Murder with a Mini cooper
Danger can remind you that you have two choices, face this harsh world a lone mortal, or seek the aid of The Eternal.
-Paul Meyer, A Worshiper Dilemma
It was a beautiful day in early summer. I rolled the window down as we passed through wooded hills. Athena was soon out of sight, the treeline hiding Her from view. We were heading to my lunch with Doctor Robert Skizan. The forest got denser and denser as we passed through three layers of security until finally, we passed through a tall barbed-wire fence covered in warning signs. The fence slid away, and the car drove slowly through. I looked around. The road cut thick forest. I don't know what I expected, but we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
"Where are we?" I asked
"Morvan Regional Natural Park," Avary replied.
"A natural park?"
"Why hadn't I thought of that?" I chastised myself aloud. Why did no tell me that yet? "It would have to be federally owned land. So, to the public, there's now just this secret operation going on in the middle of the woods?"
"Yes," Avery said.
"Seems very Close Encounter Of The Third Kind-ish," I said as we turned a corner, and the fence disappeared from view, hidden by some low bushes. Avery gave no response.
The park wasn't just a forest. The hill-filled area also had fields, rivers, and ponds. I noticed that France didn't have as many tall, thick trunked trees as American. In France, the trees were closer to the ground, more spread out, and seemed less old.
The serene car ride was interrupted by my phone vibrating in my pocket with a call. I pulled it out and took a shuddering breath as I saw who it was. Adam.
Adam was my older brother by three years.
I don't know. Like I said, tense is hard when time travel gets involved.
I'd last seen Adam at my dad's funeral. Adam and I had always fought and competed as little kids, but at the funeral, we had our biggest fight yet. He was the oldest and most financially successful of the siblings, so he took the lead at the funeral. During the weekend we spent together, he exploded after my speech, saying that I was being self-centered and then yelled at me for not helping dad edit his book. I said that they were all treating dad like a saint when he'd just been a guy and an imperfect one at that.
At that, Adam shook his head and walked away from me. I had not talked to him since.
As I stared at my phone, cold and hot emotions rippled through me. Anger, pride, confusion, and most of all, shame.
Good ol' shame. You see, each time Adam and I had a bad interaction, I felt ashamed of what I had said, but since that wasn't particularly fun to feel, instead I decided to blame it all on him and put myself in the place of infinite rightness.
Deep down, I knew this was a farce, but it was easier than talking to him.
Now he was calling me, bringing everything I had avoided thinking about to the surface.
But you're the successful one this time! The voice reminded me.
And then another voice spoke. The voice of little Matt, who wanted his older brother to let him ride on his go-cart, made me blush. Adams wants to talk to you.
A mix of both sides churned around my face, making it hot and tingly as I answered.
"Hello," I said, the two sides holding each other in perfect balance.
"Is this Matthew Meyers?" Adams' deep, familiar voice asked.
"Yup, it's me. Adam?" I responded.
"Yeah, it's me. I got this number from that email you sent to the family," I was confused, and then I remembered Myke had emailed my family to tell them I was moving to France for my job with the UN.
"Yeah, awesome that you got a job with the UN! And in France! Kinda out of the blue." Adam said.
"Yeah," I said again.
"How's it been so far?"
"Great! Great, busy, but really cool."
"That's great! Hey, me and Ashely were planning on taking the kids on a trip to Italy this summer, but when we heard you were in France, we thought maybe they could come to see Paris and their uncle instead. Whatcha think? Is Paris cool?"
Unbridled joy sparkled through the confusion like grains of salt on ice. "Oh my gosh, that'd be awesome! I've been dying to meet little Timothy and Mary-Marget."
"Yeah, they're just starting to talk now, and it's adorable, and Francis hasn't seen you in so long he barely remembers you. But Grace does, and she said she'd much rather see her favorite uncle than Italy."
A pure laugh bubbled out of me as I remembered the adorable face of little Grace when I had last seen her. She had been eight and was missing her two front teeth. She got excited about everything and thought I was the coolest person in the world. "We're looking at plane tickets for next week. Would that work?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty busy, but I have Saturdays off, so I could see you all then!"
"Great, we'll all be heading over then!"
"Sounds great. This is a really nice surprise."
"Yeah, the kids have never left the states, so it'll be good for them. And it's been too long since we've talked."
I paused, "Yeah."
"Okay, see you Thursday!"
"Love you." He said.
I paused and looked at Avery, whose eyes were glued to the road and giving no sign of listening.
If I'm being honest, I kinda expected Paris to be a bit of a disappointment. I thought all that talk about its beauty and culture was made up by a bunch of posers and the Paris tourism agency. This belief was somewhat based on experience. I've been disappointed by cities before, to my uncultured eyes, New York and DC and London all look the same on the surface, But Paris actually felt different. There were no skyscrapers or super modern buildings. The architecture was consistent with itself and what you want it to be.
We parked a couple hundred yards away from Le Bouillon, the restaurant where the Doctor had told me he'd meet me. Avery insisted on coming with me, saying he wasn't allowed to let me out of his sight. I thought it felt a bit like overkill since no one knew who I was yet, but I allowed it.
As I got out of the car, I peered down the street. The one-way street curved slowly out of sight, the stone-cut four-story buildings that enclosed the road like a canyon or alleyway. The buildings on either side of the street were long and felt almost more like parts of the streets geography than buildings. They matched each other and were loosely consistent in style, but no two spots were the same. The buildings were littered with windows, balconies, signs, colorful doors, and glass fronts displaying various wares.
A little arched alleyway with stone stairs there, a shop which front was made of panes displaying old wooden toys here, and an old French guy passing me on a bike right there oh my gosh, that was a little close.
Nothing looked perfectly new, but nor was anything falling apart. The city seemed to be playing this balancing game, and for a moment, a game I was afraid I was interrupting.
A french truck beeped past me, and I jumped slightly. I hadn't been in the real world for a while. I saw the little truck putter down the street, leaving behind a slight smell of exhaust. I was relieved for the poles that lined the sidewalk. They seemed to prevent the cars from accidentally jumping up the low curb and ramming me into the beautiful buildings.
As I watched the truck turn the corner, I caught the smell of bread and could hear that comforting hum of the activity of a city.
I smiled and looked back at Avery. He smiled back. "First time in Paris?" He asked, pronouncing it painfully french.
I blushed ever so slightly as I realized how uncultured I was, "Yes, it's lovely."
We arrived at a little intersection where the sunlight cut down the street and illuminated Le Boulin. The restaurant was at the corner of one of the long stone buildings. It was spilling out onto the large area of sidewalk beside the intersection, a little red awning extended out and shading the many green chairs.
"Matthew!" Doctor Skizain said, standing up from the table furthest out from the restaurant. "Good to see you. Come sit down."
"Hey!" I said, walking up and shaking his hand solidly, "It's a really nice day.
"Yes, the weather is extremely pleasant." He said as he broke from the handshake and slipped into the chair. It was weird to see him in person. He was just there, the thin beard, sharp cheekbones, glasses, and nice understated suit.
I sat down, and Avery sat next to me. A couple people looked our way, most of them staring at Avery, who was wearing a bulletproof vest and scowling at just about everything.
The Doctor ordered our food in fluent french, and then we got talking.
"How was the drive here?" He asked.
"Good, Honestly, I didn't really realize where we were until we left the park."
He chuckled, "Yes, A park is the only piece of land in France where they wouldn't have to clear out villages."
I nodded, "They're saying it's mining, right?"
"That's the story the public hears." The Doctor agreed, "And it is not entirely a lie either. Huge amounts of uranium were recently discovered in those mountains."
"Really?" I asked, a slight tinge of embarrassment rising as I remembered how I'm still kept in the dark a lot.
He leaned back and smiled as if aware of the effect he was having, "The project requires substantial amounts of uranium to function. The uranium mining and use of atomic machinery have sparked rumors that France is making atomic bombs, but the more common theory is that France is going nuclear. The government has been talking for ages about getting the electric grid completely off of fossil fuels. So it's actually quite a plausible guess."
I nodded, "Yeah, and I bet the project is helping keep those rumors going."
"They definitely are, and the populace of the world actually cares very little about what little France is doing in their park. It doesn't affect them, so why care? And, as of yet, it doesn't score any team political-points, so why comment on it. It's too soon to know who should be outraged. And Time travel rumors are too absurd for even most of the conspiracy inclined, so the project is safe from terrible scrutiny."
I chuckled, "It's even hard to believe from the inside."
"It is 'Magnificent,' as Gabrellio would say."
I smiled, "Yes, he does like to say that."
"I'm glad that Gabrellio has warmed up to you. He's a good friend of mine, and I like when my friends get along." Robert said, I felt a little spark of kinship as I realized he had put me in the category of friend, "And he has more power in the project than you would think. He isn't just their fundraiser."
I nodded, not sure how that was true, but I wanted to make it look like I already understood. "But what are you up to now? Where have you gone since the project?"
"Oh, not far. Athena is a possible source of infinite clean energy, so I'm exploring that as a possibility. Just drawing up some designs here and there and working with Green Now, the charity, to help develop that."
Before I could stop myself, I blurted, "If I may ask, why'd you quit?" Why didn't you just work on that from the inside? Why abandon Her?" Curiosity, my constant companion, along with worry and that zit next to my lip that seems to be unkillable.
He sighed, "A lot of reasons, but in the end, Destiny's Touch started to get the better of me. I was going under a lot, but the effects it was having on me began to grow, and even when I slept, it was there." He looked off into the distance dramatically, "The dreams! The dreams." He cried with a shudder. "Are you starting to have them yet? The terrible dreams?"
I froze and tried to keep my composure… They were just dreams. "What kind of dreams?"
"Dreams that were like the Touch… the same types of things you saw while under, but clearer. Terribly vivid." He said.
I slowly shook my head, my dreams weren't what I saw in the touch, nothing like it, in fact.
Well, 'in-fact' they were very similar, but 'in-experience' or 'in-belief' they were quite different, because one I relished, and the other I hated. One proved that I had control, and the other shattered it. Often emotion feels much more real than fact because fact exists outside of the self, but feeling inside of it, so feeling tends to like to validate its own truthfulness.
"No, I haven't yet." Even though I hadn't thought it was a lie, it felt like one leaving my mouth.
The Doctor searched my face. "Nothing? Nothing strange? They turned out to mean nothing, but it would be nice to talk to someone about them. The touch is terribly alone in that way. You're the only one who has experienced it. I just want someone else who knows what I dreamt," A shakiness had crept its way into his voice. Doctor Skizan was begging me.
I paused, then my jaw hardened. He had placed himself below me, I was in power, and I would not go back down to him again. "No, nothing."
Suddenly, the Doctors face completely changed back, and he laughed, "Doesn't matter much." He took a sip of his glass of wine with a look of ease on his face, but I thought I saw in his eyes the sharp look of decision.
"You must excuse me. I need to use the bathroom. Little too much coffee this morning, I suppose," He said, getting up. The Doctor walked inside of the building, leaving Avery and me alone.
Taking a sip of my soup, I considered whether our conversation had been too out in the open.
My mind wandered to the horrible thing Robert had told me. He had quiet because his brain had begun to break down. If his had, what about mine? I was going under even more than him now. I never had time to recover either. Had the psychologist been right? Would I injure myself soon? Was Josh just going to use me up and throw me aside?
Avery interrupted my thoughts with a look of concern. I'd never seen Avery express any emotion, let alone a negative one. He was staring intently at something behind me. In surprise, I turned around to investigate. Rocketing down the road much faster than seemed safe was a silver mini-cooper. It had to be going at least 45 miles an hour on the narrow street. People were yelling and jumping out its way as it passed by them. It was moments away from the intersection and only accelerating. As it entered the intersection, its tires skidded, and it turned sharply. It whipped around, not to one of the streets, but the corner where all the tables from La Bulletin sat. Where I sat. It was skidding at me.
Someone slammed into my side, throwing me off my chair and out of the path of the car. I landed on the hard stone with a heavy body on top of me. My head stopped uncomfortably quick as it became acquainted with the pavement.
As my brain settled back into its place, I heard the last ringing of a massive crash and crunching. The street and my brain had devolved into screaming confusion in a moment.
The thing on top of me - Avery, jumped up quickly but stayed between me and the building. I looked between his legs. The small car had managed to squeeze between two of the poles, jump the curb, and fly through our table and chairs we had been sitting at moments before, turning them to kindling. It had kept going, flying through other tables, like a bowling ball through pins, sending people and chairs scattering. The car had then slammed through the restaurant's front wall and come to a halt when it hit the restaurant's counter. "Stay down, Monsieur," Avery said. I realized he was clutching a pistol in his hands.
A man rolled out from the front seat of the car into a crouch. His face was bloody from a cut in his hairline, but in one hand, he clutched a dark object. He moved to point the gun at Avery. Before he could, the sound of a Gunshot cracked the air. I gasped and blinked. I felt dizzy and nauseous. Had I been shot? But then I saw the man fall back against the wreckage clutching his chest. Avery shot five more times, filling the air with the splitting sound. The man jerked with each shot and then went completely limp.
Avery turned around and scanned the area, and then his eyes fell on me. "Lunch is over, back to the car," Avery said, helping me up.
"What?" I asked, feeling the spot in my head that was now bleeding slightly.
"You are not safe here. You have been made a target."