynan And Associates), they'd hung on and on bad days would make her life miserable. The worst of the effects they could impose upon her were mood and cognition based, though she had no understanding of the difference between the two. Only that they were clinical words associated with human consciousness and perception.

On her bad days, the voices would interfere in her life by playing with her hormone production, though to her, it felt as if she was having tingles in various parts of her body. Mostly, she'd be affected in or around her sacral region (near her groin), as the involved organs in her endocrine system were located in this region. Often, the effects would be sudden anxiety or occasionally even outbursts of anger and extreme emotion. 

The voices would taunt her in her head, and while under the effects of the altered hormone production, she'd react to them, growing ever more anxious by their words and their presence. It was as if they were practicing rousing her to emotional bouts of anger and tantrums. When such fits were approaching their worst, she'd often throw herself in her bed, pulling her covers over her head, arguing with the voices, despite their lack of cessation.

Sometimes, the attacks would alter how she'd feel about certain things and even whom she trusted. For instance, one of the Toronto Police Service Officers she'd grown to trust would often encourage her, despite the insistance of his fellow peers. Then, on one occasion when he'd been driving by her place, he assisted them in tormenting her. As if by doing so, if she suddenly distrusted him, she'd have become a completely different person from her own being. She then realized that some people involved in the psychological aspects of what she was experiencing were playing her.

When someone she'd once trusted had graduated to the untrustworthy as the Police Officer had, she'd meet someone new, and that person would attempt to appeal to her sensibility until they'd gotten past her barriers, at which point they'd take advantage of their position and become a part of the plot against her. She realized that sooner or later, she was going to have to keep everyone out. At that point was when they'd have broken her, to become the hate side. The negative person to their positivity. The complainer to their rejoice. They'd have won, because not only would she never let anyone in again, they wouldn't want to be around her anyway.

In a way, her self sufficiency and comfort with herself had helped her immensely. She'd been used to the social taboo to which she'd been subjected, and that aspect of her sexual being had helped her to be confident and comfortable even when she was isolated from just about everyone around her. It was as if by her chosen lifestyle, she'd become hardened enough to withstand the kinds of pressures through which many could not last. Even this night, her reading night had allowed her step out into a hostile community to a local bar where she sit alone for the night, consume cocktails, and read. 

This night however, would be different. Even from the night of the attack upon her, for she'd soon become part of the circle of the biggest players in this game of final days.

GuangZhou Temple

The flight from Seoul had been quiet, with Warai being the only one of the trio excited about the trip. They gave her the window seat of course, and she spent most of her time marveling at the countryside beneath them as they flew.

Heylyn had taken the seat next to her, while Kori kept vigil in the seat nearest the aisle. Heylyn and Kori had not spoken at any meaningful capacity since the encounter in the Seoul Market, as Kori was still somewhat in shock with the immensity of what she'd suddenly learned about her employer. Warai on the other hand, who'd only met Heylyn the day before, seemed the most comfortable with the idea. After all, she'd known about Heylyn from her own dreams. That and her conversations with Weltherwithsp about butterflies.

About half way into the flight, Heylyn and Kori switched seats so as to give the other a rest from the endless barrage of questions the little one had about the world below. They both enjoyed it immensely, however, there were times when they found it difficult to keep up with the youngster's capacity for jumping from one context to another. She was still young enough that she hadn't begun to grasp the concept of scale and context yet. Heylyn had considered that perhaps that was something imposed by adults upon youth. Like an anchor to which adults could fasten ideas that were meant to remain unmovable. Yet, in such rigid thinking, their flexibility had somehow been lost.

It got her thinking about the difference between rigidity and flexibility, a lesson she'd once learned from Jinn Hua. That the two could live in harmony, and already did in many places in nature. The greatest example of which was a tree. Large trees flexed easily yet studily in the wind, yet most often, under less than disastrous circumstances, they remained in the same place. Planted firmly, moving with the wind.

Younger trees were more prehensile than older ones. The interior wood of older trees had dried, making them less and less flexible as time went on. More rigid and susceptible to break under the pressures of change, while the younger trees flexed easily in the harshest of wind. Yet, there was a balance point between the two extremities from which one could benefit should they be aware.

A young mind could jump easily from one context to another, like an acrobat, being completely unrestrained by the comprehension of context, while adults were often rigid and resistant to anything that challenged their notion of the firmness of their ideas. The more they were challenged, the more rigid they became. Hence, the more likely they were to break without the advantage of their flexibility. This is often how young minds do not tire, while older minds that have not learned the lesson of flexibility may break. 

Like water, which is immutable entirely, but when it is frozen, it becomes brittle and breakable.

"Age makes us dry and sometimes cold. Like the tree that becomes rigid with time, we become brittle. Like the water that freezes, we become breakable, losing all of the benefit of our flexibility," Jinn Hua told a much younger Heylyn, as she recalled.

"Then how do we keep from becoming brittle and breakable when we grow old?" A sixteen year old Heylyn asked many years ago.

"With wisdom, though even with that, you'll learn that there is no one answer. The world will come at you in many different ways, and as we get closer to the convergence, the world will become a very difficult place," Jinn Hua explained.

"What is the convergence?" asked Heylyn.

"Its a hurdle. However, its a hurdle of great propensity that humankind must overcome. In the eternity of the universe, its one step. A *big* step however, for us," Jinn Hua continued.

"What happens if we can't get over this hurdle?" Heylyn asked.

"Nobody knows for certain," Jinn Hua answered.

"What happens if we can?" asked Heylyn again.

"We keep going. Very changed, but we keep going," Jinn Hua smiled at Heylyn.

"Then lets focus on getting over it, right?" asked young Heylyn.

"Precisely, Ai Yuanlin Ying. That's exactly what we should do," Jinn Hua said, very proud of her student.

"Hurdle..." Heylyn spoke quietly, sitting in the aisle seat as she recalled that lesson from a decade and a half earlier.

"I beg your pardon?" asked Kori.

"Sorry. I was just thinking out loud," Heylyn responded.

"Why don't air plane wings flap like a butterfly?" asked Warai.

"I'll get that one..." Kori winked at Heylyn and turned to Warai, attempting to explain the answer to Warai's good question.

The plane landed safely at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, from where they traveled south to the China Marriot Hotel to check in to their room. They rested for three hours, which took them into the late afternoon that day. From there, they traveled to a local cafe where they had a quick bite to eat, and then it was off to the Temple.

"You're sure its alright us being in here?" asked Kori as they approached the main building that housed the temple and its accompanying pagoda.

"You're with me. It will be alright," asked Kori.

"Will Welly be here too?" asked Warai.

"No. Actually, maybe... be Welly doesn't like showing up in people places," Heylyn responded.

"Why? There's flowers here," asked Warai as they passed an elaborate flower filled garden leading up to the front doors.

"Because... dreams are a much better place for Welly," Heylyn tried to explain it to Warai.

"Life is like a dream. Remember? Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily..." Warai began singing.

" is but a dream," Kori and Heylyn joined in as she finished.

"Some dreams are better in our minds. A place where we can keep them safe," Kori explained to Warai.

"But why? If dreams are fun, then why can't we share them with everyone?" asked Warai.

"Well... because not everyone likes the same things. Some things you like, might scare other people. Like dragons for instance. Some people are afraid of them because they see them as big and scary with sharp teeth. Some people like to fly in their dreams. Some people don't and are scared of heights. We all have different things like this that some people like and others don't. Some people might dislike you for your dreams while others might like you for the very same dreams. So its better to keep them safe until you know a person. Besides, if you told everyone about Welly and the butterfly, they might come and try to take them away..." Heylyn finished Kori's explanation for Warai.

"Does the lady in here know Welly and the butterfly?" asked Warai as Kori got the door for them.

"She knows Welly a little too well, if you'll forgive the pun," Ms. Hue Van met them as they entered the Temple.

Heylyn stepped forward in front of Warai.

"What are you doing here?" asked Heylyn.

"I'm here on official business between Jinn Hua and myself. She knew you were coming and told me to meet you at the door," Ms. Hue Van explained to Heylyn.

"Is this some kind of test? I seem to remember that you and I had a bit of a disagreement last time I saw you?" Heylyn reminded Ms. Hue Van of their conversation.

"A disagreement hardly cements the grounds for a war. It is simply a disagreement. You see day, I see night. Who is to say which is better, and even if so, who would be right?" asked Ms. Hue Van.

"I take it you'll spare my company of the darker side of your introductions?" asked Heylyn.

"I'll do no such thing. Age has taught me that the best lesson I can give to others is introspection, even if it is an uncomfortable experience," Ms. Hue Van's eyes were piercing and yet wisdom filled.

"Just remember that doesn't give you license to subject everyone to your whims," Heylyn reminded Ms. Hue Van.

"Fair enough. I am however truly grateful that you and your friends were able to reconnect me to the one I lost so many years ago. If I didn't already thank you, then consider my being here to be a display of my gratitude," Ms. Hue Van side stepped Heylyn and leaned down to meet Warai.

"Hello little young lady," Ms. Hue Van smiled and her eyes sparkled.

"I don't know you," Warai was slightly cautious, perhaps picking up on Heylyn's state of mind.

"I'm Miss Hue Van. I'm a friend of Miss Yates. And who might you be?" asked Ms. Hue Van.

"I'm Warai, and this is my friend Kori," Warai introduced herself and then presented Kori.

"Hi. Kind of awkward right now," Kori smiled apprehensively.

"Awkward? That's an understatement I'd be willing to bet, given the fact that you lied on your resume to get your current employment," Ms. Hue Van said, watching Kori's smile droop to become a grimace.

"Now listen here! I don't lie, especially on my resumes! I might have taken a liberty or two trying to make a good confident sell of myself, which my mother told me I needed to do more, but I'd never outright lie!" Kori responded passionately to Ms. Hue Van.

"Here we go..." Heylyn said, shaking her head.

"What about me? What did I do?" asked Warai, trying to distract Ms. Hue Van from her friend Kori.

"Did you put the lollipop back?" asked Ms. Hue Van.

Warai looked innocently at Ms. Hue Van, remaining silent for a time before she nodded her head affirmatively.

"Then that's all we need to know," Ms. Hue Van responded.

"Are you done?" asked Heylyn.

"I think we can go meet with Jinn Hua now that we've sorted out the pleasantries," Ms. Hue Van winked at Kori, who smirked back at her.

"Don't take it personally, Kori. She gives everyone the same treatment. Besides, I hired you because I believe in you, including everything on your resume. It was all true, though a little bit under appreciative of what you have to offer," Heylyn said to Kori.

"Great! Can I have a raise?" Kori didn't waste the opportunity.

"Don't push your luck," Heylyn responded as she leaned down to speak to Warai.

"How are you doing?" asked Heylyn.

"Ok?" replied Warai, looking down.

"You know, we all learn from our mistakes. She wasn't reminding you to hurt you. I think she likes you," Heylyn tapped Warai on the tip of her nose with her pinky.

"I know. I think she's nice too, but she's had a hard life," Warai said, showing a bit of empathy.

"She has. She's from a very different time, and things are very different now. We'd do good to learn from her, but sometimes you have to weather the difficult parts too," Heylyn told Warai.

"Are we going to meet Jinn?" asked Warai.

"We are, so lets go," Heylyn replied, standing and reaching for Warai's hand.

They walked together, with Kori as Ms. Hue Van led the way from the foyer into the interior of the temple.

When they rounded the corner out of the foyer, they entered into a long hall that led to the temple interior. A thousand years of literature and prose were placed on the walls, on scrolls and sigils of varying size and placement, most written in one of the older, pre-Song dialects.

Along their journey down the hall, Kori looked and recognized at least two of the faces of historical figures depicted in paintings on the wall. It was then that she realized just how deeply involved this situation had become. Warai walked quietly, hanging onto Heylyn's hand as they followed Ms. Hue Van. She too took her time to admire the artwork, mostly focused on the various dragons that adorned the walls. 

Beneath each, was a single adjective written in the old language. A word describing a dominant aspect of their being. There was bold. There was silent. There was cruel. There was greedy. There was wise. There was stern, and many others. Each of these dragons taking a different shape than the previous. 

Intertwined amongst them, were the butterflies, who similarly had adjectives describing them as well. There was inspiring. There was vain. There was disillusioned. There was directionless. There was illustrious. There was artistic, and more.

"What are those words?" asked Warai of Heylyn.

"Those are old words. They describe different qualities about people, places and things. Like when you are excited and want to play, you might be called playful. When you are tired at night, you might be called quiet," Heylyn explained to Warai.

"Are they all good things?" asked Warai.

"No. They aren't. Some of them could be quite bad, some of them quite good. All of us have them, both good and bad," Heylyn explained to Warai.

"It's what you do with them that says the most in the end," Jinn Hua met them as they emerged into the main temple itself.

"Now that everyone is here, perhaps we may discuss the problem at hand?" asked Ms. Hue Van, who took her place beside Jinn Hua.

"Problem?" asked Heylyn.

"Problem?" echoed Kori.

"A challenge for the times..." a deep thundrous voice spoke from behind Jinn Hua and Ms. Hue Van.

"Welly?" Warai exclaimed with glee.

"One and the same, young one. But from my perspective, I've already known you for your whole life. But from end to start," Weltherwithsp's head snaked into the temple from the darkness of a back wall.

"Then what's the problem?" asked Heylyn.

"You live your life, proceeding from past to present in one direction as do all of humanity, though some of us have the ability to remember the future," Jinn Hua began explaining.

"In the same way that most all of us can remember the past," Ms. Hue Van added.

"Precognition? I read about that in Glamourous Vogue Magazine... They even had a section on how to practice it yourself at home. You know, while you're doing a facial mask... Monique and I even tried..." Kori responded.

"I don't think this is the time, Kori," Heylyn responded.

"Sorry. Just trying to contribute my part," Kori smiled, but when the dragon's snout came into view, she nearly fainted.

Heylyn caught her before she actually fell, and kept her propped up on her own feet.

"Are you alright?" asked Heylyn.

"Fine. Just a lot to digest in such a short time," Kori responded, keeping her eyes covered with her hands.

When she removed them, the dragon was still there. She staggered and Heylyn caught her again.

"Alright?" asked Heylyn.

"Yes. Fine. I used to chase garter snakes when I was a kid, but this is a little bit different in terms of scale," Kori responded, still finding her balance.

"And scales. Take a deep breath," Heylyn suggested and Kori followed her instructions.

"Better?" asked Heylyn.

"Yep. Should do," Kori removed her hands from her eyes and saw the dragon looming over Jinn Hua and Ms. Hue Van.

"Ok. I definitely didn't think I'd be seeing this today. But I can handle it. I survived an after show party with a room full of models and designers, so I can handle anything," Kori spoke confidently remaining on her own two feet.

"Your input is appreciated Kori, but consider our perspective when you speak," Jinn Hua spoke dignantly.

"So what is the nature of this problem?" asked Heylyn, wanting to get to the heart of the matter.

"Human progress has been like the faultering of the first steps of a child, and unbeknownst to you, humanity has had more than one start, and one finish," Weltherwithsp explained to them.

"Within the span of this Earth, there have been no less than three complete wipes of human society from the face of the planet. Each the result of distaster on a scale and proportion unimaginable by modern humanity, and each with such utter severity that no trace was left of what came before. And yet, from each, somehow, humanity emerged yet again. Every time, a little bit more wary of their surroundings and ever the more ingenius in their progress," Weltherwithsp explained to them.

"How does this correlate with what we know archaelogically?" asked Heylyn.

"In many cases, it doesn't entirely, but the clues remain despite the social, religious, cultural and political issues involved. Constant change may be here to stay, but it is obstructed by the constant stubborness of immobility from one's own ideas. The inability to examine or call into question the foundations of the common understanding of things, for fear of being once again on the oft unstable, and unsure ground of not knowing. In a day and age where social, religious, cultural and political surety is often cruel and exclusive, creating many pariahs, many of whom have in other iterations of the universe been of the utmost importance to humanity's survival. Beyond these three wipes of the Earth, the universe itself, as in all there is, has been through many, many more. More than you have numbers to label them each with," Weltherwithsp explained to them.

"This is almost so beyond what we're capable of affecting, that I have to ask why you're telling us?" Heylyn had listened carefully to what Weltherwithsp had said, still skeptical of the dragon since its having grounded the air liner in Hanoi.

"Is it so beyond our ability to affect such things?" Ms. Hue Van asked.

"Does the butterfly that happens upon a field, question how the next generation of flowers might come to be if there is only one of them to pollenate the flowers?" Jinn Hua asked Heylyn.

Heylyn remained silent as she thought carefully about what Weltherwithsp has stated, and then Jinn Hua's metaphor.

"No. A butterfly does what it does. People however call into question what they're to do. How can such things be affected? Especially at this level compared to the vastness to which you're referring?" asked Heylyn

"Many others have asked themselves the same thing at various points in human history, sometimes on the brink of something remarkable that brought about a drastic change in humanity and a resulting epoch of prosperity and growth. Overcoming a drastic hurdle for humanity before it overcame you," Weltherwithsp explained to them.

"Then someone will figure it out," Heylyn assured Weltherwithsp, as if the pressure of knowing such a thing was beyond the scope of relevance to their lives.

"That's not the point. There's a great hurdle coming that humanity in no capacity so far, either from the three civilizations that came before on this very Earth, or in the infinity of universes that has been, has been able to overcome. A hurdle beyond all hurdles," Jinn Hua explained to Heylyn, and she recalled the same lesson she'd received from Jinn Hua when she was sixteen.

"If you do not overcome this hurdle, then I will journey forth to the beginning of time and my counterpart..." Weltherwithsp began as Heylyn interrupted.

"Your counterpart?" asked Heylyn.

"I have told you how my journey started from the end of time, as it does in every version of the universe there has ever been and always will be. I was born from absolute entropy. The point at which the universe reaches the inability to progress and change, was the place of my birth. Backwards through time from that point, I grew, while at the other end of entropy, with all of potential at their doorstep, was born another like myself. One who moves forward from maximum potential and least entropy, from the past into the future," Weltherwithsp explained to Heylyn.

"We are the two absolutes of every universe and all that is, where entropy has a scale from its beginnings and most potential, to its ending and the ending of time, and no potential. As it grows, it feeds upon the decreasing potential of the universe, progressing towards the end of time, while I progress from a point of complete energy equilibrium and the inability of any event to occur. Backwards through time, I feed on the absense of potential, delivering potential in my wake. Yet, we are both an intrinsic part of this universe and every one that has been. Our memories span the entirety of all that is. However, we can only remember the past of our direction of growth. The other, remembers the past, like most humans, while I remember the future. I know not where you've been, but I know where you'll end up," Weltherwithsp explained to Heylyn.

"How does this fit into our place to effect this?" asked Heylyn, almost overwhelmed that something so tremendous should suddenly find its way to them and humanity.

"Our knowledge stems from where we've each been, so it knows the past of you better than all, while I know your future. I know all possible futures, and with every passing moment, and every choice you make, I see your future change, never knowing fully which path humanity will find itself on, while the other sees all the potential pasts..." Weltherwithsp was once again interrupted.

"Potential pasts? How can that be? There can be only one past," Heylyn asserted.

"From your point of view, you're correct. From your perspective you're following a distinct line pronounced by your memory of events, progressing forward through the growth of entropy into the future. One future. From outside of you, myself and my counterpart from the other end of time, see you as fields of probability. The more distant in time from your current point of awareness, the greater the possible paths of these fields becomes. Yet at your current point measured in the entropy of the universe, you are almost absolute and of the least variance from a path in either direction of time. The past from the perspective of my counterpart is just as uncertain as the future is from my perspective," Weltherwithsp explained to Heylyn.

"Why is this important at all?" Heylyn asked.

"Because, one of them is trying to create the worst possible path for humanity, the worst past for each and every human being, perhaps sparing a few, while the other is trying to create the best possible future. The future needed to overcome that hurdle," Jinn Hua added to Weltherwithsp's explanation.

"But it cannot happen without humanity itself. Humanity's will and heart have to be in this fully, for if not, I will continue my journey to the beginning of time, and the other will continue to its end. Humanity however, will, and soon from this point of time, cease to be and once again, the universe will fold into itself as it had been from the very beginning, and the whole thing will start again, without any assurance that any of you will be around the next time through," Weltherwithsp told them in certainty.

"How can we overcome this?" asked Heylyn, still overwhelmed by it all.

"Maybe we can help Welly make a good future?" asked Warai.

"And that is why you have the Gem," Jinn Hua smiled, as Heylyn suddenly realized the importance of Jinn Hua's lesson.

The wondrous ability of a child to escape from the seemingly impossible, steering towards the possible without being overwhelmed with problems of scale or context.

Once again, flexibility and mutability became the strength of the day. However the lesson was in knowing where one was more applicable than the other.

"We have to deal with this other one making problems for humanity's past," Heylyn said constructively.

"And that is what we were hoping the Butterfly Dragon would say," Ms. Hue Van said to Heylyn.

"The other one, it has its own like you. A Dragon Butterfly as it were," Weltherwithsp told Heylyn.

"I know. We've already met," Heylyn smirked.

"She was like you Heylyn. A girl who had her heart so set on something from her dreams, and because of circumstances beyond her control, she was thrust into a world she wasn't ready to accept. She feels slighted, even betrayed for her loyalty to our ideals, and yet she fell into a turmoil that changed her. The other one Weltherwithsp speaks of has likely preyed upon this to lure her to its side. Keep that in mind when you deal with her, for she might at one time have been one of us," Jinn Huan reminded Heylyn.

"We're going to need more help. From what Weltherwithsp explained, especially for the science and physics stuff. I think I know just the right people for the job," Heylyn stated.

"You don't mean..." Kori asked.

"Alicia for certain. The entire delegation too," Heylyn responded.

"Right on! She's getting the old gang back together!" Kori cheered, Warai clapped her hands.

"Yay!" Warai exclaimed.

"Be warned Butterfly, there are other perils looming in the unknown. Perils we can sense, but that have not yet come to light. They are surely there and possibly even intertwined with the complex tapestry of the future and past Weltherwithsp describes. They are hidden variables in a future at risk, and an altered past. Be aware. Keep yourself and the Gem to the shadows. Heed what you've learned from treading on unstable ground, beneath a faltering sky," Jinn Hua told Heylyn.

"I take it you'll be more involved than you have been of late?" Heylyn asked Weltherwithsp.

"That I will. From the background I will play the role I've always played, but the future is up to you..." Weltherwithsp replied to Heylyn's question.

"And the Gem," Jinn Hua observed.

"Yes. And the Gem," Weltherwithsp agreed.

"And me too. A little?" asked Kori, holding up her index finger and thumb in a tiny gapped pinch.

"Hey! I'm little, you're big," Warai said, putting her hands on her hips and looking up at Kori.

"That may be, but you'll soon be growing into her shoes, and someday maybe even into mine," Ms. Hue Van reminded Warai.

"Don't rush her. She needs to enjoy her youth," Kori responded defensively.

"As much so as Ms. Hue Van needs to enjoy her senior years. Look, this isn't about Warai impressing us, or becoming extensions of our social power struggles. Its about a little girl learning about the world, and growing comfortably into her responsibilities to the future," Heylyn responded to them both.

"Now do you understand the perspective of your parents when you were but a little laughing flower?" Weltherwithsp responded.

"I always did and you of all should know that. Besides, this isn't about me. From what I understood about your little speech, this is about a lot more than just one person, or even us here in this temple. This is about the future. Humanity's future. And you being from the future from our point of view, should be able to help us more than you have been," Heylyn challenged the anachronistic dragon.

"Weltherwithsp's help has been one of the reasons that we even know this much about what's coming," Jinn Hua reminded Heylyn.

"That doesn't mean that the dragon has told us everything that might help us," Heylyn looked to Jinn Hua and then to Weltherwithsp.

"You're still sore about that flight over Hanoi, aren't you?" asked Weltherwithsp.

"No. That was only the last straw. The one that caused me to call into question your true nature," Heylyn kept her gaze upon the dragon.

"My true nature is much like my nomenclature. I'm as much as that and no less. I do however remind you that your being here today is the direct result of my tinkering," Weltherwithsp smiled.

"My being here? You know fully why I came here, and you're withholding something about that. Aren't you?" pressed Heylyn.

"I withhold much, for if I disclosed what I've seen in my travels backwards through time from the end of all things, humanity would simply throw up their hands and give up for good. I dispense what I can, and keep what I must. You'd be wise to heed this," Weltherwithsp responded leaning in close to Heylyn's face.

Once again, she stood the dragon down, face to face.

"Welly's on our side," Warai interjected in their stand off.

"You see? A young mind can see through the barriers of context that limits many older such persons. Like the one in front of me," Weltherwithsp looked to Warai and then back to Heylyn.

"Perhaps the Butterfly needs more time to heal from what she interpreted as your betrayal of our values?" Jinn Hua suggested.

"No. I'm fine, but its going to take a lot before I trust you again when it comes to certain matters. Especially putting human lives at risk," Heylyn kept her stance against Weltherwithsp.

"And you Butterfly, the next book you read or movie you watch, trying viewing it from the end of the story backwards to the beginning, and consider what you'd share with the characters to help them arrive at the best possible outcome without steering them astray, especially knowing who lives and who dies. Then consider that same concept from the perspective of the end of the universe and time itself, of all that is and could have been. Who would you betray? Your friends or the future?" Weltherwithsp's eyes narrowed as the dragon glared at Weltherwithsp.

Heylyn considered what Weltherwithsp had stated without to benefit of having the time to evaluate it. She understood what the dragon was saying, but her intuition was warning her that something was wrong.

"You should see your old mentors too. Morgan Hind and Tiger Hoon Kwang. They still reside in your home city of Toronto. They too will have perspective about the nature of what we're facing. Speak with them and learn what you can, for they too have known about this coming peril," Jinn Hua spoke deliberately, yet not so as to break the tension.

"I have confidence in you Butterfly. That's why I hired you to find my lost love, and you succeeded. With good friends at your side, and the confidence of the Gem, humanity's future aspirations may yet see the light of coming days," Ms. Hue Van assured Heylyn.

"It was a pleasure meeting you all... even the dragon too, though I have to admit that I'll probably spend the next five to ten years in therapy trying to unremember that. No hard feelings," Kori said, smiling to Jinn Hua, Ms. Hue Van and Weltherwithsp.

"None taken..." Weltherwithsp responded.

"I somehow knew you'd say that..." Kori smiled uneasily.

"Will I see you again Welly?" asked Warai.

"You most certainly will, as will the Butterfly," Weltherwithsp promised.

"Farewell," Heylyn said, grabbing Warai's hand and heading out through the main doors.

"Bye bye! I miss you," Warai said as she left with Heylyn.

"Thank you for the hospitality. It was nice meeting you all," Kori left, following close behind them.

They left the temple, walking back through the garden and out onto the quiet street where Heylyn called for a taxi.

"Kori, I'm sorry that you had to become aware of all of this in this way. It wasn't my intent," Heylyn said to Kori as they drove.

"Sorry? That doesn't even come close to making up for the pressure of knowing what I saw. Heard," Kori responded.

"I didn't mean for you to become aware of this. I'll do everything I can to make it easy for you, but you're going to have to carry on knowing. I can't do anything about that," Heylyn replied.

Kori remained silent, perhaps withholding her response to spare the taxi driver. The rest of the night remained confined to speech that was necessary only for utility and convenience.

Back at the hotel they went for a quick swim, had dinner in the restaurant and went to bed. 

After a short sleep, they gathered themselves out of bed at four in the morning. They readied themselves for their flight and were checked out by quarter to five in the morning, GuangZhou time.

Within two hours, they were in the air and on their way back to Canada through a stopover in Vancouver.

Radical Reality

A man sat in his car, stopped in traffic just outside of Commerce Court in downtown Toronto. He held a cellular phone to his ear, as he checked traffic on either side of him.

"He already spoke to them," Jack informed the person on the other end of the line as he clung to the steering wheel.

"What did he say?" asked the voice on the other end.

"We're still trying to piece it together. He didn't reveal anything about us specifically, but he did mention hearing voices. That's the umpteenth report of a similar nature. Don't you think they're starting to suspect that something is up?" asked Jack.

"I don't suspect anything. All he did was revealed how delirious he really is. They're probably evaluating him for dementia right now. He is an older man nearing his retirement age," the voice assured Jack.

"These aren't Constables on patrol dealing with a routine investigation. They're detectives or something like that. They suspect something is up, and they're looking into it," Jack warned the voice.

"Maybe its a toxic workplace environment Werner is running then? If he had a sudden episode, say a fit or tantrum or something like that, he'd quickly be written off as incapable for his role as Chief Partner of Werner Goldstein Holdings, wouldn't he?" asked the voice spoke, offering up a solution.

"Maybe," Jack responded.

"Then he'd be asked to step down and forced into early retirement on the grounds of mental illness and dementia. We'd have our candidate in place for the job and before long, we'd be running that show in addition to all the others we already run," the voice told Jack confidently.

"You do know what would come next, don't you?" asked the voice.

"You'd slowly start filtering out the employees who are game to what we're about, from the ones who aren't. Then you'd put those that oppose us out on the street, possibly in a mental ward the same way you did with Forseth and many others and be done with them, sorting out the team players from SSTs, the Self Serving Types, when that's just a marketing term you invented to urge others to join the witch hunt against our enemies without them even realizing that they were turning their backs on the pillars of society," Jack reiterated their method of usurping company power from the organizations they'd overtaken thus far.

He both savoured and despised the words he'd spoken.

"And are you with us, or against us?" asked the voice.

"I'm with you all the way. I'm just warning you that there are some serious hurdles ahead. I think that you're getting used to these takeovers being easy. Like the way I took over Torman and his thugs," Jack's face compressed into a grimace.

"We all know where that ended, don't we. Until you're in my shoes, I'd suggest you follow my plan or end up like the others. I wouldn't want to have to hire a specialist to deal with you, and you know I would," the voice reminded Jack.

"As much as I'd hire one to deal with you," Jack responded.

"Then you have choices. I suggest you follow my plan, or our time working together will come to an end. I will heed your advice, but we will not stray from our plan. Get in line, or get out. But most of all Jack, get quiet about this lest you want to lose everything," the voice told Jack.

"Very well," Jack agreed hesitantly.

"Now, I want you to have your local group deal with Werner immediately. The detectives as you called them fumble with aspects of their investigation that have nothing to do with our operation leaving you an opening to deal with Werner, even if he's under Police protection," the voice told Jack.

"What were you thinking?" asked Jack.

"Something radical, but not too over the top. Suicide maybe? Better yet, an anxiety attack that leads to a violent confrontation, between him and his own staff. Have him employ a weapon. You know where he keeps them. When he's confronted by the Police assigned to protect him, not understanding the full breadth of the situation, they might respond with lethal force and fulfil our needs without even knowing it. Besides, we may even have one or two of them in our numbers already. Regardless, Werner will be silenced and nobody will question the outcome, especially in the aftermath of Forseth. It will be delivered as proof of a toxic work environment run by a toxic man. Helmut Werner," the voice assured Jack.

"I'll carry that out immediately," Jack informed the voice.

"Good. Don't fail. He's to meet an end once and for all, at which point we can add another large investment firm to our global portfolio," the voice commanded and then hung up.

Jack put his phone in the charging cradle on the dash of his luxury sedan. He then looked for a place to pull over by the curb.

He concentrated, quickly connecting himself to his network of assets in the city, and directed them all to target the mind and body of Helmut Werner. Every single one of them, at once. In a matter of minutes, Werner's nervous system would become overrun with activity as his body started producing hormones that would throw his body and mind out of equilibrium. Then, at the slightest of noises or distractions, he'd be thrown into a rage at which point he'd be most of the way to his final destination.


Tricia sat in an office quietly with Halmand and two other agents, both of whom were operating the computer equipment whose video feed relayed the activities of the two rooms with the TEMPEST equipment they'd uncovered the night before.

"Team A and B are in place," Farnham reported to Tricia over his headset.

"Good, we don't want anyone dead. Take them healthy. Take them down if necessary, but not all the way," Tricia relayed to Farnham.

"Loud and clear, Overlord," Angus responded over his headset.

On the video screen, one of the office doors opened and someone stepped into the room.

"Get ready, we've got a rat in the trap at Site A. Male. About five ten. Early thirties. Clean shaven. Receding dark hair," Tricia relayed.

"On your word," Farnham responded.

"Hold. He's just having a cigarette. Must have sneaked inside for one. He doesn't seem to be perturbed by the antenna. Maybe he's an accomplice?" suggested Tricia.

"Could be, though a lot of these financial big wigs aren't exactly into the latest tech, unless it has wheels or a swimming pool and jacuzzi, so he might be thinking he's looking at an mp3 player," Farnham replied.

"You're only saying that because that's what you thought it was at first," Halmand replied.

"No. I thought it was a heat sync," Farnham shot back to Halmand.

"...with an mp3 player built in, mind you..." Farnham finished.

"Someone else just came into the room at Site A. Another man. Mid twenties. Beard. Moustache. About five foot nine. Slightly chubby. Wait. Site B, first rat, just walked in. Site A two rats are talking. One is going around to the antenna computer," Tricia reported, unclipping her tazer and preparing for the rush.

"All teams hold. He's accessing. Looks like we have a winner. He just pulled up the command interface for the antenna and he's scrying Werner's computer directly," Tricia told them.

"Give us the signal, Overlord," Angus waited, his heart rate slightly accelerated as he prepared for the rush.

"Site A is confirmed. All teams holding, waiting on site B for confirmation. Site B rat is six foot two. Blonde crew cut. A young guy. Definitely in his early twenties. Daddy must work here or he's a cleverly dressed intern. Clean shaven, apple pie face," Tricia reported.

"He just accessed the other antenna computer. He's opening the interface. He's... Halmand?" asked Tricia.

"He's relaying radio frequency keystrokes to Werner's computer. He's basically remotely controlling the keyboard using electromagnetism emitted by the antenna through the software defined radio dongle. A fairly common attack, used by pros and script kiddies alike. He's a confirmed rat," Halmand commented upon seeing the realtime display of the interface of both antenna computers.

"Overlord?" asked Angus.

"Teams A and B. Go go go!" Tricia gave the command.

Two plain clothed officers opened the door in front of her and she followed them through the startled office.

"Everyone down! Stay calm!" as she held her tazer in front of her, while the other two plain clothed officers held their service pistols.

They arrived at the door as Angus' team A kicked the door open and began shouting, their SMGs at the ready.

"Freeze! Hands in the air! No sudden movements!" he shouted from behind his full body armour.

Both the men put their hands in the air immediately, the chubby one behind the computer began shaking and crying.

"Team B? What's your status?" Tricia requested over her headset.

"We've secured the room. We're informing the suspect of their rights," Farnham responded.

"Officer Ford. If you'll do the honours. I'm just an observer here," Tricia told Angus.

"I'm on it. You two gents look like you're on the clever side? You do understand that we represent the Toronto Police Service and that you are being placed under arrest?" Angus began.

Tricia stepped back out of the office, placing her tazer in her holster and wiping her forehead.

"Ladies and gentlemen. The Toronto Police Service has been investigating an incident on your premises. Your cooperation is requested at this time. We appologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We ask that you remain calm and that anyone here today does not leave as we will have some questions for you. You may continue going about your business, though we'll be coming to speak with you each soon. Thank you," Tricia returned to the Site A office.

"Farnham? I'm going to check up on Werner. You've got this I assume Detective?" asked Tricia of Farnham.

"Certainly do. I'll connect with you later and let you know about anything we find connected to the Forseth case," replied Farnham.

"Great. Glad to hear. Let's hope we got the break we needed," Tricia replied.

"Oh and Tricia?" Farnham said.

"Thank you. Really. For giving us this case. Having a success like this, well its good for morale, especially given the Chameleon..." Farnham responded.

"Don't mention it. Just remember, if you hear anything connected to the Forseth case, or anything related to radicalization, anxiety, anger anything leading up to a possibly violent end, you let us know," Tricia told him.

"On my badge," Farnham assured Tricia.

"Bye for now," Tricia removed her headset and handed it to one of the Police techs.

"Inspector. Get your butt in gear. We've gotta go," Tricia addressed Halmand.

"Just about finished briefing the Toronto Police Service digital forensics team. I'll meet you at the car," Halmand replied.

"You mean you're going to miss out on a chance to drive?" asked Tricia.

"Us tech heads have to stick together you know," Halmand winked at Tricia as he finished up his talk with the Police techs.

Tricia made her way to the elevator lobby, where she waited for half a minute for the elevator. When it arrived, she stepped in and rode it alone all the way down. She checked her underarm, finding that she was slightly sweaty from the excitement and stress before an operation like that one. When she got to the car, she opened her glove box and found her deodorant, quickly applying a healthy dose. She used a quick wipe to wipe her face, and then fixed her makeup in the rearview mirror when her phone rang.

She quickly put her lipstick in a bag in the glove box and closed it before answering.

"Inspector..." she began as she was interrupted.

"We've got a situation here at the Werner household!" one of the officers spoke frantically to Tricia.

"I'm on my way! What's going on?" asked Tricia as she started the car.

"He started wandering the house, babbling to himself. Like he was giving a lecture to an unseen audience. Then he just snapped and began assaulting one of his day staff at the house. He then went for gun he had stored in a secret compartment in his office and he has a hostage right now," the officer spoke frantically.

"Nobody shoot! Don't speak to him unless its to distract him from any aggression towards his hostage! Keep calm and keep him calm!"  Tricia hung up and put the car in gear.

"Damn Halmand! I can't wait," Tricia cursed under her breath as she sped out of the underground parking garage.

She found the siren and placed it on the dash, starting it at the same time. The lights blazed and the siren blared as she floored her car through downtown Toronto, East along Queen Street to the Don Valley Parkway North.

She drove north up to the 407 at full tilt, her sirens still going in midday traffic, making the trip in a record seven minutes. She took the 407 eastbound to the 400 highway, north and up to King City, where she exited making her way through a series of side streets to Werner's sizeable manor. She pulled up in his front driveway, stopping her car and jumping out.

She stepped into the house, quickly finding where Werner had taken the hostage as the officers stood around him, their tazers drawn.

"Holster your tazers. He's well beyond the age risk, not to mention he had bypass surgery three years ago," Tricia advised the other officers.

The Officers complied.

"Just be ready," Tricia ordered them.

"Be ready for what? Make them stop!" Werner said, with one of the maids clenched tightly in his arm with a pistol against her forehead.

Tricia had a flashback of her last moments with Forseth.

"I can't make them stop. You can't either. None of us can. The only thing we can do, *you* can do, is to find strength within yourself to resist them... To resist the worst of what we can become. The worst of what we can do. Don't let them do this to you. To her," Tricia approached him, speaking quietly and firmly.

"I hear you Tricia, but do you know what this is like? Imagine driving your car, in the worst storm you can imagine. You know you're on the road, but you can barely see what's coming at you in the distance ahead... And then... someone beside you in the passenger seat, grabs the steering wheel, and fights with you, trying to steer the vehicle off the road... Then people in the back seat too, like many hands all grabbing at your steering wheel... while you're fighting to keep the car on the road... The storm too is their doing... To keep you from seeing what's coming at you... so you don't thin... thin... think... clearly... Your friend's words become the torment of pain and they become your enemies too... And then... you realize that they're all against you... just because they don't want you to be the Chief Partner at your company any more... All against you.. so they collude to make you seem like a... monnnnster..." Werner struggled against the voices, hanging firmly onto his humanity for a few moments longer while he dealt with the hidden demons who'd gained hold of him.

"You're right. Excactly right! What you're feeling is only the result of alterations to your hormones. Like you're seeing the world through a dirty windshield. Don't let that illusion be the determining factor in the actions you take from herein. You can fight it. I know you can!" Tricia encouraged him, suddenly understanding more and more what he was fighting.

"I know Forseth better than anyone ever will. I know what he went through. I completely understand the man now," Werner tightened his grip on the maid.

"Then be a testament to the virtue of his legacy, and help us solve his case by releasing the hostage. You won't be arrested, but we will take you into our care..." Tricia began as he interrupted.

"Like this care? Like you did here, in my own home?" asked Werner.

"We did everything we could, but they seem to have an advantage. But you alone have an advantage over them. You knew Forseth, and now you know him best of all. What he went through, because you're living it now. We can take care of you. We can put you somewhere that they can't reach you," Tricia assured him, looking to the hostage.

"They can reach us everywhere... Don't you see... They're not of the stuff of time and space... They are mind, and mind is everywhere," Werner began to both lose a grip on his reality, while becoming insightful to the nature of those assaulting it.

"Trust me Werner. We'll get you through this. I swear on my grave!" Tricia promised him.

He tightened his grip on the pistol, a six shooter thirty-eight as he cocked the firing pin back and readied the gun.

He then started to shake violently, and with his thumb, he delicately returned the lever back to its resting position, loosening his grip on the trigger. He then put the gun down on the island marble counter in his kitchen and released the maid.

"She's one of them. An insider. So is my grounds keeper. I'm certain of it," Werner reported as the maid ran for the safety of the officers.

The remaining officers immediately jumped Werner and began struggling with him.

Tricia grabbed the thirty-eight and gave it to another nearby officer. She then approached Werner.

"Unhand him!" she ordered.

"Don't you see? This is excactly what they want. They want you to fight with him and trigger a heart attack to silence him. Let him leave with us in dignity. This man just overcame an enemy nobody has been able to so far," Tricia pleaded with her fellow officers.

"We have to charge him. We witnessed his crime against his own staff. By law, we have to charge him. They have their own choice to press criminal charges for assault and battery, but we have no choice, or do you remember the Canadian Criminal Code?" one of the officers challenged Tricia.

"Fair enough. We'll do it by the book. But this man is now a key witness in the Forseth case, and as such, I'm taking him into my custody. Your department can file charges as you said, but he will remain in my custody until he has been subpeonaed to a court of law by the Federal Court Of Justice, or the Minister Of Justice themself," Tricia took Werner, as she pulled her handcuffs from her belt.

She then had him place his hands in front of him, and placed the cuffs gently on his wrists.

"Is that too tight?" asked Tricia.

"No. That's fine, Inpsector. I'm ever so tired and I must have my heart pills," Werner responded.

"Where's the physician?" asked Tricia immediately, her voice suddenly elevated.

"Here M'aam. Doctor Musgar at your service," a man in his forties in a cardigan sweater stepped forward.

"When did Mr. Werner last have his heart medication?" asked Tricia.

"He's due for it now. It's been eight hours since his last dose," Doctor Musgar replied.

"Is this true?" asked Tricia of Werner, suddenly realizing just how vulnerable the aging man was.

"It is as he stated. Doctor Musgar has been my family physician for nine years. He really helped me quite a bit after the heart surgery too," Werner assured Tricia.

"Alright. Doctor Musgar, could you personally get all of Mr. Werner's medication and bring it to us. I'd like you to accompany me to the Division while we deal with the formalities of taking him into custody as a protected material witness for the case of Mr. Forseth," Tricia asked the Doctor.

"Not at all, Inspector. I'd be delighted," Doctor Musgar left and made his way upstairs to the master lavatory, where he retrieved all of Werner's medication, his toiletries and a change of clothes.

"Mr. Werner, I'm going to have to ask you to ride in the back for the purposes of your own safety. Once we get to the Division, we'll run some tests to insure that you're mentally sound to continue, and we'll process you through all of the formalities with the help of your family Doctor here. You may want to call your lawyer too, though you aren't formally under arrest, you are being held in legal custody under my responsibility until the other officers file charges and paperwork for today's incident. We'll keep you safe and you'll get a good night's sleep in a hotel under our protection until we can make more permanent arrangements for the time being. Your Doctor might want to consider adding a prescription of a mild sedative or relaxant to help you overcome the stress associated with your anxiety, and to get a good night's sleep in spite of the voices," Tricia assured Werner.

"I'll make those arrangements Inspector," Doctor Musgar told Tricia.

Tricia led Werner and Doctor Musgar out to the car. She stowed Werner in the back seat, carefully and then got in the driver seat, unlocking the door for Doctor Musgar.

"Two minutes gentlemen," Tricia asked them.

"Certainly," Doctor Musgar agreed as Tricia pulled her phone and speed dialed a number.

"Halmand? Yes. Everything's alright. He's here with me right now," Tricia spoke to Halmand.

"So what now?" asked Halmand.

"He's a material witness in the Forseth case. He experienced a severe episode, but came out of it with flying colours. Really, he's the first big break we've had so far, thankfully," Tricia told him.

"We're just finishing up here. Got a few statements about our suspects. You're going to love this, but I can't talk now," Halmand told Tricia.

"Same here. Let Farnham know the good news and we'll talk later," Tricia told Halmand.

"See you soon. Wait, I might just go home from here. I promised that I'd help my sister move if I had time. I haven't seen her in three years, so I'm thinking this might be the opportunity," asked Halmand.

"Go to it. She's your sister for crying out loud. We'll talk first thing bright and early tomorrow. Don't be late for the morning brief," Tricia scolded him.

"Alright. No wobbly pops after the move," Halmand assured Tricia.

"Bye," Tricia hung up.

As the car pulled out of Werner's driveway, he began to weep as the full breadth of what he'd done hit him like a brick wall.

Somewhere inside him though, he felt a sense of dignity that he'd been able to overcome the worst of what they'd thrown at him. Yet, he realized just how fortunate he was, as a dear friend of his like Forseth had lost his life to the very same thing.

"Inspector?" Werner said.

"Everything alright Mr. Werner?" asked Tricia.

"Yes. I just wanted you to know that I'm going to see this through, to the end. Until they are dealt with for good," Werner told Tricia, his eyes visibly wet with tears, even through her rearview mirror.

"With the law," Tricia nodded to him.

"And with truth," Werner agreed.


The Many Faced Maiden sat in a holding pattern as it awaited its turn in the queue of ships passing through the giant canal. In its current position, it would be next through the Gatun Lock, an artificial reservoir through which boats using the canal were elevated twenty six meters to the level of Gatun lake. From there, the boats could then travel (south in the case of the Many Faced Maiden) to corresponding locks at the other side. They were then lowered back to sea level, exiting into the ocean once again.

On the bridge of the Gearing Class Destroyer refit, George stood looking out towards the lock and their enormous gates. He wore a Naval uniform, one denoting his membership in the Mexican Navy, as were all of his crew.

The truth was in order to keep his enormous vessel from being discovered, he'd entered into a deal with an official in the Mexican government whereby he'd purchased copies of Mexican Naval Transponders, beacons which identified ships to the global navigation network. He used these to disguise his ship as a member of the Mexican Navy, seeing as they already owned two similar such ships.

When NATO's satellites spotted his ship, through analysis, they'd mistake the Many Faced Maiden for a Destroyer Class vessel of the Mexican Navy. He'd procured this arrangement through an assistant to the Defense Minister on the grounds that he refrained from using the Panama Canal. Hence, when he'd found out from Mr. Zek that he would have to travel to a site near the harbour of Treadwater Island, he was forced to contact the same assistant and seek their help. As he'd estimated, it cost him nearly five million USD to payoff all of the necessary officials in order to make it through safely, though that didn't guarantee anything. Especially with the manhunt underway to locate Alomera Constanza Zekestes, George would have to be careful. Very careful.

The naval outfits were a precaution as he'd purchased them at the same time he'd procured the ship for the hefty sum of fifty million USD. The ship had been declared missing at sea, which was just a cover story for the sale of the ship. The transponders were changed and the hull and armaments refitted so as to conceal the Destroyer's radar signature as matching its original namesake. 

George had the ship's systems replaced and completely modernized, leaving its twin Bofors 57 mm cannons in tact and fully operational should the need arise. A Mark 45 Artillery cannon was installed on the bow deck, so that should George need it, he could order artillery strikes on locations on the shore up two seventy five kilometers away.

Despite all of the armaments the ship had, when he was close to shore, he had to look the part. The naval uniforms handled most of that illusion for them, but the remainder was the work and training of one of the Many Faced Maiden's crew. First Mate Norman Lockwood was a bona fida man of the navy. He'd been a senior officer on the Canadian Naval vessel HMCS Ottawa during the Afghanistan war. After the war, he'd been relieved of his military duties citing post war trauma as the reason. He'd been promised the support of his Government for his duty to his country and to the peace and safety of the world. Instead, he was ignored for years while his home life deteriorated, for he too had complained of the voices, but nobody listened.

He picked up and left Canada, seeking work south of the border in order to escape from his hidden tormentors. Most of the work he found entailed handling logistics at local shipping ports of entry into the country, the one he'd worked for being located in Seattle. Eventually, the same voices found him and frustrated with the stress, he quit his job and sought to flee again. This time, before he left, he'd met and befriended a fellow sailor in a bar. That sailor offered him a job on a ship, however the terms were that he ask no questions and never speak of his work or the offer to anyone.

In all truth, men like George, Mr. Zek and the heads of various Criminal Cartels relished the idea of country men, especially military men being let down by their Government and country, because for them it meant hiring trained experts at a low cost. A few years into their new vocation, and they'd have solidified into enemies of the state, especially having been betrayed by their own people. People they'd been sworn to protect. The irony was that those betrayed were often recruited by the very people who sought to undermine those Governments and societies. George much like Mr. Zek, though dependent upon such absence of principle, were amongst their greatest enemies. Rather than eliminate them however, they saw fit to control them, using nothing but their own secrets.

Norman Lockwood had joined the crew of George's first ship, the Mermaid's Hark, though George was too busy at that time running the Eastern Division of Future Tangent Industries. Then, one night and on short notice, the crew of the Mermaid's Hark was called into action, where they would deliver the Mermaid's Hark to a port in the Golf Of Mexico, where they'd take command of a larger naval vessel, a Gearing Class Destroyer. The Many Faced Maiden.

They were joined by an additional thirty men whom George had hired to help run the ship. From there, they were to travel through the Panama Canal and to the Sea Of Japan, remaining in international waters and to await further orders. They ventured forth on their trip and twenty days later, they arrived at their destination.

They remained there for most of a week, awaiting instructions when on the horizon they saw a helicopter approaching. Norman, who had worked his way up quickly through the ranks, had checked the scopes and identified the bird as a civilian cargo and utility craft. When he realized that the bird was coming to land, he quickly ordered the deck cleared of the equipment and cargo crates that remained scattered across the helipad. At once, forty of the crew began frantically clearing the deck, removing anything that might pose a threat to the safe landing of the bird. By the time they'd removed the last of the gear from the helipad, the bird had arrived.

Norman examined the hull of the helicopter as it descended, observing impact points from small arms fire. He immediately called for a medic and moments later, just as the helicopter arrived, the medic was on scene. The open cargo door of the helicopter revealed only a solitary man in a business suit, clinging to a briefcase as he lay on the floor of the bird.

"Don't just stand there! Get in there and tend to him!" Norman ordered the medic.

"Right away!" the medic sprung to action, examining the man laying on the floor of the helicopter.

"He's breathing. No injuries. A slight bruise on his left cheek," the medic relayed.

"Where am I?" asked George, who'd awaken on the floor of the helicopter.

"You're on the Many Faced Maiden," the medic responded.

"Good. Then I'm safe, and I'm home," George replied leaning up and getting onto his feet.

Norman had pulled his service pistol, a nine millimeter stamped metal firearm from its holster.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to advance one and be recognized!" he shouted at the man, levelling his pistol.

"I'm George Steadman, the owner of this vessel," George said calmly.

Norman looked to the other sailors, one of whom nodded to confirm the man's claim.

Norman immediately holstered his weapon.

"I appologize sir. I was just being safe," Norman assured George.

"You know what. I like you. You ordered the medic to check on me, when everyone else was standing around. When you didn't know who I was, you defended my ship. I bet you had the helipad cleared too in order to make sure I could land?" George asked Norman.

"This is Norman, George. The Navy guy I told you about? He did all that. He's a pretty darn big part of the safe operation of this here new ship of yours," one of the other crew offered George an explanation.

"Norman? Stick with me and you'll do well. After what I've been through, being shot at as I ran from Tokyo Airport, fleeing a contingency of forces there to apprehend me and my men, Walton Norler in the front lines amongst them. I just made it out by the skin of my teeth. We wouldn't have safely landed if not for you, Norman. With me, you're going places," George assured him.

"The rest of you, we're going to the Golf of Mexico the long way to have the ship refitted, and then we're going to setup the greatest heist of all time. The heist to break Alomera Constanza Zekestes from La Moderna Prison. Pronto! I'm going to get cleaned and changed," George marched off the deck of the ship and into the interior of the vessel through a steel door.

Everyone looked to Norman, waiting for his command.

"You heard the man! Get to it! Medic, why haven't you checked on the pilots of that helicopter yet?" asked Norman.

"The pilots?" asked the medic.

"Yes. The Pilots. You didn't think that this here bird flew itself all the way here from Japan, did you?" asked Norman.

"No..." the medic responded.

"Then get to it! There could be men dying in the front cabin!" Norman shouted.

The medic immediately made his way to the front of the helicopter, and as Norman had stated, one of the two pilots had a gaping wound in his lower abdomen. With treatment and hasty action, the pilot lived, once again thanks to Norman's no nonsense approach and the medic's ability.

Normal later visited the pilot in the boat's infirmary.

"To think, your Government and country threw you away. Man, they do not know what they lost, not to mention the crime of ignoring a veteran's needs. Thanks Norman. You saved my life," the pilot shook Norman's hand firmly as George walked in.

"Norman, we've got a slight problem, though thankfully a problem we can all tackle thanks to your military expertise. I need you to give the crew a week long course on how to operate a vessel like the navy does. I want us to look and feel like a modern naval vessel when all is said and done. That includes the discipline as well. I'd be willing to pay you a little more, not to mention to give you a few perks too. Your own cabin for one. Access to my own personal kitchen and bar, and a position as one of the senior officers on this ship," George offered Norman.

"I'd be more happy to accept the offer sir, but its going to take three weeks, not one," Norman told George.

"Very well. We'll be in port within a month and a half. You have a month to train everyone, including me," George told Norman.

"Very well Sir. I'll begin tomorrow at five in the AM," Norman assured George.

"Looking forward to it," George nodded while Norman saluted.

George upon seeing Norman's salute, raised his hand to his above his right brow, and followed Norman's example.

"Exactly sir," Norman smiled.

"Good. Its kind of fun, isn't it?" asked George.

"Its professional and respectful sir!" Norman replied.

Within a month, the crew of the Many Faced Maiden was trained and ready to take on their roles should they need to conceal themselves. They all walked and talked like the real thing. Not only that but it had helped the crew to bond as well and if there was one thing George wanted, it was a tight crew on a tight run ship.

The gates to the lock opened, revealing two immense concrete walls on either side of the entryway. They rose thirty meters above sea level and were strong enough to contain the millions of tons of water it would take to elevate the ship up to the level of Gatun Lake.

"Proceed with caution helmsman," George ordered.

"Aye Captain," the helmsman responded, increasing the throttle of the mighty war ship.

The ship began to move ahead, slowly at first and then picking up momentum as it closed on the entryway into the lock. Within moments the helmsman had navigated bow through the gates as its mid section followed into the lock. The helmsman put the ship in reverse to slow the mighty destroyer to a stop.

"We have them right where they want us," George turned and joked to Norman, who smiled.

"Have someone check up on our guest and see that he's being well behaved," George ordered one of the other crew.

The gates closed with a loud clang, as the lock inspector checked the displacement of the ship on his display. He then examined the ship through the cameras strategically placed on the lock, checking for any risk of impact with the side walls and the vessel.

"Please keep the ship motionless until you receive the green light after the reservoir has completely filled and the inner gates have fully opened," a voice spoke through the loud speakers.

A yellow siren began flashing and the reservoir pump began forcing water into the lock. Slowly, the ship rose as the basin filled, like an aqua-bound elevator climbing a hidden water fall. Four minutes later, the enormous pumps had pushed the two thousand seven hundred tonne ship up twenty six meters to meet the elevation of Gatun lake.

The inner gates opened, and when the green light came on, George ordered the helmsman to take the ship foreward into the artifical lake.

"Captain, we've got a request from the Panama Canal Authority to pull into Port for an in person inspection," the radio operated reported to George.

George's face paled as he realized that the search was likely being conducted in the effort to find Zek.

"Tell them we will comply with their request, and then bring the ship to dock at the Port Dredging facility," George stated as he gestured to Norman to follow him.

"I want you to assume the role of Captain for now. You're more convincing than I, and right now we're going to need the best show we can put on to convince them that this is a naval vessel, and not a privately owned ship. They'll send one inspector with a complement of guards, four at most. I'll have my spec ops team accompany them and should they find Zek, they will immediately cease to be. We'll prepare a replacement team from our own crew, who will report to the Authority that nothing was found. I'd prefer to avoid the unnecessary killing, so don't allow any of the crew to interfere with their search. Understood?" asked George.

"Aye sir! You're relieved of duty sailor. Dismissed," Norman responded, immediately taking the role of Captain.

"The Port is still a ways off. It will take six hours to get there and docked. Get us there and ready for the inspection while I make the arrangements for our contingencies," George said before he left.

George turned made his way to the crew mess hall where he found his security specialist team. He informed them of the inspection and his plan and then made his way to Zek's quarters and tapped on the door.

"Are you joking? The door is locked from the outside, are you expecting me to let you in?" asked Zek.

"I was being courteous. Don't push your luck," George turned to the guard and instructed him the unlock the door.

The guard produced a key and unlocked the double bolted door.

George opened the door and stepped in, finding Zek propped up against the headboard of his bed with a book in hand.

"We've passed through the first lock and are now in the waters of the Panama Canal Authority otherwise known as Gatun Lake. We've been instructed to pull into port for an inspection," George informed Zek.

"And what are you going to do about me?" asked Zek directly.

"We're going to lock you in the tool machining room, however everything is locked in cabinets, so if you think that you're going to procure a weapon, think again. Not to mention that after the inspection, I'll have you strip searched just in case," George said to him firmly.

"And if I'm discovered?" Zek asked him calmly.

"I'd rather not discuss that possibility, but be sure that you will not leave this boat alive in any case," George assured him.

"Then you'll be without the data, as those database indices are useless without it," Zek smiled sarcastically and returned to his reading.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. We'll arrive at port in six hours, just before which we'll come get you to move you to the tool room. We'll put another crew member in this room just to make it look good. Perhaps he'll sit on the bed and read just as you are now. Remain hidden and you may live to see another day," George reminded Zek as he turned to leave.

"Sounds much better than losing my limbs," Zek replied.

"Who said that your death would be immediate enough to avert that possibility?" asked George.

Zek remained quiet as George stepped out and closed the door to his quarters. The guard then (double) locked the door and returned to his senty point across the hall.

George returned to his own quarters and lay down for the six hours, instructing one of his crew to give him a wakeup call an hour before they set into port. He then fell asleep in his bed amidst the still waters of Gatun Lake.

During his sleep, he relived his daring escape from Tokyo International Airport, only this time he'd managed to get away with all of the purchase bonds he'd lost in reality. In his dream, he purchased a large company with the money, and eventually built it up enough to buy all of the public shares of Tynan And Associates. That gave him a place on the board, but not enough shares to have the final say on all matters. For that, he needed to remove Helmut Werner and Walton Norler.

In his dream, he concocted a plan whereby he had them both killed, though their deaths were falsified as accidents to the investigating authorities. With his nemeses out of the way, there was nobody in his way to win the affection of Alicia.

In his dream, he knocked on the door of her condominium.

"Just a minute," he heard her voice on the other side of the door as he waited in anticipation.

When the door swung open, it was no the blond hair and blue eyes of his secret love, Alicia that he saw. Instead, it was a large serpent-like beast, with rows of sharp teeth. It opened its mouth and consumed the upper half of Steadman's body, the teeth crunching down on his rib cage, crushing it instantly as he screamed within the serpents mouth.

He awoke to the sound of knocking.

"We're an hour outside of port sir," a voice on the other side of the door spoke.

George quickly got up from his bed, still terrified over his dream turned nightmare that he needed the reassuring company of someone else's presence. He quickly opened the door only to see the serpentine beast again, floating before him as gobs of drool fell to the metal floor. Its mouth opened once again as it had in the nightmare and enveloped his head and torso, ripping it clean from his legs as he awoke again with a start.

George ran his fingers through his hair, deeply massaging his sweaty scalp. After his breathing slowed to a steady rhythm, he checked his clock and was relieved to see that he still had an hour and a half before they would dock at the port. He got up, and got into his shower, running the water over himself for nearly fifteen minutes before he got out, dried himself and got dressed. He then left his cabin and made his way to the bridge with an hour remaining before they arrived at port.

With a half hour to spare, the guards took Zek to the tool room, closing him in and locking the door. Along with the rest of the crew, they stowed their SMGs and kept their pistols concealed on their person. The security specialists kept theirs, with the addition of the subsonic silencers they'd need in the case of Zek's discovery by the inspection team.

Forty-five minutes later and the Many Faced Maiden was moored to the dock with its ramp extended. By that time, Captain Norman was standing at the base of the ramp with three sailors by his side (the security specialists) awaiting the arrival of the inspection team.

After Captain Norman and his crew compliment waited ten minutes, the inspection team arrived in the form of a uniformed man in his forties, with three assistants to help with the inspection.

Norman accompanied them onto the ship and ordered the security specialists to show them everything they requested. Norman then made his way to the bridge of the ship where George (in the guise of the navigator) awaited him.

The inspectors didn't check the entire ship, instead, they randomly selected search locations from a map provided by Captain Norman, thoroughly checking those areas. Their first search was that of the cargo hold, which took fifteen minutes and then the mess hall, followed by the crew quarters which took forty-five minutes. They searched the engine room, the bridge and then asked to search the tool room.

The security specialists didn't hesitate, as they did not want to raise any suspicion prematurely. Instead, they led the way to the tool room and unlocked and opened the door for the inspectors, allowing them entry to the room in which Zek was stowed. When they opened the door, the sound of a whirring machine could be heard.

The inspectors immediately entered the room and began searching as the security specialists kept their hands secretly on their silenced hand guns. When they came to the running machine, they tapped its operator on the back. He jumped slightly and turned to face them, his safety goggles still on his face.

"Whoa! You should never sneak up on someone operating heavy machinery!" Zek said, throwing a heavy accent into his voice to add to the cover his dirty face provided.

He hit the stop button on the industrial lathe and hit the floor brakes to stop the machine.

"What are you doing here sir?" asked the inspector.

"Generator 2 is out, it has a bad piston so I'm machining a new one. Seeing as that generator powers the backup pumps, I'm trying to get it done quick. Now, if you'll 'scuse me?" Zek turned to the machine.

"You look familiar," the inspector said to Zek.

"I get that a lot," Zek replied without turning to face them.

The security specialists readied their pistols behind their back. At point blank range, one shot in back of each of the inspector's the heads each would end them quickly and silently.

Zek hit the start button on the lathe and returned to his attempt at crafting something resembling a piston.

The inspector looked at him for a moment, and then turned to the security specialists, who promptly hid their pistols. They stepped outside of the tool room and back out into the hall, closing the door behind them.

"We're done here. We'll need a signature from the Captain if you don't mind?" asked the inspector, his cohorts standing beside him like a trio of bookends.

"We can do that," the security specialist radioed the bridge and then told the other two to wait here for him by the tool room.

Of course he left the other two security specialists simply because he couldn't lock the door. If he did so, that would alarm the inspector, who would instantly suspect something.

On the bridge, Captain Norman signed their paperwork and escorted them off of the ship. When he returned to the bridge, George had already left and was on his way to the tool room. When George arrived, he was surprised to find two of his security team waiting outside of the tool room.

"What happened?" asked George.

"It was close. You should talk to him yourself," the security specialist said, unlocking the door for George.

George stepped into the noisy tool room as Zek hit the stop button and shut down the machine once and for all.

"I had to improvise," Zek turned to face George.

"...and it worked?" asked George.

"You don't see any bodies, do you?" asked Zek.

"The only life you saved was your own. Even if they had apprehended you, the people I paid off would have killed them and returned you to me," George told Zek.

"You won't even allow me to save one life?" asked Zek, suspiciously.

"One life won't atone for the taking of a thousand. Not to mention how many other lives were lost in the service of carrying out your instructions," George reminded him.

"Still, I call my improvisation a success, not to mention that it saved you a great deal of stress," Zek recognized the merit of the initiative he'd taken and flaunted it.

"You may eat at my table tonight. Tomorrow, you will continue to eat and live in your quarters until we arrive in the vicinity of Treadwater Island. At that point, you will guide me to the location of the data or you will lose a limb a day until you do. Understood?" George asked him.

"Entirely," Zek responded, pulling the goggles from his head and hanging them on a hook on a nearby cork board.

"Take Mr. Zek and have him clean himself up. Give him a full body search too. I don't want to find out he grabbed a tool and secretly stowed it someone on his person. Then bring him to my table where he will dine on tonight's cuisine as a show of trust and gratitude. A short lived one albeit," George ordered his security.

Within the half-hour, the Many Faced Maiden pulled out of port and into the waters of Gatun Lake en route for the exit to the Pacific Ocean.

The security team did as Steadman instructed, taking Zek directly to his own quarters where he showered and cleaned himself for dinner. He was then brought directly to the Captain's dining room where he was given a lavish meal and treated less like a prisoner for the time being.

"I hope you've decided whether you're going to give me the correct location or mislead me, because we're going to be at Treadwater Island within the two days.

Alicia's Mystery

Gregory awoke in a hospital bed, his mother and Alicia sitting beside him. He looked around, momentarily startled, unsure of how he'd gotten there. Alicia got up and helped Gregory's mother to her feet and they joined him at his bed.

"That was bizarre. I was like, where the heck am I?" Gregory's first words were a clutter of misplaced thoughts.

"Hospital not hell! How you feel?" asked his mother.

"Better, I think. I can't remember what I was... Wait a second, I was showing you my baby," Gregory looked to Alicia.

"Your invention? Yes, that's exactly what we were doing when you suddenly collapsed," Alicia explained to him.

"You're the Doctor right?" asked Gregory.

"That's right. Doctor Rachel Franklin Lovelace," Alicia lied.

"I neglected to tell you, I have asthma and a weak constitution," Gregory smiled, a bit light headed.

"That's alright. Just get better, and take it easy next time. You should look after your health a bit better," Alicia advised Gregory.

"Listen to her. She Doctor. She tell me everything when you sleeping," Gregory's mother checked Gregory's temperature with her hand.

"He better. Much better. Warm," his mother told Alicia.

"So what happened to me?" asked Gregory.

"You went into shock. A problem with your circulatory system. Did your Doctor recommend that you take acetylsalicylic acid?" asked Alicia.

"How did you know?" asked Gregory, slightly shocked that she'd guessed such a inane piece of trivia so correctly.

"Its a blood thinner in addition to being an analgesic," Alicia told him.

"A what?" asked Gregory.

"A mild pain killer and blood thinner, though its use can sometimes lead to ulceration and hemoraging of the ventriculus," Alicia told Gregory.

"The what?" Gregory's confusion continued.

"The ventriculus. The stomach. Family Doctors often prescribe it when their patient has mild circulatory problems. That's what led to your collapse," Alicia explained to him what she'd learned after having spoken with the Doctor tending to him in the hospital.

"I've had circulatory problems my whole life. A bad aorta or something. That's why I couldn't do sports in school, which kind of sucked. That and asthma. So while the other kids were out running around and using their bodies, I was in a computer class, studying my brains to exhaustion. That didn't stop the bullies though," Gregory remarked.

"But you got through it, and did a lot with your life so far," Alicia commented, giving him a positive smile.

"Yeah, about that. So what did you think about my baby?" asked Gregory.

"Its definitely got a lot of potential. I mean I used it to diagnose you after you'd collapsed, so I'd say it has a lot of immediate applications in the world," Alicia was delighted to tell him.

"Does that mean you're going to fund me?" asked Gregory.

"No. I think there's something more in store for you and your invention, but its best we talk about that in a different setting than here. Not only that, but I have some things to get off of my chest," Alicia suggested to him.

"No offense, but I think a psychiatrist might be best for that," Gregory suggested.

"Go to Church. Tell them," Gregory's mother said protectively.

"I didn't mean in that way. I meant that I've been lying to you," Alicia told him.

"What? You're not a Doctor? Then how come you know so much about biology? You aren't another one of those scammers that's been trying to rip off my baby, are you?!" asked Gregory, leaning up excitedly in his bed.

"Another? You mean that someone has been trying to rip you off already?" asked Alicia.

"See! She admits it! She's trying to rip me off!" Gregory's panic level started rising.

"Go! Get out! You hurt my son!" Gregory's mother started hitting Alicia's arm.

"Wait! I'm not trying to rip you off or steal your invention. I'm here to help you! I am a Doctor. A Doctor of Quantum Biology, but my name isn't Rachel Franklin Lovelace," Alicia protected herself against Gregory's mother's battery.

"Then what is your name?" asked Gregory.

"I'm Doctor Alicia Westin!" Alicia backed away as Gregory's mother started hitting her with a rolled up newspaper she'd procured from a bedside table.

"Stop it mom!" Gregory asked his mother, who backed away reluctantly with a smirk on her face.

"Did you say Alicia Westin?" confirmed Gregory.

"Yes," Alicia smiled cautiously.

"Prove it!" Gregory said, folding his arms across his chest.

Alicia dug into her purse and produced her wallet. From it, she found her driver's license and handed it to Gregory.

Gregory read it carefully and upon a thorough examination, his face became joyous.

"You're from the western delegation!" Gregory responded.

"Correct," Alicia said modestly.

"Oh my gosh! The same one with Zheng Ni Wong!" Gregory added.

"That would be the one," Alicia agreed.

"So that's how she's your friend. And you're willing to give me an opportunity to finish my education?" asked Gregory.

"Not finish. You'll never stop learning, and life *is* education. An opportunity to work with people like yourself, who managed to get where you probably would have ended up anyway had you not had to deal with certain hurdles. Like bullies and health issues," Alicia offered him the possibility.

"What would I do there?" asked Gregory.

"You'd be working with like minded people, and at the same time, gaining educational accreditation. You're already working at their level in some aspects, but there'd be communications problems between you and them. That's why you need to work with them. So you can learn their language. The power of education is in being able to speak the same language with others of the same study and vocation so you can communicate complex ideas with one another. You might learn something on your own, but you will have a harder time working with others who were classically trained. Learning terminology is an important step towards communicating with others professionally," Alicia explained to Gregory.

"What about my baby?" asked Gregory.

"Well, we'd be willing to help you take it to the next level, but that's why you'd be working with the University. They would help you to bring it to the level that it needs to be as a working prototype. There are standards as well for diagnostic imaging that you'd need to adhere to if you want the medical world to find your invention useful. Not only that, but I'd be willing to bet that we could get you funding. Better yet, we might even fund it and release it as part of our own line of solutions," Alicia informed Gregory.

"Who's solutions?" asked Gregory.

"Tynan And Associates, though I can't guarantee anything yet. I can assure you that I'd do my best to get you working with University researchers on the diagnostic device you created. They'd help you get it the rest of the way there, for a bit of the credit and rights, and possibly their names on the patents if any are involved. That's a bit of a ways down the road. First, lets get you out of here when the Doctor gives the ok, and we'll take it from there," Alicia smiled at Gregory, even pinching his cheek playfully.

"I'm not six, I'm twenty six you know," he responded.

"Sorry. Just couldn't resist the temptation," Alicia winked at him.

"Looks like Gregory is feeling a bit better?" the attending Doctor entered the room, looking at his clipboard for his patient's name.

"Feeling much better, Doctor," Gregory assured the physician.

"Let me take your temperature and blood pressure again, and if its near the mark, we'll let you go. If not, you're in here for the rest of the night and we'll try again in the morning," the Doctor produced a digital thermometer, poking it into Gregory's ear.

"Looking good. Now how about your blood pressure," he said, after checking the temperature.

He wrapped Gregory's left arm with the bladder and pumped it up until it was tight around his arm. He waited thirty seconds and then checked the reading.

"That's much better. I'll authorize your release if you want to get home, but I'd ask that you take it easy for the next week. In the future, try to manage your levels of excitement as well until you're ready for the next step," the Doctor informed Gregory.

"What's the next step Doc?" asked Gregory.

"An operation. Heart surgery. There's a procedure where we insert a hard walled cylinder that will open up your aorta enough so that your circulatory system is at par with a young man of your age. You'd probably feel much more energetic and it might even go a long way to easing your case of asthma as well," the Doctor informed Gregory.

"How would fixing my heart, help my lungs?" asked Gregory, anxious to be rid of the lifelong issue.

"Your low circulation means that the oxygenated blood can't be carried from your lungs quickly enough for the rest of the body. The asthma medicine you take, the inhaler, is actually a steroid that maximizes the efficiency of the alveolae in your lungs to make up for your low blood pressure. With the operation, you'd essentially have perfectly functioning lungs as well," the Doctor told Gregory.

"I'm game for that Doctor if its covered by the province's health insurance," Gregory agreed.

"Part of it is, though the surgery itself because its not fully mandatory, would have to be covered by you, though your family Doctor and I could state the case of it being mandatory, because you could survive without the surgery, it might be ruled by a medical tribunal that it isn't covered and is at the patient's expense," the Doctor informed Gregory.

"He'll take the operation, regardless of whether it is paid for by OHIP or not," Alicia told the Doctor who looked to her.

"Are you speaking on his behalf as a representative?" the Doctor asked Alicia.

"No. I'm speaking as someone who cares and is willing to make sure he has the money for the operation," Alicia agreed.

"Gregory?" asked the Doctor.

"I'll take the operation," Gregory decided anxiously.

"I'll get that setup in the system and when you leave, they'll give you a date and time to come check-in. Glad to see you're feeling better. Have a good evening," the Doctor left the room.

Gregory's mother went over to Alicia and began brushing off her arms where she'd struck her, causing Alicia to step back defensively.

"So sorry. I thought you hurt Grigori! So sorry. You good lady," his mother said as she brushed Alicia off.

"Its quite alright. Thank you, I'm fine," Alicia turned to help Gregory from his bed.

Gregory got changed quickly behind a screen and they were on their way back to Gregory's home at midnight by taxi. Alicia saw them to the door and came into the house for a quick moment to make sure that everything was alright, while Gregory went down into the basement to check on his lab.

"They stole everything!" Alicia heard the sound of running footsteps up the stairs followed by Gregory's emergence through the hall door.

"Who stole everything?" asked Alicia.

"They did! The scammers that have been trying to take my invention for years!" Gregory screamed.

Alicia thought for a moment, realizing that she'd left the device under the couch after using it on Gregory. She quickly got on her hands and knees and checked beneath the sofa. Sure enough, the device was there resting on its back. She grabbed it and handed it to Gregory.

"Here it is. No loss," Alicia handed the device to him.

"No. Not just this. The whole lab is gone. Someone took everything! All my equipment! Everything! Its all gone!" Gregory screamed.

"Calm down! You don't want to end up back in the hospital again!" Alicia grabbed him by his shoulders and rubbed them, trying to ease the young man's frustration.

"Let me see," Alicia asked Gregory, whose eyes filled with tears.

"I spent my whole life working on that dream and they stole it!" he exclaimed, leading Alicia into the basement.

There, Alicia saw that the once technology filled laboratory Gregory had setup was stripped clean of computers and monitors. Everything Gregory had built and written on those computers was now gone. 

His life's work was gone.

"You said that people have been trying to steal it from you for years? Who?" asked Alicia.

"The voices! Don't you hear them? Just about every one of my nerd friends hears them too. They seem to know what I'm working on when I'm working on it. Like they're spying on my computer somehow," Gregory told Alicia.

"Voices? We went over this before you collapsed, now you're back here again?" asked Alicia skeptically.

"I'm not lying. They've been harassing me for years, even telling me that they were going to steal it all from me. I honestly didn't think they were serious. I thought they were just friends of my bullies. You know, trying to help them make me look like I'm crazy or something?" Gregory explained to her.

"Look, most bullies forget about you once you're out of their sights. You said they were from school and you no longer attend school. Are you saying they're stalking you?" asked Alicia, who'd heard about similar cases of bullying victims being stalked by the friends of their bullies.

"I don't know who it is. I just know that they know things about my work and my life that nobody should know," Gregory tried to tell Alicia, but she still looked at him through her half cocked head.

"Let's start constructively by calling the Police and reporting a crime. Then we'll take it from there and look into these other issues you're claiming, although I'd recommend that you don't mention hearing voices to the Police. Tell them you feel that your house was being surveilled by whomever stole your computer gear, but don't tell them about hearing voices. It will affect your credibility with them negatively," Alicia insisted to Gregory.

"Like you are now?" asked Gregory sarcastically.

"No. Much worse. You need them on your side. Acting crazy in front of them is one way to ensure that they're skeptical of you and your claims. You need to call them right now, and then get to making a written list of everything taken, and everything of note that isn't voices, that you believe indicated that your house was being cased by the thieves," Alicia held his shoulders, trying to get some sense into him and stave off the effects of anxiety.

"Alright. I'll call them right now," Gregory looked around for his phone, and upon realizing that it was also stolen with the rest of his lab equipment, he asked for Alicia's.

"Here. Give it right back though. I've got to call my fiance and tell him I'll be a little bit longer," Alicia handed her smartphone to Gregory.

He dialled the emergency number and was transferred to the radio room, where he reported the crime to an operator. When he was done, he handed the phone back to Alicia and then went about writing a list of all the things Alicia had suggested.

In the meantime, Alicia speed dialled Norler.

"Hello I'll be home a bit late. Is that you?" asked Norler, his voice already groggy with sleep.

"Yes its me. I'm late. Alicia Late," Alicia responded to Norler.

"So are you coming home soon?" asked Norler.

"I'm going to be another hour or so. I'll tell you everything when I get home," Alicia assured Norler.

"Alright. Pad Thai in the fridge. Love and kisses. See you soon," Norler said.

"Big kiss and snuggles. I'll be home soon," Alicia hung up the phone and waited with Gregory for the Police to arrive.

Gregory in the meantime worked on the list, while the voices in his head poked and prodded him about how great it was to have his stolen equipment, though they were very upset that his invention wasn't amongst their stolen quarry.

They however assured him that they would soon have it in due time. Whether they stole it from him, or built one of their own using his own plans and diagrams.

After all, they had the computers on which he created and designed it. They would soon have their own.

The Long Way Home

Brandy left the bar as she usually did just after last call, and pleasantly tipsy. She'd managed to finish her latest read in that time, using her night off to at the very least, feel like she was still a part of a society that had outright rejected her.

In her mind that wasn't as bad as it sounded, for she was actually a part of a growing list of historical figures whom had similarly been pushed away as pariahs. Despite her somewhat taboo vocation, she saw herself as a social innovator, on the front lines of society's changing attitudes toward women and their right to have the final say over what happened with their body.

She'd spent the day at the gym, and when she found herself being subject to verbal harassment from the local clique. Those who were opposed to her and her vocation, and certainly those who'd been contracted by others to torment her simply out of principle. She found her way back home from where she continued her day's exercise, enjoying a nice long hot bath afterwards. Despite how she was treated socially, she managed to take quite good care of herself. Her only regret was that she didn't have a significant other with which to share her life. 

When she thought about it, she supposed that the people tormenting her likely were much worse off than she, for who could truly love someone so capable of vehemence as they, but nobody at all. It hurt to be alone, when you were alone for all of the right reasons. She suspected it hurt much more when you had friends but for all of the wrong reasons. They would never know what it was like to be truly loved by someone else, for they didn't comprehend the meaning of the word. Such a shame she thought, almost having pity for them.

She'd walked long past the store fronts and was now away from the urban clutter and into the rural community of her neighbourhood, the street lights and crickets of the nearby park her only friends. She passed the location where she'd been rescued by her mysterious saviour. The Dragon Man, as he'd been dubbed by the press. She stopped a moment to take in her surroundings, thinking that perhaps he might be watching her from some secret vantage point. Examining her from head to toe, as if she were the protagonist in the first chapters of a steamy vaginal fantasy novel.

"Get a hold of yourself Brandy" she said to herself, continuing her walk.

"You're the damsel in distress, not the lifetime lover," she finished her introspection.

That's when she heard the foot steps behind her. One pair, walking along the same stretch of sidewalk. She thought to herself, maybe he is following me back to my place. She let the fantasy dwindle in her mind a bit longer as she walked, before turning to take a look at who was behind her.

When she turned, she saw a tall dimly lit man, about six feet two inches tall. Taller than the Dragon Man by a bit. His pace was quicker than hers and she suspected that he'd catch up to her on foot in little time. She turned and continued walking, picking up the pace of her long legs to match. When she heard his pace quicken, she too picked up her step until she was nearly jogging in her heels.

She once again stopped to take a look, and what she saw curtled her blood. The man, in his left hand brandished a long bladed weapon. Possibly a short sword of some kind, but certainly a long knife. She immediately removed her heels and grabbing them in hand, ran as fast as she could. Behind her she heard the man's footsteps transform from a brisk walk to a run.

Her workouts had given her a great physique and perhaps a better cardio than most, but her pursuer was not normal by any standards. Something within him drove him to pursue her. To eviscerate her, slice by slice. Cut by cut.

She ran as fast as she could, suddenly stepping on a piece of broken glass, causing her to trip. She fell sliding forward to the concrete, scraping her arms and legs in the process. By the time she got to her feet, it was already too late. Instead, she turned to face her pursuer, for she was finished with being afraid.

He lashed at her in a wide arc, just missing her as she stepped back. When he tried again, she caught his arm struggling with him against the force of his modest muscle. He pressed forward onto her and she fell backwards onto the pavement once again, as he pushed the knife down towards her throat.

At that moment, a blinding flash appeared from out of nowhere, followed by a thunderclap that threw the man from on top of Brandy. She scrambled backwards on her back to get away from him, as she hadn't been facing the light when it exploded. That's when she heard the voice of a women not much younger than herself.

"Get up!" she said to the man.

"You're the Chameleon. I know you are. I said get up!" Brandy could see now that the woman who addressed him was wearing a costume of red, white and black.

A mask covered her face, and was partially hidden behind long black, white and red hair. She recognized the girl as the one who'd been spotted in the city with the butterfly. She was a woman who wielded power over light and darkness. Right now to Brandy, she was the angel of light.

The man got to his feet, his knife still in his hand and Monique recognized him as the same man from the attack in downtown Toronto. He swung at her with his knife, and she disappeared, reappearing behind him where she delivered a kick to his back.

He turned to face her and swung again, only to see that she was no longer there, and behind him again. She punched him this time. Instead of waiting until he faced her, he swung in a circular arc attempting to slash her where-ever she might land. She of course was faster than he could even comprehend, for when she saw his arm continuing through, she merely flew to his other side over top of his head. She hit him again, this time not stopping at one punch.

She disappeared, reappearing at a different angle from him, punching him again and again until he fell bloody and unconscious.

Monique stopped and caught her breath.

"Sorry. That takes a bit out of you," she said as she caught her breath.

"That's quite alright. Thank you. That's twice in one week," Brandy replied, out of breath as well.

"What do you?" asked Monique.

"I was rescued by the Dragon Man three nights ago. Nearly the same location," Brandy remarked, getting to her feet, her cell phone in hand.

"That was you?" Monique asked her.

"One and the same," Brandy replied.

"Wow. I'd go right to the store and buy a lottery ticket if I were you," Monique said to Brandy, causing her to laugh.

"I'm going to call the Police and tell them that you got the Chameleon. Is that alright?" asked Brandy.

"Yeah. You can do that. I'll have to leave when they get here though. Its the costume," Monique winked at her.

"I know the feeling. I used to lead a double life too, but I got found out," Brandy told Monique.

"Regardless, don't give up," Monique offered.

Brandy started making her call to the Police and literally within the minute they heard approaching sirens.

"That's a pretty bad scrape. Are you going to be alright?" Monique asked Brandy as she kicked him one more time.

"It could have been much worse. I'll be alright," Brandy replied.

The Police headlights lit the scene as Monique readied herself to leave.

"Oh before you go. Thank you," Brandy gave Monique a hug.

"It was nothing. He had it coming for a while," Monique replied as she turned to the Police.

"This one is your hero. I arrived and she'd already taken him down. I've gotta go. Bye for now!" Monique turned and winked again at Brandy before waving to the Police.

She then disappeared into the night at the speed of light.

A Brand New Day

[Update: This chapter was edited and substantially added to on June 23, 2022 at 1:45 PM, bringing it up to Shhhh! Digital Standards]

Tricia arrived in the briefing room a few minutes late, just after eight at the beginning of a new day. Farnham was already there as was Halmand, drinking their morning coffees.

"Glad you could make it Inspector. It wasn't an inconvenience was it?" Farnham joked.

"Don't choke to death on that coffee. It'd be a shameful waste of good coffee," Tricia responded, causing Farnham to sputter his coffee on the table as he drank it.

"I almost did," Farnham wiped his lips.

"So. What's the situation with our TEMPEST vulnerability spies?" asked Tricia as she sat down and peeled back the lid on her own coffee.

"It turns out they're victims of whatever was illing Forseth and Werner, and a few others at Werner-Goldstein," Farnham began.

"Apparently a few of them in the office with technical knowledge put together a plan to find out what was going on. So they built a TEMPEST vulnerability capable rig. They started with spying on Werner's computer, because they initially suspected him as being the cause. You know. Corporate big-wigs spying on their employees. Then when they pieced it together that he wasn't the cause and was probably a victim himself, they started spying on other employees. The ones they suspected were a part of whatever it is thats bugging them," Halmand explained, going over his notes from the interrogation.

"My guess is that their newly acquired spying habit quickly turned into voyeurism addiction, and they just didn't know when to quit," Farnham added his insight.

"That sounds very plausible. So in terms of a case against them, what's the company's stance?" asked Tricia.

"We were hoping you could tell us. You were with Werner last," Farnham remarked.

"He's in a safe house right now. I'll contact him and ask him his stance on these new developments, but chances are he already found out. We set him up with a computer so he could work on most of his crucial projects and check his email," Tricia told them.

"Your turn. So what happened with Werner?" asked Halmand.

"Werner had an episode like Forseth's, even taking a housekeeper hostage. Apparently she was in on the effort to radicalize him that day. He also experienced the other symptoms described in Forseth's journal, making the methods used nearly identical," Tricia explained.

"Who's the housekeeper?" asked Farnham.

"Let me find her name here... Wilemena Torres. She works for a company providing housekeeping services to clients like Werner. She's been divorced for five years. No children or other dependents. From what I gathered going over her records of her questioning, work is her life. The interviewer noted that she exhibited signs of being evasive and is possibly hiding something. Her body language, facial expressions et cetera indicated this, though she was under stress having just been taken hostage," Tricia underlined her notes.

"She's the first one that either Forseth or Werner cited as being involved. That's something to go on," Halmand responded.

"Forseth cited suspecting two of his fellow employees being in on it from what's written in his journal. Diana and Carl, a pair of the financial forecasters on his team. He gave details of situations, but the context is difficult to see from his perspective, so it would be a dead end without Forseth's guidance," Tricia explained, looking first to Halmand and then to Farnham.

"Maybe we could ask Werner about the same employees and see if there's any correlation?" asked Farnham.

"We could do that, but much of what each victim experiences is contextual to them alone. Hence, it makes it very difficult to create any solid links in terms of modus operandi between two of those suspected to be involved in the activity. Not to mention, where's the crime in what they're doing. Remember, we have to build a case on this," Tricia advised them.

"They built a case against Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden, and apparently neither of them were directly involved in any murders. Others would argue that despite the fact that they didn't murder anyone themselves, they had their fingers on the trigger, if you'd consider other people to be the weapon, but I get what you're saying. We can't just go around surveilling citizens on suspicion of being puppets or radicalized followers of a cult," Farnham reluctantly agreed.

"If there is such a hidden threat in the form of an ideology, blind surveillance is exactly what they'd want us to do. It would turn us into the monster and confirm all of the nonsense they'd feed their followers about us. That would spread like wildfire through society and change society's opinion about what we actually do. Look at David Koresh and what happened with the FBI's attempt to storm his compound. Anything we do to investigate or stop them, confirms what they tell their followers about us and becomes part of a publicity nightmare against the RCMP," Tricia pressed her point home.

"Or the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police," Farnham understood exactly what she was saying.

"The public won't see it that way though," Halmand observed.

"Most of the public don't know what's going on and many are probably unware that anything of this nature is going on at all. Just because you've seen a burning building, doesn't mean that you have any idea of what the people inside go through, struggling to survive and get out before they suffocate. To fully understand that, you need to have been in the exact same situation. That's what we have going on here. From the outside, these situations look normal to every day citizens, yet they're the breeding ground for something that is radicalizing ordinary citizens to do great harm to others and themselves," Tricia firmly delivered her point.

"Good point, however the question is, are these situations actually part of a plan by an organized group, or are they like weather patterns sociologically speaking? If its the first one, we'd better get a handle on it and quick, because this is the kind of stuff that could be a risk to the foundations of society. If its the second possibility, then we need to pass our intelligence along to sociologists, analysts and a think tank so we can do something about it through policy rather than policing," Halmand observed.

"Remember Mayor Ford?" asked Farnham.

"Who wouldn't? Poor guy went through a lot before he checked out, and with a plate of responsibility in his lap," Halmand stated nodding.

"I was on the force at that time, working for the robbery department, but I knew quite a few constables on the regular beat and working traffic. You know, the usual. Because his office was looking to cut city costs significantly, he made a lot of union enemies. Guys just trying to protect their future. One of the things I suspected in his case was that there was some kind of organized effort to take him down and that effort was managed by organized crime. If you look at what he found himself involved with, that's just not the usual thing you'd see in a political candidate let alone the Mayor himself. One of the robbery cases I was investigating was connected to some of the suspects Police were investigating as his suppliers. The Dixon Bloods or some other gangster crap like that. The people who supplied him with cooked cocaine or rock. They were connected to this robbery according to word on the street. One of the things we ran into with that case was a lack of material witnesses, because every potential witness would go off the deep end shortly after we talked with them. It was like someone or something was aware that we were trying to get information from them and as soon as we did, whatever it was that was driving them crazy would hit them. One jumped off her twenty-seventh floor balcony when we showed up for a second questioning session at her apartment. Another went out and bought a gun, tried to rob a liquor store, ranting like a lunatic and was shot by responding Police. Another witness went crazy in broad daylight, ran into a TTC station and jumped in front of an oncoming subway car. All of the witnesses to the robbery case I was investigating died, leaving us with nothing. The case is still open, but its a cold case obviously. So I figured, something was going around and driving these people nuts, and it wasn't a sociological weather pattern as you said. It was being strategic. I think that it even got Mayor Ford eventually, and that other guys like me on the force knew about it, but did nothing," Farnham admitted.

"So are we dealing with the cocaine cartels, or something else?" asked Tricia, curious about their perspective.

"There was no evidence of narcotics being involved in any of the cases linked to what we're investigating. Forseth had never tried them. Werner certainly not. Our deceased bank robbers weren't using anything, though one or two of them were occasional cannabis smokers, which is legal now, and certainly doesn't lead to psychosis on its own without a little help from psyops," Farnham stated.

"That doesn't mean they're not involved somehow," Tricia responded.

"One of the things I did before I was accepted onto the RCMP was I worked as an intern on a study that measured the effects of various narcotics on the human nervous system. It was one of my Law Enforcement College placements for my forensic biology class," Halmand began.

"And what's your point?" asked Farnham.

"The study involved testing substance dependent subjects who were isolated into several different groups. Group A were substance dependent individuals. Some depended on cocaine, others crack cocaine. A few depended upon meth amphetamine, while the rest were heroin users," Halmand continued.

"And...?" Tricia remarked.

"Group B were made up of the exact same ratio of substance users, but that hadn't used anything in enough time so that they were experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. Group C were a mixture of people, both substance dependent and not who made up the control group, to isolate the placebo effect," Halmand explained.

"We're listening," Tricia sat back, interest in where this was going.

"The tests were carried out using an MRI and EEG during off hours at a hospital, along with other physiological indicators such as blood tests, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. Group A were clinically administered with their substance of choice, Group B were evaluated for their withdrawal symptoms, while Group C received the placebo. The tests were carried out using an MRI and EEG during off hours at a hospital," Halmand paused to take a sip of his coffee.

"We found that there was significant production of dopamine in the subjects who were under the influence of one of the substances, which is in line with most narcotics. The substance abusers weren't addicted to the narcotic per se, but the dopamine their bodies produced as a result of consuming it. When they don't consume it, they experience sharp headaches, nausea, stress and anxiety in accordance with the absence of dopamine and serotonin, and an abundance of cortisol in their system, amongst other indicators," Halmand described the first set of findings.

"The same indicators that are used in drug testing," Farnham observed.

"Yes, but these tests went much farther than nasal and ear cavity swabs or blood tests alone. In the group who were given the placebo, there was a slight variation in homeostasis attributable to the mind's own anticipation of possible effects, while those who were regular users experiencing withdrawal had significant nervous system and hormonal activity in their body. Cortisol being amongst the highest presence. That would explain why they were so susceptible to sudden outbursts of anger and anxiety. Most of the symptoms in those experiencing withdrawal were most like the symptoms expressed by Forseth and Werner and our robbery suspects before their death," Halmand explained a situation he'd experienced during his education.

"Significant, but Forseth nor Werner were users of any substances," Tricia reminded Halmand.

"That wasn't all of it. Of the interns and nurses conducting the study, some of them after interacting with those experiencing withdrawal, started to exhibit symptoms similar to withdrawal themselves, including increased cortisol production and anomalies in their nervous system that were directly affecting their hormone production and homeostasis. These were nurses and interns who weren't and hadn't ever used such substances. Their blood tests came back negative for the presence of any narcotic substance, yet some of them were experiencing the same symptoms as their subjects," Halmand described the findings.

"What did you do with the findings?" asked Tricia.

"The biologist conducting the study published their work for peer review, however they left out the bit about the nurses and interns being similarly affected despite having not used those narcotics before," Halmand told them.

"So are you saying that the ideology is composed of current or former narcotics users?" asked Farnham.

"No. I'm saying that there is something going on at the level of the nervous system that is facilitating the body of one person, to affect the body of another, even altering their hormone production enough to cause significant behaviour changes," Halmand delivered his theory.

"That's a long shot Halmand. How can we even build a case on that?" Farnham asked Halmand.

"This isn't evidence, its part of the trail. From what we've put together here, I think this is something we need to follow up on, because it might lead us to our culprits. Forseth's post mortem report indicated that he had significant levels of cortisol in his system before he died," Tricia agreed with Halmand.

"But that's a result of stress," Farnham told Tricia.

"No. Actually, susceptibility to stress is the result of the presence of cortisol and a decided absence of homeostasis, the equilibrium of the main hormones that keep the emotional state of a person stable. Without the proper inhibitor hormones like serotonin to balance their effect, one would feel extreme inhibitions related to stress and escalate towards anxiety. Forseth's post mortem reports indicated almost no serotonin and non-existent levels of dopamine, which is a significant finding given a man of his age. Almost all men after the age of forty experience higher levels of dopamine and endorphin production to make up for the wear and tear on their body. Endorphins are a natural pain killer, while dopamine impairs the stress response to pain. Without the presence of those two hormones, for most men that age, it would feel like constant rheumatoid arthritis, even if they weren't inflicted with it," Tricia echoed her knowledge of forensic biology.

"So something affected him enough so that his body wasn't producing serotonin or dopamine..." Farnham observed.

"Or endorphins," Halmand finished.

"The results from Werner's blood tests indicated the exact same findings, and I'd be willing to bet that similar results would be found in Dupree and our bank robbery suspects before their demise," Tricia told them.

"So we know that something is affecting their nervous system, endocrine system and homeostasis. What could it be?" Halmand asked rhetorically.

"Maybe someone drugged them?" asked Farnham.

"Forseth was in our custody, with nothing but Constables and Inspectors around him. These are people who've been screened for any such possibility," Tricia retorted.

"No need to be defensive. It was just a suggestion," Farnham defended his statement.

"One worth consideration as that would have been my guess too. What about allergies?" Halmand asked.

"Forseth and Werner both have mild allergies to dust and pollen, but are otherwise healthy in that regard," Tricia told them.

"Maybe its spooky action at a distance?" Halmand suggested.

"Spooky what?" Farnham asked.

"Spooky action at a distance. I saw it on a Netflix documentary the other day. Or was it Amazon?" asked Halmand, trying to recall.

"Get to the point," Farnham said impatiently.

"Well, there's this thing in physics where atoms can become connected to each other, even at a distance," Halmand explained.

"Like with wires or something?" asked Farnham.

"No. With nothing at all that we know about. They just become connected. Interrelated so that when you alter the angle of one, the other one takes the exact opposite angle, instantaneously, no matter the distance between them," Halmand tried to explain a concept that he barely understood himself.

"So you're saying that the atoms of these people become connected?" asked Farnham, almost ready to laugh.

"At least its something," Halmand defended his idea.

"I was going to say that its better than what we've got so far," Farnham admonished himself.

"What are your thoughts about electromagnetism?" asked Tricia out of nowhere.

"What you mean like the TEMPEST intrusion? That's wires and electricity, not the nervous system," Halmand rejected the idea.

"If I remember correctly from my biology class, the nervous system operates by electro-chemical signaling in the form of voltage propagation between the axon and soma of a neuron, the cells that make up the nervous system, and that such electro-chemical signalling cascades through the entire nervous system," Tricia explained.

"But that voltage and amperage would be so low, it could almost be said to be zero at our scale," Halmand defended his skepticism.

Tricia suddenly grabbed Halmand's wrist and pulled it towards herself. Halmand reacted by resisting cautiously and retrieving his hand.

"That's zero?" Tricia asked him.

"Good point. What I meant was that it would be so low a voltage that the field it produced would be almost undetectable, meaning we couldn't use it as forensic evidence," Halmand clarified his stance.

"But its worth investigating. It would be a landmark case if we went to court with that kind of evidence. Better than our TEMPEST case is turning out," Farnham backed up Tricia.

"Precedent setting. It would be far too important, and might even challenge the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, the Human Rights Act and the Constitution itself. It would result in a rewrite or additions to all three of those documents, not to mention the years of additions and alterations to privacy laws and medical laws," Tricia underlined the severity of such a case.

"Not only that, but it would ripple throughout the world and change considerably every country that discovered the same thing," Halmand added.

"We need to discuss this with two different kinds of experts. We'll need a physicist with a background in biology, and a sociologist, with a background in physics," Tricia confirmed.

"How about Bryce Maxwell? Or his protege... Alicia Westin. They're both physicists and have a background in biology," Halmand stated.

"I'll look them up and give them a call," Tricia agreed.

"Stephen Briggs for sociology?" Halmand suggested.

"He's still at the University Of Toronto, isn't he? He did that stint with the western delegation?" Tricia asked.

"As far as I know. I just remembered him because he published a paper that was used by Behavioural Sciences for a case study they did last year," Halmand explained his reasoning.

"I'll call him too," Tricia added his name to the list.

"We're really going down this road?" asked Farnham.

"That we are," Tricia agreed.

"And what happens when the people around us, or one of us start going nuts too?" asked Farnham.

"We'll have first hand experience, not to mention we'll know what to look for in terms of the symptoms," cited Tricia.

"I'm game for that," Halmand agreed.

"Our TEMPEST case, and every other case is quickly crumbling. This is a long shot, but I'll take my chances and rough it out until we get our breakthrough. I just hope the Chief isn't breathing down my neck," Farnham responded.

"Don't give up now. I've still got a few cards up my sleeve," Tricia replied.

There was a knock on the door of the situation room.

"Enter," Farnham responded.

The door opened and a younger Detective poked his head in.

"Didn't you guys hear the news? They got the Chameleon," the Detective told them.

"Really?" asked Tricia.

"No shit. That's the best news I've heard," Farnham replied.

"Yeah, apparently the flying lightbulb found him and gave it to him. Rescued that same girl that was attacked the other night," the Detective told them.

"You mean the stripper?" asked Halmand.

"She's a web cam girl. Brandy right?" asked Tricia.

"That's the one. Apparently the Chameleon was trying to make her his next victim when the flying light bulb showed up and gave him a few," the Detective replied.

"Hopefully she gave him a few for us too," Farnham responded in his old-school voice.

"Amen to that. Gotta go," the Detective left, closing the door behind him.

"We need to speak with Brandy," Tricia suggested.

"What? In relation to our nearly non-existent case? How in the world could she be connected to it, let alone the Chameleon," Farnham asked, looking like he'd reached his limit for such suggestions.

"She was attacked twice, in the same week. Once an attempted rape, while the other was attempted murder. Don't you think that's a little too circumspect to ignore, especially given the nature of what we're investigating here?" asked Tricia.

"I'm game for it," Halmand responded.

"It certainly can't hurt our flimsy case," Farnham added.

"She's probably still being questioned if it happened in the wee hours," Halmand stated.

"She'll be at the TPS headquarters. I'll arrange for a time for us to speak with her. Then we'll pay a vist to Wilemena the housekeeper," Tricia pulled her phone and dialled the Police Chief.

Within a half an hour, they were on their way to the Toronto Police Service Headquarters to meet with Brandy. When they walked across the road to the headquarters from the secret RCMP operations facility, they were watched by Jack Warren, who held a phone to his face.

"They're leaving now and going to the Police headquarters. What are the chances of us getting into one of them?" asked Jack.

"Not yet. See if you can find out what they know, and then we'll develop a plan to deal with them," the voice told Jack.

From Retired To Required

The waters of Georgian Bay rippled lightly, and crept up along the shores of Wasaga Beach, leaving bubbles across the sand as it retreated back into the freshwater lake. Children played, building their sand castle empires in defiance of the onset of waves, despite the timidity of the water.

Since the ongoing retreat of the pandemic, the beaches had become an increasingly popular venue as the public confidence rose. People initially returned, masks intact, allowing themselves to wade up to their necks in order to avoid taking them off. Then as the mask mandates were withdrawn one by one, more and more beach goers arrived, their faces fully visible. That in itself led to a fruition of social activity that spiraled into bigger and bigger crowds.

On this Friday morning early in June, a couple lay on their reclining lawn chairs out on the shores of Wasaga, taking in the morning sun. One wore a tilly hat, and remained hidden behind sunglasses. The other sat partially obscured from the sun's rays beneath a sun shade umbrella, a hardcover book clenched in her hands.

"This was long overdue," Bryce said to his wife, Wendy.

She remained silent, far too engrossed in her reading to have heard him.

"That good?" Bryce leaned forward in his recliner to get a glimpse of the author.

"So what does Mister Peterson have to say about days on the beach?" he said a little louder.

"Oh! I'm sorry. I didn't hear you. Its a good book. I'm glad he gave you a signed copy," Wendy turned the page.

"Good. When you're finished with it, I might give it a read," Bryce responded.

A beach ball bounced a few times up from the shore until it hit Bryce's foot, rebounding high into the air and into his hands.

"Good to know you still remember those catch lessons I gave you back in high school," Wendy smiled, seeing that he'd caught the ball.

"I'd have to say that if you don't use it, you don't necessarily lose it," he threw the ball back to the little girl who'd come to retrieve it.

"Right?" he asked the little girl.

"Right!" she replied confidently, giggling profusely when she caught the ball.

"So I figure we'll just relax here for another hour, and get back home. There's some fresh tomatoes in the garden we can grab for our salad tonight, plus I've gotta check up on my begonias," Bryce leaned over to look at Wendy.

"Sure. Sounds good. Oh, don't forget about our dinner plans next week," Wendy returned his glance.

"With Mr. and Mrs. Edelbach? I didn't forget," Bryce replied when his phone rang.

"Maxwell Retirement Home, Bryce speaking," he joked.

He heard a moment of laughter from a familiar female voice.

"Sorry Bryce, you caught me off guard. How are you?" asked Heylyn.

"I'm doing good, Heylyn. Just getting some morning beach time in with my wife. How about you?" he asked.

"I'm doing great thanks. I'm just getting back from Seoul with a little company. Doctor Sung Ki and Professor Iseul say hi and give you their best wishes by the way," Heylyn told Bryce.

"Doctor? She's a Doctor now? Well congratulations to her. Maybe I'll give them a call just to say hi. So what can I do you for?" asked Bryce.

"Well, its funny you should ask. I've got some extra-curricular work going on that is going to require the help of a physicist like yourself, if you catch my drift?" asked Heylyn.

"I'd be glad to help, but I'm living up north now. You know I retired, don't you?" asked Bryce.

"I heard bits and pieces about the aftermath of your time at MindSpice from Alicia a few months ago, when we caught up over the phone. None of us really keep in contact like the old days I'm sorry to say," Heylyn responded.

"That's life isn't it? We get older and older, and watch our circles get smaller and smaller until we're living in a world we no longer recognize, and that has long since forgotten about us," Bryce responded.

"I haven't forgotten. Any of you. That's why I'm calling," Heylyn said encouragingly.

"So what would this entail?" asked Bryce.

"I'd put you up in an investment condo unit I bought last year. Its fully furnished, with comfortable living space for two. I'd need you for maybe a month, though I'm not sure at this point. Consider it like a working vacation," Heylyn.

"A vacation away from retirement. Where do I sign up? Wait a minute, let me ask the boss," Bryce responded sarcastically, turning to his wife.

"Wendy, how would you feel about spending a month in Toronto. Heylyn says she'd be willing to put us both up in a furnished condo, so that I can help her with a project she had going on the side. What do you say?" he asked his wife.

"I thought she was a fashion designer?" Wendy asked.

"So did I, but maybe she's looking to build a cold fusion reactor or something. Everyone's doing it and that means its fashionable. Would you be into it? If we do this before next week, it would save us driving to Toronto for our dinner with the Edelbachs," asked Bryce.

"What am I going to do?" asked Wendy.

"You could work with me I'm sure, or if you don't want to, there's probably a swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool, spa and gym at the condo," Bryce laid out the bait carefully.

"We're leaving tomorrow first thing, and tell Heylyn I say hi," Wendy agreed, turning her attention back to her book.

"Wendy says hi. Alright. We're in. We're leaving for Toronto first thing tomorrow morning. We'll call you and let you know when we're close. You can give us directions from there," Bryce confirmed with Heylyn.

"Alright. Great. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. I've got someone you'd like to meet," Heylyn said, looking to Warai.

"Alright. We'll see you tomorrow. Bye," Bryce hung up the phone.

"What are we going to do with all the groceries we just bought?" asked Wendy.

"I'll pack them up in a cooler before we leave. We'll bring them with us and cook them there. Problem solved. Next," Bryce smiled at Wendy.

Bryce's phone rang again.

"Ok, here we go. Who is it? Bets please?" Bryce said, not looking at his ringing phone.

"Its Roy Thompson Hall calling again about donating or becoming a season pass holder," Wendy responded.

"That's pretty good. I'm going to say its Zheng or Briggs calling to check up on us," Bryce put in his bet and then answered the phone.

"Maxwell Heights Sanitarium, Bryce speaking," Bryce answered the phone.

Again, a woman's laughter could be heard on the other end. A moment later a friendly voice got on the line.

"I'm sorry Bryce. I wasn't prepared for that. How are you?" Alicia responded.

"Oh hi Alicia! I'm doing wonderful. How are you?" Bryce answered, using Alicia's name to let his wife know they both lost the bet.

"We're doing good. Things are busy at Tynan Medical Labs. We're in the testing phase of a full spectrum antibiotic that Katya and Victor helped us to develop, using phage technology. How are the two of you doing?" Alicia asked him joyfully.

"Well that's good news, especially with the threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria on the rise. We're doing fine. We bought our retirement home as you know, and we're living the life that we love. How's Walton?" asked Bryce.

"Oh he's doing well. We're working on a side project together that invests in people of various demographics that can benefit from our capital. That's actually the reason I'm calling you. I've been talking with a young inventor who has developed a diagnostic tool I'd like you to see. Specifically, the SQUID technology he developed," Alicia asked Bryce.

"A SQUID eh? Must be a room sized device then," Bryce asked.

"Actually, the device and power supply are portable and wireless," Alicia told Bryce.

"I'd love to discuss this. Funny you should call, I just got a call from Heylyn and we'll be coming to the city and staying at a condo unit she has aside for us," Bryce told Alicia.

"Really? That's wonderful news! So would you be interested in getting together?" asked Alicia.

"I sure would. Maybe we can do a double date night at your place or ours next week?" asked Bryce.

"Let me tell Walton and I'll get back to you and we can work out the details from there," Alicia agreed.

"Alright. Call us any time and we'll make the arrangements. Nice talking to you sweety," Bryce said to her, almost sounding fatherly.

"You too Bryce. Miss you. Bye!" Alicia hung up.

"Bye," Bryce put his phone on the recliner beside him.

"Its only ten o'clock and we already have a full schedule for the coming month. Who would have thought that our retirement would be busier than our working life," Bryce smiled to his wife.

"As long as I have some time to read. Everything's fine," Wendy turned back to her book.

"Well I was going to say..." Bryce began and his phone rang again.

"Maxwell Hippy Commune And Retreat, Bryce speaking," Bryce answered the phone without checking who it was.

There was a pause for a moment before a woman's voice on the other end spoke.

"Mr. Maxwell. I'm Inspector Tricia Camden with the RCMP," Tricia addressed Bryce, keeping herself stern despite the way Bryce had answered the phone.

"This isn't about my parking tickets in Toronto, is it? I paid them off two years ago," Bryce responded somewhat humourously.

"No this isn't about parking tickets Mr. Maxwell," Tricia responded calmly.

"Come on Zheng. I know its you. Quit messing around," Bryce accused.

"I'm sorry Mr. Maxwell, you must have me confused with someone else. This is really the RCMP speaking," Tricia corrected him politely.

"I'm sorry. How can I be of service to you," Bryce sat up in his recliner.

"Mr. Maxwell, we're investigating a rather complex case in Toronto that is going to require someone of your expertise to comment on some of our theories. Would you be available to meet with us sometime next week?" asked Tricia.

"Uh. Sure. We could meet you any time in Toronto next week," Bryce assured Tricia.

"Alright. How would Monday be? At say... 11 AM?" Tricia confirmed with him.

"That's fine. Where would you like to meet?" asked Bryce.

"We've got an empty classroom set aside at the University Of Toronto. Could you meet us in room 21C?" asked Tricia.

"We could do that," Bryce confirmed.

"Great. I look forward to speaking with you then. Oh, and don't choke on any hippy beads before then," Tricia replied, somewhat sarcastically.

"Heh. I'll try not to," Bryce replied cautiously.

"Bye Mr. Maxwell," Tricia hung up.

"Who was that?" asked Wendy.

"It was Roy Thompson Hall asking about donating," Bryce replied.

"Alright. Did you tell them we already donated?" asked Wendy.

"That I did," Bryce smiled, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

The waters of Georgian Bay remained calm for the remainder of their time at the beach. They left within the hour and made their way back to pick their tomatoes. When Bryce got to his begonias, he found that they were a little bit thirsty, but otherwise just fine.

Just Talking About It

[I've altered the content of this chapter, though not because the content itself was controversial. I altered this because I initially wanted to speak about the kinds of social activities that lead to radicalization, but found that I could better tell the story without alienating my readers without an intense investment in the actual experience itself.

The story of Ronald Forseth illustrates the modern experience of the story I'm trying to tell, and future exploration of Alex Frador's character will talk much more about the nature of this beast, especially where it converges on a very controversial topic that desperately needs addressing.

Because of the intense experience itself, I chose to abridge this chapter to spare my audience harsh details that added nothing to the story, except fodder for those polarizing people further over such matters. ]

"Have you considered speaking with the Federal Police about this?" asked Doctor Anders.

"I've tried a few times, but I don't think they get the gist of what's going on at this level, or they might be entrenched themselves against the same thing," Alex told the Doctor.

"Alright. Well, we're going to try the same thing next week, but this time we'll focus on a future plan. Maybe one to get you away from this or at least with better psychological tools to cope. How would you feel about that?" asked Doctor Anders.

"At this point, I'd do just about anything to get rid of this," Alex said.

"Excluding violence, right?" asked Doctor Anders.

"You have to wonder if all of these mass shooters and terrorists are just guys like me who've been pushed too far over the edge by a corrupt secret ideology that is taking over society and radicalizing people purposely?" asked Alex rhetorically.

"Is that a yes?" asked Doctor Anders.

"That's a yes. I'm angry, but I'm not going to bomb a building or shoot a bunch of people to make my point, despite the fact that the people who do this deserve it and worse. I wouldn't put any innocent people in harm's way by doing something like that," Alex cited.

"That's progress at least. Lets keep this going forward then, shall we? Say next week? Set an appointment with the receptionist and I'll see you again. Just relax and keep it together as best you can," Doctor Anders advised Alex, who stood and walked out the door.

The Doctor stood and closed the door, and then picked up his phone and dialed.

"Hi, this is A01296154 dialing in. I've got a case here that matches your criteria, and he's fairly stable. His name is Alex Frador, male, 49 years of age..." the Doctor shared Alex's information with the person on the other end of the phone.

"I hope we can stop this thing in time," the Doctor said after having hung up the phone.


As Tricia, Halmand and Farnham crossed east at the intersection at Bay Street and College Street on their trip over to the Toronto Police Service headquarters, Tricia's phone rang. She pulled it from the inner pocket of her jacket (which she'd folded over her arm) and answered.

"Inspector Camden," Tricia answered her call.

There was a beep followed by, and three pings and then a digital voice spoke:

"05249 Alex Frador. 245 Dunn Avenue, Suite 2901. Single, male. No dependents," the voice spoke clearly once before it repeated the exact same message again.

She quickly retrieved her note pad and a pen from her other pocket and began writing the information down before she hung up.

"A tip?" asked Halmand.

"No. Just the receptionist of my Doctor calling to remind me about an upcoming appointment. Letting me know where the testing facility is. You know our yearly physical reports are due in a month?" Tricia replied.

"I almost forgot. Thanks for the reminder. Looks like Farnham could use a bit of PT," Halmand joked.

"As a Detective at my age, if your IQ and belt size in centimeters are close to the same, you're doing alright," Farnham replied with a stern smile.

Tricia quickly tore off the note and put it in the pocket of her trousers and said nothing more about it.

West Meet East Returns [Rewritten July 19, 2022 13:45 PM EST]

"You're looking very chipper this morning!" Jennifer said to Monique as she walked in through the front doors of West Meet East International.

"Thanks. You too. Did you get a bit of sun yesterday?" asked Monique politely, a gratifying smile on her face.

"I picked up some takeout and ate it in the park after work. Met my beau there. Then we went and saw a movie together," Jennifer responded.

"What'd you see?" asked Monique.

"That new mystery thriller one. Oh, speaking of, you obviously heard that they caught the Chameleon, didn't you?" Jennifer asked Monique.

"I heard a little bit about it. I was relaxing for most of the night. I only caught that tail end of the news," Monique lied.

"Apparently he was going after that same girl who was nearly assaulted the other night. The online entertainer?" asked Jennifer.

"They stopped him? She's alright I hope?" Monique asked.

"Just a scratch from what I heard. With the Chameleon gone, I guess Toronto can show its party wings again," Jennifer responded.

"I guess so. I know I'm going to be less afraid going out at night. Any messages?" Monique asked.

"Heylyn called. They got their flight safely and they should be home by tonight," Jennifer told Monique.

"Great! Just in time for the weekend, not to mention our first weekend without the Chameleon! Aren't you going to party it up?" Monique asked, seemingly more excited about the possibility than Jennifer.

"My cats need me this weekend. My books need me too. So does that bottle of Chardonnay sitting in the freezer," Jennifer told Monique.

"You're going to spend your weekend alone?" asked Monique.

"Not at all. I've got a big date on my back porch, where I do most of my reading while my cats muck about on the back lawn, chewing on cat salad," Jennifer replied.

"Ha! Sorry, I was just looking for a wing girl for a wild night out to celebrate in a city without the Chameleon," Monique admitted her pent up ambition.

"Why don't you check with Lisa? She's been pretty excited about something recently. Perhaps she'd be up for it?" Jennifer suggested.

"I sooo miss talking with you Jennifer. Thank you," Monique replied, leaning in with her chin resting upon her clenched fingers on Jennifer's desk.

"This is going to be a good day!" Monique pushed her strut as she ventured into the office.

"You look different today Monique. There's a bit more umph in your step. What did you do?!" asked Troy as he passed her, on his way to pickup a courier parcel from reception.

"That whole Chameleon take down by the Police has me on top of the weekend party list," Monique responded.

"I've got a new lens that has your name all over it!" Troy replied.

"I wish every day could be like today, but I've gotta get things ready for Heylyn. She'll be back by tonight, but knowing her, she'll spend her Saturday in the office. Especially with the Chameleon gone," Monique responded.

"You want me to dust her so you can do a shoot? Just give me the word. I'll send Valerie in to distract her and I'll take her out with my telephoto lens from a distance. Quick and silent. Not to mention, she'll end the day with an impromptu portrait that will draw tears from her and raise the bar for a round of employee raises. What do you say?" asked Troy enthusiastically.

Monique's laughter said it all.

"Would you?" she clapped her hands together, still laughing.

"Makin' work for the bums of the trade are you?" asked Fay, who walked her way past Troy on her way to Heylyn's design room to pick up the last of the palette lists.

Despite the advanced technology Heylyn had employed at West Meet East, Fay still knew Heylyn well enough to know she'd kept paper notes on her design tables. Fay loved the convenience of technology, but she always loved finding one of Heylyn's hand drawn, hand colours paper gems on the design tables.

"Sure beats scouring Heylyn's tables for design droppings!" Troy responded, holding his middle finger up at Fay.

"You go gurl!" Fay replied, holding her own finger up at him.

"At least she didn't have much ammuniation..." Troy responded.

"Are you kidding me? Fay's only here because she had a day off from doing makeup at that Anime Show at the Convention Center! She's armed to the teeth. You're messing with nuclear weapons!" Monique replied, giggling slightly as she did.

"But... if you give me that shoot with that new lens, I'll run cover for you. Even against Fay," Monique replied.

"What are you two doing?!" asked Lisa, upon seeing Monique and Troy as she cut through the presentation hall.

"Lisa!? I've been looking for you. How about we do a girls, and if needed, a guy's night out?" asked Monique, leaning into and nudging Troy.

"Valerie too?" asked Lisa, looking at Troy.

"She'd be into it, though I know better than to speak for her," Troy said thoughtfully.

"Monique?" Ebtissan inquired, entering into the presentation hall.

"How are you? What's up? Can I help?" asked Monique.

"We're having trouble with the palette adjustments and without Heylyn, we need someone to make a judgement call," Ebtissam adjusted her head-dress.

"The palettes are shared on her design table. Not to mention, throughout the design system on the network. Even I know that," Monique replied to Ebtissam.

"She didn't leave the second round of adjusted palettes or measurements," Ebtissam admitted.

"Well, that only means that we have enough information and she trusted us to improvise if we have to," Monique replied.

"The palette adjustments are one thing, coming up with an entire design palette is another," Ebtissam responded, pulling her palette tape and adjusting it to the spectrum gradient indicated by her tablet.

"Ebtissam?" Monique looked to the expert seamstress.

"Monique?" responded Ebtissam.

"I'm just glad you're here. You and Heylyn can really communicate on that level, and that's a good thing. I mean, I wear what the both of you put your respect mark upon. But let it be known, that there's some things that you just can't buy. Leverage. Constitute. And that's a model's trust or belief in what they're promoting," Monique reminded Ebtissam.

"Monique my friend. We aren't here to remind you of why you shouldn't wear West Meet East International. We're here to remind you that seasonal clothing is our gift. Your trust in us is ours," Ebtissam responded to Monique.

"Huh. That's pretty good," Monique replied, reminded of how Ebtissam's education and concept of theory had put her in a position close to elevation in West Meet East International.

"That's pretty good! You should share that with Heylyn. She might use it and give you a marketing kickback," Monique winked.

"Actually, before she left, Heylyn, Kori and I came up with that," Ebtissam responded modestly.

"Why don't you wait until Monday, because Heylyn's going to be back by tonight. I'll let her know about the palette adjustments you requested, and I bet she'll come in on Saturday and leave them in your work space. Deal?" asked Monique.

"Fair enough," Ebtissam replied as she turned to leave.

"We're planning a night out tonight or tomorrow night. You're welcome to join us if you'd like?" Monique asked politely.

"I'd love to, but I've got some family matters to attend to this weekend. Thank you very much for the invite all the same. You have a good day then Monique," Ebtissam walked off towards the stage door of the presentation hall and back to the sewing area.

"Sooo, I guess that leaves us?" Monique said to Lisa and Troy.

"I'll tell Valerie to pop by and see you a bit later today and you two can discuss the plans," Troy snapped a quick picture of Monique as he left.

From the other end of the presentation hall, Sienna entered, walking forward in a daze, only barely aware of her surroundings, for within her nervous system, an immense group of occupants within were usurping her sensory input for their own purposes.

Sienna saw Monique and felt happy much the same way that she would have under any other circumstances, however she did not outwardly express this fact, for she only had a fingerhold on her own body. It wasn't that she was being ejected, but rather, that were her body a vehicle, she'd have been pushed to the backseat, operating only the most basic of motor functions while the group that had crowded in with her used her senses to view the world around her.

Over the week since they'd first occupied her body, they'd managed to occupy the bodies of several others employees, including Lisa and Fay. From there they'd managed to gain insider information with regard to nearly every aspect of West Meet East International. Even information that was privvy only to Heylyn herself.

These employees, including Sienna, had not lost control of themselves, though their occupiers would often taunt them that they had. Instead, it was more akin to their being like drones, under their own control, but with an entire city's worth of people looking out through their eyes. Hearing through their ears.

For Sienna, it had become like living in a fog. The voices she'd heard constantly had been relegated to the background, thanks mostly to her medication. Thankfully, her Family Physician had opted to help her fight the symptoms, enough so that she could function and retain her employment. This had been of the utmost importance to Sienna, for she somehow knew within herself that she was fighting the most important battle of her life, and against an unseen enemy. An enemy that took her from within.

The truth was, that her Family Physician had seen a record number of such cases from as far back as a decade earlier, as had many other Physicians throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Worst of all, these cases were growing. In fact, at a number of Medical And Clinical Care Conventions, a growing number of Doctors had noted the dramatic increase of auditory hallucinations. Of their patients hearing voices. One of them had written a letter to the Minister Of Health, sharing their collected findings when comparing similar case loads with other Doctors. The Minister Of Health examined the data, and being alarmed by these facts, then reported her findings to the Minister Of National Security and the Office Of The Prime Minister.

After a few secret meetings of top level officials, they agreed to a series of carefully worded security bulletins, addressed to law enforcement, first responders and to their national and international allies. The Minister Of National Security took it upon himself to ensure that these findings were delivered directly to the Commanding Officer of an operation they had investigating this phenomenon.

Within the hour at that time, Inspector Tricia Camden received the bulletin, four years before the events of the bank robbery and arrest of Ronald Forseth. It was during the aftermath of the Grier Torman/Alomera Zek case. A case for which she and several other members of the RCMP, OPP and Toronto Police Service were given commendations and promoted, to better serve their country and community. It would also see Inspector Camden takeover the reigns for one of the most secret operations in law enforcement history.

Sienna's smile slowly crept onto her face as she approached Monique.

"Sienna! How are you?" asked Monique, who'd just waved to a departing Troy.

"Good. A little fuzzy but good. Glad to hear the news about the Chameleon," she said listlessly, as if her senses were focused elsewhere.

"So are we all. So would you be up to a night out this weekend to celebrate? We've already got Lisa and Troy, but we're working on Valerie.  So how about it?" asked Monique.

"I think I'm just going to relax this weekend. I haven't had much energy of late. I'm sorry, Monique. Maybe when I'm feeling more up to it," her mouth twitched as if she were struggling to smile.

"That's alright. You get your rest and we'll have you out when you're good and ready," Monique smiled back at Sienna, who by that point at already began walking to her place in the dressing room.

From within Sienna, voices spoke, using her body as a connective hub between two different people who were a part of this human bound network.

"Do you think that's important?" asked Jack Webber.

"Who talks strategically about business at social outtings? They're the pawns. We want the Queen," the voice replied to Jack.

"We're almost ready for the takeover of Werner-Goldstein Holdings," Jack noted to the voice.

"Probably best when the old man is nearing the end of his journey. That company needs some new direction. It will be a great addition to the other five we acquired this week. That will also make up for the loss of our greatest assassin. The one keeping our trail hidden. The Chameleon, the voice responded.

Surrender To The Harbour

The Many Faced Maiden ploughed through the turbulent sea and towards the ever calming waters of Treadwater Island. It had come about just a nautical mile, 285 degrees off of the Island where it had anchored on a quiet and sunny morning.

The shallow waters surrounding the island were poised upon a shelf, where a coral reef restrained the beach sand in place some three hundred meters from the coastline of the island itself. This shelf kept the waters shallow for that three hundred meter distance, which at low tide would drop to a meter's depth. At high tide, they'd be lifted to nearly six meters depth.

The coastal shelf remained for every radii of the island except those which the harbour fell within. The volcanic forces that had initially formed the island some six thousand years ago, had left the caldera and a fissure along the 280 degree line of the island. That is, the west-north-west coast of the island was completely absent of shelf, as the fissure had formed at this point, leaving the harbour with very deep and dark waters the further from the island one went.

Large ships could theoretically make it into the tiny harbour, but they'd have a difficult navigating out against. Therefore, most ships that used the Treadwater Island Harbour as it was now named, were limited in size. A size well below that of the Many Faced Maiden.

Norman Lockwood had brought the ship as close as he could without putting it at risk and there it remained anchored, while some of the tourists with telephoto lenses on their phones, took photos of it. This did not concern George Steadman, for the ship whose markings the Many Faced Maiden wore often conducted search and seizure operations out this far into the Pacific.

Out on the deck of the ship were a series of Steadman's crew (those with scuba diving experience), and Alomera Zekestes himself. Zek's handcuffs and foot bindings ensured that he'd try nothing during their outting, as he would remain on the ship and under strict guard. The crew gathered the scuba gear, carefully checking it several times before loading it onto the tender.

"Everything's ready Captain," responded Rick, one Steadman's crew and the one with the most diving experience.

"Alright. Have Gart and Polman ready the tender for departure," Steadman ordered.

"Like I said Sir, Everything's ready," Rick repeated.

"Much like last time, you're going to remain here. And if you try anything, or if you've lied to me about the location of the data, or how I am to retrieve it, you'll be prepped for the medical room and have all your limbs and tongue surgically removed, after which point my men will arrange to have you turned over to the authorities once again. Not only that but they'll collect the reward as well. We've already made the arrangements. You'll spend the rest of your life in incarceration, unable to move or eat without assistance, and unable to communicate as well. Do I make myself clear?" George asked Zek.

"Very," Zek responded calmly.

"The man guarding you will relay anything I have to ask you. You will answer him precisely, and concisely or you'll suffer the fate I stated," George added.

"Very well," Zek's eyes narrowed slightly, but his poker face remained.

George stepped over and into the tender craft, ordering his men to lower it into the water.

The gantry crane slowly lowered the tender, which descended the fifteen meters to the waterline fairly rapidly. They disconnected the crane mountings and were at the fate of the Pacific as the engines of the tender were started.

The tender pulled out, fighting slightly against a cross current which struggled to pull the tender craft sideways and to the north. They oversteered the tender, and navigated the mostly calm waters of the fissure towards the harbour entrance where their quarry lay.

"Sound off. We need a quick communications check," George ordered.

"Rick here, over," Rick's forty year old voice came clearly through the headset as he steered the tender.

"Gart here, over," Gart, a muscular bearded and tattooed Latin American man responded over his headset.

"Polman here, over," Polman, a blonde haired blue eyed man in his mid twenties replied.

"Deck Security here, over," responded the man on deck guarding Zek.

"Excellent. We're approaching our point of submersion. We'll keep in contact through our open face breathing masks and work this excursion for one half hour. If we need to continue longer, we will surface and replace our air tanks, as ,many as two times more. If there's any need beyond that, we'll attempt a second dive tomorrow. Everyone understand?" asked Steadman.

"Perfectly, over," Rick replied.

"Ten four, over," Gart responded as he prepped the rest of his diving gear.

"Aye, same here, over," Polman donned his equipment webbing, over which he pulled on his oxygen tank.

The tender came to a stop and Rick checked the digital depth gauge and radar.

"Just like he said. Highest point is about twenty meters, deepest is about sixty at this bearing," Rick reported to Steadman.

"Tell Zek that he's earned a bit more trust. Not much, but some," Steadman spoke over his headset, addressing Deck Security.

Zek's pokerface remained as he received the relayed message.

Rick in the meantime lowered the anchor, finding a snug point for it. When he was confident they were secure, he gave his thumb's up.

The four men donned the remainder of their diving gear, and then silently dropped over the side of the tender and into the depths of Treadwater Island Harbour.

The Dragon And The Darkness

Mutano awoke, standing naked and in the dark. He examined his body and found no injuries. His mind flashed back to his last moments, and he saw her face. The face of the Tanaka heir. Aikiko Tanaka.

He had sworn to take her life. To devour her soul, much as he had many others throughout his life as the leader of the Tanto Clan. And yet, he had died. He had fallen before her, and she'd had vengeance upon him for what he and Shogo had done to her and her family.

He began to walk, holding his hands out before him hoping to find something. A wall. A door through which to be out of this place, and back into the world of light. A world where he could see, hear, smell, taste and feel all of the feasts that were truly meant to be his. A world where he could continue to line the streets with the blood of virgins. A world where he could do what he was truly meant to do.

And then, at once, his hands came upon something. It feel alive. It was covered with large scales and at once Mutano knew it was a reptile of some form. Possibly even much worse. He quickly stepped back.

"What form of Tengu are you!" he asked the darkness.

"Death is alot like the blindness of all the senses. Just a dark place of the mind," the darkness replied.

"If we are having this conversation, then I am not dead, for I can hear you," Mutano replied to the darkness.

"Perhaps the dead speak with one another?" the darkness posed.

"Perhaps you are as I said, Tengu?" Mutano asked, curious if it was possible that the old gods and demons might still exist.

"Many have I known in my time. Cruel gods, many of whom became men. Carrying out my will, for I am much older than even they," the darkness responded.

"That is not possible! There are none older than the gods!" Mutano spoke in defiance of the darkness.

"My disembodied friend, I beg to differ," the darkness replied and as if at once, it became illuminated so that Mutano could see it.

It was a large, serpentine dragon of old. Its scales as black as could be. It looked down upon him through its eyes some ten stories above him on a long and winding neck.

"What are you?!" Mutano covered himself with his hands in shame and fear.

"Let us jump ahead a little to the point where I make you an offer. An offer you would find to your liking, giving you the possibility to live out your destiny. You see, not long ago in terms of your measure of time, a certain assassin was removed from the playing field. This assassin had been helping enemies of mine, and enemies of humanity. I would like you to return as this assassin, and work for them, mine and humankind's enemies, but under my command. You are to deceive them, and to never reveal my existence to them, for if you do, my punishment will be swift, final and most of all, eternal. Should you accept my offer, you will be free to continue your pursuits as you once had in the land of the living, albeit in a very different place, and from within a very different body. All I ask is that remove three problems for me. How hard could that be for a man of your reputation?" asked Witherwyrm.

"What about money to start with? What about my identity?" asked Mutano.

"You will have all that you need and more," the dragon answered.

"What are these problems?" asked Mutano.

"You will be given each, one at a time. You are to eliminate that problem, and I will give you the next. If you eliminate all three, I will give you unlimited power. Think not of the power of a god, for that is limiting. Think of the power of from which everything comes, even gods and men," the dragon's eyebrows raised as it leaned in closer to Mutano.

"If you will give me that power as you say, I will solve any problem for you! Any!" Mutano agreed to their deal.

"Very well. We are in agreement and this is as binding as a blood oath of fealty. You are returned," The dragon's eyes narrowed as it looked to Mutano.

"What problem would you like removed first?" asked Mutano.

"The Tanaka Heir. Aikiko Tanaka. The Dragon Butterfly," Witherwyrm told Mutano.

Mutano's face drew into a wicked rictus from ear to ear.

"I would gladly have done that for you for free," Mutano replied eagerly.

Within the instance of a single lightning strike, Mutano found himself in an alley in a city.

He examined himself, noticing that he wore a designer suit of some kind, which was adorned on a fit male body. He felt his arms and legs, finding that he had dense and large muscles. His hair was cropped short on the sides and top.

"This body feels much more vigorous than my own. I will be able to do much in it," Mutano smiled, very happy with his new body.

He began walking, looking for a way out of the alley. After a minute of searching, he found himself out on Queen Street West, just east of Bay Street.

"First, Ramen. Then, Dragon Butterfly Sushi," Mutano said as he adjusted his tie mid-stride.

On The Run

Braden lay face down on his bed, a pair of kickboxer briefs covered his lower abdomen while the sheet that had covered him had fallen in a heap to the floor. He slept uneasily in his nightmare world ever searching for the Chameleon, whose victim list kept growing and growing regardless of his efforts to stop the unknown killer.

Despite the news that the Chameleon had been captured, he had continued his search the previous night until he could no longer keep himself awake. By that point he'd carefully made his way back to his second floor bachelor in one of the lowrises in Parkdale, just off of Queen Street West.

Since having arrived in Toronto in his search for the Chameleon, he'd been using the apartment as a very modest base of operations. He'd rigged the apartment with various exercise equipment, including his Wing Chun Mu ren zhuang, a wooden post with which he could practice his form and technique. He'd also installed various equipment for keeping his cardiovascular in top shape, but had found that his nightly searches had left him with little time to benefit from their use. To him, there was something much greater at stake.

He rustled in his bed, rolling over onto his back, his forehead glistening with sweat in the summer heat. He awoke with a start when he heard someone tapping on the front door. He leapt out of his bed, and two steps later was in front of the fridge. He cranked open the door and pulled an instant breakfast drink from the fridge, quickly dranking it down. The knocking continued.

"Its me! Loraine. Your landlord," the sound of a woman's voice pierced the door.

"Just a minute..." Braden responded, digging through his shelves for a clean pair track pants. He found one, and a muscle shirt, both of which he quickly threw on over his briefs. He then stepped into his slippers, which were more like athlete's shoes, and went over to the front door.

He peered through the peephole, and saw only the face of an elderly woman, her irises magnified by a heavy pair of bifocals which were perched upon her nose.

He latched the two internal locks, and then finally the main lock itself and opened the door to face her.

"What can I do for you?" he asked her.

"Nothing. You've got some guests here," she said to him.

He peeked his head out of the doorway and to the side, to see a group of five men hiding off to the side.

"Get him!" one of them yelled.

The first two, one much larger and the other about the same height pushed Loraine out of the way to get at Braden.

He quickly ran for the kitchen window, diving over the sink and through the glass and wooden frame, flying out into the alley below. He landed on his feet, only to find that he was already surrounded, as six men on each end of the alley blocked any means of escape.

Another man entered the alley near the front door of the building from which he'd exited a moment ago. Braden saw that it was one of the men from the hallway. The one who'd yelled for the others to apprehend him.

"Braden, Braden. We haven't seen each other for so long. Is this the way you treat an old friend?" asked the man.

"You were never my friend, Habus," Braden responded, keeping an eye on his surroundings as he spoke.

"Nonsense. You. Me. The rest of the instructors. And of course our little mutual friend. You know the one. We were like a little family, and you know what they say about family, don't you Braden?" asked Habus, a sinister smile on his face.

"No Habus. What do they say about family?" Braden responded, focusing fully on Habus while giving his back to the men opposite him.

"You never turn your back on family. But you did, and you've gotta pay the price, that is of course unless you can tell me where the girl is?" asked Habus, who'd pulled a gun from the inside of his suit jacket.

"I'll never tell you where she is, but I can tell you that you're in the wrong country if you're looking for her," Braden responded.

"Nonsense. You and I both know that your being here is only because she's here and you're protecting her," Habus said, pulling the slide back on the top of his handgun, cocking it for his first shot.

"I'm here for the Chameleon. While the Chameleon lives, she's not safe," Braden reasoned as the men behind him stepped closer.

"The Chameleon? That's a pipe dream, Braden. That's like trying to stop a rain storm by singling out one drop of rain. That's a force of nature you're dealing with. The Mentis, remember the chant of the Mentis?" Habus asked Braden.

"I made it an effort not to remember any of the crap you fed us," Braden spat back at him.

"Let me refresh your memory. *The gate is small, enough for one, the one true way, the only one. The Mentis path shall set you free, a million minds with which you'll be*," Habus said, his eyes echoing the rhetorical dogma of what to Braden amounted to insanity.

"Habus, you always were full of crap. However, at this particular moment and from my perspective, you have no idea how right you are," Braden said as ducked the first strike by the men behind him.

Braden grabbed the man's arm, then standing with the full weight of the man perched upon his shoulders, launched him at Habus. Braden rolled as Habus' first shot pierced the man in mid-flight, passing clean through him and over Braden's head and into the next man behind him. When Braden came up from his roll, he maintained upward momentum, using it to somersault over Habus' shoulders, back down onto his feet.

From that point he began to sprint for the front of the alley as the six men ahead of him closed in. He picked the largest one, the one that would block the view of him from the other five. He launched a punch into that one's solar plexis, immediately winding him as Braden used the backwards momentum of the large man to conceal himself. He moved forward, pushing the larger man ever the more back until he'd passed the other five.

At that point, he inserted his leg into the backstep of the larger man, causing him to fumble onto the pavement backwards. Braden then took his first step onto the man's solar plexis again, from there sprinting out of the alley and onto the street.

Braden looked both ways, seeing that the late morning Queen Street West was a short run from his current position. He turned and sprinted in that direction, eventually coming into the intersection at Massey Avenue and Queen Street West. He turned to see that they were following him. Some on foot, while the others had obviously gone to get a vehicle.

Braden quickly ran for the back of a TTC streetcar, sprinting as fast as he could out into the middle of traffic. Just behind him in the same lane, a vehicle honked at him as he leapt for the roof of the streetcar and propped himself up on top of it. The man who'd honked his horn shrugged and said to himself: Fair enough. That works for both of us, eh.

Braden ran forward for the length of the streetcar on the roof, seeing a car speeding up along the right side lane. Gunfire erupted from the back seat of the car, through an open window. As the passengers on the street car screamed, Braden once again ducked, rolling as he continued forward on the streetcar's roof.

Ahead of the streetcar was a short tractor and trailer.

"Damn. I need more of a run," Braden backed up as the shots rang out around him. He then sprinted as fast as he could, leaping a good twenty feet, catching the roof of the trailer with one hand. He dangled for a moment as the car firing upon him reloaded their weapons. Braden quickly got his other hand up onto the trailer, and pulled himself up to its roof. From there he sprinted forward again, and when he'd reached the end, he leapt for the roof of a minivan.

Habus' car sped up, attempting to navigate through the midday traffic as Braden leapt from car rooftop to car rooftop, quickly making his way through traffic much faster than he would have on foot or by vehicle alone.

As they passed John Street, Braden leapt for the adjacent building, scrambling his way up the side along a pipe and several sign fixtures until he had parkoured himself up to the roof. He ran and leapt across an alleyway gap, landing on another building two stories shorter than the one he'd come from. He continued his momentum, this time leaping a full forty feet out into the air as gravity caught him and pulled him down hard upon the roof of an oddly shaped building. He landed with a thud, hitting his head hard as he rolled attempting to break his fall. He flailed helplessly as he rolled to a stop, somewhere on top of the building.

There he lay unconscious in a dreamless sleep. The first real sleep he'd had for a long time.

Meanwhile, in Habus' car, the confusion had come to an end as they realized they'd lost their quarry.

"Stop the car. I'll call Avery and let him know where to pick us up. Harvey, you get the plates. Dale, you file off the serial number just under the glovebox," Habus ordered his men.

"What are you going to do?" asked Harvey.

"Why I'm going to get the barbecue ready," Habus responded.

Three minutes later, they'd parked the vehicle along John Street, north of Queen Street and had removed all identifying features from the car. Habus then took a long piece of cloth, hung it from under the gas cap (with a piece trailing down into the gas tank). They then lit it through the window of their getaway car and drove off.

As the Police converged upon the scene, Habus' old car had exploded into flames. Not long after, Queen Street West was covered in Police combing the area for the shooters.

"Damn! Too late again for the action! Alright, Let's sweep the area for any injuries or casualties," Angus ordered his team to assist the constables as they arrived.

Twenty Questions

Tricia, Halmand and Farnham had spent the better part of a half an hour trying to push their way through the flotilla of reporters and video journalists, whose combined force represented the entirety of the North American news media.

By the time they made it in through the front doors (after having flashed their badges to the Police security guarding the doors), they spent another hour and a half waiting for an opening where Brandy was available for more questioning. They sat in one of the unoccupied boardrooms, drinking coffee (Farnham and Halmand) while Tricia nursed a decaffinated tea.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea?" Halmand said, his leg already jumpy from caffeine.

"We've already invested in it. I'm betting on this," Farnham said, nursing his coffee.

"We're here and we're going to follow through. Call it a hunch, but we're going through with it," Tricia said finishing the last sip of her tea.

"How does this connect with Werner? With Forseth?" asked Halmand, obviously eager to be working on something.

"We asked the same thing after the robbery about the perpetrators, Forseth and Dupree remember?" asked Tricia.

"I see Halmand's point. He's thinking about that which drives every cop to become one. At the end of the day, just about everyone who works on the Police service has that nagging drive to feel like they did their part. Made a difference. That part of them is in a constant battle against everyone (sometimes including themselves), trying to derail them. To make them out to be the bad guys. There's that point that all cops, no matter who you are and what your duty is, know when they did their part. They did their best. That point at which they can eat their dinner, have a couple of fingers of whiskey or a beer, and feel like they don't have to answer to anyone. Most of all, themselves. That point where their day doesn't come back to haunt them and they sit in their comfy chair talking to themselves about it. Its pretty bad to second guess your partner, but its a thousand times that to second guess yourself at the end of a day, when you can't do anything about it," Farnham responded, sharing a bit of his experience on the force.

"Thanks for speaking up for Halmand, but remember that despite the fact that this might seem unconnected or irrelevant to building a case in terms of what you recall as being standard Police work, that there's a bigger picture here. One that is vital to the safety and security of many people. We're not going for the minnows and sardines here. We're big game fishing right now, so you two have to be at the top of your game, because when we get this fish on the line, its going to take everything we've got to get them," Tricia replied, cradling her tea cup delicately in her fingers as she spoke.

"Aye Captain Ahab," Farnham faked a naval salute.

"I was just going to say the same thing," Halmand responded.

"This isn't obsession. This is vital. You won't know how much so, until we're bringing it in," Tricia looked firmly at the two of them.

There was a light but firm knock at the boardroom door. The door to the boardroom then opened and a uniformed officer stuck his face in.

"She's ready. They just finished with her, the homocide department," the Constable smiled quickly, his face relaxing as he opened the door for them.

"Who do we talk to in order to arrange for a room to speak with her?" asked Tricia, not having operated within the Bay Street headquarters many times.

"I can handle that part. He's a good friend of mine. An old timer like me," Farnham replied.

"Where did they question her?" asked Halmand of the Constable.

"Interrogation room 2F," the Constable replied.

"Good point, Halmand. She just spent a hours inside one of the interrogation rooms. They're designed to be uncomfortable. Farnham, we need to make sure we end up with a very comfortable room for her. Even one of the staff rooms would be ideal if we can arrange it," Tricia asked Farnham.

"Let me see what I can do," Farnham said, agreeing with both Tricia and Halmand.

He led them through the building over to the office of one of the Logistics Officers, with whom he began talking.

"How are you Gary?" asked Farnham, holding out his hand to the other man.

"Hey Ed. Good to see you. It's been a while. How's the wife?" asked Gary, accepting Ed's hand, firmly shaking it.

"She's doing well. Good health thankfully. She's always my favourite part of the day. How about yours?" asked Farnham.

"She's fine. I'm sure that when I tell her I saw you today, that she'll suggest that you two come for dinner. How about tomorrow night?" asked Gary.

"I think I could talk her into it. As long as you leave me with a few dollars for bus fare at the end of the night. Gary and I spent a lot of time together back in the old days. Dinners on the weekends with our wives as well. He's one hell of a Rummoli player," Farnham spoke the Gary and then addressed Tricia and Halmand.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. I'm Staff Inspector Gary Pearce. Pleased to meet you," Gary, a dapperly dressed older man held out his hand to Tricia first and then Halmand.

"I'm Inspector Tricia Camden and this is my acting partner, Inspector William Halmand. We're here on behalf of the RCMP," Tricia responded, shaking hands with Gary.

"Well the Chameleon case has certainly drawn a lot of attention. Glad to have you with us. Now, what can I do for you?" Gary addressed Tricia and then turned back to Farnham.

"We need a room where we can question Brandy Wellson, however, we'd like to avoid the interrogation rooms or anything used for taking statements. She's been in here since 3 AM and its nearly 2 PM now. Would it be possible for us to use one of the smaller staff rooms?" asked Farnham.

"You know, if anyone else asked me that, I'd have to say no. But because its you Ed, I'm going to have to say maybe. I know the perfect room. Let's go take a look right now and see if there's anyone else in there," Gary led them to one of the local staff rooms, a small walk away from the interrogation and custody handling area.

Gary opened the door and peeked inside. Upon seeing two people sitting and having a coffee together, he spoke.

"Hi. Davis is it? Look, I have to ask you two to clear out of this room as we need it for questioning. Its going to be off limits for about an hour, after which you can come back. Not to mention, there's another larger staff room at the north side of the this floor. Could you do that for me?" asked Gary of the two.

"I don't see that as being a problem. We were just finished up our break anyway," Davis replied, getting up and depositing his paper cup in the recycling bin.

They then left the room, nodding to Tricia, Halmand and Farnham as they passed.

"Alright. I'll give it to you for one hour, starting now," Gary responded, quickly drawing up an out of service sign in paper, which he taped to the door.

"Alright, if you two want to quickly tidy it up a bit, I'll go get Miss Wellson. Oh, and open the drapes and let some sunshine in here. She'll appreciate that," Tricia told Halmand and Farnham.

"Tidy?" asked Halmand.

"You know. Make it comfortable for a woman who has likely been through a lot," Tricia looked at the two men firmly.

"Aye Captain Ahab," responded Halmand as Tricia closed the door behind her.

Tricia found her way to Interrogation Room 2F, where she opened the door to see an attractive woman seated at the table. Two empty cups of coffee in front of her.

"Are we doing another round of questions?" asked Brandy of Tricia.

"You look like you could use a change of environment Miss Wellson," Tricia smiled at Brandy.

"And then some, but please call me Brandy," Brandy replied, doing her best to stay attentive.

"Alright Brandy. Lets go to a much more comfortable place. Are you hungry at all? Thirsty?" asked Tricia, turning to face Brandy.

"I haven't eaten since last night so yeah, I'm pretty hungry. As far as anything to drink goes, I'd love a glass of wine," Brandy replied.

"We can solve the hunger part, but not the wine. How about some juice or pop?" asked Tricia.

"A Chicken Burger, fries and a diet cola?" asked Brandy.

"Let me see what we can do. Lunch is on me, if you'd follow me," Tricia assured Brandy, leading the way back to the staff room.

Brandy took a seat on the sofa, basking in the afternoon sun for a moment before speaking.

"I didn't get your names?" Brandy asked Tricia as the two men sat on a love seat across from her.

"I'm Tricia Camden and this is my partner William Halmand. We're both Inspectors from the RCMP. This is Detective Edward Farnham with the Toronto Police Service," Tricia introduced her partners.

"Pleased to meet you Miss Wellson," Halmand responded, professionally detached.

"Glad you're with us Miss Wellson," Farnham added.

"Now, I'm going to go get your food for you, and don't let these guys play good cop bad cop with you. If they do, you tell me and I'll have them spanked," Tricia smiled at Brandy.

"She's not kidding either," Halmand added.

Tricia left, heading for the catering room to try to buy Brandy's order.

"I hope that being questioned wasn't an unpleasant experience for you. I do know that when homocide are unsure of someone's role in a given situation, they can be a bit trying at times," Farnham began.

"I think once they narrowed it down that I wasn't working with the Chameleon in some way, they lightened up considerably," Brandy replied.

"So they did grill you. Are you alright to continue?" asked Halmand, a look of concern on his face.

"Yes. By all means. They narrowed it down pretty quick. From that point they spoke softly and had another woman there, a Psychologist? She was really nice. I didn't feel like they were picking my brain at all," Brandy replied.

"Do you have any family here in the city?" asked Farnham.

"No. I'm alone unfortunately," replied Brandy.

"How was your relationship with your parents?" asked Halmand.

"Difficult, but probably more so for them than me. I was very stubborn back then, so I left home and lived on the streets for a few years," Brandy admitted to them.

"You didn't work the streets at all, did you?" asked Halmand.

"What, as a prostitute? No. Not at all. Never. I did other stuff. I delivered flyers. I raked leaves during the fall. I shoveled driveways during the winter. Kept me in good shape," Brandy said calmly.

"Sorry Brandy, but I did have to ask. They likely did too," Halmand responded.

"That they did. I'm guessing that they wanted to narrow down a profile of the kind of women the Chameleon goes after?" asked Brandy.

"Possibly. You work as an online adult entertainer, am I correct?" asked Halmand.

"That would be correct. I'm the woman who wouldn't bend to become a prostitute for the kind of people who harvest wayward women from the streets. There's a whole trafficking ring devoted to that, even still, because there are religions very against the internet and any kind of sexuality online. I'm guessing that they're opposed to any material that promotes sin, ie masturbation or something like that. So the religions tend to support prostitution, because it averts the sin of masturbation. Prostitution is the foundation of just about every single meth and crack cocaine dealer across the board. They all work together hand in hand to protect each other. So I took matters into my own hands and started my own private online adult entertainment, with me as the flagship product," Brandy  said confidently.

"You never worked with a business manager at all?" asked Farnham.

"What? A pimp?" confirmed Brandy.

"Again, I'm sorry Brandy, but we have to ask these things," Halmand appologized to her sincerely.

"No. I've never worked with that kind of business manager, though some would argue that the larger sites that host multiple women are akin to that. I'd have to say no to that. They're businesses and they're often seeking to increase their margin, and sometimes that affects the percentages the girls make, while other times it can increase the girls' percentages. Those girls are avoiding the troubles of managing their own business in exchange for a lower percentage. I tried it out that way for bit, but I left and started my own dedicated brand. I pay a professional accountant to do my books for me. I file my taxes just like any other Canadian entrepreneur, the only difference being that I'm the product, but there's never any physical contact between myself and my customers," Brandy spoke, not defensively, but candidly about her profession.

"Did you have any former business associates or customers that made you feel uncomfortable? Asked you to do things that made you uncomfortable or that you found to be distasteful?" asked Halmand.

"There are some customers who might make some strange requests, but I just politely say I don't do that. I keep a pretty extensive set of logs, that would make it fairly easy to track someone down if they were at all threatening or intimidating," Brandy finished her sentence just as Tricia walked in the door with a bag full of Brandy's food.

"You're in luck! They had everything you wanted. A chicken sandwich, fries and diet cola. Now, if I could ask you to wait until we're finished questioning to eat your sandwich, I'd appreciate it because you'll undoubtedly feel lethargic after eating a large meal like that. So if you could, just nibble on your fries and diet cola, and we'll get through the questioning as fast as possible," Tricia placed the bag of food on the coffee table in front of Brandy.

Tricia took a coffee each out for Halmand and Farnham, placing it before them. She then turned to Halmand, grabbing his notes just after he'd finished his last sentence. Tricia examined the notes, compressing her eye brows and squinting to read Halmand's tiny cursive writing.

"So we're getting to the nitty gritty are we?" Tricia looked suspiciously to Halmand and Farnham.

"They are being very professional," Brandy said in their defense.

"I'll trust you and them both on that. So none of your webcam customers ever approached you to do distasteful or overtly violent things. Did any ever ask you to meet up in person?" asked Tricia, who gave Halmand back his notebook.

"Its one of the rules. No asking for meetups or to meet in person," Brandy told Tricia.

"So none of the customers gave you the impression that they might intend you harm?" asked Tricia.

"None. Except after one of the prospective business managers I used to work for, as you called them, was arrested on grounds of prostitution and sex trafficking," Brandy told Tricia, and looked to Halmand and Farnham.

"What happened?" asked Tricia.

"He tried to convince me to expand my online presence by going directly to prearranged locations to service customers in person. I think he was arrested within a week of that proposal, and of course his circle assumed that I had talked to the Police about it. Perhaps they tried to get revenge against me for that reason?" Brandy suggested, nibbling on a fry.

She then washed it down with a healthy swig of diet cola.

"I received a lot of bullying online, and that divided my online customer base. There were many hacking attempts as well. It eventually found its way to my own community, where I was often discretely harassed or bullied..." Brandy replied, deep in thought as if remembering the trauma it had caused.

"Did any violence come about as a result?" asked Tricia.

"For years since that time, nothing. And then one night after leaving the bar by myself, I was attacked by a group of men who attempted to sexually assault me," Brandy recalled the events of the night only a week ago.

"Did you get the feeling that it might be connected to your current experiencing of attrition in your community or to case of this person who was arrested?" asked Tricia.

"Jean? They didn't mention anyone or anything related to him. They were definitely very drunk, but it did seem as if they specifically arrived and targeted me before I left the bar that night. I didn't notice at the time, but I do remember them eyeing me quite a lot. That and the voices alluded to them as well..." Brandy replied.

"Voices?" Halmand looked at Farnham, both clearly surprised.

"I know what it sounds like to you, but I'm not mentally ill. I'm not schizophrenic either. I'm not imagining this. It started around the same time. Just after Jean's arrest," Brandy explained.

"So these voices, when you were at the bar that night, did they reference your attackers?" confirmed Tricia.

"You know, I'm very nervous talking about this with you. Not because I don't trust you. We haven't come to that level yet. By admitting that I'm hearing voices to you, could affect my clean bill of health, and give my attackers the kind of ammunition they need to destroy my credibility entirely," Brandy looked down, though not in remorse as much so in shame.

"Brandy, did the voices say anything about Jean, or your attackers that might?" asked Tricia again, pressing the question.

"Yes... but they say lots of things..." Brandy said, tears beginning to stream down her face.

"What did they say?" asked Tricia, handing Brandy a tissue.

"They said: You didn't listen to us. You didn't back off when we told you. First, you're going to be raped. The next time you don't listen, you're going to be killed," Brandy responded, breaking down and crying having spoken of something that had been bottled up inside of her since the night of the attack.

Tricia handed her another tissue.

"Brandy, we're just going to step out of the room here for a moment and discuss some things. Eat your food if you feel up to it and we'll leave you to the rest of your day," Tricia said as she stood up.

Halmand and Farnham followed Tricia silently as she left the staff room and ventured into an empty office several doors down.

"I told you there was a connection. She's another case of the voices," Tricia said to Halmand and Farnham.

"We have a connection now between a possible real world suspect, a motive and the voices. Assuming that she's telling the truth, which I for one believe her," Halmand said.

"Her face and body language said she's nothing but sincere. That's a woman, albeit a stubborn woman who's likely reached her limits. If you consider that she's been living the whole time as if nothing was happening to her, without any kind of social or community supports, because she's been dubbed a pariah. Possibly because she's assumed to be an informant, or because she interfered with some aspect of what we're investigating. She's become one of our most important witnesses in this case," Tricia told them.

"I believe her too, but one of us has to play the devil's advocate. What if, she is lying? What if she's trying to manipulate us? She has a personal vendetta against this Jean guy, whose friends might have made efforts to ruin her business in order to punish her for being a snitch. Sure, she gets attacked and then there's an attempt against her life. She uses that victimization to manipulate the investigating authorities into carrying out her revenge upon Jean and his friends, all the while playing the innocent victim," Farnham stated coldly.

"There's no record of this woman's contact with the authorities before the night of her attack. Everything that has ever come at her, she's kept to herself. Bottled up inside of her. I think she just reached her limit and that we were able to open her up about it. She's verified that she's another victim of the same thing. The voices, which I might remind you that everyone who reported hearing them, has eventually gone on a warpath, or were murdered. They were psychologically radicalized by an organized external force," Tricia responded to Farnham's devil.

"Fair enough. So what now. We move her in with Werner?" Farnham responded.

"We could make her a material witness. Then we'd have lieu to provide her with a small security detachment," Tricia told them.

"Think of how the press is going to eat this up, if they ever get a hold of it," Farnham said, knowing from experience.

"So because this woman works in the adult sector, she's not entitled to rights, we as law enforcement are supposed to uphold as part of our duty?" asked Tricia, smirking at Farnham.

"He's right Tricia. If the press do get a hold of it, and they will, it will be a fiasco and publicity nightmare. They're still waiting out there in droves for her to make a statement. We could barely get in here through them. They've already gone through her life's history and they certainly know she's an online adult entertainer. If they find out that the RCMP is providing her with protective security, that could really damage the public impression of our force and even lead to an inquiry," Halmand stated thoughtfully.

"Are you saying that we don't make a stand when it comes to women's rights or that their rights pale next to those who aren't working in the adult entertainment industry just to avoid some trashy press? I can guarantee you right now, that not a few kilometers from this very building that there are at least three to four major sex trafficking operations dealing in women as young as fourteen years old, who are better protected by their criminal circle than online entertainers are protected by the law, and they're of age and following the law to a T. Keep in mind that those fourteen year old women who are trafficked are often lured in by sextortion or substance dependency. They're sold sexually to men who want those women in person. Now, you're telling me that women who are honest and live honest lives, are denied their rights just because they're online adult entertainers? Maybe if there wasn't such a taboo on this subject, women inclined to exploit themselves would respect themselves enough to choose that vocation, rather than become entangled in a sex trafficking rings and narcotics before they've even graduated from high school!" Tricia said furiously.

"What ever happened to graduating and getting a good job?" asked Farnham.

"Absolutely. That should be any woman's first priority, but there are some who fall through the cracks and don't take that path. Does that mean that they should be discarded just because they chose a path that is somewhat taboo in society? I guarantee you that sex trafficking rings that deal in narcotics have better protection for women than the law, if we're not affording women who work online with the same credibility as women everywhere," Tricia responded.

"You and I both know that a segment of the public will say things like, they're asking for it by getting naked online or they're encouraging sin in this world and god's punishing them or some other dogmatic idiom that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs. Regardless of how we feel about this topic, we're still decades away from it becoming accepted by society as a reasonable vocation in North America," Halmand argued.

"How about settling down with a hard working man and becoming a house wife? Is that so hard?" asked Farnham, his old fashioned point of view becoming more and more apparent.

"So we're going to protect Werner and his money, but we're going to throw a woman to the gutter because she's an adult entertainer? I have news for the both of you. We are going through with this whether you agree or not. That is a direct order. If you have protest with this, then take it up with a superior. Farnham, if its too much for you, then you're free to go your own way. I'll fill out a report saying how imperative and commendable your work for this case was and sign it, but when we bring this home, and we will, you won't be with us then. Do you understand?" Tricia responded, looking firmly at both men.

"I don't agree with what you're doing, but I'll back it up for the principle," Halmand admitted to Tricia.

"I don't agree period. I'd rather see a life like we had back in the mid-nineteen-eighties. Seeing as that isn't going to happen, and I honestly don't want to see another victim of this phenomenon, I'm going to back you on this. I voiced my concerns and you stood your ground. If Brandy was my little girl, I'd expect every Officer on this force to come to the same conclusion, and you did before all of us Tricia," Farnham looked at Tricia, a look of deep respect in his eyes.

"Glad to have you on board. Now, we're going to go in there and explain things to her and how this is going to work. We'll setup a protocol for secrecy, if that's even possible in the face of this thing, and try to keep this out of the hands of the press. If it does happen to fall to them, we'll play it exactly the way we did. On principle, and hope that they are noble enough to see that as well, because it might actually benefit women significantly if they do," Tricia finished speaking and then opened the office door and proceeded back to the staff room.

As they walked for the staff room, Farnham stopped Tricia.

"You know, a few years back I had a good friend that passed away. Well decades earlier his youngest daughter, a gymnast, left school before graduating, and she left home too. She was pretty young when she did this and it devastated him and his wife. A decade later, they get a call from her, and she wants them to come see her perform. So she sends them promo pictures from herself at work. They get the pictures and all they see is their little girl exposed far too much for their liking. They believe she's become a prostitute or an adult entertainer by the way she was dressed. So they don't go. As it turns out, she was an acrobat for Cirque De Soleil, and the pictures were of her in her stage outfit. They were a bit revealing, but out of context, my friend just couldn't accept that was his little girl. His daughter. When he found out years later that she'd been working for Cirque De Soleil, he broke down crying and said that his greatest regret in life was never having seen her perform for that circus, when she'd asked them to come. There are some moments of time you can never get back. Ever. As old fashioned as I am, I always thought about that. How this guy couldn't get past a taboo. A mental barrier that prevented him from trusting his own daughter's choices. What is it about our bodies that we hate so much?" Farnham asked Tricia.

"As a woman, I've been asking that same question for my whole life," Tricia agreed, finding some new common ground with both Halmand and Farnham, both of whom had surprised her.

Tricia opened the door to the staff room and they filed in, resuming from their places.

"This is what we're going to do Brandy. We're going to put you through an evaluation, with some of our experts to get to the bottom of this problem. After we've deemed that it is in all of our best interests, we're going to provide you with around the clock security. It won't be much, but you will have two professionally trained Officers watching out for you around the clock, in your own community, day and night. We nor they will interfere in your vocation and business, assuming that you adhere to the laws regarding as much, though we will not conduct surveillance upon your person, with the exception of that required for their security services for you. We do ask that if we have need to question you some more in the future, that you make yourself available for us at your earliest convenience. Does that sound reasonable?" asked Tricia.

"Yes. I think that would be a big relief," Brandy responded, wiping the last of the tears from her cheeks.

"We'd advise that when you speak to the press, that you speak little about your vocation, though you can tell them that what you do for a living, but keep in mind that when you do, that the flood gates are going to open and that you're going be living a very different life from now on. One that you might not be accustomed to, though thanks to your stubbornness, I suspect that you'll do fine, especially with the pressure of that weight off of you now," Tricia told Brandy.

"We're going to leave now, and we're to take you to the Victim Services desk where Jody is waiting to see you again?" Tricia told Brandy.

"Good. I like her. She was the person who took my details when they first brought me here this morning," Brandy responded, gathering the remains of her lunch into the bag.

"Well she's going to introduce you to someone that's going to help you with the press. You're going to need it. They're usually quite polite, but sometimes in large packs, they can be quite voracious if you're not ready for it," Tricia advised Brandy as they left the staff room.

Farnham turned around and tore Gary's makeshift sign from the door.

The four of them went to Victim Services, and dropped Brandy off before returning to the RCMP secret base of operations on Bay Street to pickup their cars.

"I think that Werner is in some serious danger now, and that our security detail there will have to be on their guard," Tricia advised Halmand and Farnham.

"I think that whomever we're hunting here must be getting to know us. Hopefully not to personally," Halmand said.

"Next week, we're going to meet with Werner and an expert that might be able to help us nail this thing down," Tricia told them.

"Expert? What expert again?" asked Farnham.

"Professor Bryce Maxwell," Tricia told them.

Inside of the Police Services building, Jack Warren under the guise of a journalist watched as Brandy was taken in by the Victim Services worker. He then observed the three plain clothes Officers he'd seen the previous day, Tricia, Halmand and Farnham, although he did not know their names.

He backed away from the crowd of journalists and speed dialled a number on his smart phone.

"She spoke to them, did she?" answered the voice.

"Yes. She was taken into Victim Services and I think they're briefing her about how to handle the press," Jack informed the voice.

"Alright. I expect you to keep a close eye on the situation. Toronto is key to everything, though eventually it won't matter as the entire West will soon be ours, and to be quite honest, the East will never see us coming," the voice responded.

"And what of those at Treadwater?" Jack asked.

"Let's just say that if things go as planned, they'll be playing ball with us as much as everyone else in the western hemisphere, whether they like it or not," there was a click as the voice hung up.

"Then here's to the West remade in our image," Jack said to himself.

Night Life

As 8PM on friday arrived, the perpetual silence of the penthouse hall of a condominium building was broken by the sound of an electric lock. A door to one of the condominium units opened and a sleek ly dressed Monique stepped out into the hall ready for the night life. She flashed her keycard and clicked the lock button, causing the electric lock and latch to slide into place as she left.

She proceeded down the hall a ways to the next unit, where she turned and knocked on the door. She waited a few moments before knocking again.

"Nobody home I guess," she said aloud to herself.

She then pulled her phone from her purse and speed dialed a number. She waited and finally got Heylyn's answering service.

"Hi Heylyn. Its me, you're other right hand. I hope everything's alright and that you got back in one piece. If by any chance you get home and get this message, I'm going out for a night on the town and I could really use a friend to join me. If by any chance you have any energy left, and can make it out, I'll be listening for your call. Au revoir!" Monique said as she turned and began walking for the elevator.

When she arrived at the lobby, she dialled the number for a taxi and sat on the sofa in the air conditioned foyer to wait for its arrival. When the taxi pulled up out front, she got up and made her way out to find that the driver had opened the door for her.

"Thank you," she said politely, sitting in the back seat as the driver closed her door and quickly made his way around to the driver's door to get in.

"Where to?" asked the driver.

"I'm torn between the Shameful Tiki Room and the Drake Hotel Lounge. I'll tell you what. Take me to the Drake and if I change my mind, I'll let you know," Monique said, perhaps hoping that serendipity might balance things out with the appearance of a certain butterfly.

Monique watched the city streets outside of the cab as they scrolled by. There were more people out than usual, something she'd expected given the early retirement of the Chameleon. Despite the fact that she felt so good about having been able to stop the killer that Heylyn and herself had been hunting for years, she still felt a deep loneliness inside. An emptiness that would not subside so easily by the vanquishing of the city's dangers.

Here she was about to enter into her thirtieth year of life, and she'd still spent most of that journey alone. Sure, there were a few short lived flings here and there, but no one that she'd come to recognize as her one true love. She'd never lacked confidence when it came to matters of the opposite sex, but often found that erring on the side of shyness often helped. Some men were put off by confident and successful women, while others thrived with them. Monique had always walked the line between the two. She could be bold and confident when need be, or she could be shy and reclusive as well. Tonight, she felt herself as being nothing but an anti-climactic mess. Nothing but alone. As if she was looking upon a world from the outside. A world in which she could never take part. Perhaps, somewhat like a goddess, unable to find that one true heart that complemented her own. She then wondered if Heylyn, Valerie or even Alicia had such thoughts.

She's doubted that Alicia would even contend with such ideas, as she'd met her beau for life amidst the Treadwater Scandal. Alicia had even rescued him from sure death at the hands of Zek's last ditch effort for retribution. He'd seen Norler as a beacon for freedom from the kind of empire he had in mind, and immediately recognized the link between those four meddlesome women, and the one who'd brought morally founded principles to the forefront of the operation of every business worldwide. Zek had secured their relationship and strengthened it too, simply by resisting Norler. All while Heylyn, Valerie and herself watched love after love fall apart. As if the goddesses and gods had ignored their efforts altogether and crafted a world where Alicia was the only one privy to happiness and meaningful companionship.

Perhaps she'd seen her own end coming as Heylyn closed the gap between loneliness and life purpose with a trip to Asia. Though she didn't know the juicy details about the trip, she suspected that something life changing was in the works for her boss and mentor, Heylyn Yates. Even Valerie had recently found her one true beau in a photog named Troy. On nights that had filled Monique with jealousy and frustration, she'd even contemplated that Troy was meant for her, with her being a model and all and he a photographer. Valerie had swooped in recently, receiving a high paying job of responsibility from Heylyn, who'd coopted the whole plot to steal away Monique's sure fire future. A model, after all, should be with a photog. One who could truly appreciate who she was and what she was about. One who could look at her with an artist's eye and a philosopher's heart.

One by one, her friends were disappearing. They were conforming into the society that had not yet accepted her. The society that had denied her of her own future possibilities. The society that had slighted her so many times, leading her to believe that life was simply a leash, and that we were all just dogs, being coddled along into a future that suited society's needs. There was nothing but emotional pain and horror in watching one's life become more and more solitary. To become isolated as if independence were a contagion that if spread, might result in the liberation of the population to pursue their own true life and worth. Rather than fitting into some elaborate puzzle that had eluded the crafter thereof for their whole life. Those who would live the missed opportunities through the lives of their progenitors. Their unfamiliar and apt acquaintances, as if some deserved extension earned by the merits of their own life justified taking the experience of others under their own roof. A roof eventually built upon the infirm foundation of distrust and egotism.

"And I haven't even had a drink yet..." Monique spoke aloud, recognizing her own sense of self doubt.

A sense that many front-line responders and superheroes such as herself shared in common. As when their day ended, their own mind continued along, suggesting that they might have handled things differently. In the best possible way, even when there was no such way possible at all. Perhaps there were no true heroes. There were only those who'd managed to live with their own false legend more comfortably than others in the midst of their own self doubt. Those who could live with the fact that they were fake and knew it, but somehow managed to accept it and continue on despite that nagging feeling they'd failed the very populace they'd pledged to defend so seriously that it merited the taking of their own life.

"I'm sorry M'aam. Did you say you'd like a drink?" confirmed the driver.

"Sorry, I was just mumbling the words to a song I heard earlier. Keep on track for the Drake Hotel," Monique then mock saluted the driver of the taxi.

"You? Military?" asked the driver, surprised of her salute.

Monique shook her head.

"No. Though there are many times that I wish I had," she replied honestly.

"Me. Two years. Special Operations Service. Iran. Very dangerous. I leave. I come here. Canada. No more danger. Get job. Pay education children for? Is how you say? They go. I work. My wife, she work too. Our children, one five, the other eight, they study. We pay. Government pays. Yah?" the driver looked to Monique for some kind of approval.

"Alright, I get what you're saying. You don't think that I appreciate what I have here, but I do. I do very much," Monique begged to differ.

The driver shook his head left and right.

"No. Only about you. You need family. They bring need. They make. And you do. If you don't..." the driver continued.

"Alright! alright! I know. You say I'm selfish just because I steer my own life rather than the lives of children I'm obligated to have as a women. As if my womb belongs to the community, probably much like your balls," Monique spoke blatantly.

"Sorry? You say balls?" asked the taxi driver.

"Somewhat blatantly. Yeah," Monique replied.

"Oh, like between my legs. I get. Your between. My between. Belong to community. They say where go, them to. Make babies, Us no choice?" asked the taxi driver.

"Exactly. I'm a woman. If I'm not conceiving children, I'm not a woman. If I have child in womb, I have to earn it from those who've never experienced it," Monique replied, truthfully not knowing what it was like to have a child living inside of her.

"Oh, you give your heart for you what believe right. There is no other way. You give all that way, people know. You know. You together like world be good," the taxi driver responded.

"No stand, no good. Stand? Good. Too good," he continued, shaking his head negatively and then positively.

"Oh, young lady. We here? Drake Hotel? You go?" asked the driver.

"Wait here. I'm going to go check out the lounge, and I'll come back and tell you whether or not I stay. If I don't, you're my man to get me to the next destination. Sound good?" asked Monique.

"I wait. You go! I wait here. Come when ready, leave then," the taxi driver responded.

"I go. Now," Monique's tear drifted down from the corner of her eye onto her cheek.

"If nobody knows how good a driver you are, I'll be very unhappy! You make sure they know how valuable you are!" Monique replied as she got out of the taxi.

The driver checked the bill, seeing that Monique had given him a tip that was half the value of the total.

"Fifty-fifty?" asked the driver.

"If I can afford it, its the best way. You make money. I get where I'm going safely, though I doubt you'd cheat me otherwise," Monique closed the back door and leaned against the drivers window, blowing him a kiss.

"Hope is powerful a way to go. You are hopeful being," the driver smiled at Monique.

"You're name? In case I have to ask for you?" asked Monique.

"Eam Yonanduar. That is my name," he responded.

"Bye, loverboy," Monique smiled, tingling her fingers at the driver as she walked to the front door of the lounge.

Monique waltzed into the lounge seeking a seat at the bar. She paused a moment as she spied a statuesque beauty from the corner of her eye. She pulled her bar chair out and sat in it, eyeing the rest of the lounge for possibilities when it hit her.

There was something strangely reminiscent about the statuesque beauty. Something dauntingly familiar. Something eerie. Something sinister. From the corner of her eye she saw it.

It was a tattoo. In fact, a multitude of them. The woman's legs were covered in them. Covered in scales. Dragons were elaborately wrapped around her limbs, while butterflies flew amidst the chaos of the two.

"Do I know you....?" Monique asked unbelievingly.

"No my dear, but I know you. Ever. so ferociously. A dragon upon you all, yet so free from the wiles of butterflies. Haven't I seen you before? Out front of the City Hall? The new one? At night. The only place for women like you and I? Those who dare? Those who live to dare and be?" asked the Dragon Butterfly.

Monique stood helplessly before the Dragon Butterfly, looking on in awe and realization.

"If that is the case, then tell me, where is your own true butterfly right now, Eclipse?" asked the Dragon Butterfly, already knowing her quarry.

"Eclipse? You mean that freak that flies around the city? I don't know what you're talking about," Monique responded cautiously, aware that she should never break that one rule. 

The rule of the two identities.

"Does something bother you by my words? Tell me why it is when we were meant for so much more than to toil in pursuit of an ideal that avoids the real questions that society needs to conquer?" asked Aikiko, becoming fully aware of her role in the way of things, yet so rebellious to it.

Monique put a hand to her chest, as her heart began pounding a beat that no mortal rhythm could follow.

"Then you can feel it? The arhythmic beating of society's heart, before it sputters to a stop in full arrest. Society's dying and you know it Eclipse," Aikiko responded, though unable to feel it as much as Monique.

Monique clasped her heart as she felt the walls around her close in, and the world collapse.

In the central part of Toronto, Alicia suddenly felt it too.

"Honey?!" asked Norler, startled by Alicia's sudden bout with pain.

Alicia gasped a few times, clasping at her chest. She stood for a minute, and then fell flat on the floor of the condo. Norler scrambled to her side, turning her over to check her breathing.

"I'm alright... just dizzy," Alicia took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

As Valerie and Troy, in the depths of love making fell to the bed, as Valerie gasped in the midst of a loss of breath. She dreamt in the midst of her pleasure, seeing as the six divers broke the waters of the Treadwater Harbour, arriving at the coral encrusted stone.

"They found it!" Monique's voice broke the silence, as the still was broken by a cry.

The cry of a young girl as she was tucked into bed by Ai Yuanlin Ying. The Butterfly Dragon.

"Oh, come on now. This is your new bed until we can get you a new one..." Heylyn smiled, giving Warai a kiss on the forehead as she wept.

"They found it. The secret box..." Warai said, struggling to squeam her way out of her sudden feeling of panic.

"They? We're a long way from them now and they can't hurt you. But don't you worry, because if I can't protect you, and I promise you, I will, then Welly will," Heylyn kissed Warai's forehead once again.

"But you don't know! They have it!" Warai pleaded to Heylyn, who hadn't seen the wolf in the sheep's pastures.

Heylyn, whose life had become focused on something far from her initial path since she'd brought this young girl into her life. Into her being. Into the field of their dreams.

And yet, within the struggle of all that had come and gone, she'd missed that one thing that had brought them all together to pursue the truth of justice. To retrieve what Alicia had created and ensure that it hadn't ended up in the hands of those who'd use it for malice. Those who'd protected the field and all that it stood for.

Those for whom the flowers stood tall, reaching for the heavens. Reaching forever was nothing less than that for which one should strive. And yet Heylyn in her sudden illumination had been blinded by what was about to come.

As six divers closed in on their quarry in the depths of Zek's Treadwater Island harbour. There, George Steadman aka Greg Warley, closed in on his final quarry. The heart of Zek's blackmail empire. Every dirty secret. Every lie. Every deceit. Every try. All of it in the record of records. A database of the worst of the best of humanity. The secrets of every leader, industrialist, banker, trader, innovator, entrepreneur and influencer the world over.

Everything. It was all there.

And to those who bear the secrets of others, there within lies nothing but power over the world.

Alicia saw it in her nightmares. Monique saw it at the bar. Valerie in her love making.

They saw it. And yet the Dragon kept it from the one true Butterfly of all.

While the Gem, saw their coming fall.

Operational Security

Edward Farnham sat at home in a love seat, a television remote in his left hand and a beer in his right.

"Lori Honey? Are you going to come watch that movie with me or not?" he asked his wife who was in the kitchen.

"Just a minute. We can't watch a movie without popcorn," she replied as the air popper filled the bowl with their favourite movie time snack.

He got up from his chair and quietly stalked into the kitchen behind her as she watched the last the popcorn fill the bowl.

He then wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck, making her jump.

"You sneak!" she responded, turning around to give him her lips.

"That's what they used to call me back in the old days," Farnham smiled, returning her kiss.

"Are you going to be much longer?" asked Farnham.

"I've got the popcorn and some special snacks in the oven. So what movie do you have picked out for us?" asked Lori, Farnham's wife.

"Its something on Netflix. You'll like it," Farnham admitted.

"Alright. Give me another five minutes. You had a hard day. Go relax. I'll be there soon," Lori responded, giving him another kiss and sending him on his way.

Farnham went to the fridge as Lori responded.

"What are you doing?" she asked him.

"Grabbing another beer. I know, I'm watching my waist. This is the second one," Farnham replied honestly.

"Go. I'll bring it for you," Lori shewed him into the living room.

"Fine. I just don't want to spend some time with my favourite girl..." Farnham replied, shrugging his shoulders.

"Oh, so there's more than one?" asked Lori.

"Many more," Farnham replied.

"Really? Then I guess I've got some competition," Lori smiled at him playfully.

"Honey, you have no competition at all, and it was me who won all those years ago," Farnham winked back at her.

"You always were a smooth talker," Lori responded.

"Its my line of work honey. Hurry up so we can watch that movie," Farnham replied making his way back to the love seat.

He quickly finished his last gulp of beer as he channel surfed to the news.

"...Scandal hits the RCMP as one of the biggest operations in the force's history is exposed..." the news City TV anchor announced.

"...tonight: Canada's Federal Police Force Illegally Investigating Canadian Citizens? Operation Cloak And Dagger, historically one of the force's biggest operations has been exposed by a whistle blower, citing corruptiong and misconduct within Canada's Federal Police Force and Intelligence Agencies..." the anchor continued as Farnham's phone suddenly rang, making him jump.

Farnham quickly scrambled for his phone, hitting the mute button on the television as he did.

"Farnham here," Farnham answered.

"I guess you heard?" asked Halmand.

"I just saw it. What's up?" asked Farnham.

"You know, Tricia always seemed suspect to me, but I had no idea she was involved in an operation that was in violation of the Canadian Charter Of Rights," Halmand accused his working partner.

"How do you know that Halmand? Honestly. You know how the press can be," Farnham asked Halmand.

"So you're siding with them after how she betrayed us? How she betrayed the Canadian people?" confirmed Halmand.

"Wait a second, all I saw was a dedicated Inspector doing her duty. Don't you start down that road of rhetorical political crap. Really Halmand, what is going on?!" Farnham grilled Halmand.

"Tricia was secretly part of Operation Cloak And Dagger. An operation which took liberties against the foundations of this country's founding documents to secretly investigate Canadian citizens. I couldn't have been the only one to suspect it! Come on, I know you're a respected member of the Police force. You can smell a dirty cop a mile away!" Halmand grilled Farnham, turning the tables.

"I can, and I can tell you that Tricia is not a dirty cop. Something is up here," Farnham responded as he watched the television screen.

"Then I guess I can't trust you, Farnham. So I'm going to have to bring a third party into this call," Halmand replied.

"You mean you had someone listening in on us? You prick!" Farnham replied, hating inter-departmental politics.

"Relax Farnham, its me, Tricia," a familiar voice joined their party call.

"Alright! What the hell is going on?" asked Farnham.

"Sorry buddy, I had to test you," Halmand admitted to Farnham.

"You're an asshole, Halmand. Likeable at times, but still an asshole," Farnham responded to Halmand's play.

"Sorry Farnham. We had to make sure that you weren't a party to this obvious counter-operation," Tricia responded in Halmand's defense.

"What do you mean? Counter-operation?" asked Farnham.

"Operation Cloak And Dagger was an intelligence gathering mission developed by analysts at the RCMP, CSIS and NATO SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), in light of recent clandestine activities, both locally and abroad in G7, EU, Russia, LATAM and Asian Alliance nations," Tricia explained to Farnham.

"I thought Russia was at war with one of NATO's allies?" asked Farnham.

"They are, but at the time that this strategic intelligence was collated and analyzed, their relationship with the west was considerably good. This allowed for an unprecedented global view of phenomenon occurring across a broad spectrum of demographics, right from the very bottom where - intelligence is often the most grey and fettered, right up to the very top of society, which for all intense purposes is much the same. The phenomenon observed indicated that people were disappearing from the lowest social demographic without explanation. As if they'd simply vanished. To make things even more disturbing, we observed the same phenomenon at the very top. The richest and the poorest were simply vanishing as if off of the face of the Earth," Tricia explained to Farnham.

"Well I hate to break it to you, but it looks like your intelligence operation wasn't so intelligent," Farnham responded.

"You're missing the bigger picture, Ed," Halmand replied, purposely using Farnham's first name.

"I've worked investigations for a long time and I can tell you that sort of thing has many plausible explanations. Identity crimes are certainly on the rise, that itself could account for the disappearance of populace from those demographics," Farnham argued.

"That's the thing. There is no influx into another demographic dataset that accounts for that loss of population. Its as if these people are simply disappearing. Not to mention there's a been a staggering rise in crimes of a spontaneous nature. That is, crimes where there was no premeditated motive, where the perpetrator suddenly and often without explanation commits a serious offense, including murder and even mass murder. Impromptu, almost. They just suddenly go off the rails," Tricia explained to Farnham, trying to press her point home.

"Like Forseth... Dupree..." Farnham realized where this was all leading.

"You see, intelligence agencies around the world have been gathering information about a large scale effort to replace the governments of the world," Tricia told Farnham.

"What? With better governments? That's called elections, in case you're a little bit behind on due process," Farnham replied.

"No. Not due process, Farnham. Complete and utter global regime change. Not just the leaders and representatives, but those holding the money. Those at the top of these global empires," Tricia explained to Farnham, who quickly looked to the kitchen and then to his television, turning up the volume to mask his conversation.

"Replacing the ways of old with the ways of... even older...?" Halmand added to Tricia's explanation.

"The truth is that we don't know who these people are, or what they're replacing everything with. We only know that their methods and conduct is... how would you say... akin to genocide," Tricia told Farnham.

"So I take it you two were a part of operation Cloak And Dagger?" confirmed Farnham.

"Halmand wasn't. I initiated him recently," Tricia admitted to Farnham.

"How recently, upon the breaking of the whistle blower's story?" asked Farnham.

"That would be about right," Halmand admitted.

"Farnham, we're reaching out to you to keep our secret, though that choice is at your discretion ultimately. We wouldn't have a right to wear our badges if we didn't uphold that ideal, would we?" Tricia asked Farnham.

"No, you wouldn't. But now that you've asked me, I'm considering the fact that what you're telling me might have some credence to it..." Farnham thought carefully about it.

"All the more reason to hear us out," Halmand explained.

"How do I know that this isn't just another Mr. Big operation. Where you're trying to lure honest and legitimate citizens into situations that incriminate them?" asked Farnham.

"Operation Mr. Big wasn't us, Farnham. There was Federal Police Force involvement, but the strategic intelligence and analysis that made it possible didn't come from the RCMP. You know how interdepartmental politics are, and I can in all honesty tell you that I never took part in any such operation, and never would. That's akin to entrapment, which violates both the Charter and the Human Rights Act. Not to mention, its downright scummy," Tricia assured Farnham.

"So where does this leave our current case load?" asked Farnham.

"It doesn't change anything about that. In fact, if anything, it expands upon our responsibilities to Canada and the world," Tricia told Farnham.

"I'm just a Toronto Cop. What need would you have of me that justifies you bringing me into this, if not as a scapegoat?" asked Farnham, protecting his own ass.

"It wasn't an accident that we ended up working together Detective. Believe me. There are things in life that are serendipity, and then there are things that are orchestrated in ways that we can't divulge to you. We need someone of your tenure and intuition by our side. Someone who has experience we couldn't muster between us in any numbers. Someone who truly respects the badge they wear and what it represents. Someone true north strong and free," Tricia explained her case to Farnham, appealing to his sense of honour.

"How many are we, if I do join you?" asked Farnham.

"Three. With you. But we've got allies, everywhere. Even amongst the Toronto Police Service," Tricia replied.

"Who do you report to?" asked Farnham.

"I cannot divulge that or any other operational parameters to you or Halmand, and should either of you become a liability, I will disavow any relation or knowledge with and to you," Tricia admitted honestly.

"There are some things far greater than us alone as individuals," Halmand added, knowing full well how mandatory operational silence had wreaked havoc in his life many times.

"Damn Inspector, you drive a hard bargain," Farnham said as he spied the experts ranting against Operation Cloak And Dagger.

"She does. I can attest to that," Halmand agreed with Farnham.

"So how does the genocide accusation fit into all of this?" asked Farnham.

"Are you in agreement that anything I share beyond this point is bound by the Official Secrets Act of Canada, and that should you share any such secrets, you will be held libel?" asked Tricia.

"I, Edward Morris Farnham swear upon my badge as an Officer of the law, that I will adhere to the Official Secrets Act of Canada, and be subject to any punishment should I forego laws or statutes regarding or implied by said Act," Farnham replied.

"Stamped it, locked it, double locked it, swalled the golden key?" Halmand confirmed with Farnham.

"That too, asshole," Farnham replied.

"Does that count Tricia?" asked Halmand of Inspector Tricia.

"That counts. Now that we're all on the same page, members of society that don't comply to the rules of the new regime are systematically being excluded from society," Tricia described to Farnham.

"Excluded? So what does that mean? I mean I was excluded from the science club in high school, so does that mean I'm a victim of genocide?" asked Farnham.

"When I say excluded, I mean silently and secretly excluded from any participation in society via loopholes, both systematic and legal that can be commandeered to prevent a person from achieving their full array of rights in pursuit of life and liberty, in any of the country states I've previously mentioned, meaning they're left to fend for and eventually as a result of denied access to, literally die as a result of denied social participation," Tricia described to Farnham and Halmand.

"Who?" asked Farnham.

"Everyone. From top to bottom," Tricia replied.

"Why?" asked Farnham.

"Because they don't comply with the *new rules*" Tricia explained to Farnham.

"Whose rules?" asked Farnham.

"The new rules. The silent rules of this new hidden regime," Halmand answered.

"Is there any data to support this?" asked Farnham.

"Not locally, but NATO OPSEC, the United Nations have collated data to confirm this," Tricia replied.

"Wait a second, I thought United Way was a charity?" asked Farnham.

"We collect intelligence data from a number of sources, Farnham. Their data indicates a growing spike in civilian deaths, that started from the birth of the new millienium and are continuing to grow to this day," Tricia explained.

"So why hasn't Toronto Police Service data reflected this?" asked Farnham.

"Because more and more institutions are becoming the tools of this new regime," Tricia explained.

"We suspect that the effort to expose Operation Cloak And Dagger just might be another such effort to commandeer the RCMP to the ends of this new regime," Tricia explained.

"So you want me possibly, to betray all of my fellow Constables and Detectives at the Toronto Police Police service?" asked Farnham.

"No. I want you to do the *right thing*, Edward. I want you to defend the ideals implied by that badge. Without those ideals, that badge means absolutely nothing," Tricia replied.

Watery Grave - Night's Rave

George closed in on the monolithic coral encroached rock that Zek had described to him prior to his diving venture.

George kept his leg strokes even, knowing full well thanks to his training that leg movement accounted for up to forty five percent of the respiratory draw upon his lungs. After all, these muscles took up nearly thirty percent of his body total, second only to those of his jaw, though not so much by mass.

George seldom contemplated details directly, for he was a man of quantity. The sum of the parts was the task of those he'd hired to school him. Sure, the details were always there, but they weren't his details. If required, he'd consider them, but details were the opportunity of those seeking his fortune. One he'd gladly expend to uncover them.

"I'm here Zek. At the panel. Its covered in copper oxidization. So will it work?" asked George through his headset.

"Yes. it will work. That's why I paid fifty million USD to researchers to build it!" Zek responded over his headset.

"Very well. I'll need two of you to ground me while I type in Zek's code," George reported over his headset to his crew.

"Taking grounding positions, your port and stern..." one of the divers swam to his left side and grasped a grounding pole protruding from his diving pack.

"If I fry, you take Zek directly to the surgery room and remove all his limbs," George reminded them.

"Yes sir!" they responded, one prodding his SMG into Zek's mid-section.

"Norman! If this mission fails and I perish, you're next in command. Do well by my example!" George braced himself as he spoke into his radio headset.

"Aye Captain. Will do. Haven't met one like you, and I'll be glad to honour you," Norman replied.

"Here goes..." George announced over his headset as he began typing the code Zek had indicated to him.

"FOUR-NINER-ONE-THREE-NINER-FIVE-ALPHA-ZEBRA" George responded over his radio after keying the code.

"So where's the...?" George screamed into his headset impatiently.

Suddenly, George was waylaid by a hammerhead shark from behind.

He quickly scrambled to replace his mask upon his face as the shark returned for a second attack.

"Where's my flanking guard?" he screamed as his mask found its place on his face.

The shark suddenly found a soft vulnerable spot on his arm, which it quickly bit, fastening itself to his upper arm.

"Arrrtrgh!" George screamed into his headset reaching for his diving knife.

He found the pommel, quickly turning and plunging it into the gills of his current attacker. To his horror, he turned to see that the other five divers on his team had become both shark bait and food, their blood luring more of the voracious creatures.

George turned back to the access panel to see that it had presented a hardware disk-drive on rails, its outer protective packaging encrusted in coral. He reached for it just as one of the enraged hammerheads clasped at his wrist.

It bit down, breaking skin and bone alike as he screamed over the headset.

"Confirm Order 33?" asked one of the mates on his ship.

"Hold! Keep that bastard 'cause I'm gonna skin him alive! If I don't return to deck, then order 33!" George screamed into his headset as he plunged his knife into the shark's minute brain, stabbing at the beast continuously.

He quickly grabbed the hard disk drive and thrust it into his diving belt. He then swam as fast as he could for the tender craft, whose silhouette he could see through sparkling caustics in the distance above.

Beneath him he saw his diving mates one by one being ravaged by sharks and eel alike, in a dance of eerie terror where they'd become the feast in a blood rusty watery nightmare.

He found purchase upon the side walls of the tender, gripping for his life, hauling himself over and onto the deck of the empty vessel. The waters around the tender red with the blood of the divers who'd become a feast for the fauna of the reef.

"Order 33 confirm? Omega confirm!?" asked the voice over George's radio.

"Negative! I'm alive you assholes. Damaged, but alive!" George responded over his headset.

"What about your crew?" asked Norman from the bridge of the ship.

"They're shark food. All of them. Someone lied to us!" George charged as he fired up the engine of the tender craft.

"Would you like us to shell the area after you're clear?" confirmed Norman, turning the Many Faced Maiden port-side to ready to fire its 87mm cannons.

"No, but I like that Norman. I like that a lot. I won't forget that when I'm dividing up the bounty. Have Zek hauled to the surgery room and prepped for immediate limb removal!" George barked into the radio.

"Aye Sir!" Norman responded, immediately relaying the order to one of the bridge hands who relayed the order to Zek's deck guard.

"Looks like you're going to be missing a few tonight! Though I'm hoping its that middle leg of yours that goes first," responded the sailor.

"To tell the truth, you really looked like that kind of sailor," responded Zek, at the end of his patience for restraint.

George quickly tended to his wrist with the tender craft's medical kit, giving himself an injection of bupivacaine liposome for the pain. He calmed as the painkiller dulled the sharp stinging of his fractured humerus. He tried moving his fingers and was relieved to see they were mostly capable of the task.

He then turned his attention to the hard disk, retrieving some tools from the tender craft's toolbox in order to remove the protective packaging. After he'd cut the coral away from the bolts, he used a spanner to remove all four of them. He then pried the protective housing away using a screwdriver, revealing a bubble wrapped, triple shrink wrapped hard disk inside. He cut away the bubble and shrink wrap, pulling the drive itself which was in pristine condition. He then plugged the power and data ports into the tender craft's WIFI system, which had been adapted for such a task. The drive quickly spun up and came to life as George wrapped it in a waterproof seal.

"Am I within WIFI range yet?" asked George, plugging the drive into the WIFI hub.

"We've got you now. You're loud and clear on the hub!" responded a tech from the bridge.

"So, my matey's. Is thar gold in this here chest?" asked George, throwing a bit of pirate into his accent.

"Aye Captain! Thar be gold here! A whole healthy database of it!" responded the computer engineer aboard the Many Faced Maiden.

"Tell Senior Captain Norman that we've got a world to rule! After we deal with that two bit double crossing swine Zek!" George steered the tender craft back to the Many Faced Maiden.

George fastened the gantry crane's four connectors onto the tender, lifting the tiny ship onboard of the Many Faced Maiden. 

As soon as the tender was safely onboard, the Medical Officer of the Many Faced Maiden examined George's wrist.

"Your prognosis?" asked George.

"Anterior fracture of the humerus. Minor lacerations of the dermis. No major damage. You'll live," the Medical Officer reported to George.

"Good to know. Now lets get Zek down into the surgery bay," George replied.

"And now Mr. Zek, you'll become the world's first biological paper weight," George scolded Zek as he was fastened to the gurney and hauled off to the surgery froom.

"Sir?" asked the computer engineer of George.

"What is it?" asked George.

"You are now the holder of secrets of every world leader and representative by and far. Even more so than the industrialist Mr. Zek," announced the tech.

You've linked the indexes to the data?" asked George.

"That I have. The free world has now become the free world with strings attached," responded the tech.

"Puppet strings," George smiled at the prospect of having the ultimate power.

George then accompanied them as they hauled Zek's gurney through the ship's interior to the surgery bay. When they arrived, they quickly transferred Zek to the surgery table, strapping him in place for the horrendous operation that was about to take place. The straps were numerous and strategically placed so as to ensure that his writhing wouldn't affect any aspect of the limb removal. The last strap was that of a plastic barrier that covered his mouth, preventing him from biting the surgeon as he did his work.

Zek didn't struggle, for physical resistance wasn't his game. He was never aptly able when it came to physique or dexterity. Even as they strapped him in, he was formulating his eventual upcoming future.

"Tell me Roberta Alomera Zekestes, what incentive is there that requires I keep you entirely with your limbs, and coherent for our frequent conversations?" asked George.

"A secret that is beyond all of your wildest imaginings," Zek answered from his place strapped to the surgery table.

"What secret would that be, Alomera?" asked George patiently as the cutting blade approached Zek's hip bone.

"The secret of the millennium!" Zek responded, pleading for mercy.

"What secret is that!?" asked George.

"The secret of the Butterfly Dragon. The secret of the SY349 formula!" Zek announced as the cutting edge of the blade barely bit into the skin of his hip.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons Act III

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