The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 6 (First Draft Finished)

I live in 200 Sherbourne Street in Suite 701 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at my home office and the headquarters of Shhhh! Digital Media. Also, despite the best efforts of those who would have otherwise, I'm not on the blue team and never will be. Most of all, I'm not Ron.

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Brian Joseph Johns

New Chapters

  • Beneath The Surface (Started on September 19, 2023)

  • The Hunting The Payer (Added on September 22, 2023)

  • Health And Technicality (Added on October 2, 2023) 

  • Lester B. Pearson (Added on October 3, 2023)

  • Waterfront Warehouse (Added on October 4, 2023)

Brian Joseph Johns

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Brian Joseph Johns

The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 6

How To Make An Entrance

Halmand pulled their unmarked car around the Police barricade as the uniformed Officer flagged them through. He pulled the car around, squeezing past the barricade and out onto the tree lined street of an upper middleclass neighbourhood.

"Did we get Dessy's twenty?" asked Tricia of her driver as she went over the case file.

"He's inside. Had an appointment today but called in sick," Halmand responded to Tricia.

"Any possibility they're onto us?" she continued to press him.

"No. That pretty much goes with his life story. One big missed appointment. He slept in," Halmand assured her.

"What about Calan?" Tricia flipped through Dessy's dossier to arrive at Calan's.

"He's inside. At this time he'll likely be in the garage. He's a bit of a car junkie. Its a hobby for him. He's probably the safest of the bunch," Halmand pulled the car up to and behind a van marked with the sign: Tony's Renos.

They stopped the car a short distance behind the van, but far enough that they didn't appear to be together. Tricia was out out first followed by Halmand as they walked casually over to the van. When they arrived at the back door, Halmand tapped the door with his keys. Three taps, then two, then one.

The back door opened and Tricia and Halmand got into the van.

Inside were six heavily armoured men, each with their own dedicated 9mm MP5-SD3 submachine gun courtesy of Heckler&Koch. Their side arms were all 9mm too, though each of them had their own. Of their side arms, the Glock and the Beretta were the most popular amongst them.

"Must be cold outside, and here I am without my toque," Halmand remarked to the TAC-OPS unit members, who chuckled behind their face gear.

"You mean this isn't ice fishing trip? Damn," one of them responded.

"I wouldn't worry about it. I've heard you can catch more fish with a good flashbang than a rod any day," Tricia joked, drawing a bit more laughter from them.

"So what's the plan?" asked Tricia of the experts.

"We're going in silent but heavy. We'll be taking the high risk zone in the house which intel indicated would be the living room at the front, and the swimming area at the back. That's where our five heavies will be. They're old school, hence the armour. They don't screw around. You'll be taking the garage to procure a soft target, and to cover the escape route between the backyard and the garage. If anyone from the swimming area makes a run for it, they're coming at you, so be prepped and don't be afraid to give them a warning shot if they fail to cooperate," the team leader explained to Tricia and Halmand.

"Behavioural Sciences advised us that they'll feel safest in the swimming area. That's their go to spot to relax and by making an incursion into that area, we'll be taking a big risk, but its the only option to catch them off guard. The living room will be occupied to by two or three guys, but they'll be more interested in their Playstation than anything. BS says they'll fold quickly when they see us which is good, 'cause most of us here would like nothing more than to have a cold beer and do some R6 Siege after a hard day at the office. You know the saying, no gunny, easy money," the team's intelligence officer advised them.

"We'll be breaking up into two three man squads, Farley and Mowat. Team Farley will secure the living room and cover the escape route through the main hall of the house. Team Mowat will proceed through to the swimming area and secure our five heavies by the pool. Both teams will be weapons free, though the threat focus will be on Team Mowat. Farley will be running silent, while Mowat will be going loud for effect. If they're forced to engage, the OPFOR is certainly going to know it. We'd rather them fall to the ground wetting their pants, than mustering up the stupidity to engage us, but with the five in the back, stupidity is a high value commodity. Be careful," 

"How are you, Tricia?" asked Halmand.

"Feeling a little naked right now, but I think I can handle it with my SKVC," Tricia responded, referring to the compact Kevlar vest she wore under her suit jacket.

"That makes the two of us," Halmand replied, wearing a similar vest of his own.

"Alright. Let's move out. The van will drop us to garage side of the driveway. Their security cams are already out  but they've never checked them according to our intel. Let go," Warrant Officer Jameson gave the go signal to the driver.

The van pulled out onto the street and continued just before the target house, stopping beyond the driveway and the sight of anyone within the bay window of the living room.

Halmand was out first, followed by Tricia, who each made their way stealthily to cover despite the fact that it wasn't yet required. The TAC-OPS team stepped out one by one and quickly broke off into two teams. Team Farley took the far side of the driveway, using the hedge that lined it as visual reconnoitering LOS cover. Team Mowat proceeded ahead of Tricia and Halmand staying close to the opposite side hedge in much the same way.

Tricia and Halmand followed behind them a good distance, maintaining their half prone stance as they moved. By the time they arrived at the garage door, Teams Farley and Mowat had arrived at the front door.

"Team Farley is about to make entry. The front door is unlocked. On three... two... one... go go go!" Warrant Officer Jameson's voice sounded over their headsets as Farley made first entry, immediately turning left and into the living room. Behind them, Team Mowat followed a moment later, turning right instead and heading into the dining room to make their way towards the kitchen area.

Halmand looked to Tricia, who nodded affirmatively. Halmand, already having his hand on the doorknob, slowly turned it. Much to their sudden adrenaline, it too was unlocked. He slowly pushed the door open and they proceeded in.

Three Days Earlier

Halmand stepped through the door first, followed by Tricia, who held in her hand two coffees. Halmand took one look at the large man seated before them, scoffing at him once before walking away in the direction of the one way glass. He winked twice when he was sure that the man seated didn't see his reflection.

"I'm so sorry Mark... Raoul is it? I didn't know how you take your coffee, so I brought you some sugar and creamers, she said, suddenly dropping the packages onto the floor in front of her after she'd placed the coffee in front of him.

She quickly picked them up with a good show of clumsiness, throwing in a bit of charming body language as well for good measure. He pretended not to notice, his head remaining perfectly still but his eyes panned to take her in fully.

She lifted her head and smiled at him, still squatting to pick up the last one.

"Sorry," she said, shaking her head in embarrassment and blushing slightly.

"No. That's alright. Thanks for the coffee," he responded, still not ready to trust her but he'd inadvertently let her know that he'd taken an interest in her.

"Are you finished shining this asshole's shoes Inspector?" Halmand barked at Tricia.

"Somebody got up on the wrong side of bed this morning. Alone I'd bet," Tricia remarked without flinching.

Halmand didn't say a word. Instead he turned suddenly and walked directly towards the man at the table.

"There's two kinds of inmates that don't last long in prison, and you're potentially up on charges that could find you guilty of being both. Why don't you do the tax payers a favour and just come clean about it, will ya? So tell me, what does a forty two year old man want with a six year old little girl anyway?" asked Halmand, obviously hiding a very sinister implication directed at the man seated before him.

"He was married you know," Tricia revealed to Halmand.

"Don't bring her up," Marks shook his head, now looking up as he fought tears.

"They even had a kid together. A little boy. Didn't you, Mark?" asked Tricia in a much softer voice than Halmand's.

"We're already checking that avenue out thoroughly. Certainly would give us a much stronger case if we found evidence that you'd abused your own son?" Halmand leaned forward on the table, keeping his eyes on Mark.

"Look! I had to do it. You don't understand this. Any of it..." Mark started to break down.

"Had to do what?! What are you hiding here you sicko!!" Halmand pressed him further, and Mark looked away towards Tricia.

"It was Mentis. It was his orders to get the little girl!" Mark pleaded with Tricia.

"Who's Mentis?" asked Tricia, for she already had a good idea about the man, without ever having seen him.

"If you don't know the answer to that question, then I'm a dead man for telling you," Mark shook his head.

"Which dead would you prefer? The dead you'd end up in prison for trafficking in little girls, or our dead, where you'll just wakeup in the afterlife or reincarnated if you prefer. A new name. A new place to live. A new career. A new start. What's your pick of the two? The dead where you're laying with a shank in your belly, your body stuffed under your bed to keep you from being found by the guards, or the dead where you wake up and your previous life is like a bad dream," asked Halmand, pressing him further.

"You don't understand. Even if I changed my entire face and body, they'd still find me. You can change everything about you except what's inside, and that's the place that Mentis knows us best!" Mark responded.

"Tell us. Who is he? Where is he? We can take him down, Mark. Trust me. We can protect you. You have to trust us. There's nobody else left," Tricia pleaded with him.

"Mentis is so much more than just one person. He's... he's. Like everything. Like every thought you have. Every thought they have," Mark began, gesturing first to Tricia, and then as if he was referring to the entire world.

"He's all of them. He's the inside, and he's the outside. There isn't a place I could hide that he couldn't find me," Mark said to them, suddenly realizing that he'd already said too much.

"Tell us!" Halmand pouned the table.

"No. I'm just going to sit tight here until I talk to my lawyer," Mark responded.

Halmand looked to Tricia, who shrugged.

"Alright. Fair enough. If you change your mind before then, just put one of your hands up and someone will come get us," Tricia responded to his new position, standing up from her chair.

Halmand backed away, shaking his head at Mark, without saying a thing.

When the two of them were out of the room, it was Halmand who spoke first.

"We had him. Close. He was going to break, but you backed off?" Halmand challenged Tricia.

"Look, he knows a lot. That's clear. He's just not telling. His body language says it all. He's very nervous about this and that's real fear in his eyes. Fear for his life. We've already lost Ron Forseth, and we almost lost Werner. We can't afford to lose another witness. It would be a stain on our badge not to mention we'll never earn the trust of anyone looking to flip. We've got to find another way to get something from them," Tricia reasoned with her partner.

"At least until Linda sees fit to send over those ledgers..." Halmand reminded her.

"Where are they? She should have sent them by now?" Tricia checked her watch.

"We've still got to talk to Hewart and Petaro yet, or did you forget?" Halmand asked.

"You're going to stay here and do that. Work with Clemins on that until I get back," Tricia started walking for the exit.

"Where are you going?" Halmand asked.

"I've got to make sure those ledgers get here today or else I fold our deal with Linda," Tricia made her way to the exit, and into the administrative section of the Police Services building on her way to one of the floating employee workstations. She then sat down in the chair and pulled herself up to the keyboard, mouse and monitor to check her email.

"Nothing!" she said in a frustrated voice.

She picked up her phone from the desk and dialed one of the stored numbers.

"They'll be there soon..." Linda answered, immediately knowing who it was.

"I need them right now or our deal is off," Tricia stood her ground.

"Look, I'm in the middle of a rather important meeting. Can this wait another hour until I'm finished?" she pushed back at Tricia.

"You're asking for another hour, and you're already a day late delivering on a promise?" Tricia reminded Linda of where she stood in their deal.

"Hold the line for a second!" Linda shot back, immediately putting Tricia on hold.

"She didn't just put me on ignore, did she?!!!" Tricia said impatiently.

A moment later and Linda's voice returned on the other end.

"Do you want in on some info very pertinent to your case?" asked Linda, seemingly a little less stressed.

"Always, as long as there's not another shoddy deal on your end," Tricia responded, maintaining her position against the company lady.

"Come to 41 Basin Street and park in the lot at that address. I'll call you with further instructions from there," Linda told Tricia.

"Alright. We'll be there shortly," Tricia replied almost hanging up the phone.

"No! Wait! Alone. Without your partner. If you don't come alone, you won't receive the call you'll need to know what to do and where to go next," Linda assured her.

Tricia weighed things in her head. She'd already been forced to keep a great deal of what she knew from her partner, for she'd been brought in to investigate the phenomenon when it had initially been detected though careful analysis of existing intelligence data. From that moment on, her life and career had changed significantly, as it had been shaped by the case from the very beginning. She'd worked with another partner prior to Halmand. Felicia Langford, another female Inspector much like herself, from whom she had to keep many secrets related to the case. Their working relationship had been somewhat strained as a result, and ended up becoming too competitive in a counter-productive nature. 

Her Superintendant had observed the change in their daily reports, and reassigned Langford to another case and to work with another partner. From that point on, Tricia had worked primarily alone in every situation except those which required the presence of a second Officer in the line of duty. She'd been very used to working alone until she teamed up with Halmand. Despite their subtle differences in how they thought things should be done, he'd really begun to grow on her, making it very difficult to keep him out of the loop when as such was required.

She considered how he'd handle it if their roles were reversed, and found her answer in that thought.

"Very well. I'll be there shortly," Tricia said, standing up from the workstation and pushing in the chair.

"Wait for the call when you get there," Linda replied and then hung up.

The Room On The Nineth Floor

The hotel elevator descended from the twentieth floor rapidly as Trent stood with his back to the wall adjacent to the doors, counting a handful of cash.

"Not bad. I might actually be able to pay off my credit card debt this month..." he said to himself as he pocketed his gratuity money.

Of course in thinking about it, he was already running up another debt in his head dreaming about how he'd treat Rysalyn to a romantic evening of dinner, drinks and dancing. With his wage alone he'd barely scrape by on rent alone, but when his gratuities were factored in, he did pretty good for himself. 

He ate takeout more often than not, which already put him above most people in the currently tight economy. Until recently, he'd been single and that had contributed greatly to his excess of careless spending and finances, especially so for a young man like himself. Since having met and becoming intimate with Rysalyn, his perspective had changed considerably.

For one, in his past, his credit card debt had been steadily growing to the point that it had the potential to become a serious problem in his near future. His minimum monthly payment was quickly approaching the sum of his monthly disposable income and once it had surpassed that, he'd be forever struggling to pay it off. Since his first real night with Rysalyn, he'd taken all of the money he'd earned in a week of gratuities and put it down to pay off almost half of his credit card debt. Sure, he'd be living on No Frills macaroni and cheese for a week, but by the month's end he'd be free of the entirety of his credit card debt.

Secondly, he'd begun budgeting considerably (although in all honesty that was something he'd been doing all along). He'd started limiting his takeout orders to once a week and preparing a well organized shopping list, one that included many of Rysalyn's favourite items and this change had occurred all in the course of a week since they'd hit it off. However, with all of the excitement and intensity their relationship had brought into his life, there was also the other side. The secret side of her life. The side with which he had to learn to contend.

On their first night together, before they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms, she'd connected a special bracelet to her cellular phone, that she then wore on her wrist while they slept. At about 4 AM, both her and Trent were startled awake when her bracelet vibrated silently on her wrist. 

"I'll just be a minute..." she said to him whispering in his ear, kissing Trent gently on the cheek before getting out of his bed.

She then went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Trent could barely hear her voice, but he knew that she was speaking to them. A few minutes later, she emerged and the light was already off before the she'd opened the bathroom door. In the dark she made her way back to bed, snuggling up beside him once again. The wrist bracelet however still adorned her arm. 

The writer in him observed that it was much like a metaphorical handcuff, keeping her in the bondage of whomever was at the other end of that phone call. Some boyfriends contended with their girlfriend's ties to their former lovers' and their pasts. Trent on the other hand, he was contending with Rysalyn's ties to a highly secretive and covert organization. An organization about which he had no clue or that such organizations in fact had even existed outside of speculative fiction.

Trent's phone began ringing in a bouncy musical tone.

"Trent here," he quickly answered it as the elevator suddenly stopped at the nineth floor.

"Have you got a minute?" Rysalyn's voice gave him tingles.

"For you? Anything," he replied.

"When the door opens, come to the cleaning supply closet. The one to your left when you get off of the elevator. Right near the service elevator," Rysalyn insisted.

"...the cleaning closet? Sounds enticing..." Trent said as the elevator doors opened.

"See you in a minute..." Rysalyn said, hanging up.

Trent pocketed his phone and continued down the silent hall until he arrived at the cleaning supply room. He used his own entry code to unlock the door and stepped in, turning on the light.

The room was filled wall to wall with shelving, most all of which was lined with various cleaning products and room supplies used by house keeping during the day when they cleaned the rooms. There was very little room for anything else, though with Trent's imagination, he quickly fantasized several ways they could find intimate release in the mid-point of their work day, possibly using one of the nearby rooms for a quick shower together afterward. However, such thoughts rarely found their way to fruition lest both parties were on the same page of the same book, and the book detailing his life was about to get bizarre.

Trent heard the door latch lock itself and he tried to open it. He struggled with the knob many times, failing to get the door to open.

"Uh oh," he said to himself.

All of the sudden, the lights in the closet went out, and another door opened in a place where a shelving rack had been. The shelves and the secret door itself opened on a hidden hinge, revealing a well lit room beyond. There standing on the other side of the doorway was Rysalyn.

"Well, are you coming or not?" she asked him.

"You are literally one surprise after another," Trent shook his head, a sardonic smile on his face as he stepped into Rysalyn's secret room.

She then closed the door as Trent watched a monitor on the wall, which incidentally was receiving the output of a camera hidden in the cleaning closet. The lights came on in the cleaning closet and all appeared back to normal.

"Like it?" asked Rysalyn of Trent.

"Its quite nice, but a little lacking on security..." Trent joked, wrapping his arms around Rysalyn.

She leaned against him and gave him a quick kiss on the lips, and then grabbed his hand and pulled him further into the room.

Overall, it was small, much like a bachelorette apartment with a compact bedroom, a tiny bathroom and equally tiny kitchen and a living space that doubled as some kind of tech office. A pair of computer workstations sat in one corner, their output shared between a grid of five LED monitors.

"Is this yours?" asked Trent of her.

"No. It isn't. Its theirs'. I use it in some special situations, but I have access to it all the time regardless. I've only run into one situation where another operative actually had to use it for a week as a living space and in that case, I had to clean up after him. Nothing more," she explained to him.

"So why are you showing me this? Won't it get you in trouble?" Trent asked.

"I don't think it will, as long as we keep it quiet. Are you hungry?" she asked him, walking over to the kitchen cupboards.

"Sure, we could have lunch together, but I'm still a bit nervous about this. Aren't they... watching us?" he asked her.

"Very possibly, but I don't think about such things. I only deal with what actually confronts me. I wanted to have lunch with you but not in front of everyone else, so I did what I could to make that happen. Besides, if you ever ran into a situation where you were pressed about this, I'm sure that you'd keep my secret," Rysalyn said as she pulled several packages from the cupboard and fridge, and began preparing a meal for them.

"How hasn't anyone else in the hotel figured this out? The cleaning staff have access to that closet. Haven't they ever walked in when you've got the door open?" asked Trent as she brought him cup of coffee.

"The outside door to the closet automatically locks whenever we unlock the door to this hidden room. So even with their code, they can't get in until we've closed and locked the door again," Rysalyn explained as she poured oil into a pan and began brazing some seafood.

"What about the hotel's administrative system? The one that logs all of the use of access codes through doors into different areas of the building? Isn't there some administrative log of every time you come in the closet and don't leave for a span of time?" asked Trent, taking a sip of his coffee.

"I guess they have something where it doesn't keep a log when I use that door. I don't know how that all works, I only know that it does work and I've never seemed to have a problem with it. Nobody in management has ever asked me why I disappeared into the closet for a few hours, so I imagine that something is in place to prevent that from happening," she said as she put the finishing touches on the fish and emptied the contents of the pan into a pair of bowls of already cooked vegetables and noodles.

She picked up the bowls and brought one each to their place settings.

"Thanks. So how is your day going?" Trent asked her, digging into his seafood, veggies and noodles.

"Good. Fairly quiet after the wedding reception party last week I'd have to say. We're setting up some catering buffets for a couple of meetings later in the day. Its nice when there isn't a looming deadline. I actually get time to enjoy what I do. How about you? Having a busy day?" she asked him, after which she carefully gathered up a ball of noodles.

"Actually yes. Its been quite busy. Must be the attendees for those meetings. I think one of the women I helped to her room is the CEO of Cheerify, that social media app?" Trent told Rysalyn.

"That's Cynthia Pearldottir, though you might have been dealing with her personal assistant. They look remarkably similar. Probably a security feature on their part," Rysalyn explained to Trent.

"So you know about all the arrivals of big wigs to the hotel?" Trent asked her, suddenly amazed that she had details about something as mundane as his job.

"I'm made aware of a few things here and there, but I can't really talk about that. Are you managing to make a few tips?" asked Rysalyn, quickly changing the subject.

"I seem to be doing alright so far, which reminds me, are you working this upcoming weekend?" asked Trent of her.

"Saturday. 4 til midnight. I've got Friday evening off and I'm off all day Sunday and as well..." she spoke as if she were hinting at something seductive.

"Would you let me take you out for the evening? On Friday... say about 7 PM?" Trent asked her, trying his best to be seductive but somehow lacking the years and the experience for that which he was aiming.

"I think I could fit you in to my busy schedule," she said playfully.

"Then lets call that a date," Trent smiled as he finished the last piece of his calamari.

Beneath The Surface

Tricia sat in her car in what appeared to be an abandoned lot at 41 Basin Street in old Toronto. A decrepit fence surrounded the lot, and a couple of small buildings spoke a bit of its history. One of the buildings appeared to be an office, possibly a dispatch point for a fleet of trucks at one time. The other, a good distance away, now boarded up and in a state of disrepair was obviously a shower and bathroom for the drivers.

She thought to herself that if she hadn't been directed to this particular lot by Linda, that she'd have never postulated on the lot's history. At one time though, that lot was full of trucks and working men that were an essential part of the growing economy. Perhaps eighty years ago. Maybe even further back in time. Now it was simply a decaying eye sore with some property value for whomever was holding onto it. It was so far off the beaten path that few if any had contemplated its importance. With time as the city's center shifted from one region to another, it simply withered away. A fading birthmark on the city's face.

Her phone suddenly rang, rousing her from the depths of her contemplation.

"Inspector Camden," Tricia answered.

"Commissioner's Street. Between the Canada Post building and the Concrete Yard, there's an old gravel driveway that leads to a Transformer Station building. Go there, pull into the garage. No questions," a man's voice told her and then hung up.

"That's pretty covert," she remarked to herself as she pulled out of the lot at Basin Street.

The drive to Commissioner's Street was short and in less than three minutes, she was pulling her car up the gravel driveway. When she arrived at the Transformer Station building, she found the garage that had been indicated in her last phone call and pulled the car in. She was startled when the garage door suddenly came to life, closing her into the garabe. When it had finished closing, the garage itself began to move, descending into the earth.

She descended for what appeared to be three floors and found herself facing a tunnel beyond which she could see light. She began driving towards the light and when she arrived, she saw that it was simply an underground parking lot. An LED sign directed her to parking space 42, which she quickly found and pulled into, turning off her ignition. When she got out of her car, she saw an administrative entryway a short walk away. She proceeded to the doors and stepped through them into a reception area with only an LED mounted into the wall, a fingerprint scanner beneath it and two heavy doors on the wall opposite the LED screen. One door was marked with the letter A, and the other with the letter B.

A message flashed on the LED screen:

Please place your right index finger onto the scanner area. 

A small animated infographic depicted the instructions visually, which she followed, placing her index finger into the rounded bed of the scanner. She was startled as she heard the lound clanking of a magnetic lock somewhere within one of the two doors.

Another message on the LED screen now replaced the previous one:

Please step through door B.

She followed the instructions, approaching door B, which opened for her as she stepped through, closing behind her as she was safely on the other side. She proceeded down a hall of a short distance arriving at another door, which had a push handle that she promptly used. When she stepped through the door, she was greeted by a familiar face.

"You made it," Linda smiled.

"I presume that you've lost some people in that maze have you?" Tricia asked sarcastically.

"I wouldn't know. I'm only a guest here, remember?" Linda reminded her.

"So how is it that a guest has such access to this facility, while a dedicated Canadian and Inspector for the RCMP like myself doesn't even know about it?" asked Tricia suspiciously.

"Favours and deals. That's how," Linda replied somewhat defensively.

"Like ours?" Tricia confronted her directly.

"The ledgers you're seeking should already be in your case load inbox. I made sure of that," Linda assured her.

"I'll believe it when I see it. May I...?" Tricia pulled her phone to check her email.

"Your phone won't work in here. The whole facility is TEMPEST proofed. The Canadian Government and Military Intelligence aparatus doesn't want some hobbyist hacker show-off and know-it-all sitting in their car with a laptop, some open source software, an SDR USB dongle and a thermal imaging camera spying on a top secret facility," Linda told Tricia.

"Then how do you know all of this?" asked Tricia skeptically.

"It's what they told me when I tried to use my phone earlier this morning..." Linda replied.

"Then how did you use your phone, assuming you did?" Tricia asked her.

"They have a special room with their own internal cellular tower that is STINGRAY proofed, just in case someone in uniform wants to sell secrets to the highest bidder. You can make calls from that room and access your data normally, but anywhere else in the building, you won't find a signal. I know because I tried," Linda assured her.

"Alright. You're on probation until I see those ledgers. Lead the way," Tricia told Linda, who led them through another door and deeper into the facility.

"You have to check your Glock here," Linda told her, directing her to a window where beyond, a military uniformed Quartermaster in a red beret stood as he watched Linda approach.

"Check all of your arms here. That includes knives or any other direct application weaponry in your possession," the Quartermaster indicated to her.

"What about my ammo?" asked Tricia.

"Keep your mags. Not much good without your piece," the Quartermaster placed her Glock into a sealed bag and then into a square metal case.

"How do I pick it up?" asked Tricia.

"We've already scanned you biometrically. We'll know its you when you return to pick it up," he smiled at her.

"I feel so violated," she remarked, drawing a chuckle from the man in uniform.

He simply pointed to a sign on the wall beside him:

When checking your arms, you will be scanned biometrically for identification purposes.

"Alright. Let's check my email and then you can show me what it is you called me about," Tricia insisted.

Linda followed the coloured line on the floor that she'd been instructed to follow and led Tricia to the communications room. Inside of the room were a series of six booths that appeared much like those the phone company used to provide for their landlines in the city. The key difference being that those using the booths simply brought their own phone.

"You don't need to use the booth if you're only checking data, but they're soundproofed so if you want a private conversation with someone, they're your best bet," Linda told her.

"I'll be right back," Tricia stepped into the nearest one, sliding the door closed behind her.

She then pulled her cellular phone and to her surprise, it was connected via to the internal tower that Linda had indicated.

She quickly opened her secure email app, and checked the case load inbox. There at the top of the emails was Linda's, complete with over three hundred Megabytes of attachments.

She then turned her back to Linda, and dialed Halmand's line.

"Halmand speaking. How goes it partner?" Halmand asked Tricia, already knowing who he was speaking to.

"We received the ledgers. They're in the case load emails. If you're not making any progress with Hewart and Petaro, you can take a break and call HQ to arrange for the forensic accounting team working on the Forseth Bank Robbery case to begin combing them for evidence," Tricia told Halmand the good news.

"That's the best news I've heard all day, but I've also got some good news of my own..." Halmand replied.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's rude to keep a lady waiting?" asked Tricia challenged him.

"I'm speaking to a virtuous lady aren't I?" Halmand responded.

"That you are," Tricia replied.

"Then I'd say that patience is a virtue, but to reward your patience, I'd like to inform you that Petaro broke about fifteen minutes ago. We played him against Hewart's and Mark's interrogation and he folded. We've now got some of the most pertienent intelligence about Mentis and his organization," Halmand informed Tricia.

"Bring me up to date. What organization is that?" asked Tricia asked him.

"Petaro called it Oculomentis Artifex," Halmand told her, pausing for effect.

"The artist of eyes?" responded Tricia, puzzled by the name.

"I had to look it up myself. I know. Its baffling me too..." Halmand admitted to her, impressed that she was able to translate it so quickly.

"Artist?... maybe art of the eyes? The art of many eyes! That's not their organization name. That's what they can do!" Tricia realized.

"What?! Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's rude to..." Halmand began.

"Members of Mentis' group aren't limited to seeing only through their own pair of eyes. They can see collectively through the eyes of all their members! Which likely means that they can also hear through the ears of their members too. No telling how far that goes..." Tricia realized that she now needed to speak with Bryce Maxwell about these new discoveries.

"Great work partner. I'll contact the accounting team and let you know what went down when I see you next," Halmand said to Tricia.

"You too partner. Let's get back at it and bring this one home," Tricia bid him farewell, hanging up her phone.

As Tricia pocketed her phone, she realized that she now had the upperhand in any negotiations with Linda. She decided that she'd hold onto the information until after she'd discussed the implications with Bryce Maxwell, Doctor Briggs and Zheng Ni Wong.

"You're off the hook. Thank you for meeting the terms for what we'd previously agreed upon. I'll overlook the fact that we received it late," Tricia was now playing hardball with Linda.

"That's a relief. Now I have to admit that what I have to show to you isn't my doing. I was invited here, and only under the terms of a treaty we have with your country. It was my show of gratitude to suggest that they invite you," Linda told Tricia as they began walking, now following a different line etched into the floor through a maze of corridors.

"I'm grateful for that gesture, but lets see what you have first," Tricia followed the path with Linda until they arrived at another door and biometric checkpoint.

When they stepped through the door, the entered into a room with a series of desks and chairs facing a one way glass wall. A few people were already seated behind the desks, looking into the room beyond.

Tricia saw a heavy set man seated at a table on the other side of the glass, which appeared much like their own interrogation rooms.

"Inspector Camden? I'm Operator 371. Pleased to meet you. We've heard a lot about you," one of the men stood up to greet Tricia.

"Pleased to meet you, 371. Who are we looking at here?" asked Tricia.

"That guy is the man most directly behind the MindSpice bombing. His DDW handle is Mr. Eck, which is taken from the name of a data scientist named Wim Van Eck, who discovered and wrote the first paper on what we now call TEMPEST and the appropriate countermeasures. He's also obviously borrowed from the popularity of former industrialist and now escaped criminal Alomera Zekestes AKA Mr. Zek. His real name is Svelit Vilten. He's an ex-con that used to create chemical recipes for designer narcotics. Over the last ten years, he turned his expertise towards bomb making and has been selling his services to highest bidder via the DDW," Operator 371 told Tricia.

"Sorry, I didn't get the part about the DDW?" Tricia asked him to elaborate.

"DDW. Deep Dark Web. Its a third generation version of the Dark Web, using Quantum proof encryption. Not even our best tools can crack it. We even gave it to the top scientists at CERN and they suggested that we go after it on foot as they claimed it would take more than a trillion-trillion-quintillion years to break it using brute force techniques. We've been using hunters and collectors on foot to gather intel from the inside. One of ours fingered Svelit, and we arranged an appointment for Svelit to meet with us in person. Unwillingly of course, but we can be very convincing," Operator 371 explained to Tricia.

"I'm sure you can. So what has he revealed about the boming and about those who hired him?" Tricia asked the million dollar questions.

"He's been pretty tight-lipped for the past five days, since he arrived here. Yesterday however, we had a breakthrough and managed get details about the bomb itself, and his exact earnings for that particular device. Now the tranactions for the payment were handled through the crypto-currency network, which as you know is virtually impossible to break..." Operator 371 began.

"...unless you have specific detailed information about a transaction..." Tricia picked up on where he was headed.

"Precisely. With the information he's provided us, and what we know already, we can use our own miners to narrow down the exact transaction, and possibly find the account of the person who payed for the bombing..." Operator 371 explained to Tricia.

"...and from there, connect that account to someone in person, and perhaps their organization..." Tricia knew where this was going.

"...and the girls and boys in red can build a case from there..." Operator 371 nodded to Tricia, impressed with her ability to quickly navigate the details of the investigation.

"Told you she was sharp one," Linda said, backing up Tricia.

"How long will it take the crypto miners to get the payment transaction for the bomb?" asked Tricia.

"With what we've currently got, between six months to a year," Operator 371 answered Tricia.

"So we need one or two more key pieces of information from him to cut that down to a reasonable time frame, correct?" confirmed Tricia.

"Correct. There's not much info stored in a transaction, but if we can get the time and date it was made, and the exact amount, we might be able to find both transactions. One for the payer, and one for the receiver," Operator 371 informed Tricia.

Tricia turned to Linda.

"Have you tried cross referencing the bank ledgers you sent me against Mr. Eck's online handle or anything we have about his online identity?" asked Tricia of Linda.

"No. I'm just learning about this guy myself right now, but that's a brilliant idea," Linda agreed.

"We need to get back to the phone room. Now!" Tricia asserted.

"Follow that line on the floor and it will get you there. I guess I don't need to tell you to follow the same line back," Operator 371 responded, answering Tricia's request.

"I guess not. If I'm not back in ten minutes, send a search party..." Tricia replied sarcastically, leaving through the same door through which they'd just arrived, making her way back to the phone room.

She quickly followed the line all the way back to the phone room, nearly bumping into two different people along the route. When she arrived, she quickly took the same booth and called Halmand.

"I haven't called for the forensic the accounting team yet..." Halmand answered, anticipating she might be calling to press him about the matter.

"I know. Look, can you open that email and access the ledgers yourself? You're a bit more computer  and tech savvy than most of us," Tricia asked her partner.

"I could certainly try, though I'm not an accountant. Don't expect me to audit the damned things..." Halmand responded, half jokingly.

"I need you to search the ledgers for anything relating to a man with the online handle Mister Eck. That's E-C-K. Can you do that and give me a call back within five minutes?" asked Tricia.

"I could certainly give it a try, if you stay on the line with me it might be easier. I'm at a workstation right now. Let me check our case load email..." Halmand said to her, as he plugged his headset in.

"Do it,"  Tricia told him.

"Alright. There's over three hundred spreadsheet files in the archive. They appear to be grouped by regional territory according to the branch's reach. Mostly throughout North America, Latin America and... look at this, we've got some territory in the Baltic region as well... about twenty files," Halmand told her.

"That's it! Check the Baltic region files, could you?" asked Tricia.

"I'm already on it. I'm building a search right now, based upon Mister the full word and Mr. the abbreviation followed by Eck. Let's see what we have..." Halmand explained to Tricia as he initiated the search across the twenty files.

"Nothing with the abbreviated Mr., but this is interesting... We have a Mister Æck, using a combined AE regional character, which wouldn't show up in a normal search of Mister Eck, not to mention that you can't find the character on a computer keyboard," Halmand explained to Tricia.

"So how did it show up in your search?" asked Tricia.

"I used RegEx. Regular Expressions to form a complex pattern," Halmand said to her, fogging and shining his nails on his shirt.

"Alright hotshot, how many entries?" asked Tricia.

There's six of them. Each with different account numbers, but one of them looks kind of strange. Like its not a bank account number..." Halmand told her.

"Give me that one! Read it to me and I'll write it down..." Tricia fumbled through her pockets for a pen.

"Alright, but its kind of long..." Halmand said to her.

"Just give me the account number, not excuses hotshot," Tricia joked with him.

"Alright. Its 3223EEC2DB2E922CBE101CC3ECC0196B... come to think, it looks awfully like a hash code..." Halmand told her.

"Then that's exactly what I'm looking for," Tricia finished writing the long sequence of digits and letters down her forearm out of lack of note paper.

"Need anything else?" asked Halmand.

"Sure. Get yourself a bottle. Its on me. I'll touch bases with you later champ," Tricia smiled and hung up her phone.

She then quickly made her way back to the interrogation room.

"Try this number..." Tricia rolled up her sleeve and showed them her arm.

"Was this from the ledger?" asked Linda.

"Halmand found it for me. Says Mr. Eck here had it written in characters not available on a keyboard so it couldn't be found in a search," Tricia told Operator 371 as he wrote it down in a notepad.

"Send that to our miners. Have them report back to me ASAP," Operator 371 passed the notes to one of the computer operators in the room.

"I thought you said you weren't on the internet here?" asked Tricia.

"We aren't. This is our own connection to the Defence Network grid. Its connected to a system where our miners are located. They'll get the message and begin their attempt to get the payer's account number from the transaction in about ten minutes, if you've got the time," Operator 371 informed Tricia.

"Ten minutes? I can do that for this," Tricia agreed.

Hunting The Payer

Stanton's phone rang as he finished up driving a bolt into the generator housing with a torque wrench. He put the torque wrench down and pulled his phone from his belt pouch.

"Stanton here," he answered, wiping sweat from his forehead.

"Unit 54109621EF, we have new orders for you. Can you talk?" asked his handler.

"Yeah I'm clear. Go ahead," Stanton replied, removing his construction hard hat long enough to wipe some more moisture from his head.

"Fifteen minutes ago we received word from the interrogation team that they'd extracted the bitcoin account number of the person who paid for the MindSpice bombing," his handler explained to him.

"You've got my attention. Go on..." Stanton said, replacing his hard hat.

"As it turns out, after a short search of our database of those on the watchlist, the account is linked to a Post Office Box in at Pearson International Airport," his handler explained.

"That's a little too close to home, isn't it?" asked Stanton.

"You're damned right it is. Close enough that we'd like you to take a look and see if you can't round up this fellow for us. We'd like you to start your search at Pearson, gain access to his PO Box directly without alerting him, and use what you find to track down this murdering bastard and bring him to us. We'll use him to find out who he's working with on this. Do you copy?" asked his handler.

"Copy that Sir! I'm on it. I'll be leaving here in thirty minutes," Stanton assured his handler.

"Report back in when you have him Stanton, Unit 54109621EF. Over and out," his handler closed the connection.

"Looks like I'll be eating takeout again..." Stanton said to himself as he got to his feet, having a good good stretch along the way.


Stanton quickly organized his employee locker, stowing his tool belt and hard hat inside as he finished his day. Beside him, another one of the engineers was doing the same.

"So how's Stanton today?" he asked from a nearby locker.

"Not bad. How about yourself Haskel?" Stanton responded, taking a seat on the bench behind him and untying his safety boots.

"Pretty good. We just finished the systems upgrades on reactor two. The software's pretty sweet you know. You should check it out," Haskel told him.

"I can do that. How would tomorrow be?" asked Stanton, removing one of his boots and beginning work on the other.

"You mean you can't spare a minute to check it now? Come on, this is the operating system running much of your life's work," Haskel pressed him.

"Sorry. I've got another important engagement that can't wait. It'll have to be tomorrow," Stanton responded.

"Then I guess we'll just have to do it all here..." Haskel replied.

"Do what?" asked Stanton, getting on his socked feet to stow his work boots in his locker when he heard a sound from behind.

He turned around to see a group of his fellow employees advancing towards him just having come through the double doors into the locker area. Elena was in front, Dave beside her and Matt on her other side. She was holding a cake, alight with numerous candles.

"Surprise!" they exclaimed joyously as he saw them.

"Happy birthday to you... happy birthday to you... Happy birthday dear Stanton..." they began to sing in unison.

"Ahhhh... you shouldn't have..." Stanton smiled, shaking his head as they finished their chorus.

"No, big guy. We already did," Dave said as they arrived at Stanton's locker.

"Are you going to make a wish?" Elena asked him with a coy smile on her face.

"Let's see... Alright. Got one..." Stanton said, before blowing the candles on the cake out.

"So let's get this baby carved up and have a few piece!" Dave said excitedly.

"Look, I hate to be a party pooper but I don't have time for this," Stanton told them as he grabbed the hiking boots he wore casually on his off hours.

"You're right. With that many candles, I'd be pretty tight with my time too..." Dave responded in jest rousing a round of laughter from the rest of the employees.

"No. I'm serious. I've got to go..." Stanton said, now seated on the bench and quickly lacing up his hiking boots.

Elena quickly sat beside him, placing the cake on her lap. Then with a knife she'd been carrying in her pocket, she cut a piece of cake for him and began handing feeding it to him.

"You guys are going to pay for this you know..." Stanton said as he both tied his boots and ate the cake that Elena had fed him, smearing a good bit of it on his face as the others laughed.

"Are you serious. You can't make a little time for your fellow employees?" Dave asked Stanton pleadingly.

"We have reservations at Jack Spratt's you know. You're going to miss out," Matt urged him to join them.

"Look, all of you go and enjoy it on my behalf, otherwise I wouldn't insist. Really," Stanton stood up and faced them.

"Alright, but we owe you a good hazing..." Dave patted Stanton on the back as he locked his locker.

"I'll take a raincheck on that. How about this Friday?" Stanton said to them as Elena drove another piece of cake into his mouth, rousing more laughter.

"...Alright. We're agreed then. This Friday, and don't try to weasel your way out of it, 'cause you're going to get what's coming to you..." Dave smiled nefariously at him.

"Thanks. All of you. Really. I mean that. And thanks for the cake, Elena. We'll do this on Friday. Besides, there will be a bit more to celebrate than just an old electrical engineer's birthday..." Stanton addressed them with a smile and a face full of cake.

"Go do what you gotta do that's more important than being with your friends and coworkers..." Dave snuck a piece of cake while Elena's attention was on Stanton.

Elena slapped Dave's hand when he went to grab another, while Stanton made his way through the double doors and down the long corridor to the security check and parking exit.

"I think I'm wearing more cake than I have in my stomach..." Stanton quipped as he approached his truck.

He closed the door after getting in and quickly brought up the phone directory on his dash screen, selecting and dialing a specific number from his list of contacts.

"CBSA. Jerry speaking," a man answered the call.

"Hi Jerry. Its Stanton," Stanton said blandly as he wiped cake from his face with towlettes he kept in his glove box.

"Stanton? I don't think I... Wait a minute. Brad?" Jerry did a conversational double take.

"You got it. That Stanton. How you doing Jerry?" asked Stanton of the Border Services Agent.

"Busy as usual. How's things with you? Are you still working at the plant?" asked Jerry of his old friend and contact.

"Sure am. Doing the nine to six like a champ. How's Sarah by the way?" asked Stanton.

"She's doing well. We just had our second child like four months ago. A boy this time, lucky for me 'cause I don't know if I could support three kids on my salary..." Stanton could hear Jerry smiling.

"Glad to hear it. Look, the reason I called is..." Stanton began.

"You need another favour?" asked Jerry.

"Officially speaking, yes. But off the record. As you already know, its a favour that never happened," Stanton advised him.

"Do you know the kind of stress you caused the last time you asked me for something like this?" Jerry responded.

"Yes. I do know, but I wouldn't be asking if you weren't the best tactician and logistics officer candidate I've ever trained. You know the saying, once you're airborne, you're always airborne," Stanton reminded Jerry.

"Damn! I hate it when you pull stuff like that. Especially on a family man! What do you need?!" Jerry responded, sounding as if he very much had a distaste for what Stanton was asking.

"I need an airport custodial staff and maintenance uniform, the master key for the post office lockers and unhampered access to the airport for about an hour," Stanton laid it all out for him.

"You're going right for the big stuff. A uniform, not a problem. Access to the airport while you're wearing that uniform, a bit of trouble for the identify card I'll have to forge for you, which I'll remind you is a Federal Offence. The master key? That's a very big problem. Not even my supervisor has access to that without a direct court order from nothing less than a provincial Justice Of The Peace. That doesn't even include the megabytes of forms you'd have to fill out for such a request!" Jerry was clearly uncomfortable with Stanton's request.

"The way I see it, you're saving the tax payers a lot of money, because whether you help me or not, I'm going to get what I need. The question is how that is going to occur. I can't tell you what its for, but I can tell you that if you knew, you'd be bending over backwards to help me," Stanton negotiated with Jerry.

Stanton's line suddenly beeped.

"Look, I've got another call coming in. Can you stay on the line until I lose him?" asked Stanton.

"Don't keep me hanging or I'm gone!" Jerry asserted.

Stanton quickly switched the line to answer the call, already knowing who it was by the tone that had indicated the second call.

"Unit 54109621EF here," Stanton answered.

"Unit 54109621EF? There's been a change in the situation that puts some constraints on your current operation," Stanton's handler addressed him.

"And that would be?" Stanton responded imperceivably impatiently.

"Your target is arriving today at Pearson International Airport on a flight from Morocco. ETA is 8PM with current conditions. We intercepted communications from the flight that indicates he arranged for members of his local security to clean out his Post Office Box in order to tie up any loose ends related to the bombing. They're going to be at the airport in another eighty five minutes. You have to get there and get the contents of that PO Box before they do in order to ensure we have a case. After that point, you're to apprehend the target upon his arrival on that 8PM flight. He is currently traveling under the alias of Warton Chelder," Stanton's handler explained to him.

"I'm ninety minutes out from Pearson as it is. Can we delay his flight?" asked Stanton.

"Negative. The target is already suspicious, as it seems that someone tipped him off. If we detoured his flight, chances are he'd disappear from our radar. He's already taken several precautions to do so. We need to lay low in order to ease him enough to follow through with his current plans. Those are you objectives. Over and out," his handler hung up on him.

"Damn!" Stanton cursed as he switched back to Jerry as he started his truck.

"Jerry! I don't have much time. You're going to have to meet me at the parking entrance in exactly an hour. In plain clothes preferably..." Stanton told Jerry.

"First you ask me to do this in the first place and now you're asking me to do it in under an hour, and then to discard my uniform? I'll be there, but you're going to get what I could and likely not all of what you want! Don't call me back to change things!" Jerry hung up the phone.

Stanton peeled out of the parking lot and sped down the street out onto the local main road, heading for the 401 highway westbound.

Health And Technicality

[Writer's note: I decided to make some changes to the introductory elements of the chapter and slightly changed the circumstances so as to accommodate what's to come.]

From the outside, the suburban family home was dimly lit in the early afternoon sun. Beyond the bay  windows, through which one could peer, was the living room.

There within lay a woman of mostly thin and healthy form, stretched across the sofa. A flannel blanket covered most of her body.

"Could you get me another cup of herbal tea?" she asked, looking to her empty cup on the coffee table.

The second bay window in the house symetrically opposed the first and through it, just beyond the dining room its open concept revealed a man in his late forties, working rigorously to ensure the kitchen was clean.

"Which one, the Camomille or the Jasmine?" Ed confirmed with her.

"The Camomille, please," Lori responded.

Ed threw the dish towel over his shoulder and quickly checked the cupboard, finding the tea she'd requested on the second shelf.

He filled the electric kettle and boiled the water as he finished up the cleaning in the kitchen.

A few minutes later, he arrived in the living and placed the tea before her.

"That better honey?" asked Edward.

"Don't come any closer. I don't want you to catch this..." She blew him a kiss from the sofa.

Ed kept his distance, heeding his wife's advice.

"Look, with this kind of TLC, You'll be better in no time," Edward assured her, returning to the kitchen to finish up.

As he folded up the dish cloth after wiping down the counters, his phone rang from inside of his pocket.

"Farnham here," he answered the phone blandly.

"Long time no hear," Tricia's voice emerged from the earpiece.

"I was just going to say the same thing. So what brings you to this neck of the woods?" Ed asked her.

"I need your help..." Tricia admitted.

"And you leave me hanging for what? A almost three weeks now?" he grilled her.

She ignored the statement, instead focusing on the task at hand.

"Are you still in touch with your tech friend? Poonya?" asked Tricia.

"I haven't seen him since the bust of that illegal surveillance ring..." Farnham told Tricia.

"Well give him a call, as you're going to need him for this," Tricia advised him.

"When?" Farnham stepped into the dining room from where he checked up on Lori. 

She was already falling asleep on the sofa.

"Today. ASAP," Tricia responded as he watched Lori.

"Can you do it?" she asked him.

"I don't know. I was looking after Lori you know," Farnham told Tricia.

"How is she?" Tricia's voice seemed to soften if for a moment.

"She's got the flu. Missed the vaccination drive last year. Wouldn't you know it? Hit her right smack dab at the beginning of autumn. I've been taking half days to look after her," Farnham explained to Tricia.

"I'm sorry to hear, but I need you, Detective. I need your experience on this. And you definitely need Poonya's help, as this one's got a technical aspect to it," Tricia informed him.

Farnham looked to Lori once again, and then to the clock on the kitchen wall.

"She should be alright if I take off for a bit. So what are we doing?" asked Farnham.

"You're going to check a set of offices in a warehouse along the waterfront. It used to be a temporary receiving bay for the Toronto Port Authority. Especially involving shipments held for Border Services inspection. In recent years, its fallen into private hands, and might be the location of a secret bitcoin mining operation. One we suspect is used in an illegal transfer scheme. Its connected to an open case we're currently investigating, however, it falls directly in your investigative jurisdiction Detective. Me not being one to step on toes too often..." Tricia paused as Farnham spoke.

"...Or often enough..." Farnham commented.

"...that too. I thought we might benefit from your experience on this one. So long as you're operating in a hands-on frame of mind," Tricia suggested to him.

Farnham paused a moment when Lori shifted on the sofa, turning her back to the television which still played her favourite daytime soap. She was fast asleep now and obliviously recovering from her illness with the help of the complimentary medicine of sleep.

"Alright. Consider it done. I'm on my way now," Farnham assured Tricia.

"Don't forget Poonya," Tricia reminded him.

"How could I? The little buggar grows on you," Farnham joked.

"Call me when you find something, but your department will get the credit for the find. Got it?" Tricia assured him.

"Nice talking to you Inspector. Glad you thought of me. Talk soon," Farnham responded.

"If you get my voicemail, leave a message. We'll talk soon, and its good to hear your voice again, Detective," Tricia smiled on her end of the phone, but by that time, he'd already hung up and was calling Poonya.

Lester B. Pearson

Jerry sat in his civies on a bench by himself just aside of the passenger drop-off entrances of Pearson International Airport. He kept a careful watch on the doors, occasionally checking the other direction further into the airport for his contact.

"Damn. Can't that guy ever be on..." Jerry began aloud to himself.

"Did you bring my kit?" asked a voice from directly behind him, on the adjaecent bench.

 "Good to see you too. How's the family? Oh, that good? I'm glad to hear it. Mine's doing just fine thank you for asking..." Jerry responded sarcastically.

"I never recalled you being so sentimental in our airborne unit," Stanton said to him, keeping his attention focused on the arrivals display.

"Having family changes you, but what would you...?! Geez. I'm sorry man. I just kind of got going there and I totally forgot..." Jerry almost stopped himself, but the words had already left the starting gate.

There was a long pause.

"That's alright. It was a long time ago. Besides, Susan would probably be flattered that you remembered..." Stanton's head dropped to take in the space between his boots.

"Maybe its time you settled down too. Before its too late," Jerry responded, he too looking down, but at the rucksack he'd prepared for Stanton.

With a bit of effort, Jerry slid the rucksack beneath his side of the bench, across toward Stanton.

Stanton slid the zipper down enough to inspect the contents.

"There's a pair of maintenance overalls, though they might be a tad bit large. Not too many guys in maintenance that haven't earned that inner tube around their waste if you know what I mean. There's an ID card, that will get you through most places, but it expires in two hours. If you haven't accomplished what you're here for by then, you're on your own," Jerry explained to him, pausing when someone passed by them close enough to hear.

"What about the master key?" asked Stanton.

"I couldn't get it. Even if you had given me a day's notice, it still would have been near impossible. But I do have another solution for you," Jerry kept his cellular phone against his face to make it appear that he was in conversation.

"We have what we call, temporary master keys. They operate on a timer, which expires after a certain deadline. Each one is still serialized and cataloged, so I had to do some fancy stuff with the security system to bypass that feature. I gave you two hours, just like your ID card. Don't call me. Don't come looking for me if you need help. Most of all, if they send us after you, don't expect us to show you any quarter. You'll be arrested and I'll deny everything. Got it?" asked Jerry.

"I sure do. Thanks, friend," Stanton replied, zipping up the bag.

"You know the drill. Once airborne, always airborne," Jerry responded as he stood up.

In his plain clothes, he began making his way to the security area change rooms.

Stanton in the meantime, found his way to the maintenance locker rooms.

As Stanton walked, he took notice of the arrivals display. A long list of flights with their ETA were listed, amongst which was the flight for which he was keeping an eye out. Its arrival time was listed at zero minutes.

When he returned his vision in the direction he'd been walking, it was obscured by a familiar face.

"Well, well. Aren't you a little bit late for work, buddy?" Foller addressed Stanton, already wearing a pair of maintenance coveralls himself.

"Out of my way!" Stanton side stepped Foller, who followed him in like.

"Is that any way to treat a friend? A friend you sent to a civilian holding cell with a bunch of rabid pitbulls masquerading as men!  Pitbulls I might add, who tried to exact a price from me for borrowing one of theirs. Do have any idea what that's like?" Foller accused Stanton, who merely smirked at him.

"You illegally kidnapped a civilian. That's a big no-no in our business," Stanton looked him square in the eyes.

"Two, but who's counting? You know how close I came to receiving a beating in that cell?" Foller replied, unphased by Stanton's accusation.

"Not close enough if you're still walking, I'm guessing," Stanton responded.

"You sound almost worried for me? Don't be. It was a very dirty fight, but I was the only one who came out of it standing. From that point, everyone just left me alone in my half of the holding cell. It was the most uncomfortable twenty four hours I've ever spent in my life. Next to that time we were chained to that post for a week just East of the Moroccan border..." Foller bantered on.

"Out of my way the easy way, or the hard way," Stanton quickly lost his patience.

"Why are you in a hurry? Oh, the flight. Don't worry about that. I all ready took care of it," Foller assured him.

"What did you do?!!" Stanton grilled him.

"What else? I called in a bomb threat for that flight! Makes perfect sense. They'll keep the passengers detained while they search the flight, and by that time you'll have already achieved the first part of your mission I'm assuming, while the Border Services agents keep your suspect in the fridge..." Foller spoke proudly of his plan.

"You idiot! That will alert my target, meaning his people might have already retrieved the contents of the locker!" Stanton bypassed Foller and began walking quickly to the change rooms, Foller trailing behind him.

As Stanton ran, he fished the identification out of the rucksack. It was looped through a string necklace, along with the temporary master key Jerry had made for him. Upon passing through the change room, Stanton quickly stuffed the rucksack into a locker, discarding the blue coveralls for good.

"What about your cover?" asked Foller as Stanton continued out the door on the opposite side.

"No time. We've got to make it to the post office lockers," Stanton said as he rounded the corner, entering into a long service hall.

"Where are they?" asked Foller.

"On the other side of the airport!" Stanton said as he broke into a sprint as he made his way down the hall.

They emerged from the hall through a door. To their left were the washrooms and to their right, a security door. Stanton chose the security door.

"Do you even know where you're going?" Foller asked him, trying to keep up.

Stanton remained quiet, and presented his ID card to the scanner. The door unlocked and he proceeded through. At the end of another hall they happened upon a long conveyer belt style escalator, one side descending to a warehouse like facility.

"Alright. Admit it. You're having a senior's moment, aren't you?" Foller goaded him.

"Shut up, and start acting like you work here," Stanton ordered him.

"Then what the hell are you supposed to be?" Foller asked him.

"Plainclothes security," Stanton responded.

"Fair enough," Foller responded, following him to a motorized luggage cart.

"Get on and drive it!" Stanton ordered him.

"To where?" he asked in response.

"To the other end of the building!" Stanton replied, pointing for Foller as he took the passenger seat.

"Alright, but I'm not fully licensed for these vehicles you know..." Foller joked.

"You ever played golf?" asked Stanton.

"Yes. Once or twice," Foller replied.

"Pretend this is the golf cart," Stanton advised him, although he knew that Foller was being sarcastic.

In all truth, both men had training in a multitude of different vehicles and their accompanying weapons systems.

"Who sent you?" asked Stanton as the cart sped off.

"My handler, though I requested it. I said we work well together," Foller lied to him.

"I only work alone. Stop riding my coat tails," Stanton said, checking a firearm he'd pulled from the inside of his jacket.

"That will set off the alarms. This place is wired to the teeth with detection systems," Foller told him.

"Not this one. Its high grade plastic. Disposable," Stanton told him.

"Biodegradable too I suppose?" asked Foller.

"That it is. Very quickly I might add," after Stanton had checked the weapon, he stashed it in its holster.

"That must be the flight there..." Stanton pointed to a terminal ahead of them. 

The flight was surrounded by emergency vehicles, including a bomb disposal team who were not boarding the plane.

"They've already evacuated the flight, which means they've got my man and all the other passengers in their custody," Stanton told Foller.

"That's a good thing, isn't it?" asked Foller.

"No. Not exactly. You see, he ordered his own team of locals to destroy the contents of the post office locker he has. If they get there first, our evidence is out the window and there'll be no case against the guy," Stanton advised Foller.

"What about interrogation? He'd fold like a wet house of cards. He's a civilian," Foller spoke, thinking like himself.

"We can't use a military interrogation for that exact reason. He's protected under civil law, but elements of his case have infringed heavily upon national security. Regardless, he still gets a civil trial and no military or intelligence unit interrogation," Stanton told Foller.

"Well that sucks!" Foller replied, stopping the cart.

"Which way? To the left and we're inside the building again and very vulnerable to the responders dealing with the bomb threat..." Foller started.

"And whose fault is that?" Stanton reminded him.

"To the right and we'll have a longer journey to the to the door on the other side of that flight..." Foller spoke the second option.

"Not to mention the backed up crowd waiting for that flight to turn over for its next run. Let's take left. We'll deal with it as it comes, but follow my lead. Pull into the warehouse and come to a quick stop like we have a purpose," Stanton gave Foller little choice.

Foller did as Stanton instructed, driving the cart directly to the luggage handling area and stopping the vehicle quickly.

Stanton jumped off the cart and began making his way quickly towards the escalator. Foller kept up with him as they jogged.

"Halt! Hands in the air!" a pair of security constables stopped Stanton and Foller, who both turned with their hands up.

"I'm Eric Richards! Plainclothes Officer! Check my badge!" Stanton kept his hands in the air.

One of the two officers approached Stanton while the other kept him covered with his tazer.

"Check his ID card..." the other officer ordered the first.

The one nearest Stanton produced a smartphone sized device which he quickly used to scan Stanton's ID card. The device beeped once and the officer read the screen. Under tasking, Stanton's card had him listed as part of security/maintenance detail.

"He's got a dual role. Security and maintenance," the officer told the second.

"That's my access clearance. You're holding me up from following a tangible lead thanks to my material witness here. Wanna help me catch a bomber? Let me do my job!" Stanton spoke in an authoritative but irritated voice.

"Let's see your unit identitification," the officer with the tazer asked.

 Stanton reached into his inner pocket.

"Slowly!" the officer reminded him.

Stanton produced a folding wallet, which the inspecting officer opened and examined carefully.

"Guy's got some credentials alright. You've been around some..." the inspecting officer handed the wallet to the overseeing officer.

"Looks good. Alright Mr. Richards, you check out. Go catch us a bomber," the officer returned his wallet.

"Go find yourselves a bomb and be careful," Stanton said, coaxing Foller as he picked up speed making his way to the escalator.

"They bought that whole story pretty easily," Foller remarked as they made their way up the ramp.

"Why not. Its real identification. Its just not my real name or identity," Stanton remarked as he arrived at the top.

"Wait..." Stanton saw a mop and wheeled bucket in the hall beyond the security door.

"You take the mop and bucket. Wheel it to the post office locker area and I'll cover you. Take this key. The locker number is written on the tag. When you get there, grab the contents of the locker," Stanton ordered Foller, who upon passing through the security door made his way to the bucket and mop.

He then wheeled them down another hall as Stanton proceeded ahead. Foller emerged through the set of doors that Stanton had only moments earlier, and from a vantage point on a bench nearby, Stanton watched as Foller approached the lockers.

The lockers were fairly crowded, with about eleven people accessing their contents. Some were surrounded by family, others by their business associates as they fumbled through the contents. Foller slowly approached the target locker and upon arriving, he pulled the key from his pocket and inserted it into the lock.

As soon as he went to open it, he felt a large hand forcing his head and the open locker door to meet. A loud wham rung through his ears as he fumbled to stay on his feet. A punch landed on his face and he fell backwards to the floor as his assailants grabbed the contents of the locker and began running.

A large crowd had come between Stanton and the locker and for a moment, he'd lost sight of both the lockers and Foller. By that point he was upon his feet and pushing his way through. When the crowd had thinned, he saw three burly men, one with a full beard, the next with a moustache and the third clean shaven. They were running through the terminal on their way to the escalator.

He kept his eyes on the men fleeing the locker area as he ran over to check on Foller.

Foller leaned up from the floor, rubbing his head.

"It'll leave a bump, but I'm fine. Go get them! I'll catch up!" Foller said before Stanton had a chance to speak.

With those words, Stanton was upon his feet again, sprinting in pursuit of his quarry.

Waterfront Warehouse

Farnham pulled the car into an empty lot, parking in front of a real estate sign offering the property up for sale. Poonya sat in the front seat beside him, his digital forensics badge slung around his neck, his toolkit locked to his shoulder strap. Farnham shut the unmarked car down and fished a tablet from inside of his suit jacket.

"Which property is?" asked Poonya of Farnham.

"The big one, next door," Farnham replied as he checked the paperwork he'd received only moments ago.

"Are we meeting the owner here? Who's going to open it?" asked Poonya.

"We are. We just got the court order. I want to make sure I have it ready in case they show," Farnham told Poonya.

"So we are going in on our own. How?" Poonya grilled him impatiently.

"Through the front door preferably, unless you have any better ideas?" Farnham responded sarcastically, replacing the tablet back in his pocket as he got out of the car.

"How about through the window like they do in video games?" Poonya joked.

"Sorry, forgot the Swiss chair and tackle gear back at the station unless you want to go back and get it?" Farnham seemed half amused as they cross a somewhat mucky patch of grass between the two parking lots of each property.

"Front door sound good. Alarm maybe?" asked Poonya enthusiastically.

"You're going to tell me, when we get there," Farnham stamped each of his shoes on the concrete to get the muck off.

Poonya followed his example before they proceeded to the front door.

The property itself looked to be in a state of disrepair. Where the grass grew, it had become tall strands that had trapped paper and cardboard garbage blown there by the wind. The concrete walkway was mostly covered in moss, with only a few places visible. The glass windows and doors hadn't been cleaned on either side for a great length of time.

"Looks like they just need the space, nothing else," Poonya commented.

"Yep. They're definitely not trying to impress anyone with a storefront image. That's for sure," Farnham remarked as they arrived at the front door.

"Old alarm system. At least twenty-five years. Should be no sweat for me," Poonya placed his toolkit down and began the process of disabling the alarm.

"That's one of the reason's you're here," Farnham peeked through the glass doors, noting a fresh pair of footprints leading from the door into the warehouse.

"Looks like they park in the same place when they're visiting," Farnham remarked, making a note.

"Alright. Alarm is gone bye, bye. Let me get the magnetic lock... there," as Poonya spoke, a mechanism could be heard on the door as the lock disengaged.

Farnham pulled the door open and stepped into the empty front offices of the warehouse space.  When Poonya had packed up his tools again, he followed behind Farnham.

"Its awfully cold in here for a stagnant warehouse," Farnham approached the door to the warehouse.

"Might be part of the cooling system on their mining rig. If it is, then they aren't professional miners," Poonya explained as both he and Farnham produced field lights, directing them towards another self-contained space across the warehouse from them.

"Why's that?" asked Farnham.

"Most pros keep a tight ship when they mine. If they require cooling, then they insulate the crap out of their mining space so there's no leaks. Active cooling costs money. Anything that costs money cuts into their bottom line. Therefore, if its leaking cooling into the warehouse, money is no object to these guys. They're not mining for profit. They're mining for something else," Poonya explained to Farnham.

"See? You already earned your keep and we're just getting started. So what else could they be mining?" asked Farnham.

"Not much, with the way that block chain works. As far as information goes, its a one way ticket. Information go in, not come out... unless..." Poonya thought about it carefully before continuing.

"...go on..." Farnham encouraged the younger man as they arrived at the contained unit within the warehouse.

"They are somehow mining information. Transaction amounts. Source accounts. With that kind of information, far enough in advance, they could predict changes in cryptocurrency value very accurately. But it take expensive hardware. Maybe even latest from MindSpice. Quantum BitBarrage CPUs. Dual classical and Quantum room temperature CPU all in one," Poonya's voice trailed off as he saw the second alarm, wired to the door of the contained unit.

"This alarm a lot newer. Other alarm decoy. Definitely. Want people to think there's nothing in here, so keep old alarm outside," Poonya explained.

"Can you get through this one?" asked Farnham.

"I can try, but its going to take some time. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. Even if I do, this alarm has queueing system on it. Every time accessed, count incremented whether successful or not. Every access serialized and kept accurate logged," Poonya explained as he began the process of hacking the second alarm.

"By the time they find out that someone's been in here, it will be too late for them anyway, so go ahead. We need to check this room out, as this is fundamental to our court order," Farnham urged the young digital forensics specialist.

"Definitely source of cooling. They have a heavy duty cooling system with dehumidifier built-in so no water damage from condensation," Poonya continued his efforts to hack the alarm.

Outside, in the same parking lot they'd parked, two cars full of men pulled in to the neighbouring spaces. Each of the two cars had no license plates on either the front or the back.

All eight men got out of the cars, two of them checking Farnham's unmarked cruiser.

"Could be Police. Could be pen-tester/hacker. There's a built-in dashboard computer," one of them commented.

"No matter, if they're in there, they're not coming out alive. Get the gas ignition system ready. We're going to burn the whole operation and setup somewhere else," A man with a thick scar above his left eye responded.

Three of the men opened the trunk of their car and extracted a large cannister with a hose attached to the top. The three of them carried it to the front door, where they began spray painting all the glass doors and windows with flat-black primer.

One of the others went over to a gas meter, and began turning a valve, while another pair disconnected the backup power, ensuring that none of the exit signs or anything else for that matter was illuminated.

"What that smell? Smell like bad barbecue?" asked Poonya as he continued to work on hacking the alarm system when all of the sudden, the alarm powered off.

"That's either propane or natural gas... Don't use anything electrical..." Farnham thought quickly.

"I'm way ahead of you there," Poonya responded, closing up his kit quickly and retrieving a pair of safety goggles from within.

By that time, Farnham had donned one of the facemasks he'd kept in his pocket since COVID, passing an extra one to Poonya.

"Ignite the building. Do it," the man with the scar above his eye ordered the men who'd just stowed the cannister back in the trunk of the car.

One of them immediately ran over to the same gas valve, beside which was a locked switch. He retrieved the key from his keychain and unlocked the switch. At that point, he began switching it on and off again repeatedly. After about the sixth time, there was a muffled explosing from within, and black smoke started to pour from between the doors of the warehouse.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 7

Credits and attribution:

Artwork: Amy WongWendy PuseyGhastly, Brian Joseph Johns, Daz3DUnreal Engine...