I sat at a kitchen table in a beach house, drinking my third hot cup of coffee. I was talking to two men and two women who had traced us to this place I’d never even heard of twelve hours ago. Well, not really traced. They got here first.
I looked at the spokesman for the group, who called himself SeventyNine. I said, “Okay, everything you told me makes sense. I mean, if any of this really makes sense. But, I still don’t understand this Computronium at all.”
Just then, a pager beeped, in stereo, all around me. The whole room was echoing, beaming from wall to wall, ricochet bounce.
A pager! Like, the ones we used to carry around in the 90s. Each of these Suits had one. And, they had these ancient cell phones. Just like that Windbreaker Man at the office earlier today. I looked at my watch. Was that still today? The watch said seven-seventeen. Yup. Not even twelve hours ago.
The pagers beeped again. In stereo. Behind me. In Front. Both sides. All four agents reached for their belts. I realized they were beeping in sync. Each agent pulled the pager up in front of their face and read off the small screen.
SeventyNine said, “They’re onto us. Fifteen minutes. Let’s go. Rendezvous at…” SeventyNine paused, counted on his fingers, then said, “Location Blue. I repeat. Location Blue. Got it?”
The other three all nodded. SeventyNine said, “NineNinNine, Joanna, me and Sean. The rest of you with TwoZeroEight. Go!”
With military precision, the four of them stood up and started moving. Joanna, Jan, Robbie and I looked around, like, “What the fuck?” SeventyNine said, “I’ll explain in a minute. We do need to go.” Robbie looked completely freaked out, and made a move for the front door. TwoZeroEight said, “No, upstairs.” She turned and ascended the staircase. Robbie said, “Upstairs?”
SeventyNine nodded, “We came in through the attic. We want to leave as little trace as possible.” The fourth Suit was putting dishes in the dishwasher, and cleaning up the kitchen, arranging chairs, turning off lights.
I just stood there. My mind kind of… My mind kind of… it … uh…
TwoZeroEight said, “Sean – snap out of it!”
I said, “Oh, sorry. I kind of blanked there.”
TwoZeroEight looked at SeventyNine and said, “He’s already showing signs.”
I said, “Signs? Of what?”
SeventyNine said, “I’ll explain in the car. Clock’s ticking!”
We followed TwoZeroEight up the stairs, into the attic, across some sort of rigid plank from this house to the empty neighboring house. Let me tell you, it was freaky. Me and heights: not friends. Me and heights: enemies. It was only ten feet from one attic window to the attic window into the house next door… but I almost crawled.
We repeated the process to the next house, and the next. It Was Torture.
The homes were all from the same era, probably the twenties, and all built with the same basic plan. At the fourth house we descended down and through and to an attached two car garage, which must have been a recent addition.
Parked in the garage were (sigh) two little black Ford Focus hatchbacks. I thought, “uh… a Ford Focus? Are these guys on a budget?”
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Five minutes later, we were on the road, a dark rural road, speeding along. Zoom! We zipped across roads that were a mix of black ice, sheet of sheer, mirror smooth ice and just your normal extra fucking slippery ice. NineNineNine was driving, SeventyNine was in the passenger front seat, Joanna and I in the back, death gripping the seatbacks in front of us. I said, “Do you really need to drive this fast?”
NineNineNine just chuckled. For no real reason, she downshifted and floored it.
From the front seat, SeventyNine said, “So, back at the house, you suddenly had this five-mile stare. It’s called Being Overcome. It’s a problem.”
I remembered something. I said, “The Arcana pair, they said that about the Stacies!”
SeventyNine said, “Yes, I was told that those young ladies were in a bad way. About a month ago, Stasya and Natasia stole that Computronium, some call it fulgurite. You call it Crazy Rock. They used it for about two weeks. Flew all over Europe, raves, parties. Paris, Madrid, London. Tons of men. When the fulgurite — the Computronium — was stolen from them, it was smuggled to the US, then stolen again. We’ve lost track of it a couple of times. That’s how you got it.”
I said, “Well, I don’t have it anymore. I just want them to leave me alone!”
SeventyNine said, “No chance of that. They never stop until they have what they want. Your only chance is to help us. You help us, maybe we can find a way to leave you alone. Our goal is to find the location where they store their stash of Computronium. They call it the Museum. We find the Museum, maybe we solve the problem.”
I said, “Find the Museum. Okay, can’t you just Google it?”
SeventyNine said, “No. It’s very secure. It’s somewhere accessible, but the Arcana security is thorough and brutal. It’s a mystery how the Stasya and Natasia got it out. But we are glad they did. This is the best chance we’ve ever had to reverse engineer the location of the Museum.”
We drove for a minute, deep in thought, just the roar of the little car flying down the icy road.
I looked to my right, where Joanna sat, still death-gripping the arm rest, I thought about Jan’s bruised face, and the four dead men I saw in the courtyard. I said, “I just want this to be over. I never intended for any of this. I didn’t ask to be given the Computronium.”
SeventyNine repeated, “We all want it to be over. Everyone who has been fighting the Arcana has lost almost everything. I’ve been at this for a decade. I want my life back, too.”
He looked at the driver, NineNineNine. He said, “Right?”
NineNineNine said, “The Arcana killed my boyfriend just after Thanksgiving. That’s why I joined.”
SeventyNine said, “NineNineNine is our newest member. She traded in her old identity for NineNineNine. If we ever win this war, she can trade it back.”
I said, “That’s a lot of sacrifice.”
SeventyNine didn’t say anything, but he looked really sad.
I sat back heavily. What have I gotten into? Just the idea that this rock would do anything other than, you know, be a rock, seemed like so much BS. SeventyNine’s pager beeped. He looked at it. He said, “Okay, we’re clear. They’ve lost us.”
SeventyNine said, “You help us, we’ll help you.”
Nine-nine-nine slowed a bit, down from driving Completely Fucking Insane to just “going way too fast for the road conditions.” I started to repeat my question when I heard a phone ring. SeventyNine reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out an old Motorola flip phone covered in duct-tape. He said, “Yeah?” He listened for a minute then said, “I was concerned about that – do what you need to do. What’s your plan?” He listened again, then said, “You have my approval. I’ll deal with the fallout. Be safe.” Then he said, “Oh wait, one more thing… “ Then he covered his mouth with his hand, leaned forward by the dashboard and said something into the phone. It was muffled and I couldn’t understand what he said.
He flipped his phone closed, looked forward through the window and said, “Jan just threw up, and then passed out. They’re going to find an emergency room.”
I slapped the window way too hard! I thought, Shit! I should not have gotten Jan involved. Why did I do that? And Joanna, and Robbie.
And I knew what I had to do. I said, “Okay, I’m on board. Tell me how to find the Arcana people, and that Museum.”
SeventyNine said, “If you really want to find the Museum, you won’t need to find the Arcana. Just let them find you.”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson