Project Ordine – Chapter 3: On The Run

Chapter 3

Rosso proceeded down the large hall that lead to the meeting room. This New York City skyscraper had many such halls and rooms, including more than a few secret ones. Two agencies made use of these secret rooms—the CIA and L’Ordine. Rosso’s first meeting was with L’Ordine and he arrived early, taking a side entrance where they had complete control over the surveillance cameras.

The meeting room was barred with two thick metal doors unlocked only by the correct combination of a biometric scanner and keypad. After the biometric signature passed, Rosso entered the four digit code. It wasn’t the code that mattered, but the energy sensors beneath the keys, which registered that he had Karashingan powers and promptly unlocked the door.

Izo Inahka, the District Commander of Asia and Rosso’s half brother, sat at the head of the table. “Good of you to join me, brother,” he said, not trying to hide his disdain. As of yet, they were the only two in the room.

“Let’s not quarrel,” Rosso retorted. “This is about the cause. Something that is far greater than us and our measly troubles.”

Soon, two more Karashingan agents arrived. Jacque Chaussure, District Commander of Western Europe, and Sophia Katharós, District Commander of Eastern Europe. Rosso wasn’t originally from the United States, but in his years stationed there he was made the unofficial authority for the region. This  was a relatively small gathering, as there were many other regional commanders, but Izo had called these together specifically.

After everyone was seated, Izo began. “The Detective Program was a failure,” he said, eyeing Rosso. “We lost the American detective, Leor, and Titus Musibet is pushing the limits of our unspoken accords. As a result, Karashingan City has ordered his capture.”

“And how do you and the City expect to succeed where the program failed?” Sophia asked. “Titus has set his headquarters in Sibera. It’s reportedly well guarded and the weather is treacherous.”

“That is precisely why we’ve decided to task you with the mission, Sophia,” Izo smiled. “Your agents are far more experienced with the territory. You may also borrow whoever you like from the other regions, as you see fit.”

Sophia shook her head, “And if the ancient power is awakened? What then?”

“This is a dangerous mission,” Rosso agreed. “I think it should wait for a little longer until we learn more about Jake’s abilities.”

“You want us to rely on a teenager?” Izo scoffed. “No. His abilities are unusual, but we haven’t found a successor for Lucio in centuries. It’s doubtful that such a Karashingan would choose a boy.”

“In the Detective Program, we found talent in the most unexpected places,” Jacque remarked. “So Jake may be the successor, I won’t discount that. But we don’t know for sure, and Titus is primed to act. You know this, Rosso. We all do. We must act fast.”

“The Dark Karashingan is already after Jake,” Rosso said. “Of that I have no doubt. If we don’t utilize him, they will. There’s more to this than Titus.”

“And Aedus is plenty capable of protecting him,” Izo assured his brother. “We’ll take one thing at a time. Jake can wait. Titus will not.”

“And the ancient power?” Sophia repeated. “Will it wait?”

“Titus cannot be so ignorant to try and awaken it,” Izo said. “He would be making his own grave.”

Jacque touched the table in front of him and a screen came to life. He swiped through a few pages of documents and then turned to Rose. “I’ll offer Rose and Blake for the mission.”

“Very well,” Sophia said. “Cніг will be their guide.”

Izo looked pleased. “You have your strike team. Now, Rosso, what will you do with your boy?”

“I’m confident in his abilities. They simply need refined. Aedus and I will train him.”

“Everything you’ve reported of Jake is indicative of failure,” Izo said. “Some among The Order believe as you do. I, however, do not. Train him at your own peril.”

• • •

Jake awoke in a moving car. His gaze darted to the imposing man seated at the wheel—red haired, emerald eyed, toned, and with a gun at his side.

“Where am I?” Jake blurted, still dazed. He glanced at the back of the car, which had hundred dollar bills strewn across the seats, and then to the car door.

“Before that…” the man began. “I’m Aedus. Elbert may have mentioned me. We’re in a rental car from Rosso. And here, have some coffee.” He motioned to a cup of Sunbrock’s coffee. “Just don’t spill.”

Jake took the coffee and sniffed at it. It was straight black. He wrinkled his nose but took a sip anyway. It tasted bitter. He set the coffee back into the cupholder. He could ask a dozen questions, but he was too tired to be bothered. Instead, he settled for one. “Did you save me?”

“Yes,” Aedus replied. “Although you hardly needed saving. You took those guys out.”

“Are they… dead, then?”

Aedus shook his head. “No, no. One’s unconscious, and the other has a broken rib cage, but both are still alive.”

Jake took a deep breath and watched Aedus for a minute. Aedus frowned and turned to focus on the road.

“You’re not here to see Elbert, are you?” Jake asked.

Aedus laughed. “You’re asking all of the wrong questions! But that’s fine, we’ll get to the other stuff later. No, that’s not the main reason. But I did want to visit Elbert. The main reason is… I’m a substitute. I was supposed to keep track of you.”

“So, spy on me?” Jake lay against the headrest and closed his eyes.

“That’s about right,” Aedus nodded, with a smirk. “But it’s to protect you. Rosso has been watching out for you all the time before.” Jake was quiet, so Aedus continued. “We know about your abilities and you’re of great interest to us. You’ve also caught the attention of criminals. People who would like to us your power for their benefit.”

“How are they going to use my super senses?” Jake asked. “I’m not a sniffer dog.”

Aedus laughed again. “Props, Jake. You’re funny, even when you’re half awake.”

“And you’re a poet. Where are you taking me?”

“I’m not sure yet,” Aedus admitted. “Just driving around. You’re not my prisoner though. I’m just keeping us moving until we settle on a place. Are you hungry?”

Jake’s stomach growled at the thought. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in days. “Very.”

“Burgers sound good?” Aedus asked.

Jake nodded. “Anything sounds good.”

Aedus pulled off to the side of the road and looked at the map. “How’s Chuck’s Burgers and Pork?”

That’d be right by Jake’s house, and the owners knew Jake and his family well. It’d be the best place to make an escape. Although maybe he wouldn’t have to. He felt like he could trust Aedus. “That works great,” Jake said. “They have good food.”

“That’s where we’ll go then,” Aedus said. “Are you done with the coffee?”

Jake looked back at the cup of tar. And then he eyed Aedus. “Why?”

“I figured it might give you some energy. Otherwise I’ll drink it.”

Jake took the cup again and put down one large gulp. His face contorted in disgust and he held the cup out to Aedus. Aedus popped off the lid and drank the entire remaining cup.

Jake shook his head. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” Aedus asked, setting down the cup. He shifted out of park and drove the car back into the traffic lane.

“Drink that sludge. How can anyone drink that?”

“I like it,” Aedus said.

Jake blinked twice, incredulous. “Okay then.”

Aedus followed the directions on the map while Jake collected his thoughts. His mind was beginning to clear up, but he still felt tremendously sore and hungry. “You didn’t answer earlier. How are the criminals going to use my abilities? And why is Rosso involved?”

“Rosso is involved because he’s an important member of The Order, the organization that has taken interest in you. The same organization that recruited me when they discovered my powers. It’s all part of a project to find superhuman beings and ensure they make use of their abilities for good. The criminals are on the other end. They use their powers for their own advantage. And they’d love to have you join them.”

“But why?”

“Because your abilities are unusual. It’s thought that you may have the same power as an ancient member of The Order. He once locked away a great power to protect it from misuse. They would use you to unlock it. Rule the world and all that.”

Jake set his head back on the headrest. “I really am a superhero,” he murmured, recalling what Michelle had said earlier. “It’s like I’m friends with a superhero. You have had these incidents, and these powers that are beginning to surface, and next you’ll be saving the world.”

Aedus made a turn and looked back at the map. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” Jake replied. “Does Rosso have powers too, then?”

“Oh yes,” Aedus said. “He’s one of our most powerful. And it runs through his family. Elbert doesn’t have powers, if you were wondering.”

“Aww, that’s too bad.”

“Heh, it’s better that way. He’d want to follow me everywhere if he was recruited. Not that I’d mind…. but it’s not safe.”

“Am I going to be recruited then?” Jake asked. “Will it be dangerous?”

“That’s your choice,” Aedus answered. “And Rosso and I are here to keep you safe either way.”

“But you said you were a substitute? So Rosso isn’t here?”

“No, he’s out of town. But he’ll be back to take over soon. Then I’ll probably be off again unless I’m needed longer.”

The map app announced that they’d reached their destination. Aedus parked the car towards the front of the restaurant and unclipped his phone. “Let’s eat!” he said, eagerly.

Jake unbuckled, opened the car door, and stepped out of the car. He closed the door and stumbled forward, suddenly lightheaded. Aedus rushed to his side and took his right arm, helping him to the door. “Take a breath.”

Jake took in a deep breath and looked to Aedus gratefully.

“Can you make it in?”

“Yes,” Jake nodded. “It just caught me by surprise.” The entrance was equipped with a handicap rail and Jake took ahold of it as he walked inside. Aedus remained at his side, but let him move along on his own.

The owner, Chuck, came to the door and greeted them. “Welcome! Are you from out of tow—” He noticed Jake. “Ah, Jake! It’s good to see you again. But you don’t look so well.”

“He overworked himself today,” Aedus explained. “And now he’s just lightheaded. And hungry. He tells me this is a good place?”

“Oh yes, he and his parents are regulars. But who are you?”

Jake steadied himself and let go of the railing. “He’s a co-worker.”

Aedus raised an eyebrow.

“And a friend.” Jake smiled. “He suggested we get some lunch after work today. So I told him we should come here.”

“That’s my boy,” Chuck said with a laugh. “You keep bringing them in.” He looked around the restaurant and spotted an empty booth. “Here! We’ll get you seated right away over here.”

Chuck guided Aedus and Jake to the right side of the restaurant and past the bar towards the center.  Aedus kept a careful watch of Jake, but he seemed to be recovered well enough to walk. They sat down and Chuck fetched them a couple of menus and wrapped silverware.

“What can I get you both to drink?” Chuck asked.

“I’ll take a black coffee,” Aedus said.

Jake inwardly cringed. “I’ll have the root beer, thanks.”

“I’ll be right back with those,” Chuck said, and hurried off.

Aedus waited for a moment, looking at the menu, and then turned to Jake. “Does Chuck run the whole place himself?” He said half joking. “I don’t see anyone else.”

“Nah,” Jake replied. “Only on the off hours. There’s probably still a waitress in the back though.”

“Ah okay,” Aedus nodded. He glanced at Jake’s righthand pocket. “Can I see your phone, Jake?”

“Sure, but why?” Jake asked, slipping out his phone.

Aedus reached his hand into his own pocket and pulled out an adhesive button. “This button contains a disruptor that will prevent common communication signals within a ten foot radius. That way, no one can listen in from the outside.”

Jake set down his phone and let Aedus apply the button to the back of the phone. “There we go,” Aedus said. “All set.”

Chuck returned with the drinks and set them down on the table, along with a plate of hot, buttered bread rolls for starters. “Here we are. Do you gentleman know what you’d like to eat?”

“I’ll have the Kobe jalapeño burger,” Jake said, almost drooling from the thought. “With fries and mashed potatoes.”

Chuck jotted down the order and turned to face Aedus.

“And I thought we Irish liked potatoes,” Aedus snickered at Jake. “I’ll have the kobe jalapeño burger as well, but with the broccoli and baked beans.”

“Got it!” Chuck said. “I’ll go put that in.”

As Chuck left again, Jake picked up a bread roll and stuffed a large bite in his mouth. Aedus grabbed on as well, and applied some strawberry jam.

“Why didn’t you order any potatoes?” Jake asked between bites. “If you like them so much.”

“I was only kidding,” Aedus replied with a grin. “We had to survive on potatoes for the longest time. It’s not that we’re all naturally drawn to them. I’ll eat them in stews and whatnot back home, but I try different things when traveling.”

Jake finished off his roll, grabbed another, and drank some root beer. His strength was gradually returning. “Does Elbert know what you really do?

“No.” Aedus paused to look at Jake. “He’s young, like you. I don’t want to involve him. I wouldn’t involve you either, but that wasn’t my choice.”

“Whose was it? Who made the choice for me?”

Aedus frowned and took a buttered roll. “Rosso and The Order. We have agents everywhere. The moment you started having those daydreams, you were on the map. And even before.”

“How did they know, though? Street cameras? Trackers? Did Rosso watch me even before I did anything?”

Aedus pointed to Jake’s phone on the table. “There, for one. The Order has their hand in the tech industry, and has a proprietary sensor built into every major smartphone. But it’s hidden amongst other components and is built using nanotechnology. So the average teardown isn’t going to uncover it. The manufacturers themselves aren’t even aware of its presence. The sensor detects certain energy signatures. You gave off a form of Karashingan power.”

Jake appeared confused. “Karashingan?”

“Yes, that’s what we call the energy that fuels our abilities. The reason you could lift that motorcycle wasn’t because you’re super buff. Your body was enhanced by the Karashingan. It can be like adrenaline in some ways. Or cast out as powerful blasts.”

“So like energy beams?”

Aedus laughed. “Similar. It doesn’t seem like you can do that though. Your powers are probably dormant and awakened by your mission state—when you’ve sleepwalked or chased after the bank robbers. That’s The Orders’ theory anyways.”

Jake thought about the movie trailer for Colonel Weak, Now Strong. It was filled with explosions, drama, and romance. It wasn’t the quiet life. “How come superheroes and villains aren’t in the news?” Jake asked. “If you can blow things up, wouldn’t that have happened? Wouldn’t someone know about it?”

“There are incidents,” Aedus admitted, taking a drink of coffee. “But we’re hesitant to use our abilities outright. Say there’s a super-powered bank robber. If he uses his powers to threaten the clerks or break in, then he’s on the radar. We’ll hunt him down. You don’t hide energy blasts. And neither side wants media coverage. Even the most ambitious among us know to work from the shadows. We’re not interested in another war between Light and Dark. Not until the power balance has shifted, anyway. That’s where you come in.”

“The great power that was locked away,” Jake guessed.

“Exactly. If the Dark Karashingan side had that power, they wouldn’t need to stay hidden. They could overtake us.”

“What about The Order? Do they want that power too?”

Aedus cast his eyes around the room and then back to Jake. “Everyone wants power, Jake. Whether it’s over circumstances in life or over others. But I’d like to think The Order is wise enough not to unlock that power. It’s destructive and hard to control. Even if you can be used to control it, there’s no guarantee for how long, or that you’ll stay loyal to one cause or another. You’re a kid. And I don’t mean that wrong. I’m not that old myself. But that kind of thing wouldn’t appeal to the elders among us. People like Rosso.”

Jake could relate with that. Rosso couldn’t depend on Jake for a good grade in English, much less great power. He would never entrust him with that kind of responsibility.

Aedus continued, “And that’s a good thing. That way, you’re no one’s pawn. I’ll make sure of that. You can make the choice if you want to join us or not.”

“What does Rosso want?” Jake figured Rosso would want him to join. Keep him close and supervised.

Aedus dismissed the notion, “It doesn’t matter. What do you want? And no hurry now. You’ll have time to think about it.”

Will I really have time? Jake wondered. If there’s people after me… I need to choose. Quickly.

Chuck returned with a tray of two kobe jalapeño burgers and sides and set the food on the table. As he left to get drink refills, the door to the restaurant opened, and a man walked in. He was over 6 foot tall with short cropped black hair and a build like a pro-wrestler. He walked over to Jake and Aedus’s table and sat down next to Jake, who quickly shifted over.

Ammon Jónsson,” Aedus said plainly. His phone vibrated at his side, but he ignored it and quietly drew his gun instead. “What do you want?”

Ammon set his hand on Jake’s shoulder. “You know what we want. And you’ll comply if you want to see your brother and his host family again.”

Chuck was coming back from the bar when he saw Aedus’s gun under the table and Ammon seated across from him. He hurried to the back of the restaurant.

“What have you done?” Aedus growled.

“Nothing yet,” Ammon shrugged. “But I’m not patient.” He set a budget smartphone on the table with a map and navigation preset. “You’ll follow the directions and drop the boy off at that location. You have an hour. Don’t let your burgers, or your brother’s life, go to waste.” He stood and tousled Jake’s hair. “I’ll see you soon, kid.”

Chuck ran over to the table after Ammon had left. “I called the police. What happened?”

“The police can’t help,” Aedus murmured. “There’s nothing they can do.” He picked up Ammon’s phone and looked at the map. It didn’t show the destination, only the first direction. Smart.

“Are we going?” Jake asked.

“No,” Aedus said. “I’m figuring something out. Eat your burger.” Aedus took a spoonful of beans, looking contemplative, and Jake began working on his burger as instructed.

“What is going on?” Chuck repeated. “The police will be here soon. Are you really Jake’s co-worker?” He turned to face Jake. “What’s going on, Jake? Do your parents know you’re here?”

Jake stopped mid-bite to answer, but Aedus motioned for him to continue. “Let them come,” Aedus said. “I’m working with Jake, but to keep him safe. His parents have no idea, and it needs to stay that way. We need to handle this ourselves.”

“No, you need to wait for the police to arrive,” Chuck insisted, settling a hand on top of Aedus’s booth and wearily eyeing the gun.

The door to the restaurant slammed open and a SWAT team filed inside while in formation. Their guns immediately trained on Aedus.

Jake set down his burger and turned to look at Chuck, and then to the SWAT team. “This is a mistake!” He said. “Aedus isn’t doing anything wrong! The real criminal left already. He’s holding my friend and his family hostage!”

Aedus stood up, hands in the air, with his cell phone in one hand and his gun on the table. The  phone’s screen was flashing red.

“Drop the phone,” one of the SWAT officers ordered. Aedus let go of the phone as instructed, and it bounced on the ground, protected by a thick rubberized case.

The door behind the SWAT team opened again and a trio of FBI agents hurried in. “Weapons down!” one of the agents ordered in a French accent. He had a curly mustache and black, wavy hair. The SWAT team lowered their guns slightly.

The head officer looked to the FBI agent who had spoken. “We weren’t told that the FBI would be involved.”

The agent flashed his badge. “Short notice.” He nodded to Aedus. “This man is part of our  investigation. You can head back to the precinct.”

“What’s the FBI doing here?” Chuck asked. “I called the police.”

The officer raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t customary.”

“It’s also not customary for local police to interfere or question my authority,” the agent retorted.

The officer frowned and motioned for his men, promptly filing out.

“I don’t like this,” Chuck said. The lead FBI agent walked towards him. “What’s this all about?”

“Jake is friends with a boy who is currently in a pending investigation. This gentleman, Aedus, is with us.” The agent explained. “Would you give us some privacy?”

Chuck shook his head, bewildered, but left for the back of the restaurant again.

“Did you get the message?” The agent asked Aedus, with his other agents taking up positions around the restaurant.

“Yes, Jean,” Aedus replied. “But I just saw it a moment ago. Didn’t help much. It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you as well, mon ami,” Jean smiled. “It’s been some time.”

“Yes, what brings you from France?” Aedus asked. “And FBI?”

“There is… another case,” Jean replied. “And no, I’m not really with the FBI. Although L’Ordre has cleared my badge and I’ve been supplied with genuine agents. I’m also free to help you as you need.”

Aedus picked up his burger in the foil it had come in and looked at Jake’s food. He was almost finished. “It’s time to go,” he said. “I’m going to find Elbert and the host family. But I need to leave you in Mr. Rusé’s protection, if you don’t mind, Jake.”

“No, that’s… fine,” Jake said. “But what are you going to do? Where am I going to go?”

“Wherever it’s safe, definitely not with Ammon,” Aedus answered. “I have about 45 minutes now, but I think that’ll be enough.” He gripped Jean’s hand, shook it, and smiled slightly. “I’ll see you both again soon.”

À plus tard,” Jean said in goodbye. “Be safe.”

Aedus pat Jake on the back, “You’re more than capable, Jake. And Jean is one of our best. A good friend of mine too.”

Jake nodded. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Aedus said gruffly, retrieving his phone, gun, and Ammon’s phone.

“I just wanted to make sure I had the chance.” Jake replied, feeling a sense of déjà vu. Wasn’t that a movie quote or something?

Aedus nodded appreciatively and left. Jean stood at Jake’s side. “You can finish your food first, then we’ll get you somewhere safer.”

“I’m not very hungry anymore,” Jake frowned. “Not with everything going on.”

Il faut manger,” Jean insisted. “We may not eat again for some time. We’ll be on the run.”

“Okay,” Jake relented.

Jean reviewed a case file on his phone as Jake finished his mashed potatoes and fries. It had been some time since anyone had been under his protection. Not since…

“I’m done,” Jake announced, wiping his mouth clean with a napkin.

“C’est pas vrais!” Jean cried. “That was very fast!”

“Why do you keep speaking in French randomly like that?” Jake asked. “You do it a lot.”

“Hmm,” Jean contemplated. “It’s my unique flair, I suppose. Are you ready to go, Jake?”

“Yes,” he replied. “But to where?”

“They may track us if we travel far by car, but I have a ship on the coast that we can take. And we’ll figure it out from there. Does that sound alright?”

“That’s fine,” Jake said. So much had happened in so little time. He had caught bank robbers, discovered that he lived in a world with other super humans, and now he was on the run from a man who had his friend held hostage. He didn’t know what to do or how to choose, and so he was carried by the moment.

Jean paid Aedus’s tab and then Jake followed him outside to an awaiting luxury car. “Seulement le meilleur pour toi, mon ami. I arranged for comfort and safety. Comfy seats and bulletproof glass. Hopefully we won’t need to make use of the glass.”

© Copyright 2016 Zechariah Barrett

All Rights Reserved

The characters and events of Project Ordine are fictional constructs and are not intended to represent any actual people or events.

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Project Ordine – Chapter 2: Red As Fire

Chapter 2

Aedus Butler, the late 20s, ginger haired, green eyed Irishman, was in a bit of a sulk. A storm had hit mid-flight, and they were coming in for a landing just before the winds were expected to pick up. Aedus was accustomed to the frequent rains of Ireland, he liked rain, but this was something else. A downpour of rain beat upon the plane. All of the toddlers seemed to be crying in unison. It was a horrific symphony, and there was a sense of dread–knowing that he should have brought earplugs.

The plane landed without event, and Aedus located the terminal that led to the car rental space where Rotso had arranged for a car. When Aedus picked up the keys, he found that it was one of those tiny, no frills, front passengers only, budget cars. It just screamed ‘fun times!’ Kinda like Rotso. The rental clerk made a joke of it, and Aedus laughed with him. Apparently no one rented this car. Ever.

Aedus used the GPS on his phone to navigate to the house where Elbert was staying. A family of five were his hosts, and he’d given them a call before coming. Everyone was eager to meet the big brother. Even Elbert was excited. They didn’t have the typical stepbrother, or regular sibling relationship. They didn’t see each other often, with Elbert from France, and Aedus often returning to Ireland. They’d never lived in the same home either. Their parents had married after Aedus had moved out. So whenever Aedus came to visit, they had fun with it. This time, Aedus hoped to coax his little brother into playing some rugby. That is, if the host family wasn’t too frightened with the prospect.

Aedus arrived at the house. It was a ranch style, red and white brick house, with fittingly French style windows, and a neatly manicured front yard with a marble fountain that also served to water the garden. Elbert was living it up!

He stopped the car at the curb and got out to check the tiny trunk. Rotso had supplied him with ‘necessities,’ which included a loaded automatic pistol, and a rapier. Aedus smirked and unloaded and pocketed the pistol, but left the sword. The chance of him getting into a sword fight was a slim one. It had been years… around the time he’d met up with Rotso for their last mission.

He approached the house and knocked upon the door. A woman in her mid-30s answered the door. She was of average stature and with wavy brown hair, and soft, brown eyes. “Welcome, are you Elbert’s brother?” she asked.

“That’d be me. My name’s Aedus,” he extended his hand and she shook it. Soft hands.

“Welcome Aedus, my name is Clarice,” she stepped aside and opened the door further. “Come on in.”

Aedus pocked his keys and walked inside. He was greeted with a wide open space that separated into rooms with glass doors and more French style windows. There was an office, patio, front room, dining room, formal dining room, a spacious kitchen, and bedrooms marked by their oak doors. Clarice brought Aedus into the living room and motioned to a chair. “I’ll go get the kids from outside. My husband, Charles, will be home a bit later. But before that, can I get you a drink?”

“No, I’m great, thank you.” Aedus was looking forward to meeting everyone, but he needed to get to Jake as soon as possible.

Elbert ran into the house with two girls and three boys alongside him. Clarice introduced the kids: Ronnie, 14; Josh, 12; Ashley, 12; Eliza, 11; Jacob, 6. The youngest, Jacob, grabbed ahold of Aedus’s leg and clung on as Aedus walked in circles, with the little boy cheering, “yay!”

Clarice moved to remove her son, but Aedus shook his head. “It’s fine,” he laughed. “I like kids.” He continued walking in a circle, but looked to Elbert and the other kids while doing so. “What are you all up to today?”

Elbert snickered and shook his head at his big brother. “My friends from school are going to the local bakery, and they’ve invited me. Then…” He looked to the kids. “…we’re all going to a movie later, right?”

Ashley perked, “Yup! It’s the new superhero movie, Colonel Weak, Now Strong, everyone from school has been talking about it.” The other kids observed Aedus in silence.

Clarice smiled, “What about you, Aedus? Will you go with Elbert to the bakery, or do you want to stay and rest here for a while?”

“Actually,” Aedus stooped over as Jacob got ahold of his arm, “I have some business to do while I’m here.”

Clarice raised an eyebrow, prompting further explanation.

“A friend wanted to meet up,” Aedus lied. “So I think I’ll do that first and meet up with you all later. Are you and your husband going to the movie as well?” He raised his arm up like a crane and lifted Jacob up in front of him, with his other arm ready to keep the boy from falling.

“Oh yes,” Clarice laughed. “Charles is a huge superhero fan, and I’m interested this time myself. We wouldn’t miss it. Would you care to join us?” She took Jacob from Aedus’s arm, and tickled the boy’s belly.

Aedus nodded, “Sure! That’d be great.” He dug inside his pockets and took out his keys. “I’ll be off then. Thank you for your warm welcome, and I’ll see you all later!”

“Alright!” Clarice said, still holding Jacob. “We’ll see you then. And know that dinner is at 5, if you can get back in time.”

“Got it,” Aedus smiled. “Thank you so much.”

“Bye!” Jacob called, with his arms flailing. “Bye,” the kids all echoed.

Aedus waved as he headed for the door, which was still ajar. He looked around through the glass for a moment, and then went outside.  His phone buzzed as he reached the car, and he snapped it out of the holster. The screen came on and showed a text from ‘Izo.’ The message read, “Find the boy and record each movement. Do not interfere unless absolutely necessary.” Aedus laughed and set the phone to sleep. Izo was about as much fun as Rotso.

• • •

The start of spring break wasn’t the most eventful for Jake. A fierce rainstorm with high winds kept everyone indoors on the first day, and although the rain eased, the high winds continued their onslaught into the second day. He felt that his time was being squandered away by the merciless hand of nature. He wanted to see Michelle. He’d already asked his parents about going over to her house. He’d even settle for texting with her, but the internet wouldn’t connect and his phone wasn’t getting a signal. By the second day, he was considering using the landline, until the power went down. It wasn’t just nature; even technology was working against him!

The third day, however, brought sunshine and gentle winds. His cell phone signal was restored, and he received a text from Michelle: “Garrett and Elbert are going to Annapati’s Bakery. Wanna meet up with them?”

Jake asked his parents for permission, and upon receiving a ‘yes,’ he grinned and tapped out his reply, “Of course! I’m on my way.” After kissing his mother goodbye and receiving a fur-in-face bear hug–that really felt like hugging a bear–from his father, Jake took his bike from the garage and set off up the street. He stood atop the pedals as he climbed the steep hill that led to Annapati’s Bakery.

The bakery was owned the Panettere family who had been baking in the Portland area for generations, and they weren’t more than a few blocks from Jake’s neighborhood, next to a strip mall with his dad’s favorite Chuck’s Burgers and Pork.

At the top of the hill, Jake could see the bakery. The building was over a hundred years old, and the chestnut and cream paint was beginning to flake, but inside was a paradise of fresh baked goods. Jake locked his bike into the rack beside the shop, next to a silver bike that was similarly chained, and then walked inside with the door chime announcing his entrance.

The aroma of chocolate éclairs and chocolate buns, cream puffs, brownies, fruit tarts, breads, and coffee hit Jake all at once. His eyes settled on the table where Garrett and Elbert were sitting. His heart sunk. His friends were here, but not all of them. Not Michelle. He checked his phone and considered texting her, but she was probably still on her way.

Mr. Panettere stepped out from the kitchen. He was a tall, tanned man in his 40s, with light blue eyes and dark brown hair. “What can I get for you, Jake?”

Jake had been here many times, but there was ever a dilemma of choice.

“I just finished some cream puffs,” Mr. Panettere said with a grin.

“Then I’ll have the cream puffs,” Jake said with a smirk.

Mr. Panettere took a piece of wax paper, gingerly picked a trio of chocolate glazed puffs, and set them atop a plate.

Jake peered out the door as he waited, his eyes searching the parking lot.

“Looking for Michelle?” Mr. Panettere said, as he set the plate by the register and moved to the coffee machine.

“Yeah,” Jake replied. “She’s the one who texted me about everyone coming here. I probably should have checked to see if she was coming first.”

“Did you tell her that you were coming?” Mr. Panettere asked. He filled a cup of coffee and cream and began ringing everything up at the register.

Jake took out his wallet. “Yes, why?”

Mr. Panettere laughed. “If that’s the case, I’m certain she’ll be on her way.”


The door chime sounded, and Michelle hurried inside, her face flushed and hair fluttering from a gust of wind. Her eyes met Jake’s and she let out a breath. “Hey! Sorry, we’ve been getting ready for grandpa Domenico. Have you been here long?” She smiled to Jake and Mr. Panettere.

“No, I just got here a few minutes ago.”

“That’ll be seven dollars,” Mr. Panettere said to Jake.

Jake sifted through the bills in his wallet and found a ten. “Do you already know what you’re getting this time?” He asked Michelle.

Michelle peered through the glass, careful not to rest her hands on it. “Black coffee and a chocolate bun,” she decided.

“How do you do that?” Jake shook his head.

“What?” Michelle laughed. “Drink black coffee?”

Mr. Panettere watched the two interact, a smile ever present on his face, and handed Jake his change.

“That and you always decide so quickly,” Jake said, taking up his coffee in one hand and his plate of puffs in the other, and waited for Michelle.

“I know what I’m in the mood for,” Michelle said. “And right now, it’s a chocolate bun, black coffee, and seeing you.”

“It’s an honor,” Jake pursed his lips and took a bow.

They both laughed. Mr. Panettere set Michelle’s order on the counter. Garrett and Elbert were quietly watching from a high rise table in the corner of the bakery, both with the same knowing smile as Mr. Panettere.

Michelle paid Mr. Panettere. “Thank you,” she said and took her coffee and chocolate bun.

“You’re welcome,” Mr. Panettere replied. “It’s good to see you all again.”

Michelle nodded, “I’ve missed coming here with everything going on at school.”

“Me too,” Jake said.

“Summer isn’t too far away,” Mr. Panettere said. “I expect to see you both a lot more then.”

Michelle laughed, “Oh you will.” She walked with Jake to their table.

Mr. Panettere stepped out from behind the counter. “And you boys too!” He called to Garrett and Elbert. “Are you staying for the summer, Elbert?”

“No, I’ll be going back home,” Elbert said. “My parents wouldn’t be happy with me staying too long. But it’s been great to be here! Your pain au chocolat is as good as back home.”

Mr. Panettere’s face lit up with delight. “I’m glad to hear that! I’ll be headed to the back now. Let me know if you all need anything, and enjoy your vacation!”

“We will!” Jake and Michelle chimed together.

Garrett nudged Elbert. “Already acting like they’re married,” he whispered.

Jake and Michelle took the seats opposite of their friends.

“Hey Jake,” Elbert said. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing great, now that the internet is working and we can get outside. Did anyone else have a connection issue?”

Elbert shook his head. “I didn’t, but I have an international phone and I wasn’t using wifi.”

Garrett checked his phone, “Now that you mention it, I guess I haven’t had any new texts, but I’ve been packing for Hawaii, not trying to finish my homework early, like you nerds.”

Michelle sipped her coffee and shook her head. “Have you even started on your English project?” She turned to Jake. “And to answer your question, our internet wasn’t working either.”

“No,” Garrett replied. “I’m going to work on it in Hawaii. The ocean inspires me.”

“Hmm, alright,” Michelle said with a faint grin. Everyone knew that Garrett was a huge procrastinator and he liked English about as much as Jake.

“You’ll see,” Garrett said. “My muse lives on the ocean waves.”

Michelle laughed.

“How is it in Hawaii?” Elbert asked.

“It’s great,” Garrett said with a sigh. “The waves are perfect, the sand feels incredible, the people are great. I’d like to live there. My dad is actually Hawaiian, so we visit pretty often.”

“How is it in France? What’s your family like?” Michelle asked Elbert. “You’ve spent all this time learning about us. Now let’s hear about you.”

Elbert laughed. “I’ve said how I come from the Normandy region in western France. It’s mostly countryside and small towns around there. I live in a city called Bayeux, which is far smaller than Portland and Paris, and about 20 minutes from the ocean.”

“Do you visit Paris much?” Jake asked.

“We’ll visit Paris as a family sometimes, once on a school trip, but it’s more than 3 hours away, so not too often.”

“Have you ever been to the Notre Dame?” Michelle asked. “I’ve always wanted to visit. The Eiffel Tower looks beautiful, but there’s so much history with the cathedral.” She took a bite of chocolate bun.

“I have and I agree,” Elbert nodded. “In Bayeux, we also have our own Notre Dame. Many cities do.”

“I didn’t know that!” Michelle said. “Are they very similar?”

“There are architectural similarities, but I wouldn’t say they’re very similar. The Notre Dame de Paris, for example, is much larger and more elaborate.”

“How about family?” Jake asked. “You have a brother, right?”

“One stepbrother, yes,” Elbert said.

“And he’s from Ireland?” Michelle asked. “I remember you talking about him during the family culture project in social studies. And the way you talk about him, you seem close.”

“We are,” Elbert smiled. “But I don’t always see him that much, with his work and home back in Ireland. He travels a lot, but that can also be a good thing, since he has a business contact in Bayeux. Apparently he has one here too! He flew in today.”

“Will we get to meet him?” Jake asked.

“I hope so!” Elbert replied. “Aedus said he’s meeting up with a friend, probably the businessperson, for lunch, and then he’ll join us at the movies tonight. Would you all like to come?”

“Sure!” Jake said. “I’ll have to check with my parents, but it sounds like fun.”

“I’ll have to check as well, but I’d love to!” Michelle said.

“I won’t be able to come,” Garrett said. “I’m leaving for Hawaii tonight. But what movie are you going to?”

Colonel Weak, Now Strong,” Elbert said.

“Oh yeah! We were talking about that at school. You’ll all love it. Even has some romance for Michelle,” Garrett laughed.

“Jake likes romance too,” Michelle looked to Jake. “Don’t you?”

“I…” Jake stopped between his bite of cream puff and hesitated between Garrett and Elbert. Then his eyes settled back on Michelle. “Definitely. I’m not big on overly sappy stuff, but romance gets a bad rap.”

Michelle smiled.

“Whatever,” Garrett said, shaking his head. “I better get going guys.” He stood and took his plate of croissant crumbs to the dirty dish tub above the trash.

Michelle stood up and gave him a hug. “Don’t forget the project.”

“Yes, mom,” he smirked.

Jake and Garrett gripped hands, “Have fun, and don’t get too crazy,” Jake said.

Garrett laughed, “You sound like Michelle.” Then he moved closer and whispered in his ear. “You two are perfect. Make a move.” Jake’s face flushed slightly. Garrett stepped back and grinned.

Elbert clasped Garrett’s hand, “Enjoy the surf. It’s been great getting to know you.”

“It’s been awesome,” Garrett said. “I’ll have to check out the surf in Normandy sometime. But I should be back before the end of school and we can all hang out some more.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Elbert smiled.

Garrett fetched his sunglasses from the table and placed them atop his head. “Enjoy the break. Especially you two,” he winked to Jake and Michelle and left.

Jake and Michelle exchanged a quick glance and turned back to Elbert.

“So when’s the movie?” Jake asked.

“This evening at 7 o’clock,” Elbert replied. “Text me and let me know if you both can make it, and I’ll let my host family know.”

“You think they’ll be okay with us joining?” Michelle asked.

“Oh definitely,” Elbert said. “They told me to invite friends from school.”

“Great!” Michelle checked her watch, a gift from her father. “We’d better get homework finished first though.” She looked to Jake. “Still up for helping me with biology?”

“Of course.” Jake said. “As long as you’re still up for helping me with English.”

“Of course,” Michelle chuckled. “How’s your homework progress, Elbert? Would you like to join us?”

Jake focused his attention on the remainder of his cream puffs. If Elbert came along, it wouldn’t be a study date anymore. Although, Elbert was fun and he wouldn’t want to leave him out either.

“Not this time, but thank you,” Elbert replied. “I’m going to check if Aedus is back at the house already. But I hope to see you both at the movie tonight.”

“I hope to see you both there too,” Michelle said. “And get to meet your brother!”

“Same here,” Jake said. “I’m excited for it.”

“Me too,” Elbert said. He stood and picked up his plate, followed by the others.

Michelle and Jake texted their parents as Elbert went to talk with Mr. Panettere, who had family in Bayeux. It appeared that the two shared an acquaintance.

“You mentioned Jean when I first got here,” Elbert said to the baker. “Did you see him recently?”

“Oh yes, he visited yesterday,” Mr. Panettere told Elbert. “Small world, isn’t it?”

“Very small,” Elbert said. “Maybe that’s who my brother is meeting with…”

“And who is your brother?” Mr. Panettere asked. “Maybe I know him too.”

“Aedus Butler,” Elbert answered. “He’s from Ireland, but grew up a bit with me in France.”

“Now that’s not a familiar name,” Mr. Panettere frowned. “Ah well.”

“My parents said yes!” Jake told Elbert.

Elbert turned around, “Awesome!” He looked to Michelle.

Michelle looked up from her phone and shook her head. “I don’t know yet. I’ll text you later, like you said. My mom must be busy right now, and dad won’t be any help.”

“Alright,” Elbert said. “That’s okay. I don’t need to know immediately. The movie has been out long enough, it shouldn’t be too busy. Just let me know before 5, if you can.”

“Sure!” Michelle smiled. “I don’t know of anything going on, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to, but I’ll definitely let you know before then.”

“I hope you can,” Jake said, as they headed for the door.

“Me too,” Michelle said, and waved to Mr. Panettere. “Bye Mr. Panettere! And thank you.”

“Yes, bye and thank you, Mr. Panettere!” Jake said.

“You’re all welcome anytime!” Mr. Panettere said with a wave back.

“Enchanté et merci!” Elbert called out.

“Enchanté et de rien,” Mr. Panettere replied with a smile.

It was late afternoon and the sun outside was not shining so brightly as it had when they’d arrived. A few clouds were to be seen in the sky, but there was no sign of rain. It was warm, and a refreshing breeze pressed against them.

Elbert’s host family’s house was within 15 minutes walking distance, but they’d set him up with a silver mountain bike to be safe. He’d locked it up in the rack beside the shop, and it was now next to Jake’s. Although she had a car back home, Michelle had also brought a red mountain bike and locked it next to Jake’s.

The three teens unlocked their bikes, strapped on helmets, and said their goodbyes. Elbert biked up the street, while Michelle and Jake biked alongside downhill.

• • •

Aedus was doing just what he wanted to do on the weekend–watch a 17-year old and his friends socialize at a bakery. When he saw Jake, Michelle, and Elbert leave the bakery, he set down his binoculars and moved a hand towards the ignition. He was far enough out of sight for Elbert not to spot him, but close enough to keep track of Jake. Not that he needed to be especially close. Rotso had tapped into Jake’s phone and configured it to send live GPS coordinates when requested. Aedus could admit that it was creepy, but it was for the boy’s security. He started the car and shifted to reverse but kept his foot on the break until Jake was out of his line of vision. Jake was heading towards home and Aedus could wait outside the neighborhood or continue to tail him if he was going elsewhere. Aedus  clicked his phone, with its GPS app ready on the screen, into a holster suctioned to the car window. He then maneuvered out of his parking space and shifted into drive. If this didn’t take too long, he could meet Elbert back at the house before dinner.

• • •

Michelle’s neighborhood was a few miles away from Jake’s and he followed her home. It was nearing rush hour and they talked a little along the way while watching for traffic.

“Do you smell anything?” Michelle asked as they passed his neighborhood. After his dock incident about 4 weeks ago, Jake had begun confiding in Michelle about everything that had been going on.

“Not at the moment,” Jake smiled. “But I did the day before break. I smelled burnt burgers and sewage on the way home.”

“Oh that’s nice,” Michelle plugged her nose.

Jake laughed. “Yeah, but no incident since then. It’s been close to four weeks now.”

“Maybe you can relate with the movie tonight,” Michelle said with a smile.

“Why?” Jake asked.

“It’s like I’m friends with a superhero,” Michelle replied. “You have had these incidents, and these powers that are beginning to surface, and next you’ll be saving the world.”

“I don’t know about that,” Jake said. He felt a lump in his throat. “But that’d be cool. And I would like to get the girl.”

Michelle looked to Jake, and then to her bike handles, and then back to Jake. “And do you have a particular girl in mind?” She said, with a slight tremble to her voice.

Jake was silent for a moment and his face began to redden. This was the moment. There was no turning back. He looked to his bike handles and gripped them tightly. He turned to Michelle. “You.”

Michelle slowed down, moved her bike onto the sidewalk, and set it on the ground. Jake followed her lead and set his bike next to hers. She sat against the wooden fence that bordered the road with  a wide patch of grass. Jake sat alongside, a further distance than he did usually.

Michelle extended her hand, palm out, and lay it upon the ground. Jake moved closer and took her hand into his.

“I love you,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

Jake’s heart beat heavily through his chest. “I love you too,” he said with a breath.

She looked into his eyes and held his gaze for a long moment. She turned her body to the side, to face him, and Jake met her there. She slowly bent forward, her eyes shifting down his face. Jake felt his breaths quicken and he bent forward until he could feel her breath upon him. He tilted his head slightly and parted his lips. She slowly parted hers and set her free hand against the back of his neck. He shivered upon the contact, and placed his free hand against the back of her hair. Their lips made contact and Michelle pulled Jake closer. She shifted her head, opened her mouth wider, and wrapped her lips again around his. They held the kiss for a minute and gently broke off. They watched one another in silence. Jake took up Michelle’s other free hand and held them together. Michelle took a deep breath and looked to the traffic passing by. She squeezed Jake’s hands and smiled. He smiled back.

“Let’s go, Jake.” She quickly kissed him on the cheek. “Homework to do. And you still have to let your parents know when you’re coming over, right?”

He nodded. “They said I could, but they wanted me to stop by the store and get some milk first.” The words coming from his mouth felt wrong. He wanted to tell her more about how he felt. But she was right. Time for homework.

Michelle shook her head, her eyes still moist, and she wrapped both of her arms around Jake and kissed him once more. “I’ve loved you for a long time, Jake.”

“I have too,” he said. “I mean, you.”

Michelle laughed. “I thought you may have.”

She didn’t ask why he hadn’t said so sooner. She didn’t say anything else. She just stood, one hand still holding Jake’s, and then let go and set her bike upright.

Jake stood with her and they biked the rest of the way to her home in silence, sharing the occasional gaze. When they arrived at the house, Michelle opened the garage, moved her bike inside, and came back out to see Jake.

Michelle’s house was a grand, redbrick house, far bigger than Jake’s moderately sized home–situated in a wealthy neighborhood–with stone corinthian columns, and a wide mahogany with curved window panes. Along the stairwell of the house, there were a series of windows from which one could look outside, and Jake saw Michelle’s dad standing there, looking out for a moment before passing up the stairwell.

“I’m going to have to tell mommy and daddy about my boyfriend,” Michelle said, walking up to Jake. “You better come back quick so I can reintroduce you.”

Jake smiled. It all felt like a dream. His greatest dream was coming true. “I will.” He looked to the upper window again. No one was there. He kissed Michelle and biked down the street towards the store.

At the bottom of the hill he braked and made a left turn onto Oak Street, the same road that he took to school. It was then that the smell of peppermint hit his nose. The store and bank were just ahead and there was a tea shop and cafe further along the road, but not close enough to smell peppermint unless they were brewing cauldrons of it. Were his senses picking up again?

A loud scream made Jake jump in his seat and stop his bike. He moved up onto the curb, got off his bike, and looked around. There were people walking along the streets, but nobody appeared alarmed.

Jake heard a shout. “No screaming!” Then there was a click and Jake could hear something sliding into place. It sounded like a gun. “Nobody makes a noise or speaks unless spoken to.” There was a shifting of feet and Jake could hear two hands slam upon a counter. “Get the money, but not in a bag.”

“All… alright!” stuttered another voice. “It’ll just take me a moment.”

A bank robbery?

There was another set of feet with a heavy tread, and Jake felt that they belonged to someone else.

“You have three minutes. You’re going to take the money and place it in this bag. Just the bills. Nothing to hold them together. Nothing but the bills. As much as will fill the bag.”

There was a click and the shuffling of dollar bills. A few alighted upon the floor.

“Don’t pick them up. Just grab more. And you! Help them grab more.”


More shuffling of bills.

“That’s good. We’re leaving. If I see you so much as take one step on my way out…”

“I… I understand.”

Jake’s hand involuntarily dug into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He no longer had control. It was another episode! He detached the back panel of the phone and yanked out the battery. He set the phone into one pocket and the battery into another. What was the purpose in that? So he couldn’t call for help? It felt as though he were being kidnapped by his own body.

The bank doors opened and two men walked out. They wore black vests and had grey wolf masks that covered the entire head. One man held a large cloth bag in one hand and a pistol in the other, and another, much larger man, clutched an automatic. They walked towards a dirty black pickup truck. It was so dirty that the license plate was mostly obscured.

Against all the force of his will, Jake mounted his bike and set off towards them. What was he doing? How was he going to stop men with guns? Not to mention the one man five times his size. Despite these fears, his body forced him onwards. Faster. Faster than he’d gone before.

The pickup truck sped off and went down an alleyway. Jake pedaled across the sidewalk and reached the alleyway. The truck turned for a side road, and Jake followed fast on their tale. His vision focused on their rearview mirror and he saw a pair of eyes focused back toward him. The truck pulled off onto a corner next to a set of apartment buildings and garages, and parked. The two men stepped out, threw their masks into the trunk of the truck and replaced them with motorcycle helmets. With their guns still in hand, they ran towards a garage. Jake reached the apartments as they stepped inside the garage which contained two motorcycles. The big man spotted Jake, and aimed his gun at him. Jake stayed true to his path. The other man raised his hand and the big man halted. Jake stopped his bike at the garage, feet from the men.

“What do you think you’re doing, kid?” the smaller man asked. “You want to die?”

Jake didn’t answer. He moved towards the big man.

“Fine, but it was your choice,” the smaller man shook his head in despair, drew his pistol, and fired.

• • •

Aedus followed the GPS and waited at the entrance to Michelle’s neighborhood as Jake stopped by her house. He biked out of the neighborhood a few minutes later and Aedus followed slowly as he turned onto Oak Street.

When robbers emerged from the bank, and with Jake headed straight for them, Aedus hit the gas and followed after them. He reached the apartments in time to see Jake walking up to the men in the garage. Aedus stopped the car, and drew his pistol from his pocket, just in time to hear the gunshot.

• • •

Jake somersaulted forward as the shot was fired, narrowly avoiding the bullet, and standing to face the smaller man. At this close range, he twisted the man’s arm, took his gun, and slapped him across the face with it. The man fell to the ground unconscious. The big man opened fire with his automatic as Jake flipped backwards and landed behind one of the motorcycles. He stopped firing for a moment when he saw Aedus step outside of his vehicle and aim his own gun. In this moment, Jake lifted the five hundred pound bike and threw it towards the man. The motorcycle crashed against the man’s frame and sent him against the wall of the garage, a pile of bricks falling from the force of the impact.

Jake suddenly felt a tremendous fatigue forcing him to the ground. He gasped and his head throbbed. His vision turned red and he fell unconscious next to the robbers.

Project Ordine – Chapter 1: Burnt Burgers

Chapter 1

Rotso Inahka was a man in his forties with black, side swept hair, a tan complexion, and a reasonably muscular build. Among the Junior class, Mr. Inahka was the English teacher of nightmares, and at 6-foot tall, he towered over the class. The nightmares were not to be found in his figure, however, but in the torture chamber assortment of grammar, spelling, and poetry–of which free verse was the only form that felt remotely freeing. If only blank verse was truly blank.

“Remember, your haikus, blank verse poems, and visual projects are due the Monday after spring break. That gives you plenty of time, especially with the time we’ve had in class. If you have any questions, I’m here after school today, and you have the contact form to email me on the MyClassActivities dashboard,” Mr. Inahka announced. “Have a great weekend… and don’t procrastinate! This project makes up a fourth of your grade.”

The school bell rang. English class was at an end and Jake’s favorite class, biology, was next!

Jake had already put away his notebook and he quickly stuffed his pencils tip side up in his pocket. He wouldn’t stab his leg, but hopefully he’d remember that reaching in for them again. He watched Michelle Lombardi gather her things together. “You have a good weekend too, Mr. Inahka,” she said with a smile. It was genuine. Michelle was an oddity in that she actually liked English. Jake was in an oddity in that he liked Michelle. She had her redeeming qualities, however. She was the sweetest girl around, and by far the prettiest, with her flowing auburn hair, striking blue eyes, and adorable smile. She and Jake had been friends since grade school, but he’d always felt something more.

Jake waited at his desk as Michelle passed by and looked in his direction. “Ready, Jake?” she asked, and then added in a whisper, “I’m not looking forward to biology today. I spent all of my time studying English last night.”

Remember the redeeming qualities, Jake! He reminded himself.

He swung his backpack over his shoulder and was about to reply when Mr. Inahka called to him, “Jake! I must speak with you. I’ll write you a pass if necessary.”

Jake looked to Michelle with the longing gaze of a trapped animal. “See you in biology,” he whimpered.

Michelle quietly chuckled, “It’ll be okay, Jake.” As she passed by, he could smell her pomegranate shampoo and he grinned. He gave her that for her birthday, along with a collection of fountain pens that she’d been talking about since she saw them on the CorkBoard social media site.

“Over here,” Rotso said, motioning towards his desk. He walked over to the computer and pulled up the grade book.

Jake walked over and looked to the screen for his grade. He saw Michelle’s first: 110% overall. Rotso stepped in front of the computer before Jake could find his.

“You’ve done quite well on the tests,” Rotso observed. “However, your essays have been bringing down your grade. Have you reviewed the notes I’ve written?”

“Yes, Mr. Rotso,” Jake replied. “And I’m trying to use more formal speech and more vocabulary, but English isn’t my strong suit.”

Rotso shook his head. “I wouldn’t say that. Rose tells me that your science essays are excellent. You incorporate the terms, you follow the scientific method, and you stay on track with your thesis. You’re demonstrating that you can follow the concepts. Why not in English?”

“It’s… I don’t know,” I shift my feet and take a deep breath. “I try to do the same kind of work. Maybe it’s because I’m not as interested in English.”

Rotso smiled. “I get it, Jake. I wasn’t always an English teacher. I was a student just like yourself, and I liked science too. English is a necessary evil to some people. I sure thought so. Until I realized the power of the written word. What document freed a certain thirteen English colonies from the British empire?”

“The Declaration of Independence?”

“Right,” Rotso minimized the grade book from the computer screen and walked over to the world map. “Do you like history, Jake?”

“Yes, Mr. Rotso,” Jake wondered when he’d be free to leave.

“History demonstrates that writers hold great power. Writing conveys knowledge, culture, ambition, and heart. Writing is virtually boundless. Essays aren’t always fun. They’re preparation for greater things. Practicing a violin isn’t fun early on either. It can be loud and obnoxious. Nothing like what you’d hear in an orchestra. In time, however, there is beauty to be found in it. I want you to write your essays with that expectation, Jake. The expectation of great things.”

Great Expectations. Jake shuddered. He could handle Rotso’s soliloquy. But that book again? And the reading packet that came with it? No, sir. “I understand, Mr. Rotso.”

Rotso winked. It was an awkward gesture coming from the Mr. Darcy clone. “And I know you weren’t crazy about Great Expectations. But this is different. Each one of us has a destiny, Jake, and writing often helps to get us there.” He returned to his desk and selected a pen from the drawer. It was a fountain pen, much like the ones Jake had gifted Michelle. Maybe Rotso was a CorkBoarder too. Jake snickered.

Rotso raised an eyebrow but didn’t otherwise acknowledge Jake’s amused expression. With a few fanciful strokes of his pen, as one might expect of John Hancock, Rotso wrote the pass for Jake. “I want to see those essays improve.”

“Yes, Mr. Rotso,” Jake repeated, and he left the classroom with haste.

“Go on then, Jake,” Rotso murmured as the door shut. “That destiny of yours will come along soon enough.”

• • •

This wasn’t the first time that Mr. Inahka had detained Jake after class. There had been other times involving clichéd stories, improper irony, faulty sonnets, and understandably, lackluster blank verse poems. Jake had decided to pursue the literal route. Mr. Inahka didn’t appreciate the poetic gesture.

Science teacher Leanna Brown, of fair skin, short stature, and ginger, curly hair, was the antithesis to Mr. Inahka in every way–physical appearance, personality, and demeanor. She had a great passion for science, was encouraging to all, not prone to soliloquy, and well aware of Jake’s English class situation.

When Jake entered the classroom, he crumpled and threw away his pass. Miss Brown smiled as he took his seat between Michelle, and his blond, freckled, and messy hairstyled friend, Garrett.

Everyone was looking to the front of the class at the overhead projector which was whirring faithfully. There had been talk of buying an HD projector, tablets, or even virtual reality headsets, but much of the budget was being spent by expanding the gym facilities. That, and Rotso thought such things to be frivolous, and it was said that he was very vocal in teachers’ meetings. What’s that old saying? The angry bird gets the pig… er, worm?

Science class often began with a writing prompt. However, unlike those in English, Jake found the biology topics be engaging. Today’s prompt was about carrying capacity. With the increase in deer populations, should more hunting be allowed? Or will nature balance itself without human intervention? Explain.

Thoughts of the textbook concepts and weekly science articles passed through Jake’s mind, and he finished writing his answer as Miss Brown switched off the projector and faced the class. “Who’d like to share their answer?” she asked.

Jake’s hand was the first up, and Miss Brown nodded in his direction. “Go ahead, Jake.”

Jake glanced down at his paper, “The deer population has outpaced that of the coyotes, wolves, and other predators in many regions. The deer population also isn’t showing any signs of decrease due to disease. Nature’s corrective measures are nowhere to be seen. Although excessive human intervention has led to the destruction of habitats, and extinction of species, and nature does bring correction eventually, I believe more hunting will permitted, and I’d agree with such a measure.” In science class, Jake became an authority. The words came together so much easier, and felt free from poetic structures and essay conventions.

Michelle looked over at Jake, and when she’d caught his attention she mouthed the words, know it all.

“Excellent!” Miss Brown said. “Is there anyone with another perspective?” Not a peep came from the class. Garrett fiddled with his thumbs and feigned intense concentration on his science book. Michelle offered a smile. Miss Brown nodded, “Very well. I know you’ve all been studying for the chapter test today, but I’ll give you ten minutes to refresh your minds and review your study guides.”

“Good,” Garrett murmured. “Because I didn’t study.”

Michelle shook her head, and flipped through the pages of her completed packet. “You’ll regret it come college time,” she whispered. “If you do well in high school and on the assessments, you can skip classes in college. Otherwise, you end up taking classes like biology again.”

“Really?” Garrett blurted out. Miss Brown looked in his direction and he slapped his hands over his mouth. “Really?” he repeated in a whisper. “In that case…” Garrett dug through his backpack and pulled out his science folder with all of the past worksheets. “I guess I’ll start reviewing.”

Jake hadn’t completed the packet entirely, but he’d finished all of the required assignments and felt confident. He rarely looked forward to tests, but science was a unique exception. He saw them as a test to prove his passion.

When the tests were handed out, Jake took his time on the essay portions. Garrett was one of the first students to hand in his test, and he flipped through a surfing sports magazine the rest of the time. Michelle and Jake finished at the same time and met each other’s gaze as they handed in their tests.

“How do you think you did?” Jake asked, as they sat back down.

Michelle shrugged, “I’ve been spending most of my time working on English. But I felt prepared, so I’d say I did well. I was hesitant with the wording of a few questions, but the extra credit questions will help. I always like seeing those.” She watched Miss Brown as she began grading the papers. “And we already know how you did,” she said with a playful nudge.

Jake smirked. “And we already know you’re done with the English project already.”

Michelle brushed her hair back, “And I can help with yours when we get together this weekend.

Together. Jake blushed.

Michelle averted her eyes, and Jake thought that he saw a blush upon her cheeks as well.

Garrett slipped out his Nanoid smartphone. It was one of the latest, and he bought it because it was waterproof up to twenty feet and the camera was great for recording an especially nice surf. “It’s almost break, guys. 2 minutes…”

Most of the class had finished their tests and had started glancing to the clock every couple of minutes. At two minutes, everybody was counting down in their heads. At one minute, everyone began counting aloud, but Miss Rose hushed everyone, because there was one student finishing his test; it was Elbert, the French foreign exchange student who sat beside Garrett. He finished his test with ten seconds to spare and the class erupted in a final countdown.

Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… at this point, even Miss Brown joined in… two… one… zero! The school bell rang. Spring break had begun.

When the class had emptied out in the hall, there were already many students preparing to leave. The majority of seniors had an early release, however, and the halls weren’t as congested as through the day. Jake’s locker was immediately next to the seniors’, so he was able to quickly put his science book away, and swap out for his English book and poster board. He wasn’t looking forward to the project, but so long as Michelle was with him, he wouldn’t mind writing a dozen sonnets or ten essays. She brightened every moment.

If it weren’t for the caveat of Michelle’s favorite class, Jake would venture to say she was perfect. Although he wasn’t so sure of her father, Lucido Lombardi. He was a recondite man, who ever seemed to be traveling some place for some business. Someone could learn more from an absolute stranger in five minutes than with Lucido in five weeks. On the other hand, her mother, Susan, was warm and open. She had been born and raised in London, until her mother’s death when she was sixteen. Her father was emotionally wrecked, and all but broken. He couldn’t work, refused to eat, and looking at his daughter was a painful remembrance of his loss. For this reason, he sent her off to the States, to live with relatives who had always adored her. Lucido and Susan met in high school, and she saw something in Lucido that he didn’t even see in himself–she saw a kind, courageous heart and a determination to fulfill all that he set out to do. They fell in love, married in college, and had Michelle.

Michelle took after her mother, in her temperance and open heart. She had the determination of her father, but little else. Jake did not observe any warmth in the heart of Lucido. Not towards him, anyway. Any encounter he had with Lucido was cold and curt.

Michelle approached Jake as he shut his locker, with her biology and English textbooks in hand. Jake watched her blue eyes as they settled upon him.

“You’re studying bio over the weekend?” Jake asked.

“Yep!” Michelle answered. “I figure after I’ve helped you with English, you can give me some pointers in biology.”

“Sure! I’d love to,” Jake perked.

“Great, it’s a study date then.” Michelle smiled softly. “And we’ll have to get out and enjoy the break too. I’m sure Garrett already has plans in mind.”

“Knowing him, he’ll be looking for the best surf.”

“True,” Michelle said. “So we’ll probably have to come up with our own plans. Got anything in mind?”

Jake frowned in contemplation. “Not really. I’m just glad to be on break. The further from Mr. Inahka and English, the better.”

“Aww,” Michelle said, with her lips in a pout. “He’s not that bad, Jake. He cares about you and wants you to succeed. That’s why he lectures you.”

“Why doesn’t he care about anyone else?” Jake said. “It’s always just me.”

“Maybe you remind him of someone. Maybe you remind him of himself. He often says how he used to hate English until his literary epiphany. He wants to see that passion in you.”

The halls had all but emptied, with exception for the track and football teams, and Michelle took Jake’s hand. “Let’s go and forget about Mr. Inahka and school for now. We’ve got a break ahead with endless possibilities.” She looked into Jake’s eyes and smiled.

Jake almost melted.

Outside, the sky was deep blue and nearly cloudless. A slight, refreshing breeze swept through the grass and flower beds that lay along the front of the school. Roses were the choice flower this year. There was talk that the gardner had fallen in love. As Jake walked with Michelle, he imagined plucking a flower and asking her out right then and there. But she wouldn’t approve of him disrupting the arrangements.

At the edge of the school grounds, there were many kids yet gathered as as they were socializing while waiting for their rides. Jake eyed the bicycle rack and saw his blue mountain bike chained up as he’d left it. Michelle spotted her mom’s car, a luxurious red coupe, and released Jake’s hand. “I’ll see you again soon, Jake!”

“You definitely will. See you!” Jake replied.

Jake walked over, unchained his bike, and set off down Oak Street. On bicycle, the ride home was fifteen minutes, and lately the journey had been an unexpected one. The past few weeks, everything seemed different. It was as though he could feel the wind stronger than ever before. It felt good, but also strange. Was it something to do with puberty? Was he experiencing a greater rush of dopamine? Something disrupting his brain? He mentally sifted through a list of the disorders that they were learning about in psychology, but nothing like that came to mind. If it it was just the thrill, Jake wouldn’t be so worried. But there were other changes.

As he passed two blocks, Jake could smell burning burgers. He’d lived in the area all his life and there were no restaurants or places to grill until Washington Road, which was closer to home. The park, just a block ahead, saw its share of campers and grills, but the premises were shut down until further notice, due to the state of litter and general abuse of the provided facilities.

Jake passed another block, and this time he could smell the runoff sewage. It smelled of mildew, oil, and something he couldn’t quite place… a dirty baby diaper, maybe? Not a great mix. Before the changes, he’d never smelled anything so bad, except for the boys’ bathroom. Now, every time he headed home, and especially after the rain, it was overpowering. He’d do anything for the burnt burgers again.

These things were to say nothing of what happened at night. During the day, these super senses of his were partially active, while at night they were the strongest when he began wandering. It had only happened a couple of times, but mother had caught him a few times. The first time, three months ago, was at the dock. He awoke during the night and left the house. His mother heard the garage and came after him. When she found him at the dock, he was muttering about a lost ship in the Atlantic. When Jake got up the next morning, he didn’t remember any of it.

The next time, three weeks ago, he again headed for the dock, but this time both his mother and father came after him. That time, Jake was also fully conscious, but unable to stop sleepwalking. As his parents followed after him, he set off for a run. At the dock, he jumped in the water and began to swim. His dad jumped in after him and when he’d caught him, Jake stared into his eyes and said, “They’re coming, dad. I can sense them. The awakening is soon.”

It was all very freaky. Jake’s parents had contacted a therapist and scheduled a session. The therapist asked many questions, especially about school, romantic interests, and Jake’s home life. He concluded that Jake was trying to escape–from English class and lectures, from frustrations of the friend zone with Michelle. The awakening was when Jake would finally overcome those frustrations and realize his identity.

“It’ll be soon!” The therapist, Mr. Ronalds exclaimed to Jake’s parents. “Your boy is just growing up. This is a phase. In the meantime, however, I’d advise keeping a careful eye on him during the night.”

Jake wasn’t so certain. How could an unrealized identity take such a hold of him? How could it explain the sense of purpose and heightened senses? Although, he hadn’t mentioned the latter to the therapist. His sense of smell and touch had only gradually increased at that point. It was in the past two weeks that they had become stronger.

Jake’s thoughts carried him for the rest of the journey home and into the house for a dinner of stewed beef with potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic. As he greeted his parents and sat at the table, the day’s events carried into the regular family banter. Since Mr. Ronalds, however, Jake was hesitant to speak of his experiences.

“How was school, rugbug?” Jake’s dad, Ian Laskaris (checkered shirt?), always had an odd nickname for him.

“It was pretty good,” Jake said, forking a potato. “The usual from Rotso.”

“You know that’s only because he wants you to succeed,” Ian said, echoing Michelle’s sentiment from earlier.

“And the ride home?” Jake’s mom, Felecia Laskaris, asked. She knew that Rotso was a touchy subject.

Jake looked between his parents. “It was good. I was careful in traffic and didn’t go too fast.”

“In traffic?” Felecia asked. “You rode onto the street?”

Since the incidents, his parents seemed far more anxious than usual. He had to watch his every word. “No,” Jake sighed. “I meant with the busy traffic. I was on the usual path. I didn’t go into the street until the neighborhood.”

“Good, I was about to say…”

“Anything unusual?” Ian asked.

He had to ask. “Not really,” Jake said, casually.

“We can tell something is wrong,” Felicia insisted.

“I smelled burnt burgers. And sewage. That’s it,” Jake said. “It just seemed strange.”

Ian let out a breath and visibly relaxed. “Burnt burgers? That’s not too surprising.”

Jake forked a carrot and swirled it around in the stew. “It’s while I was near the park.” Why was he confiding in them? They’d just call Mr. Ronalds again.

Chuck’s Burgers and Pork restaurant is a distance, and we smell that in the backyard sometimes.” Ian said. “Smells travel. But the sewage… that is strange. I suppose that confirms our fears.” He looked to Felecia. She frowned and looked to Jake.

“I always thought…” Ian continued. “That something was different about you. Right from your birth. I thought that maybe there was a reason that you had to stay at the hospital for so long. Now I understand.”

“What?” Felicia asked. “What are you talking about?”

Ian had an ornery look on his face, with an almost imperceptible grin. “He must be a super secret agent from the CIA! They’ve been grooming him from birth, for a project that no one could know about! That explains the sleepwalking. And these smells… he must have super senses!”

“Oh, honey,” Felicia chided. “Enough of the nonsense.” She looked back to her son. First the sleepwalking. Now he thought smells were strange. What was going on with her baby? “Should we call Mr. Ronalds again, Jake?”

“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, dear,” Ian jumped in. “Right, Jake?”

Jake nodded.

“It’s been a tough school week, I’m sure,” Ian continued. “We’re all due for some rest.”

“Oh alright,” Felicia relented. “But you tell me, Jake, if there’s anything bothering you.”

“I will,” Jake murmured. He hoped that there would be nothing more to tell.

• • •

After Jake had gotten home from school, a car engine rumbled to life on the opposite street, and inside was CIA agent Rotso Inahka. He had been following Jake home for a year, day after day, including weekends. However, this was not for official CIA business… or for English class. This was yet unknown to the agency.

Rotso’s phone buzzed from within its holster, but he didn’t need to check it. It was a reminder for the meetings tomorrow in New York City. One was with the counterterrorism department of the CIA and the other with his true employer–L’Ordine, as it was known in Italy. It was an international organization, and Jake was of particular interest to them. Rotso’s job as a high level operative within the CIA allowed him to gather intelligence about unusual incidents. With Jake’s family history, Rotso suspected that he may have inherited certain abilities. After the recent incident, he was sure of it.

With the NYC meetings, Rotso had flown in a substitute to continue monitoring Jake. The agent, Aedus Butler, was related to one of Jake’s friends. This provided his cover as a family visit. He was well qualified, with his own set of abilities, and Rotso had worked extensively with him before. There was one concern, however. The man’s personality. Rotso hoped that their enemy would not take this chance to act.

Project Ordine: Prologue


Author's Note: This story is being written during NaNoWriMo and is in its early draft form.

I wake to the sound of the crashing waves tossing our boat back and forth. I used to be a heavy sleeper. In fact, I still am. I shouldn’t be awake.

Jake Laskaris is a 17-year old boy from Portland, Oregon, and he has a problem.

There is a crackle of thunder and the ensuing flash of light shines upon the waters much like a spotlight. They’re searching. Searching for me.

At times, he’ll wake suddenly in the middle of the night–alert, tense, all senses straining–for no apparent reason.

I can hear drunken laughter from the cabin next to mine. How did I get so far from home? I slip out from my blankets, and I can feel the rough, worn fabric as it passes along my skin. That is a normal sensation. But as my feet set upon the metal floor, I can feel the tremor of the thunderstorm. I can see ever present lights in the sky and across the waters. Yet the storm is many miles away, and the stars are obscured by fog. I am far from normal sight and hearing, and far from the touch of ordinary humans. What am I?

Then he begins sleepwalking. He’s conscious of what he’s doing, yet he can’t stop, and he can’t wake up.

These thoughts echo through my mind. I am free to think, but my body is not my own. A dog lies at the foot of my bed. He’s a gift from one of the sailors. I set a hand gently upon his back and I can feel his heartbeat thumping as if it was in the palm of my hand. He’s sound asleep. That’s good. I can’t have anything disturbing my mission… but just what is my mission?

Jake wonders if it’s merely an adolescent phase. He desperately searches for answers.

I begin walking to the door. I hear a bolt come loose from the generator a few levels below me. Then there’s the tread of the engineer, already off to fix it. I reach the door and open it. The hall lights are momentarily blinding, but my eyes quickly adjust. I walk down the hall and set off at a brisk pace for the third cabin down from mine. Upon reaching the room, I pull open the door and step inside, with hardly a sound. I already knew that the room was empty, but I must confirm something. I move over to the bed in the righthand corner of the room and feel the pillow. It’s warm. He left only moments before.

But who? I question this force that drives me, but as usual, I am given no answer. I’m a puppet. The strings are my master and I want to be cut free. I leave the room and continue down the hall. It is then that my target comes into view. I sniff at the air and make a disgusted face. He wears a particular brand of European cologne. But it’s not the cologne that’s disgusting. It’s that familiar air about himtainted, conniving.

“You’re back,” he mutters, recognizing me.

Despite the familiar air, I’ve never seen him before, as far as I can remember. Had we met briefly before? No… I would’ve recognize that smell and that sense of evil. But how did he know me?

I sense the mysterious force driving me to speak. “Who are you?” I ask.

Those three words changed my life. I wish I could’ve forgotten his answer. I should have walked awayno, fled from that presence. But that same force that awakened me at night had forced the words from my mouth.

A Frog, Food, and Cajun Culture: A Trip to Louisiana

I arrived home at about midnight this morning after a 10-day trip in Louisiana. The primary reasons for my visit were to see family, and to work on the third Detective Games entry; although it became a great deal more.

Instead of a linear progression for this blog post, I’d like to try out bullet points!

  • I tried my hand… er, legs, at Irish dancing. My cousins had been Irish dancing for years, and I had come along to support them. Their instructor welcomed me to join in as well. My fencing instructor had always said I should go dancing, and about a year apart from his remarks, I was clumsily thumping across a multipurpose ballet studio.
  • Trekking through Jean Lafitte National Park, I wished I had first put on some bug spray, with the presence of a multitude of mosquitos. But the beauty of the marsh and swamplands were incredible, and afforded the opportunity for many pictures.
A tiny tree frog
A young alligator surfaces near a walkway
  • We visited Destrehan Plantation and took a tour of the grounds, with its grand trees covered in Spanish moss, and learnt of the vast history, including the day to day lives of the household owners and the enslaved, as well as the construction process and architectural functions. At the end, a blacksmith with a heavy cajun accent, demonstrated the use of his forge.
  • The food. Oh boy, the food. The delicious simplicity of red beans and rice, messy po’ boys, savory gumbo and jambalaya, fun flavors with stuffed snowballs, and the mandatory beignets (from Café du Monde) I had to have on a daily basis.
Beignets and powdered sugar! Yum!
Savory gumbo!
  • The French Quarter was a fun experience, with sights to see, a banana smoothie in hand, and trinkets to be had in the market.
The Jackson equestrian statue