The eight places were still, even abandoned. All but one. Only one of them was occupied—and that was by a pillar of fine grey mist. It was almost invisible to the background of fog. But it was there.
It twisted, as if in anger, leaping from its place—one of the cracked ones—and disappeared in to the surrounding fog like a wraith, leaving no trace. And the eight places were still once more.
Justin slipped into his house as quietly as he could. His mother would be sleeping still—she had the night shift at the local clinic—and hopefully would not hear him. She had enough to worry about already.
His hands were shaking.
Keep calm and carry on. It wasn’t Sun Tzu, but it was still wisdom. And from the British, of all people.
Justin moved as quickly as he dared up the stairs to his room. It was one of the three upstairs rooms, the first on the right. He entered it like a professional car driver—only slowing at the last second.
And slammed the door. He couldn’t help it. His hands were no longer his own, shaking and making strange signs in the air like a conductor’s wand. He forced his mind to calm and withdraw as his broken body ruled.
His mouth was speaking as he collapsed on the edge of his bed, barely staying on as his hands moved in bigger and bigger gestures.
“Seventeen, five, one thousand, two, twenty-five, one hundred and thirty-three…”
They meant little to him. Birthdays, passwords, the number of tiles in the bathroom at school—where he was spending more and more of his time… The numbers were part of his life, but not him. It wasn’t him doing this.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, they said. He ritualized—that was the marker. Every day he came home from school and counted, reliving his short seventeen years of life through the numbers.
But it wasn’t that. OCD was a mind problem. His mind was fine. He could think, could withdraw from his twitching body. But OCD was the only option, the only disorder that fit the problem at all, so OCD it was.
When he finally finished ten minute later, he was sweating. Justin pulled off his sweatshirt, his body returned to his mind’s control for the time being. He changed into shorts and a t-shirt despite the chill coming in the half-open window and sat down at his desk.
He flipped open the laptop that lay there and typed in his password. It was long—he cared about his privacy. It was the English version of Sun Tzu’s, author of On the Art of War, most famous phrase.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome of a hundred conflicts.
True, at least in theory. He opened a web browser and logged into his favorite conspiracy theory website, accessing the forums. One response to his latest conspiracy theory case. One.
Justin sighed. It had taken him weeks to go through all the footage of the robbery and the court transcripts and to put together his case. A clear obstruction of justice. Family in high places. And no one had taken notice. They were too busy reading the inflammatory posts about the Illuminati taking over—of all places—the Solomon Islands. They hadn’t of course, but it was all in the phrasing. Apparently, secrets
Justin didn’t bother reading the response. It would most likely be from someone who didn’t understand part of the complicated case. Some newbie who didn’t know the meaning of logic. What was the use? There used to be intelligent discussion on the forums.
He sat back in his swivel chair, surveying his room. Something he also always did when he returned to his room.
His bed, double wide to accommodate his thrashing. A tall, soft carpet, new since his incidents started. All the sharp edges blocked with foam. His book shelf over his bed. There was only one book on it—Sun Tzu’s On the Art of War. His favorite book. He only wished it applied more to him—teenagers, especially ones with mental disorders, weren’t the favorite of the military.
Justin sighed again and opened his computer. He went to CNN, checking on the events of the last twenty-four hours. It shouldn’t be long before his mother awoke and began preparing dinner before heading for her night shift.
Hiram Retland moved out from behind the tree that had concealed his tall, lanky form. The woman was gone—the bus had picked her up. He, too, wore a long coat, though his was grey to match his thick hair.
He gazed after it, considering his next move. Confrontation was a bad idea, especially since she had just called whatever she had found in. He had only caught snatches of her conversation—but it appeared there was a possible in the area.
It could mean nothing, for the woman had traveled all over the world in search, but he would not be the one to take the risk.
He touched the screen of his smartphone and held it to his ear. Like with the woman, the call connected almost immediately.
Hiram spoke first. “Their Seeker is here, checking a possible. I don’t know how long she’ll stay.”
“Stay with her.” The voice on the other end was breathy, as if the man was gasping for air. “Follow her. Our Seeker is en-route.”
Hiram almost dropped the phone. “Sarai is—”
“Names!” the man hissed.
“—our Seeker is coming here?” Hiram amended. “Is that wise? If they are here in force…”
“You will have backup. Do not lose her at any cost. Out.”
Hiram Retland put the phone back in his pocket. Then he walked to the bus stop, checked the schedule, and walked away towards a parking lot, whistling.