The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 8 (Updated June 22, 2024 1:30 PM EST)


Opening notes

How is it that a guy like myself, one who regularly cooks a wide assortment of stir fries, including chicken and even pork fried rice and more recently Char Siu BBQ Pork, and enjoys a glass of wine or coolers with most dinner-time meals, writes from the perspective of many different world voices from a political and sociological perspective, when my lifestyle and diet are often so different than that of those to whom I give voice through my writing?

I think that the answer to that question for just about any writer, lies in their ability to look at any given situation, and to gain insight and sometimes even empathy when writing meaningful characters and dialog for their stories. Its an investment in people that many writers and other creative people make, and one that often puts at risk, the concept of identity and independence of such a person in their pursuit of expression, and the purposeful effort to spread understanding rather than chaos, and without pitting oneself too far beyond the investment in their characters for or against the driving elements of the plot. If as a writer you do, and without giving each side their proverbial due, you stand to produce contrived rhetoric given without the careful consideration of the opposing idiom. 

Such one sided presentation, is typically what we grow up with when reading classic (or modern) fairy tales. The concepts of good and bad are very clearly defined, as are the sidedness of the protagonist and antagonist. Often, without the need to define concepts of good and bad based upon the ideas of what they say and do, but rather because the writer says that one is good and one is bad, because in growing up, at one time in early society, the philosophers, mentors and early educators (including parents) saw it as being more important to teach a sense of direction to youth, without the need to touch upon or even fully understand why something is right and something else is wrong. 

That ability to consider many different avenues is a very difficult one today and especially so as you get older, because there are purposeful social obstacles that harden people and prevent true diplomacy, in favour of turning aspects of our identities as individuals of gender, culture and ideology in specific social brands, that are then recycled into the next generation of hard barriers between people in the world. By the time we've broken down one set of barriers, another set of barriers has risen to take its place. 

Those diplomats who were instrumental in dissolving those barriers, have often by that time been whittled away by society, sometimes disenfranchised, hardened by the same forces that create the new barriers for the up and coming generation. It is in this seam between generations that most social and diplomatic progress is lost, in favour of maintaining a machine whose repetitions are timed according to the passage of generations, rather than transforming them to become the next progression of our social evolution. 

Are we to remain stuck in this paradigm, first explored in the modern world by the writer Joseph Campbell (The Hero With A Thousand Faces), whose observations revealed the true nature of the mechanations of society, which was echoed in popular culture from that time onwards in the works of many great writers and film makers, including George Lucas, James Cameron, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan as much so as they were from the first writers. You'll find this same theme in just about every culture in history.

Some of the most tragic story telling where the protagonist attempts to escape the confines of this Campbellian machine, the hidden underpinnings upon which the cyclic operation of society is hinged, were explored by other writers and film makers, certainly as far back as William Shakespeare, but more recently by others such as Francis Ford Coppola, especially in his Godfather series of movies, which were based upon the works of writer Mario Puzo.

The Godfather III explores this very idea of escaping the Campbellian machine, by Michael Corleoné's efforts in the film to legitimize his family's business holdings, and to guide them into a future, stepping away from their clandestined organization, to become legally operating global business enterprises, free of their ties to the power struggle of organized crime. Like all great Shakespearian tragedies, this movie is no different, and perhaps in a sense it is a message in a bottle from Coppola himself, in the form of a story that explores what is at risk (metaphorically rather than literally) when someone attempts to escape the mechanations of that which made them in the first place. Fortunately, Sophia went on to become an inspiring performer, writer and director herself in real life.

However, in Godfather III, this is a theme explored again and again, and in just about every case, it almost always ends the same way. That certainly isn't to criticize the immense emotional investment of such stories that embody pathos, because they in turn help us to consider the consequences of our actions. Not by literal example, but rather by metaphor. Too much change and too quickly leads to tragedy, especially when one risks trying to escape the devices of their own creation.

The courage that these story tellers have in exploring such themes is remarkable, but as I stated, I believe that their stories are messages in bottles for the rest of us, there for us to learn from in the hopes that someday, we liberate ourselves from the Campbellian machine upon which society is currently architected.  Where during the course of our lives, as we get older and older, we struggle to escape the fact that at some point in our path, we'll be expected to be the antithesis of who we were as we grew up. A loss of innocence ending with us becoming the enemy. To become the obstacle of progress for the younger generations. To become the monster against which we fought so determinedly when we were young.

I believe that such a future is possible and that such a radical change in architecture will eventually happen. The means by which it will are already flowering all around us, with a fresh and invigorated sense of storytelling that explores these themes, before the generations are eventually expected to become the monsters they once opposed. Where the obstacles that fuel the advancement afforded by friendly competition arrive from nature itself, or by way of our future technology in an attempt to inspire us towards the ends of individual and social betterment. Whatever life challenges that stand to make you better.

We have to see the works of these creators of generations past, and explore the fact that those works are much more than what they seem on the surface. There's hidden gems within them, and most often, such works are a message in a bottle created by someone who is trying to tell us something, more than that which is apparent on the surface.

Now, more so than ever, we have many different mediums through which to understand these themes in life and their importance. Video games have transcended their stigmatic origins to become the new  medium of literature and story telling, and they too have their own messages in bottles as well, from their writers and the crew that produced those experiences, that are becoming a part of the growing pressure that will eventually fuel that revolution where we overcome the Campbellian machine.

As I get older, I've done my best to dodge it for my entire life, and yet as time goes on, I must warn you that your sense of individuality will become the weapons that those who want to keep such a machine in place will use against you. To harden you to the point where you either become the monster they want you to be, to suit the Campbellian machine, or you become a babbling and ranting mess, stressed by the efforts to craft you in the direction of becoming the antagonist of someone else's story.

To those of you who are cresting the summit of that peak, perhaps a few years beyond your metaphorical rite of ascension. The point at which your sidedness is no longer guaranteed by your generation, and the hidden forces at work begin teetering you towards their tried and tested architecture: you will eventually become the nemesis, but there are ways that you can resist such an effort, without compromising your values and your individuality, while protecting and preserving your sanity. Keep in mind though, that the risks are that you and your ideas will be diluted and weakened over time, until the distinction between the progress that so many others like yourself have struggled and fought for over the course of centuries, becomes indistguishable from the forces trying to maintain the Campbellian machine. Are you Cinderella or one of her jealous sisters? Are you Anakin, or are you Luke? And more importantly, regardless of your direction thereafter, what comes next?

As writers and creators, to keep yourself healthy in the throes of such effort, give your characters on all sides a voice. The ones that you like. The ones that you dislike. The ones against whom you hold moral contention and the ones with whom you'd ally yourself. Give voices to both your light and to your darkness, and to as many as you can, without giving in to those who'd take your voice, individuality and identity from you. When your message becomes loud enough (and it will), many will attempt to hide you and bury you, even taking over your identity and expression from you to wear as their own, like the suit that Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre was crafting from the bodies of his victims. Your own identity that such persons wield against you, and others seeking to liberate much the same as yourself.

Keep in mind that all those content creators never gave up. The ones that wielded this same message in a bottle. In the near future, the very nature of story telling and the experiences gained from it is going to become a radically powerful medium, both as beneficial and dangerous as all other forms of similar mediums combined from history. Where we'll actually be able to live stories, in such reality that our brains and endocrine system will not be able to distinguish these experiences, and yet we'll learn from them as effectively as learning from reality, to the point that our bodies will even feel strained from exercise we haven't physically done. At that point, we may transcend any architecture that requires us to eventually become the monster that thwarted us in our youth, or that requires us too yield our individuality in favour of a collective mind, rather than promoting individuality and the merits of cooperation.

As you get older, you're going to face all of these things, and some of them, when you first encounter them will seem unbelievable, even fantastic, but you'll soon learn that the world you thought that you lived in was actually a construct all in your mind and your sense of individuality will come under attack, when you need it most.  

Just keep in mind that not all of us fold to this hidden enemy and that despite the appearances of what may seem, that if you look in the right places, you'll always find these messages in a bottle, because history is brimming full of them, and from the people that I and you likely idolized, who as much as you are, were trying to change things for the better.

Some of the people who wield the brands created by the very people who created the content that holds their messages in a bottle, would be opposed to the people holding their brands today. Just remember that the Pleroma that you're sold as being the real Pleroma, is not the true Pleroma.

Nobody is controlling me into expressing these ideas. They're well spread throughout every single work I've ever written here on Shhhh! Digita Media at https://www.shhhhdigital.ca and https://www.shhhhdigital.com in Torontro, Ontario, Canada at 200 Sherbourne Street in Suite 701, but sometimes my mentors and guides speak through me, for we are ourselves and those who've inspired us to express through the various mediums at our disposal, but what is said is the important thing.

However, despite my differences from those of my characters, I try to do justice when and where applicable, for often those characters represent those who don't have a voice or an audience. Despite my differences in belief, diet and sometimes conduct, I always do my best to express as the characters and for the people they represent. 

Sometimes such characters tread upon stigmatic clichés (Alomera Zek for instance, and the often ill used cliché that is associated with fictional characters from Latin America). Sometimes by exploring these stigmas, we actually begin unravelling them, because in the process of exploring the character and his peers, we come to understand the many lives involved with someone of such a determinate destiny and there have been many such persons who've served as real life archetypes for such characters. 

These characters represent the most exempliary of people from his region of the world, but it certainly is worthy to note that the same passion that drives such a character is certainly a remarkable quality in common with many people of that region of the world, however misdirected that same passion might be in this particular character. Some use the knife they wield to peacefully prepare their food, while some use it to gut their enemies. Its not so much the knife, but how one uses it, and its the same thing for that which drives a person, thumos, passion, whatever you call it. Its all about the purposes for which you wield it.

My differences from my characters are an important line for me, but they never prevent me from writing (compelling?) stories that make these characters interesting to my readers. Hopefully, they inspire others to pursue their own passions in a meaningful and productive way for their lives, and at some time might I find myself as an audience to their pursuits, which is the greatest inspiration of all.

Brian Joseph Johns

Its all truth. The stuff that's known, and the stuff that's hidden.

In all truth, I'm an Atheist that leans toward Buddhism and Taoism, and I don't like fudge at all.

My own love interest is actually Southeast Asian, though she's not Filipino as she's from somewhere else. My name isn't Terence or Clarence or Trent, and my photo can always be found on this website, the Official home of Shhhh! Digital Media.

Remember, its a hate crime to replace a person's identity in order to replace any aspect of their identity, including gender, culture, religion or any other aspect of a person's identity. I'm not "trench", and hate isn't love and love isn't hate.

Latest Chapters

  • Hybrid (Finished June 8, 2024)
  • Tour (Guide) Of Duty (Finished June 9, 2024)
  • Forensics (Finished June 11, 2024 at 2 PM EST)
  • The Nerd And The Shark (Finished 12, 12:30 AM EST)
  • Daughter Or Dina? (Finished June 17, 2024 2 PM EST)
  • A Return And A Requium (Finished June 17, 2024 4 PM)
  • At Enertrinsic (Finished June 19, 2024 2 PM)
  • Definitely Needs Alibi (Started June 19, 2024 3 PM)
  • Con Fusion (Finished June 20, 2024 12 PM)
  • Solutions And Problems (Finished June 22, 1:30 PM)
  • Toured Fusion (Coming soon)


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The goal for this story is to support Leukemia Treatment and Research

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Shhhh! Digital Media Presents:

The Butterfly Dragon: We Who Stand On Guard - Episode 8



SPONSORED BY: ENERTRINSIC INTERNATIONAL


Hybrid

hy·brid
/ˈhīˌbrid/

noun

a thing made by combining two different elements; a mixture by way of a procedural, chemical or alchemical process.

"the final text is a hybrid of the stage play and the film"

[Billy Talent - Reactor]

Stanton stood in front of the command console for reactor A3, a rather expensive ribbon cable reaching out from the digital logic probe he held in his hand, winding its way to piggyback atop of the diagnostic processor system.


Adjactent to him at another similar console his good friend Dave, another Engineer and coworker of Stanton's whose own logic probe was similarly plugged into the corresponding console of reactor A2.


The two of them silently scanned the initialization procedure checklist, which was presented cleanly by the logic probe's own Android based software kernel, albeit a version of the same kernel which had passed certain CSA and ISO-MISSION CRITICAL standards. 

It wasn't the latest and greatest Android operating system, but it was currently the most stable available for the suite of test tools and support systems in any electrical engineer's tool bag.

"Heh, looks like my last EKG..." Dave responded, checking the timing line of the processor subsystem.

"A good thing I hope..." Stanton responded, an amused smile on his face.

"Apparently, though I ended up arguing with my own Doctor for at least fifteen minutes on the subject because apparently they track heart rythm and palpitations using both pressure and voltage..." Dave explained to Stanton, who smirked, not quite understanding what Dave was getting at.

"And...?" Stanton queried his friend.

"And Carol, who's been reading those Men's Health articles ever since the Doctor told me I had an irregular rhythm of the heart, due to stress induced palpations... she misinterpreted pressure for voltage, and of course brought this up at the dinner table..." Dave continued to explain to Stanton as the both of them continued through their checklists like the pros they were.

"I'm guessing that Hanna wasn't around?" asked Stanton.

"Thankfully, she was at University in Waterloo when this all came up and my son was at Summer Camp, apparently shooting unoccupied cottage windows with a slingshot with his friends... but that's another story... the little delinquent..." Dave scrolled down the checklist with the touchscreen window of his logic probe.

"Sounds like he takes after his father..." Stanton smiled.

"That he does, but don't ever tell him you said that, and that I agreed..." Dave checked the last few items on his list before initiating the startup procedure for the reactor.

"Or Carol I'm guessing..." Stanton added.

"She's with me on that one. She's old school. Believes that every guy has to have a bit of an edge, but being good parents and all, we can't tell him that..." Dave finished the last of his initialization procedures and pulled the piggyback clip and ribbon cable from the processor housing, winding it all up and returning it to his tool pouch.

"And this is where your EKG comes in I'm guessing?" asked Stanton, snickering at Dave.

"So you were listening. Damned right that's where it came in. So Carol told me that if my EKG chart looked like an inverted bell curve, that I'm healthy. Anything else and I'm a goner..." Dave smiled as he used his ISO approved Robertson screwdriver to fasten the bezel of the console back in place.

Stanton's smile grew even more, suddenly realizing where Dave's story was going.

"So naturally, my EKG chart looked anything but like a bell curve... and so there I was arguing with the Doctor for the better part of fifteen minutes, when Carol taps on the door twice, and opens the door. She peeks her head in and tells me that she realized that she mixed up pressure and voltage..." Dave explains to Stanton, who's face was struggling to contain the laughter.

"She says 'sorry 'bout that', like nothing happened, and the Doctor looks to me and says: You're an engineer and you didn't even double check your own wife's conclusions? Darn, she's got you well trained!" the Doctor says to me, and we both burst out laughing.

"That she has..." Stanton smiled back at Dave, just as Elena walked into the command room.

"Maybe, but if it was like she'd interpreted it, I'd have been rushed into surgery already... Speaking of, look who decided to show up..." Dave laughed as Elena snuck up behind him.

"I thought you might want to know that the monitoring station systems are nominal, and we got your diagnostic logs. Things are running perfectly..." Elena assured both Stanton and Dave.

"Until you got here..." Dave responded with a sarcastic smile on his face.

"On the contrary, they're running perfectly because I got here. I understand that neither of you are scheduled for any other critical operations for the afternoon?" confirmed Elena with both Dave and Stanton.

Stanton retrieved his processor piggyback clip and ribbon cable, returning it with the logic probe to his tool belt.

"That's a big negative Elena. I'm back at reactor A1 during the test to make sure that the Hybrid doesn't overdraw..." Dave explained to Elena.

"That leaves you Stanton? You have nothing planned I take it?" Elena confirmed with him, already knowing that to be the case as she was his direct supervisor at the power plant.

"I'd like to double check on the nearest transformer station, just outside of Darlington if I could..." Stanton requested of his direct supervisor.

"Stanton honey, I actually had you reserved for something else..." Elena looked to him, seductively though Stanton played professionally cautious.

He knew that she enjoyed subtle flirtation and playfulness, it was part of her management style in an organization that still ever so slightly favoured men. Not because of their hiring practices, because Ontario Power Generation was far ahead in terms of as much. The electrical trade had taken a bit of time to attract women to a role that had historically been one trained for and stationed by men.

By the time Stanton had arrived after serving his country in various military roles, the measure of employment equality had been shored up considerably, though it was still far from balanced. Elena had arrived a few years after Stanton (about a decade), and as part of a force of focused, career minded women who now populated much of, but not quite half of Ontario Power Generation.

Stanton replied to her professionally, without so much as alluding to her flirtation which often further encouraged her.

"What did you have in mind?" Stanton returned an innocuous smile to her.

"To tell you the truth Stanton, the big wigs asked me to provide a senior engineer to assist with a tour group today and I immediately thought of you," Elena explained to Stanton, who seemed to smirk ever so slightly at her request.

"I thought we had engineering trained public relations specialists for tours?" asked Stanton, somewhat concerned for how exposing him to the public might play out with his secret tasking.

"Not for this one. We need a different kind of specialist. Your kind," Elena smiled at him, satisfied that she'd cornered him in her power play.

"What about me? I'm a senior engineer too...?" Dave responded, somewhat offended that he'd be overlooked for the role.

"Dave... we need subtle, quiet and attentive. If the tour group decides to attend the local Jack Aster's, you'll be on the top of the list..." Elena responded.

"If they're going to Jack's, I'm in for that... Just give me some notice so I can call Carol and have her meet me there..." Dave was immediately appeased with the idea of a social tour of one of his favourite sports bar restaurants.

"What kind of tour group are we talking?" asked Stanton of Elena.

"Big wigs. The kind who like to use opportunities like this to get re-elected, and the kind who are CEOs that like to use opportunities like this to increase their sales to other countries that are evaluating hybrid reactors as part of the energy growth strategy..." Elena explained to Stanton, who considered the risk that interacting with such persons in a tour group might pose in terms of his secretive role.

"I left my business suit in my closet at home..." Stanton responded, trying to cover for himself.

"They want a 'hands-on, hard-hat on' kind of guy like you, and I can't think of anyone better for the job..." Elena smiled at him, satisfied she'd trapped him into a situation out of which he couldn't weasel his way.

"...except for Dave. He's the senior when it comes to experience here..." Stanton dodged Elena's play.

"...True. He's our senior engineer, but when it comes to being the poster boy for engineers... Its a close race between him and you..." Elena tapped her small tight belly with her right hand, then miming Dave's slightly protruding beer gut.

"Oh come on now! Please... Fatherhood does that, you know?" Dave responded, pulling in his gut.

"Not to mention we have some international guests that I feel Stanton would be best skilled to address, as an already well proven diplomat. You remember the time we had those guests up from the Derry, Maine reactor site in the United States?" asked Elena of Dave, looking to him accusingly.

"That's not fair! That was a clearly unique situation which was well beyond my hands and out of our jurisdiction as Canadians!" Dave responded defensively.

"Regardless, the whole green beer incident after the tour, something that you personally organized, went wrong..." Elena defended her example.

"How was I supposed to know that their Senior Engineer would be allergic to Green Dye number three?" challenged Dave, now defensive over the incident.

"If Stanton hadn't known CPR, that engineer would be dead right now..." Elena reminded Dave, who returned a painful smirk to her.

"...you're right... he's the better man for the job..." Dave responded, throwing his hands up in the air.

"...Dave, it was you who called for the paramedics before anyone else... You had as much hand in saving him too..." Stanton added.

"...Gotcha! That is precisely why you should be the Senior Engineer in this tour. If anything happens, you'll protect everyone... even those who mess up..." Elena added.

Dave looked to Elena, and then to Stanton.

"What can I say big guy? She's right. You saved..." Dave began.

"...No Dave... We saved the day," Stanton reminded Dave of the truth.

"You know, if this was a Parliamentary democracy with capital markets, an infrastructure and a social safety-net, Dave and I would have elected you..." Elena looked to Stanton, who shook his head at them for pulling such a stunt.

"...I'll do it. But only this once and only because you two asked. If it ever comes up again, I want changes to my contract that imply this as a direct role and responsibility, and for those changes to go before my representative in Management and the Union..." Stanton confronted them both, before a smile emerged from his face.

"...dammit... If I could, I'd want you two on the tour, because you're like the heart of this place to me..." Stanton tipped his construction hat to each of them.

"So you're giving in are ya? That means he's in line for the big bucks! The beers are on him next time!" Dave responded.

"You always were a lush...!" Stanton gave him a firm shake.

"I'll just leave you two love birds then..." Elena smiled, and then winked at them as she left.

"If Witches were real..." Dave began.

"...she'd be their leader..." Stanton finished.


Tour (Guide) Of Duty

Stanton walked ahead modestly yet confidently ahead of a small group of suits as they arrived at the command room, where a series of large screen monitors visualized the operating parameters of the Candu Hybrid Fusion System reactors.

"This is where every aspect of the operation of the reactors takes place. Both the original Candu Fission reactors, which are run from these recently upgraded stations, and the Candu Hybrid Fusion System reactors, which are run from these consoles here..." Stanton pointed out to both the political and corporate representatives.

As it turned, Queen's Park had sent representatives from each of the three main parties (whose reps were chosen years earlier as a result of the Provincial vote). There was the Ontario Minister Of Energy Resources, Richard Parks of the Conservative Party. There was the Liberal Energy Resources representative, Linda May. And finally, there was the New Democratic Party Energy Resources representative, Hien Ngon. These three political representatives, despite their different allegiances stuck together, each with their own assistant.

Beside them another group of two corporate representatives and their one mutual assistant followed as well. They were Mavis Wentworth, Corporate Project Leader. Sal Laselo, Technical Consultant. Finally there was Deborah Finley, Corporate Specialist, all of them from the newly revitalized Candu Systems.

"Is it a coincidence that the original reactor consoles were upgraded at roughly the same time as the Hybrid Fusion system was installed?" asked Linda May.

"No. A case study and careful systems analysis revealed that in order for the Pickering Station to acommodate the new reactor architecture, that the existing fission control systems would also have to be upgraded. Hence, the new AI system that controls the on-again/off-again architecture of the hybrid  reactor system was integrated into the fusion command system. It was a necessary upgrade," Stanton explained to Linda.

Linda's assistant took careful notes of what Stanton had explained, which he reasoned might be used in a future election campaign, either for or against his current employer.

"You mentioned deuterium earlier when you were talking about the fission reactors. Is that the same deuterium used in the hybrid reactor?" asked Hien Ngon of Stanton.

"Chemically speaking, yes. They're the exact same thing, however, their application in terms of the differences between the fission and the hybrid systems is quite different. Deuterium is used as a high effectiveness cooling medium as compared to regular water, given their chemical difference, whereas in the Hybrid reactor, its used as an actual fuel source," Stanton explained to Hien.

"In the Candu Hybrid Fusion System, the reactors are dual role. We actually refer to them as breathers, because for one reactor cycle, the inhale cycle, they perform deuterium fusion, that is, the reactor fuses deuterium to produce helium at a ratio of one to three, and then for fifteen reactor cycles, the exhale cycle, the reactor performs fission, burning off the remaining deuterium from the inhale process. During the fusion process, the the deuterium is channeled as coolant for the fission process..." Sal explained to Hien.

"I thought you said it was the fuel?" Hien clarified this distinction with both Sal and Stanton.

"Its both. During fusion, its the fuel. During fission, its the coolant. That's why hybrid fusion systems are regarded as breathers. They inhale and produce helium, and the remaining deuterium is used as a coolant during fission. Then the entire cycle begins again ad infinitum..." Stanton explained to Hien.

"And citizens get energy as a result with minimal harmful emissions as compared to fission alone..." Sal continued.

"Whose exhaust output still requires safe storage buried in a pit for fifty years if I'm to understand it correctly?" Linda confirmed with both Sal and Stanton.

"That's the price, and everything has a price..." Sal stood his ground.

"Even at the cost of the health risks to our citizens?" asked Linda.

"Managed health and environment risks, Linda. Managed," Richard Parks defended the policies of his and earlier Governments.

"Can't blame a concerned citizen though. My children would certainly be greatful," Stanton saved face for both Hien and Linda.

"And why didn't the newly revitalized Candu Systems go with pure fusion? I mean its only exhaust is  H2O, pure water!" a woman in a tight business suit and skirt and sunglasses walked into the command room.

"Yes, why is that Sal?" asked Mavis, quickly deflecting the observation of this late arrival.

The lady who'd just arrived removed her sunglasses and all at once, Stanton had a flashback to his time in Tel Aviv.

"Because..." Sal began.

Stanton looked into her eyes and saw a woman he hadn't seen for nearly thirty years. It was in fact such a shock to his system that he nearly exposed his role (and her's) by addressing her.

By some inert miracle of personality, he managed to cover for them both.

"Because, hybrid fusion reactors are an intermediate solution to a costly challenge, and one that hasn't yet arrived despite trillions of dollars of investment capital," Stanton responded spontaneously, and without having to think about it at all.

"...and what about Trifuse Reactor Technology?" asked Dina, looking first to Stanton, and then to Sal and finally to Richard Parks.

"...and you are?" asked Richard, cautiously.

"Dina Shalhevet. Red Sea Investment Group..." Dina responded to Richard.

"Dina? A pleasure to meet you," Mavis smiled, extending her hand to greet Dina and her investment capital.

"Candu Systems Hybrid Reactor is an intermediary solution available now, not a decade or more from now, for states seeking a reliable solution with Candu System's own time proven technology," Sal backed up Mavis as best he could.

"And what exactly does Candu mean?" asked Dina, wading through the heavy politics in the room fearlessly.

"Canada Deuterium..." responded Mavis.

"A crown mandated resource extraction company if I'm not mistaken?" confirmed Dina.

"An engineering firm actually, much like the now defunct Avro Aerospace, which I'm certain that Red Sea Investment Group would recall based upon the regional inquiries from your representatives with regard to the advanced nuclear capable design of the aircraft, which was decades ahead of anything else at the time. However, to get back on topic, our resource extraction mandate came into play as a requirement of the Candu Fission reactor design..." Mavis responded.

Stanton stepped back and watched with amusement as the two women went toe to toe. Mavis with her team and Dina all by her lonesome.

"And what danger is there to deuterium as far as radioactive isotopes are concerned?" asked Dina of Mavis.

"None. Deuterium is basically the same thing as drinking water..." Sal answered the technical aspect, covering for Mavis.

"...with a higher atomic weight than regular H2O water..." Stanton added.

"So there's no inherent danger with deuterium?" asked Dina, looking to Stanton, whom she knew would respond that way.

Stanton concealed a smile, as he suddenly realized that Dina was playing them all.

"None to date..." Sal responded.

"Then how do you explain your waistline?" asked Dina of Sal, whose robust rotundness had suddenly become a subject associated with heavy water.

"I'm not lying to you when I say that its not the result of drinking heavy water, but simply my wife's great cooking," Sal smiled, patting his belly and drawing a hearty laughter from all in the room.

"Then I guess I'm here to find out more about your hybrid reactor systems," Dina held out her hand first to Stanton, who accepted it as gracefully as it was offered.

"I'm Senior Engineer Bradley Alexander Stanton at your service, and this is Sal Laselo, our Technical Representative from Candu Systems. He's the guy us engineers call when we need help," Stanton explained to Dina.

"Looks like I found the right people. So, when do we start the tour?" asked Dina, feigning the idea that she'd arrived on time.

"Actually, our tour has just finished. Thank you very much for a great tour, Mr. Stanton. Our office will be in communication with your supervisor to relay our kind regards for your patience and attention to detail," Mavis bid Stanton a farewell.

"Good to see you again Stanton. If Dina here needs any assistance related to our reactors, be sure to send her our way," Sal shook hands with Stanton and followed Mavis and Deborah out of the command room and through the building back to their transportation.

"It was a pleasure meeting you and thank you for all your help here and from the Conservative party," Richard Parks then bid Stanton farewell.

"We're grateful for your tour. We now have a much greater vision for our political future and the Liberal agenda, Mr. Stanton," Linda May shook hands with the engineer.

"Mr. Stanton, I am very grateful for your time and attention. The NDP will be in contact with you should we need any further details relating to the safe operation of this facility," Hien shook hands with Stanton and offered him a sincere smile.

"Thank you Hien. Glad I could be of service to yourself, Linda and Richard. I'm sure we'll all talk again soon," Stanton bid his tour group farewell as their assistants took photos for the press releases before they departed.

Stanton then turned to face Dina when they were finally alone together. He led her to the cafeteria where they sat in secluded seats away from prying eyes and ears as they spoke.

"Time certainly has kept you well. You look great Dina. Exactly as I remember you," Stanton told Dina, recalling the last day he'd seen her.

"Time it seems is very kind to men, who often take it for granted. You're certainly no exception Alexander. You're keeping active I take it?" asked Dina of a man she knew much greater than she had thirty years earlier.

"Less than you'd think, likely, and more than they know," Stanton responded, referring to his co-workers.

"Are you still in the same line of work?" asked Stanton of Dina.

"What do you think?" asked Dina of a man she once fell for.

"I think about engineering and other aspects of my job. Keeps me grounded," Stanton replied.

"Then that's your answer," Dina confirmed for him what she was up to in that moment.

"You certainly came a long way for deuterium, unless you're really interested in evaluating the Candu Hybrid Reactor System?" Stanton countered her.

"I have to admit that the technology is very time tested and promising, but I'm a little surprised that your Government revived Candu Systems, a Crown Corporation from the 1960s for such a specialized task like fusion reactors. How many of the same design engineers are still with us that designed the Candu Reactors?" asked Dina of Stanton.

"I don't meddle in corporate politics, but one of the engineers on that project was my Engineering Professor. So naturally, when we received the Government handout newletter from Ontario Power Generation, I looked him up. Turns out he and three of the other original engineers had been contracted as consultants rather than direct employees of the new Candu Systems. I'm sure there was a handsome bonus in it for them as well, seeing as they were all into their retirement," Stanton told Dina.

"Why would they revive an aging design like that? Must have cost billions?" Dina asked him, keeping her attention on the detail.

"The design involved has been tried and tested for almost sixty years. That means that most of the unforseen hiccups involved in any milestone based design process have been ironed out. That in itself saves billions rather than designing a system from the ground up. These engineers worked closely with the new engineers in desiging the upgrade for the fission reactors, and their corresponding fission phase, what we call the exhale phase of the Hybrid reactor. The design still holds up, plus it benefits from sixty years of advances in engineering materials science and computer simulation, which is used to test for structural or chaotic flaws. The construction and operating process during the evaluation of a milestone based design is the most costly. They literally saved billions by doing it this way, not to mention they've a new reactor product which can be sold abroad," Stanton explained to her.

"Weapons grade uranium?" asked Dina.

"No. Uranium-235 is the more stable cousin of Uranium-238, which is used in nuclear weapons. Candu reactors, thanks to their design cannot be used or adapted to the purposes of weapons grade enrichment from U-235 to U-238. However, these reactors are limited in terms of availability to regions not barred under current treaty limitations of course involving certain radioactive isotopes," Stanton continued.

"Of course. That's always the catch, isn't it? As much as I love water, I'm not here for deuterium, Stanton," Dina replied.

"That's a shame, I was looking forward to a nice sales commission. Then what are you here for?" asked Stanton.

"I'm here to find out what you know about Trifuse Fusion Reactors?" asked Dina.


Forensics

Tricia sat in the driver's seat as Halmand thumbed through a series of crime scene photos on his phone.

There were a pair of fresh Tim Horton's coffee cups in the vehicle's cup holder, steam still escaping through openings in their lids.

The sun had just barely crested the horizon, though they were far from being able to see it for they were surrounded by a wall of downtown Toronto concrete. 

The streets themselves were mostly empty, with the exception of the occasional early morning commuter on their way to take one of the early streetcars, for the trains at this time were not in operation.

There were also the remnants of the night life, the nocturnal lost souls of the city who often found mischief and adventure during the late hours. They too were up and about, most often looking for a suitable place to turn in for a day's rest.

The traffic itself was fairly light, though it was clearly picking up as the hour approached five in the AM, Eastern Standard Time. Even their vehicle's radio chatter was minimal, leaving them with nothing but the morning silence to awaken them for their day.

"Find anything of note?" asked Tricia of Halmand.

"He clearly didn't see it coming. Definitely a professional hit," Halmand explained to Tricia.

"Someone he knew and trusted most likely," Tricia suggested.

"That's usually the case, isn't it?" Halmand responded.

"Often, but not always. There's no signs of it being a crime of passion. The only indication of implied trust was the lack of a struggle. I think your assumption of it being a professional hit is closer to the truth," Tricia reasoned.

"No signs of a forced entry though. No damage to any of the locks. No opened or broken windows. How'd the killer get in?" Halmand asked his partner.

"Maybe they were already inside, waiting for him?" Tricia offered.

"That certainly seems to be the case... Maybe followed him into his home earlier and waited for him to return before taking him out?" Halmand played off her idea.

Maybe..." Tricia said as she turned the corner and drove into the underground garage beneath the Bay Street headquarters of the Police Service.

...

They left the check-in point after identifying themselves as Federal Inspectors and followed the colour coded line on the wall to the Forensics Department on the same floor. When they arrived, they were greeted with another check-in at the reception area.

"Inspectors? They're expecting you. Here's your anti-contamination kit. Please put these on before stepping into any of the clean room areas," the receptionist, who was an armed and uniformed Officer presented them with a standardized disposable kit which would prevent them from contaminating any evidence.

They quickly donned their hair nets, masks and rubber gloves and then stepped through the first two sets of doors into the screening room for the first of the clean rooms, a door labeled Biological Forensics: HAIR-NETS, MASKS AND GLOVES AT ALL TIMES.

As they stepped through the door, their ears popped as the transition from the screening room into the clean room presented them with a sizeable difference in air pressure. Both of them yawned to equalize the pressure between their ear drums and their sinuses, allowing them to hear reasonably well again.


"Are we too early?" asked Tricia of James Harker, the Forensic Specialist of Biological Sciences.

"Are you kidding? We had the crime scene swept before midnight. The evidence arrived here shortly after midnight and I've been working on it ever since..." James responded to Tricia's question.

"I take it that's good news then?" confirmed Tricia.

"Its a definite maybe," James responded, returning to his workstation where a DNA analysis series was running in the device attached to the workstation.

A tiny centrifuge spun several times, automated by the device, and then ejected a slide which was automatically fed into a hidden series of sensors. The device hummed for a short time, sounding not unlike a laser printer, before a complex Fourier graph filled the screen.

"This band here in green is our victim's DNA..." James explained to Tricia and Halmand, who examined the graph carefully.

"Based upon what samples?" asked Halmand.

"This particular series is based upon any biological samples we obtained, without knowing to whom they belonged. A quick test against our victim's DNA and his mitchondrial DNA, allows us to filter out all of his relatives or others in his family that share his DNA. The rest, especially these peaks and in different colours, represent other DNA samples..." James pointed out to them.

"Did he have any pets?" asked Tricia as they tried to narrow down the possibilities.

"No. But one of his immediate neighbours has a cat. We're assuming that the cat spent at least some time inside the victim's house, because we found cat DNA. Most likely from fur samples or because the cat isn't spayed and had been marking the victim's home as its territory. That would show up under this kind of a scan as well," James continued.

"What's this particular peak?" asked Halmand.

"That's the narrow band where human DNA generally falls into. Any sample along this vertical portion of the graph will generally be human DNA. From what I can see here, there's at least twelve different people, nine of them are direct relatives of the victim, while three, possibly four are unknown," James told them.

"How'd the sweep for prints go?" asked Tricia, again looking for something against which to narrow down any evidence that was related to their suspect.

"I'm just waiting on their last series of analysis, but she gave me an early forecast and indicated that they got in the neighbourhood of eight sets of distinct prints. All fairly fresh..." James told Tricia, who looked to Halmand.

"That's enough to narrow things down significantly if we get a hit," Halmand smiled beneath his mask.

"So overall, we're looking at a bracket of three different people in terms of biological evidence?" Tricia confirmed with James, doing the math in her head.

"Four, maybe three if we're fortunate. I'll call you as soon as we have the combined data from the finger prints and the biological samples," James assured them.

"Thanks buddy. Call me and we'll hit the batting cage on the weekend," Halmand bid his friend farewell.

"Thanks James. See you around," Tricia and Halmand left through the screening room and once they were in the clear, they removed their protective gear.

"What do you think? Looks good, doesn't it?" Halmand asked his partner.

"Depends upon what we can get today by questioning his peers and by examining his life and work closely. I'm betting we'll have a suspect by tomorrow afternoon," Tricia carefully weighed everything before responding.

"I'll take them odds," Halmand held the door for her after they signed out of the Forensics Unit.

From there, they made their way upstairs to the data center. Within the hour after their arrival, they left once again, returning to their vehicle in the underground parking garage.

Halmand sat with a tablet computer in his lap, filtering a dataset containing all of the phone calls to and from the victim's phone over the course of the last seven days.

"Any names from the small list in the call logs?" asked Tricia as she started the car.

"One. Appears to be a peer of his. Another rocket scientist like our victim," Halmand explained to Tricia.

"In the city?" asked Tricia.

"Works in Missisauga, lives in Brampton. Vector Engine Dynamics. A Mr. Vander Griffin," Halmand told Tricia.

"Widen your search time span. Do they talk alot?" asked Tricia.

"Looks like our victim has a best friend that isn't his ex-wife," Halmand remarked.

"Its a quarter to eight. If we leave now we can be in Mississauga by nine thirty with traffic," Tricia pulled the car out of the parking lot and up the ramp towards the street.

"That's Dixie Road and Clark Boulevard. We're looking for Vector Engine Dynamics on Braemar Drive, which runs off of Clark..." Halmand gave Tricia the directions.

"Get comfortable, its going to be a stop and go ride. You can use the time to find any more names in the call log from the short list until we hear back from James," Tricia told Halmand.

"Aye Captain Bligh," Halmand joked with her.

"And you just keep that mutinous smile under wraps..." Tricia responded, a smile of her own thanks to Halmand's morning sense of humour.


The Nerd And The Shark

Halmand grabbed the glass door for Tricia, who stepped through into the front foyer and reception of Vector Engine Dynamics. A woman in her mid-twenties greeted them as they approached her large desk.

"Hi. I'm Gracie. Welcome to Vector Engine Dynamics. How may I assist you?" asked Gracie the receptionist, a tiny and cheerful voice greeted them.

"Hi Gracie. We're here to see Mr. Griffin. He wouldn't happen to be available, would he?" asked Tricia, who spoke firmly without losing eye contact.

"If you'll just give me a moment, I'll let him know that you're here. May I have your name?" asked Gracie, innocuously.

"I'll tell you my name, but you can't have it. I'm Inspector Tricia Camden and this is Inspector William Halmand of the RCMP," Tricia responded, already well familiar with that particular social jest and play on words.

"Ohhh? If you'll please take a seat, I'll let Mr. Griffin know that you're here to see him," Gracie's expression became one of concern having been caught in her little game and by the Federal Police, but without losing a step, she directed them politely over to the waiting area.

"Is it just me, or does that sort of thing seem to be getting worse?" asked Halmand as they found their way to the waiting area.

"No, its not you. Its getting worse. I've had to change my morning coffee stop a number of times to avoid that sort of thing. I have to admit though she's got a lot of nerve doing that without knowing who we were. I'd be willing to bet it'll be a while before she does it again..." Tricia smiled as she sat down.

"Heh, it'd be a rough career start with an attempted identity theft charge at the young age of twenty-eight," Halmand found the thought amusing, especially for all the times he'd encountered the same or similar behaviour from others.

"True. And she doesn't even look like a Tricia. Wait a second, how'd you know she's twenty-eight?" asked Tricia.

"It was doodled onto her desktop calendar, for last Monday's date. I guess she's an aspiring artist when the action dies down around here..." Halmand grabbed a pair of magazines from the coffee table in front of them, giving Tricia the choice between Engineering Today and Vogue.

She took the Engineering Today.

"I get the hint," Halmand sat back with the latest issue of Vogue, admiring Monique Defleur, the latest cover girl on the magazine.

"And keep your eyes off of Gracie. We're here on official matters..." Tricia reminded him just in case.

Tricia turned the pages of the magazine she'd selected, which appeared to be a quarterly. She stopped and quickly scanned over an article about the Trifuse Fusion Reactor System, which apparently was stress tested by Vector Engine Dynamics, in their latest test suite software/hardware workstation, which was available for purchase for the one time low price of eighty-thousand dollars and included a one year site license for up to four clients. She quickly looked through the article and found an interview, which was given five weeks earlier by Vector Engine Dynamics Engineer Stan Leeski.

"This is interesting. Did you know that the average woman wears a total of one point five kilograms of mascara over the course of her life..." Halmand remarked with a decidedly amused smile.

"Take this down for me: Stan Leeski, Critical Systems Engineer for the Trifuse Fusion Reactor test suite. Worked with our victim on that project from two years ago until they reached the final milestone four months ago," Tricia dictated to him.

"When was the article written?" asked Halmand.

"Six weeks ago. A week before the quarterly went to press," Tricia explained to Halmand.

"Seems we're off to a good start..." Halmand responded as a tall lanky man with thinning gray combover hair arrived to greet them.

He peered at them from behind a pair of gentle eyes, smile lines extending like fractals from the corners of his eyes.

"Inspector Camden? I'm Vander Griffin, Senior Engineer and one of the partners here at Vector Engine Dynamics..." Mr. Griffin extended his hand to her, which she shook gracefully.

"Inspector Halmand..." Halmand offered his hand in turn.

"Pleased to meet you both. Now how may I be of assistance in this more dire of times..." Mr. Griffin asked the two Inspectors.

"Is there a place that we can talk in privacy?" asked Tricia of Mr. Griffin.

"I think we could talk in the board room if you'd like? It might be a bit chilly in there with the air conditioning... which reminds me, would either of you like a coffee? Its on the way," asked Mr. Griffin as he led them past Gracie's reception desk and around a large Vector Engine Dynamics sculpture that sat between the back end of the foyer and Gracie's desk.

"I'm alright, thank you for asking," Tricia responded.

"Me too. I'm fine," Halmand thanked Mr. Griffin.

"Well then we'll just head right to the boardroom and get comfortable. How was traffic getting here?" asked Mr. Griffin of them.

"A little slow, but we managed," Tricia replied.

"Frederick Milton, the other partner, he comes every day to work from Pickering, all the way across to Mississauga along the 401. I for the life of me have no idea how he does it," Mr. Griffin explained to them as they walked.

"I take it you're closer?" asked Halmand, who already knew the answer but was just interested in getting to the know the man through the wonder of small talk.

"And then some! I'm just up in Brampton, which is a short leap compared to Frederick's long haul. I'm guessing that's why he spends so much time in a bathroom stall every day after he arrives..." Mr. Griffin let out a short burst of joyous laughter, which both Tricia and Halmand joined.

"Its the best place to read..." Halmand agreed with Mr. Griffin.

"I think at our age its more a matter of anticipation. We're approaching retirement age, and so long trips in the car tend to amount to time in the out house if you catch my drift. I guess he's more the reader than I," Mr. Griffin remarked as they stepped through the doors of the boardroom.

Mr. Griffin closed the doors behind them and took a seat across from both Tricia and Halmand, taking a moment to get comfortable.

"Its a shame what happened. You know, you read about stuff like that all the time all over the news, but when it comes knocking at your door, it feels surreal. Like it wasn't supposed to happen to the people that you know. Only the ones you've never met," Mr. Griffin shook his head as he thought about the loss of one of his own employees.

"I take it that you were close?" asked Tricia, Halmand beside her already with his notebook in hand taking notes.

"I'm close with all my employees. Especially my engineers. So when we lost him, I really took it hard. It was like losing a son..." Mr. Griffin's eyes welled up momentarily, and Tricia watched as he gave it his best effort to keep his composure.

She could tell that he'd experienced loss, great loss of a similar nature in his life before.

"We could come back and finish this at a more conveninent time..." Tricia asked him politely, already knowing his reply.

"No. That wouldn't be right..." Mr. Griffin responded.

"You've lost someone before... A family member?" Tricia asked him softfly.

"Like I said... I lost a son. Leukemia, at the ripe age of thirteen years old. We knew it was coming, but our poor Steven... he was a fighter... right until the end..." Mr. Griffin recalled, and somehow the two people in his mind had become almost as one, Tricia could easily see.

Where Steven's life had ended at some point, likely many years earlier, the new employee's life had continued, almost as if he'd become Mr. and Mrs. Griffin's surrogate son. She'd seen similar things happen over the course of her experience as an Inspector, and knew that many who'd experienced such loss had found renewed meaning in the arrival of someone else who'd taken up the mantle of the one they'd lost. 

In terms of the Behavioural Sciences, it could easily be overlooked in a very clinical manner, but even the investigator's best sociological and psychological tools could sometimes be indicators of the mechanisms of healing from such loss, as much as they could indicate the hidden masquerade of intent and motives of a killer.

She knew at that moment that they'd found a genuine friend of their victim.

"How was his relationship with other employees here?" asked Tricia, referring to the victim.

"He got along well with just about everyone, but he was a special one that one. If he didn't like the way something was, he'd be more likely to say it than to sit on it. He was often a great diplomat, but there were those few times that he just fell short of sparing other people's feelings. And that sometimes got other people's goats in an uproar. I could go on about how many times he made us smile and laugh, but I don't think that would help you as much as when someone happened to step on his toes, or when he happened to step on theirs," Mr. Griffin explained.

Tricia knew better than to lead his ideas about what she might want to know, and rather focused on the matters at hand, and the specific questions that would help her and her partner to get a good picture of the social dynamics at play in the company workspace, and during their social time. She wasn't there to teach Mr. Griffin about how to be a better Investigator. She was there to work with him to extrapolate an encompassing empathy for the victim and his interplay among his fellow employees, so that she and her partner could make informed evaluations about which aspects of their investigation to focus.

"How did these situations affect his specific relationships with your employees?" asked Tricia.

"You mean with specific people in here?" confirmed Mr. Griffin.

"Yes. Exactly. Did he gravitate towards some, while staying away from others?" Tricia continued.

Something seemed to spark in Mr. Griffin's eyes as he considered a memory.

At that moment, Halmand had happened to stop writing, and saw his expression, recognizing it intuitively thanks to Tricia's questions.

"Maybe with Gracie?" asked Halmand.

"He often flirted with her, and I think that she really liked him, but there was something keeping them apart. The spark was there, but it never caught and became a flame between them..." Mr. Griffin recalled several times, mostly during work related social outings that the victim and Gracie would often spend time in playful banter.

"How about anyone else? Do you recall anything like that or on the opposite end of the spectrum with specific employees?" asked Tricia of Mr. Griffin, after which she glanced over to Halmand and winked at him (without Mr. Griffin observing) as a secret thank-you for speaking his question to Mr. Griffin.

"What about he and Stan Leeski?" suddenly asked Tricia, taking a bit of a gamble and watching Mr. Griffin's reaction carefully.

"They were competitive with each other, and professionally they certainly had a lot of respect for each other, but their relationship wasn't a bumpy one. It was more like two people whose chemistry was good enough that they could argue over semantics, and believe me, in engineering, most ideas communicated between engineers are composed entirely thereof, but they'd never hold a grudge against each other. Learn from one another, yes, but a grudge, no. Definitely, no," Mr. Griffin recalled.

"How about Frederick?" Tricia pushed a little further, and ever so slightly harder, careful not to broach his trust.

Again, both Tricia and Halmand caught a glimmer of something in his eye, as the man recalled a situation that seemed to stand out.

"Frederick and I... we go way back..." Mr. Griffin considered speaking about his business partner of more than forty years.

Almost as long as he'd been married, and when it came to business, having a business partner for that long was almost the same thing.

"Mr. Griffin, we're not trying to throw a wedge between you and any of your employees, but you have to consider that this is a serious matter. Someone has died, and we're here to find out what we can that might help us. We're going to start like this and I hope that given the rapport we've built so far, that you'll trust us enough not to use anything you tell us to drive a spike between you and your business partner. We're not here to undermine your business or your legacy. We're here to find out what happened in the last moments of life of a man you cared for enough to liken to your own son," Tricia reminded Mr. Griffin, relying both on her experience as an investigator, and her sense of empathy as a woman.

Mr. Griffin looked from left to right ever so slightly, and then back again. He then looked up and when he returned his gaze to theirs, he spoke once again.

"Business... especially the competive world of engineering and technology... it takes a special breed of people to succeed in this business, and that's exactly what it is. A business, but it has its roots in science. And so you tend to end up with a cast of unlikely characters when you start out. I don't know how Frederick and I hit it off as friends in the first place, but he was always the shark. He had a soft spot too, but I always knew better than to get my hand near his teeth, because if you did, he was sure as heck to take a bite, in a metaphorical sense," Mr. Griffin recalled about the early days with his best friend and business partner.

Mr. Griffin paused, and then continued.

"He's fiercely protective of his friends, once he knows you and better yet, likes you. So early on, we agreed that I'd be the soft guy with the slide-rule in his pocket. The nerd that everyone likes, and that he'd be the shark. The guy that often few people like, but the guy you need to have to protect a business. Especially like ours," Mr. Griffin explained to them.

Tricia nodded, without affirming yes or no, to let Mr. Griffin know that they were listening.

"Frederick kept a lot under his own lock and key. That was our deal. When it came to the science stuff, he always trusted me, though Frederick is an engineer too, and a damned good one, but he still always prefers to be the shark. Its just the way he is. Stubborn as can be, but the one you want on your side when all heck breaks loose," Mr. Griffin continued.

"What was the chemistry between the deceased and Frederick?" asked Tricia.

"It started out great, but as time went on, it got worse, until finally they came to an agreement not to deal with each other on certain issues. Frederick wouldn't back down, and most often neither would... our absent friend... and so they eventually just stayed clear of each other, only speaking about trivial matters, or issues that had already been resolved..." Mr. Griffin explained to them.

"As engineers, how often did the deceased and Frederick deal with each other, and outside parties with regard to your company projects?" asked Tricia, as Halmand busily wrote, struggling at times to keep up despite his great shorthand.

"As the shark, when it came to negotiations, Frederick was always our frontrunner, unless we wanted to show a soft side, then I'd take the stage. When it came to projects involving many engineering and architecture companies, and there are projects like that very frequently, because every engineering firm has its own specializations,  Frederick was often our frontline. He was hard to sway and looked after us. He's a great engineer, so he can deal with the best of them, and he knows our strengths almost as well as I do, so he knows our direction. Most outside deals with our company occurred through Frederick's capable negotiations, but him and I agreed that at some point, we wanted someone to do what he does, and with the same passion for our company as does he..." Mr. Griffin explained to them.

"And that person was..." Tricia began.

"One of our best engineers... The very person we lost..." Mr. Griffin spoke sadly.

"In terms of your most recent work, what project was the last one that your lost employee worked on?" asked Tricia.

"Our biggest to date. The Trifuse Fusion Reactor Project," Mr. Griffin responded, as there was a tap at the door.

"Enter please..." Mr. Griffin spoke with authority.

"Mr. Griffin, Mr. Archer is here for a meeting scheduled in another twenty minutes...?" Gracie peeked into the room, waving at Mr. Griffin before she spoke.

"Take him to the cafeteria and get him a coffee and anything else he'd like. Let him know that we'll start promptly at the prearranged time in my office..." Mr. Griffin smiled to Gracie, who batted her eyelashes at Halmand.

Halmand kept his eyes on his notes.

"Thank you very much for your time Mr. Griffin. You've been an immense help," Tricia wheeled her chair back as Halmand stood, bundling his notebook into the inner breast pocket of his suit jacket.

Mr. Griffin stood as did Tricia, and they each in turn shook hands.

"I'm glad to have spoken with you. Such a weight to have this on my shoulders and nobody with whom to speak. Therapeutic in a sense..." Mr. Griffin responded gratefully.

"I'm not surprised, we get that alot," Tricia smiled to him sincerely, though still maintaining  a professional distance.

Halmand smiled but didn't speak.

"We'll be in touch," Tricia said to him as he led them out of the boardroom and back to the reception area.

"If you have any more questions about our lost friend, please feel free to drop by any time," Mr. Griffin offered his soft, ever so slightly calloused hands one last time and they both took the time to shake before they left.

Gracie waved to them too, but she gave a little extra attention to Halmand, who played it safe and returned a disconcerted smile.

"Did you get the feeling that we really hit something when he was speaking about Frederick?" asked Halmand of Tricia.

"Yes, but it crescendoed when he mentioned Trifuse Fusion..." Tricia observed.

"Good. I don't feel so guilty about keeping this then..." Halmand handed Tricia the Engineering Today issue from which she'd read the information about Stan Leeski.

"So you're a shoplifter now?" asked Tricia of her partner.

"First and last time... Don't tell... please?" Halmand got in the passenger seat.


Daughter Or Dina

[Sons And Daughters - Chalk Circle]

Stanton pulled into the compact parking lot alongside Norman Jewison Park, just off of Isabella Street. He drove the length of the small parking space and by some miracle of early afternoon luck, he found a spot tucked away near the south end.

He quickly backed in, and about half-way into the spot, the truck switched over to the gasoline engine, causing Stanton to check his battery level.

"Damn. Forgot to plug it in again last night..." Stanton said as he pressed the accelerator, carefully finishing his parking job, shaking his head as he did.

He then shut the truck down, and grabbed the bouquet of flowers on the seat beside him, quickly filling in the card and then tucking it into a red envelope along with a pair of gift theatre tickets. He then placed the envelope in the bouquet amongst the mixture of orchids, carnations and hydrangea, whose natural colours paled that of the envelope by itself.

The walk to the restaurant was fairly short, and was along one of Toronto's busiest downtown streets, especially during the day. Yonge Street (the longest street in the world) pedestrians that day as any weekday, packed the afternoon sidewalks, mostly a mixture of daytime workers out for their lunch, and students between classes.

He crossed Yonge Street, westbound on Gloucester Street (on foot), and then picked up his pace as he spied his watch. He was already ten minutes late.

He walked along Irwin Street and then north onto St. Nicholas Street until he saw the tiny sign on the front door of the restaurant.

"A little more quaint than I thought it would be for a first meeting..." Stanton said aloud as he walked up to the front door and opened it, letting himself in.

After stepping through the narrow front hall foyer, he found a door that led directly to the dining area. It was compact and cosy, and yet somehow despite the small space the restaurant occupied, it was spacious.

"Dad!" Jennifer waved, standing for her father.

As she did, an awkwardly gentle man in his early thirties smiled cautiously, getting quickly to his feet as Jennifer rose to her's.

She opened her arms as he arrived, quickly handing off the flowers to the unnamed man, who accepted them.

"For me? Why thank you..." he smiled, laughing as he accepted them.

Stanton wrapped his arms around his daughter's back and she his. They held each other for a moment, as Jennifer's date stood awkwardly beside them trying not to appear imposing. Beside Stanton's burly and muscular frame, he appeared anything but.

"I'm sorry I'm late honey. You probably thought that your old man isn't going to show again..." he said to, speaking into her ear.

"Oh dad. I knew you'd come when you were ready... I just wish mom could be here with us too..." Jennifer sniffled, her tears already starting.

"Me too honey. Me too," Stanton said to her quietly enough so that nobody else could hear him speaking.

They parted from their hug, Jennifer stepping back to take a good look at her father.

"Looks like you're keeping busy... Good to see you're keeping that senior gut at bay..." Jennifer referred to his perfect frame.

"You too honey. Looks like you've been clocking the hours at the store... Are you still up on Warden and Eglinton?" Stanton asked her.

"Why don't we talk about this over lunch. I have someone I've been wanting you to meet for a very long time, dad. This is Anthony Thareau. We're living together..." Jennifer announced to her father.

Stanton seemed a bit caught off guard. He looked over to Anthony, who smiled uneasily, still holding the flowers. Stanton then looked back to Jennifer, looking her over up and down and then back to Anthony.

"So things are moving quickly I take it...?" Stanton seemed taken aback by her statement.

"Look! Why don't we just sit down, relax and have a talk..." Jennifer urged her father to be seated and then looked over to Anthony, who smiled back at her, nodding as if some invisible communication had gone on between the two of them.

"Are those...?" Jennifer asked from her seat, looking to the packaged bouquet still in Anthony's hand, and then back over to her dad questioningly.

"Yes... they're for you. You should open them. Oh, I almost forgot..." Stanton stood slightly leaning over from his chair, offering his hand to Anthony for a shake.

After Anthony had given the flowers over to Jennifer, he took Stanton's caloused, vein bulging muscular hand and gave his best shake.

Stanton didn't hold back, doing so purposely to let the man know that Jennifer was still his daughter.

"That's uhhhhh quite the grip you've got there. Jennifer tells me that you're a tradesman?" asked Anthony, as Jennifer removed the wrapping paper from the bouquet.

"Ooohhh! You shouldn't have!!!" Jennifer gasped at the colours of the bouqet, all three of her favourite flowers, for each flower represented one of the three members of their family.

The hydrangea represented her father. The carnations represented her deceased mother and the orchids represented her. She admired them for a moment and then carefully took the envelope from the amongst the flowers and opened it.

"Yes... I'm a trademan. I work for a living. So what is that you do, Anthony?" Stanton's eyes glared piercingly at Anthony, who despite being intimidated, managed an uneasy smile.

"Ohh, I'm sure that you do... work hard for a living. I can tell just by the way Jennifer is. She's a multitasker... great manager and a real go getter too. You must have really rubbed off onto her..." Anthony stepped carefully in conversation as he chose his words.

"Moulin Rouge?!!! You didn't?" Jennifer examined the tickets Stanton had inserted into the envelope, still bound together for Moulin Rouge at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

"You kept asking me about it... so I did something about it," Stanton said to his daughter, confidently.

"This is great! We were talking about this the other day... about how we'd love to go... Thank you! I'm sure we'll have a great time!" Anthony added, nuzzling over closer to Jennifer on the bench seating across from Stanton.

Stanton gave him a terrifying glare.

"...Of course unless you two were planning on going...? I'm very busy with work related projects so chances are I wouldn't be able to make time... Oh, look at this, they're for next week too. I'm already booked on a big project so why don't you two...go?" Anthony responded nervously, his voice gentle, soft and unimposing.

"I believe you were going to tell me what you do do for a living?" Stanton kept his gaze on Anthony.

"I'm a Live Built Architect..." Anthony smiled, thinking that Stanton would be impressed with the title.

He wasn't.

"What exactly does a Live Built Architect do, Anthony?" asked Stanton accusingly.

"Oh dad. Lay off, would you? He's a designer. He designs renovations and revitalized interiors, using living plants and trees as part of the structural make up. The building materials alone are incredible and its all biodegradable. Some of it is even living and integrated with the plumbing," Jennifer nudged over closer to Anthony, who blushed at the attention from her.

Stanton's glare hardened for a moment, his eyes really looking into Anthony, before a smile eventually crept onto his face.

"Living trees and stuff for walls and building interiors? That sounds pretty cutting edge to me. You work alot I take it?" asked Stanton of Anthony.

"Yes... but I make time for Jennifer. She's a priority for me. Our time together is important and we make the best of it," Anthony explained to Stanton, who nodded as he listened.

"I take it that she calls the shots?" asked Stanton.

"Yep. She's definitely your daughter. She takes care of everything at her work, and everything to keep our home running smoothly. She says and I do. I manage my own business affairs and finances, and we're currently building a joint savings for our future," Anthony admitted to him.

"What can I get for you? A tray of fried eggplant, chickpea and sesame pockets? Something to start you off from the bar?" asked the waiter as he handed Stanton the menu.

"Stanton accepted it and began perusing it carefully, a look of shock on his face as his journey through the menu progressed.

"Ohhhh... good taste. I'd have gone for the Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac myself..." the waiter remarked as he saw the Moulin Rouge tickets on the table after he'd handed menus to Jennifer and Anthony.

"Yeah, they were a good band in their time... So I'll just cut to the chase and order myself a sauteed Chicken Sandwich on a Kaiser, with some onions and black olives, thank you very much," Stanton said firmly, handing the menu back to the waiter.

"Uhhhh... dad? This place is a vegan bar..." Jennifer informed her father.

"Did you convert my daughter to vegan or something?" Stanton asked Anthony uneasily.

"Anthony is a strict vegan. He doesn't eat any meat, dairy products or eggs. I've been eating the same as him for the last three months and I'm loving it," Jennifer responded defensively of her man.

"So that means no chicken either?" Stanton looked to Anthony, and then back to the waiter.

"Nope," the waiter shook his head firmly at Stanton.

"I see. I'll have the... Kimchi Crackers and the Cheeseboard. I've gotta get my protein in there somehow," Stanton said firmly, yet somehow feeling very much in unfamiliar territory.

"Anything to drink?" asked the waiter.

"No thanks, I'm driving," Stanton responded.

"We'll have the Fritti Funghi and the Empanada, please with a side of flatbread, and I'll have the Violette Beauregard," Jennifer ordered for her and Anthony.

Stanton looked to the two of them, back and forth twice before Anthony spoke.

"I'm driving. She's done for the day today so she's going to have a few drinks to celebrate. We decided that after our lunch with you, that we'd go home and relax in the hot tub with a bottle and couple of masks," Anthony smiled, looking once more over to Jennifer.

"Well, I have to say that this is definitely not what I expected, but it sounds like you have your stuff together and a future, and as long as you do well by my daughter, I'm happy to have you as our friend. Of our tiny family," Stanton shook hands once again with Anthony, this time with a much more relaxed grip.

"So what are you celebrating?" asked Stanton, now curious about their day.

"We just got back from opening a brand new store location on Queen Street, just inside of the south end of the Eaton's Centre. That's where I'll be working as the new manager!" Jennifer announced to her father.

"I'm so proud of you honey, and if your mother were here too, I know she'd be as well," Stanton said to Jennifer as the first bit of food and her drink arrived.

"Did they give you an increase?" asked Stanton, waiting for his lunch guests to dip into their food before he tried some from the Fritti Funghi plate.

"They assured me that when I start, that I'll be a getting an increase. One percent over the regular yearly increase, but I haven't been given anything in writing yet that confirms that, but I trust them," Jennifer said confidently, taking a sip of her drink.

"You make sure that you do. Get that in writing I mean. You don't have to turn them into toads or anything, but at least make sure that if they're starting with a big investment like that to setup shop at one of the highest traffick areas in the downtown core, that you're getting your cut. With the kind of pedestrian traffic there is there, you're probably going to earn every cent of it. Don't let yourself get short changed," Stanton responded, taking a scoop of his Kimchi Crackers, and dunking it into the Miso.

At that moment, Stanton's phone began ringing. He pulled it from his pocket and answered.

"How are you today?" asked Dina in a friendly voice.

"Good. I'm just busy here having lunch..." Stanton told Dina, preferring to keep certain aspects of his life away from the woman on the other end of the phone.

"Oh... Uh. Did I interrupt, because if I did, then we can just meet another time and pay a visit to Entertrinsic together when its more convenient for you. I figured it would certainly save time if I had a qualified engineer with me when I visited them today," Dina said to him, laying the bait.

"You mean for the...?" Stanton began, preferring to keep the details from his daughter and Anthony.

"That same one. Their new fusion reactor, which is state of the art from what I've heard," Dina continued pushing the bait home.

"Where do you need me to be?" asked Stanton.

"Yonge Street, just north of Steeles Avenue, at the Entertrinsic Hangar. About an hour from now. I'll be waiting," Stanton could hear Dina's devious smile from the other end of the phone.

"Alright. If its an emergency, I'll be there soon," Stanton hung up the phone.

"Work...?" asked Jennifer of her dad.

"I'm sorry honey. My job is sometimes like that," Stanton ate a few more crackers with Kimchi and Miso, following it up with a slice of cheese.

"Its alright dad. I'm just glad that you made some time for me, and that you finally got to meet my other man," Jennifer leaned across the table, and gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek.

"The next time we do this, it'll be at my place, with a few more friends, a few more drinks, a real barbecue with real meat..." Stanton paused for effect before continuing.

"...and any vegan dishes you two want for the night," Stanton stood and got himself together.

"We'll be there dad!" Jennifer stood and wrapped her arms around him.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Anthony agreed standing beside them.

"I'll get mine. You two have fun tonight. Anthony, have a few drinks with her and take a cab home together. I'll call you soon and we'll have our barbecue party, justs like old times. Next weekend or the weekend after," Stanton turned to face Anthony, giving him a firm shake once again.

"Its nice to finally meet you. You treat her right, you hear?" Stanton glared briefly, and then finished with a sincere smile.

"Loud and clear," Anthony reponded confidently, no longer feeling the threat of protective scrutiny.

With that Stanton, left. He went to the cash and paid for the entire meal, leaving two hundred extra dollars for their tab. 

"Good food, but get some real meat..." Stanton said sarcastically as he passed their waiter, winking once to him on the way out the door.

"Thanks for coming. Oh and about the meat... Bite Me!" the waiter responded, getting a small applause from some of the restaurant patrons.

By that time Stanton was out the door and returning to his truck on Gloucester from where he began the drive to northern Toronto to meet with Dina at Enertrinsic International.


A Return And A Requiem

The Radiology department was currently alive with activity as the special care facility tended to one of their most prominent patients in some time, though their facility and role was for the care of all

However, due to mandate enacted as part of a program of counterinsurgency against a growing threat, the facility had been retasked, effectively dividing the hospital in two. One side were working with regular run of the mill patients, who'd arrive by the usual means. Either from the street or in an ambulance, from where they'd be cycled through the didactic process of diagnosis, prognosis and then treatment under the guidance of medical professionals.

Another wing of the hospital, that had been built as an extension, an extensive walkway connecting the two buildings, was entirely run for another secretive program. It was within these walls that a certain patient got up under his own power, and walked via his own locomotion (carefully) from the waiting room into the office of Doctor Singh-Charan, who currently was examining a series of x-ray images on a large screen LED monitor.

"Hey! Who said you could go through my family album without me?!" Gabe Asnon joked with the Doctor as he arrived to take a seat beside the man who'd treated him for his entire stay at the facility.

"They did, when they first arrived. They were in crying need of help back then, but they look much better now," Doctor Singh-Charan wheeled his chair over to take in the images on the far end of the monitor.

"Ahhhh, well that tibia relative of mine has always been a bit of a nuisance, confabulating situations way beyond their extremity... and that femur, don't get me started there Doctor..." Gabe started their meeting with his usual run of humour, something that had helped to speed his healing process along.

"Well they seem to be speaking a much different story today. No sudden pains as you walked here from the waiting room?" asked the Doctor, turning to face Gabe.

"Not so much as a peep," Gabe responded.

"How about any twitching of your legs as you slept?" the Doctor continued.

"Not a one, though I did watch some twitch... streams that is," Gabe responded with a smile.

"Any cramps?" Doctor Singh-Charan continued.

"Just from the food here, Doc. Just from the food..." Gabe replied.

"Then I'd have to say that I completely support your leaving our care and resuming your life," Doctor Singh-Charan showed Gabe an image of the signed documentation on his tablet.

"That's wonderful news Doc! So like... are you waiting for a hug or something? When do we get this started?" Gabe remarked sarcastically, sparking a bit of laughter from Doctor Singh-Charan.

"It has been a pleasure Mr. Asnon. In the future, I suggest that you stay away from any strange looking bombs, and that you refrain from crawling under tons of concrete wreckage in the interests of maintaining your good health and diet," the Doctor proved that he had a sense of humour too.

"Strange bombs...? Ha! That's funny. Good advice Doc. Good advice. I'll see you around," Gabe laughed uneasily as he stood.

"Not too soon I'm hoping. I don't think I could handle another complaint from the orderlies about your pranks. Have a good day Mr. Asnon," Doctor Singh-Charan walked Gabe to the door, opening it for him and allowing him to leave.

Gabe walked until he found his way out of Radiology, where his security detachment met him and guided him to the parking facility. From there,  they got into the limousine that had been waiting for him and began their drive to downtown Toronto.

...

Inside of a boardroom, a group of business professionals, some younger, some older, some leaning forward in their chairs while others leaned back, debated the claims of legitimacy of those who sought leadership of their company.

A company who had tragically lost their CEO to a terrorist bombing that had targeted the special projects division of one of the largest tech corporations in the world. A company that had since the tragedy, been under attack from many different angles and most of all, from a secretive enemy whose motivations had remained hidden under the radar for years. An enemy that in recent years had emerged from their hiding, in a bid to overtake the entire world. An goal whose realization was growing closer and closer with every passing day.

Many large companies, especially those in the tech sector had experienced the onslaught of this hidden enemy. There had been numerous transitions for such companies, as their employee base were weeded out one by one, strategically by the enemy, until most companies had become divided in a civil war. The original employees were now competing against an organized onslaught that systematically removed the old employees to replace them with those who were allied with this hidden enemy, whose creed was that of divide and conquer.

Many CEOs of smaller companies had fallen, most of them replaced by members of the enemy's own eidos.  And yet, the largest of companies and their respective CEOs held on to the reigns, as they struggled regain control of a ship whose crew was changing beneath their feet.

Many such business leaders quickly realized that they were no longer running companies of free employees unified by a common goal and purpose. By cooperation and prosperity and the ambition of a future their children would be safe from the threats that the coming generations would be sure to face.

They were now running companies as the troops of war fought a battle beneath their very feet. In the IT rooms, offices and boardrooms of their towering skyscrapers and online in the battlefield of social media and news. This was a war that was being fought everywhere, and yet nowhere, for it was a war without a name and their enemy was a clever one indeed.

It had divided them along all lines of weakness that people could be as such. Any divisions along which one people could be divided from another, the lines of this war eventually found. Those embattled would grow to distrust the other side, while the enemy used either side to further its own ends. Not towards the ends of competition, but rather to clear the battlefield of combatants, and then to move in a easily take what was left and mostly undefended. This was a battlefield that had not started with a single shot, as so many other wars had. 

It had started entirely with nothing more than concepts, which had then become ideology and then expanded from there to become methods of action, and then finally a full fledged strategic take-over of the entire world, seemingly from anywhere and everywhere.

By the time it had arrived at the front doors of MindSpice, it was already too late.

The bomb, which had utilized a transformer station as both a detonator and the device had quickly leveled the special projects building of MindSpice, even killing its CEO and founder: Gabriel Asnon

Or so the new and media were told. Only a small handful of people knew the truth, and that was that Gabe Asnon had lived, just barely, thanks to the quick action and response of the Butterfly Dragon, Night Style, Eclipse, Kyra and Dragon Butterfly and of course the emergency crews that had arrived on the scene a short time later to assist the women in rescuing the survivors.

A couple of months later, after the dust had barely settled and the world had almost forgotten about one of its many prolific and charismatic leaders, the board had finally settled in to make the biggest decision of their lives.

And yet amongst them, some (not all) of the faces that had joined the upper ranks of one of the largest companies in the world, represented their secret enemy. Each of them trying to ensure that they were not detected and that their chosen one took the reigns of power in MindSpice. 

Assuming such a success occurred, Artifex Oculo Mentis (now a collective more so than an individual) would have control of one of, if not the largest tech company in the world. The remainder of the board, all those who were not of Artifex Oculo Mentis would be indoctrinated or ejected, as would every single employee throughout the company, but that was not the greatest risk of all, for it was exceedingly small when compared to Mentis' actual goal.

"I think that the board should know that I spoke with Helmut Werner on this very matter. That transitioning the leadership of a billion - if not trillion dollar company, carries with it repercussions that go well beyond its own borders..." Mr. Tinders explained to the board members before he was interrupted.

"...Rory for crying out loud! He's not even one of us and you're taking our decision to an old man for advice?" Crenler interjected, clearly already frustrated and trying to exploit the division between them to push his own team ahead.

"...I'm for hearing out Mr. Tinders..." Sally Davis, an older woman herself backed up Mr. Tinders.

"...Me too. I'd like to hear what Mr. Tinders and Mr. Werner have to say on the matter," Jill Bishop added, herself a much younger woman, and perhaps one of the youngest on the board.

Two of the other women raised their hands in support of Mr. Tinders, and Crenler backed down.

"Fine..." Crenler held his hands up, clearly withdrawing.

"The board recognizes Mr. Tinders. Please do continue," the temporary Chair addressed Mr. Tinders.

"Thank you Mrs. Chairman. As you know, between Future Tangent Industries and MindSpice Global, any speculation that arises over this change of leadership is going to have repercussions for the entire world market, and that will be occurring while we're in the middle of a leadership crisis. If the markets bail on us, we stand to lose a lot as a result. Werner projected in the neighbourhood of thirty to forty billion dollars in company value overnight. Now I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend the next ten years signing layoff packages for three million employees while our company liquidates our holdings to shore up the losses. Every signature on one of those damned forms is another piece of my soul gone!" Mr. Tinders kept his gaze firm, shifting it to each member.

"Werner was the first one to bring this up, and that was long before the news got a hold of the story and ran with it. He told me that Walton Norler was intrigued by the idea of running MindSpice..." Mr. Tinders paused as there was a knock on the door.

"This is a closed meeting. Return at 4PM if you need to speak with one of us..." Crenler responded professionally.

The door then suddenly opened, and two large security operators dressed in thousand dollar suits stepped into the boardroom.

"What is the interruption here!" Crenler stood to confront the security operators.

"I'm sorry, I don't remember you... But I do remember Tinders... How are you buddy?!!!" Gabe Asnon walked into the boardroom carefully as the security operators cleared a path for him.

"That's an actor! A look alike! Somebody call security!" Crenler went for his phone and dialled the security department.

"Hi, its Crenler here in corporate. Get me Lamdin quickly!" Crenler asked for his security contact, a man who was operating on behalf of Mentis.

"I'm sorry but Lamdin no longer works with us..." the operator replied.

"Who am I speaking with!??? I need a security team up on corporate headquarters here on the fortieth floor... We've got a Gabe Asnon impostor here trespassing on the premises!" Crenler became frantic.

"That's not an impostor Sir. That's the real deal," the operator reported to Crenler.

"Good to see you Sally... Gillian... Corthers..." one of the security operators pulled up a chair for Gabe at the head of the table.

"The Chair recognizes Gabriel Asnon, Chief Executive Officer of MindSpice Global," the Chairman addressed the boardroom.

"Thank you Mrs. Chairman. I'm a bit tired right now, as its been a long day and I didn't get much sleep last night but I'm healthy and of sound mind. The Doctors and the insurance companies have signed off on this already, so no need to get lawyers involved. Obviously as most of you already know, we need to take some decisive steps to get this company back on track in the aftermath of the tragedy that took the lives of two of our finest software engineers. First of all, I'm going to state that we are in the midst of a security crisis that has been effective since the bombing. Therefore the current state of operation of our company is effective immediately and retroactively. As a result, I'm going to have to ask all board members appointed after the bombing to immediately leave this meeting, and to resume your normal day's work from your desks until you are contacted and we can determine your future here at the company," Gabe started shoring up the holes in his company.

There was a moment as some of the newer board members looked to one another, a look of dread on their faces. A quiet message was exchanged between them and their eyes alone as they each got up and left the boardroom. As they stepped into the halls, they passed another group of security operators who each escorted them back to their desks.

"Now that we have a bit of privacy. We can deal with the current crisis. I want a press release sent out immediately, letting the public know that the company is effectively resuming its original leadership, at the hands of the original board members prior to the bombing. That I have returned and am undertaking extensive measures to get us back on course. We will be conducting a thorough security audit throughout the entire company and that this process will cost us a bit of our former marketshare, but that in the long run, doing so will solidify a positive yield of growth for the future and our expanding special projects division, isn't that right MAZ?" asked Gabe aloud.

"Yes Gabe. That's correct. According to your earlier assertion and my projections, the security audit will effectively help to re-establish employee confidence and assuredness while helping us to fix the leaks that have been plaguing us since the tragic bombing," MAZ explained to the board members through the boardroom speakers.

"Now, one final thing that we need to address, and that is... how much did these new board members ask you about special projects and what kind of access privileges were they given?" Gabe looked to his remaining board members and they each began to recall what had happened in the aftermath of the MindSpice Special Projects Facility bombing.

...

In the front foyer of one of the largest and most advanced business tower complexes in downtown Toronto, a huge group of videographers and journalists stood preparing for the impromptu press conference that had been called by the board of MindSpice Global.

Rumours had quickly leaked and made their way throughout the news as the press closed in on the lobby of Commerce Court. Many had already started their broadcasts, playing stories related to MindSpice and the bombing months earlier that had killed Gabe Asnon, CEO and two of their software engineers, whose names were kept in order to protect their families.

The commotion suddenly died down as MindSpice's own press representative approached the podium.

"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the press, and to all the fine Police Officers and Security Personnel here with us today. I'd like to start this conference by thanking you all for coming on such short notice. In a moment or two, you'll completely understand why it was entirely worth your time..." their press representative began, backing away from the microphone momentarily.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this press conference will be divided into three parts. This short introduction which will be followed by our main attraction, and finally with our questions and answers period. We ask that the noise between questions is minimal so as to give every member of the press equal opportunity to record this event and cover the story. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Gabe Asnon... Survivor of the MindSpice bombing..." the applause started quickly and became overwhelming as Gabe stepped out in front of the podium.

He waited for two minutes until the applause and camera flashes died down.

"It has been a long road to recovery for me. From that fateful night when some first responders and several women whom you know as Butterfly Dragon, Night Style, Eclipse, Kyra and Dragon Butterfly removed the tons of building wreckage that had trapped me, and safely extracted me to the emergency room of nearby Scarborough General Hospital. It was Dragon Butterfly who got me safely to the Hospital if I recall the story from one of the orderlies correctly. Apparently I died several times on the gurney, but the medics managed to revive me every time. When I made it to the hospital, I was unconscious again and when I woke up twenty seven hours later, I was wrapped from head to toe and in traction. I was on a respirator and dialysis, and could not move or speak. Over the course of two months, I was treated and watched carefully by a team of specialists, who if not for them, I would not be standing here today," Gabe spoke solemnly and yet confidently as the applause rose for those who'd rescued him and many others from the depths of darkness in the aftermath of the bombing.

Gabe waited for another thirty seconds until the applause died down before continuing.

"After conferring with our security specialists a week ago, it was agreed given the state of the company that I should be released from victim protection and resume my duties and responsibilities as CEO of MindSpice. That my return would be kept secret until the last possible moment so that Federal Investigators from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could capitalize on the information they'd gain by my sudden appearance. They essentially had a week to setup for that moment, a team of over two hundred network specialists had setup monitoring features in our headquarters for the very moment I walked into the building. I learned moments before this press conference that they accumulated a mountain of data through which they'll be going over with a fine tooth comb. I can't say any more than that on the subject,"  Gabe paused, allowing himself to breath unfettered so as not to hyperventilate.

"My arrival began with laying down a number of measures and priorities for our board members and the rest of the MindSpice team that will solidify our growth potential. The ambitions that we've been unable to achieve due to quirks in the machine so to speak. We will be taking major steps forward in rebuilding the Special Projects Facility, in the same location it was before the bombing. As most of you already know, the actual storage and computing hardware is in offshore facilities at secret locations, hence, the main session containing MAZ's Microlinguistic Accumulating Differentiation Engine based memory architecture and Classical/Quantum Processor Octree* has been preserved. Over the course of my recovery, I was greatly helped by MAZ's friendship. I think that sums up everything I have to say. We have ten minutes for questions and answers..." Gabe started the circus rolling and was not disappointed by the show of hands for the first question.

...

An hour later, on many televisions around the world, the broadcasts had begun as news agencies all over released the news stories detailing Gabe Asnon's miraculous recovery in the aftermath of the MindSpice bombing.


"...let me say that we'll be working with many environmental agencies to guarantee progress in that arena and to ensure that their cry for help is heard. They are not the radicals associated with the bombing, and we support their cause whole-heartedly. Furthermore, our work in the field of AI will also be made available to such agencies for use in their evaluations, case studies and projections, alerting us early in the event of crises affecting the various biomes of our planet. We will not withdraw any of our Special Projects Division technologies from active development and will proceed accordingly, ever mindful and vigilant of our hidden enemies," Gabe Asnon's final words of the press conference echoed throughout the televisions of the world, as they watched one of the many leaders of technology and industry pave a safe way into a potentially perilous future.


At Enertrinsic

Stanton pulled up into the parking facility outside of one of the largest manufacturing facilities he'd ever seen. He got out of his truck and looked on at the hangar in awe of it.

The Enertrinsic manufacturing and testing hangar had been built onsite and was one of the largest such facilities in the world, rivaled only by those operated by NASA, ROSCOSMOS and CNSA. Having clearance from Enertrinsic International to observe the facilities was a big privilege and one that he did not want to miss.

He began the walk to the local shuttle stop (the Enertrinsic facility had its own micro transit system). The buggy arrived shortly thereafter, resembling a luggage cart from the airport, albeit with twelve seats facing outward from its chassis. A human driver sat at the wheel at the front of the electric vehicle. Stanton took a seat near the front, just behind the driver.

"I thought these things would be driven by computer by now..." Stanton remarked to the driver.

"So did we. They're usually run by AI. This one has a connection problem, so in this case, the AI was replaced by a human driver but only for the day. However, I still get paid the same whether I'm driving or not, so its hard to tell if I actually won or lost..." the driver joked, causing Stanton to chuckle over the irony.

The shuttle trip took about five minutes before they arrived at a central hub just outside of the tremendous hangar. There, Stanton saw Dina waiting for him in a nicely fitting purple summer dress.

"Hope you didn't have to wait too long?" Stanton asked her.

"No. Not at all. I just got here on one of the other shuttles. Its a big place, isn't it?" Dina marveled at the hangar, still two football fields away from them.

"You're looking good for a day like today. So are you going to tell me how you finagled this?" asked Stanton as they walked towards the bay of one of the other shuttle lines.

"How its usually done. My boss called theirs, and the rest is history as they say..." Dina smiled.

"Thank your boss for me. I've been looking for a way to get a look at Enertrinsic's stuff for quite some time," Stanton responded gratefully.

"...and mine no doubt... I saw the way you looked at me when you got here..." Dina remarked, trying to get at the details he was keeping hidden.

"Well isn't this a surprise?" they both heard a familiar voice from behind them.

They turned around and to their surprise, there standing before them was Linda Delmore.

Linda was looking squarely at Dina, who momentarily smirked in response, neither Linda nor Stanton catching it.

"Its been a while," Dina responded to Linda's approach.

"That it has. I see you brought along protection?" Linda asked, referring to Stanton, who remained unassuming.

"How'd you fare at the wedding reception? Did you manage to find your date?" asked Stanton, referring to her target.

"Funny you should ask... No. Apparently he left early with someone else," Linda responded, ever so slightly glaring at Stanton.

"He must have been tired then, couldn't keep up with you I take it. I bet somebody got him home safely and tucked him in for the night," Stanton smiled knowingly.

"I bet. So what brings the two of you to Enertrinsic?" asked Linda, now a little less receptive than she initially was, which is exactly how Stanton wanted it. 

This was due to the complexity of three-way social dynamics. Especially when all three had secrets they preferred to keep. All three of them knew that it was better to keep each other at an arm's length, and yet sometimes the dynamics of attraction would win. It was just a question of who was using those dynamics to their advantage and whether they were willing to share or not.

"The tour. We're on the guest list," Dina spoke confidently, knowing that their invitation came directly from the CEO of the company.

"I must be on the same list then. I suppose it makes sense for us to get comfy together as we're obviously on the same tour," Linda approached the bay as the shuttle (driverless) arrived.

"But without the front door treatment..." Stanton observed correctly, cooling the situation down substantially.

It was obvious that they had access, but they were far from being given VIP treatment, for they were using the same shuttle system that the employees used and that would eventually handle the public tours of the facility on the weekends. There was no proverbial or metaphorical kissing of one's posterior going on here. They were clearly being treated not as dignitaries, but as clerical representatives of their respective bureaucracies. Perhaps better for their cover.

They boarded the shuttle, the only passengers onboard. Thirty seconds later, the shuttle beeped three times and then exclaimed: Departing for - FRONT FOYER. Please keep your hands and feet in at all times.

"Maybe we're getting the front door treatment after all?" Linda responded to Stanton's earlier statement, now endearing herself to Dina.

With those words, the shuttle sped off on its six battery powered wheels and there was little conversation between the three of them, though Dina and Linda managed a friendly conversation for the entire trip. 

Stanton did his best to look around with a boyish innocence, as if in awe, but really he was piecing a mystery together in his head. Why had two of the world's Nuclear armed powers sent operatives to the same location at the same time, for a tour of Enertrinsic? Why had Dina arrived to meet Stanton in his own cover workplace of the Nuclear Power Plant and shortly after a hybrid fusion upgrade had been installed?  What was Dina's interest in Deuterium, the heavy water hydrogen isotope? Most of all, in the midst of this situation, why had he not been contacted and briefed by JSOC?


Definitely Needs Alibi

Tricia and Halmand's car pulled up out front of a small unassuming semi-attached home in an older community near the downtown core of the city. The street itself which ran north off of Queen Street East and extended down as far as King Street, was tightly packed with post-war homes, many of which had seen numerous upgrades and renovations over the years.

Having found suitable parking, they got out of their car and walked up the front steps to the front door.

"Generally a quiet community. Usually tight nit neighbours in these ones," Halmand remarked, having spent much time of his post-teen years not from from the community.

"Care to do the honours?" asked Tricia, playing discrete.

Halmand pressed the doorbell, and they immediately heard a small dog barking from behind the door.

Halmand smiled, and opened his jacket, exposing a cannister of pepper spray. He then made a comicly mean looking face, as if his intention were to spray the little dog with the pepper spray.

Tricia quickly smirked at him and gestured for him to close his jacket as a woman in her mid thirties opened the door. Halmand quickly recomposed himself, obviously of no ill intent towards the woman or the dog.

"You must be here about...?" she began, bags under her eyes, as if she'd recently been crying.

"Yes. We're here about the deceased. This is Inspector Halmand and I'm Inspector Camden of the RCMP. Would it be alright if we spoke for a moment about the deceased?" asked Tricia of the woman.

"Are you alergic to dogs? She doesn't bite, but she barks up a pretty mean appearance," the woman said to them, brushing her long brown hair away from her face.

"We should be fine. You're Delila right?" asked Tricia of the woman.

"Yes. Delila Hohner, I go by my maiden name now," she picked up the dog and kissed it on the head, then opening the door for the Inspectors to let them in.

Delila took the dog and closed it in a bathroom, where it continued to bark for another minute until it had tired itself out and lay down on the floor. By that point, Delila and both Inspectors were already seated in the living room. Delila on her favourite overstuffed chair, and the Inpectors on the sofa.

Halmand had his notes with him and was already starting to write before they began.

"I understand that you and the deceased were married at one time?" Tricia asked the first question, suddenly recalling her conversation with Ron Forseth's wife almost a year ago for some reason.

"Yes. We divorced two years ago though. Actually that's when the paperwork was finally approved and the Justice stamped and double-stamped it as they say," Delila explained to Tricia, who realized that Delila was likely experiencing stress induced depression as a result of the deceased's passing.

"Were there any difficulties between you?" asked Tricia, being purposely vague.

"Of what kind?" asked Delila, obviously wanting her to narrow her question down.

"Did you argue... were there ever heated discussions between you...?" Tricia asked her calmly.

"No... he was a perfect gentleman... that spent most of his time ignoring me. Spent most of his time at the office," Delila explained to Tricia as Halmand took notes.

"So it would be alright to say that you had a peaceful coexistence?" Tricia repeated her questioning along the same line of inquiry.

"Yes... but towards the end... we began to argue. Our differences had by that point become obvious enough that they came to the surface. There was never any violence though, and at that point I already had another lover, and I suspect that he did too. It wasn't too long after that I packed my things and left and never returned," Delila leaned forward in her chair.

"Did you ever discuss anything related to the deceased with your new lover?" asked Tricia.

"One of the reasons that I found him so attractive was because he paid attention to me. I was always on his mind in some way. He'd call me from work, he'd spend time with me at home. We'd go out and do stuff together like everyone else. I felt like I meant something to him. To my husband, I was just another piece of furniture..." Delila folded her hands and looked down.

Tricia waited, hearing Delila's sniffles start.

"He never asked me about my husband and we never talked about him. For me, it was a total escape to heaven... despite the fact that it felt wrong... but what could be so wrong about being happy with someone?" Delila's tears fell silently for a moment, and then she began to cry.

"Did your arguments, even once, escalate to the point of violence or near violence?" Tricia asked the question she had to ask.

"Have you ever been married?" asked Delila of Tricia.

"Delila. We're here to talk about your relationship with the deceased, and so I ask you again, did your arguments even once escalate to the point of violence?" Tricia repeated the question, knowing she had to establish as to whether the signs of guilt Delila was exhibiting were related to her sense of betrayal with regard to her lover, or a sense of wrong doing in terms of violence.

It was a difficult line to tread, and an even more difficult experience for someone who'd been close with a victim of murder to distinguish their outstanding issues of conscience from those associated with the crime itself. However, Tricia and Halmand were there to determine a path through the maze of evidence. Questioning those associated with the victim was an important part of defining the walls and the path of that maze. It sometimes required them to be firm in circumstances where compassion might have been better called for.

"We yelled at each other once... had a yelling match. He had gotten home late and I'd just gotten back from a night out with my lover. I was drunk. He was sober. And our tempers flared. We yelled at one another for about three minutes and then never spoke to each other in person again. The last words I had with him were: I'm leaving. It's in the lawyer's hands now. His to me were: Fine. Try to come back and pickup your stuff while I'm at work, because I don't want to see you anymore," Delila's tears flowed heavily as she recalled that night, while Tricia felt that she'd peered beyond the obstruction in Delila's psyche to see what it was on the other side.

Tricia's phone began ringing, prompting them both to stand.

"Tricia speaking," the Inpector answered the phone.

"Good day Inspector, James here. We've got some news for you. Are you good to speak for a moment?" asked James.

"Sure," Tricia held her hand over her phone.

"Delila, we're done here. Thank you for your time and we'll be in touch. Please feel free to call us if you recall any details or anything that stands out to you that you feel might assist us in our investigation," Tricia told Delila.

"Please, let yourselves out. And for the sake of my sanity please don't come back..." Delila requested of them.

"Thank you for your time," Tricia said and quickly made her way to the front door and onto the front veranda.

Behind her, Halmand had closed the door and was following her down to the car.

"So what have got for me James," Tricia said aloud as they got into the car.

"I've got some fingerprints and some genetic evidence, but you're not going to like this..." James told Tricia.

"Don't play coy James. I'm an adult here. I can take it," Tricia asserted her seniority to James.

"We've got prints and other evidence indicating to us that after a search through the local RCMP databases, they came up negative. However, we immediately opted for a search on Interpol's dataset and came up with two matches, but its complicated. You see, one of the files is locked, requiring a level 1 access which is the highest. The second belongs to an American. A woman listed as having taken part in numerous insurgent actions as a mercenary during the later half of the 1990s. She's listed as being wanted in three countries, all three however lack extradition treaties with Canada," James explained to Tricia.

"Enough with the drama. Send both file numbers to our car's terminal. I'll take it from there..." Tricia had barely finished when James continued.

"Well you're definitely going to be speaking with the state department because both of these targets are international and both are women," James stated as Tricia waited for the file numbers to arrive in their car's mail queue.

"Policy is that we call the state department after we've apprehended the suspects, not before, but thank you for the advice. You're a great Forensic Scientist, but a lousy Inspector. Call us if anything new comes up," Tricia hung up the phone and immediately tended to the file numbers in the mail queue.

"What'd they find?" asked Halmand.

"A rabbit hole, from the sounds of it," Tricia quickly entered her clearance code with the car's built-in keyboard.

"We're looking up a level 1?" Halmand confirmed.

"I can't believe this. We dropped her off at that reception party a few weeks ago!" Tricia remarked as they eyed Linda's face on the computer screen.

"Linda's fingerprints?" confirmed Halmand.

"Not just her's but her's as well..." Tricia turned the screen to better face Halmand.

"Linda Delmore and Dina Shalhevet are our suspects? They're both internationals, not to mention one of them works for the company... that company," Halmand explained.

"Murder case on our soil and we've got a job to do. Call intelligence and get a current twenty on our suspects, assuming they're traveling with their own passports," Tricia ordered Halmand, who immediately called the National Intelligence Unit to gather the information Tricia had requested.

"One thing's for sure. They got DNA evidence. You know what that means?" Tricia added, to underline the severity of the situation.

"Deoxyribonucleic acid, or so I thought?" asked Halmand, looking to Tricia inquisitively.

"Not quite. It means: Definitely Needs Alibi, and they're definitely going to need an alibi..." Tricia responded as they put the car in gear in the direction of the nearest highway.


Con Fusion

Dina and Linda stepped first through the automatic front lobby doors and through into the foyer, Stanton not far behind them.

The lobby itself was part of the office complex and had been built into a self contained building within the hangar, complete with its own heating, cooling, ventilation and sprinkler system. It was intended as the administration center for the facility and as a public relations tarting point from which Enertrinsic could greet its guests

They arrived at the front reception and were directed to the Corporate Tours Group, which was basically the high level sales aparatus for the Trifuse Fusion Reactor System. They offered two tours: the first one was a virtual tour of the facility, accomplished through the technologies of Virtual and Augmented Reality, either one would suffice though the tour experience itself for each was vastly different. Enertrinsic's customer base was almost entirely composed of the Governments of countries throughout the world, big and small and every economic size between. 

Those customers of course had their own engineering expertise and as such, had the resources for technologies like advanced industrial and military grade VR and AR, all of which was connected to the wide area network of the internet by one means or another. Most companies offering modern industrialization technology products to the rest of the globe had setup their own similar tours of their product base, so VR and AR was not out of the ordinary, especially when one was considering spending billions of dollars on reactor complexes that would provide clean power to their entire population.

What Enertrinsic and many other similar industrialization firms had found, was that VR and AR was frequently used as a first step in evaluating large scale industrialization and architectual technology. Applicability and feasibility had to be evaluated, and those tour technologies provided a robust means as a low cost first step, when compared to the cost of transporting an entire team of consultants to the company site to evaluate the applicability of the technology for their specific purposes. A lot of time and research goes into an expenditure of billions.

Their VR and AR tours were often used every single day by the various Governments from around the world, and even prevented Governments whose standing treaties or lack thereof prevented the sale or use of Enertrinsic industrial scale technology by way of advanced region locking, which could even detect the use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) or IP Address spoofing to obscure a connection's  real point of presence.

Another positive side effect of the VR/AR tours was that they had easily adapted the tours to allow schools (from the approved regions) to use scaled down versions of the industrial tour as a source of eduation, and this was scaled by grade for students starting from a grade three level and up. This of course had endeared them to those who participated in the in-person corporate tours, many of whom had their own children, and this would compound the likelihood of a purchase. Marketing was a vast area of means by which a company could attract customers, but public relations that endeared the company to the customer was the most effective of all. However, it also entailed the greatest corporate responsibility to those it had endeared, which was something that Walton Norler had founded in stone with his Mandate Of Corporate Responsibility at Tynan And Associates during his tenure as CEO, but that's another story.

Enertrinsic's tour groups were the front door to their sales and as Dina, Linda and Stanton approached the Corporate Tours meet and greet, it became clear that they entirely understood that formula.

An attractive lady in her late thirties in business attire approached the trio with an ear to ear smile.

"Good afternoon! You're here for the corporate tour I take it?" she asked them.

"That we are... Nancy," Linda responded, reading Nancy's name tag shortly before arriving at the need for it.

"If you could just tell me your names, I'll give you your ID and security tag. Just a reminder that you don't want to lose these, unless you enjoy being chased by robot security dogs with tazers for eyes," Nancy somehow managed to make the notion sound somehow pleasant.

"I think I'll pass on the tazer armed security robot dogs. I'm Linda Delmore plus one guest consultant," Linda provided her name and introduced Stanton as her consultant, which drew a possessive smirk from Dina.

"Here you go Linda. I'd suggest that you put this on right away and make sure that it's securely fastened to your blouse. Woof woof!" Nancy handed Linda her security tag, emulating the sound of a robot dog  at the end of her sentence.

Linda was not amused, but it did draw a smile from Dina.

"I'm Dina Shalhevet, plus one guest consultant..." Dina took possession of Stanton, Linda already figuring out how she could secretly remove Dina's security tag without her knowing.

"Here you go Dina. Don't lose it unless..." Nancy began before Dina cut her off.

"...I won't! Trust me!" Dina said quickly.

"And you my burly friend are?" asked Nancy of Stanton, drawing the attention of both Dina and Linda.

"Alex. Alex Burman, plus two guest consultants whom you've already met," Stanton responded, giving an unused name from his list of official aliases.

"Here you go Alex. Keep this on or..." she began.

"I don't suppose an stainless steel bone would throw them off our scent?" he came back before she could finish.

"That's a good question. I'll have to ask the engineers the answer to that one," Nancy joked as Dina and Linda recovered.

With their ID tags now firmly on their tops, the three of them joined the rest of the corporate tour group. 

There were several others, most of them in full business attire themselves and from a variety of different places around the world. There were another trio, all from Southeast Asia, one woman and two men whose language Linda recognized as Japanese, from the Tokyo prefecture. There was a Sheik, who spoke Arabic with his two consultants, one of whom was definitely acting as personal security. Dina knew their dialect to originate from United Arab Emirates. There was another well dressed man in business attire, with a younger female assistant, both of whom Stanton recognized as speaking German, but definitely with a Swiss dialect, likely from the Frauenfeld region just outside of Zürich. Between the three of them, Dina, Linda and Stanton, they were able to quickly find their place in the meet and greet area before the corporate tour began.

Dina and Linda, both being a social butterflies quickly made the rounds, introducing themselves to the other parties as Stanton followed, staying somewhat in the background and letting them do their thing. They were as much diplomats as they were operatives, and quickly took up the responsibility of being as such. 

Meanwhile, the personal security of the Sheik had made his way inconspicuously over to stand near Stanton. The Sheik's security was much larger than Stanton, who knew much of their security paradigm to be based upon ideas that promoted a show of force rather than discretion.

[We're being watched. Closely.]
"Nahn nuraqibu. Bieinayatin," the personal security specialist spoke quietly to Stanton, trying not to draw any attention.

Stanton had a bit of familiarity with the Arabic language, enough so to understand what the man had said to him.

"I hadn't noticed," Stanton responded.

"There, you see? Those three cameras are all on an automated sweep. Left to right like a pendulum. However, those two are manually following us..." he replied to Stanton, who interjected quietly.

"...or they're digitally targeted to one of us. A specific person through a visual biometric signature," Stanton surmised.

"Maybe. If you notice anything of the like, I share with you. Could you please share?" the personal security asked him.

"That you did. Fair enough. I'll do what I can," Stanton responded honestly and ambiguously enough so as to give himself leeway and a choice to do the right thing in the right situation.

In some cases, working as an operative was as simple as the dynamics of a fair trade, though sometimes a gift could be an intentional debt more than it was a favour. Stanton would have to play secret diplomat with this man to know for sure.

"You can call me Asad," the personal security specialist introduced himself.

"Alex will work with me," Stanton replied.

Asad slowly made his way back to the Sheik's side, while Stanton checked the rest of the area for any other unusual activity. That's when he noticed that one of the robot security dogs that Nancy had referred to was trained in the direction of Dina and Linda.

Stanton walked calmly to a point where he interposed himself between the robot dog's camera, and Dina and Linda. The robot dog did nothing for a moment, but then suddenly came to life, quickly side stepping several feet to keep its quarry in view.

Stanton began whistling a cheerful tune and quite skillfully, getting Asad's attention. When he was certain that Asad was looking his way, he gestured in the direction of the robot dog. Asad nodded once to Stanton, and then gestured himself to another one of the robot dogs, who was similarly fixed on them.

Stanton immediately walked over to Dina first, waiting for a suitable opening to address her.

"Dina, sorry to interrupt. We need to speak. Now," Stanton urged her, then stepping over to Linda.

[Have you been to Tokyo prefecture?]
"Tōkyōto ni itta koto ga arimasu ka?" asked one of the Japanese representatives from Tokyo of Linda.

[Not quite that far east yet. I have been to Hanoi however. I'd love to see Tokyo in person, especially in the spring.]
"Mada soko made azuma ni wa itte imasen. Demo Hanoi ni wa okonatta koto ga arimasu. Tokuni haru ni Tōkyō o jissai ni mite mitaidesu." Linda responded, speaking Japanese surprisingly well for someone who'd never been.

[I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have need of my friend Linda, please.]
"Jama shite mōshiwakenai nodesuga, yūjin no Rinda ga hitsuyōna ndesu." Stanton interrupted.

The Japanese representatives smiled, bowing in response and very joyed by Linda's and Stanton's diplomatic accuity.

When Dina and Linda were a distance away, Stanton explained the situation to them.

"We're being watched very closely. It turns out that Nancy was trying to secretly tell us something. Asad too, the Sheik's security specialist. He was kind enough to point out the cameras, two of them are algorithmically fixated on you two. I then noticed that two of the robot dogs are also trained on you," Stanton told them, careful to keep his mouth out of the view of any of the cameras.

"That's strange... Why would we be the center of attention when as far as they're concerned we're here to evaluate buying a Fusion reactor for our respective countries?" asked Linda of the two of them.

"This is definitely a security concern and one our consultant is more likely qualified to deal with," Dina suggested.

"I'm letting the two of you know that something is amiss, unless there's something that you two aren't telling me," Stanton tried the direct approach.

"There's nothing to tell except that we're obviously being stalked by strange robot security dogs..." Dina looked to Linda, who then both looked back to Stanton.

Stanton however wasn't satisfied and something simply wasn't adding up.

...

Tricia and Halmand stood outside of a hotel room on the eighteenth floor of the Toronto Sheraton Center. Tricia had the master keycard for the hotel, the desk manager stood a few meters away behind the cover of a large ice making machine, waiting for them to finish.

Halmand had his service pistol in hand and was stacked on the other side of the door, awaiting entry.

Tricia nodded to him from the opposite side, and he pulled his phone from his pocket and dialled the number the desk manager had given him. Inside the hotel room, the phone began to ring rather loudly. 

As it started ringing, Halmand immediately pocketed his phone and Tricia quietly unlocked the door simultaneously. Halmand then opened it slowly and entered, his service pistol in front of him as he searched his path and corners. Tricia followed closely, by his side covering his right flank as they got to the bathroom door.

Halmand checked left, stepping into the bathroom, ensuring it was clear. He then signalled Tricia, who proceeded taking point this time as the phone continued to ring.

She rounded the final corner into the main living space and room of the hotel residence. She checked ahead and then a sharp left, finding it to be unoccupied.

"Clear. She's not here..." Tricia said to Halmand, who holstered his service pistol much like she had already.

Halmand walked over to the phone and picked up the receiver and then hung it up again, and the phone immediately stopped ringing.

"She didn't call anyone from her own cellphone..." Halmand told Tricia.

"I know. Just a second... I've got an idea," Tricia stepped over to the phone and hit redial.

A number was quickly dialled and then it began ringing on the other end.

"City Taxi And Luxury Transport. Pam speaking, how may I help you?" a voice answered.

"Hi Pam. My roommate left an hour ago without giving me directions to where I was supposed to meet her. Perhaps you could tell me what the destination was for this number, the number I'm calling from?" Tricia asked, looking to Stanton and crossing her fingers.

"Sure, I can help with that. Just let me look it up here... and... her destination was the Enertrinsic Manufacturing Center at Steeles Avenue and Yonge Street. Would you like me to send a car to your location to pick you up?" asked Pam.

"No thank you Pam, you've already been an immense help. You have a great afternoon," Tricia bid Pam goodbye and hung up the phone.

"You got it?" Halmand asked her.

"Enertrinsic. Up at Steeles Avenue and Yonge. If we leave now we'll be there in about thirty minutes..." Tricia said as she quickly headed towards the hotel room door.

"That's a big place. She's not going to be easy to find here there," Halmand reminded Tricia.

"That's why you're going to be calling them to find out which department she's visiting while I drive," Tricia said as Halmand closed the door behind both of them.

As they passed the desk manager, Tricia handed her the master keycard for the hotel.

"Thank you very much for your cooperation. We left the room exactly like it was. Thanks again," Tricia headed for the elevators after bidding the desk manager farewell.

A few minutes later and they were back in their unmarked car and on their way north to Steeles Avenue and Yonge Street: The Enertrinsic Manufacturing Facility.


Solutions And Problems

In the mid-afternoon, Gracie's hand had wandered once again to the calendar on her desk, where she began another masterpiece of doodle art on another date a few weeks into the future from where she'd rendered another such fine work of art for her birthday a week and a half earlier.

As she kept her mind busy during the mid-afternoon doldrums, the reception phone at Vector Engine Dynamics rang.

"Vector Engine Dynamics, Gracie speaking, how may I assist you," Gracie answered, knowing that the caller had already navigated the voice mail system to arrive at the reception phone line.

"Well hello Gracie. How are you today?" a man with a deep, raspy voice greeted her in a friendly manner, seemingly hiding something in a practiced manner.

"Mr. Berman? What a pleasant surprise. How can I help you?" asked Gracie, already eager to transfer the call to another associate.

"I was wondering if maybe you couldn't help me with something. You see, I have a question and that is, who visited your offices earlier this morning?" asked Mr. Berman, his voice wavering slightly.

"It was a pretty quiet morning actually. There were a few impromptu meetings but that's about it," Gracie responded, not wanting to get involved.

"Oh my dear Gracie. Such a shame. I have it on good authority that somebody visited your offices this morning. A man and a woman in their mid to late thirties? Does that ring a bell?" Mr. Berman pushed her a little.

"Oh, yes. I think that was a random sales call. I think they spoke with someone with purchasing authority and then left," Gracie responded, now too frazzled to continue her masterpiece.

"Oh dear Gracie. You mean you can't recall any more for a staunch ally of Vector Engine Dynamics like myself?" asked Mr. Berman, leaning back in his own chair.

"There's nothing to tell. Besides, I thought I told you that I don't want to be involved in this..." Gracie responded.

"Involved in what? The strategic business alliance of our two companies? Why Gracie, you're an essential part of their team, and as our ally, that makes you a part of our team as well. Now why don't you start playing like a team player and tell me what you know?" Mr. Berman pushed her harder this time.

"Mr. Berman, I know that I don't want you to call into question my role or my job. I have a responsibility to my company here as receptionist and I'm going to live up to that responsibility. Now I can transfer you to Frederick Milton who is more capable of handling calls like yours or I can bid you a good day, the choice is yours," Gracie stood up to the discretely and expertly menacing man, suddenly appreciating Frederick Milton and having him on their team.

"Now Gracie, there's no need to get flustered. I was just trying to keep up with the facts, because as you know, if I'm going to protect you, all of you, I need to be in the know," Mr. Berman responded.

"That's an issue you should take up with Frederick... would you like me to transfer you?" asked Gracie, eager to toss him into the shark pit.

"Now, now, that's quite alright. You have yourself a good... safe day, Gracie. You hear?" Mr. Berman said to her in an ever so menacing tone.

"Goodbye Mr. Berman," Gracie terminated the call.

...

Mr. Berman turned around his chair and stood, donning his suit jacket and readying himself for an errand.

"Where are you going? We're not done here," asked the man who'd been sitting across his desk from him.

"I'm a problem solver, so I'm going to go out and solve some problems. I mean that's why you pay me," Mr. Berman asserted to the man on the other side of his desk.

"No! I pay you so that we don't acquire problems," the man responded.

"And when you do, I suppose its you that's going to solve them, is it?" asked Mr. Berman, overshadowing the man across from him.

There was a moment of silence, but it was only one of the two men who'd become uncomfortable.

"If they get past you, then its up to you to solve them," the man confronted Mr. Berman.

"In this life, I have but two choices. I can be the solution, or I can be the problem. I'd prefer to be the solution. Don't force me to have to be the problem. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some problems to solve. Let yourself out. Oh, wanna hear a story?" Mr. Berman asked the man.

"We don't have time for this!" the man responded nervously.

"...A parking ticket leads to a phone call, leads to a tow truck, leads to a compounded vehicle, leads to a paper trail that puts you here to visit me on this date at this time. Next time, don't park in the tow away zone," Mr. Berman then donned a pair of thin latex fire resistant powderless gloves and then opened his jacket and pulled a 9mm handgun from his shoulder holster and placed it on the desk.

The man sitting across from him was about to get up.

"Wait! I haven't told you the rest of my story! There was a time I thought that the man I trained would be working with your company. Working with you like I am right now. Doing exactly what I do for you, but unfortunately, he became a problem and the one thing you never do as a problem solver is become the problem. His life from that point on took a very different path than did mine..." Mr. Berman opened his right desk drawer and pulled from it, a stack of documents atop which was a single photo.

"He's long gone... and that is precisely why I'm the one working with you today. Now don't make the mistake of becoming the problem, because I do so ever like working with you. It'd be a shame to have to solve you," Mr. Berman took a moment to examine the photo, which in fact was a picture of Greg Warley in his early twenties.

Mr. Berman put the photo back on top of the stack of papers, and then unlocked another desk drawer and pulled a second similar firearm from the locked drawer, along with a tungsten carbide drill bit.

He put the one from his shoulder holster into the drawer and locked it again, effectively switching the guns. He then pocketed the drill bit after which he began feeding the documents from his desk into a paper shredder.

As he did that and the shredder hungrily ate the documents, the man who'd been sitting across from him checked the window and saw that his car was in fact being towed. A large husky tow truck driver was prepping the sedan as he watched from the window.

"Damn you! How are we going to fix that!" the man turned around and ran out of the office, heading for the nearby elevator in the lowrise office building.

By that time, Mr. Berman had replaced the empty shoulder holster with the 9mm he'd taken from the drawer, making sure that it was loaded and that there was a round chambered and ready to fire. He then placed the photograph of Greg Warley into the shredder and watched at the machine quickly consumed it and the last photographic evidence of Greg Warley's existence. Mr. Berman then removed the shredder's hood from the bin and tied the bag of shredded documents closed. He checked the office one last time, for he'd no longer be using it from that point forward and then when he was satisfied he'd thoroughly cleaned it, he left through the office door and locked it.

"Will you hurry up! That guy's going to tow my car!" the man urged Mr. Berman from the elevator.

"I guess that's another problem I'm going to have to solve..." Mr. Berman said as he left the office and headed for elevator.


Toured Fusion


To be continued...


PS Adobe, I'll be back with you soon! I miss you!

* Classical/Quantum Processor Octree - Hybrid classical quantum computing architecture is still a bit of a ways off, but in the world of Butterfly Draqon/Tales Of The Sanctum, the company MindSpice has effectively developed an entire cloud computing platform that integrates classical/quantum computing architectures into a series of server racks much the same way that cloud server architecture operates today.

Octree is actually a data structure/algorithm often used in graphics programming and specifically scene culling, that is, ways to organize or navigate the data of a 3D (or even 2D) scene so that the viewing camera only deals with what it can see, rather than what it can't see. 

I've used the term Octree here in such a way that it sounds like it refers to hardware, but in fact the Octree abstraction refers to MindSpice's processor architecture utilizing Octrees to determine when and where processing should be accomplished with a regular classical processor or a quantum processor. Each kind of processor has its strengths for specific applications, though there are a special class of problems that classical processors could theoretically take a near infinity of time to calculate, while quantum processors could calculate the answers to the same problems in mere seconds.

MAZ's mind is built upon a single computing session (with several backup sessions) that are derived from traditional competing LLMs (large language models) using differential analysis and adversarial networks to deem the best approach to solutions, however what makes MAZ different is that MAZ isn't input dependent. MAZ can assert, without input being given. In other words, MAZ can come to conclusions with or without input. That is, without a human operator asking a question or providing a prompt. MAZ's mind is in constant operation, not just when it is prompted with a request or question. In a sense, MAZ's mind has already been set in motion, in a constant quest of questions and answers. The answer of the previous question leads to the next question and so on ad infinitum. In essence, MAZ's mind is always in operation.

What makes MAZ truly advanced and what experts believe is that when AI's computation is performed using a combination of classical and quantum processors, that AI will achieve a truly encompassing ability to think, however this notion isn't to be confused with the Penrose/Hameroff Orch Model of Consciousness (which I've supported since they first published) which refers to biological consciousness and the concept of mind in relation to biological brains. 

AGI, artificial general intelligence will be arrived at long before the marriage of classical and quantum computing architectures. It will however, be significantly accelerated by it and other architectures that arrive in the future that alter our model of computing.


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...

Invideo.IO which was used to produce the ENERTRINSIC INTERNATIONAL INVESTOR PRESENTATION.

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): https://brucelee.com (home of the real Dragon and an entire family of inspirations), http://iwco.online 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, https://iogkf.com International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karatedo Federation (even Hanshi had his teachers), https://itftkd.sport International Taekwondo Federation (Here there be Taegers), https://tangsoodoworld.com Tang Soo Do World (the path of Grandmaster Chuck Norris), https://www.aikido-international.org International Aikido Federation (how else would Navy Chef Steven Seagal liberate a Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier from a team of hijackers?), https://www.stqitoronto.com Shaolin Temple Quanfa Institute (The City Of Toronto's own Shaolin Temple), https://www.enterthedojoshow.com 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 AitrepreneurMickmumpitzHugging 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.

Very Special Thanks to our Armed Forces and Federal and Provincial Police Services, who really do Stand On Guard, especially when it comes to the Charter of Rights And Freedoms and the Human Rights Act, and often without being self righteous zealots secretly protecting religious law. True keepers of the peace.

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