The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 9 (Finished January 9, 2024 9:00 AM EST)


  • A Prototype For Breakfast (December 11, 2023)

  • Valerie And Trey Sex Spam (December 11, 2023)

  • Its Better To Ship Than Receive (December 11, 2023)

  • The Camera's Eye (December 12, 2023)

  • Delivery Dragon (December 12, 2023)

  • Big Business And The Other Island (December 13, 2023)

  • Experimental Outcome (December 16, 2023)

  • Liberated (January 5,2024)

  • After The Experiment (January 6, 2024)

  • Meet At The Butterfly's (January 8, 2024)


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A Prototype For Breakfast

"Alright, that should do. Pass me the other shoulder piece..." Heylyn asked Monique, who quickly gathered up the correct part of the garment Heylyn was working on and handed it to her.

"Here you go, just in case you need a shoulder to lean on, pun intended of course," Monique joked, giving her the shoulder piece.

"Har har har," Heylyn responded blandly as she removed another clothes-pin from her mouth, using it to fasten the shoulder piece to the rest of the garment prototype.

"I'd say that Frick is looking pretty darn good!" Monique spoke encouragingly to her best friend and employer.

"How's Frack doing over there?" asked Heylyn.

"Looking good so far. We're almost done the left shoulder," Aikiko responded.

"Good. That's the last of it then. Let me throw down a few plastic staples and we'll give this to the sewing department. If they can get this done before ten, we should be able to have this over to the University research wing where Zheng, Doctor Briggs and Bryce are situated," Heylyn evaluated their schedule.

"I'll call the courier...!" Kori picked up her phone from one of the design tables.

"This has to go direct. Besides, we've already got a load of end of the day samples for them from yesterday," Heylyn corrected Kori.

"I could take it to them?" Kori suggested, just looking for an excuse to get out of the office.

"Payroll needs to be done before the end of the day, or you're going to have some unhappy employees pounding at your door," Heylyn reminded Kori, carefully pulling the blouse from Frick, her female mannequin.

"Oh! I almost forgot. I should get to that. You don't need me for the time being, do you?" Kori asked Heylyn.

"Go, get it done. Thanks for coming in early today Kori," Heylyn smiled to her Human Resources Manager, who smiled back and then left the three of them in the design room.

"Is late lunch today OK, Monique? Aikiko?" asked Kori before she left.

"Sure. Around 2:30 alright?" asked Monique.

"That'll be perfect! See ya then!" Kori left the design room to work on payroll.

"Do you still need us, boss?" Monique asked Heylyn.

"I should be alright from here. I've just got to clip the garment together and get it back to Ebtissam. Don't you two have a photoshoot today?" asked Heylyn.

"We were actually double booked for today, so Trey had to cancel the West Meet East shoot to accommodate one of the studio rental customers," Monique told Heylyn as she and Aikiko gathered their things from the design tables.

"Really? Which customer?" asked Heylyn.

"The Fitness Center one? You know, the one with the boxer guy that Aikiko likes so much?" Monique joked, and Aikiko threw her a mean face.

"He's a chauvinist and a braggart," Aikiko responded distastefully.

"You know, some people are well accomplished enough that others get jealous in their presence without them having to brag at all, and the problems begin with the jealousy of others. Are you sure the issue isn't an internal one with yourself?" asked Heylyn, philosophically challenging Aikiko's stance though not knowing the man to whom she was referring.

"Not at all. We said nothing to him on our first shoot, and he spent the first twenty minutes of the shoot talking about himself, his muscles and his boxing skills. I mentioned nothing of my own background or training to him, though he seemed very cautious of me. Almost afraid of me," Aikiko explained to Heylyn calmly.

"That guy clearly has issues. Its definitely not Aikiko," Monique stuck up for her friend.

"I'm not just speaking about this boxer fellow. I mean people in general. There are people who are instantly jealous of others. It happens all the time to people in the public eye. Especially people who are presented in a way much different from the reality of their life. Actors for instance? There's people who become jealous of them because of the way they're portrayed on a screen, not making that distinction between fantasy and reality. One's a performance of imaginary life, the other simply is life, and real life can sometimes feel very lacklustre compared to the way people are portrayed on screen. If it wasn't that way, then our business, the fashion business likely wouldn't have the vocabulary to say something bold as it often does. I just want you to be sure that you're not jealous of what you imagine about someone, rather than the problem being the reality of them and their attitude," Heylyn replied, clarifying herself to her employees.

"True. Jealousy can certainly be more about what someone imagines than what is actually real," Aikiko agreed.

"More often than not, the issue with jealousy lies in the jealous person themselves, making up for their own lack of self esteem or their fears by taking it out on others for succeeding without them. I want you two to go into today's shoot with a clear attitude. Forget what happened last time and don't go into it with any preconceptions. Some men are inherently afraid of confident women, while other men rely on women to make up for their lack of self esteem and often expect it. Let him be himself and see how he stands like that before you make any judgement calls about him. If he treats you in an unfair manner or makes either of you feel uncomfortable, finish the gig, and I'll make sure that the issue is brought up with the customer, alright? But don't go in there looking to take the guy down, before the gig has started," asked Heylyn of her employees.

"Don't worry about us boss, we can handle ourselves," Monique assured Heylyn.

"With good advice like that, how can we be wrong, so long as we heed it?" Aikiko replied with a friendly smile to Heylyn.

"Glad to see you're learning to tame that dragon within you, Aikiko," Heylyn returned her smile.

"...speaking of, I've got to go see Ebtissam, after which I've got to see the other dragon in the house. Braden," Heylyn quickly grabbed up the garments from the design table and Frick and Frack as Monique and Aikiko headed for the door.

"We're outta here and off to the camera..." Monique waved to Heylyn as she and Aikiko left the design room.

"Break a leg! Just not his!" Heylyn said as they left the design room.

Valerie And Trey Sex Spam

"...I do so love to spend a few days here and there at the Residence Hotel. Its one of my favourites. Speaking of... have you been there recently?" asked Mr. Halford, one of the managers of a fabric supplier to West Meet East.

"Funny you should mention. Trey and I were at the Residence Hotel some time in early September. Its a great place. Really nice rooms. We had a great time there," Valerie responded, careful not to allude to her romantic time there with Trey.

"...oh dear. Hmmm. Well, I suppose I should go now, I don't want to keep you from your sexy lunches with your boyfriend... ahem," Mr. Halford responded to Valerie.

"...I beg your pardon?" Valerie responded confrontationally, somewhat in shock that one of the reps of their suppliers would even insinuate such a thing, regardless of whether it was true or not.

"I'm sorry, my mind must have been elsewhere. I've got to go. I've got an important ten o'clock I can't be late for. We'll talk soon Val," Mr. Halford quickly hung up the phone.

"What the heck was that about?" Valerie became concerned with the prospects, as the evidence was mounting in favour of a horrific possibility.

Valerie quickly picked up the phone and dialed Trey's extension. The phone rang for nearly a minute before Trey picked up.

"WME. Trey speaking from the studio," Trey answered the phone, sounding a bit out of breath.

"Hi honey. Sorry to interrupt your shoot, but have you been having strange conversations with any of the outside reps of suppliers for WME?" asked Valerie.

"Not that I know of, why?" asked Trey, now concerned for her.

"I just had a conversation with one of the reps from a supplier, and he alluded to our sexy lunches just after talking about the Residence Hotel. A conversation he started. Doesn't that seem odd to you, given all of the other strange confrontations we've had recently?" asked Valerie of her boyfriend.

"Was he rude? Did he belittle you at all?" asked Trey defensively.

"No. He just mentioned it in such a way to sound belittling... as if he knew details of it. As if he was asking me in order to verify whether it was simply a rumour or not... or something he saw on video..." Valerie explained to him.

"Were there any demands made by him? You know, to keep silent about it?" asked Trey.

"You mean like blackmail? Extortion? No. It was more like he was letting me know that he knew. Like having one over on someone, if you know what I mean?" Valerie explained to Trey.

"Honey, I know its difficult, but maybe it was coincidence. You should put your mind at ease and focus on your work, and we'll discuss this at lunch," Trey suggested to her.

"This is really starting to get unnerving..." Valerie explained to him.

"I know it is, but it won't do either of us any good to let it get the best of us. Like one of your pep talks at monthly WME meetings? When the going gets rough, stay focused and keep yourself on course. Remember?" Trey reminded her of one of her own previous pep talks she'd delivered at their monthly morning meetings.

She sighed heavily.

"I guess I should take my own advice, if I expect anyone else to," Valerie agreed.

"Well at least do your best to, or do whatever works. That's the spirit. Don't worry, its only a couple more hours until lunch and we'll discuss it then, alright?" Trey offered.

"Speaking of, there's a grand opening at a sub place just around the corner if you're interested?" Valerie asked Trey.

"Now that sounds like a date. Talk soon," Trey agreed.

"See you then, and thanks sweety," Valerie said her goodbye.

"Alright Valerie, stay focused!" Valerie said to herself, pepping herself up for the rest of the day.

She then turned her attention to her computer screen and the rest of her morning emails. As her view fell upon them, a new message popped into her inbox at the top of the forever running list.

The new subject line read:

Urgent! For your immediate attention and his...

She grabbed hold of the mouse and clicked on the message in her email client. A hundredth of a second  after she'd clicked it, the message opened:

I'll bet you're tired of people knowing your personal secrets, aren't you. Well get ready because this is only the beginning...

Beneath the text, was a graphic GIF image depicting her lunch with Trey at the Residence Hotel from that same day a few weeks previous. The image was grainy as a result of dithering and compression artifacts, but it was clear enough for Valerie's mind to recognize it instantly. Both of them were already naked at that point, their privates were barely visible. From the angle of the camera, it appeared that it might have been installed in the wall nearest their bed. The wall between the bedroom and the bathroom. The GIF image played for twenty seconds, and then looped, before Valerie's shocked face.

She picked up the phone and called Trey once again, feeling an intense anxiety dwelling within her.

"Hi again? Everything alright?" he asked her, already knowing it was her.

"They sent me an email with a video of us...! In bed at the hotel!" Valerie exclaimed, on the brink of tears.

She got up from the computer and turned her back to the screen, not willing to watch the looping video of their most private of moments again.

"Why is this happening!" she asked Trey, biting one of her fingernails.

"Look, I want you to make a copy of that email and we'll give it as evidence to the Police," Trey told her.

"But I don't want to see it again!" Valerie began to break down.

She turned and slammed her hand down on the desk. A large crack rippled up the desk, but it miraculously held in place without collapsing under Valerie's enormous strength.

"Take it easy Valerie! Just take a few breaths and relax. I'm on my way there now..." Trey told her.

"Its gone!" Valerie responded to Trey, once again in shock.

"What's gone?" asked Trey.

"The email! It was here a moment ago... but its gone!" Valerie sat down again and checked her inbox thoroughly.

"Maybe when you had a moment there, you deleted it by accident?" asked Trey.

"No. I just checked the trash bin. Its not there," Valerie explained to Trey, hoping he had more answers.

"Try the spam folder?" Trey suggested, Valerie immediately clicked on the spam folder.

"Nothing! Its like it never existed!" Valerie's emotions found stability and she returned to her previous resolve.

"I want you to call Lisa and Dylan, and let them know. They might have the means to track it down in the server logs. Can you do that, and we'll talk at lunch?" Trey asked her.

She took a deep breath.

"Alright. That's what I'll do. I'll call them right now," Valerie said to Trey.

"Do that. I'll see you at lunch. Keep that focus," Trey encouraged her.

 They hung up and Valerie immediately dialed Lisa.

"I.T., Lisa speaking?" Lisa answered the phone in her usual chipper voice.

"Hi Lisa, its Valerie. Look, I-I just received a strange spam email about two minutes ago, and it disappeared but I'm not above the possibility that I accidentally deleted it. Trey said you could check the server logs for it?" asked Valerie of their network specialist.

"Sure. Addressed to you? What was the subject line if you remember?" asked Lisa.

"It was: Urgent! For your immediate attention and his..." Valerie dictated the line to her exactly as she remembered it.

"Alright. Just checking the logs here... Uhhhhh... yep. There it is... no content though," Lisa told her.

"What does that mean?" asked Valerie.

"The message header is there, but there's no message or whatever was in it. Just a sender's address, a receiver's address, a subject line, date and time and some other technical stuff," Lisa informed Valerie.

"There's a sender? What's the email?" asked Valerie, grabbing a pen and a post-it note from next to her keyboard.

"Its:" Lisa told Valerie the sender's email address as she wrote it down.

"Thanks," Valerie replied almost hanging up.

"Everything OK? You sound a little stressed," Lisa asked her.

"It's fine. Just a little frightening some of the emails that don't make their way to the spam filter. I'll be alright," Valerie assured her.

"Tell you what. I'll go over the spam filters and make sure they're all up-to-date and I'll include a filter for blocking this sender's domain on our mail router and server. That sound good?" asked Lisa.

"Thanks so much. I'd appreciate that. You have a good day," Valerie replied.

"Ok. Talk soon. Let me know if there's anything else. Bye for now!" Lisa hung up.

Valerie examined the damage on her desk.

"Going to need a new one. I'll tell Heylyn next week..." Valerie frowned, pocketing the email sender's address for later.

Its Better To Ship Than Receive

Braden grabbed up the roll of shrink wrap and loaded it into the automated pallet packaging machine. 

The last pallet of the previous night's design samples was ready to be packaged on its skid, as Braden pushed the big green START button on the device. The skid began spinning as the worker arm on the machine rose and fell, to cover the entire pallet in shrink wrap. Once it was sufficiently wrapped, it stopped and cut the end of the shrink wrap, leaving Braden with a finished skid.

"Finally. The last one..." he said as he pulled the skid away from the spinning platter with another hand lift truck.

The already confined staging area of the West Meet East shipping and receiving dock was now full of skids, due to be picked up by the morning courier. This task had kept him busy since coming in with Heylyn, Monique and Aikiko that morning at six.

He loved the physical work aspect of his job, for it helped to keep him in great shape. Sometimes, even when it wasn't overly physical or beneficial to his body, he'd go out of his way to make it as much. Mixing stretches with lifts, or creating techniques that caused exertion to stress target muscles he was trying to keep strong and toned. This morning's work had been as much an enjoyable challenge with the commodity of space, as it had been a great exercise session, simply by loading pallets with boxes.

He was about ready to do the paperwork for each of the pallets when he noticed a package to the side he'd neglected earlier.

"Where'd that come from?" he asked himself, checking it for a bill of lading.

As he searched the large box, there was a knock on the shipping door.

Braden ran over to the shipping door and opened it.

"I'm with the shipping firm?" a driver stepped into the shipping area in a familiar uniform.

"Great. Good timing but I'm just getting the stickers onto the pallets now. Won't take but a moment. Are you backed in?" asked Braden of the shipping driver.

"Sure am. The second door," the shipping driver told Braden as he got over to the second bay door and opened it.

"Get your truck ready and I'll get the stickers on them right now. Need help with the dock plate?" asked Braden, who'd never turn down an opportunity for exercise.

"The old fashioned one? Yeah you'd better handle that. My back's not the greatest for that kind of beast," the shipping driver responded honestly.

"No worries," Braden grabbed hold of the eighty pound aluminum dock plate, picking it up easily and laying it down to bridge the gap between the truck and the shipping bay.

Braden purposely made it that much more exercise for himself before returning to the driver.

"Uhhhh, there's something I've got to tell you. You know that lady from the front office? She's got long dark brown/auburn hair? Maybe about five foot nine or ten?" asked the shipping driver.

"Yeah, I think I know who you mean. Go on?" asked Braden.

"Well. This is kind of bizarre, but I got a strange email message before I got here. You should take a look as it might be a serious matter..." the shipping driver handed his phone to Braden, where it was already opened to a particular email message.

The subject line read: Do you really know your clients? Want to know them a bit better?

The content of the message then read:

Here's two of the West Meet East star employees, and how they spend their time during their lunch hour, although the time they spent on this lunch was nearly two hours.

Their names? Those who aren't in the know refer to them as Valerie Aspen (Business Manager: ladies first!) and Trey Searl (Studio Photographer, though this time he's on the other side of the lens).

As it had been displayed in the missing email Valerie had received, this email had a moving image as well, but this time it was an embedded video of considerable quality. As Braden watched the video, he could see very easily that it was his coworkers, Valerie and Trey. Braden immediately clicked to stop the video's playback.

At the bottom of the message read the sign-off line:

Stay tuned for the next episode of when Valerie Met Trey, where we'll be leaking personal details about each of their history, including any photos and other tidbits we can find. Oh, and don't use their names  when referring to them or speaking with them, because to us, they don't exist anymore. When referring to them, use someone else's name. Preferably that of someone who has a bad reputation we can lambaste them with. At least until we take all of the good from them.

We hope you enjoyed this, and please do share this with anyone but employees or friends of West Meet East or associates of Valerie Aspen and Trey Searl. Also, do not speak with anyone else of this unless we give you specific instructions on the matter.

If you inform these people or fail to comply with this request to keep it from the hands of West Meet East employees, you'll find yourself targeted by similar action and your life will be completely destroyed as the people who know you are given the secret details of your life and nobody regards you as a human being that exists. We know everything about you, not to mention we really do know everything.

"When did you get this?!!!" asked Braden, looking to the shipping driver aggressively.

"Just before I pulled into the back lot there. I'd prefer if you kept this quiet though... but I can't for the life of me allow this kind of thing to happen to one of our customers, let alone people I deal with on nearly a daily basis," the shipping driver spoke firmly on the matter.

"You're a good man for taking a risk like this for people you barely know. I'm grateful for that, but I've got to deal with this. Uhhhh, I'll forward a copy to my email address and that will leave you out of it..." Braden suggested.

"What if they're monitoring my phone?" asked the shipping driver.

"If they were, they'd be hearing what we're saying right now. They'd have access to the microphone and camera, wouldn't they?" asked Braden, quickly covering the camera on his phone with a post-it note.

"Just forward the damned thing to your email and I'll lay low. If this comes back to me, just remember to look out for me the way I looked out for you and your friends!" the shipping driver said to Braden.

"You can count on that," Braden slapped his hand on the shipping driver's shoulder.

 Braden forwarded the email to his own personal address, and then checked it on his own phone.

"Got it. Let's get this shipment on your truck and get you out of here as quickly as possible. I've got some stuff to do now," Braden said, grabbing the hand truck and making an opening for the skids to the back of the truck.

"I'll sticker these for you. Go deal with whoever you have to in order to get this solved..." the shipping driver told Braden.

"Don't leave before I'm back..." Braden patted him on the back.

"Don't worry about me. I'm not going anywhere until you've signed my digital docket here," the shipping driver assured him.


Braden stepped through the door into the back hall and then to the sewing room at the same time as Heylyn arrived with her prototype garments.

"Fancy the both of you showing up at the same time? What can I do for you Heylyn?" asked Ebtissam, the head seamstress of West Meet East.

"These are the garments I told you about that we need sewn according to the pattern, which is from yesterday's design book on the network entitled prototypes. I want this new material sewn into the design, with double stitching, and triple stitching where I've indicated," Heylyn explained to Ebtissam.

"What is this material?" asked Ebtissam.

"Its a padding material. Like a spacer, with some insulation properties," Heylyn told her without giving away the details.

"Why don't we use that two gauge material we've got so much of instead of wasting this expensive material as padding?" asked Ebtissam.

"Because this is what the customer wants in the prototype and we have to deliver it. End of story," Heylyn told Ebtissam.

"Very well, but this material appears a bit difficult to work with. I'm going to have to setup some machines for it, meaning that will take time, and I'll have to reset them once again so we can do our regular work load," Ebtissam explained.

"If you get these done before ten thirty in the morning today, by the end of the week I might splurge on another industrial machine and twelve more production line machines for your department to produce these garments en-masse. Deal?" asked Heylyn.

"If that means we'll have more work shift work for my staff, then we have a deal!" Ebtissam immediately approved, as by Heylyn's offer she knew something big was going on with the prototypes.

"And keep this quiet about these prototypes. You know, Shhhh!?" Heylyn put her finger to her lips and gestured Ebtissam to keep quiet.

"Will do. Next?" Ebtissam turned to Braden, who looked very anxious.

"Uhhhh, I need Heylyn, but thanks Ebtissam. Heylyn, have you got a second... in your office maybe?" asked Braden, pointing back the way Heylyn had come.

"We can do that. Something wrong?" asked Heylyn.

"Let's talk about this. Its kind of personal..." Braden guided her towards the door as she led the way.

"Personal? About what?" asked Heylyn as they walked.

"Payroll. Just payroll... nothing else... Why does it sound like anything else is wrong...?" Braden said nervously as he walked with her along the back hall, turning the corner right to pass through the open office area and many listening ears.

Finally they found their way to Heylyn's design room door.

"Right to the office?" Heylyn asked.

"Yes, its kind of personal and urgent!" Braden picked up his pace, encouraging her to do the same.

Heylyn took a seat behind her desk, opposite Braden who took the chair in front of her desk.

"What's up?" asked Heylyn, leaning forward at her desk.

"There's been a hoax email going around that I thought you need to see immediately," Braden said to her, pulling his phone out of his pocket and placing it on her desk.

"Your emails?" she asked him.

"Yes. I forwarded it to my personal email," Braden explained as Heylyn picked up his phone.

She saw the email client on his phone and a message in the reader on screen.

She read the subject line and then the first few lines of content before arriving at the video, which she clicked to play. After a few seconds of the video playback, she clicked again to stop it once she'd recognized the people on it.

"When did you receive this?!!!" Heylyn shot a glance to him.

"Today. This morning. About seven minutes ago," Braden explained to her.

"Does she know?" Heylyn asked him.

"You mean, did I tell her? No. I came to you first. This seems a little bit like that other fellow's work. The one you told me about? Mister Zeek?" asked Braden.

"Zek. Mister Zek. No, its not his. He doesn't deal at this level," Heylyn assured him.

"What should we do? I mean, we can't let this happen..." Braden urged her.

"The question is, how do we stop it?" asked Heylyn.

"By reporting it..." Braden suggested.

"To who? Can the Police even do anything about this? This isn't ransomware. There's no demands," asked Heylyn.

"What if it is, and Valerie or Trey have already received the message containing the demand and decided not to tell us. It is kind of personal," Braden suggested.

"She's not wealthy. She's well off for sure, but she's not made of money. Neither am I for that matter, but this shouldn't happen to anyone. I've got a bigger bank roll not to mention the fixed assets of this company and I haven't received anything like this," Heylyn explained to Braden.

There was a moment of silence between them as they thought about the situation.

"This is an attack upon their personal lives. From the wording of the letter, it sounds like whomever this is has a large network... Perhaps Mentis?" suggested Heylyn.

"Mentis' methods more rely on what Professor Maxwell described. Biomagnetism that they've weaponized to affect others negatively. What did Doctor Briggs call it? Operant conditioning?" asked Braden of his employer.

"I think I recall. Good treatment for the behaviours they want, and bad treatment for the behaviours they don't want. Like breaking someone down to do things the way Mentis and his followers want..." Heylyn agreed.

"So, what if this is a new method they're using for this operant conditioning?" suggested Braden.

"That's possible, but if Valerie and Trey aren't being told about it, how do they know they're being punished? Doctor Briggs said that there needs to be awareness for that kind of conditioning to work," Heylyn reasoned.

"Good point. Then this is a form of attack meant to discredit them?" Braden considered.

"From whom did you forward this?" asked Heylyn.

"I promised I wouldn't tell..." Braden told her.

"The driver..." Heylyn immediately reasoned.

"I can't confirm or deny it, but assume as you will," Braden agreed.

"Alright. I know it was, I mean who else in here would they send it to if the message clearly states not to send it to anyone from here? So they send it to a company dealing with us, maybe in the hopes of getting us boycotted or putting us out of business, or at the very least, getting her and him fired," Heylyn explained her line of reasoning.

"But that's not going to happen, is it?" Braden asked her.

"Do you even need to ask?" Heylyn tested him.

"Well you could fire her openly, and then rehire her under an alternate name secretly," Braden came up with another idea.

"But what would that accomplish? Valerie shouldn't have to change her name or go through any of this! Neither should Trey! I mean she assisted in taking down the fellow you just mentioned, Mister Zek, and we've all been living with our names since that point in time," Heylyn reminded him.

"Yeah, but you did it in costumes, didn't you?" asked Braden.

"True. I think we need to discuss this as a group. Those of us costumed types?" suggested Heylyn.

"Who? You mean the five of you?" asked Braden.

"...and you. That could be a start. After all, we've got the benefit of our alter-egos. Between the five of us, considering the diverse knowledge between us all, we could uncover quite a bit before any real damage is done. Maybe even put a stop to it," Heylyn leaned back in her chair and considered the possibility.

"We've got to move quick. There's no telling the kind of damage this sort of thing could cause in a person's life. If its contagious like the email says if you fail to comply, we could be looking at everyone in the company under attack, and then our suppliers and others who stand with us. That could spell the end of West Meet East? Who would want to buy from us if their distribution network employees are all being targeted like this? What about people who wear your fashion openly on the street? What if they start getting targeted? That could mean the end?!!!" Braden explained to her.

"We'll bring Valerie, Monique, Aikiko and Alicia in on this. In person and by meeting. You'll be there too. We'll go over the possibilities and we'll also be Valerie's and Trey's support network, until we can put a stop to this," Heylyn asserted to Braden, who considered what she said.

"What about the dragon?" asked Braden.

"You mean the big, big dragon?" confirmed Heylyn.

"That one. Warai's friend," Braden agreed.

"Mine too you know. Since I was a little girl," Heylyn told him.

"Yeah I know... What about the dragon? Could it help?" asked Braden.

"Almost for certain, but that depends upon the mood its in... and if we can make heads or tails of its poetic nonsense. I'll make the call before the end of the day to everyone else. We'll aim for an emergency meeting between the six of us tomorrow. Then we'll decide from there who to bring in on this with us, and how we're going to deal with it," Heylyn handed him his phone as she stood.

"Alright. I'll  keep this contained for now... as best I can anyway," Braden pocketed his phone.

"If the driver is targeted for sharing this, let him know that he can come directly to me for a job. I can't do this for everyone as there's a limit to my finances, but I can help someone that really took a risk to let us know," Heylyn gave Braden some instructions.

"I'm sure that'll comfort him somewhat... if anyone can be comfortable in such a circumstances. Thanks all the same," Braden smiled uneasily for her.

"We'll compare notes at the end of the day, perhaps tonight at home. I mean we've already got Monique and Aikiko there as they're my neighbours, and you're their neighbour, but we'll do the meeting with Valerie and Alicia tomorrow. I think its a time for the return of the Butterfly Dragon," Ai Yuanlin Ying stepped away from her desk and walked with Braden to the design room door.

"Get the person whose email you forwarded this from to remain quiet too, and we'll talk before we leave. Oh! When Ebtissam is done, I need you to drop off the prototype clothing garments for testing to the University research site. Can you do it?" asked Heylyn.

"When?" asked Braden.

"Just after eleven. You're to give them directly to Zheng, Doctor Briggs and Bryce. Alicia's going to be there too, so you can give them the message to contact me as soon as they know whether the garments work for the intended purpose of making people Mentis-proof," Heylyn asked him.

"Sure. I'll do it. Might be better to get me out of there with all of this going on, I could be a decoy for the day you know. Take the chaos away from West Meet East," Braden suggested to Heylyn.

"Lets start with what you've got so far. Get that done and call me from the University research site. Understood?" asked Heylyn.

"Sure do, boss," Braden smiled to her, and she winked back.

"Now go get that truck out of here with our samples and then go deliver those prototype garments..." Heylyn urged him along to his duties.

She then made her way back to her desk and started evaluating her legal options for taking on Valerie's and Trey's hidden enemies.

The Camera's Eye

Dan Gurdy stood in Studio C, off stage and facing the wall, his shadow staring back at him as cast by the powerful HMI and LED lighting systems that Trey preferred for his shoots.

Dan began hopping on one leg, and then on the other, building up his cardio in order to cause his veins to protrude from the muscles on his arms and legs. For a man in his late forties, he'd gone from being rotund to muscular over the course of three months, thanks to the new persona that now inhabited his own body. 

The persona of Jack Warren.

Dan began throwing a series of punches at the wall, coming close to it but making no contact. He danced back and forth on his feet, working on his leg work as well while the rest of the studio prepared for the shoot.

Monique was in her chair, sitting still as Fay applied a touch-up to her makeup after Trey had setup the colour temperature of the lighting for the stage. Monique's costume was an old style exercise outfit with leg warmers for her lower legs, while Aikiko sat in a neighbouring chair, heavily done up but in an eighties style skirt and and one piece. Both women appeared quite fit and were more than ready for the shoot.

Trey was doing his best to simulate an eighties style look, his DSLR camera matching the settings of his favourite vintage Canon camera from that era. He stood with Nathan Liman, the director of the shoot, discussing how they'd planned to tackle the three scenes they had planned. Each scene would require the stage to be reset, relit and redecorated (Kori's old job), while the models would each have to undergo another set of touch-ups to their make-up.

"Dan! We need you in the chair! Fay's almost finished with Monique..." Nathan shouted to Dan, who turned to face the man.

"Give me another second... alright?!!!" Dan responded in a tone that let Nathan know he wouldn't budge for anyone but himself.

"This is the second time he's done this right before a shoot..." Nathan paced back and forth, a bit stressed.

"Come on Nathan, or we'll sick Aikiko on you..." Trey joked with Nathan, not knowing the man very well.

"You'll do what? You'll sick the Japanese girl on me? Don't make me laugh..." Dan responded, throwing more punches at the wall.

Nathan clapped his hand loudly.

"Come on, Dan! Get in that chair right now or we're starting without you!" Nathan exclaimed to Dan, his limit in patience having been reached.

Dan immediately turned around and walked toward Nathan aggressively. Upon reaching Nathan, Dan bounced his chest off of the man, keeping his hands by his side.

"Don't ever tell me what to do again. You got it?" Dan challenged Nathan, Nathan tripping backwards and almost falling into one of the lighting racks if not for Monique having quickly gotten out of her chair and catching him.

By that point, Aikiko was already up and out of her chair, facing Dan and not moving for him.

She just looked at him, in an unnerving manner. As if someone else was behind her eyes looking out, just waiting for an excuse to get out and at him.

"Leave him alone! He didn't hurt anyone you big bully!" Aikiko said to him in a tiny and unthreatening voice.

At that moment Dan suddenly withdrew from her, realizing what he'd just done.

He shook his head in shame.

"I'm so sorry Nathan. I don't know what came over me. I'm just stressed... There's a whole future riding on this," Dan admitted to Nathan.

"Alright. Don't touch me again. Last warning. Let's get this gig done and we can all get paid and go home," Nathan looked to everyone in the studio.

"Mr. Gurdy. I'm going to need you here..." Fay asked for Dan to take a seat for his makeup.

Dan reluctantly walked over and took a seat a Fay had asked.

"This won't take two minutes. We just have to get you ready for that lighting," Fay told him, doing her best to calm him down.

"Monique? Aikiko? You can get yourselves ready on stage. Monique, you're stage left and Aikiko, you're stage right. I'll need you to look like you're jogging Monique. We'll try it with you actually jogging on the spot, and then with you just in a position with one of your legs up as if you're jogging. Aikiko, you're going to be standing on the other side, with both your hands on your hips, pushing your hips forward so that we give the illusion that we're looking up at you. It will make you look taller than you are. When Dan's done in the little chair there, we'll have him in the center in a boxing pose. No punching, just a ready stance like you'd see of classic promo photos of boxers. Everyone got it?" asked Nathan.

"I think we can handle this..." Monique took her place on stage, trying out jogging first.

On the other side, Aikiko stood with her hips slightly thrust forward as Trey checked the camera viewport on the camera.

"Perfect. Once Dan's in there and I'm certain the lighting is just right, we'll start shooting," Trey sized up the scene with Monique and Aikiko on stage.

"We should try shooting in a hotel room. I hear the Residence Hotel has some good rooms. Nice ones with double beds. Perfect for couples..." Dan said as Fay finished up doing his shading.

"I beg your pardon?!" asked Trey.

"What? I just suggested we shoot this stuff in a hotel. What's wrong with that? Are you a little sensitive about hotels, or just the Residence Hotel?" confirmed Dan, once again sounding confrontational.

Trey held his tongue, for he'd met men like Dan before. Dan was purposely trying to push his buttons to create a reaction that would justify Dan assaulting Trey in all likelihood. Trey thought back to his conversation with Valerie and suddenly understood what she was likely going through.

"Look, I'm like Nathan. I want to get this done so we can get onto the next thing. I'm sure you do too," Trey responded professionally.

"Your makeup should be shaded enough Mr. Gurdy," Fay told Dan, who stood up for the chair and slapped his boxing gloves together.

Dan walked over to the stage casually and took his place between the two women.

"That's better! Now I want Monique and Aikiko both smiling, in their current pose, but I want Dan to have a bit of a tough look. You know, like the kind of guy who beats people up," Nathan said to Dan.

"Like this?" asked Dan, striking a pose as the two women, one on either side of him stood valiantly smiling.

"Looks great! Great lighting. Good contrast," Trey smiled, looking to Nathan.

"Alright. Let's get this show underway!" Nathan signaled Trey to begin shooting.

Delivery Dragon

Braden got out of his car, checking the dash to make sure he'd put the parking tag where it was visible and then proceeded to the back door to the University faculty. He followed the signs through the maze of halls to the office, where he stepped in a spoke with one of the receptionists.

"Hi, I've got a package here for Professor Maxwell?" asked Braden of the receptionist.

"Just a second..." the receptionist told Braden.

"Professor Maxwell, I've got a lad here who says he has a delivery?" the receptionist asked.

"Very well, Professor," the receptionist hung up the phone.

"You can take the package directly to the Medical Research wing, its just down the hall, where you should be following the red stripe until you get to the intersection of halls, and then take the hall with the blue stripe and follow it to the door. Someone will buzz you in," the receptionist gave Braden directions, which he thanked her for before proceeding.

After negotiating the corridors, he finally found his way to the hall with the blue stripe and before long he was at the door of the Medical Research wing.

The door opened and Bryce stepped out from behind it.

"How are you Braden? Good to see you! Why don't you come in and I'll show you a bit of what we're doing?" asked Bryce.

"Uhhhh, if that's alright? Sure," Braden stepped through the door as Bryce held it for him.

"Its a pretty nice setup you've got here," Braden looked around, admiring the technology he was seeing.

"Its not mine, but its certainly fun to get to use it for research like what we're doing now," Bryce smiled as he walked.

"So how's everyone doing at West Meet East?" asked Bryce.

"They're doing good. Heylyn sends her love. So do Monique, Aikiko and Kori," Braden told him.

"Well that's good to hear," Bryce got the next door and Braden was first greeted by Zheng.

"How are you Braden?" asked Zheng, getting up to give him a hug.

"I'm fine. I was just saying to Bryce what an awesome place this looks to be," Braden remarked, far from knowing what any of the technology was for.

"Braden. How are you?" Doctor Briggs shook Braden's hand.

"Great! Good to see you Doctor Briggs," Braden returned his hand shake.

"Braden! You remember Gregory, don't you?" asked Alicia, getting up from behind her own workstation.

"Good to see you Alicia. How are you Greg?" asked Braden.

"Great. Managed to kludge together this EM Projection device, though I haven't had much sleep," Gregory's eyes had dark circles and bags under them.

"You've got to take care of this, if you want this to stay healthy too," Braden pointed to his body, and then to his head.

"I know. But sometimes we get obsessed with stuff and before you know it, its like five in the morning already..." Gregory took a sip of his coffee.

"So lets see the duds man!" Bryce said to Braden jokingly.

"Yeah, they're pretty groovy man!" Braden responded as he handed Alicia the package.

"For me?" she asked.

"Open it, but you don't have to model them for us..." Bryce responded to her.

She opened the box and within, and in anti-static wrap were four sets of complete garments. Two sets with pants. Two sets with skirts. Alicia held them up in turn so that everyone could get a look at them.

"She managed to keep them very compact, didn't she?" Alicia noted.

"They feel very sturdy, but still soft," Zheng noted.

"Let's try a quick test with them. Pass me the blouse there, please?" asked Bryce.

"Sure. Here you go," Alicia handed Bryce one of the blouses.

He took his cellular phone and put it in the middle of the blouse. He then wrapped the blouse around the cellular phone, covering it completely and waited a few seconds.

A long beep emitted from the cellular phone, and Bryce's smile grew.

"It works with that..." Bryce said to them.

"What happened?" asked Braden.

"The blouse acted as a Faraday cage, blocking most electromagnetic energy from reaching or leaving the phone. Essentially that would cut it off from communicating with the cellular tower," explained Alicia.

"If it works with the phone, that's a good sign. We're aiming to isolate enough of the nervous system's biomagnetic field that it renders any outside effects upon the nervous system harmless," Alicia continued.

"You see Alicia's nerve tissue clump here?" Gregory pointed out to Braden.

"No. What's that?" Braden asked, examining the transparent jar at the end of Gregory's device.

"That's a tissue sample grown in the lab from human nervous system tissue. There's enough of it that it functions as a tiny neural network that operates the same way as the human nervous system in our bodies. The idea is that if we feed a signal derived from actual recordings of nervous system activity from a real human body, we can broadcast it from the nerve tissue in this jar, and measure if it becomes entangled with the nervous systems of our test subjects, which would confirm the mechanisms we suspect are behind this phenomenon and instantaneous communication over long distances, through the body," Bryce explained the rest to them.

"This is the big one! If this test confirms it, we've uncovered one of the most important aspects about what we're up against, not to mention if these garments block that affect, then we've got a defense against them that would render their entire ideology powerless over others," Doctor Briggs told Braden.

"That's what all of this handy-dandy software is for that I've written, using MindSpice's CCQCA or Classically Coupled Quantum Computing Array. The same array that's running MAZ," Zheng showed Braden the complex software suite she designed for integrating the MRI readings in real-time, and analysing for evidence of the existence of entangled molecules within the nervous system.

Braden at that moment realized that the battle against Mentis wasn't going to be as simple a matter as they'd all hoped. Even if Mentis' main weapon was taken from them, they still had the weapons they were now using to attack Valerie and Trey, and very likely, many others.

The weapons of personal secrets taken out of context, or framed within one of a socially damaging nature.

Braden then realized the importance of what they were hoping to discover. If the clothing did in fact block Mentis' and his followers abilities to affect the population, then nobody could be triggered into reacting when being pressured by such tactics as the exposure of their personal secrets.

Mentis' main weapon was their ability to provoke reaction and manipulate the nervous system of their victims remotely. Trigger anxiety. To cause pain and harm such as migraine headaches, for use in operant conditioning. Without those effects, everyone would likely be resilient enough to withstand the psychological stress of their secrets being weaponized, or any other misuse of such abilities by a malicious group.

If this worked, the war against Mentis would be much closer to a victory than it would be otherwise.

"Look. It was nice seeing you all again. I've got to get back to West Meet East, which reminds me. Oh, and Alicia... Heylyn asked me to have you call her ASAP, about a get together," Braden passed Heylyn's message along as Alicia separated the garments into four folded piles for the test subjects.

"Ok. Thanks. I'll give her a call when we take our break," Alicia assured Braden, who nodded affirmatively.

"Well it was certainly nice seeing you again Braden. Let Heylyn know that we'll be by for the next meeting and to discuss the results of the experiments with everyone. Hopefully by that time we'll have some good news to share," Bryce stood, smiled and shook hands with Braden.

"Good to see you Braden," Doctor Briggs stood and shook his hand as well.

"Don't forget to tell Warai that we all say hi," Zheng stood and gave him another hug.

"I won't. She'll probably be all smiles to hear from you. Alright. Gotta go!" with that Braden turned and left through the door he came through.

After navigating the complex of corridors through the research faculty, he found his way out to the parking lot and back to his car.

In another car a short distance away, a man sat behind the wheel and watched Braden get into and start his car.

"Looks like he's on his way back to the nest, without the package. So we can assume he dropped something off for them," the man spoke through the dash phone interface to someone on the other end of his call.

"This is certainly adds a new element to their activities. Follow him, and we'll have a team setup to hack the research computer and find any relevant data they're working on," the man on the other end responded.

"If Mentis could breach West Meet East with his mental collective, we'd already be in the know and wouldn't need to rely on the crude technology of hackers. I've suggested it before and I'll suggest it again. Our focus should be on getting members of the collective into West Meet East, not relying on hackers to get our information. If we had someone inside, we'd already know what was in that package," the man in the car put his into gear and began to pursue Braden.

"We did have someone, but that someone has somehow been liberated. There's some kind of barrier in West Meet East that is preventing any member of the collective from retaining their link to everyone else. If there wasn't, I agree. We'd already know what was in that package," the man on the other end of the call replied over his phone.

"We discussed that you are not to indulge details about our activities over any technological communications medium," both men heard a collection of voices in their heads, simultaneously addressing them directly.

"We were strategizing our operation today, Mentis," the man on the other end of the call responded, though without the use of his mouth.

"You were discussing matters relating to our activities over unprotected technological airwaves. Nothing about us is to have any trace left anywhere. Not on paper. Not in a computer. Not on a phone. Not on a recording. Not in pictograms or pictures. Not in any way that can be used by those outside the collective to decipher details about our existence. No written words and no records of any kind," the millions of voices of Mentis addressed the two men.

"We'll refrain from doing so, Mentis," the man in the car stated as he followed Braden.

"No. Its too late for that. Return to your residence and await further instructions. I'll send some specialists to scrub the area you're currently in to ensure there's no evidence of us anywhere," Mentis millions of minds told the man, who was already sweating in anticipation of the punishment he'd likely receive.

"I've arranged for some hackers to get into the research computer. Shall we go ahead with that?" asked the other man of Mentis.

"Proceed cautiously and recall that no trail they can later audit is to be left," Mentis ordered the other man, Mentis at this point no longer referring to a single man, but rather a massive collective of minds.

"As for you. Terminate your call and return to your residence," Mentis ordered the man in the car to break his pursuit of Braden.

"As you so will," the driver responded, taking a left turn north along Spadina Avenue on his way north back to his home.

The driver never made it back to his home, for before he'd arrived, he was involved in a collision with a much larger vehicle that killed him instantly, and left other motorists with only minor injuries.

Shortly after his death, the driver of the larger vehicle who'd collided with the dead man's car responded to Mentis:

"First leak scrubbed," he spoke to the collective directly in his mind.

Big Business And The Other Island

"Walton Norler sat in the reception area of Lotus Engineering Technologies, comfortably seated in an overstuffed chair.

He'd read more than half of the magazines on the coffee table before him as he waited for his appointment, and had already begun searching through the remainder looking for something more recent than six months earlier.

"I must apologize for the wait, but Mr. Suikong and Mr. Kiale have been delayed. They contacted me a moment ago and they send their apologies but their flight arrived late this morning. They've informed  me that they'll be here in twenty minutes and that they're ready to meet with you immediately at that time. Also, I forgot to put these out this morning if you'd like to read them. They're more current. Can I get you a coffee or a pastry?" the receptionist asked Norler, placing a small stack of magazines and dailies on the coffee table.

"Thanks, but I'm alright. This daily here looks great," Norler smiled to her and she returned to her place behind the reception desk.

Norler picked up the magazine and quickly scanned the front cover:

MindSpice And MAT: Their Public Access Quantum Powered Large Language Model AI Is Set To Ignite Their Stock Value

BPM: Business Powered Machines Integrates Classical Computing Model To Automatically Determine When And Where To Use Classical Or Quantum Computing In AI Problem Solving

The Race Is On For The Future Of Transport - Will Our Transport And Logistics Infrastructure Work On Electrical Or Hybrid Fueled Vehicles?

Tynan Betting Big Again: Nearly Three Years Ago At This Same Time, Tynan And Associates Settled Up Their Asian Alliance Dispute With Future Tangent Industries. Now They're Back To Take Up The Slack Of The Cora Hau Facility

A New CEO: In The Aftermath Of The Tragic MindSpice Bombing, Who Will Replace Deceased Former CEO Gabriel Asnon At MindSpice? We've Got A List Of Frontrunners

When Norler's eyes fell upon the mention of Cora Hau, he immediately thumbed his way to the table of contents and found the article in question. From there he fanned quickly through the pages of the magazine to the article in question.

He read a couple of paragraphs, first leaning back in the overstuffed chair in a relaxed position, eventually leaning forward in disbelief of what he was reading. He quickly found his cellular phone (the fifth one he'd purchased over the last month) and dialed a number from memory.

"Can I speak with Mr. Werner please?" asked Norler anxiously.

"Hold the line please," the call center replied.

A moment later a familiar voice addressed him.

"Helmut Werner speaking," his friend and associate answered professionally.

"Helmut. Its Norler. How are you?" asked Norler.

"I'm doing fine, thank you. How are you today, Norler?" asked Mr. Werner.

"Busy. I'm about to step into a meeting. Speaking of, I hope I'm not interrupting your day," Norler responded.

"No. Don't be silly. Not at all. How's Alicia doing?" asked Mr. Werner politely.

"Oh, she's fine. She's doing well. She's been extra-busy lately between her role at Tynan and helping Gregory and I with the Medi-Friend. She sends her love," Norler assured Mr. Werner.

"Well Thank you. What can I do for you today?" asked Mr. Werner.

"Look the reason I called you was because I saw the article in Big Business Weekly. The one about the Cora Hau acquisition by Tynan And Associates?" Norler asked him about the deal.

"Yes. That one caught me off guard too when I saw it. Turns out it was a deal that was run through the board a month before I became a member, otherwise I would have had to sign-off on it. Something that was arranged between Jason Michael Santers and the head of the Cora Hau project for Future Tangent Industries. Seems that Tynan are gearing up for something big, if they need a production facility on that level. I bet you could find out something from Alicia about it, and if you do, keep me in the loop?" Mr. Werner told him everything he knew about the deal.

"I'm utterly shocked that Tynan would make that move. Especially after everything that happened between the Asian Alliance and Future Tangent Industries..." Norler responded to Mr. Werner.

"As I said before, a few bad apples at Future Tangent Industries doesn't necessarily spoil the bunch. Those bad apples have long been removed and an aggressive policy of oversight now prevails amongst the board members thankfully. However, that doesn't absolve Tynan on their about face with regard to this issue. From what I understand, the Asian Alliance is currently at odds with Jason Michael Santers, as he was proponent of expanding the the tech restrictions against China to include a ban on medical technology as well. Its a wonder that the Asian Alliance allowed the purchase of the Cora Hau facility to go through at all, given that Mr. Santers is the new face of Tynan, since you left," Mr. Werner explained to Norler.

"The question is what's he looking to manufacture there?" asked Norler.

"You said he has his own prototype diagnostic device ripped off from the design drafts Gregory created for the device. The ones on the computer of his that was stolen..." Mr. Werner suggested.

"But Cora Hau wasn't setup to manufacture hardware at all from what I know about it. It was setup to manufacture the chemical ingredients used in a variety of medical treatments. It was all about their cornering the market for Pharmacology in Asia. To compete with what Tynan now markets as Cure-349. The rebranded SY349 formula that Alicia created," Norler explained to Mr. Werner.

"Their biggest brand in the medical sciences industry. Its a wonder they haven't dumped Alicia too, seeing as you two were the dream team that made SY349 possible," Mr. Werner responded, knowing well about the impact of the SY349.

"Her position at Tynan is locked through a patent deal she negotiated herself, with a little bit of advice from me. They can't fire her or change her role for another ten years, under penalty of forfeiture of ownership of the Patent for SY349. If they did, she'd own the entire patent herself. As it stands, she holds onto five percent of it, and her position is guaranteed for another ten years. She's the only one left in the lab from the original team that brought SY349 to the world, though the design for the SY349 is hers entirely. From what I heard, when they canned me, they began cleaning house. Alicia's only there because she's well protected by that contract. I often wonder how she does it, because I bet they've tried a lot of dirty tricks to get her to leave in violation of her contract," Norler explained to Mr. Werner about Alicia's connection to the SY349.

"If Alicia ever leaves Tynan early, you make sure that she comes to see me and I'll pick up her contract and make her head of all medical research for Future Tangent Industries," Mr. Werner assured Norler.

"I'll definitely pass that along to her, but I can tell you that she wouldn't accept it. She's a real hands-on kind of person. She loves working in the lab, and seeing her ideas come to life. Maybe at some point later in her life she'll embrace the kind of a role you're offering, but I'd be willing to bet that she'd never give up either design or lab work," Norler spoke about his wife to be, knowing her the best of all.

"If she ever needs it, the offer stands. And about Cora Hau, if I find out anything about the deal you're asking about, I'll call you and let you in, but you do the same for me as well," Mr. Werner requested.

"You can count on it. Thanks again Helmut. I'll be calling you later this week to give you an update on our production line schedule for Medi-Friend. Until then, you take care of yourself," Norler bid Mr. Werner a farewell.

Norler looked at the article one more time, and then slammed the magazine down on the coffee table as two executives walked into the building, their briefcases in hand.

They walked to the reception desk first, and then over to the waiting area where Norler stood to greet them.

"Mr. Norler? I'm John Kiale and this is Jiaqi Suikong," Mr. Kiale introduced them.

"Great to meet the two of you. How was your flight?" asked Norler, offering each in turn his hand for a firm shake. 

"It was delayed due to bad weather at Vancouver International, hence why we're late. Shall we make our way to the boardroom?" asked Mr. Kiale.

"There's coffee and pastries upstairs as well and if you're hungry, our caterers can make something for you if you'd like?" asked Mr. Suikong.

"Thanks, but I had a big breakfast this morning. Let's get up to the boardroom and get this show under way," Norler suggested, picking up his briefcase from the floor and joining the men as they walked through the foyer to the elevators.

Experimental Outcome

The MRI bed slid out of the interior of the machine, the test subject lay still and relaxed as the technicians helped them up.

"That wasn't so bad Isaac, was it?" asked Rosa, one of the University interns.

"No. Not at all, though its a bit cold in this gown..." Isaac remarked as he got out of the MRI bed.

In another room, connected by a large glass wall, Rosa gave Bryce a thumbs up, which Bryce returned with a nod.

"How's the analysis coming Zheng?" asked Bryce of their mathematics and computer specialist.

 "Just another five seconds and its... done! The analysis is on your screen if you want to check it," Zheng responded to Bryce, who spun his chair around to face his workstation monitor.

"Alright, lets have a look here," Bryce remarked to himself, carefully examining the output graph, which depicted by bodily region from the head to the toe, areas that indicated that the SQUIDs had picked up evidence of a shift in the shape and flow of the bioelectric field due to the change in spin of corresponding atomic particles that made up the matter of the subject's body. 

"These infinitesimally minute alterations in the direction of the magnetic field indicate a probability that entanglement might be involved," Bryce remarked as Doctor Briggs shoulder surfed his computer screen.

Bryce checked the second graph, which depicted the test subject's body, with a heat map indicating the regions where these alterations in the magnetic field occurred. Bryce observed that according to the heat map, there were high density regions along the nervous system, and a dense area within the brain.

"Alicia, I need your expertise in biology here again," Bryce turned to Alicia, who was assisting Gregory in removing glass jar containing the neural tissue sample of their bioelectrical emitter.

Alicia wheeled her chair over to a position beside Bryce, while Gregory handed off the glass jar containing the neural tissue from the emitter to the intern through a mail slot in the wall.

"These concentrated areas are just like with the other subjects. They're isolated to a series of nerves that are essential in the communication between the brain and the hormone system. That includes the endocrine system and numerous other bodily glands that all play a big role in homeostasis. The dense region in the brain is part of the hypothalamus, which also plays a big role in nervous system activity with the endocrine system," Alicia explained to Bryce.

When Alicia finished examining the body graph, Bryce scrolled down and examined a series of numbers presented in a list, with several corresponding Feynman diagrams.

"Thanks Alicia. It looks like we have entanglement. These regions of the body are definitely the areas affected most by the emitter. Let's check the results with the neural tissue now, and we can confirm our findings," Bryce turned his chair and directed the intern to activate the MRI again, which now contained the neural tissue sample from the emitter.

Bryce now moved to one of the monitors on the side of his setup, and watched as the real-time image of the tissue sample emerged.

"Give it another half a minute to calibrate for the smaller sample size..." Rosa said to Bryce from the operations panel of the MRI unit.

They waited patiently as the cloudy image slowly converged, and the shape of the jar and the neural tissue within slowly became visible. A region that ran directly up the center of the tissue was densely shaded, but Bryce knew better than to jump to conclusions before Zheng's image processing software had completed its multi-pass analysis.

"Definitely a candidate," Bryce looked up to Doctor Briggs.

"And these ones on your left screen are the ones we did while the subjects were wearing the garments, correct?" asked Doctor Briggs.

"That they are. I think we've got a confirmation here," Bryce smiled to Doctor Briggs and then to Zheng, who looked back to him, giving him the thumbs up once again.

"We're good to go. A smaller sample size, much less processing. They're on your screen now," Zheng told Bryce.

Doctor Briggs watched over Bryce's left shoulder, while Alicia was beside him on the right as the Zheng's analysis software image became visible.

"What do you think, Alicia? Is that a candidate?" asked Bryce.

"That density map is definitely forming a path between the most active neurons in this tissue sample," Alicia nodded.

"Just gotta check the Feynman diagrams and..." Bryce scrolled the image down again, and a series of numbers and corresponding Feynman diagrams became visible.

"That's entanglement!" Bryce said, and everyone in the room began cheering and whistling.

"We've found it then!" Zheng stood up and walked over to Doctor Briggs, who wrapped his arms around her.

"Not bad. A forty to sixty percent level of protection offered by those garments, and those are the first prototype. Considering that the Faraday cage qualities of these garments could make forty to sixty percent of the population immune to these effects, these results are remarkable," Bryce stood up and  gave Alicia a hug, after which he gave one to Zheng, followed by a good handshake of Doctor Briggs' hand.

"This is just the beginning. You know Heylyn. Once she gets a hold of something, she'll take it and turn it to gold," Alicia agreed, given her experiences and how Heylyn adapted the first generation SY349 to create their power imbuing costumes.

An effect which eventually became permanent to the bodies of the four best friends: Alicia who became Night Style, Monique who became The Eclipse, Valerie who became Kyra, and Heylyn Ai Yuanlin Ying Yates herself who became The Butterfly Dragon.

Now through the network of their friends, Zheng Ni Wong, Kori Jonglyu, Aikiko Tanaka, Doctor Steven Briggs, Doctor Sheldon Hidbickle, Gregory Epsen, Gabe Asnon and Bryce Maxwell, they'd come up with a viable solution to the challenge of dealing with Mentis and the Millions Of Minds. Clothing that could shield the public from the effects of Mentis' biomagnetic collective's abilities.

"Alicia. Why don't you do the honours of letting Heylyn know," Bryce suggested to Alicia.

"I could do that, but the three of you are going to have to present our findings at the next meeting we have at West Meet East, with Jinn Hua, Ms. Huệ Vân, Braden, Hanshi and Hoon Kwang," Alicia suggested.

"That sounds like a deal to me," Bryce looked to Zheng.

"I'm game for that," Zheng smiled.

"Wouldn't have it any other way," Doctor Briggs agreed.


Mutano paced himself as he walked the streets of downtown Toronto in the late afternoon, making his way along Cumberland Street, both his hands in the pockets of his Yohji Yamamoto blazer.

The soothing taste of sliced ginger was still fresh on his palette, as it was always the way he'd finish his Sushi, as much so as it was how he'd cleanse his palette between dishes. He ran a hand through his full head of styled hair and pitched the toothpick that had been perched precariously on the edge of his lips at the side of the road.

Up ahead, he could see Dan Furdy stepping out of the car at the front door of their recently acquired condominium. Mutano made no efforts to pick up his pace, he just kept walking, knowing that fate would bring them together at the moment it was garnered.

Dan, who was also wearing a stylish blazer, preferred Dolce & Gabbana himself along with the black button down silk shirt he was so fond of. Between the the two of them, Mutano and Dan, they covered some of Heylyn Yates' own favourite designers of men's clothing, though neither of them were aware of this nor would they have cared if they'd known.

Dan was about to open the front door when Mutano addressed him.

"How did you fare?" he asked the bigger man in frame, but not so much in stature.

"Mutano? Oh, the photo shoot? It went well. I'm in there like a regular now. Well... almost," Dan responded.

"Mr. Warren, I thought you were going to play things much differently than you did?" asked Mutano of the boxer.

"I was, but opportunity presented itself. We had one of our prime targets there. That Troy... errr... Trey fellow. The one from the hotel with Valerie?" Dan reminded Mutano.

"I am aware that he was there, but we agreed that you were going to play a much lower key presence so as to get you in the front door," Mutano held the door for Dan as he stepped through into the front lobby of the condominium.

Dan paused halfway through the door, somehow interpreting it as an attack on his masculinity.

"What's the problem?" asked Mutano, already knowing well.

"What, are you opening doors for me now or something?" asked Dan, taking a step back.

"As much so as I would for any child..." Mutano responded with an menacing grin.

"Are you saying I'm a kid or something?!!!" Dan/Jack challenged Mutano.

"I'm sorry Mr. Warren, are you offended by children?" Mutano's grin remained as he held the same door open for several other people, all of whom snuck through trying to stay clear of their conversation.

Dan's face pressed into a look of rage, and he clenched his fist for the first time when facing Mutano.

Mutano held the door, unmoving.

"If you are, then I suggest you stop behaving like one," Mutano continued, directing Jack through the door.

Jack's face slowly relaxed, and he continued through the door, this time saying nothing as he continued through into the lobby.

"I'm sorry, but this Trey guy. He's got me..." Jack began.

"The scent of envy is strong in the air... Perhaps I should have sent someone else in your place. If I'd have known that you were going to let feelings you harboured for a woman almost a decade ago get in the way, I'd have sent someone else. Perhaps you could adjust your performance for the sake of our infiltration?" asked Mutano as he walked with Jack/Dan through the lobby towards the elevators.

"...look, I'm sorry Mr. Mutano. This is hard. I... had a thing for Valerie way back. Even before she was Torman's girl..." Jack/Dan loosened his grip on his fist, instead focusing on his words and what he wanted to say.

"I understand perfectly, Mr. Warren. We all have that one fish that got away. That one that escaped our gill net, but you have to remember the bigger picture. If you want that fish, we have to catch all of them, in one big trap, don't we?" Mutano said, immediately thinking about Aikiko Tanaka of course, also known to him and others as the Dragon Butterfly.

"You mean I can get her?" asked Jack/Dan of Mutano.

"I see no reason why you can't... other than the fact that you're already undoing our plan by your current behaviour!" Mutano addressed him firmly just before they stepped into the open doors of the elevator that had just arrived.

Jack stood before the door to the left, and Mutano entered the elevator behind him, standing to the right.

The elevator doors closed and the elevator proceeded up, and very quickly so.

"So how do I fix it? How do I undo the damage I've done?" asked Dan/Jack.

"You don't. I'll handle that. What you don't realize is that my reach is much farther than you know, and the reach of our master, Witherwyrm, that much further and beyond! When next you are working in that studio, you'll behave. If you fail to do so, you'll cease to be and you'll be the collection of crushed flesh and bone on the tracks of a subway lost to time. Simple as that," Mutano said to him, unflinchingly.

The rest of the elevator ride up to their two floor, four bedroom suite was silent. Then, with six floors to go until theirs, Dan addressed Mutano.

"When will this all happen?" he asked, meek and withdrawn.

"I will make arrangements. As soon as we get into the suite. I've a meeting... with Witherwyrm. You should be interested to know that the dragon has been asking about you," Mutano told him.

"Let the dragon know I'm up to the task," Dan responded, once again, shrunken and meek.

"I know you are, its Witherwyrm that doesn't. You've one more chance. If you fail..." Mutano said, stepping off of the elevator first.

"What? What will happen to me?" asked Jack, suddenly perturbed by Mutano's threat.

After Mutano had unlocked the door, he tossed Mutano the key card to Dan/Jack, who quickly responded, the card bouncing once off his thumb before he barely caught it with his other hand.

"Go to the liquor store and buy me a bottle of six hundred dollar whiskey," Mutano ordered him.

"What kind?" asked Dan nervously.

"Six hundred dollar whiskey," Mutano answered before he opened the door and entered the suite.

There within, the dragon Weltherwithsp was awaiting his return. Mutano closed the door and his meeting with the end of fate began.

Dan on the other hand returned to the elevator and pressed the button.

"Better not to make a man who wants six hundred dollar whiskey and has a dragon in his living room wait," he said to himself, knowing fully well that he was right.

In all truth, he was more right than he'd ever been in his life.


Mutano stepped forward into the living room, which for all intense purposes was no longer a living room, but rather granite tiled floor without walls looking out into the infinity of the night sky. Out into the eternity of time and space.

Against the darkness of a distant black hole, one which was feeding on countless stars that had been flung close enough by its immense gravity to become torn apart into its accretion disk, a visage only dwarfed by a large dark dragon whose silhouette obscured the largest of its features.

Its face, whose size was on the magnitude of light years across, looked upon Mutano from the cosmos, reminding him how insignificant he truly was.

"Have you news to tell me which contradicts what I already know, given the past of the mortal you sent to infiltrate the Butterfly's nest?" asked the dragon, its visage somehow out of sync with its voice, amidst the feeding black hole.

"I can only tell you that he is making progress, albeit... slow progress, but progress nonetheless," Mutano stood before the majesty of the dragon and universe before him.

"Time is something very different between you and I, for I experience it only forward, and am unable to speculate upon future events, however, my recollection of all of time is impeccable. I recall everything from the multi-dimensional loop you call eternity, of which time is only one dimension. Progress, therefore, means little to me. Solutions do however," the dragon's visage moved in strangely odd ways while its voice was instantaneous.

"His past might be a liability, but he will succeed where others have failed," Mutano took one of the first uncalculated risks of his life.

"And what of our matters in Alivale? Has Clee accomplished his task?" asked the dragon, as a jet stream emission burst forth from what appeared to be the bottom and top of the black hole in terms of its rotation.

"It appears that Mr. Wonderward has failed in his goal. I lost contact with him recently and from what news I was able to gather, his property has been taken over by a local artist," Mutano explained to the dragon, hesitating slightly on the matter.

"These failures cannot be tolerated and another such will force me to select a much more capable man for your position. A position perhaps Mentis himself might be interested in?" the dragon suggested, Mutano's face ever so imperceivably shifting towards a grimace.

"Our progress at West Meet East will not find similar results given the potential of the man infiltrating the place," Mutano offered, though he was clearly unsettled by the dragon's suggestion.

"Potential concerns me not, when we already have numerous proven assets at our disposal," the dragon responded.

"Who?" quizzed Mutano.

"Numerous they are, but I will start with one. She was an assassin recommended by Mentis himself. She is a weaver of the Shadow ways. She has been held in a realm beyond this plane, in a prison designed to keep one of her unique abilities. However, it proved unsuitable against mine. She is now an asset at your disposal, and there are many more coming, as this Sanctum from which I took her has many similarly gifted prisoners," the dragon leaned in closer to Mutano, perhaps extending its neck and projecting its face forward many light years in a matter of microseconds.

A portal opened before Mutano, a spiraling chaos of mist and fog from which emerged a solitary woman, dressed in a tight black skirt and blouse.

"I am liberated! Lead me, and I shall bring you forth into victory, or something close to it anyway," Mianamor Selebrosi spoke, free from her imprisonment in the Sanctum for the first time in six months.

After The Experiment

The early winter sun had already fallen behind the horizon, leaving a band of light to grace the curvature of the sky and its meeting with the earth. Much of that phenomenon however was hidden behind the various buildings and skyscrapers that pocked the Toronto skyline.

Norler had just pulled into the parking lot of the University Of Toronto Research Facility as the last of that light disappeared. He drove through the parking lot and towards the front entrance, finding a space behind another car that had stopped out front to pickup passengers, much like we was doing himself.

Alicia stepped out of the front doors and walked casually over to the car, opening the front passenger door and getting comfortably into the seat.

"Hi honey," she leaned over to kiss Norler as he met her halfway.

"How'd it go?" asked Norler.

"You first," returned Alicia.

 "I asked first," Norler smiled.

"Please? Pretty please?" Alicia batted her eyelashes at him.

"Alright. Let's get out of here first," Norler responded, pulling the car out and navigating the parking lot once again towards the exit.

"I met with Mr. Suikong and Mr. Kiale today, and they've agreed to a contract to supply us with one of the most crucial components we'll be needing to produce the Medi-Friend. High Resolution Digital Signal Processors. Gregory recommended these because he says they use 1024 bits for their math operations? So I negotiated a three year supply contract, with guaranteed pricing, given the fact that there's a lot of market speculation about these new chips and the demand for them thanks to upcoming integration with AI systems. You know, their price is going to skyrocket I predict. So I got in early and snagged us a great price," Norler smiled at his accomplishment.

"Now that's the Norler I know and love. Anything else?" she asked him.

"Why, do I sound like I have something else," Norler asked her, really just playing.

"Yes. You do, and don't give me that look,"  Alicia responded to him playfully.

"Oh, alright. Yes. There is something else, but I was going to wait until after you told me yours," Norler replied to her, looking to her as they'd stopped at a traffic light.

"Go ahead. I can wait to tell you mine," Alicia replied.

"Ok. You know who I spoke to today?" asked Norler as the car accelerated through the green light in the intersection.

"No. Who?" Alicia asked him.

"Helmut Werner," Norler smiled.

"How is he?" asked Alicia.

"He's doing good. He's keeping healthy and he sounded rather well. I spoke with him on the phone and we got to the topic of Tynan And Associates... and you of course..." Norler slowed both the car and his expression.

"What about me?" Alicia pressed him verbally.

"Well, we were talking about how the entire research division had all of its original employees ix-nayed. I mentioned that you were alone now and the only original employee from the crew that made SY-349 possible," Norler told her.

"Oh. You must have mentioned my contract to him then as well?" asked Alicia.

"That I did. We got onto the topic and he sounded rather concerned for you. So much so that he even extended an offer to you to head up the entire medical research division of Future Tangent Industries," Norler told her.

"You told him then of how I was bound by the contract, didn't you?" Alicia asked Norler.

"I told him that and how you'd never take any position that took you away from the laboratory..." Norler continued.

"Well... things change you know. I mean with our new family member coming," Alicia suggested that perhaps she might have a different idea of what she'd accept than what he imagined.

"Even with me not working right now, we still have enough to...  for our latest family member who is yet to make their entrance I might add..." Norler reminded her.

"And my salary don't forget. But still. A little more financial security might help. I mean running a research division for the entire company might offer a lot a more financially," Alicia suggested to him.

"And it might also entail a lot more responsibility, and less time with our next family member..." Norler added.

"I'm not ready to give up my entire share of the SY-349 just yet, so no worries. I have no plans to leave, and yes, there have been some difficulties. Those who want me out of the position to make room to bring in members of their circle. That's been a bit difficult," Alicia looked down at her lap and boxes of garments she'd brought with her from the experiment.

"You're talking to a man that was ousted by those means from the company that he turned around, so I can't imagine but I can fathom what you're going through," Norler assured her.

"How about we change the subject for a moment, and I'll tell you what happened in the research lab?" Alicia suggested.

"So what did happen? How'd it go?" Norler asked her enthusiastically.

"Well, on average the garments make up a bodily Faraday cage of forty six percent effectiveness," Alicia told him with a big smile on her face.

"Wow! Forty six percent of... what? Care to explain that to a businessman?" asked Norler.

"That means that whatever electromagnetic energy that is being used to affect people, only fifty four percent of it on average will reach them. If the entire population started wearing Heylyn's Tin Foil Hat clothing line, a little less than half would be immune to the effects of the group using bodily electromagnetism to affect others, and if you consider that effect, that's four billion people saved from its effects," Alicia told Norler.

"So is that a success?" asked Norler, unsure of what the numbers meant.

"Very much so. For a conceptual prototype whipped together on a whim? Definitely! That's a big win for our side!" Alicia told him.

"Well that's more good news honey! We're getting there. A bit at a time, but when we succeed, our successes are solid!" Norler smiled as he drove.

"Are you going to tell them?" asked Norler.

"Tonight you mean?" confirmed Alicia.

"Yes. Tonight. Are you going to tell them?" asked Norler again.

"About this? Definitely!" Alicia replied, tapping on the garment boxes.

"No. I mean about our new family member..." Norler replied.

"I haven't decided. I mean we're almost five months in and I'm showing no visible signs of pregnancy yet, but the Doctor assures us that..." Alicia was cut off.

"Never mind that. Are you going to tell them?" asked Norler again.

"I don't know," Alicia responded.

"Honey, if you decide that you want to, I just want you to know that I'm behind it all the way," Norler held out his right hand, which she snatched up with her left, squeezing it tightly.

He looked to her quickly but passionately as they drove down Spadina Avenue towards Queen's Quay West.

She returned his gaze with a tearful eye, patting her belly with her right hand.

The rest of their drive was silent, which was only broken with quick banter before Norler pulled up before Heylyn's condominium.

They had a long and passionate kiss before she left, though they said nothing in words when she stepped out of the car, for they'd said everything they'd needed to say in not the second, but the first most expressive language of all.

Meeting At The Butterfly's

There was a knock at the door of Heylyn's condominium as Aikiko, Monique and Heylyn herself were busily preparing the finger foods for their meeting.

"Monique, could you get that? It should be Alicia," Heylyn asked of her neighbour and employee.

"Sure thing, but I'll have you know that I was overseeing Aikiko's progress on the rice rolls," Monique responded as she headed out of the kitchen, past the foyer and through the front hall to the door.

"They're called maki, and you were simply watching me do all the work because we finished making your blue cheese-habaneros chicken wings already," Aikiko responded as she carefully rolled the Nori around the glutinous sticky rice she'd prepared earlier.

"What's a matter? Don't you like Big Sister?" Monique responded to Aikiko's remark.

"Sounds a bit Orwellian to me. We have a saying in Japan that goes: the tuna don't like eating the squid, while the sharks are watching," Aikiko responded, being very well read herself.

"Your maki look scrumptious Aikiko. I'll be using them as a chaser after Monique's chicken wings I'm sure," Heylyn said to Aikiko.

"After her wings, take a strip of ginger, then any of the Sushi I've prepared..." Aikiko reminded her.

"I remember. You sample a dish, but only before you've cleansed your palette. Cleanse before you switch dishes," Heylyn responded to Aikiko's guidance.

"Hai. I couldn't have said it better myself," Aikiko replied taking her entire finished tray and placing it in the fridge as she navigated around Heylyn.

By that time Monique had opened the door and Alicia stood before her, a bundle of boxes in her arms.

"Well look who finally returned to her real home!" Monique welcomed Alicia.

"Its been a while since I've been here. How are you Monique?" asked Alicia, a coy smile on her face.

"Oh, you know me. I'm always chipper. How are you? Wait! Come in first and we can get you situated and then we'll talk when we're all around to hear it," Monique stood aside and let Alicia pass.

Alicia quickly slipped off her shoes, placing her bundle of boxes on the floor, then removing her coat and handing it to Monique.

"Alright. I'll stash this while you go say your hellos to everyone else," Monique took Alicia's coat and found a hanger in the closet for it before stashing it within.

"Look who comes bearing gifts... in familiar packaging too," Heylyn remarked as Alicia arrived in the kitchen area, placing her bundle of boxes on the island counter space that had just been cleared from their food preparation.

Alicia opened her arms for Heylyn and they gave each other a friendly hug, Aikiko bowing for Alicia respectfully, nodding a few times too and with a full faced smile as she hid her teeth with her hand. When Monique returned from the front hall, she too gave Alicia a hug, and they all reconvened to their respective places and started their evening's conversation.

"Is Valerie coming?" Alicia asked.

"She is, but she's bringing Trey. Braden is coming too. He's the latest addition to our inner circle," Heylyn responded, taking the bundle of boxes and putting them aside in her bedroom.

"So how did the experiment go?" asked Heylyn with baited breath.

"Well... I think that they were an immense success, given the fact that they blocked forty-six percent of  the energy emissions from Doctor Hidbickle's device," Alicia told Heylyn with a big smile on her face.

Neither Heylyn, Monique nor Aikiko responded with any other emotion other than confusion.

"That means that your garment prototype can overcome almost fifty-percent of the electromagnetic abilities Mentis' followers," Alicia told Heylyn, once again with a big smile on her face.

"Only fifty-percent?" Heylyn looked a little bit disappointed.

"Heylyn, your garments were only a prototype! Fifty-percent is a phenomenal success, given the fact that they're still in development..." Alicia reminded her.

"I don't know. Its just so anti-climactic coming all this way and only achieving a fifty-perfect solution..." Heylyn pondered aloud.

"Just so you know. In the lab, when we achieve a thirty-percent goal on the first test, that's considered an overwhelming success. That's because if we can isolate what got us to the thirty-percent mark, we can create something that yields a much greater result. Seventy. Eighty. Even ninety-percent," Alicia explained to Heylyn, Monique and Aikiko.

"I suppose that's something to celebrate. I guess I'm just so used to a different result with anything I produce," Heylyn looked somewhat comforted by Alicia's statements, though that was far from the point.

"I expected more from myself. I mean... the Butterfly really means something to these people, and I want to protect them. I want us to protect them..." Heylyn admitted to Alicia, Monique and Aikiko when the phone rang.

"That's Valerie, late as usual. I'll get it," Monique checked the front door camera, offering to get the door.

"I seem to recall that you and Aikiko were half an hour late this morning..." Heylyn reminded her other best friend and employee.

Aikiko looked over to Monique, who gestured with her eyes to remain quiet.

"We missed our usual streetcar and if you don't get it then and there, it puts you off schedule a fair bit," Monique made an excuse for both of them as she turned to let Valerie and Trey in.

"My ears were ringing. Were you talking about us?" asked Valerie as Monique opened the door to let them in.

"Hi Val. Yes. You're fashionably late..." Monique made up for her earlier remark about Valerie.

"We're not alone... we ran into..." Trey began as Warai arrived holding Kori's hand, Braden following a short distance behind them.

"Monique!" Warai released Kori's hand and ran over to Monique, her arms wide open.

"Come here you little munchkin!" Monique opened her arms for Warai and they had a short hug.

"Let's get everyone situated..." Monique said, now holding Warai's hand and leading her into the condo.

"I'll get the coats," Braden offered.

"Thank you Braden," Valerie handed hers to him.

"You're a gentleman and a scholar," Trey offered his to Braden.

"I'll keep the gentleman, but the scholar part certainly isn't mine unless you mean schooled by life," Braden replied as he found hangers for each their coats.

"I'm hungry!" Warai announced as she arrived in the kitchen with Monique.

"Me too. Something smells really good in here," Kori added.

"I'm glad that all of you could make it. Why don't you make yourselves comfortable in the living room and we'll get this started. Oh, Kori, thanks for picking up Warai," Heylyn addressed her guests.

"Ahhh. It was nothing. Braden drove the whole time. You're parents say hi and they said that W-a-r-a-i ate like a little monster," Kori told Heylyn.

Heylyn looked to Kori, puzzled and then to Warai, who seemed a little sluggish.

"Nothing happened that you're not telling me about I assume?" asked Heylyn of Kori and Braden.

"No. Really. We just picked her up, and drove directly here. Honest," Kori held up her right hand.

"Give me a minute Warai and we'll get you fed," Heylyn said calmly as she went to the oven and removed her bean curd wrapped marinated chicken and placed it on the counter.

"Aikiko, why don't you get everyone situated out there and Monique, help me set the hot food on the island here, and we'll populate the coffee table with the finger foods and Sushi," Heylyn asked two of her friends.

"Kori, take this emergency plate there to the munchkin," Heylyn had made up a little plate for Warai.

"Will do," Kori came and grabbed the dish from the counter as Monique began helping Heylyn get the hot food out onto the kitchen island, setting it up buffet style.

Aikiko in the mean time grabbed her platter of Sushi (and maki) and another dish of finger foods and set them out on the coffee table, then directing the guests to their respective places.

As soon as Warai received the plate of food, she began devouring it as if she'd not eaten at all for some time.

"Did my parents say when the last time she ate?" asked Heylyn, keeping a close eye on Warai.

"They said she had a snack at five thirty. A plate of spiced potato wedges, that would have easily filled any adult," Kori told Heylyn.

"That's high in complex carbs, and that was a little under an hour and a half ago. She should be full of energy by now unless..." Heylyn's eyes narrowed as she thought about it.

"Warai, did you help anyone today? You know what I mean. Like little Doctor Warai?" asked Heylyn as the little girl filled her gullet with food in a steady stream.

Warai chewed her food for another thirty seconds (as she'd been reminded constantly to do), and then she spoke.

"...there was something not right in your father's body... so I helped... but only a little..." Warai explained to Heylyn.

"What do you mean, not right?" asked Heylyn of Warai.

"I mean there was something off about him inside... so I fixed it...   I'm sorry," Warai looked innocently to Heylyn, thinking she'd done something wrong.

"I think I'll dig into this here kimchi myself," Valerie said, dipping a piece of celery she'd taken from one of the finger food trays and scooping up a healthy pile on the end of it.

"She shouldn't have to be sorry for doing what's right," Aikiko responded, directing Trey to a seat on the sofa beside Valerie.

"I agree there, but there's obviously a little more to this," Alicia responded.

"I told her not to help people in that way, in order to protect her. If someone finds out, they'll turn her into a circus sideshow or some kind of a messiah. It would be a risk to her health and she wouldn't last long. They would treat her like a machine, feeding her food just to keep her healing people around the clock. It would be putting her life at risk, while everyone else treats her like a thing, more so than a person!" Heylyn reminded them.

"So she shouldn't help others unless they're related to us or our friends?" asked Alicia, more posing a rhetorical question than anything.

"Is that how we used our abilities? Heylyn and I have been patrolling the city almost every night since Treadwater Island, and not just to look after our family and friends. Besides, you're retired!" Monique defended Heylyn.

"That's alright Monique. No need. Look, Alicia. I'm new at this and I'm doing my best to look after someone that's like us. Someone who has some unique abilities. The difference is that she's just starting out in life, and I can't even begin to fathom how having that weight on her shoulders is going to be challenging for her. You know as well as I do what would have happened if our abilities became public when we started this whole masquerade?" Heylyn posed the question to Alicia.

"I agree with you Heylyn, but if we have these abilities, we've got to use them for the greater good in some way. She's going to have to face that reality sooner or later. You can't just keep her hidden and then every time a family illness pops up, you use her to heal them. You're going to have to face this someday soon," Alicia reminded Heylyn as she walked through the living room and knelt before Warai.

"Honey. If that happens again, and you see something that is going to hurt someone. Something inside of them, you tell me, and we'll figure out what to do together," Heylyn said to her, even wiping a little food from the edge of her lips.

"Just give me a minute to make a phone call and then we'll get this meeting started," Heylyn said as she grabbed her phone from the counter and stepped into the bedroom.

"I guess I can tell the rest of you. I already told Heylyn and Monique," Alicia began.

"Tell us... ohhhh. About Tin Foil Hat?" confirmed Aikiko.

"Ahhhh! The clothing? How'd the tests go?" asked Valerie, Kori and Aikiko too leaning forward from their places with interest.

"Well, and these are early results so don't get down about them. The clothing was forty-six percent effective at blocking any external biomagnetic source, meaning that for about half of the people who wear that clothing, they'll be safe from the activities of Mentis and his followers..." Alicia announced.

"That's good! That's a start..." Kori agreed.

"I was hoping for more..." Valerie added.

"As was I. Forty-six percent doesn't sound like much... but it is better than no protection," Aikiko agreed.

"Forty-six percent is enough for us to isolate the factors so that we can refine the design to get better results in the next version, and so on..." Alicia explained to them.

"Has anyone bothered to ask why we don't get affected?" Monique asked the million dollar question.

"What do you mean?" asked Alicia.

"Haven't you noticed that everyone around us seems to be affected by this in some way, except for us," Monique explained her observations.

"I for one have had experiences of hearing voices..." Alicia admitted.

"Same here... a few times now..." Valerie added to backup Alicia's statement.

"But none of us have been affected by sudden bouts of anxiety..." Monique reasoned.

"But all three of us were infiltrated by Torman, and we can only guess that his abilities were using the same techniques. Some offshoot of the biomagnetic field produced by his nervous system, that the abilities he obtained in taking the SY-349a somehow amplified. So in essence, we're vulnerable too," Alicia rationalized her views for them.

"Hold on a second, Monique is onto something there. You three were affected by Torman, but only because he took the SY-349a the same as you did. That's something that none of Mentis' followers have done. I'd bet we can assume that we're immune, to the anxiety part..." Heylyn said, returning from her bedroom.

"How's your dad?" asked Alicia immediately.

"He's fine. He says he's never felt better. My mother too," Heylyn looked over to Warai and then back to Alicia.

"I only healed him..." Warai assured Heylyn.

"Its alright sweetie. You did what you had to, just don't do it again unless you check with me first, alright?" asked Heylyn.

"Ok," Warai said between bites as she finished the last piece of chicken and was now working on the four pieces of Sushi on her plate.

"I believe we're immune... to the anxiety I mean," Heylyn told the group.

"That doesn't explain how they're able to project their voices so we hear them..." Valerie brought up another point.

"The SY-349a heightened all of our senses. We all have superhuman senses... Better sight. Better hearing. A sense of smell, tase and touch as well. The four of us at least. Our senses are part of a different set of neural pathways and channels. Different than the pathways our endocrine system uses in our nervous systems, so maybe that has something to do with it. They can project voices using biomagnetism, because they're just transmitting the same signal from their own ears, because when they're projecting like that, they're actually speaking from where ever they are. So the signal we and others receive biomagnetically is the signal of their own body hearing their own voices speaking. We're receiving that all at once, so we hear them as a group," Alicia explained to them, theorizing how it actually might work biologically.

"Don't tell anyone else that, or they'll brand us as schizophrenic," Monique suggested to them.

"We shouldn't stigmatize others who deal with mental illness struggles like that, but in all honesty, who's to say that others who hear voices aren't also just super sensitive to other people's biomagnetism.  The only difference is that Mentis and his followers have perfected a methodology of doing this on purpose to other people whether they want it or not, which is a violation of their body. They do this without actually knowing the science how they're doing it. From their perspective, its either some kind of religious power, like some kind of divine ability, or even magic. They might have been doing this for a very long time, but in fewer numbers until a messiah-like figure like Mentis organized them into a larger unified group. A sort of abusive cult if you will," Alicia further used her scientific knowledge to understand the possibilities and to enlighten her friends as to how it might work.

"A cult that's taking over society from the inside out rather than the outside in," Heylyn agreed.

"When Warai and I were Habus Macill's secret school, they used a technique called synchronizing to build a cohesion between members of their group. It often involved invoking extreme emotions while reading from a script he made his members memorize. They would do this three times a day between classes, and then at night, it was required that everyone take part from their dorms, until they fell asleep. Many of them reported that they'd acquired the ability to remain awake in their sleep, I'm guessing their dream state, from which they could use this energy to attack people they'd connected to. Essentially synchronizing gave them the ability to work as a group when they targeted people, outside of their cloister," Braden explained to them.

"Why didn't you mention this before?" asked Heylyn of him.

"There was no context for it. How could anyone explain something like that without being labeled a lunatic? How would you have regarded me the first time we spoke if I started babbling about that? You remember? When you found me unconscious near the skylight on West Meet East? What if I woke up and after you'd asked me what I was doing there, I started going on about that. I'm pretty certain things would have turned out very differently than they did, thank you very much. A philosopher once said, there is equal wisdom in knowing when to say something as much so as what is going to be said," Braden explained to Heylyn.

"He's right. Much of what we've discovered this far requires a fundamental context to be laid down before anyone can understand what's going on. That's most of what they're hiding behind, and what's keeping them hidden," Alicia added.

"We've got that context down now and we're all on the same page, right?" asked Heylyn.

"I understand. Very well," Aikiko agreed with Heylyn's statement.

"Its a bit out there, but I'm keeping up so far," Kori nodded in agreement.

"If someone would have come to me a year ago telling me this stuff, I'd have filed it all under the looney bin, but now I think I can see what's going on. Maybe even understand it to a degree," Monique agreed as well.

"Its beyond my understanding, but I'm getting it more and more, the more I think about it," Valerie agreed too.

"I'm definitely with Valerie on that," Trey agreed.

Warai continued eating, not saying a thing, though she heard every word.

"From now on, when we have something pertinent to share between this group of us meeting here right now, we'll share it at the most convenient time. Understood?" asked Heylyn of her guests.

Valerie and Trey looked to each other, and then to Heylyn.

"Someone in a local hotel recorded us having a private moment together, and they're using it to blackmail us and to pressure us into difficult situations..." Valerie explained to Heylyn, whose eyes opened wide.

"Anyone else?" asked Heylyn.

Aikiko and Monique looked to each other and then Aikiko spoke.

"Monique and I have been dating two men, and one of them is named Habus Macill..." Aikiko said to Heylyn and the rest of the group, then turning to Monique, who nodded in agreement.

Heylyn's widened even more.

"Anyone else holding anything back from rest of us?!!!" Heylyn asked, almost at the point of interrogating them.

Alicia looked around the room with a hint of impatience and then back to Heylyn.

"There's one more thing..." Alicia spoke modestly.

"Go ahead. We're waiting," Heylyn encouraged her, her arms folded across her chest.

"Norler and I are pregnant..." Alicia said, her eyes welling up with tears.

To be continued in The Butterfly Dragon:  The Two Butterflies - Episode 10...

Credits and attribution:

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

Tools: Daz3DCorel PainterAdobe PhotoshopLightwave 3DBlender, Stable Diffusion (Easy Diffusion distribution), InstantIDSadtalkerGoogle ColaboratoryMicrosoft Copilot (Windows 11), Hitfilm, Borderline Obsession...

InstantID by: Wang, Qixun and Bai, Xu and Wang, Haofan and Qin, Zekui and Chen, Anthony. Research Paper Title: InstantID - Zero-shot Identity-Preserving Generation in Seconds.

Sadtalker by: Zhang, Wenxuan and Cun, Xiaodong and Wang, Xuan and Zhang, Yong and Shen, Xi and Guo, Yu and Shan, Ying and Wang, Fei.
Research Paper Title: SadTalker: Learning Realistic 3D Motion Coefficients for Stylized Audio-Driven Single Image Talking Face Animation.

Gratitude: Our Mentors, Senseis, Sifus, Sebomnims, lifetime inspirations, family, friends, the Nomads (ask Stanton about that one), the Music, the Movies, the Theatre, the Arts, ASMR, (both YouTube and Bilibili and the many other creators on those platforms), the Gaming and Developer communities and of course, the audience.

Martial Arts (in the words of real experts and at least one comedian): (home of the real Dragon and an entire family of inspirations), International Wing Chun Organization (International presence of a very scalable intensity martial art, protected and developed by Shaolin Nun Ng Mui), International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karatedo Federation (even Hanshi had his teachers), International Taekwondo Federation (Here there be Taegers), Tang Soo Do World (the path of Grandmaster Chuck Norris), International Aikido Federation (how else would Navy Chef Steven Seagal liberate a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier from a team of hijackers?), Shaolin Temple Quanfa Institute (The City Of Toronto's own Shaolin Temple), Master Ken's Ameri-Te-Do presence (If we can't laugh at ourselves, then we can at least laugh the loudest at others, and other Zen)

Special thanks to AitrepreneurHugging Face and the YouTube educational content producers, including those catering to the AI content production pipeline and of course AlphaSignal.

Something to give you perspective: The very first teacher had no formal education, didn't graduate and was self taught, but only because they had no other choice. We do.

This content is entirely produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at 200 Sherbourne Street Suite 701 under the Shhhh! Digital Media banner.