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Ian's Big Adventure


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Three hours after waking up, his mouth still tasted like ass. Dragging his fingers over three days of stubble, Ian chastised himself for not shaving at the rest stop. He should have done it last night, when he had the chance but he’d been tired. So he’d slept instead, and when he’d woken up, they had found him.


It was his fault. He’d slept under his coat instead of in it, and it had fallen off in the night. He’d been lucky they hadn’t abducted him while he had been sleeping – again. It must have only been off a few minutes but it was enough to send him speeding away from the squat stone building when he saw the black SUV pulling into the rest area.


A blue sign showing attractions at the next exit came into view and Ian peered blearily through the snow flares at it. He needed caffeine and this place had potential. He could sneak into the bathroom and shave, too. As he turned on his signal and eased over, his other hand searched for a cigarette. Coming up with only empty packages, he added that to the reasons to stop. “I need to clean this shit out,” he mumbled, casting an annoyed gaze over the interior of the car. Wrappers for both food and smokes littered every level surface; the smell of stale food was starting to build. “Past time,” he added as he pulled into a filling station.


The gas tank on his Buick was still guzzling fuel when he dumped the last bag of garbage in the bin. Glancing with disgust at the numbers racing ever higher on the digital display, he pulled out his tablet and checked his notes again. “Fuckin’ South Dakota,” he growled as he scrolled down the list until he came to the image that had been leaked to him.


The picture was of a man with his hands spread over translucent jugs. The image was caught “mid-miracle”, a rosy blush of wine curling up through the clear water from the bottom of the container. Simple molecular manipulation. One of the Ulterrans could do this, easily. He just had to find the fucker behind it and shut him down.


A gust of cold wind seared across his bare skin and Ian leaned into the car to put the tablet away. As he straightened, the gas pump finally clicked off. Grimacing at how much money had just been yanked from his reloadable VISA, he detached his car from the money guzzler and climbed inside. He drove over to a parking spot, making sure it was somewhere he could keep an eye on it.


Inside, he picked two bottles of Coke, carefully inspecting them for signs of tampering. They looked safe, so he tucked them under his arm as he did similar inspections to a bag of beef jerky and Doritos. Finally, he sidled up to the register for the hardest part. “Hi,” he said, smiling at the attendant. She was young and sexy, giving him a bored smile in response. “I’d like a pack of Marlboro Reds, please. An unopened one, please.”


“I’m not allowed to sell open ones.” She snatched the first one out of the rack and dropped it on the counter. “That’ll be--”


“Um, no. Not that one.” Ian could see the cellophane had been pulled away from one corner. That could be an accident, or a sign that someone was trying to drug him.


The girl stared at the pack and then rolled her eyes up to him. Ian choked back a “Do it, fucking bitch” and just stared back at her. With another rolled of her eyeballs, she snatched the next pack out and slammed it onto the counter. “How’s that, sir?”


Ah, the sir that actually meant fuck you. Ian picked it up and inspected it closely before nodding.  â€œThat’ll do, babe.”


She glared at him. “Don’t call me ‘babe’. Sir.”


“Chill out. Just a quote from a movie.” Ian smirked at her. “How much?”


“$13.95.” She icily took his twenty and made change for him. "And it's 'That'll do, pig.' If you're going to use lame quotes, at least get it right."


"Okay, next time I'll just call you a pig." He winked at her and snatched up his purchases from the counter. Ian stepped back outside, the sun off the snow blinding him for a long moment. Blinking it away, he went to his car and opened the trunk. Everything was as he left it, and he closed it and hopped into the car, checking the stuff in his back seat, too. No one appeared to have messed with it, and Ian last checked his stash of money and burner phones under his seat.


Satisfied that no one had altered or bugged his things while he’d been inside, Ian lit one up, started his car, and got the fuck back on the road. Though he knew he was making a mistake, he turned the Buick’s nose toward Sioux Falls. That urge to know what the fuck they wanted with him wouldn’t let him stop.


He was back on the interstate before he remembered he hadn’t shaved.


“Fuckin’ South Dakota.” He threw his butt out the window and pressed the accelerator to the floor. He had to get his shit done and get the fuck back south.

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The last time he’d been in Sioux Falls, he’d been coming from the north in Uncle Orson’s car. It had been winter then, and the too-familiar weather and landmarks made him edgy. His nerves prompted him to light up again, despite his best attempts to conserve his expensive vice.


He had little idea where to go, but Ian was used to acting on impulse. He randomly took the exit for I-229, heading north and east. The land was flat and layered in snow with gray skies. New buildings, none of which had been here when he’d come through last, lined the interstate with soulless sameness. All of them looked alike, blurring together into one mass of commercialism. It was another sign of the mind-deadening plans of the Secret Government.


Frowning, Ian turned on his music, a sure-fire way to lift his spirits. The playlist on his phone started with some transcendent tunes, lightening his mood immediately. Clicking his tongue in time with the beat, he relaxed into driving -- right as his nose started to bleed.


“Fuck!” Snatching up a napkin, the young investigator pressed it to his nose. He navigated off the interstate and into another service station. Parking and locking his car, he went into the bathroom to stem the flow.


It didn’t take long for the blood to stop but Ian’s good mood was gone. He peered into the mirror, his upper lip stained red, and wondered if it was going to end, ever. “Probably not,” he told his reflection, turning away as the tired despair filled the other guy’s eyes.  Looking away, he washed his face clean.


Since he had the bathroom, Ian took advantage of the privacy to strip off his coat and take a dump. As he used the facilities, he inspected the glyphs and sacred symbols drawn and sewn into the coat’s lining. A Witch’s Knot had been drawn in by a priestess with India ink over his shoulder, while a Helm of Awe had been stitched in just over his waist, its knots sealed with Ian’s blood. A kindly old Baptist folk witch had embroidered a Celtic cross in the center of his back, over his heart. Other symbols, gathered from people he’d met over the years, spread over the inside of the jacket. They were heartening, not just because they were there to protect him, but as signs that other people believed in him and what he was doing. He carried their respect with him every day, and every day of freedom he enjoyed was due to them and their power.


The one he inspected the most carefully was the silver wire that had been woven through the liner in a complex grid pattern, over and under the other symbols. He had to make sure it was whole and undamaged; the Grays couldn’t get a lock on his implant if the Gradian mesh remained intact. He didn’t understand the science behind it but he hadn’t been abducted yet, not if he was careful to always wear the coat where they could see him.


Once he was done in the bathroom, he washed his hands. “Fuck shaving,” he growled, scowling at his stubble. He bought a map of Sioux Falls on his way out and opened it in the car, after doing a once-over to be sure no one had messed with his stuff. Taking out his red sharpie, he marked the spot where the nosebleed started. He’d found over the years that his implant reacted when he was close to something odd and the most common reaction was a vessel in his nose bursting.


Putting the car into gear, he headed out, going south on I-229. He waited with napkins at hand, waiting to see if he got another “hit” or not. It was a hell of a way to run things but Ian had long ago decided that if it worked, he’d use it. He dug out his iron supplement and popped one as he drove south. Settling into his seat, he lit a cigarette and waited for the signs of the weird.

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She stood on street corner waiting for him, as she always does. The little girl was not dressed for the cold snowy day it had become, she was wearing a light blue blouse and a white skirt trimmed with blue flowers at the hem. White knee socks and white dress shoes with blue bows completed the look. No one bustling along the thoroughfare bothered to even look at the little girl standing on the corner in the snow. She didn't care she didn't look at them either and as for the cold it didn't bother her she liked it.


What did bother her was waiting. She briefly thought about cars and what he might be driving would it be the old junk pile or something fancy and new, not that it mattered she would know when he was coming long before she could see him. So she waited. Waited until she felt the sickness approaching. She looked down the street and sighed, same car oh well, it rolled to a stop at the corner of the intersection she stood at.


She knew he had seen her, recognized her, she could feel the madness as his eyes widened. Their eyes met and locked, she could see it lurking their inside him, she knew his shaking hand would be reaching down for a cigarette. She wished he would quit them not that it mattered that wasn't what was going to kill him, nope not cigarettes. She wanted to run around the car pull open the door and throw herself into his arms and cry how much she missed him, loved him. But she couldn't, not now , not yet. So she did the only thing she could the only thing she was allowed, she raised her arm and pointed the way he needed to go.



The car sat there for over a minute the driver shaking as he smoked staring at the street corner. The 4x4 behind him honked repeatedly, the driver of the car rolled down his window and gave the pickup driver the finger as he turned the car the way he needed to go.


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She waved at him at the top of the stairs, pretending she was modeling on a Paris runway. He rolled his eyes at her, his mind split between what he’d done in the memory and the knowledge he had as a grown man. This was the last time he’d see Meghan, and knowing that made him cherish the memory and hate his reaction in the memory. He’d just been a boy, and he couldn’t have known that she’d walk down the hallway and disappear from his life, but he couldn’t forgive a big brother’s unkindness in their last moment.


She pointed down the Sioux Falls street, her eyes ancient and sad. The siblings stared, locked across a gulf of time and weirdness that neither could breach. She was held back by other forces and knowing that making him remember would break him emotionally. He’d been shattered and pieced back together so many times that she wasn’t sure he could be rejoined again. So she pulled back, just enough to save him, once she knew he understood.


The horn behind him jarred Ian out of his reverie. Comforting smoke filled his lungs as he registered that he had a cigarette in his mouth. The truck roared its engine as the driver lay on the horn, and Ian locked eyes with the bastard in the rearview mirror.  Rolling down his window, he stuck his left hand out and flipped the fucker off.


God damn, how much time did I lose? A quick look at his clock relieved him; it had only been a few minutes. Still, blackouts were a bad sign. It meant they had found him. He had to finish his business and get out of here.


His nose was bleeding again, and Ian turned right. It was the right way to go; he wasn’t sure how he knew that but he was certain. His face was wet and Ian wiped away both blood and tears.  His nose was going again, which meant his impulsive guess had been spot on. The blinding headache and spontaneous tears were less common, though still often enough that he didn’t freak out about them. On the contrary, they were a sign he was on the right track.


He picked up a napkin and pressed it to his nose with a resigned sigh. The young investigator drove on, keeping his eyes and other senses open for the next clue.

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The sun is the sky. It burns orange spitting nuclear fire at him. But the streams of plasma never reach. The dying star doesn't fill the sky it is the sky. Except for one small part a sliver in the distance a line of black rising from the horizon. He steps towards it and he is there. A tower, column, obelisk he doesn't know what to call it rises higher than he can see it is a color he cant describe he doesn't know the word. In front of him a door...


“If you go in there alone, you will die.”


She watches as his head snaps up off the steering wheel, his eyes wide, she follows his gaze out the windshield across the street to the old fashioned church. She looks back at him and catches him staring at her a deep frown on his face, not that he ever smiles, not since they were kids anyway, before.


“What? You dont like the way I dress.” She looks down at herself, Short cutoff jeans, fishnet stockings, platform heels, and the half Tee with an Iced Earth album cover pasted across her tits. He probably didn't approve of the Goth makeup either or the jet black hair hanging down to her ass. “Well get used to it, I don't always have to look like a fucking twelve year old.”


She takes a long pull on the cigarette and gestures with it as a pointer at the church, he looks that way as she blows out the smoke, he can just make out the figures in the darkness stationed around the church certainly armed with god knows what.


“You can't go in there alone, if you do you will die. And its not time for that. Not yet anyway.” She pulls another cigarette and lights it, places it between his lips. She is so close to him she can see the little scar above his lip where he got hit by the baseball, but that happened after she...left.


“If you could see what I see, the monsters and demons, but dont worry there are others too, others who fight, just like you. Like us. And some of them are coming here. Let them help you” she moves back against the door puts her half smoked cigarette in the ashtray. “They can show you the way...”


Across the street the church stands the steeple rising into the sky like a tower.


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Ian blinked once, hard enough to create crow’s feet around his eyes. Clearing his throat, he sucked hard on the cigarette. “So. What is this? LSD? PCP? Meth?”


“Oh, god.” Goth-Barbie rolled her eyes at him. Normally, he’d have been all into her but something about her left him unwilling to see her as a sexual creature. “Really?”


“What other explanation is there for this?” He gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I’d be way more fucked up if they’d grabbed me while I was sleeping.” He darted a sharp side-eye at her again. “So what’d you drug me with?”


She leaned toward him, challenging him with a stare o f her own. “The truth.”


“That I’ll die if I go up against armed thugs?” Ian snorted derisively. “No shit, Shirley-locke.”


Goth Barbie glared at him. “You really are an ass. You don’t have to be.”


“Fine, since we’re doling out the truth here, lay some more on me,” he challenged, trying to remember when she’d gotten in his damn car, or even when he’d fallen asleep. “Who are these fucknuts I’m waiting for? You know I work alone.”

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She looks out the window then back at him her face a severe mask. "You know you are such an asshole sometimes."


He Started to reply but she cut him off. "I don't have time for this, The idiots with the guns aren't what will kill you. There is so much more to this I wish I could show you but i cant." She takes a pull on her cigarette.


He doesn't remember her picking it back up and sure enough there it is in the ashtray god she's wasting my smokes too. "Dammit...your wasting my cigarettes!" He looks back at the church through the snow flurries, wanting to go, to get this over with.


She blows the smoke towards him "The ones coming tomorrow, or the day after, you will know them," She shrugs watching him stare out the wind shield, "They will show you the way, and pay attention to your dreams, they don't come from you. Watch for me, I love you"


Hearing those words startles him to his core and his head snaps around but shes gone.


There are two cigarettes in the ashtray and one in his hand.


Outside in the snow, out of his sight, she watches him in the car as two hulking figures shrouded in shadow step to her side and gently pull her away through a door that isn't there.

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Ian stared into the falling snow, his heart pounding in his chest. “God damnit,” he whispered, mostly to hear his own voice in the quiet car. Reaching out, he grabbed the still-smoking cigarettes and knocked off their cherries, trying to preserve at least some of his vice. Shifting around in the car, he caught sight of something sitting on the floor.


Leaning over, he saw a black case sticking out from under the seat. It hadn’t been there before Goth Barbie. “Fuck.” Ian swallowed as he considered all the horrible things that could be in that case. There was only one way to find out, though, and he hauled it up onto the seat next to him. It looked harmless, just an ordinary soft fabric case for housing electronics.


Swallowing again, he clamped his still-lit cigarette in his lips and jerked the zippers back. A shiny new camera surveillance kit gleamed in the dim light. “Fuck me,” Ian whispered but this time his tone was reverent. This was top of the line and brand-fucking-new. It was easily the most expensive thing in his car, including the car. I wish all the creepy things in my life were so helpful.


A piece of paper had been wedged into the side between the foam and case. Ian pulled it out, blinking when a coupon for a cheap motel room fell out of the folded note. The paper itself said, â€œGo get a room. You rest and eat and do research there. And shave! You’re going to want to look nice tomorrow.”


“The fuck!” Ian stared at the note, read it three times and finally crumpled it. “Who the fuck are you?” he snarled, putting his car into drive. “My fucking mother?” He was still grumbling when he pulled into a filling station and grabbed a two-liter of soda and three cans of ravioli – all carefully examined for tampering.


Despite his words, he drove to the motel and got the room. The coupon was too good to pass up, and for serious research, he needed privacy and stable internet. This room offered both. Best of all, his room looked toward the church, which seemed a good omen.


Ian grabbed his duffel, his new camera kit, his bag of money, and his laptop from the car. Inside the room, he shut the curtains and door, locking the latter. After ramming a chair under the doorknob, he took off his coat and relaxed. This was as safe as it got.


The queen bed was a luxury and he wasted a few minutes lounging on it, spread eagle and enjoying the space. His eyes drifted shut for a moment but sleep wouldn’t come. His needs drove him to sit up and pull out his computer. He booted and started hacking.


An hour later, he had a few answers but more questions. His stomach growled, so the young man pulled out his silverware and opened one of the cans of pasta. Eating it cold, he pondered what he had learned. The church had been spending money but only cash. Foss had apparently made a friend named Jason Cole on a flight out to Palo Alto, yet the man didn’t seem to exist except where he intercepted Foss. Even more oddly, half the time when Ian read Cole’s name, he saw the name Lotan instead.


“Okay, so who are you, Lotan?” Cracking his knuckles, Ian began to search under that name. When he found nothing, he was forced to accept defeat, at least for tonight. Tomorrow would be a new day.


All through the night, the name Lotan haunted his dreams. All of his failures and mistakes wore that name, and he fell again and again to a faceless man bearing that name.

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