Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chapter 63: Action Hero

"Julian? Are you okay?" Jillyan asks, coming down from her bedroom to find him staring out of her living room window, "We don't have to go to this party if you aren't up to it." He'd been broody for the rest of the day after Fergus tried to find his memories, barely eating at all at dinner. Jill thought going out and socializing might snap him out of his funk, but maybe what he needs is a quiet night at home. Her home, to be exact.

"I have no past," he says, his voice quiet, broken and lost, "I don't know who I am." After Fergus told him his memories were very likely false, implanted in his mind under hypnosis, Julian had wanted to call his mother, to ask her about his childhood, to fill in the missing pieces. Fergus said it would be a bad idea; if the woman Julian believed was his mother when he called 'home' was a MorcuCorp agent, telling her anything about what he'd learned would tip them off that they are on to them, and if she was, in fact, really his mother, the questions he wanted to ask would just worry her. "When I think about her, my mother, when I try to remember growing up, I just get snapshots, like Fergus said. A scrapbook of memories, and they aren't even mine...I thought I knew who I was. Now, I just...I just don't."

"You're still you, Julian," Jilly says, wrapping her arms around his chest and pressing her cheek against his shoulder, "Losing your past doesn't change who you are."

Julian covers her hands with own, squeezing them for comfort, but makes no response.

"Do you remember Isla Paradiso?" she asks, her tone light and playful, "Do you remember camping out with me under stars? Do you remember the house on the private island Salty let us stay in?"

"Of course I remember," Julian says, smiling despite himself, "I could never forget that."

"Well, see, there's our past," she whispers as he turns to face her, holding her close against his chest, "And this is our present, tonight. The past is gone, but it doesn't matter. We have the future."

She lives in an eternal now, but Julian is not quite able to let the past go, pretend that it doesn't matter. Getting lost in her now, though, and immersing himself in her promise of a future together, that comes very easily.

The party they were supposed to attend is forgotten as they make their way up to her bedroom, discarding their clothes along the way, not even making it all the way to her bed. Julian makes love to her with a fierce hunger, a desperate need to connect with himself through her, to feel like his life is real, has meaning.

She groans his name, over and over, and this is all he needs to be. He exists to love her, whoever he was before he was hers, that man doesn't matter at all.

When they finally make it onto her bed, it's to collapse in exhaustion, legs tangled around each other, arms entwined.

"Do you want to turn out the lights?" he whispers, stroking her back as she presses her head against his chest.

"I don't want to move," she whispers back, her fingers toying with the hair on his chest. "I was thinking, since you stay here most nights anyway, maybe you should just move in here with me. What do you think?"

"I'd love to," Julian answers, "I love you, Jillyan."

"I love you, too, Julian. Everything will be all right. You'll see," she promises.

She falls asleep, contented, blissful, but a strange sense of foreboding keeps Julian awake, idly stroking her hair, listening to the steady rhythm of her breathing. He's fallen in love, deeply, truly...he should be happy, as contented as his sleeping lover. So why this worry, this fear that the simple fact of his love is going to be her doom?

Over breakfast, Jilly offers to put off her planned dive for the day to help Julian move his stuff to her place.

"All I have really is some clothes and my laptop," Julian says, turning down her offer, "I can grab all though in one easy trip. You go ahead and dive, I'll have dinner waiting for you when you get back." The sense of foreboding he felt last night still lingers, but, like his lost memories, it's not something Julian is going to let stand in his way. Jilly is right about that, they have a future, a future they will create together. If he has that, he can live without a past.

Jillyan comes into the kitchen as he's cleaning his plate to kiss him goodbye before she takes off for her dive.

"Did you bring in your plate?" he asks.

"Oh, no," she shrugs, "I left it on the table." Back at home, there was always someone who cleaned up the little messes the kids would leave behind; she never had to bother with things like washing her dishes, "I can go get it," she offers.

"No, it's okay," Julian says, smiling as he takes her face in his hands, kissing the tip of her nose, then her lips, and finally, nibbling  bit on her chin, "I'll take care of it after I see you off."

Julian follows her out to her dock, and watches as she sails away.

He lingers a bit watching the water, even after she disappeared over the horizon, trying to just live in the moment the way she does, not caring about the past or worrying about the future.

Behind him, the boards creak as someone steps onto the pier. Julian turns, expecting Fergus maybe, since this is a private dock and no one else should be here.

"You and Fergus have been hitting it off really well," Cosette says as Tasha joins her at her table outside the student union, "I hardly ever see you anymore, except to wave at you as you are heading off into his bedroom. I am an awesome matchmaker, right?"

"You are," Tasha admits, "You were right, Fergus and I really clicked, as soon as you introduced us. I've never been so happy in my life."

"Okay, so why do you look like someone pissed in your corn flakes?" Cosette asks, "What's going on?"

"I just got back from the health center," Tashs groans, "I had a pregnancy test yesterday."

"Oh...shit, Tasha," Cosette says, "Have you told him, yet?"

Tasha bites her lip at that, "Well, he knows I was getting the test, but I haven't told him it was positive yet," she finally replies, not wanting to get into the way the whole pregnancy topic had come up in the first place.

"Are you afraid of what he'll say?" Cosette asks, "He doesn't seem the type to flake out on you."

"I'm sure he's not," Tasha answers, "I know he'll want to be there for me. I just...I don't know, Cosi, I'm crazy about him. And I think he might be the one, you know. I mean, I know he is. But this, I didn't want it to be like this."

"It is kind of a lot all at once," Cosette sympathizes, "But, at least you know you've got a good guy, right? If you really love him, and he loves you, it will work out."

Talking with Cosette did help Tasha feel a little better about her situation, but still not up to facing Fergus, she decided to walk around town a little, to clear her mind with a little window shopping. But less than an hour into her stroll, Tasha couldn't help but notice she was being tailed by two men in black. Everywhere she went, they were behind her, every time she stopped to look into a shop window, they'd stop a few yards behind her.

I'm being paranoid, she kept telling herself, what could anyone want with me? They probably just work in one of the offices around here.

After another half hour of internal debate while the men in black still stick close by her, Tasha finally ducks into a shop and pulls out her phone.

"Tasha!" Fergus answers, obviously thrilled to hear from her, "I've been worried about you! Is everything okay?" he asks, his voice heavily implying that he wants to know if she's confirmed what her told her about being pregnant.

But Tasha has bigger concerns at the moment, "Fergus, I'm scared. There are these two guys in black suits following me. I've been window shopping along Oak Street, and everywhere I go, these guys are there. I know it sounds but crazy, but I don't know what to do."

"Did you go for testing at the health center?" Fergus asks.

Tasha frowns, annoyed at his one track mind, "Have you been listening to me?" she demands, "There are guys following me."

"I think they're MorcuCorp agents," Fergus tells her, "I'm sure they have access to the school's records. If they know you are carrying my child..." Fergus stops there, kicking himself for not thinking of this sooner, "Okay, stay where you are. Stay in sight of other people, and I will be right there to get you."

"Wait, what's going on, Fergus?" she pleads, even more frightened now that he's accepted her story so readily, and seems to know who is tailing and why.

"I'm coming for you. I'll explain everything later," Fergus promises.

As he approaches the shop Tasha said she was waiting in, Fergus spots the black suits who'd been tailing her, hanging around, pretending not to notice him.

She falls into his arms as soon as she enters the shop. "Oh, Fergus," she breathes, her voice catching on  a sob, "I'm so scared."

"I's all right," he soothes her, "I've got you now. And we're getting out of here."

The men in black watch as Fergus leads her out of the shop. MorcuCorp has a history of keeping their doings under wraps, and Fergus' bet that they wouldn't do anything as conspicuous as abducting people off a busy public street paid off as the agents stand helplessly as the couple make their escape.

When he gets her back to his room, Tasha sits on the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest protectively. "Why is MorcuCorp following me?" she asks, her voice tiny and frightened, as Fergus sits beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "And, how did you know it was MorcuCorp, anyway?"

"It's a long story, Tasha," Fergus sighs, "But it's one you need to know if..." he pauses, realizing how much danger he's put her in, just by being his girlfriend, "I should have warned you, before we started dating. But, if I had...well, it sounds crazy. It is crazy. But it's real, and it's something I can't dodge."

Tasha unfolds from her cower slightly, to rest her head on his shoulder, and a hand on his knee. Encouraged, he takes a deep breath, and tells her how MorcuCorp created Pearl, his great-grandmother, in a lab, and sent her out to seduce Heath Brannon as some kind of breeding experiment, and how Pearl betrayed them by seeing to it that their son, Farrell, was raised in the real world by his father instead of in some MorcuCorp facility. And he tells her the story of his grandfather, Farrell, who invented a time machine and met a witch named Aouregan Avendale in the middle ages and married her. Fergus tells her how MorcuCorp managed to abduct pregnant Aouregan and bring her back to the present, and how she gave birth two her twins, Shadow, his father, and his aunt Aurora while imprisoned in MorcuCorp's labs, and how Farrell eventually got his children and wife back back from them, and about the family's flight to Drake's Hollow, a town protected by a dragon ward and a pair of friendly fairies. He had already told her about his father, his magic and his beliefs, and now Fergus tells her about his mother, and the Hawksquill curse, a curse that will pass down to any child Fergus fathers. 

"After the trip to Aurora Skies, where he met Geoffrey Landgraab in person, my dad truly believed MorcuCorp was going to back away from this, " Fergus finishes the tale, "Otherwise, there's no way the family would have let me and Jilly go away to school. But, obviously, Geoffrey lied to my father when he said he wasn't interested in pursuing my family anymore, he was just biding his time until one of us left the safety of Drake's Hollow. MorcuCorp has been using Julian to spy on me, maybe to seduce Jilly. And now, because you are carrying my child, they are after you." 

"Your life is like a science fiction novel," Tasha observes, finding herself riveted by his story, "Only an insane person would believe it. Which, lucky for you, I just happen to be."

Fergus' voice drops to a strained whisper, unable to meet the levity of her jokes, "I am so sorry I dragged you into this mess. I'm not an action hero, I don't know if I can protect you."

"I don't know, Fergus, you were pretty heroic today when you swept in to save me," Tasha teases, wrapping her arm around his waist to hug him, "My hero."

"This isn't a joke, Tasha. The danger is real."

"I get that," she answers, letting her voice grow serious, "But we can't let them ruin everything for us. We'll find a way."

"You'd be safer without me," Fergus says, with deep regret.

"Maybe," Tasha says, "But I wouldn't be happy."

And neither would he, Fergus decides, holding as she climbs onto his lap. His father and his grandfather before him had found ways to protect their families, and he can do no less than they had. 

Jilly climbs the stairs to her back porch after she ties her boat to the dock, returning from her dive in the late afternoon. As she gets to the sliding glass door to her kitchen, she notices the breakfast plate she'd left on the table, the one Julian promised he'd clean up before he went to move his things here. It's not like him to leave a dirty plate, she thinks, he's normally really fastidious about cleaning up after himself, and her. But she shrugs it off, he has had a lot on his mind, after all.

The back door is unlocked, which isn't a surprise, since Julian should have gotten his moving done by now. What is surprising is the dead quiet of her house. He had promised to have dinner ready when she got back, but the kitchen is as she left it this morning, with no smell of food being prepared, and no sounds at all to indicate Julian's presence here.

"Julian?" she calls out, "Are you here?"

Getting no answer, she checks all the rooms upstairs, and doesn't find him or anything of his that hadn't been left from the night before. Her side of the bed is still unmade; since Julian started sleeping here regularly, he'd made up her side of the bed for her after she finally decided to roll out of it, usually right after he'd gotten out of the shower. It's like hadn't come back into the house at all after she'd sailed off.

She discovers that her front door is still locked, as she left it this morning,  as she goes down to look for him in the garage, hoping he might be doing laundry. Not finding him anywhere, she goes back in to her house, looks around again as though he might be hiding behind a chair. He obviously isn't here, she decides, and he hasn't brought his stuff over yet. Maybe he's back at the warehouse now, getting his things, and he just forgot to lock the back door on his way out, leaving her priceless collection of vases and gems unprotected.

Julian got a new phone after he and Jilly handed his old one over to Fergus to see if he could find his way past any security codes that might have been placed on it, and Jilly dials his new number now, telling herself that he'll pick up and apologize for not being here, and making her worry about him for nothing.

As the phone rings in her ear, she hears the ringtone they picked out together for his new phone playing behind her.

She turns, following the tone to an end table behind her, where his phone sits, playing its tune, waiting for Julian to answer it.


So, Tasha...I've mentioned on the thread at MTS that SP had messed with me a little on my main save. What happened was, on day one of playing my main save with Jilly, I got a pop up announcing that Fergus was dating a girl named Tasha. So, I noted that and figured I would have to work Fergus' unplanned romance into the story somehow. Then, a game day or so later, a pop up informs me that Fergus has knocked up Tasha. So, great, now I had to work in an unplanned pregnancy. 
All the scenes with Fergus are shot in an alternate save where she's not pregnant. In my real save, I've used Cmar's pregnancy mod to pause the pregnancy, otherwise Fergus would already be a daddy.

I had to kind of scramble to get Tasha and her pregnancy into the story, and work it in so it didn't seem bolted on.
I didn't even consider that this character out of nowhere would look suspicious to readers, but she set off a lot of red flags. I do see why, in retrospect. But, really, I promise, Tasha is not a spy or mole. 

In other news, I recently got a pop up that Cosette and Niles are expecting as well. Yay for them. But, poor  Cosette will have to have her pregnancy paused as well, so she doesn't give birth before Tasha. =P

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chapter 62: What Was Lost

"The whole series is by Ronik Van Court? I've never heard of him." 

"As far as I know, he's never done anything else," Tasha says, "He wrote 3 volumes of Bridgeport Ghost, then just quit, or disappeared, I'm not sure what his deal was. He'd never done anything before, and never wrote anything else. Distopia Comics tried to give the title to another author, but none of the ones they hired really got what it was about, and the series died in the fourth volume."

Tasha had brought volume three of the series for Fergus to take a look at, insisting that he would love it. And she was right, just a few pages in, and he was hooked. But it wasn't just the writing that sucked him in. "It's an anagram," Fergus tells her, "For Kvornan Tricou."

Tasha mulls over that, disassembling the two names into their component letters. "Well, it is. But 'Kvornan Tricou' is an even more unlikely name than 'Ronik Van Court'. What are you getting at?"

"My dad had a book of fables by Kvornan Tricou," Fergus says with a laugh, pulling back from spilling out more truth than Tasha can handle, "I'm probably reading too much into it. Every volume of Bridgeport Ghost focuses on a different main character?" he asks, moving the conversation along.

Tasha nods, "Mmm hmm. They are set in different times as well. I kind of got the impression that they were all meant to be reincarnations of the same guy, or each was a descendant of the previous one. It never comes out and says that, but there's a sense of connectedness between the volumes. And all of them are visited by the time traveling, he chose to visit them for a reason."

"And the last volume's main is Brandon Hawkfeather." Fergus says, flipping through the pages. The name wouldn't have the same resonance for her, of course; he never told her his mother's maiden name is Hawksquill, nor does she know about the curse on the maternal side of his family, a trait he seems to share with the protagonist of this comic.

"It was the best of the series," Tasha says. "Keep it, and read itfor yourself."

"Thanks," Fergus says, preferring to investigate the uncanny resemblance the story shares with his own family later, in private, "I will. Now, how about we brave the real world and get some dinner?" 

Late that night, after he and Tasha have fallen asleep, Fergus wakes suddenly. There's something, someone? in his room, a ghostly presence floating beside his bed. Beside him, Tasha stirs, murmurs, but doesn't awaken

"Fergus." The voice seems distant, a whisper overheard from across a long hall, yet Fergus understands it perfectly, and immediately recognizes the voice. 

"Grandpa? Why are you here?" he asks, whispering so as to not wake Tasha.

"Space and time aren't as you perceive them, " the ghost of Farrell Brannon says, "There is no 'here' or 'there', now 'now' and 'then'. It's all one."

Fergus rises sleepily, glancing back at Tasha to be sure he doesn't wake her. What would she think if she found him chatting with a ghost?

"Do you have a message for me?" Fergus tries communication again. Ghosts in stories usually appear to impart some information, or give warning about danger to come. "Is it Jilly? Is she okay?" Fergus hasn't heard from his cousin since she took of for Isla Paradiso with the Landgraab. Not that her failure to check in was a sign that something had happened to her. It would be unlike her to spare a thought for those left at home, after all. But Fergus has nonetheless been worrying about her since she left.

"I invented a time machine," Farrell's ghost carries on, as though he's having a conversation with himself, ignoring Fergus' question, "If only I had known how simple it really is. You can be anywhere, anywhen, you want to be. You just have to see it."

"You aren't making any sense, Grandpa," Fergus says.

"So you're ready for this now?" his father asks, standing in front of the cave's entrance, blocking entry until Fergus passes the test. "To take your first spirit journey?"

"Spirit journey?" Fergus asks, "No...I think I'm dreaming, Dad."

"Different states of consciousness," Shadow says, "Dreams are gateways between realms."

"What is this place?" Fergus asks. No place he's ever been, but there are so many memories, so much history to sift through, he doesn't know where to begin.

"This is where I came to start my first spirit journey. I was barely a man, then, but I was so sure of myself. There was so much to learn, and I wanted it all, at once. I was never afraid of anything, until you were born."

"Until I was born?"

Shadow nods, "You were born on the autumnal equinox, when the veil between the worlds in thinnest, and the spirits of dead are closest to the living. I had a visitation that night, from my grandmother's spirit, warning me. You were especially vulnerable to spirit influence, being born on the equinox, and I wanted to protect you. And in trying to protect you, I held you back, son, tried to steer you from the path I had taken, a path I thought was too dangerous for you. But your vulnerability is what makes you special; if I had trained you, it could have become your strength. You can step so easily between the realms, you came here without even realizing."

"It's not too late to start," Fergus muses, considering the possibilities, picturing himself like Brandon Hawkfeather, the protagonist in the volume of Bridgeport Ghost that Tasha loaned him, able to slip though time and pace.

"I could, but it comes at a high price, son" Shadow says, "When I went into that cave, I had to make a choice. I chose your mother, our children. I tied my spirit to the world, and that tether always pulled me back before I could travel too far into the realm of the spirit. If your roots to the world aren't deep enough, you can easily get lost here, and part of your spirit will always remain here. You're a father, now, too, Fergus, so choose your path carefully. If you go into that cave, you won't come out the same man."

Is that why he's here? To go into the cave? Fergus has his doubts. He's not his father, after all. "Wait...what do you mean that I'm a father now, too?" he asks, Shadow's words finally sinking in.

"What else can it mean?" Shadow asks, smiling, "Tasha is pregnant."

The sunlight streaming through the window confuses him at first; it was still night when he'd spoken to his grandfather's ghost, and Fergus is confused to find himself back in his bed, Tasha waking beside him, smiling as she opens one eye to the morning sun.

"Already?" she complains in a mocking tone, "I was having such a lovely dream."

His father's last words from his own dream echo in Fergus' mind. Tasha is pregnant.

He lays back down next to her, close enough to kiss her. It could have been just a dream, but Fergus doubts that. Nothing that involves his father is ever that simple. "Dreams are gateways between realms," he says, repeating something his father had said.

"Well, the realm this dream ported me to is probably illegal in some countries," Tasha quips, "But if I had to wake up, I'm glad it was with you. How about you, where did you go?"

"Outside a cave, with my dad," Fergus answers.

Tasha laughs, rolling her eyes, "I dream about you, and you dream about spelunking with your dad. Nice."

"We didn't go into the cave," Fergus says, laughing with her before taking a more serious tone, "He told me you were pregnant."

Tasha's laugh is hesitant and nervous as she tries to joke her way through the uncomfortable silence that follows, "That', it's a good thing we're careful. Otherwise I'd be worried."

"I believe him," Fergus says earnestly, "My father has a sense for these kind of things."

"Riiiight," Tasha breather, "Your father, the mystic healer shaman. But you know that wasn't him, right? It was just a dream."

"I haven't ruled that possibility out," Fergus says, "But I think that was more than just a dream."

Tasha rises quickly out of his arms, "Fergus," she sighs his name, exasperated, "Do I even have to tell you how crazy this sounds?"

"I'm pretty sure you've believed crazier things," he points out with a chuckle, trying to bring the levity they had lost back.

"Believing that aliens might have built the pyramids is not the same kind of crazy as believing your father appeared to you in a dream to tell you that I'm pregnant," Tasha protests, "I am not pregnant. Just, way. We've always been careful."

"But what if you are?" Fergus suggests, "We should talk about it, at least."

"No," she says, avoiding his eyes as she leaps out of bed and dresses herself, "No, I am not having that conversation. I am not pregnant." Her hands fumble with her zipper as she rushes to get away from him.

Fergus gets up, taking her by the arms to  stop her before she runs away, "Tasha, be reasonable," he says. His words just enrage her, and she struggles to free herself from his grasp.

"Reasonable?" she gasps, "You're telling me you believe some crap you dreamed is real, and you want me to be reasonable? I'm sorry, Fergus, but I'm just not ready for this."

"I'm not ready either," Fergus tells her, releasing his grip on her arms to lay a gentler hand on her shoulder, "But this may be happening, whether we're ready or not."

"Fergus..." she moans, still pulling away. She wants to run, and pretend none of this is happening, he can see it in her eyes. "Let me go," she pleads.

"I'm not asking you to take my word for it," he says gently, "Get a pregnancy test. If it's negative, you can laugh in my face. But if it's not..." Fergus doesn't continue, watching her shut down in front of him, closing him out.

"Let me go," she says firmly, "I have to go. Now." Fergus drops his arms, freeing her to leave if it's what she wants.

She turns, almost running toward his bedroom door. "Wait, Tasha," he calls after her, and she does stop, turning to him, her eyes desperately glancing from his face to the door. Fergus closes the gap between them, taking her trembling hand in his, brushing his lips against her cheek, whispering, "I love you. Don't lose sight of that."

A single tear rolls down her cheek and she makes a small whimpering sound, "I...can't" she whispers hoarsely, turning away from him again, "I can't do this now," she says as she opens the door, "I will call you later."

Fergus tries to distract himself with reading, but the words pass by his eyes like jumbled letters, with no meaning. His mind is preoccupied with going over and over the morning's events, every stupid word he said. 

He'd thought they shared a real connection, she always seemed, to understand the magical side of things, to accept the possibility of things commonly held to be impossible. So he just blurted out his dream and expected her to roll with it. Instead, she freaked out and closed down on him.

He was a fool to follow Jilly out here, away from the safety of Drake's Hollow, where his family's 'oddness' was simply accepted. How is he going to have a relationship, raise a family out here in the 'real' world, if even Tasha in all her eccentricity can't handle what he is?

Fergus pulls his phone from his pocket, as he had done over and over for the past few hours, debating with himself, to call her or not. He's worried, and wants to know she's okay, wants to hear her voice and connect with her. But what could he say that won't make this situation worse? She said she'd call when she was ready to talk, he has to trust her. But what if she doesn't?

His thumb plays over the keypad, and taking a deep breath, he dials a familiar number. Not Tasha's, no, not yet.

"Dad?" he says when his father picks up.

"Fergus," Shadow answers, the smile on his lips audible through the phone, "You haven't called home in awhile. What's on your mind, son?"

Fergus had half expected his father would know what was on his mind, since they'd shared a dream. He deflates a little, realizing it was likely just a dream after all, and that he'd freaked Tasha out for nothing. "I had a strange dream last night, Dad. I met you outside a cave. You told me it was where you had gone on your first spirit journey," Fergus prompts, still hoping for a sign of recognition from his father.

"I remember that cave," Shadow says, "This was no ordinary dream you had."

"I didn't think it was. But if you don't remember meeting me there..."

"Different states of consciousness," Shadow replies, echoing the words he spoke in the dream, "Dreams are gateways to other realms, and you are able to travel through them with ease, son. You may have been in contact with my spirit without my being conscious of it."

Fergus debates telling Shadow what he'd said, about Tasha being pregnant. But for now, it's too personal, too private to share. 

Shortly after his call ends, Jilly comes into his room with Julian, finally back from their impromptu vacation.

"Fergus, we need your help," Jilly dives right in, skipping the pleasantries. Julian fidgets uncomfortable behind her while she explains his odd sleep texting incident to her cousin. "There's just too much weirdness here, with is missing memories and now this sleep texting stuff. I was thinking, you might be right about MorcuCorp being involved. If they're messing with Julian, we have to stop them."

Fergus gestures for Julian to sit, and takes the chair beside him. Jillyan hovers protectively behind him.

"Jilly explained my abilities to you?" Fergus asks, not entirely comfortable with Julian kowong things about him that he hasn't even told Tasha yet.

"Only because we need your help," Jilly pipes in, "You know I wouldn't just blab that for no reason. Plus, Julian is practically family now, anyway."

Fergus raises an eyebrow at her, and then turns his glance back to Julian. Practically family? So soon? he muses, but saves questioning Jilly any further about it for later. "Let's start with the tattoo," Fergus says, not caring if Jilly had told Julian that she'd asked for his help recovering his memories once before. Fergus isn't the only one whose secrets Jilly has blabbed, and he smiles when he sees the discomfitted frown playing on Julian's lips, "I need you to think back, to your earliest memory about your tattoo."

Julian nods, and doesn't flinch when Fergus reaches out a hand to grab at his arm. "There's nothing there," he groans after a few minutes of searching his own mind, "Like I didn't even know it was there until Jilly mentioned it."

"Yes, I see that too," Fergus agrees, the only memory he can find attached to the tattoo is Jilly asking him about it. That memory is fraught with emotions, Julian's growing attraction for his cousin, and the fear that her learning about his problem with migraines will put her off. Fergus pulls back, not wanting to get that close to  man he's not ready to trust, despite Jilly's insistence that they are 'almost family'.

You are a Landgraab yourself, and internal voice reminds him. Fergus growls audibly at the intrusion.

"Are you okay, Fergus?" Jilly asks.

Julian is rubbing his own head, dealing with the pain the attempt to pry out his memories has induced.

"It's not an easy process," Fergus says to both of them, "I see nothing there, just like you. No memory of getting that tattoo, no memory of its existence before Jilly brought it up yo you. That nothingness bothers me."

"Not as much as it bothers me," Julian mutters.

"There's about your memories, in general. In the three times I've tried to read you, he day we met, when Jilly asked me to look for your tattoo memories, and today, I've gotten identical sets of memories. Like flipping through someone's scrapbook, it's snippets of memories, a series of snapshots with nothing in between. I see you riding a bike in a park, as a child. There's a classroom memory as a teen. Your mother smiling as she hands you a sweater..."

"I remember that," Julian nods.

"Yes, but do you remember anything else?" Fergus wonders, "How about your first kiss? You wouldn't be likely to just forget something like that."

Just the words evokes a powerful memory in Julian, and Fergus is surprised to see his cousin there, on the beach with Julian, the same day as the memory of her asking about his tattoo. "I meant your first kiss ever, not with Jilly," Fergus protests, but even as he says it he knows he's found it, Julian's memory of a first kiss is the one he shared with Jillyan.

Julian grimaces in pain as he tries, hard, to remember, "That can't be right," he says, "I had a girlfriend, in high school...I remember..." Fergus looks and sees what Julian sees, a vague image of a girl, a dance, but no kiss. Again, it's just snapshots of events, and nothing to fill the spaces between them. As Julian presses deeper, looking for what was lost, a floodgate of memories open, hundreds of women, memories of kisses flowing so fast it's impossible to focus on just one. 

"That wasn't me," Julian moans, "Those aren't my memories."

Fergus nods, lost in thought, "They couldn't possibly be all your memories. There were too many, And the different skylines in the, those couldn't be the memories of just one man, just one lifetime."

"Then why are they in my head?" Julian asks, "And where are my real memories?"

"Well, that's the question, isn't it?" Fergus muses, fully invested in this mystery now, "Jilly says you're seeing a doctor for your migraines? What has he told you?"

"She," Julian corrects him, "Dr. Deborah Wiseman. And...I don't know what she's said, I go to her office every week, but I don't remember anything about it."

"I can't put my finger on what's going on here," Fergus says, shaking his head, "The memories you do have feel fake, somehow, Like they were...implanted. And neither of us can access your real memories."

Julian's frown deepens, "Are you saying my whole life is a lie?" he demands.

"It's looking that way," Fergus says,"That sleep texting sounds like a hypnotic compulsion. And I think your 'doctor' is a MorcuCorp agent, your handler, maybe. You should stop seeing her. I'll see if I can hack into her files. Though if she is MorcuCorp, I expect some serious encryption. But we will get to the bottom of this."

"And kick MorcuCorp in the balls," Jilly adds.

"We're losing him," the doctor warns, "With every visit, it gets harder to call him back."

"It's the girl, isn't it?" Agent Tourmaline muses.

"I warned him, last time, that he was getting too close, becoming too invested in his persona. But he insisted on carrying on with it."

"He could just send agents to pick them up," Tourmaline says, "They aren't protected out here. I thought that was the point."

The doctor laughs, "If there was ever a point to this project, I think he lost it a long time ago."

"It's time we pulled the plug," Tourmaline decides.

"But, his orders were--"

"Screw his orders," Tourmaline says firmly, "We work for MorcuCorp, and he's clearly lost control of himself. If we don't act, we lose everything."


I have a Simblr now, where I post pics from my various stories, plus update announcements. And eventually I'll have lots and such for download there, too. Here's a link: Down the Rabbithole