"You know where they are?" Jack voiced the question like it was an undeniable fact, which supposedly it was according to the video his uncle had left behind.
"Mad Uncle Madison! It comes back to me in little pieces, like recognising this house."
"That means you're getting your memory back," Jack smiled, pleased that something might be happening.
"Does it?” Was all Joel could say.
"Fuck! We can't stay here forever; you need to remember where they went."
"Even if I could. Why the hell do we need to follow them?"
Joel's voice was edgy with the frustration of not knowing. Not knowing what the next move was, not knowing the location his uncle had moved to.
"If we just stick around here then sometime, someone is gonna show up."
"Yeah, I mean maybe, but that might not be good."
Jack had no idea what they should do, but he was up for moving on. Getting away from the club in the city was an escape, but having two guys from X-Corp show up looking for Joel, felt like they were being pursued. He couldn't up and leave, not on his own. 'Where the hell would he go,' he asked himself. They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desolation. If he left, it would be to return to the city. It was the only choice, if he left?
The lights flickered. The noise of the storm outside was growing louder. Joel felt an urge to retreat to his bedroom, crawl under the sheets and sleep until the weather got better. He knew that would not happen. The rain only seemed to get worse and the wind to get stronger. Ever since they got here. Like it was some divine scheme to push them out of the house.
'Yes,' he thought, 'we're being chased by the bad guys and chased by the rain.'
"Grif, are you listening to me?"
He looked up, snapped out of his thoughts; realising Kado had been talking to him.
"Yeah, I hear you."
"Good, because there have been too many fuck-ups."
Griffin wasn't really sure what Kado was going on about. If he was referring to Marek getting picked up, well that wasn't anything to do with him.
He just nodded, but didn't answer.
Kado was a funny sort of guy, very hard to read. Pretty damned difficult to please as well, and that applied to everything. He'd fucked all the boys at the club, but just once, with probably one exception, Jack. Although Grif wasn't absolutely certain on that count, except Jack hadn't been here more than five minutes.
"Before the idiot got himself pulled in. He fixed up three cars, the boys took the first, but the second is for you."
Grif was finding it very difficult to concentrate. 'Maybe it was the drugs he took with Henry?' That session was hot and debauched. Where he got those other two kids from Grif had no idea, but they were both really cute.
"So you got it?" Kado looked a bit uptight as he stared at him.
Grif realised he'd drifted and only caught the last bit of the conversation.
"Yeah, got it," he answered, with no idea again about what Kado had just told him.
"So what you waiting for? Get your stuff, get in the car and get going. It won't be difficult to find the house. Move it, we don't have forever."
That's exactly what he did. Picked up a backpack, stuffed some things in it, mostly clothes, and got into the car.
As the vehicle purred into life, the dulcet tones of a young woman's voice addressed him. "Continue navigation?" the voice demanded.
"Confirmed! Continue navigation."
He threw his backpack on the seat in front and spread himself out on the opposite side, lying down.
The garage door opened, the car lifted off and smoothly exited the building. With no windows to look out of, even if he'd wanted to, he was propelled forwards in a hermetic bubble with hardly any physical sense of motion.
Grif drifted off to sleep, it was warm, comfortable, and he hoped safe. As he was falling asleep, a thought travelled through his mind, 'had Kado said he was closing the club?' He wasn't sure he had heard it, but he must have, he wouldn't invent that scenario. 'So there was no going back,' and with that final realisation, he dreamed.
The session with Henry played through his head, contorted by his unconscious mind, disjointed and split up. It was as if someone had taken the sequence of events and cut it up, then pasted everything together, but rearranging the order. That made it hard to examine what had taken place. It was also sinister and dark, with an air of foreboding and the unreality of being on a journey to a place he would never arrive at. Somewhere out of reach.
"You have reached your destination!"
Her voice that woke him up. Being jarred from his sleep like that allowed Grif to remember a chunk of his dream, at least the immediate bit. But what stuck in his memory was the raunchy sex with the two boys Henry had introduced.
Not surprisingly, Grif was hard, recalling that part of his dream. The odd thing though, was that Henry had told him to find Mark and Steven. He remembered their names, but not why he had to find them. They were twins, not identical, but almost. The only distinguishing feature being a tiny irregular shaped brown coloured birthmark. Of course, you would never see the mark unless Steven was practically naked. It was on his right, at the top, on the outer side of his leg and if not naked, he'd have to be wearing Speedos or skimpy underpants.
The door flipped open as if the vehicle was showing him the way. The car had landed, the motor cut, and the only sound was the wind and torrential rain. It was dark, cold, and the dim blue light from the interior of the car was the only thing providing any semblance of civilisation.
The sleep had done him good, cleared his head, now he could think straight. He reached across for his backpack and pulled out a torch. Then from one of the little pockets on the outside, he took out the watch Kado had given him. Or was it Henry who had given him the watch. Whomever, it didn't matter.
He strapped it around his wrist and touched the button. It lit up and indicated the direction to follow. 'It must have been Kado, the watch, he said the house would be easy to find.'
"Energy levels are low. Entering battery conservation mode."
The dim blue lighting went out and the heating went off. He heard the fan cease to blow warm air.
The last twenty-four hours had been a mixed up jumble, but for now, he had no choice but to follow the GPS tracker and hope it led to the house.
"I definitely heard someone outside," Jack told him.
"How the fuck could you? It's kicking up a storm. It's just the wood creaking."
"I'm gonna take a look."
"Oh for Christ's sake, you know you can be a real a pain in the arse!"
Joel was comfortable in the armchair in the lounge, listening to some relaxing music on the sound system and toking on a rather long joint he'd found from the stash he kept hidden in his bedroom.
"You're being paranoid Jack. It's the weed. Chill out man."
'He could be right,' Jack thought, but he was still convinced someone was out there, trying to get in.
"No, maybe they came back. Or sent others!" Jack's voice had a shrill urgency to it.
"You're losing it. Come here. Relax."
Bang. There was a loud thud. Suddenly the sound of the wind and rain got very much louder. Jack moved out through the lounge door into the large hall. There was someone, he was right. A figure hunched over, soaking wet, stood just inside the wide-open front door.
When he looked up, Jack immediately recognised who it was.
Breathing a huge sigh of relief, he called back to Joel. "Joel, get your stoned arse out here. You ain't gonna believe this."
Grif smiled, slung off his backpack and reached around to close the large and heavy front door.
"Fuck me!" Joel exclaimed from behind Jack. "Look what the fucking cat dragged in."
Grif moved towards them and stood looking first at Jack, then Joel.
"You haven't lost that foul mouth of yours then. And shit, you both look out of it."
"That's down to Joel, and the stash he kept hidden away in his bedroom."
Grif just smiled. "Figures," he moved back to take off his soaking wet hoody.
"You got any towels? A bathroom?"
"Follow me," Joel led the way up the grand staircase, past the bedrooms, and along to one of the bathrooms.
Then he stood there gesturing Grif to enter. Jack was right there behind him.
"Is there hot water?" Grif asked, not really knowing how anything could possibly work in this weird old mansion house in the middle of nowhere, and off grid.
"Sure," Joel laughed. "You think we don't have all mod cons out here in the sticks."
"In the sticks? It's in the middle of bloody nowhere. The last house standing!" Grif joked.
"You're probably right there," Joel was grinning.
"But we got hot water!" Jack smiled.
Joel grabbed Jack with one arm around his neck, pulled his head down and tousled his hair.
"Cut it out," Jack protested when Joel released him. "You see I was right."
"You two just gonna stand there and watch?" Grif looked up as he pulled off his sweatshirt.
"Maybe," Joel felt just a little bit horny.
"Clear off the two of you. No, wait. Can you find me any dry clothes?"
"Look in the bedroom, second door back down the hall. See you downstairs when you've finished."
Tattersall had warned him that Mishimotta would pull the plug on the centre and Kado knew that would seriously jeopardise all his research into the virus. He needed the centre, it brought the people in off the streets and allowed screening for any infection, as well as testing drug combinations.
The bastards had hit him with a double whammy, the club and the centre. 'Why the fuck couldn't Henry pull a few strings?' That was the question playing in his head. Henry financed the club; it was his loss as well as Kado's. There was nothing to do now, what's done and all that.
"Mark!" Kado shouted. "Get your arse out here now. We're leaving."
"I'm waiting for Steven. He's not ready."
"Fuck you two. Get out here now or I'm leaving without you."
Mark turned to his brother, "Forget that shit Steve, we gotta go."
His voice betrayed the sense of uneasiness he had about the whole situation. They were opposites, a weird reality, twins you could hardly tell apart, but who had totally different characters.
"Just cool it a minute. I ain't leaving stuff behind."
"This is your last fucking chance!" Kado's voice bellowed down the empty corridor.
Mark grabbed his brother's arm and yanked hard.
"Okay, okay, ease up. I got it."
Steve threw one bag over his shoulder and carried the other as they hurried down the corridor to join Kado. He was already in the car and looked pretty pissed at being kept waiting. Mark jumped in, followed by Steve and the bags, which he virtually launched after Mark across the back seat. The door closed and the car elevated off the ground.
Kado was anxiously watching the garage door slowly open to give them an exit out of there.
"I ought to smack your fucking heads together," he told them angrily, but not moving to look back.
"You're both gonna pay for this delay... if we get outta here!"
Mark looked across the seat at Steve, who just smirked and raised his eyebrows, as much to say he couldn't care less because he knew exactly what Kado meant.
Suddenly, the street was there in front of them. The car lurched forward and veered out of the garage and around the corner into the side street. The speed and force was enough to throw the two boys back across the seat, the bags sliding with them. They held onto the seat as they turned again sharply into the main street, the car sped off.
Kado was satisfied they'd made it before X-Corp or the police showed up. He spun around and leaned forward to confront the boys. Despite the jolting departure, Steven was still grinning, Mark looked much more serious. Kado reached out and pulled Steve towards him, taking hold of a large handful of the material of his sweatshirt.
"Take it easy!"
However, before he could react or say anything more Kado's right palm swung through the space between them and landed with a loud smack on Steve's left cheek.
He didn't feel the pain immediately, but all at once it stung like hell. His right arm almost involuntarily went up to touch and protect his face, at the same time his head recoiled from being hit.
"Next time you pull a stunt like that I'll beat the shit out of you. You got that arsehole?"
Steve wasn't looking at Kado. His head was now bowed down.
Kado grabbed hold of a chunk of hair and pulled his head backwards. Even in the dim light of the car interior, he could still see the mark on Steve's face.
"I asked you sumthin?" Kado looked directly at him.
He raised his arm a second time, but Steve wasn't going to get hit again.
"Yes. I got it."
Kado released him and sat back, relaxing.
"I ought to tan your hide like your daddy would have done," Kado pretended seriousness; he was now only playing with the boy.
He glanced over at Mark and took note of the expression of apprehension on the other boy's face. Satisfied he'd made his point, and released the tension Steven had caused by delaying their departure, he let it drop.
"Sorry," Steve murmured, still holding the side of his face.
He didn't know Kado was playing with him, all he knew was that what he had said was right. Their dad would have tanned his arse. So the wise move here was to apologise.
They didn't know it, but less than ten minutes after they left, X-Corp showed up at the club, followed by the police. Kado wasn't stupid though, he knew it was close, but everything was prepared. What they needed to do now was to follow Joel, Jack, and Grif to the house and then find Madison. Henry was playing a dangerous game with X-Corp, and whilst Kado felt that he could trust him, he wasn't happy about things.
The only real angle he had on Henry was the length of time he'd known him and his sexual desires. But that wasn't much, all in all, Henry was a dark horse. A man of mystery, who played games for very high stakes. Kado couldn't do much now, as they say, he was in it up to his neck. He had to follow it through, but he was worried about the drugs. Not the virus, but the HNO4 they had administered to boys like Joel, and recently Griffin.
Howard and Emret didn't have much time to look around before the police would show up. The important thing was not to look for information on the link with the centre, the virus, and drug programme, but to get a trace on where they were going. Knowing that would be a huge clue about what they had planned.
Henry said that they should look for Marek's computer, because he reprogrammed the vehicles and that could give them the information they needed. Howard wasn't convinced, but if they came across it, well of course, they'd take a look. As far as he was concerned any data from the computer would only give half the story. It might show he bypassed the city limit constraint on the vehicles, but he doubted that anyone would hard code in a destination.
"There is a whole mountain of video files here," Emret was keying through the screen display in front of him.
Howard came across and peered over his shoulder. "Take one at random."
So he did. They watched a couple of minutes of what was no surprise at all to either of them. A man dressed in a mask, but otherwise completely naked, was leading two teenage boys into a room. Well, that is except for some kind of cock ring that was easily visible, because you couldn't help but be drawn towards his massive erection.
"Skip it," Howard commanded, and the screen went blank until the next video came on.
This time they could see someone naked lying on top of another boy and quite obviously fucking him.
"Turn it off," Howard said, somewhat exasperated. "You're not going to find anything but sex tapes."
"Maybe we could do better if we find the guy's room?"
"Okay, let's split up and see what we can find. But get back here in ten minutes."
Howard thought that this was a waste of time. Realistically they were never going to find anything, or if they did, well it can only have been left there for them to find. To throw them off the scent.
The place was dark and gloomy; corridors, stairs, and lots of doors. The only thing Howard discovered was a room full of sex toys and a two-way mirror running from floor to ceiling. He could only imagine what kind of voyeuristic pleasures went on there.
Apparently, Emret had done much better, because when they met up, he had a laptop under his arm.
"What you got there? Looks like something that belongs in a museum."
"Precisely, it's just the kind of ancient tech that could get you in to reprogram a vehicle."
"How do you know that?"
"An ill-spent youth geeking about with ancient computer stuff."
"Let's get going then. We'll take that with us. Who knows, we may just get lucky."
Howard was telling Eve that it was just too much of a coincidence to be anything other than a plant.
"People don't just leave stuff like this lying around for someone to pick up. Not even ancient computers that belong in a museum, and not with usable information on."
"But they were in a hurry to leave."
"Look if you're going to put any credence in that machine," he gestured to the old laptop they had brought back from the club. "Well all it tells us is that two of the vehicles were programmed to leave the city limits. I should say reprogrammed, Marek bypassed the failsafe. But that isn't so difficult. They never designed much security into public vehicles.
Anyway, two cars could leave the city. We already know about Professor Madison's house, so another vehicle going there doesn't provide any more information.
The third vehicle was programmed for Mount Columbus and the intercity freeway going West. That could be interesting, if I didn't think it was a wild goose chase."
"Well," Eve took a deep breath. She didn't want to ruffle his feathers, but she did want Howard to take the information seriously. In fact, she wanted him to follow them out west to Mount Columbus. "Henry tells me that a scientific facility at Mount Columbus was used at one time as part of Project Weatherman. A sort of monitoring station."
Howard still wasn't in any way convinced, it was all too easy.
"You trust what Henry Gibson says?" He threw the question at her. "We are talking about the same Henry?"
"Yes of course we are." Eve was getting a little peeved at this point in the conversation, but she managed to control herself.
"The same Henry, who bought that club just to indulge his voyeuristic penchant for adolescent sex shows!"
"Let's leave that aside, shall we? You may not like the man, but in the twenty-third century, there is nothing unusual, unlawful, or in any other way odd, about that. People are generally free to have sex of any sort with anybody, and certainly, Henry just liked to watch."
"Your point then is what?" Howard posed the question, but he knew before she replied, that she wanted him to follow this up. 'What the hell, it's all the same to me, even if it wouldn't be what I would do.'
"Just follow it through please Howard," Eve smiled.
Not very long after that, Howard and Emret were sitting in a car heading towards Mount Columbus. They were soon out of the city on the only freeway that went west, a sort of passage from coast to coast. Not much frequented, except by government vehicles and very occasionally public cars whose occupants would be heading in the opposite direction.
"It was that last time with Henry," Grif was explaining what had happened after they left.
"I don't get it Grif," Joel looked at him.
"No, me neither," Jack was equally puzzled.
"How could you start losing your memory after a session with Henry?"
"Yeah, you don't ever do anything with him. He just watches."
"What are you two? A bloody double act!"
They were back downstairs in the lounge. Grif had had the brief guided tour of the house and an even briefer account of Professor Madison, Operation Weatherman et al. It was when Joel started talking about having lived here with his little brother, that was when they got onto the memory loss thing.
"What actually happened?" Joel was eager to know.
"We took something. I don't know what. I mean it felt fucking amazing. It was one hell of a high... and the sex... wow!"
"We? You said we... and the sex. Sex with who? Who were the we?" Jack look liked he wanted to know that as well and was wondering exactly the same thing.
"Two kids. Twins. Mark and Steve. You could hardly tell them apart."
"I don't remember any twins at the club," Joel thought about it, but he didn't even think there were any boys called Steve or Mark. "Where did they come from?"
"Henry brought them."
"And that's when you started losing bits of your memory?" Joel couldn't help thinking this was somehow connected with him. With the gaps he had in his memory.
"It wasn't exactly like that, we had this really amazing session. Like I forgot Henry was even there watching. I don't mean that was the drugs. No man! I was just so into it. Like lost in the sex. I didn't know who was who, where one body ended and another started. It was like some kind of surreal orgy, which just went on and on. I lost any sense of time. I was fucking and screwing around, and hard like I was gonna orgasm, but I never came. I was there on the brink. God, it's difficult to describe."
"Okay," Joel really needed something a bit clearer than Grif's description of a wild sex orgy. "So the mixed up memory thing. That happened after?"
"Yeah. Kado was talking to me. Telling me what was going on, where I had to go. Which was to find you. Thing is, I would only get parts of the conversation. It was like drifting off. Like I just kinda fell unconscious for a minute, or a few seconds. I don't know for how long. Then my head was all sort of blurry. But I felt better when I woke up. I'm just not sure I'm like one hundred percent. You know what I mean? Like maybe something's missing, not quite right."
"It's not like that for me," Joel told him. "I used to get little flashes of past memory. I would half-remember things. Names. I just didn't know who they were. Couldn't put the pieces together. But It's coming back. More and more."
"You think it's getting worse for you?" Jack asked him.
"Since when did you stop being the annoying little git and start being concerned about people?" Grif had had enough of discussing himself. He would like answers, but comparing symptoms was not likely to provide them.
"Probably since the club when you..." Jack suddenly felt embarrassed to say what he was going to in front of Joel.
"Oh yeah," Grif replied. "When I fucked you."
Joel couldn't help a smile forming on his lips. He remembered how annoying Jack had been and how Grif had lost patience with him. He easily recalled all that and he was amused at the boy's coyness.
They got no further in either discovering anything about what caused anyone's memory problems or in deciding what to do next. All they did manage was something to eat and that was only because Joel had lit up another joint and another after that, when quite suddenly they got the munchies. A craving for something sweet, which finished with a search of the kitchen freezer, where they found nothing at all. Followed by opening cupboards, until Jack came across a vacuum-packed sultana cake.
"That'll be okay," Joel began sharing it out.
It was probably a cake for eight, but the three of them polished it off in record time.
Jack actually made everyone nearly die laughing, when he told them in such a sincerely innocent voice, "That must be the best ever sultana cake I've ever had... IN MY LIFE!"
Well, that's what getting stoned can do to you. You get a craving for something sweet and you roll around laughing at the most stupid comments. It did serve one good purpose though, it relieved the stress.
"You remember that guy Grif don't you?" Mark was next to Steve, talking in a whisper. It looked like Kado was asleep on the seat opposite. He certainly didn't want to wake him, and he certainly didn't want him listening in on their conversation.
"Of course. That's kind of a stupid question." Steve was not about to forget their encounter with Grif, it was epic.
"If we're following him, that means we get to meet up again."
"That's obvious Mark. Are you in love with the guy, or what?"
Mark looked away. Steve had embarrassed his brother, perhaps he was... in love with Grif. Mark was the emotional, romantic one; he easily fell in love with anyone. On the other hand, Steve was reserved, tended to question motives, and would have sex, but not commit his feelings.
"I like him... quite a lot."
If he had been talking to anyone else, other than his brother, Mark would never have shared that confidence. However, the two of them, even if they were exact opposites in nearly everything, were very close.
"You get too easily attached to people."
"But I think he likes me... us."
"Why? We had sex once. Why do you think he would have any more feelings than just getting his rocks off?"
"I just do. It's what I felt."
"Nah. Sorry Mark, but I don't think so. It's just you projecting your feelings onto him."
Mark considered that argument, but he still thought there was something more than sex to their encounter. He kept silent, just running the whole thing through his mind. It actually made him start to get hard as he thought about what they had done together.
The car sped onwards, the soft purr of the engine the only sound that indicated they were moving. Moving forward, but where to?
"The thing about getting stoned," Grif was taking a lung full of the joint Jack had passed him.
The conversation hung for several seconds before he exhaled a cloud of smoke, scrunched up his eyes, and stretched out an arm towards Joel to pass it on.
"The thing is," he repeated sputtering, almost coughing.
Jack looked at him, hooked on whatever it was Grif was about to say. As if it would be some immense insight that had popped into his head, and that he was about to share with the world.
Joel took the joint, regarded it. Examining it as if it was a glass of vintage wine that needed to be studied and appreciated, before partaking.
"What?" He asked looking up from the joint, which still had not found its way to his lips.
He licked a finger and applied the moist saliva to one side of the cigarette paper. Apparently, it was burning unevenly.
"What do you mean what?" Grif retorted.
All three of them were by this point very stoned and having some difficulty putting words together in any kind of normal fashion.
"You were saying - The thing about getting stoned is?" Joel was curious to discover the pearl of wisdom Grif was about to tell them.
"Oh yeah," Grif looked like he had suddenly been shunted back on track. "Well it either, makes me sleepy, gives me the munchies, or makes me horny."
Grif's hand was now griping a fairly obvious bulge in his jeans.
"Or all three," Jack smiled, really amused at where this conversation might be leading.
"Or yes, all three. But right now it's more horny. So what are the sleeping arrangements here?"
This made Jack laugh. "I thought you were horny? Maybe you need to sleep though?"
Jack was playing. He enjoyed being a tease.
Grif looked across at him. "You know what happened last time you played the tease and annoyed me?"
"Yeah. How could I forget, you horn dog."
Now Joel was laughing. It was like watching a scene from a play and totally amusing. He wondered who would end up in bed with whom. Maybe he thought, when he considered this, they might all sleep together.
"Come on, let's go to bed," he suggested.
And they did... go to bed... together.
Comments always appreciated at William King