The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 10 (Finished March 2, 2024 11:30 PM EST)


This is a heavily updated post of Episode 10. There have been many additions throughout the existing chapters and an overhaul of the order in which they're presented to go along with the timeline of the story that connects them all. If you started reading The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 10 before February 12, then I highly suggest you reread the episode in its entirety as it finally has a narrative that connects everything together, not to mention one that connects it with Episode 9 instead of just dropping you into the story with no explanation. 

The Science Of The Two Butterflies

There are some liberties taken with regard to science and mathematics, namely the mention of the Bernouilli Search, which in the context of this story refers to a recursive search algorithm developed by MindSpice engineers, which is essentially an adapted and repurposed form of the Bernouilli Principle of Fluid Dynamics. Its parameters for pressure and height are transformed to reference quantities of the data set being searched, while the speed parameter is essentially a measure of the sum entropy possible within the data set itself, therefore has a relationship with exactly how many steps of recursion an appreciable search can be made within. 

This is the domain of Zheng Ni Wong and her peers at the downtown research wing of the University Of Toronto. However, their research connects them with two other Universities in the world working with the same or similar problems. The basis for using the Bernouilli Principle as a search algorithm is a little bit shaky, but believable nonetheless and I wanted something that was highly improbable but not impossible to showcase the kinds of advanced work she does. Not only that, but as a tip of the hat to the sciences of history and the innovative ways that such early work is often adapted to find uses in seemingly unrelated fields.

The research work of Sylvia Upadhaya and Bryce Maxwell discussed in this story during their game of Bridge with Leslie and Jolly is plausible. This is one of the benefits to having an entire laboratory in the form of our ecosphere of complex organisms whose DNA content and structure is measurable simply by comparisons between generations and by measure of its sum entropy (see: Shannon Entropy Analysis of the Genome Code, Shannon of course referring to Claude Shannon and his use of Goerg Cantor sets in pursuit of noise reduced network communications via channels). 

If we know the sum quantity of the information content in the genome, and have live records of its state from one generation to the next, it is theoretically possible to map changes in the genome to sources such as solar radiation, interstellar radiation, surface geothermal radiation and the Quantum Foam itself. That would yield a probablistic frequency of such occurances happening over a discrete measure of time.

Using that information, it would be possible to determine the sum matter and energy of the universe back to the initial frame: t+0.01 seconds, give or take a couple hundredths of a second. There is much scientific basis for this idea, though I was unable to find any research related to using such methods to tackle such a problem. Still, it remains an interesting idea and certainly one that forms up the basis of research of characters like Doctor Upadhaya and Professor Maxwell. Not only that, but it fits one of the philosophical elements of the chapter it inhabits.

Many, ie most of the additions and edits were performed over a forty eight hour period, between March 1 and March 2, 2024. If you're reading this story after March 2, 2024, you've got the final version.

The new artwork pipeline is working wonderfully so far, not to mention that all the same tools are still involved and more relevant than ever, meaning the applications like Daz3D have only increased in importance and relevance in the face of AI rendered characters.

On AI Content And The Future

Artists should regard AI the same way that keyboardists and drummers regarded the arrival of synthesizers and drum machines back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those musicians who embraced those new tools and found a way to integrate them into studio and live performances prospered greatly, while those who opposed them mostly opened a different branch of music, more in the purist and traditional sense. No one really lost per se, but in embracing new tools, you open many new avenues for content creation and creativity. More importantly in the case of AI, they become a great part of the artist's and content developer's feedback loop. The play that occurs between an artist and their tools, often expanding the realm of possibility.

I'm really hoping that NVidia integrates face and figure generation AI into the next version of their iRay rendering suite and plugin renderer, utilizing geometry as an input to the process, with the AI renderer  portion of the suite being more like a post process tool in the final stage of rendering between the geometry and rasterization pipelines. 

That would solidify 3D geometry based design pipelines as the tool of choice for AI where it involves character, prop and environment design foundation, posing and animation.


  • Prologue (February 12, 2024)
  • The Two As They Are (February 12, 2024)
  • Privacy And Privilege (February 12, 2024)
  • Studio Nights, Lights Out (February 12, 2024)
  • Discretion And Divulgence (February 12, 2024)
  • The Spark Of Everything (February 12, 2024)
  • Zheng And The Bernouilli Search (March 2, 11:30 PM EST)
  • Alicia's First Card (Updated March 1, 2024 6:30 PM EST)
  • To Build A Bridge (Finished March 2, 2024 4:00 PM EST)
  • The Telling Moment (Finished March 2, 2024 1:00 PM EST)
  • The End Of The Game (Finished March 2, 2024 1:00 PM EST)
  • Alicia's Epilogue (Finished March 2, 2024 8:00 PM)
  • You're It (Finished March 2, 2024 8:00 PM)
  • The Meeting (Finished March 2, 2024 8:00 PM)
  • Getting The Message (Finished March 2, 2024 8:00 PM)
  • It Can Never Be Written, It Can Never Be Told (Finished March 2, 2024 8:00 PM)

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The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Butterflies - Episode 10


A little girl of nine years with long black hair and a pink play dress finished clipping the last of the garden plants her mother had asked her to preen.

"A garden needs care. Clip the dead branches and leaves and gather them up into the compost," she said to her little daughter.

"But won't that hurt the plants?" asked Ai Yuanlin Ying of her mother.

"Are you hurt when you clip your fingernails?" asked her mother, and Ai understood, though it seemed a bit harsh nonetheless.

"No. I'm not hurt, but won't it hurt the plant to take their limbs? The dead branches will fall off by themselves if we leave them long enough, won't they?" responded Ai, already mostly through her first years under Sensei Morgan Hind, and near the top of her class at school in every subject except math and the sciences.

Ai was an artist, and she had no patience for numbers and facts. She truly lusted for colours, shades, abstract ideas and the flutters that one gets in their belly riding a Ferris wheel. The spark of life and wonder. She wanted colourful candy and tasty sweets, absent of all salt and sour. Her mother knew this of her, and sometimes worried that she might not graduate or attend post secondary education if she didn't learn to understand that life has another side. It wasn't all flowers, candy, sweets and joy.

"They will, but that's not the point. Perhaps we should do the same with your fingernails?" Ai's mother stepped away from her ledger and extended her fingers like a monster, causing Ai to giggle at her antics.

"Its not about the cutting, but if you neglect to do it, the garden will cease to be healthy much the same if you didn't clip your nails. You're helping the garden by the fact that you're spending your time and care attending to it," Ai's mother returned to her Real Estate ledger.

Ai from that point had taken the clippers (the ones with safety edges so that she couldn't hurt herself with them) and began pruning and preening the plants of the backyard garden of their sizeable home. Removing the dead branches and leaves so that the plants could grow.

As she clipped them, she noticed that the Butterflies, had arrived at the flowers and were busy going from pistil to pistil, drinking nectar while accumulating pollen on their furry legs. As they went from one flower of the same or similar species to the next, they pollenated the other flowers along their path.

Ai realized this as she watched them, working feverishly alongside the Bees, who were also very busy doing much the same thing. This had been a lesson in Ai's recent biology class in public school and she realized that she was witnessing the origins of the births of the next generation of plants to inhabit their family garden. It was at that point that she spied a cocoon hiding under one of the leaves of a flowing Dragon Lily.

At that moment, she recalled her dreams from the field and how the fauna living there had worked together to give life and essence to the cocoon that would eventually become her Dragon Mentor. The Butterflies and the Bees, amongst other insects in the garden were doing much the same for all the flowering plants. As much so as they'd been doing for most of eternity on the planet, in gardens everywhere, with or without property lines. With or without us to tend them and it was at that point that she understood her mother's lesson.

Ai shook her head as the epiphany arrived on the doorstep of her comprehension, and all at once her understanding of the world grew exponentially. The realization opened the door to ever further artistic and abstract possibilities, but it had one caveat.

It also raised just as many, if not more questions. Where did she come from? Where did all the human children come from and how did they get here?

Ai turned and ran with her nine year old legs back in through the sliding doors of the kitchen and to the main floor office where her mother now filed her ledger.

"How did I get here?" asked Ai of her mother.

The ledger hit the floor and after a moment of startled pause, Ai's mother bent over to pick it up.

Ai's mother smiled ever so amorously, yet concealing something within the pupils of her eyes.

"I've answered you on your questions of the garden. Why don't you speak with your father?" asked Ai's mother of the little nine year old girl.

"He's very busy with his drawings, isn't he?" asked Ai of her mother.

"Yes, but he might benefit from your questions as much as you'll benefit from his answers don't you think?" asked Ai's mother.

"Like tending the garden is about the time and care I give?" asked Ai, already knowing the answer in her heart.

"Go talk to him. Knock first. I'm sure he'd love to see you," Ai's mother filed the ledger, turning again to her daughter.

Ai nodded and cautiously walked over to the stairs, ascending them to the third floor attic loft where Ai's father had crafted his design office.

She approached the door, knocking on it for the first time for any other reason than to notify her father that dinner was ready.

"The door is unlocked," her father responded from the other side.

Ai opened the door, stepping into a very unfamiliar room to her, for she'd never actually seen it as she was forbidden from ever entering the room as all of her father's work lay within.

He looked up from the drafting table, to which a rather expensive looking CRT monitor was fastened, running a materials fracture point simulation in the background.

A smile arose on his face, though he was still looking at his drafting table and Ai couldn't tell if he was joyed at his progress or with her presence. He put his precision graphic pencil on the tray of the drafting table and turned in his chair to face his daughter. His smile only grew upon seeing her and she knew at that point that it was for her.

"What is it by which I am graced with your presence, my little Gem?" he asked her.

She blushed, still in a very unfamiliar place to herself.

She twisted from side to side nervously, looking around the room at his Architecture and Engineering books which lined his bookshelves. The numerous drawings and charts that lined the walls. And to a poster by an artist of whom she'd never heard, who'd painted a large set of butterfly wings within the center of which a heart lay. Within that heart, a family picture was centered of Ai's mother, her father, and herself between them. A tear found its way onto her lashes, but Ai kept her composure as Kyoshi Hind had taught her a week earlier. Her father deserved her mind, emotion and heart, and none in excess of the others and so Ai blinked the tear away, and faced her father with a similar smile to his own.

"Where do we come from?" asked Ai of her father.

For the first time in Ai's recollection, she witnessed her father suddenly distraught, possibly confused by such a question, and she all at once felt at home that neither of her parents knew. Then, his face changed from one of startled confusion to sudden realization.

He got up and off of his swivel chair, and walked over to his daughter and brought himself to her eye level so they could speak as equals.

"You see this room, Ai?" he asked her.

She nodded affirmatively to him.

"On the walls, is written a story. All of it, every single bit of it leads to this very moment and why we... that is you and I are here, talking about this. That poster there is the very marketing poster I first saw back in GuangZhou, advertising that the company that employs me now, was looking for Civil Architectural Engineers for various projects around the globe," he smiled as he looked to the poster himself and then back to her.

"That is where our journey together started... however, there was another journey before that between your mother and I.  It too was part of a thread that connected us together, the same way that the buttons on your day dress there are connected to the material. Its all woven together in one big weave of this thread. So that same thread that brought your mother and I together, is also connected to the thread that brought me to apply as a recently graduated Civil Architectural Engineer for that company. As it so happened, they hired me, and three years later, a few months after you were born, we were offered the opportunity to transfer globally to anywhere in the world, for this company has branch offices just about everywhere. Your mother and I, we discussed this for two months before we finally came to a decision and every consideration was about ensuring that our daughter had the best life we could afford her," he explained to her as he looked to the walls, which were lined with the projects he'd finished for GuangZhou, China before moving to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

"But where did we come from? I mean how were we born?" asked Ai, somewhat confused as how to ask the question.

He smiled at her, sitting cross legged on the floor before her.

"My little Gem. Don't you see? Its all a thread. All of it! It weaves us all together, just like from here where we live now, to back home in GuangZhou, there's a thread. Before that, there was a thread that wove us to you. Even before you were born, somewhere in the essence your fate - your destiny was to be our child. Our little girl, and we've been joyed by your presence ever since. You see Ai, all of this, everything out there outside of the window. Through all of the chaos that arises from order, and the order that arises from chaos. All of it into the sky and stars and space... Its all part of a great thread that brought us together and to this very moment. We don't know how. But we do know that it happened. For here you are right before my very eyes. To your mother and I. You're our Gem," her father said to her, and young Ai Yuanlin Ying realized her destiny in her parent's words.

"The answer is that you simply are here, and we're very grateful for that," her father smiled at her, and at the same time managed to postpone a rather difficult topic.

One that his wife and himself would eventually have to address, but only with their much older daughter. However, the philosophy of her father's answer remained. The little girl contemplated his words thoroughly.

Her destiny as it turns out, was bound in a universal thread. Much like the thread that led her to ask her mother about tending the garden. The thread that led to her asking her mother about their origins. The thread that led to her mother answering that she should speak with her father. The thread that led to her conversation with him.

The thread that led to his answer and her ultimate understanding of her own future career and her destiny as the Butterfly Dragon.

That night, she dreamt of the spark of life itself, born from the throes of the intensity of two extremes, and yet in the most creative way. In her dreams she visited the field once again, and the whimsical dragon she'd met there spoke with her about it, though when she woke up, she'd forgotten everything it had said to her, except for one thing:

"My little Ai Yuanlin Ying. It cannot be written. It cannot be told. It can not be known, and is for none to behold, for it can only be lived," the serpentine dragon with the butterflies wings had said to her.


Heylyn returned from her memory, recalling her father's words as she looked upon Warai, who was now seated on the corner of the sofa beside Kori and Braden. Norler and Alicia beside them and curled up in the love seat were Valerie and Trey.

Monique and Aikiko were like bookends, one sitting on the armrest of the sofa, while the other sat on the armrest of the love seat.

They each had just revealed something of great importance, some of it of great personal importance, while some of it of importance to their investigation of Mentis and his Millions Of Minds followers.

For the first time in a long time, she'd been caught without an answer and this was a woman who'd had nothing but since graduating from the tutelage of Sifu Jinn Hua. She was a woman of advice, nurturing and solutions, and yet in this instance she had found nothing but an absence of words.

The room remained quiet, except for the ambient electronic music that played in the background, while the  twenty-four hour news station played silently on mute on her fifty inch television behind her.

Heylyn looked to Alicia and Norler first, about to say something when she suddenly put her hand over her mouth as if to stop herself. She instead raised her index finger to her friends, prompting them to wait patiently as she turned to face Monique and Aikiko.

"How long?" asked Heylyn, looking first to Monique and then to Aikiko.

"About three weeks..." Aikiko started as she was interrupted by Monique.

"Two weeks..." Monique said at the same time.

"So which one is it? Two or three?" Heylyn asked them with a concerned look on her face.

Monique looked to Aikiko, smirking at her friend for not coinciding on their alibi.

"Almost a month," Monique finally answered more correctly.

"And you didn't think this was something you should discuss with me?!!!" Heylyn challenged her accusingly.

"I have my own boundaries, thank you very much! I have my own place and my own life, and its only a convenience that they're so close to yours!" Monique responded, offended that she had to justify her private life to her friend and employer.

"This isn't about your private life. This is about Mentis and your being directly involved with someone linked to his case. Considering the responsibility that you and I have taken on as heroes of our own, that makes it very relevant!" Heylyn once again challenged her friend.

"Just the part about who he is... or might be! We don't even know if he's the same Habus Macill!!!" Monique responded, raising her voice defensively.

"Looks like the adults are playing loud," Kori joked, pulling Warai a little closer as she helped the little girl to finish her meal.

Heylyn caught notice out of the corner of her eye, and gestured to Monique to keep her voice down.

"Why don't you take Warai into the den and help her finish her dinner?" Heylyn suggested to Kori.

"...Alright, but you've got to tell me all the juicy stuff later," Kori said jokingly, receiving a smirk from Monique as she grabbed Warai's hand and urged her to follow to the den.

When the two were clear from the living room Heylyn returned to their conversation.

"Shhhh! Now, where were we? Oh yeah, how many other people do you think there are with that same name? I'll give you a clue, there's none listed in any directory in any Canadian city," Heylyn reminded Monique.

"Monique..." Aikiko urged her friend.

"This just feels... wrong. I shouldn't have to answer to you for anything involving my love life," Monique replied, her voice much quieter this time.

"Have you had him here?" asked Heylyn.

"What? Here? In your place? No!" she quickly responded.

"That's not what I meant!" Heylyn replied impatiently.

"Well... I..." Monique thought back three and a half weeks, recalling the first night she'd brought him home with her.

The night they brought them home.

The Two As They Are

Three and a half weeks before the meeting at Heylyn's condominium residence.

Aikiko stepped through the front door to the condominium entrance, almost tripping as she did, spurring laughter from Monique who followed behind her, their two men bracketed between them.

"Walk much?" asked Monique, very typsy and barely able to contain herself.

"I missed that class... too busy with kata," Aikiko responded, spurring Sterling to laugh along with her.

His hand found her waist, embracing it gently. Her hand quickly found that which was violating her body, and actually encouraged him to further explore her in a tasteful manner.

Monique caught sight of this and moved in closer to Habus, drawing his arm over her shoulders as they walked side by side.

The man at the security desk immediately recognized Aikiko and Monique (upon whom he had a crush).

"Good evening," he smiled at them as they approached.

"Ooops... just a minute... Monique made a scene, stumbling herself as she fiddled through her purse, trying to find her condo card.

In all truth, Monique was very observant and had been her entire life. She had known that the man most frequently at the security desk had something of an obsession for her, and she often liked to play with him in that regard. After all, in a sense, they both had something to gain from it, and she rather liked that a strange man, one who'd been tasked with protecting her, was  going a little bit beyond their professional familiarity. She found him to be cute in this manner and felt no threat by it.

"Let me see..." she said as she fished through her purse purposely drawing her admirer out.

"Its alright. I definitely recognize you," the man at the desk said to her admiringly.

Aikiko rolled her eyes, already reading Monique like an open book.

"Its alright, I have an elevator card..." Aikiko pulled Sterling, coaxing her to continue with her as Monique toyed with her fanboy at the front desk.

"We're falling behind," Habus' hand tightened around Monique's, drawing her along as he tried to keep up with his own friend, Sterling.

By the time the couple continued their pursuit of Aikiko and Sterling, their quarry had disappeared beyond the corner on their way to the elevator.

It was there, hidden and up against the wall that Sterling pinned Aikiko thereupon the relief work of the decorative brick wall in the elevator foyer.

They embraced in a kiss, Aikiko's back against the wall and she suddenly found herself in a very unfamiliar situation and one that was making her uncomfortable. As chance would have it, Monique and Habus happened upon Aikiko and Sterling from around the corner.

"Getting familiar are you?" Monique giggled, a private joke between her and Habus, who for all intense purposes went along with it.

She stumbled slightly as she stepped, catching her balancing frighteningly quickly as she pressed the elevator button.

Aikiko caught Monique's slip and acted quickly to cover for her friend.

"She's a model. She practices catching her falls like all the time...  It amazes me," Aikiko responded quickly.

Fortunately, neither of the men caught on, though Sterling used her own words to flirt.

"I'm amazed with you," he said to her, moving inwards once again to press her against the wall.

Aikiko held him back forcibly, though she kept an inviting smile on her face, letting him know that he was still earning her trust.

Habus and Monique by that time had become silence, except for the sound of their lips pressed together and the the motion between.

Aikiko found herself in an awkward position as the silence engulfed them. Ultimately though she was rescued when the digital elevator bell sounded, breaking their momentary solace as Monique's and Habus' lips parted.

The elevator door opened, and the two couples, both of whom were well under the influence of their earlier drinks, boarded the device, each of them finding their own side as the men attempted to pin the women. Monique fearlessly engulfed Habus' lips with her own as the two met on the elevator opposite Aikiko and Sterling.

Aikiko once again laid down the ground rules, holding her ambitious lover off as the elevator ascended.

Sterling however, wasn't having any of it. He pushed against her resistance and within herself, Aikiko could feel someone else coming to her defense. Someone who'd take charge where she herself couldn't.

"Please... don't!" Aikiko pleaded with her new found lover, perhaps trying to warn him about the danger he might face.

"Let's start with a kiss... why not?" he responded, moving in closer to her lips.

"No... you don't understand..." Aikiko resisted, which in Sterling's case only turned him on that much more, for he was interpreting her resistance as an invitation.

He moved closer to her lips and the digitally intelligent elevator suddenly accelerated with the absence of calls on its trip. Sterling's lips met with those of Aikiko, and she resisted but he continued his pursuit of her passion.

The elevator suddenly slowed its ascent, giving all the passengers butterflies in their stomach. Monique even smiled at the irony as her lips parted from those of Habus. And then, the elevator door opened on the penthouse floor.

Monique and Habus stepped out first, Monique's hand clasped around Habus' as she dragged him towards a door to the right of the elevator.

"Is this yours?" Habus asked her.

"No. Its a friend's place. Just checking if she's up..." Monique pressed her face against Heylyn's door and when she heard nothing, she pulled her man in the direction of her condo.

Monique stumbled again, though this time she remained within the realm of believability with her response.

On the elevator however, Aikiko had exited and Dragon Aikiko had entered through her.

Sterling pushed against her once again, and Dragon Aikiko grabbed his wrist, twisting it in such a way that he was quickly helpless. She then forced him out of the elevator and to the wall opposite the door, slamming him against it aggressively.

"Is this what you wanted?" she asked him, holding his wrist firm in her hand, perhaps waiting for his submission.

He groaned as he resisted her grip.

"I just thought maybe you were..." he began.

"You didn't even hear my words. I distinctly said: no... you don't understand. And you completely ignored me!" Dragon Aikiko responded, holding Sterling against the wall, her lips inches from his as she took charge.

"No... means no you mean? I mean sometimes... there's situations where..." Sterling found himself in an awkward position, trying to justify his ignorance of her words.

Aikiko moved in on his lips, kissing them fiercely, biting his lower lip as she twisted his wrist until a nerve in his elbow was pinned between the bones of his forearm and upper arm. He winced as she pushed him against the wall, barely exhaling the words:

"Please don't!" as the pain hit him.

"You surely mean please continue, don't you? I mean if what I said meant the opposite to you, then surely what you say must mean the opposite to me?" Dragon Aikiko twisted his wrist, pushing the limits of what he could endure.

"I said no..." he responded to her.

"So did I... so what's the difference? Are you saying that my request isn't as valid as yours?" she replied, easing her grip on his wrist.

"No... I meant... I find you..." Sterling replied cautiously, oblivious of his earlier disregard for her request.

"What? You find me what?!" she challenged him, suddenly throwing him against the wall opposite the door through which Monique and Habus had stepped into the condominium beyond. 

Into the darkness.

Sterling didn't respond, which Dragon Aikiko found offensive, for he was ready to thrust himself upon her, yet when she had the reigns, he could not find it in himself to speak candidly with her.

To be honest and sincere.

To be a man.

Somewhere within the open door, Monique was already undressing her man, as was he so doing with her. Their hands found the edges of their garments, each of them struggling to get them down and removed from their bodies quicker than the other. Their motion was deliberate, yet soft. An unknown choreography of lust and mystery.

Meanwhile, Dragon Aikiko had taken charge, slamming Sterling against the interior wall of  their condominium. Pressing him full force against the wall outside of Aikiko's room. 

Sterling found himself unable to cope with his lover's aggression, yet she did not relinquish anything to the man and he found himself lost. In unfamiliar territory in the hands of the suddenly aggressive woman.

"Is this what you wanted when I so clearly said no?!!!" Dragon Aikiko forced him against the door frame of her room.

Sterling was caught off guard, unable to answer her.

She quickly spun him, throwing him against the far wall.

"Well?!" she pressed him.

"I... No..." he squeaked weakly.

She pressed herself against him, biting his lower lip viciously, almost to the point of drawing blood.

"Stop!" he demanded of her.

"Why should I? I asked you the same thing, and you kept going!" Dragon Aikiko's eyes were fierce and intense.

"I thought that you wanted..." he responded to her, completely caught off guard by her sudden ferocity.

"You don't even know me! How could you assume that my saying no meant yes? How could you assume something like that of someone you don't even know!!!" she demanded of him.

Sterling was lost for words in her sudden confrontation.

She pulled him from the wall and then turned him, literally launching him at her bed with one motion  of her arm. He landed on his back, and began retreating from her as she advanced, quickly discarding her heels and she mounted him and held him in place.

"Whenever you try to take away a woman's right to say no, you'll get me!!!" Dragon Aikiko cursed at him.

"Stop it!" he demanded of her, and she simply held him down.

"When you learn to behave like a real man, and respect my wishes, you'll get my more subservient and docile other. Until then, you've got me," Dragon Aikiko's eyes were flared like those of a serpent ready to strike.

She held Sterling in place, and had her way with him and all according to her wishes.

Though it wasn't what he initially had wanted or expected. He reluctantly and regrettingly enjoyed it.

The two couples found their passion that night, each in very different ways. Monique and Habus found mutual pleasure in each other, while Aikiko and Sterling sorted out the roles in their relationship as if the universe was educating one of them.

For all intense purposes, Dragon Aikiko had become Sterling's teacher.

Yet, the energy from the pleasure of the two couples was ultimately the same energy responsible for all life on the planet. 

It was the beginning and the end. 

It was the alpha and the omega.

All without a single life stemming from their passion, and yet the universe still grew from the burst of creative energy.

After their moment of crescendo, Monique lay in bed catching her breath, suddenly realizing that she'd slept with the enemy.

Privacy And Privilege

Monique seemed drained after having explained that night to those in the living room of Heylyn's condo.

"Does that make it better?" asked Monique, feeling like she'd poured her soul out to those listening in the room.

"Can I say something?" asked Alicia, now very nervous about interrupting.

"I'll get to you two soon enough. Where were we? The other two love birds. Valerie and Trey. It seems that you've been caught in some private movies?" Heylyn turned accusingly to them.

"Not by our choice! We secretly filmed... without our knowing...!!!" Valerie responded to Heylyn's inquiry.

"You've been doing it everywhere! It was only a matter of time!" Monique interjected, perhaps finding relief in persecuting someone else after having poured out details of her private life.

"Are you saying we deserved to have our private moments used in a blackmail scheme?!!!" Valerie became defensive, tensing for a moment as her hands tightened around the armrest of the love seat, crushing it easily under her immense strength.

The armrest suddenly broke under Aikiko's weight and she fell, rolling over her shoulders and back up onto her feet.

"That wasn't funny!" Aikiko's eyes flared at Valerie, though it was someone else looking out at her.

"Calm down Aikiko. Valerie. Alright? Just nice and calm..." Heylyn's wings momentarily grew, expanding suddenly from her back, a low hum emitted as they twisted in shape, glowing as if ready for anything between the two women should she have to intervene.

When they saw Heylyn's wings stretching into position to block them, they suddenly realized where they were and caught themselves before their tempers burst.

Aikiko bowed intuitively low, humbling herself knowing from Hanshi's, Tiger's and Jinn Hua's teachings that Dragon Butterfly would lose her hold on Aikiko's presence. As she'd learned to recognize, Dragon Butterfly immediately disappeared upon such a show of humbleness, and yet Aikiko had only gained face and much more respect from her friends in doing so.

"I'm sorry Aikiko. Its was an accident. You and I are more alike than you'll ever know... I hope," Valerie's voice decreased in volume and she spoke more softly than she had before.

"We both caught each other's fall. No apology necessary," Aikiko responded.

Heylyn's wings disappeared into her back, the droning hum they emitted now replaced by the drone of the ambient music.

"Who are these people who have this video of you?" asked Heylyn, more calmly and tactfully than before.

"We're still piecing it together, but whomever they are, they've already shared it around substantially," Trey leaned forward on the love seat, speaking for them both as he clasped Valerie's other hand.

"Where did this happen?" asked Heylyn calmly.

"At a hotel. We had a romantic escape one day. For our lunch hour, though we took an extra hour. It was kind of a special day to us, and I wanted to surprise Valerie," Trey explained to Heylyn.

"So why is it that Aikiko and I are singled out for our private lives, and he's being treated like a saint?" Monique challenged.

"You aren't singled out at all. We're gathering details connected to your involvement with Habus so we can all protect each other, including Aikiko and you," Braden interrupted, finally fed up with having remained silent for so long.

"The same goes with Valerie and Trey's situation. If we don't know how they're being affected and by whom, we can't protect them either," Heylyn added.

"But they've been treating the studio like its their own little love nest!" Monique responded, still angry that she'd been forced to share details of her private life.

"Is that true?" Heylyn asked Valerie and Trey.

Valerie looked to Trey, whose hand tightened around hers.

Valerie nodded affirmatively without saying anything.

"When? How close was this to when you suspect that you were recorded?" asked Heylyn.

"It was a week ago..." Valerie began speaking about her last encounter with Trey.

Simultaneously both confidently and regrettingly.

Studio Nights, Lights Out

Inside of Studio B the music was still crisp, the bass pounding though the photoshoot had long since finished. Those that remained considered themselves to be amongst the experienced veterans of the industry. They were Nathan, one of the most sought after directors, a true visionary when it came to the  vision, progression and pacing of a shoot.

He sat casually on a large beanbag chair, his on-again-off-again girlfriend and model Larissa lay across his lap. Both of them were wrapped around each other. Their drinks in one hand as the eclectic electronic music pumped.

"I still can't believe we got this done and so totally nailed, and its only like... nine o'clock..." Trey's words slurred as he nursed his drink from another beanbag chair.

"I know. He actually told Heylyn that we'd be here until midnight if we stuck to Nathan's vision," Larissa spoke, purposely cold and secretly for Trey's benefit.

"Naaa. Trey and I are on the level here. We've both got that eye for an ear of knowing when to listen to our models' advice," Nathan quickly responded, understanding how the business sometimes worked.

"I still can't believe how good it turned out. And the audition shots are right on the money! They practically already look like they've been through compositing and post three times. You never get that anymore unless you're working with art directors familiar with good lighting," Trey's speech slurred as he buttered up his director without kissing his arse.

"You know Trey, I watch for that all the time. Lighting is essential for still because thanks to digital, we can play all we want with film stock and ISO without spending a cent. Its like you can do it all in your head, based upon how your experience with actual analog ISO and F-Stop stuck to you..." Nathan's head swayed from side to side as he stabilized himself.

"Well, I'm not quite from those days, though I did manage to pickup an old stock 35mm Pentax K-1000 from E-bay. I've got it at home in my vintage camera collection, alongside my Canon AE-35," Trey responded.

"You bastard! You have like.. one and a half of my dream analog photo-recipe lens cams... whoa... I think we should vacate..." Nathan leaned over to Larissa, struggling to get to his feet.

Larissa arose from his lap and helped an already intoxicated Nathan to his feet.

The door to Studio B suddenly opened and Valerie strolled in, her drink still in her hand as she casually strolled over to where Trey was seated.

"Your cab just arrived. They're parked outside of the front door..." Valerie walked casually over to Trey, turning to face Larissa and Nathan as she stumbled towards the door to Studio B.

"Shoot three is going to happen here... in this studio. I don't know who is doing your set decorating since Kori was taken from us, but we're going to need a full set decoration by Friday. That's eighteen hours from now," Nathan stumbled as Larissa guided him out through Studio B's doors and towards the front of the building.

The door to Studio B slowly closed as Valerie watched, her drink still in her hand.

"I take it your schmoozing went successfully?" Valerie asked Trey, as he struggled up from his beanbag chair.

"Success my hunny, is entirely the result of the hunnies one has," Trey stumbled as he attempted to find his balance.

"And of these hunnies? Can any one of them become your one true hunny?" confirmed Valerie as she moved in on Trey.

Trey paused purposely, as if he was pondering her question. In all truth though, he'd read her game as much as she'd read his.

In the empty studio, the two hunnies embraced one another. Trey spoke before their lips met.
"No. Only the true hunnie can become the hunnie of another," Trey spoke the words poetically.

His eyes were truly fixated on hers.

She slowly stepped forward and on her toes, reached up to his lips. They met in a wet kiss under the red light in Studio B.

Several hours later, they awoke with an hour to spare before the rest of the day staff arrived for the fashion show rehearsal Heylyn had planned.

By the time the performers for the show had arrived, they were already gone for the day and wrapped around each other in Valerie's condo.

Over the course of that day, their bodies met several times for intimate passion and intercourse. And through their conversation of the flesh, they found solace. 

For a full day, their worries and stresses melted away and in their absence, they were left only with what they had always wanted.

Each other.

Discretion And Divulgence

The sound of ambient music permeated the absence of Valerie's voice, just having shared one of her most intimate moments.

She felt both invigorated and disgusted that she had. As if she had violated the sacred virtues of the bond of love she had with the man of that situation she'd elicited. The man seated beside her at that very moment.

Heylyn looked down at the carpeted floor, feeling her insides churning with tension.

"There! Do you feel better!" Monique spat at them, looking to Valerie then Alicia, and to Aikiko and finally Heylyn.

"Now you've got all of our private lives into this!" Monique was on the verge of tears.

"That's enough Monique! We need to be more..." Braden began, finally having reached the limit he could take from Monique's range of emotional extremity.

"No. She's right," Heylyn finally looked up from carpet and faced the group of friends seated around her.

"How?" asked Braden, still skeptical that maybe Habus didn't already have some hold over Monique.

"They did nothing wrong. At all. They were just living their lives, exercising the same rights everyone else has and for it, they've been put into a situation where they're forced to divulge details of their personal lives. Perhaps to exonerate themselves or to clear their own conscience, or because Mentis, Habus and whomever else has gotten their claws into Valerie and Trey is playing us against each other. On the grounds of privacy..." Heylyn said to them as she paced the room around them, pondering her words as she spoke them.

"Monique brought the enemy one door away from your living space. Valerie slept in the studio and turned it into a love nest! Ahem. Warai is in there quite often. I personally think you have every reason to be offended!" Braden spoke up, perhaps with sincerity or as the devil's advocate.

"If we weren't facing the threat of Mentis, Habus and whatever else might be out there, would these situations garner us to be judge, jury and executioner? Of each other? Would Monique and Aikiko... Valerie and Trey even have to share these intimate details of their life with us? Should they?" asked Heylyn of Braden.

"In this situation, yes. We need to know what Habus knows because the more he knows, the more his followers know and he's definitely only a step away from being another Mentis," Braden said protectively thinking of Warai as he had been all along.

"These situations though, in any other circumstance would be innocent fun at worst. Since Mentis arrived, situations like these have become weapons to turn us against each other. They're soft spots that can be used to trigger us," Heylyn spoke, looking deliberately to Valerie and then Aikiko, who immediately understood what she was saying.

"These are private moments about which I'd have never likely known in any other situation, and that leads me to believe that if we start changing to accommodate Mentis, Habus and their ways, we're letting them take away our freedom. We're folding to their pressure. We're handing them everything," Heylyn finally saw what was happening and how it was affecting them.

"What if there's other issues involved?" challenged Braden.

"Like what?" asked Heylyn.

"Complicity?" Braden responded.

"Monique. Valerie. Are there any such issues involved in either of your situations?" asked Heylyn of them.

"No. Except that Trey and I were not complicit in any way that someone would secretly record us..." Valerie tried best to quell her anger with the fact.

"Both our partners and us were complicit," Monique added.

"I certainly educated my partner as to that fact and what it truly means," Aikiko added, recalling that Dragon Aikiko had arrived when Sterling had overstepped her boundaries.

"Where does it stop?" Heylyn asked them rhetorically.

"What? Where does what stop?" asked Braden.

"Well, now we're door checking them to make sure everyone was complicit, which is alright, but how about beyond that? Are we going to start checking to make sure they did it the right way or the wrong way? Or..." Heylyn began.

"I didn't even know there was a wrong way..." Aikiko responded.

"My point exactly. Nobody should be have access to the details of your private matters like that to be able to tell you what's the right way or wrong way to enjoy your sexuality as adults," Heylyn said firmly.

"Or with who! If it involves adults..." Monique responded with an exclamation of her own.

"Then these situations are your personal lives and I'm so sorry that you were forced to divulge them. In the case of Habus however, we need to know how much he knows, though I can't apologize to you enough for your having to explain that to us," Heylyn spoke sincerely, looking first to Monique and then to Valerie.

"Braden?" Heylyn looked to the Dragon Man, who looked back at her firmly, finally comprehending what she was saying.

"I'm sorry Monique. Valerie. Aikiko. But I know Habus better than all of you, and I know just what a threat he can be. This is a serious situation, but I agree. We can't let that change us in ways that might be part of their plan to pit us against one another. Change happens, but we definitely have a say in how that affects us and from where we allow it," Braden apologized to those his words may have offended.

"That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be careful. Especially now that I've got a child running around in the Studio every so often. We're going to need to be more careful, not just for your own privacy, but for Warai's protection as well," Heylyn reminded them all.

"...Which brings us to you two..." Heylyn smiled, now looking to Alicia and Norler, both of whom returned mischievously innocent glances to her.

"Us?" Alicia responded batting her eyelashes, quickly grabbing Norler's hand.

"Yes. You. Tell us all about it..." Heylyn urged her friends.

"Hello? Warai's finished her din-din!" Kori emerged from the den with Warai as they went to the kitchen to drop off their dishes.

"Better make it the kiddie friendly version..." Heylyn said as Warai and Kori returned to their seats on the sofa beside Braden, Alicia and Norler.

"Are they going to tell us a story?" asked Warai, smiling over to Alicia and Norler.

"Yes. Kind of..." Heylyn answered her.

"What kind of story?" asked Warai, now excited that they'd be hearing a story together.

"The kind of story that ultimately begins the adventure of every little girl and boy in the world, but its the most difficult story to tell little girls and boys, so I'm going to leave it to those who are living it," Heylyn explained to Warai, as a teardrop slid down one of Alicia's eyelashes.

The Spark Of Everything

Ten weeks before the meeting at Heylyn's condominium residence.

The Mercedes-Benz cab drove south on Yonge Street, as it approached Queen Street, the Eaton's Centre visible through the tinted windows of the luxury cab, though the passengers' attention was on each other more so than anywhere else.

Alicia's head was buried in the nuzzle of Norler's neck, her nose basking in the scent of his late evening diluted aftershave and cologne. Her lips kissed his Adam's apple gently as she snuggled up to him, his arm embracing her tightly as the cab turned onto Queen.

"I haven't had such a good time since..." Alicia pondered her words, recalling the last time she'd been at the Looking Glass.

"Since...?" Norler smiled, already knowing her answer for he'd personally arranged that night for her.

 "The night Bryce was tickling the ivories. I mean that was the night I met Zheng, Doctor Briggs, Katya and Victor, not to mention, my hero - Professor Bryce Maxwell was there too. It was a perfect night except for one lacking detail," Alicia looked up at him, eyeing the curve of his jaw and cheeks from his shoulder.

"Something was missing? I thought it was perfect," Norler responded, somehow taking it personally that the night he'd arranged for her could be anything less.

"Well it was and it wasn't. I mean it was only missing one thing," Alicia rubbed his thigh with her hand.

"And what was that?" Norler asked her.

"You," she responded.

"I was there. I'm with you everywhere honey," Norler kissed her forehead, trying to make little of it.

"Funny, I thought someone was watching me..." Alicia climbed his jaw with her lips and found his, as the cab found its way to the Queen's Quay, two blocks from Heylyn's residence and on their way home.

Six minutes later, the cab pulled up in front of their condo, now several city blocks from Heylyn's and let them out under the watchful eyes of security.

The security monitor flickered as Alicia crossed its line of sight, her left hand clasped in Norler's right. The man at the security desk took little notice of the technical glitch, instead smiling and nodding to Alicia and Norler as they passed. Alicia smiled back while Norler waved as they approached the elevators, rounding the corner into the tiny foyer.

When they were out of sight around the corner, Alicia took the opportunity to thrust herself upon Norler, who in all irony had the exact same plans. Their faces closed in and their lips met passionately, and somehow through it all, Norler managed to press the elevator button.

When the elevator arrived, neither broke their kiss, instead Alicia backed into the elevator as Norler kept purchase of her lips with his. His hands guiding her hips as she stepped backwards. When they arrived at the back wall, Norler's hands found the elevator panel and the top right button, which he pressed without interrupting their intimacy.

The elevator quickly ascended to the thirty-third floor arriving just outside of their penthouse unit where it decelerated, coming to an abrupt stop, giving them each butterflies as it did.

The elevator door opened, and the locking mechanism detected their key cards without them having to retrieve them from their pockets. Norler's hand found the door handle, once again without breaking their kiss. When they were finally through the door, that's when they did away with every manner of restraint, discarding first their coats, and then their clothing onto the floor as they found their way to their bedroom.

By the time they arrived at their bed, they were both entirely wrapped around one another embraced in a perpetual kiss, Alicia's blonde hair lay spread upon the black satin pillow case. 

On that night and in the throes of their passion, the spark of life had found them and graced them with a new member of their flourishing family.

Zheng And The Bernouilli Search

Zheng had just finished her afternoon break where she'd step out into the University Solarium for a breath of fresh air. She sat on one of the benches and enjoyed cup of her favourite tea (of the bubble variety) as she relaxed and cleared her mind of the tangle of her earlier endeavors.

It was an exercise she often conducted over the course of the day, but the most effective such experiences for her occurred during her morning and noon breaks. Food items were forbidden in the Solarium, and one could only bring with them one beverage cup and never under any circumstances were they to leave garbage. Hence, those who enjoyed the Solarium, which for the most part was composed of entirely living organic plant matter, never ventured there during lunch, which had kept it mostly natural and spotless.

Zheng and many of her peers, including both programmers and mathematicians would use the Solarium as a space to recenter themselves, especially after spending a lot of in-depth time concentrating on layered challenges. Something about which Zheng would often joke with her peers, calling it their stack pointer depth, referring to the number of levels deep which a programmer or mathematician (or anyone involved in sciences, engineering and philosophy) could delve without the use of any outside tools to assist them.

Many life changing thought experiments had been born through such endeavors, and many historical discoveries had arrived only by their successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) graces, deep within many layers of our organic version of the stack pointer. In all likelihood, just as many were driven to near insanity while many layers deep in pursuit of a solution to whatever depths they'd committed their mind for such a pursuit.

And so, places like the Solarium had become a daily staple for those involved in such cerebral pursuits to both delve deep into, and emerge from the depths of such a state, and the limits of their organic stack pointer.

Zheng had been deep into one such problem over the last few days, still working under MindSpice's  QCC (Quantum Computing Cloud), which was still closed to the public and only available for use in the University Alumni network and for research purposes only. She had been working on an algorithm based upon a Bernoulli Search, that could be used to calculate the minimal number of bits required to exploit private key encryption using only components of the public key and a sufficiently crafted algorithm then executed on Quantum based hardware. Though most of her initial designs had been carefully diagrammed, most of her work on stage (in the code editor) was actually drawn from her head, and while in the depths of her organic stack pointer contemplating the many layers of the algorithm.

A few minutes of that kind of concentration could be exhausting to most, never mind the hours at a time that Zheng and her peers spent while solving complex problems. Their almost ritual solution to the stress such prolonged activity brought with it was solved in an almost transcendental manner, meditatively speaking of course. As it turned out, finding one's way back from the depths was just as important as finding one's way in. And so, the alumni brought in a professional lecturer who taught them such techniques. From that point onward, their morning and afternoon ritual in the Solarium had become the staple of their daily productivity. Many who watched the lecture, had found themselves eased of stress and grappling with difficult concepts had become much less... difficult.

And so it was that on this day that Zheng had just finished her afternoon session in the Solarium, and the jumble of permutations involving Bernoulli Search parameters had been swept from her thought space, that she got up calmly and exited the Solarium on her way back to her research desk, revitalized and resuscitated.

She stepped through the two security doors and into the research lab and over to her workstation, fully intending to summarize her day's progress in notes for her to follow the next day when she stumbled upon a pink envelope which had been lain carefully on her workstation keyboard.

She looked around the lab, and to each of the few workstations occupied on this day, seeing nobody that she personally knew. Bryce's workstation sat unoccupied, though she wasn't expecting until early next week, leaving her confused about who could have placed the envelope on her keyboard and how they'd have gotten close.

She picked it up from the keyboard and carefully opened it.

She removed a red and pink card from within, and opened it to examine its contents, reading them carefully as a smile grew across her face.

She even blushed.


Three hours later and her body was pressed close to that of Doctor Stephen Briggs, as they slow danced to a classic jazz ballad played by the Ian Albright Jazz Quartet in the serene atmosphere of the Looking Glass Lounge.

"I thought you forgot," she said to him, her cheek pressed against his and her whispers finding his ear.

"I was kind of hoping you did. Would have made the surprise that much more... amorous," he responded from her other cheek into her other ear.

"I have to admit that it caught me completely off guard. My mind was so far removed from anything like this and then... I saw the envelope and it was like... I was transported into a fantasy land from that moment," Zheng's cheek slid along his face until they were looking in each other's eyes.

"Its been a while. I know we've both been busy with our careers and... I'm sorry we didn't do this sooner," Doctor Briggs responded, as they faced each other, her left hand in his right, his left around her waist as they slowly danced.

"Oh no. This is perfect. I just didn't expect it, and that's the joy of it," Zheng replied, batting her eyelashes at him gratefully.

"Lets keep this pace because this night's only begun. Think of it as a three day night," Doctor Briggs closed in for the kiss.

Their night continued with a light meal and a bottle of fine wine. When they left, they checked into the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, where they spent the next two days of their weekend wrapped around one another.

Once again, a universal language had found its voice in two different people in a way unique to them, and they spoke it with each other both lovingly and discretely.

Alicia's First Card

Kori, Alicia, Monique, Aikiko, Valerie and even Heylyn by that point were clearing tears from beneath their eyes.

"I haven't gushed like this for a long time..." Heylyn remarked, wiping her eyes with one of the linens she'd brought out for her guests to do the same.

Norler's hand rubbed Alicia's back as she leaned forward to grab one for herself from the coffee table.

"So when are you expecting?" asked Braden, apparently one of the few who could speak at that moment.

"Sometime in late July mid August..." answered Norler.

"Have you had an ultrasound?" asked Kori.

"What's an ultrasound?" asked Warai, thinking that it was like a dessert.

"Its like a camera, but you can take special pictures of the inside of your belly," Heylyn explained to Warai, who seemed both amazed and disappointed by the answer.

"We'd rather keep those details for now..." Norler looked to Alicia, concerned for her.

"We'll talk more about this with all of you in the near future. There's some complications... but nothing to worry about mind you," Alicia assured her friends, though they could see a glint of worry on her brow.

"I got a card today in school! Want to see?" Warai announced proudly, her face a ball of excitement and joy which remarkably ignited the faces of everyone in the room.

"I'd love to see it!" Valerie responded first.

"Me too..." Monique smiled at the little girl.

"Why don't you go get it from the table in the front hall, where you left your school kit," Heylyn suggested to her.

Warai didn't waste a moment, getting up and running over to the front hall energetically to retrieve her little knapsack. When she returned, she handed the bag to Kori, who opened it and retrieved a little envelope from within.

"This must be it," Kori handed it to Warai, who quickly opened it, dropping the envelope and holding the card up and waving it for them all to see.

The greeting was a simple, generic and neutral message:

Happy Heart Day from your friend!

There was no signature present, but there was the school stamp with a hand drawn heart beside it, obviously put there by the teachers and staff in the interest of making sure that no students were left out.

"See?!" Warai ran to each of them in turn, and held it before them to see.

When any one of them tried to accept it from her, she giggled profusely and ran away to the next person in the line of her effort to show off.

"Wow! That's a pretty awesome card!" Braden remarked at her, causing her to burst out laughing.

"I think they give them out to all the students, but they each get a different card, so there's a bit of uniqueness to it. But I still think its a very nice touch," Heylyn explained to them, obviously proud of Warai.

"I thought they still called it St. Valentine's Day?" asked Monique, suddenly feeling a bit of culture shock herself.

"Some people do and that's alright, but I think that in a public school, they're dealing with many different cultural and religious ideas. No different really than West Meet East International in a way," Heylyn responded to Monique's observation.

"Why can't she call it St. Valentine's Day?" asked Monique again, obviously referring to Warai.

"In this day and age, its unfortunate how making such a decision that implicates membership in a social clique... a sometimes exclusionary sidedness in one's core being, that somehow segregates them... how it can have far reaching implications for a person's life and eventually their career. Warai is just barely approaching the end of her sixth year of life and she hasn't encountered that social cliquiness aspect in any of her surroundings yet, or maybe she has but she doesn't understand why it exists in the first place. So do I as an adult who has been somewhat indoctrinated into that way of thinking, commit my little girl into that same paradigm by making that decision for her? Or do I help her to remain neutral and balanced when it comes to such situations until she's an adult, and old enough to understand the implications of making such a decision for herself? It would be irresponsible for me to make that decision for her. Especially as CEO of West Meet East, as we have many employees with very different religious and cultural ideas. I'm not encouraging you to throw yours away, I just want to make sure that my little girl can make that choice safely on her own and for her own reasons when she's an adult. Until then, we grace this world delicately together," Heylyn explained to Monique and all of her friends.

"But you just singled us out and away from such ideas, ahem. Mentis? Habus? How we shouldn't change for them? Remember?" Monique still feeling a bit defensive, called Heylyn out on her explanation.

"I certainly do, but that was about our privacy as individuals and the biases we show in our private lives. Habus doesn't have any right to those details about you any more than I do, and I'm a lot closer to you don't you think? Meaning that there's a line each of us have regardless, that defines our own boundaries, that nobody should be allowed to cross, whether that person is an enigmatic and dangerous cult leader, or a person's employer and best friend," Heylyn confirmed that Monique and herself were on the same ground.

"Makes perfect sense to me, both what you were speaking of with regard to Warai, and the issues of personal boundaries you're defending now," Alicia agreed wholeheartedly with Heylyn.

"Does our having differences in opinion on this matter mean that we're suddenly at odds with each other?" asked Heylyn of Monique, intending her question rhetorically rather than offensively.

" I suppose... It does however feel like you've just defined another division between us in the room. Those who stand by their traditional values, and those who prefer a neutrality," Monique suddenly felt like she was somehow losing Heylyn, not realizing that she in fact was discovering herself.

"So lets make another division between. Who's for wine, who's for beer, and who's for cocktails?" asked Norler standing up and offering himself to fetch their drinks.

"I'll have what Warai's having," Alicia replied to Norler, patting her tummy.

"Yeay! Can I have some orange juice? Is that ok?" Warai cheered for Alicia, confirming that Alicia wanted the orange juice too.

"That would be perfect," Alicia nodded in agreement with Warai's suggestion.

"Wine for me," Monique replied, somewhat flustered over the conversation.

"For me as well, please..." Aikiko smiled, truly wanting a cocktail but instead choosing to side with her friend.

"A cocktail please?" Valerie added her order.

"Something light, I'll be driving later. One of those strawberry kiwi cocktails preferably?" asked Kori.

"A beer please, Norler," Braden responded.

"Alright. I'll join Braden with a beer," he said gathering up the booty from the fridge and lining them up with wine, cocktail and beer glasses after which he poured them.

"See Alicia!" Warai showed Alicia the card again, handing it directly to her.

Alicia accepted the card and began to imagine their own child in a similar situation, when Warai's card triggered a distant memory from her own past. Time seemed suspended as she relived her experiences from that year of her life.


Heylyn sat across from Alicia in the cafeteria, which was mostly empty except for the few students like them who had a spare class at that time. Their books were opened before each of them, with a text book off to one side and their writing paper and instrument before them.

Heylyn worked in a charcoal pencil, drawing an elaborately stylish trench coat, drawn onto a figure that looked remarkably like Alicia. The same blonde hair crowned the figure's head, her blue eyes and red lips punctuated as charcoal shapes. The coat flowed much like a cape, and in some ways caused Alicia to resemble a superhero of some kind.

The first written workbook laying in front of Alicia was her notebook for her Accounting class. That class had been one that her parents had encouraged her to take, as they wanted her to explore the avenue of becoming a Certified Accountant. She did very much enjoy the subject as she loved to work with numbers and functions, but it lacked something that she found enticing about biology and physics.

Her parents had also encouraged her to explore the idea of becoming a teacher, as she was very good at dealing with people, despite being very shy and often afraid of them. She humoured her parents in both avenues, first by taking the Accounting classes they'd suggested she study, and then by becoming a registered math and sciences tutor, which fed her parent's armchair ambitions to see their daughter become a teacher. She enjoyed tutoring, but it somehow lacked what inspired her to stay up late at night reading science and biology texts long after the rest of the house was asleep.

She had already finished her Accounting homework for the next day's class and was already working on the homework of one of her favourite classes. Alicia's current workbook was filled with an organized series of chemical formulas derived from elements of the periodic table, based on the Rutherford model. She was busy calculating isotopes of various radioactive elements when she looked up from her own notes and saw Heylyn's drawing.

"Is that me? That's like so awesome!" Alicia smiled excitedly seeing herself drawn as fashion model or possibly even a superhero.

In all truth though, Alicia never saw herself with the potential to become either. She still carried a little weight with her, which her mother often referred to as her "baby fat", insisting to her daughter that it would be gone by the time she was nineteen. Alicia was already sixteen and though much of it had disappeared, the rest of it didn't seem to be in a hurry to vacate the sanctity of her body. In all truth though, the only person who really noticed it was her. When it came to the moving target concept of ideal self-image, she was in fact just like the rest of us. Perfectly imperfect.

"Let me see...?" Alicia asked for Heylyn's art book.

Heylyn looked up at her best friend, a menacing look on her face much like that of a mad scientist at first. Then her face shifted to a friendly smile, punctuated by her own laughter.

"Its still in the early stages. Maybe when I can afford the material I'll make one for you..." Heylyn slid the ark book over to Alicia, who picked it up and turned it around to face her.

"That's sooo good! You should be like an artist!" Alicia remarked, turning the page of her art book to reveal a full colour drawing of a woman looking much like Heylyn, but in a red and yellow scaly outfit with giant butterfly wings on her back.

"Not quite an artist, but a fashion designer... maybe... if I manage to pass my mandatory classes that is," Heylyn responded, shrugging off her friend's compliments.

"If I ever could fit into this trench coat you're designing, then anything is possible. The most likely of those possibilities from what I can see is that you're going to be a famous fashion designer!" Alicia flipped the page to the next drawing, revealing an intricately detailed Eastern dragon, once again with similar butterfly wings as the woman from the previous page.

"Well when that happens, I'll come visit you in your scientific lab, 'cause you're definitely going to be a famous scientist," Heylyn smiled once again, taking notice of a boy whose eyes seemed obsessively fixated on Alicia.

"Looks like someone has an admirer..." the boy immediately noticed that Heylyn had caught him eyeing Alicia.

He turned and ran out through a nearby door before Alicia could get a look at him. Alicia only saw the door slowly closing after him, as he disappeared down one of the other school corridors.

"A guy checking me out? Was he blind?" Alicia responded, still very much stumbling with her own self-esteem.

"Blind? No. He got through that door like he knew where he was going. I'd say he has good eyesight, not to mention he was very cute," Heylyn remarked of Alicia's admirer.

Alicia suddenly blushed, and then the panic hit her. She immediately began to feel the fear of her heart being precariously at risk of being broken. Of taking a chance on something that she might think she'd have wanted, only to find out that it would end in the pain of her breaking heart.

Anything she'd ever learned to hope for, had by some misfortune been taken from her and this pattern seemed to emerge again and again in her young life. So much so, that whenever opportunity presented itself, she immediately felt nothing but panic and fear. She didn't show it in her behaviour, but when Heylyn saw that she'd become even more pale than she already was, she became concerned for her friend.

"Are you alright?" asked Heylyn, who by that point was wondering if Alicia might not already be in shock.

Alicia's eyes blinked momentarily and then moved to take in the clock on the far wall. She suddenly shook her head quickly, as if waking herself up. She then handed Heylyn's art book back to her.

"Oh my gosh! I've gotta go! I'm going to be late!" Alicia stood from the cafeteria table and began piling her school texts into her backpack.

"We already did our last class today..." Heylyn reminded her.

"No. I totally forgot. I have to get to the Retirement Home. I forgot I had an early shift today!" Alicia exclaimed, quickly throwing her backpack over her shoulder.

"Need a hand getting there?" Heylyn asked out of concern for her friend.

"I'll be alright. I was just a little anxious... having a guy check me out and all," Alicia smiled to her friend.

"Do me a favour? If you see that boy again, point him out to me. If I'm going to be single for the rest of my life, I'd at least like to know about the kind of guy that found me worth looking at," Alicia said almost jokingly, but Heylyn's heart felt a sense of tragedy for her poor friend's absence of confidence.

"I'll do that. Just keep on being the smartest girl in the school, alright?" Heylyn reminded her best friend.

"Smartest girl? You mean the smartest person!" Alicia replied with a fresh smile on her face, suddenly having found confidence thanks to Heylyn's help in reminding her about a quality she had in abundance.

"That's the spirit! See you tomorrow!" Heylyn returned her smile, waving bye with her fingers and from there, they parted ways.

Alicia made her way out of the doors at the far end of the cafeteria and out into the lane that connected to the side street along which she'd have to walk for three quarters of her journey to the Retirement Residence where she'd been a volunteer for nearly a year.

As the school disappeared behind her, she found her way through the last part of her journey and onto the nearby main road. After crossing the street at a traffic light, she was making her way along the front walk and in through the front doors of the building.


A couple of hours later and Alicia was well into her shift. She'd helped some of the lower mobility seniors make it to the cafeteria so they could eat, as dinner was served in three different stages according to the mobility of seniors there within. The first stage were the most mobile and quickly in and out. The second stage were those in motorized wheelchairs and scooters. Those who could easily wheel in, eat and then wheel out again after their meal. The third stage involved those who each had their own specialized mobility issues, and in most cases they each required special attention and care.

Alicia had been assisting one of the seniors in getting back to their room when she encountered an old friend of hers. One that had become a mentor of sorts. A lady by the name of Sylvia Upadhaya.

Sylvia, immediately upon having recognized Alicia, made her way over to the blonde haired girl.

"I didn't know if you'd be coming tonight. How are you young lady?" asked Sylvia of one of her few true friends.

"I'm fine Mrs. Upadhaya. How are you?" Alicia asked Sylvia as she carefully guided Matt, who required two canes for his own mobility, towards the elevator foyer.

"Please. Call me Sylvia, or Sylvie if you'd like. Anyway, the reason I'm pestering you is because I have a guest coming tonight for a cup of coffee and a game of Bridge. The thing is, that I need a table setup in the event room upstairs for four players. Would it be possible for your to setup such a table for me, before say... 7PM tonight?" asked Sylvia of Alicia as they arrived at the elevator.

"Thank you Alicia. I should be fine from here," Matt leaned on the railing just outside of the elevator.

"Not a problem Mr. Peebles," Alicia made sure he was safely standing before she let him go.

She then turned to face Sylvia and addressed her.

"A table with four settings, and a table cloth I take it?" asked Alicia.

"Could you? that would be perfect," Sylvia confirmed with Alicia.

"Sure. I can do that. Just let me check with Dora first and we should be fine. Do you need a deck of cards?" asked Alicia of Sylvia, who adjusted her bifocal glasses to better take in the young woman.

"I could always use another deck, but if you can't get them I should be fine. Did you get a chance to read that book I loaned you?" asked Sylvia of Alicia.

"Funny you should mention because I actually finished it last night. It was one of the most amazing science books I've ever read. So that's the sort of thing you used to work on?" asked Alicia of Sylvia, her eyes sparkling with attentive wonder.

"Not exactly, but close. I was working in a field related to biology. We were categorizing broad DNA sections and statistically analyzing their information content for grammatical probabilistic segments. It was a field that combined biology and information sciences, though my goals were to create a hypothetical framework for Quantum effects in the chemistry encoding of DNA and its counterpart, RNA messengers," Sylvia explained to Alicia.

"So, when you say grammatical, are you referring to DNA as a language?" asked Alicia, not quite having a handle on the concept.

"In a sense, you could say that DNA encoding is a language and that it has a grammatical syllabus, but we were looking at it in the sense of raw information rather than as a language. Much simpler in terms of the math, especially where it involves measuring the possible entropy of segments of a given length, which you'd recognize by the formula given by the second law: S = K log W," Sylvia explained to Alicia, who quickly grasped the concept when Sylvia had explained it.

"So you're saying that because DNA has four different fields in the form of guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine, that taking a segment length of one hundred and twenty eight, could have a possible entropy of around eight? Maybe eight and a half?" Alicia quickly did the math in her head using a little trick she'd learned about Newton's square finding algorithm.

"Eight point four, but close enough. Impressive young lady! That's exactly what we were doing, however, grammar when applied to information science, relates to specialized rules that directly affect the plausible entropy of a segment, further encoding its variation making it a superb form of error checking. Kind of like redunancy, but more efficient overall at the cost of context. Language essentially evolved the efficiency of error checking in the form of grammar by more and more communication, while DNA evolved grammar as an error checking mechanism through its expression in surviving generations. Hence, grammar in DNA can be measured by calculating the total entropy of a segment, and then statistically comparing it to actual segments in nature, in current generations and previous generations of the same segment by averaging on the basis of the standard deviation of all segment samples compared, which would give you a range of possible constraints imposed by the hidden grammar of DNA," Sylvia smiled as she surmised a good portion of her career where it involved experimentation in genetics.

Alicia suddenly had an epiphany of understanding as Sylvia explained the concept to her, and another door opened revealing a much bigger world of possibility to her curious mind.

"Oh my! I've got to get back upstairs! I've got a kettle on right this very instant!" Sylvia exclaimed, chasing Matt into the elevator which he'd just safely ventured on his two canes.

"Uhhh... thanks. Bye?" Alicia said as the elevator doors closed.

"You wouldn't happen to be going upstairs later would you?" asked Henri as he walked up to Alicia, his bushy eye brows shaking feverishly as he kept the young woman visible to his squinting eyes.

"To the event room, yes. Why? What can I do for you Henri?" she asked one of the more mischievous lot on her shift.

"You can help me out by giving me the poker table. Me and the chaps want to play a few rounds of midnight hold 'em, but none of us have a table. You'd be doing us a favour, but you've gotta keep it quiet," Henri urged Alicia, who at once became skeptical of the man.

"I don't think it would be a good idea to go behind Dora's back on this," Alicia explained to Henri, who already knew what Dora's answer would be if she was asked.

"Look, can you just give the girl a break Henri?! She's already running around in circles for the rest of us, so don't get her into trouble by your lack of respect for the rules!" Jolly, an old Korean war veteran overheard their conversation and quickly came to her rescue.

"Its a chance to win some extra money between pension cheques you know. Something you old war vets wouldn't know about, struggling between payments..." Henri griped at Jolly, who folded his arms across his chest.

"Actually, its something I would know about, but your solution lies in the fact that you learn to manage your money, and if you need a few dollars to hold you over, then just ask one of your friends instead of trying to make everyone else broke in one of your poker games! Yer darn tootin' I earned that extra veteran's support cheque I get every month. I've got a few scars to prove it, so don't you ever put one of us down just because you're having trouble getting from cheque to cheque!" Jolly was quick to come back at Henri, however he did so without being beligerent.

Henri's brows furrowed up in frustration for he disliked being out of money and still with a week to go. However, Jolly certainly wasn't one to lack a heart, and he pulled a crisp twenty from his pocket, and handed it to Henri.

"Give it back to me when you get yer next cheque, and don't pester this one into breaking the rules again!" Jolly was firm with the man, but fair nonetheless.

"Thanks Jolly. I don't care what they say about ya, you're alright," Henri accepted the twenty dollar bill from the old veteran.

"Now scram! Sorry about that Alicia. So how have you been doing since the last time we had a good talk? I think it was back around last March if I'm not mistaken?" asked Jolly of Alicia.

"It was! You remembered! I'm doing well, thank you! You're looking energetic today?" Alicia remarked, amazed to see Jolly up and about as he'd often struggled with joint problems in years previous.

"Well, you could say there were goats in my oats, but after a good walk this afternoon, I'm feeling much better thank you. I saw you speaking with Sylvia so I assume you'll be the one setting up our Bridge table for us?" Jolly asked Alicia in a friendly and gentle voice.

"That I will. Who are you playing with if you don't mind me asking?" Alicia inquired of Jolly.

"Well there's Sylvia as you already know, and there's me, but I'm no card sharp, least of all at Bridge. I think that Leslie is going to sit in for a few games, and Sylvia has some company coming for a visit. A real big shot from what I understand..." Jolly smiled at Alicia.

"A big shot eh? Regardless, I'll be getting the seats with the new padding for you all. I don't think that those hard ones would quite cut it for my favourite crew," Alicia smiled at Jolly.

"Well aren't you a sweetheart. Thank you very much young lady. Now if you get a moment between now and then and you'd like to come up for a tea, my door's always open for you honey," Jolly gave her a genuine smile, which she returned as he made his way back around her and towards the elevators.

"Bye Jolly. See you in a bit. I'll have that table setup in about half an hour," Alicia bid Jolly farewell and then made her way to Dora's office.

She stepped into the administrative office, which was empty except for Dora who was seated behind the counter and in a meeting with a boy around her age.

" should show up about five to ten minutes before your shift, just to get settled in. Now you can't have friends come meet you and hang out here with you, but you can receive up to three phone calls a shift, but none for more than five minutes. The only exception is an emergency of course... Oh... here's the young lady you'll be working with most often. Alicia, this is our new volunteer Bert," Dora introduced the two of them, and Bert rose from his seat to greet Alicia.

He was a thin fellow, with clean short cut hair. His blue eyes were nearly as penetrating as hers, and the only red on his face were the scattered remnants of his adolescent acne. His clothing was kind of stylish and Alicia figured him for the kind of guy who was somewhere between prioritizing academia and peer pressure, with neither of the two gaining ground over the other.

"Nice to meet you. You're from the high school around the corner, aren't you?" asked Bert, in a clear and somewhat puberty pocked voice.

"Last I checked I was. You too?" she figured out for herself.

"Sure am. Uhhh, so do you have some time to show me the ropes?" Bert asked her politely.

"I could do that. Did you have anything specific in mind, Dora?" she asked her supervisor.

"Start with the kitchen area first, as he'll be dealing with snack-time tonight, under your supervision of course," Dora suggested to her.

"That sounds great but I'll have to strike a table from the event room around that time. Sylvia and Jolly are hosting a game of Bridge tonight, so is it alright if they use the event room and a table?" asked Alicia for her friends in the senior's home.

"Sure. So that's why she's got a guest in the registry for tonight. Good for them. You know where the keys are, but could you show Bert here the kitchen area and get him started cleaning the tables and helping Eileen with the dishwasher?" asked Dora of her star volunteer.

"You good with that Bert?" asked Alicia of the younger man.

"Sure," Bert agreed, keeping his hands nervously in his pockets.

"We're good to go, Dora. Thanks for the Bridge table," Alicia gestured to Bert and they left the administrative office.

"So, can we like grab snacks here too?" he asked her.

"Where I'm taking you, there's a fridge in the back. Not the big one, but a regular apartment sized fridge. That's ours. Anything they put in there, we can eat or drink at our own leisure, but only during breaks," Alicia explained to Bert.

"That's cool," Bert smiled, trying to get a look at her from the side.

"Literally. The fridge I mean," Alicia agreed, drawing a bit of a chuckle from Bert.

They continued to walk, but in uncomfortable silence before Alicia finally worked up the confidence to say something.

"So you're roughly in balance I see," Alicia remarked to Bert.

"I beg your pardon?" he responded, somewhat confused.

"Between your academics and sense of fashion," she replied, a smile on her face.

He checked his clothing to make sure his shirt was tucked in and his fly up, when he suddenly caught on to what Alicia was trying to say.

"Oh, you mean...? Ohhh. Ha! I've never heard it put that way before. I guess we're all walking to the tune of peer pressure when we're not walking to the tune of our books," Bert responded, caught off guard by her swift wit.

"Well, in all truth I'm hopelessly devoted to mine. My textbooks I mean. The fashion part is still having to run to keep up," Alicia added, never realizing that she was inadvertently presenting an opening for him to complement her.

In all truth Bert considered it, but then at the last moment withheld his words, and consciously so.

There was another awkward silence between them, and then he spoke up as if fixing a sudden leak on a gasket.

"You look ok to me," he said to her in a way that sounded more drawn from him than put forth by him.

She accepted it anyway, as it was more than any other compliment she'd ever received.

"Thank you. Well this is it. The kitchen. There's the fridge I was talking about. You can grab something but only on breaks. During mealtime, this place is always busy, so unless you're in the kitchen to help, its best to stay away. After each meal, the tables out here..." Alicia led him to the cafeteria.

"You'll be first clearing and then cleaning them. Hello Eileen!" Alicia waved to a lady in her forties, who waved back to her without saying a word.

"This is Bert. He's going to be helping you tonight," Alicia introduced them, and Eileen shook his hand with her gloved hands as she swept behind the counter.

"You'll be helping her, but most of the time you'll be clearing tables, cleaning them, and then doing the sweep and mop of the cafeteria floors," Alicia explained to Bert, who nodded, his hands still in his pockets.

Eileen stopped and leaned her broom carefully in a corner and then grabbed a bucket filled with warm soapy water and cleaning cloths, handing it to Bert.

He jumped back, suddenly caught off guard, his hands quickly and defensively jumping out of his pockets to accept the bucket by its handle.

"So work with Eileen and I'll be back in about an hour to check up on you. Bye for now," Alicia left him with Eileen and ventured back to the administrative office to grab the keys for the event room.

She then ventured upstairs to the event room and began setting up the table for Sylvia and Jolly's game of Bridge.


The rental car was a newer model Audi, about a year old and in such good condition that the interior still smelled like it had just been manufactured. The driver's posture was very different than what he was used to in his own General Motors sedan, which he'd left parked back in Waterloo at the train station. His wife was out of town at a Sales Summit Conference, and he essentially had the rest of the week and the upcoming weekend all by his lonesome.

Being the mover and shaker that he was, he tended not grab any opportunity when it presented itself. The time he had during his wife's attendance to the conference was no different, and he quickly booked all of his time with a variety of endeavors that complemented each one of his interests in just the right way. After all, in his mid forties and still only having been an accomplished Professor for ten years, this man was one of the most successful if not most celebrated scientists of his time, though he'd be the first to admit that he was on the shoulders of giants, and truly in their shadows most of the time. It was however his love of science, music and people that got him to where he was as the scientist often lauded as Quantum Physics' own Public Relations Department, and all of this nearly fifteen years before the arrival of YouTube and VideoSpice.

Social networking was a term applied to salesforce pep talks and territory sales rather than technology, while the smart phone's closest ancestor was dubbed the Apple Newton, and it didn't even have any cellular network capabilities. The world was a very different place, poised on the precipice of flight into the future and technology or descending into the disaster of despair. These possibilities were familiar territory for the driver of this particular Audi, because the science that was his trade, was built on these ideas. Of duality. Of the this and the that.

All of existence had arisen from the Quantum foam on the boundaries of primordial event horizons in the early universe, where matter rather than its counterpart anti-matter had won the war of dominance in our universe to become the building blocks of all matter, leaving us with a universe forever leaning towards one of its few asymmetries.

"I guess it was flight..." remarked Professor Bryce Maxwell with a smile, as he pondered the concept while pulling into the parking lot of the senior's residence, his sunglasses comfortable on his face.


Henri was seated beside Lena, on the benches in the front foyer, the two of them relaxing after their dinner, much like another twenty seniors who preferred to be alone together as it were. Each of them sat as they had every night after dinner, few of them talking, for over the years they'd gone over everything there was to say, and so their moments were often spent thinking and observing. Sometimes noticing things that would have completely gone unnoticed had they not been there to see them.

Like the time that two cardinals had managed to sneak in through the front doors, and began making their homes in nests they hastily crafted by breaking pieces of straw from one of Eileen's brooms while everyone was asleep. By the a day's time, the two of them literally had their own secret little love nest, and had further gone unnoticed for an entire week before someone finally spotted them. By that point, they were already in the process of starting a family, in a nest that housed two cardinal eggs.

It was Lena who first noticed the love birds as they were quickly dubbed, and though word spread quickly amongst the residents, they kept it hidden as long as they possibly could from Mrs. Whethers  (the administrator) and Dora. The birds somehow knew to remain inactive during the day and during Mrs. Whethers' and Dora's shifts, they were literally unheard. At night and after eleven post meridiem however, the two immediately came to life, and were graced with an audience in the senior's home that grew to adore them.

Unfortunately, the learned adaptation of strategic silence was neither genetic nor hereditary, and their children upon hatching, held no pause over their constant chirping, always hungry for their parents to feed them. Despite the best effort of the seniors to keep their little wonderous secret, Dora soon found out, and Mrs. Whethers soon thereafter.

There were many tears that hit the floor that day when the Animal Conservationists arrived and removed the birds from their nest in the foyer. The love birds were put in a cage and whisked off to a conservation area, where they were rather well looked after, and after some time, released into the wild to live happy and full, bird lives. After all, both the parents and the children had come to survive in the unnatural habitat of the foyer, which despite not having much to offer, did have a nearby kitchen, and many handouts from the grateful seniors who adored them as the building's mascots.

Lena sat next to Henri, who noticed a tear creeping down her cheek.

"Oh Lena. Must be the love birds again," Henri tried his best shot at empathy, but he just didn't quite get it.

"You know Henri. Sometimes some moments are better left in silence, and others expressed in joy. Something I think you just haven't learned," Lena shook her head despite the fact that Henri had hit the nail right on the head.

However, as Lena had said, some tears aren't meant to draw sympathy, but rather were a quiet expression of gratitude between oneself and their maker, whatever one assumed that to be. Lena's frustration with Henri lie in the fact that he'd imposed his own ideas rather than just letting it be a moment.

Ironically, it was something that Lena had been observing more and more in the world. While some passively enjoyed the world around them, others seemed to prey upon this passivity, enforcing or imposing some concept upon others, in the moments of their silent observation and those who made such impositions didn't always use words or even sounds to achieve such goals.

Sometimes, it came to her through her senses. Her nerves. She could just feel it. Like a sudden pinching of one of her nerves, or a twitch in her calf that she often referred to as dancing leg. Then there was the sudden onset of excruciating headaches, often disappearing within minutes again. Matters she'd discussed with her Geriatric Physician, who himself was also up there in years. She trusted him enough to speak with him on just about any matter, for he had the good sense in droves that a man like Henri lacked.

When she explained to him what she was experiencing, he looked at her carefully, something on his mind with the intensity of daunting consideration. He then placed the pen in his hand in the center of his notebook, and closed it up, placing it on the desk beside him.

"You know Lena, I've been doing this for a lot of years. Twenty years ago, if you'd have come into this same office and told me of these same symptoms, I'd have likely written you off as having some kind of stress induced psychosis. Possibly even thyroid disease, which can do some pretty nasty numbers on your hormones and lead to mood disorders. Especially just before menopause..." Doctor Ellis said to her, once again pausing to contemplate how to address what he had to say on the matter.

"Now, after nearly forty years of practicing medicine and with a side degree in psychology I might add, you aren't the first patient to come to me with similar... no. Exactly the same symptoms, and these patients were all very credible people. One of them was a chart topper in her IQ. Another, had raised a family of six kids, while taking care of her own husband who'd lost a limb in a workplace accident. One was the Managing Director Of Operations for an Airline company. Many others too. I initially diagnosed them as having stress induced psychosis. Being a smart cookie, or having all of your time spent tending to others, with nobody to reciprocate, can accumulate pretty quickly and turn into all sorts of illnesses, given the stress factor. But then I started noticing these symptoms in others with far less stressful lives and lifestyles. Let me ask you this, Lena, and please do answer me honestly and I promise you I'll give you the best I have to offer on the matter," Doctor Ellis looked over the top of his glasses at her, just to see her with his own eyes.

"Alright. I've known you for a long time Neil. Ask away," Lena responded to him.

"Lena. Do you ever feel persecuted?" asked Doctor Ellis of her, still looking at her beyond the lens of his glasses.

"In what way? You mean by the people around me? When we're sitting around talking?" she asked him.

"You tell me, and I promise you I won't up and have you locked away in a rubber room or whatever nightmare scenario you imagine if you don't say what you think I want to hear," Doctor Ellis assured her.

"You know, its the strangest thing, but at night, sometimes I hear a chorus of chattering voices. Just before I fall asleep. A few tingles here and there, often uncomfortable or even painful, and then that chorus of ungrateful and miserable voices. I can't tell if they're persecuting me or themselves, but I can say they don't have any remorse or even any signs of a conscience," Lena admitted to Doctor Ellis.

Doctor Ellis nodded, placing his hand on his chin and considering Lena's case carefully.

"There are Doctors I speak with on these matters, but there's not many of us who stray beyond the guidelines that can sometimes prevent us from looking into issues like these with the full authority of our oath. Those of us that do discuss this growing problem - now don't get alarmed because its a problem in its infancy. Its not all doom and gloom... yet - those of us that do discuss this problem feel that our best option is to help our patients cope with the problem until the tools and technology exist that will allow us to nip this problem in the bud once and for all. So what I'm suggesting is that I give you a prescription for a depressant. Given your medical history, we'll start out with a low dose first, and over the course of the next half year, we'll play with that dosage, or even try something else, until we find something that reduces or completely nullifies the effects of these problems. We can't make them stop... yet. But we can make it so they have no effect on you any more than a mischievous fly might annoy you from time to time," Doctor Ellis explained to Lena, who listened carefully to him.

"Thank you," Lena said to her Doctor.

"For what, I haven't even cured you," Doctor Ellis responded.

"For listening to me. For allowing me to explain, and then for not making me feel like I had made a big mistake for being honest with you," Lena summed up her gratitude sincerely.

"Now I don't get kickbacks for giving you prescriptions Lena, and if I did, I'd tell you and somehow put that money back in your pocket. I just feel that in this unique situation, a situation I already have with eleven other patients, that I should level with you, and that you should know that we're not on the same program as everyone else. That some Doctors if they knew about us few who noticed the anomalies in the data, might report us, in which case we'd be subject to a licence review and held to the guidelines that definitely need evaluation in light of such a developing problem. At that point, someone would likely approach you with a class action malpractice suit against me and other Doctors, who had taken it upon ourselves to deal with this problem in such a way to put our patients first, rather than to discredit them, by applying a stigmatic label to our patients with regard to the recommended diagnosis for this situation. A recipe that those of us who have taken this path feel goes against our oath as Doctors and Physicians. Its illegal for me to have you sign a waiver imploring you not to take part in a class action against us if this somehow becomes exposed, so I'm going to have to ask you not to do so in good faith. I can only hope that as your Doctor of fifteen years and a good friend for just as long, that you find it in yourself to do the right thing no matter the case. Do we have a deal?" Doctor Ellis asked Lena, once again looking over the rim of his glasses directly at her.

"We do Neil. You're a good Doctor, and an even better man. Lets proceed with this," Lena gave her verbal consent and from that moment on, she began the road to recovery.

Not cure. Not even close. But it eventually became as he stated, and her hidden persecutors had simply become less of an annoyance than were common house flies and her mood swings were virtually no more.

In a sense, the tear that had descended her cheek was as much for the love birds, as it was for her journey through the beginning of those difficult times. A silent moment of gratitude for her Doctor, and as much so for her maker, whom or whatever that might be in all the possible forms it might take.

In all of her life, Lena had lived and worked as a professional big band vocalist, and as the times had changed, so had her venues. As the frequency and demand of live music venues changed so had her options. She continued until she'd run out of options and then money, but by that time, she had reached the front doors of her retirement. She then began a new life, no longer as a big band vocalist, but as a retiree, swept into a corner of the world and forgotten to the sands of time much like many of the other residents.

But, as fate would have it, when one door is about to close, another one has just opened.

Through this door stepped a dapperly dressed Quantum Physicist still in his sunglasses. He threw his keys up in the air once, catching them with his other hand, suddenly stopping in the middle of the walkway of the retirement home when he noticed the piano.

A smile grew across his face, and he just couldn't resist.


A moment later, though nobody had noticed, Bryce sat himself at the black lacquer piano, opening the case to expose the keys. He looked it over once, from bottom to top, all ninety-six keys wondering if the mechanical parts of the device were in working order. He tried first with the una corda pedal, giving it a good swift stomp, which simultaneously swung all of the hammers, each of them striking one of the ninety-six sets of strings (three for each note for a total of 288 strings). The sound was quick but rather quiet, but Bryce in that moment heard everything he needed to know if the piano was functioning correctly or not.

His thoughts returned to when he was pulling into the parking lot, and what he'd been thinking about duality.  About matter and anti-matter. About Erwin Schrödinger. About the this and the that. And that is when he knew exactly what he was going to play...

He began his intro, and everyone in the foyer area immediately turned their attention to the piano, several of the seniors even recognizing the song. Their feet began to tap in beat to the piano line, which Bryce played expertly though awkwardly at first, still getting comfortable with the weight, feel and action of the keys.

As he navigated the intro he swung into the first verse and then he began to sing:

If you ain't wrong, you're right
If it ain't day, it's night
If you ain't sure, you might
Gotta be this or that

When Lena had heard the piano, she immediately knew the song. Her first instinct was the sudden feeling of stage fright. Something she'd not felt since her first time on stage. She struggled with it however, and by the time Bryce had arrived at the second verse, she was already on her feet and standing by his side at the side of the piano. 

As that verse arrived, she began to sing:

If it ain't dry, it's wet
If you ain''t got, you get
If it ain't gross, it's net
Gotta be this or that

Bryce then once again took over on the vocals, though they intuitively ping-ponged the last two lines between each other, and surprisingly to them and this sudden improv, it sounded great.

If it ain't sis, you can't miss
It's got to be your brother
Can't you see it's gotta be
One way or the other

They finished the song together, and much the same, throwing the lines back and forth until there were none left.

If it ain't full, it's blank
If you don't spend, you bank
If it ain't Dee, it's Frank
Gotta be this or that

Bryce hit it with a quick turnaround, wrapping the song back a couple bars (almost like DC Al Coda), and they sang the final line once again, together.

Gotta be this or that!

The entire foyer broke out in applause and Bryce was on his feet, presenting Lena and applauding for her. Lena was flushed with joy and bowed for the audience, mostly made up of her peers in the retirement home. The commotion continued for another three minutes, Bryce's face almost fully red until the room finally calmed down and he thanked Lena for her vocals.

He then made his way over to the administrative office and introduced himself to Dora, who was blushing by that time.

"Alright Mr. Maxwell..." Dora began.

"Bryce, please," he responded to her.

"...Bryce. I'm going to need your signature here, and you take this and keep it with you, on your jacket there and drop it off when you leave. That was some piano playing there. I don't think they'll soon forget that one. Are you interested in showing up once a week for a gig?" Dora asked him jokingly.

"I'm booked solid until 2000, but I can book you for January 2?" Bryce joked himself.

"We'll give your agent a call. I think that Sylvia's waiting upstairs for you," Dora reminded him.

"Alright. Can't keep a good woman waiting now, can we? Thank you so much Dora," Bryce replied, pinning the tag to his jacket as she advised.

He then quickly left the administrative office and then headed to the elevators, jumping in one just before its doors closed. As he disappeared behind into the elevator doors, another elevator arrived and Alicia quickly came running out of the elevator to find the source of the music and commotion she'd heard from the eighth floor.

"What was all that music?" asked Alicia, turning to Henri first, and then to Lena, who seemed to have lost a few years by the smile on her face.

"Oh, that was just one of the most meaningful coincidences in my life. And one heck of a good piano player too,"  Lena replied to Alicia, who smiled upon seeing her, but disappointed in having missed something so off the wall.

"We have entertainment for the first time in a long while and its just my luck to miss it!" Alicia said pouting, but with a humorous smile, causing those still in the foyer to laugh.

She then saw Bert, who had his walkman earphones on as he pushed the broom across the floor.

"Bert!" she put her hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump suddenly.

"Whoa! Alicia. Sorry about that. Just listening to some Nirvana," Bert responded to her.

"You didn't hear the piano?" asked Alicia, shocked that her only line of sight on the scene down here hadn't heard a thing.

"Piano? Where? Ohhhhh. Nope. I didn't hear a thing. Why, do you play?" Bert asked her, hitting pause on his walkman.

Alicia sighed heavily.

"Never mind. Alright. Let me help you with the rest down here because there's going to a break shortly and you have to have this part done before they show," Alicia advised Bert.

"And that way, if our mysterious piano player shows up again, I won't miss it," Alicia smiled, now very happy with her plan.

To Build A Bridge

Jolly stood at the counter of the event room, pouring hot water he'd recently boiled into four mugs before him. After waiting quietly for a few minutes, the only sound being the shuffling of cards, Jolly addressed their guest.

"So Professor Maxwell, Sylvia here tells me that the two of you used to work together?" Jolly asked Bryce, who was reading a book on the rules of Bridge.

"That we did. Quite a remarkable project too. One of her own devising," Bryce explained to Jolly.

"You're too modest, Bryce. Your role was crucial to that project, even if we didn't find the results we were hoping for," Sylvia continued to shuffle the cards.

"So, explain to me in layman's terms again what it is that you too did if it wouldn't be too much trouble?" Jolly asked them.

"As you already know, I worked in the field of Quantum Physics, although much of my work focused on the implications of that particular field of science upon our understanding of biology and biological systems. Bryce here on the other hand is just a bum who showed up on my doorstep one day..." Sylvia said, drawing much laughter from the room, including Bryce.

"It turns out that the music business doesn't pay as good as I thought. But you know, if I had a million dollars, I'd stay in the music business until it was all gone..." Bryce paused as everyone in the room laughed at his response before continuing.

"So I did show up on Sylvia's door step, and that's where I did the final year of my internship. My thesis is based on some of the work I did with Sylvia," Bryce explained.

"And that is?" asked Leslie, who sat beside Bryce at the table.

Leslie was a former homemaker and retiree herself, having spent fifty years of her life raising a family of three children with her husband Cyril. Although he was a good husband and even better father, he'd spent much of his time away from home, working first for De Havailland as part of their operations management team and then for Bombardier, as Manager of their Parts Administration team. During his time for either company, he fostered alliances with their competitors across the border, including companies such as Hughes, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed Martin and eventually became a well liked and trusted peer amongst those companies, all while Leslie remained at home ensuring that the very foundation of their family was healthy and happy. She made sure that her children, and her husband were well fed in the morning, and left the house with a hearty lunch, one which drew alot of envy from both the other students at school, and Cyril's peers at work.

Their family had continued along happily, enjoying their prosperity and weathering the difficult times until Cyril's retirement only ten years earlier. By that time, and immediately after their kids had left home to build families of their own, Leslie had started taking a college course on lab photography, not knowing or understanding that the digital revolution was just around the corner. She graduated and quickly found a job as an in-house Lab Technician for Eastman-Kodak, working on large projects developing film, both those for theatrical release, her claim to fame being that she was one of the Lab Technicians who developed the first film prints of the movies Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and then a couple of years later, Star Wars

Many projects that Leslie worked on were often related to the sciences and had originated from various Universities around the world. As a technician, and out of her own interest, she had a very good working knowledge of the properties of light, including wave/partical duality ie the relationship between the two states that the constituent recipe of light can be modeled under: as a photon (the particulate model), or as a wave (the function or probability model), albeit she couldn't use that knowledge for anything but as a doorstep to comprehend other related concepts. Thus, as Sylvia and Bryce explained their prior vocation together, she consumed the scientific aspect remarkably well despite her lacking expertise in that area. 

Sylvia continued where Bryce had left off.

"Our work was mostly centered around the idea that the chemistry involved in the process of cellular mitosis is largely fueled, or at the very least, affected by the zero point field," Sylvia explained to her friends and guest in the room.

"Sounds to me like you're chickening out on our friendly game of Bridge here, if you're expecting zero points for your team," Jolly joked to them, without having any idea of what they were talking about.

His quip caught both Sylvia and Bryce off guard, who began to laugh profusely, Sylvia almost dropping the deck she'd so expertly shuffled.

"So what is this zero point field?" asked Leslie, looking over to her Sylvia, with whom she was more familiar and comfortable.

"Well now, that's Bryce's area of expertise. Could you field that question Bryce?" asked Sylvia of her friend and peer.

"Certainly. So Leslie, what's all around us, outside of us right now, here in this room?" asked Bryce of the woman in the neighbouring chair.

"Air?" she responded.

"Yes. There's air around us. Nitrogen - about eighty percent, oxygen - about twenty percent, and then a minute amount of argon and carbon dioxide, less than one percent each. We can't see it, technically, but we can see it by the refraction of sunlight hitting our atmosphere. Let's put that all aside, and then let me ask you, if we take away all of the air in this room, what are we left with?" asked Bryce again.

"Nothing. It would be like outer space. A vacuum?" confirmed Leslie.

"Precisely. So in that nothingness, what is there?" Bryce continued, with a rather tricky question.

"There's nothing. That's exactly what nothing is. Is the absence of all things," Leslie replied.

"True, it is that, but lets call it the absence of all matter, because the word things is very ambiguous and can reflect either objects or concepts. So lets stick with the word matter. In nothing, there's simply no matter. So take away that matter and what are we left with?" Bryce continued.

"Maybe if Sylvia would be so kind, she could give me the answer telepathically..." Leslie replied.

"Who am I to interfere with education, even for such a good friend?" Sylvia asked Leslie as Bryce looked to either of them.

"I don't know. What are we left with?" asked Leslie.

"The Zero Point Field which is also known as the Quantum Foam," Bryce explained.

"Can I shave with it?" asked Jolly, a mischievous smile on his face as he finished making their tea.

"I used to shave my legs with it all the time. There's nothing quite like matter/anti-matter collisions to remove unsightly hair from one's legs or face," Sylvia responded as the rest of the room continued laughing.

"Can I get a Quantum Foam Facial Mask?" asked Leslie, still laughing.

Bryce laughed along with the witty group around him until there was silence again. When the laughter died down, Bryce continued.

"So, this Quantum Foam at very, very tiny scales, is made of the emersion of matter/anti-matter pairs which quickly pop into existence out of nothing, often colliding with and annihilating each other, producing other elementary particles in their place, while obeying the laws of the conservation of energy," Bryce explained.

"So how did this all relate to your research?" asked Leslie of Bryce and Sylvia.

"We were studying the interaction between this phenomenon and the amino acids that make up the various fields of the genome, using bacteria whose genome is simple enough that we could, with the technology from fifteen years ago, could analyse changes to genetic structure, which would be reflected chemically in the amino acids themselves," Sylvia answered.

"What was the purpose of all this convoluted and contrived nonsense?" asked Jolly, his thick brows furrowed, crowning his mischievous smile once again.

"Discrepancies," Sylvia answered.

"Between what?" asked Leslie, very much enjoying their conversation.

Sylvia looked over to Bryce and he answered.

"Between our measurements of the sum matter in the universe and the Hubble Constant. Oh thank you very much Jolly, though in all honesty, it should be me serving the three of you. I'm standing on the shoulders of giants you know," Bryce responded, accepting the tea Jolly had placed before him.

"Was you standing on there? I thought something was triggering my shoulder joint pains again!" Jolly responded, lightening things up again like the old Veteran he was.

The air in the room was once again filled with laughter.

"So what is this Hubble constant?" asked Jolly, who'd been listening very carefully the whole time, for he was no spring rooster himself.

"Its a scalar representing qualities of the expansion of the universe, derived from the motion of galaxies. The galaxies move away from the initial singularity that sparked our universe into existence, assumably from nothing..." Bryce paused politely as Leslie interjected.

"or from this Quantum shaving Foam?" Leslie asked.

"Well you see, we really don't know. We *do* know however that something happened that caused all of this. We call it moment or frame zero, like the score card in a bowling match, hinting at that model's origins being associated with determinism. The early universe was very dense at that point, so many collisions occurred and very rapidly, like the bowling ball hitting the pins. Cause and effect. Action, reaction and result. So we have this idea of how much matter there was shortly after frame zero, about two hundred million years after the *spark* of singularity, but we don't know exactly *how* much. So try our best to guestimate that quantity through astronomical observations and a lot of theoretical physics. The Hubble Constant tells us alot about the sum matter, because the motions of galaxies are linked to the gravity that attract them to one another. Pockets of matter in a sea of emptiness..." Bryce paused as Sylvia spoke.

"Galaxies are the diamonds in the rough, I always used to say," Sylvia added.

"Islands in the stream," Leslie added metaphorically speaking, without the credentials or education to back it up, but those in the room who did regarded her statement with reverence and respect.

"So knowing all of this, we still have a discrepancy between the motions of galaxies and the observations, which should have told us by way of spatial averaging, how much matter there is in the universe. In other words, there's a lot of stuff missing. The galaxies are moving faster than they should be according to the matter we've observed, hence, the reason for our experiment, which is to find other ways to find that exact number. The numbers describing the exact mass and energy content of the universe," Bryce explained them.

"But you're looking at bacteria of all things for that? I think you're playing cards without the full deck if you get my drift," Jolly once again responded mischievously.

They all laughed again and when the room quieted, Sylvia continued.

"Good point, Jolly, and many of our peers were as skeptical too, which is usually the sign of a ground breaking idea," Sylvia began.

"How true that is. When you've looked out and reached the limits of your vision, look within to know what lays beyond," Bryce added.

"And that is precisely what we did. You see, the genome of every creature on this planet evolves - that is - changes at a similar rate. We know most all of the factors involved in that process, such as UV radiation from the sun. Radiation sources at the surface and geomthermal scales. The entropy introduced into complex systems such as the genome. Factoring all of these quantities together, we get a number that tells us what drives the process that establishes variation between generations of species, or even generations of individual cells that lead to aging and eventually death in all complex organisms," Sylvia explained, and upon that note, she immediately got their attention as she knew she would.

"If we know all of these influences and can account for a rate of change in the genome, and we know the rate of these matter/anti-matter collisions from the Quantum Foam, we have two solid pieces of information from which to derive the sum matter and energy of the entire universe, and very accurately," Sylvia explained.

"How? I mean if this Quantum Foam you're telling us about causes these anti-matter collisions, enough so that you can track how many times they happen per minute, how would that help you to measure the sum matter and energy of the universe?" asked Leslie, as Sylvia dealt the cards.

"Per pico second, which is one trillionth of a second to be sure," Bryce shared the meaning with Leslie and Jolly so they'd not be misinformed and for their own personal knowledge, as Sylvia finished dealing her partner's hand.

"These interactions happen at a specific rate or frequency, but sometimes, and I'm speaking vary rarely, these annihilations don't occur at all, and two free pairs of matter emerge flying off into the universe... One of them being a regular matter, the other being anti-matter," Sylvia began.

"Kind of like that bowling ball I'd bet. Until they hit something?" asked Jolly, catching on to a conversation he barely understood without a proper background or context.

"Precisely! Jolly, you amaze me at times!" Sylvia responded to her friend.

"Still a lot of surprises in this old Veteran," Jolly replied.

"Now if we know the rate at which this occurs versus the collisions and on average, which particles are produced, we can compare it to how often the genome is chemically altered by such collisions. When the molecular structure of the amino acids that make up a genome change as a result of collisions within the atoms that make up those molecules, altering the genome altogether," Sylvia explained to them.

"Wouldn't that kill the gene?" asked Leslie.

"Yes. Statistically speaking that is the most frequent outcome and the cell dies, but in a small number of cases, the DNA is simply altered to become one of the other three amino acids one finds in DNA. This change is measuable from the previous generation by simple comparison. Also, according to the chemistry involved in such changes, we can learn the exact cause: the local radiation, or particulate collisions, presumably with particles emitted from the Quantum Foam," Sylvia explained to them as they examined their cards.

"...and from that information, if we scale the frequency of that occurence back thirteen point eight billion years ago, give or take a million years, we can calculate the sum matter and energy of the universe and find the discrepancy between the observed matter and energy and the Hubble Constant," Bryce had already examined his cards and was waiting for Leslie play first card.

"When you've reached the limits of your sight, look within for the answer," Sylvia repeated as Leslie played the first card.


After Alicia had finished helping Bert clean the dining area, she went to the administrative office and grabbed what Dora had titled the In-person Care List. This was a list of residents and their unit numbers which had opted for occasional check-ins by staff, given their health condition and risk factors. On her shifts, Alicia had become quite comfortable doing these check-ins and through it, had gotten to know many of the residents that weren't as mobile as the others. This duty required her to bring a wheeled cart with her, filled with the snacks from snack time, so that those same residents with health issues could at least enjoy a snack where their condition allowed for such decadence.

When Alicia had returned to the kitchen area, Eileen had already finished filling the snack cart for her.

"Thanks Eileen! Looks like its a short list tonight. Is everyone alright?" Alicia asked, concerned for the residents missing from the list.

"No. I think Mrs. Cervantes is spending a week with her family. Its her eightieth birthday this coming Friday you know? Mrs Tao is also with family and celebrating her seventy second year, while Mr. Burroughs is in the hospital for surgery. Nothing serious, as it was a scheduled surgery which should have him on his feet. A luxury he hasn't had since the early nineteen nineties," Eileen explained to Alicia.

"What a relief.  That's good to hear," Alicia said as she stepped into the back and opened the employee fridge and grabbed a cup of yoghurt and some bottled water for her break.

"Bert?" Alicia stepped out into the dining area, but Bert remained involved with his mopping.

She walked up behind him again and tapped him on the shoulder, once again causing him to jump in a startled reaction. He then removed one of his ear buds.

"Yeah?" he asked her.

"You'd better take your break now. They'll all be down here in another ten minutes, which means you'll be busy for at least another two hours. Ten minutes, alright?" Alicia asked him, not so much like a busy body but like a concerned friend.

"Oh. Thanks," Bert leaned the mop against the wall and immediately made his way to the kitchen, raiding the employee fridge.

Alicia admired him as he passed, wondering if he'd truly taken to her as much as she'd hoped.

She returned to the kitchen and ate the rest of her yoghurt cup, but Bert remained mostly silent as he ate a plate of leftovers from dinner earlier.

"Who's your favourite teacher?" asked Alicia, hoping to coax him into a short conversation.

Bert paused for a moment, thinking about the question.

"Mr. Clark. He's pretty cool you know," Bert replied.

"I've never had him in any classes. What does he teach?" asked Alicia.

"Machine Shop. We're just doing CNC Machining this semester. I kind of like it, except for the math," Bert replied, taking a big mouth full of chicken pie.

"What part of math are you having trouble with?" asked Alicia, jumping at the opportunity to help a man she wanted to like her.

"Uhhhh... You know. Cardigan coordinates... I think?" Bert replied, looking up from his food to check Alicia out from head to toe for the first time as she stood leaning against a counter.

Alicia blushed, as she'd never had (or noticed) a boy taking her into his senses before. The thought seemed alien to her, but when it happened, it was the most thrilling experience she'd ever had up until that point in life.

"You mean Cartesian coordinates, because I can't see them using Polar coordinates in a machine shop, but then again maybe..." Alicia pondered.

"Yeah! That's what they're called! Cartesian coordinates. I just totally can't grasp it. Right handed coordinates. Left handed coordinates. Confusing as..." Bert stopped himself before he swore, causing Alicia to start giggling in response.

"Alright. I'll tell you what. I'll be your teacher, and explain to you all about Cartesian coordinates and the right handed and left handed coordinate systems right now. But you have to walk me home tonight. Deal?" asked Alicia.

"Uhhhh. Yeah! Deal," Bert agreed.

"Alright. The reason they're called the right handed and left handed coordinate system is because if you hold up your right hand and left hand, extending your index finger to point forward and away from you, your thumb up at the sky, and your middle finger perpendicular to your thumb and index finger..." Alicia began until Bert interrupted her.

"What's perpendilculer mean?" asked Bert.

"Imagine that your index finger and thumb are forming the bottom corner of the surface of a rectangle. Point your middle finger away from that rectangle..." Alicia demonstrated it for her.

"Ok. I got it," Bert showed her.

"Very good! Alright, now from here, imagine that each of your fingers and your thumb are an axis. Your middle finger is the positive x axis. Your index finger is the positive y axis, and your thumb is the positive z axis," Alicia explained to Bert, and he suddenly understood the concept involved in an epiphany.

"Get it?" asked Alicia, a smile on her face.

"Totally! That was like awesome! So does that mean that if I do the same thing with my left hand, that my middle finger is the positive x axis, and that its the opposite of the right handed one?" asked Bert.

"You got it. You definitely understand it now," Alicia smiled, still blushing.

Bert was still amazed that she'd explained a concept that had been causing him much difficulty in his machine shop class, and seriously affecting his grades.

She'd done it all in under two minutes.

"Thank you so much Alicia. I'm definitely walking you home tonight. Don't you worry," Bert said to her gratefully.

"Alright. And if you're good, I'll even do your accounting books," Alicia added, a wave of puzzlement coming over him.

"Its an inside joke," Alicia winked at him.

Alicia suddenly saw the time on the clock on the wall.

"Oh no! Its its two minutes until break! I've got to get upstairs and deliver these snacks. I'll be back later," Alicia said, depositing her yoghurt cup in the recycling bin and heading off with the snack cart to the elevators.

Bert was too engrossed with his plate of food to notice that she'd left.


"Well we're two for two, and its only seven thirty. Definitely a good match of wits here. This is some of the best Bridge I've played in a long time," Jolly said as he walked with Leslie, Sylvia and Bryce to the elevators.

"So you're admitting that you're a card sharp now, are you?" asked Sylvia of him as they arrived.

"I have to admit that I've played a few hands, with my fellows from the local Legion," Jolly responded, pressing the elevator button as he spoke.

"I was always a Gin Rummy kind of lady, but you know, but I'm really liking Bridge. Its actually quite engaging, and great for building team work between partners," Leslie smiled as she flirted with Jolly.

Sylvia and Bryce both stayed their silence, and let serendipity do the rest.

"Gin Rummy. Well now, there's a good game!" Jolly replied, taking the bait entirely.

"Well I just have so much free time in the evenings, I often don't know what to do. This game of Bridge has been a winfall for me, in many ways. Its nice to get out of the unit for a change, and with such interesting company too," Leslie was speaking of them all, but she directed it towards Jolly the most.

"Well you know, I was in all honesty, and don't take this as a cheap pick-up line, because you won't find that here in a man like me. I have nothing but free time in the evenings, and I was honestly looking for  someone with which to play Gin Rummy," Jolly spoke truthfully, perhaps ever so slightly bending it for the occasion.

"If that's a date you're asking me on, I'd be thrilled. How about next week, say Thursday evening, around eight o'clock?" asked Leslie of Jolly.

"Let me check my itinerary," Jolly said, pulling a note pad he'd commonly used as a day organizer during his breakfast.

"Oh please," Leslie responded, rolling her eyes in disgust, though a rather amused smile remained on her face.

Jolly broke, and pocketed the note pad.

"My dear, I was just playing the jester card. Now I'll play one of my face cards and say that Thursday at eight o'clock would be perfect!" Jolly replied as the perfect gentelman that he was.

And that was the birth of both Leslie's and Jolly's first relationship in over fifteen years.

"I have to admit, you're all keeping me on my toes," Bryce said as the elevator arrived.

"I'll second that," Sylvia agreed as his partner.


Alicia made her way through the crowd that had gathered and arrived in the elevator lobby. She pressed the button and waited and shortly thereafter, a crowded elevator arrived and emptied in front of her. When the elevator was clear, she pushed the cart onto it and set course for the fourteenth floor.

As the doors to her elevator closed, the doors of another elevator opened and Bryce stepped out first, just missing Alicia as she ascended towards her destination.

"Look, why don't you all go and get a snack and I've just got to use the phones," Bryce addressed his friends.

"You mean a big shot like you doesn't have a cellular phone yet?" asked Sylvia of him.

"They're out of stock everywhere I've been. So my wife and I both put in an order for hers and his mobile phones. I think they're made by a company called MindSpice? Hopefully they're not a flash in the pan tech startup. Anyway, until then, I'm a landline kind of guy," Bryce explained to his friends.

"Go do that, and we'll hold a space for you at our table. Their snacks here are usually quite good you know, and very healthy too. Just in case you're feeling a bit hungry," Sylvia told him.

"Thanks, Sylvia. Go get your snack," Bryce smiled to the three of them and made his way to the phones.

Bryce arrived at the payphones and went through his pockets looking for the change he'd purposely made for this exact purpose and deposited it into the phone. A moment later and the phone was ringing in Wendy's borderline Ontario/Quebec Ottawa hotel room.

"Hi. You're a bit late. How are things?" asked Wendy of him.

"Oh they're great! How about with you? How's the sales conference going?" he asked her.

"Good. We managed to land another vendor over a boardroom deal during one of the closed lunches. A big step for our team, and it was me who landed the deal," Wendy said proudly as she spoke.

"Congratulations! So are you going to try to top that one, or just play it easy and relax?" asked Bryce.

"I have one more goal in sight, though that goal was the big one. If we can snag this other deal, it will expand our sales territory and open a new market for us. If we don't, then we still have the fact that we enlisted this new vendor," Wendy said proudly.

"That sounds like a like a surf and turf, hot tub and Champagne night to me when you get home," Bryce enticed her.

"We do have to make sure we hit our savings goal, remember, but I was thinking the exact same thing," Wendy replied, warming up to the sound of her husband's voice.

"I put that in the joint savings already from my salary, and the mortgage payment is done too, so we should be alright. I think there's enough in the chequing account for a special occasion night. Especially one so deserved for my wife," Bryce made the sales pitch this time.

"How could I turn down an offer like that?" Wendy responded to him seductively.

"Then its settled," Bryce smiled as Bert got onto the phone next to him, their backs to one another.

"Tell your wife that I say hello and that I hope that she's keeping well, but more importantly that I mean it," Sylvia told him as he left.


Bert's voice was withdrawn, but given its timbre, it could readily heard for a short distance around him and Bryce just happened to be within that distance as Bert spoke with one of his friends.

"Man, that girl from the Cooking class, she's like sooo hot. I think she's got eyes for me man," Bert said to his friend on the other end of the line.

Bryce was still on the phone with his wife when he overheard this boy's banter.

"There's this girl here from school... The nerd one. You know?" Bert said to his friend.

"Naaa man! I'd never do her! She's like eating out of the palm of my hand here, though. If she was a little more thin, like you know, she'd be like really hot. But she's like a plump little pig!" Bert said to his friend, laughing as he spoke.

Bryce rolled his eyes, disgusted by what he was hearing and this boy's obvious attitude problem and towards women. Then he remembered how he and his friends were when they were young. Somehow however, he couldn't reconcile the sometimes difficult nostalgia of his memories of youth, and the behaviour of this boy on the phone behind him. And so he decided to act.

"Honey, I've got to go. I've a trio of new friends here all waiting for me to finish our round of Bridge," Bryce said to Wendy.

"How's Sylvia been keeping?" asked Wendy.

"She's doing quite well considering the situation. Sometimes the politics involved in science and money can be overwhelming, especially for those who stand their ground. She did just that, and she's been paying for doing the right thing ever since. I can't begin to explain to you how good it is to see that she's still healthy despite the situation. A lot of my academic and professional life were made possible by women like her, and compounded by good men too," Bryce explained to Wendy, who listened whole-heartedly.

"Now that's my husband. You go get them, and do what you've got to do. We'll talk again tomorrow night," Wendy offered.

And their call was done. Bryce hung up the phone and stood, considering his  next course of action carefully, evaluating his options before acting. That's when he once again approached the piano and took a seat at the same bench he'd sat upon when the night began.

Now Bryce wasn't a blues player, and preferred the intricacies of traditional and improvisational Jazz, with the solid foundation of big band music. Musically, aside from the gigs he took playing cocktail piano in a variety of southern Ontario venues, he stuck with what he found most endearing to his sense of music as an avenue of exploration, and Jazz seemed to provide that framework readily without constraining the adventurous souls who often set sail upon its waters. 

He found music theory truly encompassing, embracing both the known and unknowns of possibility and being a scholarly person, he gravitated towards scholarly concepts connected to the study of music itself. However, Bryce was also a bit of a rebel himself, and he always espoused this to his students of both Physics and Music, that the only way you can truly innovate by breaking rules, is if you learn them through and through. Otherwise, you're just stumbling your way around in the dark.

Sure, many great discoveries and pieces of music had been written by those who had no interest in study, but that's the difference between popular appeal and knowledgeable pursuit. One is no less than the other, however, to some, one is much more rewarding beyond wealth alone. Perhaps a currency of the soul (conceptus saecularis - the secular concept thereof) itself. But sometimes, one had to venture beyond their usual venue in order to make a point. And Bryce did just that.

"One four five, haven't had a jam with you for some time, so lets make this happen," Bryce said as he began playing with his left hand, a linear line that was common ground back in the nineteen fifties in both early Rock and Roll and the growing blues movement of the time.

After Bryce had played twelve bars of his linear line intro, he brought the right hand in for some harmony and more percussion, giving the piece a bouncy and harmonic texture, accenting its four - four time signature. Just into the twenty fourth bar, he began to sing:

I wanna tell you a story
Every man oughta know
If you want a little loving
You gotta start real slow
She's gonna respect you now
If you just treat her right

As a crowd gathered around the piano and Bryce, he picked up his pace as his audience clapped in beat with the song. Bert in the meantime had covered his left ear, pressing the phone to his right so he could continue his conversation with his friend. He was trying to block the music, and had heard every word that Bryce had said, though he didn't connect it with himself.

Regardless, Bryce continued into the next part of the verse, throwing his own improvised Jazz riff in, playing upon the hook line of the song:

Oh, squeeze her real gentle
And tell her that she's good
Gotta tell her that you love her
And really mean it you should
And if you don't treat her right
You'd better stay out of sight

Bryce by that time had already taken a few improvised liberties with the lyrics, to fit this situation and then he continued into the next verse:

Now if you practice my method
Oh, hard as you can
You're gonna get a reputation
As a lovin' man
And you'll be glad every night
Now that you treated her right

When the song arrived at the chorus (or section B as some might ascribe more accurately as part of an A/B musical pattern), the entire audience, both those in the dining room and those in the audience that had gathered around Bryce began to sing along:

Hay hay hay!
Alright, hell yeah, every night, heck, alright, heck, hay, heck, heck

If you follow my method
I said as true as you can
You're gonna start to understand
that you're a lovin' man
And you'll be glad every night
That you treated her right!

"Now lets keep that one special horse in your life fed with the true gold! You know the one I'm talking about... the one with the long, nearly down to the floor mane. The one who cooks you dinner every night and breakfast every morning. She fills you with courage and love in the morning, just the two of you alone as you have breakfast together. At night, she does nothing less when you're eating dinner. The one who watches you while you're sleeping and I don't mean Santa Claus. The one who warms your hands on her body on those cold, cold nights. She's the one. So treat her right," Bryce said as he returned to the chorus for one more round.

Hay hay hay!
Alright, hell yeah, alright, heck, hay, heck, heck

"Look, I'll come meet you in half an hour at the park. Make sure she comes alright? Tell her I'll be there and I bet she'll show," Bert said to the person on the other end of the line.

Bert by that time had become fed up that he could barely hear his friend, and hung-up the phone in frustration, pushing his way through the crowd to get back to the kitchen.

Bryce in the meantime played one more round of the chorus, and then brought the entire piece into an improvised Jazz big band style finish, and the audience, including Lena broke out into an immense applause. Not just for him, but for the residents too who were courageous enough to share in the performance.

Bryce stood from the bench, and bowed, but he extended his hands towards his audience of participaters who truly made the show.

"Well, I think he got the message. Hopefully," Bryce said to himself as he made his way through the crowd of his admirers to the dining area to be at the table with his friends.

The Telling Moment

Sylvia, Leslie, Jolly and Bryce stood waiting for the elevator as the dining area was emptied of residents, most of whom had already checked in for the night.

One of the elevators suddenly opened and Alicia, a young blonde haired woman no more than sixteen ran out of the elevator with a cart in tow behind her. Bryce watched as the young girl ran for the kitchen to drop off the cart, immediately knowing who she was in perspective to Bert's telephone conversation.

Sylvia, Leslie and Jolly by that time had boarded the elevator and were waiting for Bryce.

"So are you joining us, Mr. Music star, or are we just too lowly for one of your stature?" Sylvia joked with him.

"You'd better go without me. I'll be up in a few minutes. I have something I have to check out. Quickly, I mean," Bryce winked at Sylvia, who nodded to Bryce.

"I understand. You go do what you've got to do, and I'll make sure these two don't cheat on us," Sylvia responded, drawing a smirk from Leslie.

As the elevator doors closed, Bryce could already hear Jolly responding to Sylvia's remark. Oddly enough it brought a smile to his face, but it didn't last long.

He took a seat quietly in the front lobby area, close to the trees that used to house the two cardinals, and there he remained, as he overheard Alicia's conversation with Bert.


Alicia arrived in the kitchen, out of breath dragging the snack cart behind her.

"Where are they?!!!" she demanded from Bert, as Eileen finished the last of her cleaning.

"Alicia, I'm gone for the night. See you next Tuesday," Eileen interrupted their tete a tete.

"Bye Eileen! Thanks for showing Bert the ropes. See you then!" Alicia responded, turning her attention to the boy with whom she'd become somewhat obsessed.

Such is the discourse of both hope and fear. Two opposites that were so much alike, especially in Alicia's case.

"Look, Amelia..." Bert began.

"Alicia...! My name is Alicia!" she quickly corrected him, overlooking the fact that he'd already forgotten her name.

"Alicia... I know I promised to walk you home tonight, but something's come up at home and I need to leave early. Its a... family emergency. So... I can't walk you home tonight, alright?" he asked her casually as if he'd already assumed that it would be.

Alicia's heart began racing, pumping faster and faster as her hopes quickly came crashing down in the time it took him to speak his words.

A tear breached the barrier between Alicia's left bottom eyelid, dripping slowly onto her cheek.

"So I'm like going to go now. Alright? I'll see you next time," Bert said without even having the courtesy of looking at her as he removed his apron, grabbed his coat from a coat rack and headed out the door through the lobby.

She listened to his footsteps as he left, and that's when the flood gates opened, and her tears ran like a fountain and fell hard onto the floor.

Bryce could hear her sobbing in the kitchen and at once the pain him like a sledgehammer hitting a wall of soft tissue paper.

He reached into his pocket, and pulled forth a card. It was a card he'd picked up for his wife, and for their celebration after her return, though he'd not filled it out and it remained a red and pink blank canvas, full of hearts and joy of all kinds.

"Sorry Wendy, but I think that someone else needs this right now more than you..." he said to himself, pulling a pen from his back pocket and filling the card out carefully, hoping that he'd arrived at the correct spelling of the young girl's name.

Once he'd filled out the card, he got up silently and walked carefully to the tables of the dining room, and carefully placed the card there in the middle of the one in the center of the room. Alicia's name was clearly scribed on it, and laying face up on the table as Bryce carefully made his way back to the elevators and pressed the button.

A moment later one of the elevators arrived, and he slipped in silently, disappearing into the night. From that moment on, it would be a under a decade and a half before he'd meet her again. A silent guide in her life he'd remain until then.

The End Of The Game

Sylvia packed the playing cards away in their box as Jolly and Leslie collected the dishware and cutlery, placing it onto the dish card that Alicia had left outside of the event room.

"So, can we expect you again you big shot physicist?" Jolly asked, very much liking Bryce.

"I'd bet on it that I'll be here again playing cards with the three of you, but there's a lot of Physics  involved between here and there," Bryce responded.

"Well, you said it yourself, its gotta be this or that, doesn't it?" asked Jolly, referring to Bryce's earlier performance.

"Well, sometimes you have one foot on each side. You know? Lets just see where that future brings us. An undecided destiny, full of potential and possibility. I mean the best surprises are the ones you don't plan, aren't they?" asked Bryce rhetorically of Jolly.

Jolly was at once reminded of something his deceased wife, Lan-Soo had said to him on her death bed:

"My dearest husband, you must go on and learn to live in my absence, but knowing fully well that we will be together again. Death isn't final. It's only the bridge between one state of being and another," Lan-Soo said to him, struggling against the onset of a foreign invader to her body, and the medication used to nullify the pain it caused her.

"But I can't live without you..." he said, clinging to her hand, staving the tears off much the same way he'd done during many tragedies he'd endured.

"You must, for it is my time and yet it is not yours. I will always cherish you deep within my heart, but you must live on," Lan-Soo encouraged the man she'd loved for four decades since they'd met.

"I... If life and death are my only two choices... and one of those choices takes me away from you, then I choose the one where we stay together!" he said in defiance of the universe, as a man who'd risked his life for his country and his principles many times over.

In fact, far too many times to count. And now, that same force of the universe was taking the woman that mattered most to him.

"When life gives you only two choices, then you have to take the third. The one you make. If it gives you three choices, then you take the fourth. Don't follow me. Live on and love on. I will be with you again..." Lan-Soo spoke her last words.

Jolly returned from his last memory of his wife, and with her own words too:

"If life gives you two choices, then take the third one," Jolly winked at Bryce.

"Now, we've just gotta work that into a framework for Quantum Physics and we'll all have a chance. I'd be willing to bet that choice is to make no choice at all. Leave it to the realm of possibility," Bryce smiled, shaking Jolly's hand firmly.

"Hold on there, you weren't thinking of leaving without giving me my fair share, were you?" Leslie affronted Bryce, who smiled and laughed, opening his arms for her.

 "Not at all. It was a tremendous pleasure meeting you. All of you," Bryce patted Leslie's back as they hugged.

"That's more like it," Leslie responded.

Bryce then turned to Sylvia.

"I take it you enjoyed yourself?" asked Sylvia, a coy smile on her face.

"That's an understatement," Bryce replied.

"Well then, I suppose you're going to return then?" she asked him.

"Of course! I mean, how else are we going to break this tie?" Bryce replied, opening his arms for Sylvia as they embraced as true friends and peers.


At ten o'clock in the night, Bryce disappeared out of the front doors of the retirement home. Before he left, he'd listened for any signs of Alicia's hardship, but none could be heard. The same envelope was there on the table, still unopened. So Bryce did something he knew would draw her to the dining area.

He sat down at the piano and began playing once again. The instrumental version this time.

By the time Bryce had finished the only performanced he'd ever played without an audience, he got up quietly from the bench and exited through the front doors just as Alicia came running out of the elevator.


Alicia, as she had so many times that night, came running out of the elevator in a frantic search to find the mysterious entertainer who'd come into the lives of just about every resident of the home, but had somehow managed to avoid her.

"Not again!" Alicia said in frustration, the bags under her eyes were the clear scars left by the tears she'd cried earlier.

Yet, she'd somehow recovered, though the pain of what she'd felt in those moments would be with her for the rest of her life. It was at that precise moment that she suddenly understood that hope and fear were very similar, just on opposite ends of the scale from each other.

Both involved circumstances whereby a person became attached to the idea of certain events unfolding, either beneficial or detrimental. Yet, somehow, it was also a relinquishing of the order of fate to some unseen or unfathomed overeer, a concept she had no room for in her life. 

It simply didn't fit and no matter the truth of the matter, it had no place except within personal contemplation, as all other displays of such adherence were merely attempts to grab at the power of social proclivity. Building upon the idea of the more you are, the more right you are. A concept which had much in common with the political and religious climate of the dark ages. A horrific time in history for the sciences. 

Astronomy had barely survived under such oppressive scrutiny by disguising itself as Astrology, and the two had become bitter allies from that point forward, and yet both survived to this day as a result. All because one was closer to the mystical ideas of the nature of reality than its more objective relative. Hence, hope and fear were much the same, riding on the same ticket to find purchase of one's psyche,  yet in the end it was either that denied a person of their true responsibility in this world.

Although Alicia harboured theses resentful beliefs, that didn't take away from her sense of awe and mystery about the universe, or the fact that there might just be something out there looking after us all.

Meanwhile, Alicia's hopes that night had been dashed, while her fears realized, leaving her with little optimism about anything from that point.

And that's when the phone in the administrative office suddenly began ringing.

She ran as fast as she could, opening the door and quickly grabbing the phone from Dora's desk, holding it to her face.

"Sunny Orchard Retirement Home, how may I help you?" asked Alicia.

"Alicia? Its Heylyn!" Alicia heard a familiar voice and a smile replaced her frown.

"Heylyn?" Alicia responded, shocked to hear her best friend's voice after what had transpired.

"You know that guy that was staring at you in school?" asked Heylyn.

"The one from this afternoon? What about him?" asked Alicia.

"I just found out from Stephanie that he volunteers at the same place that you do!" Heylyn said in amazement.

Alicia remained silent.

"So, have you met him?" Heylyn asked Alicia.

Again, Alicia remained silent.

"So he's a jerk is he?" Heylyn asked her intuitively.

"He promised me that he'd walk me home and then he... bailed on me early," Alicia told her best friend.

"Keep your chin up, Alicia. You've got so much to offer to any guy. I even bet that you'll end up with someone of wealth, and not just in money but in matters of the heart. Someone who will truly love you," Heylyn urged her friend, but Alicia by that time was already distracted, for through the window of the administrative office, she could clearly see a reddish/pinkish envelope sitting on one of the tables.

"I've gotta go. Thanks so much for calling me," Alicia said to her friend, still distracted by the card.

"Are you going to be alright?" asked Heylyn. 

"I think so," Alicia somehow within herself found a smile.

"See you tommorrow. At the donut shop at ten before class. Alright?" asked Heylyn.

"I'll be there. You have a good night," Alicia hung up the phone and exited the administrative office, slowly approaching the envelope.

When she was close enough, she could clearly see her own name written on the envelope, and that sparked a sudden curiosity within her. She dared not stray anywhere near hope again, for in its denial, it was twice as harmful as what it promised. From that point on, she refrained from it entirely.

However, she did sit down at the table, and then, she picked up the card.

"Here goes nothing," Alicia said as she opened the envelope, retrieving the card from within.

It was a card, red and pink. Full of hearts and stars and of exceptional artistry and presentation. It was both withdrawn and yet, extravagent. She slowly opened the card to read whatever message lay within. 

She wasn't let down because someone had clearly gone through a great deal to carefully write something by hand to her, for it had her own name:

Dear Alicia,

Life has its up and downs, and from where you are right now, they'll all feel like immense mountains and bottomless chasms. However, as you get older, it gets better and even easier if you play your cards right. 

You've clearly got a spark in you that is going to lead you to great places, so don't give up. Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but it also makes you smarter and wiser too. You've already got that in droves, but there's always something to gain by meeting challenges and trying circumstances head on.

In any case, and any time you feel lonely, always remember that you've got your own secret guide. I'll be looking out for you, and when the time is right, I'll introduce myself to you. Maybe then,  you can bring your husband and I'll bring my wife and we'll make it a joyous occasion. Until then, know that you've got more than one person protecting that good heart of yours.

Your Secret Guide.

Alicia thought about what she'd just read very carefully, ready for the stream of tears she knew would find their way to the surface of her eyes, but they never came. Instead, she was left with a feeling of elation. Understanding. Suddenly, the pain of  having her hopes raised so high and then dashed, all in a matter of hours didn't feel as devastating as it might have otherwise.

"I guess my secret guide really did help protect my heart," she took the card and carefully put it back in the envelope, after which she made her way to the kitchen where she put it in her purse.

Her night's duties done, she picked up her purse, threw it in her backpack and left, bidding the remaining night staff fairwell as she did.

She wondered who her mysterious guardian might be, ultimately coming to the conclusion that it was one of the residents. Probably one who knew her very well, and in the end she never made the connection between the mysterious piano player she never got to see, and her very first card.

"I didn't get the boy, but I did get the card," she quipped to herself as she walked to the bus stop.

Maybe, she thought to herself, that over the course of one's life, she could only ever get one or the other, but not both. It seemed to fit philosphically speaking. That one could either find the calm of understanding or the emotionally extreme nature of a romance. She contemplated this as she sat in the bus, still wondering if it might actually be the case.

In the end however, she was wrong.

You can have both.

Alicia's Epilogue

"I still don't know who my mysterious guide is. He or she never revealed themselves to me. So maybe they passed away in the retirement home, though I'll never know," Alicia said to her friends, her hand clinging to Norler's.

Heylyn, Monique, Aikiko and Kori each dabbed their tearful eyes with tissue, almost causing a conflict when one of them tried to take possession of the tissue box.

"That is just the most... I never knew that's what happened that night," Heylyn said, still sniffling.

"What happened with Leslie and Jolly?" asked Braden, very interested in their story.

"They got married about three months later. They moved from their regular single units to a double, like a real married couple and lived happy lives for as long as I was there," Alicia answered Braden.

"What about Sylvia?" asked Norler.

"Heylyn and I graduated that year, so it was a busy time in our lives..." Alicia began.

"Tell me about it. Between school, martial arts, digesting all of your math and science tutoring, and making your graduation dress, busy is an understatement, even for a sixteen year old girls," Heylyn recalled that time in her life.

"Yes, we were very busy back then around that time, and I only got to see Sylvia about six more times after that. Into that summer, I think around July 2, she passed away in her sleep at the ripe old age of seventy-nine. I still miss her. She was a big influence in my getting enrolled in the physics and biology programs at University Of Waterloo," Alicia admitted, pausing for a moment and then continuing.

"...her and my secret guide," Alicia continued.

"Well it looks like you got both the card and the boy in the end," Monique said to Alicia.

"It might be two of them," Alicia corrected Monique, patting her belly.

"Do you like my card?" suddenly asked Warai of everyone.

"Yes, we like it very much!" Heylyn smiled to her little girl, who sat beside Braden on the sofa.

Seeing her, suddenly brought back a distant memory. One from her earliest childhood.

You're It

Ai was just barely six years old, and had already become familiar with the daily routine of wake-up, eat, school, train, eat, bedtime stories and sleep. Its structure was inviting and simple, and kept her young life as much so, though in all truth, behind the scenes her parents were going to great lengths to maintain this simplicity. However, even in the most stable of systems, chaos can occasionally creep into the fold, and thus, one day, at Ai's school, it did. In the form of a young boy close to her own age.

She was far too young to feel or understand the kinds of feelings that adults have about one another, but nonetheless, this peculiar boy seemed to stand out to her for some reason. However, she had no way of expressing this to him, but she felt no hindrances that she should hide it. And so, she thought she'd tell him using one of the most simple and effective strategies one could use to let another know that they were liked.

During their lunch break in the school yard (which was adult supervised), when she and the boy in question were playing on the swings, she ran over to him, laughing and giggling profusely, and then she hit him and ran from him, still laughing and giggling like any little girl having fun might.

She suddenly stopped when she saw that he wasn't chasing her, so she returned to him, with a seemingly endless supply of breath, still laughing, she approached him and hit him gently on the shoulder again.

"What? Why'd you...?" the boy turned to Ai running as she giggled, looking back at him.

She stopped a second time when she once again saw that the boy just wasn't biting. So she turned around again, giggling profusely and tried to hit him again. This time however, he was having none of it. He instead turned and ran from her on his little seven year old legs.

She maintained her pace without even so much as taking a break to catch her breath. All of this all the while she laughed and giggled on a seemingly endless supply of air.

"Why are you chasing me?" he said as he ran from her.

She just giggled, for she was having far too much fun.

And at that moment, the school bell rang, signalling the end of their lunch break. The boy however continued to run from Ai, who by that time had stopped, and was torn between returning to class or chasing the boy around. She looked back and forth between the school and the boy, and finally made her choice.


About ten minutes later, the rest of her class was seated on the floor around their teacher, a casually dressed woman, who sported pixie styled hair and wore a pink pair of thick framed glasses.

"Alright everyone. Calm down. Let's do attendance here..." Mrs. Chalmers began taking attendance, announcing their names one at a time and checking them off if they responded by putting up their hand.

"Heylyn?" Mrs. Chalmers looked around the class.

"Heylyn Yates?" she polled the class again for a response.

"I never suspect she'd skip class..." Mrs. Chalmers muttered to herself.

One of the more astute six year olds, whose hearing was considerable, suddenly took notice when he heard the sound of a little girl's laughter somewhere outside.

He looked up at the convex mirror in the corner of the class, and through it he got a clear view outside through the windows. There, in the field were a boy, who seemed to be running from a little girl. He suddenly put up his hand.

"Mrs. Chalmers?" he asked her.

"What is it Efrem?" Mrs. Chalmers asked him.

"I think Heylyn is still outside. She's running around in the field," Efrem explained to the teacher, who by that time had stood from her chair to verify her student's claims.

"Well I'll be... Everyone stay where you are, I'm just going to get our missing classmate," she said as she opened the door to the class and left.

She made her way to the nearby door, the one closest to that field and stepped out, running over to where the two children were playing.

"Heylyn! Come over here. We've still got class today!" Mrs. Chalmers said firmly to the little girl.

By that point, Ai and the boy had stopped running. Ai looked over to Mrs. Chalmers with a glum look on her face, while the little boy looked unsure of what to do.

"You must be with Mr. Weir's class?" asked Mrs. Chalmers of the boy.

He simply nodded affirmatively.

"Alright then. You can follow us back to the school and get to class before everyone's worried sick about you," Mrs. Chalmers grabbed Ai's hand, as she pouted.

The trio returned to their respective classes and continued their day normally from that point.

The Meeting

Mr. and Mrs. Ying sat in the Principle's office, their daughter under the care of Mrs. Ying's own mother, Ai's grandmother back at their home.

The principle's desk was large and intimidating, even to other adults as much so as it might have been to children, though it wasn't intended as such. In the schoolyard however, it was the stuff of myths and legends, and few who'd entered ever left. Such myths were commonplace in a population of creative young and aspiring minds, and few were harmful enough to be of any concern.

Ai's recent behaviour however, had become a cause for concern to some, and so Mr. and Mrs. Ying dealt with the business end of the Principle's office while he collected Mrs. Chalmers for the meeting.

"Ahhh... I hope I we weren't too long. Mrs. Chalmers was busy with class..." Mr. Adenae took a seat at his desk, while Mrs. Chalmers took a seat beside him.

"We understand there is a problem concerning our daughter?" Mr. Ying sat tall in his chair, leaning neither back nor afore as he spoke.

"Not if her behaviour only involved her person, but in this case it has been disruptive to the life of another student, who she's apparently been hitting and chasing around the schoolyard recently.  She's actually quite obsessed by it," Mrs. Chalmers explained to Mr. and Mrs. Ying.

"You called us in here to explain to us that our daughter is in trouble for playing in the schoolyard?!" Mr. Ying's patience seemed to have reached its end.

"Mr. Ying, as I stated earlier, it would not be a problem if it didn't involve another one of our students, but unfortunately it does," Mrs. Chalmers defended the school's stance.

"If it is such a problem for this other student, then why aren't their parents here in this meeting?" Mrs Ying responded this time.

"Because your daughter is the aggressor. Apparently she'd been running around and hitting a boy, even chasing him around the schoolyard. To the point of it being a harmful obsession," Mrs. Chalmers explained.

"Could not a game of hide and seek be mistaken for being a harmful obsession?!" Mr. Ying clearly was not having any of this, especially about his own daughter, whom he knew would never attack or harm anyone.

"Mr. and Mrs. Ying, we're not calling your parenting skills into question here at all. Its obvious you are superb parents, and have raised a wonderful little girl, whom we all enjoy having amongst us here. We just thought that it was best if we let you know, so you could decide how to handle this, because if it continues, it might become a legal problem and not just for you, but for us as well," Mr. Adenae explained to Ai's parents.

"If that is all, we will take what you've told us and handle it delicately with our daughter, but in no way are you going to turn such harmless schoolyard games into a means to stigmatize or curb our daughters education and future!" Mrs. Ying stood up from her chair as Mr. Ying did the same.

"Thank you for your time. We hope this hasn't caused you any embarrassment," Mr. Adenae spoke as sincerely as had Mr. and Mrs. Ying.

Mr. and Mrs. Ying let themselves out of the school and returned to their car to drive home and have a chat with their daughter.

Getting The Message

For the next two weeks, Ai refrained from either hitting or chasing the boy. She simply sat on one of the benches, her tiny legs unable to reach the turf, and threw the boy in question glances here and there. He took notice of her, however his only concern being that she wasn't running at him to hit him. She only looked to him, hoping that he'd at least throw her a mean or funny face. Just something, however he never did.

It wasn't until a full month after Ai's parents had met with the Principle that things got going again. It all happened during lunch break, and while that particular break was still in its infancy, perhaps ten minutes in. The boy had just finished eating and was relaxing, seated on a swing, drinking from a small juice pack when Ai ran up behind him and hit him. Hard this time, and on the shoulder, but not hard enough to cause any pain. Just enough so to let him know she was there.

He stood from the swing and confronted having had just about enough from his schoolyard stalker. When the words were on the tip of his tongue, he suddenly got it. It hit him like in those cartoons he'd watch. He even saw a giant *BOFF* floating in the air near him. Ai just looked at him still giggling, until she stopped and held her breath, watching him with anticipation.

A smile came across his face, and when Ai saw it, she knew that something was very different at that moment. She immediately began running away, screaming, laughing and giggling as she did, and he chased her. He chased her for the rest of the their lunch break, both of them laughing the entire time, their faces red with delight.

From that day forward, Ai realized that she had met her first real friend. Maybe even, her first love heart.

It Can Never Be Written, It Can Never Be Told

Heylyn watched as Warai sat in Alicia's lap, and realized she was seeing the beginnings of her motherhood. Her first moments as a new parent, this woman whom had been her best friend since they were sixteen.

She never realized the wealth of experiences and emotion that existed within just her circle alone. That had started from her earliest memories with a talk with her father in his office. That very thread extended through into the life of her best friend, Alicia, and their time in school together. It then intertwined with the life of Monique, a woman of immense passion and courage who made the best of an opportunity given her. That twine becoming entangled in the lives of others, including dangerous cults like those of Habus Macill as her lover, or even Oculo Mentis. 

That same thread that found the life of a young woman in Osaka Japan, who was given by her own father as collateral for a debt to the criminal underworld. A remarkable woman who somehow, with the aid of mysterious forces around her, had survived to rediscover the self she'd abandoned during such hardship. That same thread that brought her to the city and to West Meet East, to become a part of their lives.

That same thread also connected the people at her company, and had even spurred romance between Valerie and Trey, whose lives had been transformed simply by the confidence and affection of each other.

On yet another tendril, it had drawn into her own life, a connection to a little South Korean girl, whom she'd legally adopted, later finding out that this little girl, this gem was the future of everything.

That same thread that had become intertwined in the life of a former acrobat/martial artist. The man who would become the little girl's guardian, bringing them both to the bridge between the East and the West.

All of it was because of this hidden thing, that none can ever truly know. But sometimes we get glimpses of it. 

Like when we're hit by a girl in the schoolyard and we realize that its because she wants us to chase her.

Or when we open a romantic card addressed to us, only to find that it was from our secret guide and mentor, who tells us that there are difficult and trying times in life, but assures us that everything is going to be alright if we keep our wits about us and take an active role in the path of our own life.

When a mysterious piano player arrives, and starts winding out an old Jazz and big band classic, and you experience the same stage fright you did the first time you ever sang before an audience. That's exactly when you step up to sing again, and with your first words, you suddenly realize that hidden secret.

Or when in the throes of passion, in your bed with your long time comitted partner and lover, you look into their eyes at the very moment of conception, and truly know that you'll never be alone. Ever. Somewhere within, the universe smiles back with a glimpse of this secret.

What ever it is, it can only be summed up by what the dragon from the field in her dreams had told her so long ago:

My little Ai Yuanlin Ying. It cannot be written. It cannot be told. It can not be known, and is for none to behold, for it can only be lived. 

And when we have learned this, that is when it all ends

To be continued in... The Butterfly Dragon: The Two Dragons - Episode 11

But please... take this kiss upon the brow care of Propaganda, who are still magically playing until this very day... Be literally and truthfully kind to them, as much so as gravity is kind enough to keep us all from drifting off into space. Until Tales Of The Sanctum's return, please enjoy the Butterfly Dragon - The Two Dragons.

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) and the alma mater of Jinn Hua's own specialized variation thereof, 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.