Erika stormed upstairs and threw open the door to her daughter’s bedroom. Standing in front of a monitor, Jason and Emi were holding plastic guitars and playing a rhythm game. Taika was sitting on the floor behind a plastic drum kit. All three turned to guiltily face the door.
“Jason,” Erika scolded. “We have thirty family members in the back yard and you’re in here?”
“Those may not be unrelated facts,” Jason said.
“Well, nanna just arrived, so get your arse downstairs.”
Emi and Jason immediately perked up, putting aside the guitars.
“I’ll head back to the houseboat,” Taika said.
“You can stay if you like, Taika,” Erika said. “I didn’t see you arrive.”
“I left a portal open in your bedroom,” Jason told her.
Erika marched to her own bedroom and opened the door to find a shadowy archway at the end of her bed.
“Seriously?” she asked, turning her glare on Jason.
“No one’s going to come in here,” Jason said.
“Excuse I,” Taika said as he brushed past and paused in front of the portal. “We’re heading into Sydney tomorrow, yeah, Jason?”
“Yep,” Jason said.
“No worries,” Taika said. “You have a lovely home, Mrs Asano.”
Taika disappeared through the portal.
“Come on, Emi,” Jason said. “Let’s go see Grandnanna.”
Arriving downstairs and going through the kitchen, Jason was intercepted by one of his cousins. Koji was the son of Ken’s brother, Shiro. Being Jason’s age, they had spent a lot of time together as children, without ever really being friends.
“So here he is, back from the dead,” Koji said. “I guess there’s no keeping Bananaman down.”
“Koji,” Jason said, “You do realise that you’re implying that I’m too invested in white culture by referencing a British cartoon series from the 1980s that you and I used to watch together, right?”
“I see dying didn’t make you any less of a smart arse,” Koji said.
“No, that’s pretty set in stone,” Jason said. “Still, I won’t begrudge you going the other way.”
“What?” Koji asked.
“He’s calling you a dumb arse, Uncle Koji,” Emi explained.
“Oh Jesus,” Koji said. “You’re going to turn out just like him, aren’t you?”
“You hear that?” Jason asked Emi. “Uncle Koji thinks you’re going to be super good-looking. Let’s go find Nanna.”
“I hate you so much,” Koji said. “I’m glad you’re not dead, though.”
“Love you too, cousin.”
They went out into the back yard where a huge family barbecue was in full swing. He nervously met with his grandmother, who was lucid and happy to be so. She had almost no memory of the last several years and was happily catching up with all her family. Things got a little awkward, given that she didn’t remember that Amy was no longer with Jason but Kaito.
Jason found himself answering the same questions over and over. His story started with the one he had originally given his sister, but as his frustration grew, the story started to morph.
“I got one of the men who killed my wife, but the other one clubbed me over the head,” he explained to one of his cousins. “Now I can’t form short term memories so I have to keep meticulous records as I put the pieces together in my quest for revenge.”
“Isn’t that the plot of the film Memento?”
“Never heard of it,” Jason said, then gave a knowing look. “Or maybe I have and don’t remember.”
Jason spotted Erika scowling at him from across the yard and he ducked out of sight, finally grateful for the crowded yard. Emi continued to trail along behind him.
“What were you busy doing, yesterday.”
“What are monsters like?”
“Do you have any recordings of them?”
“I don’t think your mother wants you seeing them. Neither do I, for that matter.”
“What if I can talk dad into letting me?”
“No dice, Moppet. Convince your Mum and maybe we can talk.”
Emi’s face took on a pout.
“Where did you find monsters?” she asked.
“That’s not my secret to tell,” Jason said. “I’m hoping you’ll learn that soon, though.”
Jason was somewhat uncomfortable, the attention of everyone present prickling his aura senses. One particular strand was focused on him like a laser beam and he looked over at his mother.
“Emi,” he said. “You go see if you can’t convince your Mum now. I should go talk to mine.”
He made his way up to Cheryl, whose hands were clasped together around an untouched glass of wine.
“G’day, Mum,” he said softly. “I was kind of a prick the other night. Of course, you were kind of a prick for most of the twenty-tens, but maybe we can start treading some fresh ground. How about we find somewhere quiet inside and I tell you about what I’ve been up to.”
Cheryl flashed a well-recognised look of dissatisfaction at Jason’s poke, but visibly calmed herself.
“I’d like that,” she said.
“We can use Erika’s room,” Jason said. “There’s something there you need to see.”
Soon after, a startled Cheryl emerged through the portal onto the houseboat. As she leaned against the wall trying not to vomit, Kaito’s voice drifted in from the media room.
“What the hell is that? Is that a lion man?
“It looks like Ron Perlman from Beauty and the Beast,” Amy’s voice came after.
“From the movie? That can’t have been Ron Perlman.”
“Not the movie, Kai. The TV show. The old one, not the new one.”
“There’s more than one?”
Jason, Hiro, Taika and Vermillion met the EOA contingent in the downstairs bar of Hiro’s establishment. It was closed and empty, pending the change in ownership. The EOA representative was Michael Kissling, who had once come for Jason in Vermillion’s café.
“You’re not going to try and drag me off again, are you?” Jason asked.
“It’s come to our attention that the attempt would be unlikely to go well,” Kissling said wryly.
Jason had no expertise in the field of managing criminal or legitimate enterprises, so he hung back with Taika as Hiro and Vermillion went over documents and signed contracts.
“So, you fought a bunch of monsters, right?” Taika asked.
“Yep,” Jason said.
“Isn’t that scary?”
“Terrifying,” Jason said. “The trick is to start with the little ones and work your way up.”
“You know that rabbit from Holy Grail?”
“Bro, that thing’s savage.”
Jason’s phone rang with a number he didn’t recognise but he answered it anyway.
“Johnson Deli, where we give you the big sausage,” Jason answered, getting an odd look from Taika.
“Sorry, I think I got a wrong… wait, Jason?”
“G’day Asya. How’d you be?”
“This is how you answer your phone?”
“No, you really did use the wrong number. I’m actually doing temp work in a deli. Crazy coincidence, right?”
“You’re a lunatic, you know that?” she laughed. “Look, I’m on my way back to Sydney from the International Committee office in Canberra and we’ve gotten some movement from the Lyon branch about the outworlder. Can you meet me to talk in person? I can drive up to Casselton Beach once I’ve been to the branch office in Sydney.”
“Actually, I’m in Sydney myself,” Jason said.
“Great! Can you meet me at the Sydney branch in, say, three hours?”
“I’m not quite ready to walk into the lion’s den yet,” Jason said.
“You realise that if we’re going to work together, there has to be at least a level of trust,” Asya said.
“Tell me that there wasn’t a discussion about killing me off to forestall trouble and I’ll take you up on that.”
“Neutral ground, then,” Asya said. “You set the place.”
“Alright. I’ll see you in three hours.”
Jason wandered back just as Vermillion and Hiro settled up. Hiro was looking like the cat that got the cream, while Kissling was throwing uncertain glances in Jason’s direction.
“We’re happy?” Jason asked.
“Very,” Hiro said. “Their lawyers didn’t try to sneak anything through.”
“You’re not out of practice?” Jason asked. “You haven’t practised law in a long time.”
“Are you kidding?” Hiro asked. “I got more out of my law degree as a morally questionable business developer than I ever did at my old firm. Besides, it’s plain they went out of their way to make it clean and unambiguous.”
“The EOA clearly has no interest in provoking a visit from you,” Vermillion said. “After the bikers, I think they realised that if we hadn’t reached an accord the last time you met, it would not have gone the way they expected.”
“We should go see my Mum now,” Taika said. “Jason’s got a date later.”
“I do not have a date,” Jason said.
“You didn’t just arrange to meet some lady in the park?” Taika asked.
“It’s not like that,” Jason said.
“You should have heard him, all smooth,” Taika said. “He was all ‘let’s not meet at the office. We should go somewhere more intimate.’ You’re good with the ladies, bro.”
“I am not going to entertain this kind of talk,” Jason said.
“Who are you meeting?” Vermillion asked.
“Just someone from the Network,” Jason said.
“Anna Tilden?” Vermillion asked.
“Oh, nice,” Vermillion said. “Elegant beauty, I like it.”
“It’s a professional interaction,” Jason insisted.
“And what’s your profession, exactly?” Vermillion asked. “Interdimensional man of mystery? That definitely doesn’t sound like someone that mixes business with pleasure.”
“That sounds sweet,” Taika said. “You should get a theme song, bro. Something funky and sexy. Seventies-style.”
“Can we just go see your mother?” Jason asked. “I brought West Indian lime and coconut squares.”
In the medical department of the Network’s Sydney branch, Kylie Chen was sitting alone in a dark room. She trembled not from the cold but from the battle in the incursion space playing over and over in her mind. The door opened and someone came in, turning on the light.
“Hello, Miss Chen,” came the visitor’s sympathetic voice. “How are you holding up?”
“Ms Ellis,” Kylie said standing up from the edge of the bed in the presence of a Steering Committee member.
“Please sit,“ Miranda said. “After everything you’ve been through, I won’t make you stand on formality.”
Kylie hesitantly lowered herself back onto the edge of the bed and Miranda sat companionably next to her.
“I’m sorry you had to go through what you did,” Miranda said. “I’ve experienced the recording for myself. If we had any idea what kind of monster he was, we never would have let you go with him.”
“The recording device doesn’t get everything,” Kylie said in a tremulous voice. “Did you know he doesn’t use cores? Like Section Leader Thornton, but far more powerful.”
“That’s not all, though,” Kylie said. “There’s something in his aura. I don’t know what it is, but it’s more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen.”
“His aura strength is incredible for a category two, yes.”
“It’s more than that!”
Kylie’s voice was frantic, almost panicked, like she was desperate for someone to understand.
“Help me to understand,” Miranda asked.
“This thing inside him,” she said. “It’s like an echo of power not just above his category but beyond the very concept of categories. It’s almost… godly.”
“You think he possesses some kind of divine power?”
“I don’t know how else to describe it,” Kylie said. “When I was a girl, my grandmother used to take me to church. The priest was one of those sulphur and brimstone types, you know? I think he moved to America and joined one of those fundamentalist denominations. When Asano used that strange, bright power at the end of the fight, I was that little girl again, having nightmares of fire and judgement. It was like the fist of god coming down to punish the wicked. That’s what the thing inside Asano feels like. Old Testament power.”
“He’s dangerous,” she said. “That’s why the committee has decided to act but we need to be careful.”
“Yes,” Kylie agreed, nodding her head. “You do.”
“We need to keep our hands clean. The International Committee wants this man, regardless of the threat to us, so we need to do this delicately, and at a remove. This information is at the Steering Committee level only. We’re only bringing in people who understand the threat and that we can trust. We can trust you, right, Kylie?”
“Good,” Miranda said. “When the time comes, and that will be soon, I’ll deliver you a message with instructions. You need to obey them without hesitation, however startling they may be. Until then, complete discretion. Speak of this only with me. Do you understand?”
“One of the Lyon branch’s members grew a conscience,” Asya said. They were sitting on a bench with the outdoor fitness equipment at Yarranabbe Park. After arriving at the park, they had found one another through their auras.
“His name is Michel,” she said, “and he’s been at a black site the Lyon branch maintains.”
“A black site? Like the CIA?”
“It’s a facility whose existence wasn’t divulged to the International Committee. Even our new informant doesn’t know the location. The personnel, other than the Operations Director and the Steering Committee aren’t allowed to know its location. Workers are taken in blind.”
“And that’s where they’re holding the outworlder?” Jason asked.
She took a folder from the briefcase she brought with her and handed it over.
“They’ve been putting her through rendition,” Asya said. “What the Americans call enhanced interrogation, but she hasn’t cracked yet.”
“We don’t have a name. Everything we do have is in there. He even managed to sneak out a picture, which isn’t flattering. They don’t exactly have her in the best conditions.”
Jason opened the folder to look at the photograph that was the first thing in the file. Her hair was cut down to stubble and her face was covered with grime, but he still recognised the features.
He looked like he’d been hit with a taser, his face twitching and the folder slipping between trembling fingers to spill papers onto the ground.