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All characters are 18 years or older. Welcome to the eight installment of this series. I hope you enjoy. This will hopefully fill in some of the gaps I have been hinting at in previous stories. Please feel free to vote, comment or offer suggestions. This is a long one, it took a while to weave it all together.
HIPS: Hiding In Plain Sight [a franchise of clubs for nonhumans]
There were work crews everywhere. The tsunami had done billions in damage to Tokyo bay and the surrounding areas. Today was the grand reopening of National Route 409 bridge and tunnel system. It connected the cities of Kawasaki and Kisarazu. The cities were on opposite sides of the bay and had both sustained horrific damage when the fifty foot wave struck the coast. Those that had been using the tunnel had been evacuated in time only to drown minutes later in the streets. The death toll was in the tens of thousands and if not for the early warning system it would have been much worse. Even with the twenty minute warning they were little they could do. The people were in the midst of an evacuation when the wave hit. People were packed in traffic and many drowned in their cars or swept out to sea.
I had avoided seeing my handiwork for as long as I could but it was inevitable that I return and see what I had done. It didn’t matter than anyone in our team could have been the harbinger of such destruction. It had been me that had entered and triggered the device. I could only imagine the families standing on this beach and wondering as the water receded a hundred feet or so. Did they even imagine what was happening? The sea side communities took the brunt of the wave but once it entered the bay there was no escaping the calamity. The houses are so tightly packed together they went down like dominos and left a hundred thousand homeless. But it wasn’t just residences it was schools, businesses and places of worship. Was it unavoidable? We went there looking for answers and by god we found them.
“Are you still beating yourself up over the tsunami,” Surisa asked. “For heaven’s sake it could just as easily have been me that went in there. It should have been me actually, but somebody took matters into his own hands, remember.”
“I remember, I was trying to save you from the responsibility.” I told her. “New Guinea, the Philippines, Taiwan and of course Japan, over two hundred thousand lives lost.”
“I don’t need anyone to rescue me Louis, not now and sure as hell not then.” She growled. “We are friends but you are a fucking martyr. I have been my own person for a long time now. If you value our friendship there will never be a repeat of your fucking Don Quixote complex. You want to joust windmills do it the hell away from me. Let’s get some lunch, a sushi place just opened down by the pier.”
I smiled despite the mental anguish. She was right of course. I had stolen that moment from her and she had been pissed, still was a little sore by the sound of it. I like sushi. She was wearing that ugly bright yellow sun dress that showed off her legs. Gods my brain was on random now. She did have nice legs! I laughed and Surisa looked over her shoulder and smiled. How would she have reacted to triggering the tsunami? She would have accepted it as an unforeseen tragedy and moved on. She was strong like that. We sat down and I saw something that I had missed on the shore. There was a kind of heartbeat all around me. Sure there were construction crews everywhere, but there were also tons of people rebuilding their lives as well. Was it any different than a wild fire? Sure the trees are gone but new trees are born out of the blaze. Certain seeds can only germinate after a forest fire. It was the same here.
“A clean slate,” I said.
“Ah, you are seeing the other side of the coin,” Surisa replied. “About god damn time… I love you Louis but you have this tendency to carry the entire world on your shoulders. Despite what you and others might believe, the world can survive without you. Now eat up we have shopping to do.”
“Shopping… I don’t remember anything about…” I began and decided a piece of fish was calling my name from my plate.
The blue eyed Thai just smiled and attacked her own food with great enthusiasm. We finished our meal and caught up with Feng and Yuki, our not so subtle bodyguards. We headed for the town car and I pondered what she really had in mind. If I had learned anything it was this, Surisa was always at least two steps ahead of most everyone. In this case it was the billboards announcing an entire neighborhood being built by none other than Me Chang and Psi4 Industries. I gawked at the signs and looked at her for an explanation. She smiled as she collected her thoughts.
“I need a face man that people will like. The Japanese can be a little down on other Asians moving in on their territory. So there is you, the very likable and enigmatic archaeologist turned entrepreneur. So what do you say partner?”
“When you say partner,” web tasarım I began and she winced. “Sixty-Forty… I mean I can put money on the table.”
“How much are we talking about,” Surisa asked her eyebrow raised in curiosity.
“How much do you need,” I asked, that surprised Surisa and she told me. “When do you need it?” I asked and she stared at me as if she didn’t know who I was.
“A week will do,” Surisa fired back and then smiled.
“I will begin selling off product sir,” Feng said. “We should have that amount in time.”
“Oh I knew I liked you Louis,” Surisa purred. “So tell me what have you been holding onto?”
“Rare coins, a lot of unique museum pieces I acquired a few years back.”
Feng displayed what she called the top twenty for the Blue Eyed Thai to drool over. Surisa cried out and excitedly pointed to one of the coins. Her eyes got huge and for a moment she couldn’t speak. I looked at Feng and she shrugged.
“Does that coin mean something to you,” Feng asked before I could.
“Where did you get THAT coin,” Surisa asked finding her voice once more.
“An unregistered site,” I said and left it at that. “Why?”
“Is that the only one of that coin you have,” she asked. “Please tell me you have at least two of them!”
“You have twenty of them,” Feng replied. “Not all are the same year but all are in good condition and cover a ten year span.”
“TWENTY… that is all I need,” she said. “With twenty of those I can cover costs and have money to spare. I can offload them in a few days.”
“Feng, which bank are they in?” I asked.
“Zurich Switzerland,” Feng replied. “I will make arrangements then.”
“Looks like we are in business,” Surisa said with a smile.
Surisa squirmed in her seat and she looked uncomfortable. I wonder if it was the fact that she was doing legitimate business that bothered her. She had always lived in the shadows and enjoyed the adrenalin rush of facing the authorities in a cat and mouse game of catch me if you can. We finished the tour of the building sites and returned to the estate. I liked her kind of shopping. It was quick and fairly painless. I didn’t really care about the money. I was more into it for helping a friend in need. The compound was strangely quiet and I quickly learned why. The news of the destruction of the Archimedes had just hit. I had learned about it directly from Nick. He had been watching the entire thing via a live feed from the aircraft. He had seen the strange energy surge and then the plane fell off radar. What could do that kind of damage? I suspected but kept my mouth shut.
Becca was out in the garden when I arrived and waved to me as the car passed. She looked like she had a lot on her mind. I wondered how long the separation between her and Charlie would take before she would leave. I was happy for them both. They were good people and deserved each other. Hell, I might just throw her a going away party and congratulate her on her reunion. We piled out and I told Surisa I was going to talk to Becca. The Thai smiled and walked off whistling. I stopped and glanced at the diminutive figure as she winked at me. What the hell was that all about? That little witch knew something and I was about to get ambushed. When she was happy she was in the know and I was left out in the dark, again.
“Hello Louis,” Becca said as she came up and kissed my cheek. “How was the beach?”
“The rebuild is going well,” I said. “The bridge across the bay just reopened today.”
“Fantastic,” she said and blushed.
“Okay, what is going one? First Surisa and now you, something is up and I am hanging in the breeze here.”
“I am staying,” Becca said as she slipped her arms around my neck and kissed me.
I closed my eyes and just enjoyed the moment. She pressed her body against mine and my arms went around her waist. Becca broke the kiss and I slowly opened my eyes. Her cheeks were flushed and my heart was pounding. She bit her lip and was staring over my shoulder. I turned my head and half the estate’s staff was watching.
“What,” I asked and they just smiled and returned to their duties. “I guess it is over between you and Charlie.”
“For now,” she said. “Things have just changed so much so fast. I still care about him, hell I still love the old fool. But he wants to bury himself in work while you seem to like to travel a lot. I like travelling.”
“Well, with all the trouble I land in having a doctor around could be handy.”
“Oh I see, you just want me for my scalpel… wait that didn’t come out right. It sounded better in my head, you know.”
“I am the king of ‘it sounded better in my head’,” I told her and we laughed.
“I need to find a room I guess,” Becca said and I just shook my head. “…Or I could just keep sharing your futon.”
“I think that is a great idea,” I told her. “Why change things now?”
“Why indeed,” she purred.
“I am leaving for Switzerland in a day web tasarım ankara or two,” I told her and her eyes went wide.
“Ooh, I’ve never been there before,” Becca cooed. “Can I come?”
I just nodded and returned her kiss on the cheek. I told her I had a few things I needed to do but I would be around. She nodded and began humming a little tune as she went inside. She was up to something and I couldn’t wait to see what Becca had planned. I went to the dojo that was on the eastern side of the property. I would change into a ghi and prepare for some real time training and then delve into the series of programs Feng had created for me. I had no idea if the interface would function properly or even safely but I had little choice. That damn Watcher was going to pick the third host to possess and this time I felt would be the last. I just needed to keep its attention on me, that way it would at least leave my family alone.
I began working on my hand to hand combat first. It was a great warm up and it would help push out the doubt. I moved from one Kata to the next until I had performed them all. I was covered in sweat and ready for the next phase. I grabbed a shinai, a bamboo sword and began driving myself faster now. Speed might save me I thought as I pushed my limits. The world seemed to slow down as adrenalin coursed through my system. I dove into the movements as my mind went blank and yet my body continued on knowing the next move and the one after that. I was lost in the maelstrom that existed between breaths and beyond consciousness. Was this Enlightenment? Was this what monks sought after with so much devotion? Reality came to a crashing halt as brand new sensory input flooded my perception. There was a pulsing in my ears, like the beating of a heart.
Behind all the static and distraction of everyday existence there was that heartbeat. I began to believe that it was the universe making itself manifest to me. I was so wrong. I was a mote in the eye of a god. I was standing in the heart of darkness. I stood on a hunk of black rock orbiting something so vile and so inhuman I feared to move or even blink. It was the size of a red giant. It was a million more times as massive as the star that warmed my world. I had seen the glyph above my head on numerous occasions but now I saw it with my own eyes. It was none other than Azathoth, the daemonic sultan and a power beyond comprehension. It was evil the way no other being could compare to. It put the Christian devil to shame. Why the hell was I even here? Had the sultan called me here? Oh god I hope not! I tore my gaze from the thing that dominated my horizon and stared at the star sized entities that orbited Azathoth. A dozen mad gods sang and piped and entertained their lord and master.
“When the universe was dark and before the first star was kindled, it was already old.” Nyarlathotep purred in my ear.
“Why am I here dark pharaoh?” I asked.
“You pose that question like I had an answer,” it chuckled. “I am only the manifestation of the will of the dark gods, not their keepers. I am a flea in their perception of things as you are to me. I have a secret Louis… I love playing with insects.”
“I hope I have amused,” I said holding up my wrist and he removed the bracelet.
“You have sired more than your fair share of offspring. I am a being of my word.”
“What happens now,” I asked.
“For you, I cannot answer. I have entered into an accord to not interfere in your life path. For what it is worth, I hope you kick his ass. I have always found Watchers to be pompous ass pricks.”
I felt his hand on my shoulder and a heartbeat later I was back in the dojo. I raced outside and hurled. I was shaking and curled in a fetal position. My mind screamed at the overwhelming horror I had witnessed. I wept and tried to push the memory out of my thoughts. The grass was gone and I was kneeling on a large hexagonal platform. The floor was mirror bright steel and on each corner of the platform was a door. Each door was a color of the spectrum, red, yellow, orange, green, blue and violet.
“Get up,” Feng barked. “Get the fuck up!”
I was so stunned by the words and her tone I was on my feet automatically.
“Have you lost your fucking mind?”
“No, have you,” she growled. “You had me going into all this work and tie into the six stones. Now get off your ass and get to work.”
“You cunning bitch you,” I said smiling. “Thank you.”
I suddenly realized what she was doing. It was an emotional shot to the head. Something I desperately needed at that moment. I looked at each door in turn and settled on the blue one. Feng followed me in and helped me interpret each interface. Six doors later and an amazing three hours for the outside world I emerged from my time with Jon’s gift. I opened my eyes and there was Yuki standing watch over me. She smiled and I could see a look of relief on her lovely features.
“I couldn’t wake you,” Yuki said as I sat up. “Becca-san asked that I keep an eye on you.”
“Where is she?” I asked as I tried to stand and failed. “Oh crap… dizzy…”
“Sit while I have someone bring you some food,” Yuki said and called for help. “Becca has been monitoring your vital signs. You have been tied to your neural implant a dangerously long time. She will want to run some tests to make sure there is no permanent damage.”
I looked at the watch on my left wrist and saw how much time had passed. Oh shit, the longest I had ever been ‘gone’ was ten minutes but three hours I can see why they were worried. The strain I had placed on my nervous system could prove permanent. The food arrived and I ate there sitting on the lawn. Becca arrived with her A.I. Nyx by her side. She looked worried but forced a smile.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Becca said as she sat opposite of me. “I borrowed Feng’s portable projector. It has a wider array of sensors available to it.”
“Borrow away,” I said. “So how bad is it?”
“We don’t know that it is bad yet,” she said maintaining her bedside manner. “I am going to have Nyx scan you as I ask you to repeat certain words. Then I am going to show you some images and you tell me what you see.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I told her.
So while Nyx observed my brain activity I repeated her words and then told her what I saw in the pictures. I could tell something was wrong by her expression. Becca had a puzzled look on her face and she consulted with Nyx and the vast medical data base she represented. So while she did her thing I fired up my play list and began listening to some music via my implant. Nyx alerted Becca and they stared at her display of my brain activity. Becca snatched up a fistful of grass and held it up for me to smell. I leaned forward and sniffed the grass. It reminded me of all the times I had cut grass at my parent’s rental properties. Then I had a flash of shoveling snow and how cold it had been. I could see my breath and the falling snowflakes in my mind’s eye. The smell of Christmas dinner and hearing carols playing on the stereo.
“I don’t understand these readings at all,” Becca said. “They make no sense at all.”
“Show me,” I ask and Nyx created a holographic display of my brain activity. “The activity is all over the place. Is it supposed to be like that?”
“NO,” Becca snapped. “When you read a certain part of your brain lights up. The same is true of other activities; the brain is a very specialized organ. There is a certain synergy with parts of the brain but your activity seems completely delocalized. Okay, let’s go live and I’ll show you what I mean.”
I watched as the image flickered for a moment and then I was looking at my mind at work. It was like a storm cloud and the lightning was everywhere. Suddenly I remembered a time when I was caught out in a spring shower. I could smell the rain, hear the thunder and actually feel the soaked clothes clinging to my skin. The display went wild with activity and it was my entire brain at work. I glanced at Becca and told her about the memory. She shrugged and I asked if this was a bad thing or not. There was no sign of damage per se but she wanted to have Feng monitor me and alert her if there were any abnormalities. What did it all mean? Was this an effect of my shape shifting?
“Is this a symptom of my shifting ability?” I asked but she shook her head. “This change is very recent. The previous records of your activity look nothing like this. It has to be whatever you did very recently. Oh I know that expression, tell me.”
“My dad gave me something,” I said. “He called it a kind of legacy. It took Feng a few days of nonstop work to be able to access them. They are a kind of crystalline archive. I opened their interface and went through a kind of training regimen with them. I guess I kind of lost track of time.”
“Three hours you were out,” Becca said with a scowl. “Your longest access prior to that was nine and a half minutes. What is the conversion? I know it is all subjective but it is important.”
“I have recorded his time working with the neural implant. His digital experience varies depending on how long he is tied into the interface. I have noticed that the longer he is tied in the greater the difference between objective and subjective time.” Feng explained.
“How long was it for him Feng,” Becca asked. “Feng, how much time passed for Louis?”
“More than a year,” Feng said softly.
Becca looked at me and I smiled. I watched her lips as she repeated my own words, I kind of lost track of time. Her thoughts were suddenly in my head and I wasn’t surprised at all. What had been so enticing that he was gone for an entire year? Then there were memories of an old musty library, sunlight falling in diagonal shafts as motes of dust hung in the air. There were row upon row of book shelves and it seemed to go on forever. Then she was imagining what the Library of Alexandria might look like. I felt her emotions rise at the desire to wander that ancient place. I smiled and she caught me looking at her and I actually blushed. It was as if she had found me in her closet while she was changing clothes.
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