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Aberrant: Children of Heaven - Making Waves

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[April 1st, in the afternoon]

The gym was pretty empty today, but then again a lot of the regulars were superstitious about April Fools Day. There was always some idiot jock boy that thought messing around with the weights or the scales was just the height of hilarity. Wakiki didn't mind; it was quieter than usual but he was still just another face in the very small crowd today.

He put his stuff up in the locker he usually used, stripped down to his swim trunks, and headed to the pool. Leanne, the swim instructor, was out for the week on vacation, so the classes that he usually swam around were canceled, leaving the Olympic-sized pool entirely to him for the next half-hour before Rickie showed up with the Senior Swim group. He dove easily into the water, his muscles stretching out in heated water as he began his laps. He kept count as he made his way back and forth along the lanes, his mind more on the flame war Skins had started on the Feather Fists board and what he was going to do for the next volume of Nurbuto. He hoped he didn't have to ban the kid and he really needed to decide if he was going to do an entire Summer Break volume or just the one chapter like he'd originally planned.

He was brought of his reverie by splashing sounds turbulence in the waters. He surfaced to find his half-hour already spent and the pool quickly filling with gossiping geriatrics. Rickie nodded at Wakiki in a distant but friendly way; they'd never spoken more than a few words to each other even though they saw each other every week. Wakiki liked that the other man was comfortable with that.

He pulled himself out of the water and toweled off, pleased that he'd been able to go the entire time without taking a break. Usually after about fifteen minutes or so he needed a breather, even if just a short one. He showered down and switched out into a t-shirt and shorts in the locker room and grabbed his racquet and rubber ball set, heading to the courts that were overlooked by the treadmill room. He hated that part of the courts, but he'd managed to convince himself that the soccer moms and pretty boys up there were watching the tv's - not him.

He set into the rhythm of the game as easily as he head the swimming warm-up, the ball thunking against the wall and his racquet with a hypnotic regularity. His mind wandered back to the problem of Skins and Nurbuto, one inspiration for the ADV manga sending him off on ideas for Feather Fists as well. He worked through all of these trains of thought as the ball continued its perfect arc of racquet-wall-floor-racquet.

He lost track of the time as his mind wandered over his life, picking at this or that and offering its advice as to what to do. When he'd finally worked himself through enough of his life's quandaries and his arm was starting to feel the strain of the workout, he caught the ball as it finished the last iteration of racquet-wall-floor. He nearly dropped both ball a racquet at the sound of clapping that broke out behind him. His eyes went automatically up the windows behind him, and it was crowded with people staring down into the court. That wasn't where the clapping was coming from, though. Huddled at the back of the court near the door were maybe two dozen people also staring at him. And clapping.

One of the interlopers, a regular Wakiki knew by sight if not by name, was holding a stopwatch/counter; he exclaimed, "Dude, that's got to be a world record or something! Over a thousand returned balls without single miss, and that's only since Kelly came and got me when she heard what was going on. You're like a racquet ball machine, man. She said you'd been here since three without a break!"

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Eddie stood there for a long moment. Perhaps the crowd thought he was soaking up the attention. In truth, he was struggling with the urge to run screaming. He was frozen, unsure of what to do, or say or how to react. Finally, the applause slowed and stopped and he quickly bowed, fighting not to drop to his knees. Some people thought he was just acknowledging their admiration, but was his socialized response when he didn't know what else to do. The people came forward, speaking to him and trying to shake his hand; he went through the motions as politely as he could, sweating from the effort.

He finally escaped to the locker room. Remembering what he'd been told, he found his watch and compared the time. He nearly dropped the watch when he saw he'd been in the court for over two hours. It was impossible, absolutely impossible, but there was no way to deny what was happening.

He needed to go home. Home was safe and silent.

He skipped the second shower despite how the sensation of dried sweat on his skin bugged him. He walked quickly, avoiding the gazes of the people pointing him out to one another, his head down. He could still feel their fingers and stares, and he didn't relax until he was outside. He didn't slow his near-run, he just felt a little better.

Once inside his apartment, he finally allowed himself to falter and shake. He took his shower and dressed, but it wasn't enough. He still was shaky from the shock of finding himself the center of attention. Shivering, he turned to his solace: Feather-Fists.com.

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As always, it was the answer he needed. Skins' reply to him satisfied him that the young man had had a bad episode, but didn't need to be banned. He typed out a response that he hoped would help, but Eddie didn't know. Sometimes, he didn't understand men anymore than women.

He followed that private message with a post to the Admins private thread explaining that he'd talked to Skins and that the young man was just upset. He'd gotten his word that he'd calm down and there was no need to ban him. Hopefully, that would be enough; if necessary, he could post as Wakiki and 'lay down the law', which was what Franklin liked to call it. It made him a bit uncomfortable to do so. But he would.

That done, he turned to do some work. It was what he always did when he was overwrought or upset - shut away the world and worked. He still had the summer break issue to consider; the last summer break for Nurbuto had been a volume which he hadn't liked, but the fans had loved it. Did he have enough material for another summer? Maybe, if he stretched things a bit. What if he hinted at his plans for the next semester to stretch things out? That could work, and Eddie felt a bit of excitement.

Over the next hour he wrote out the key points for the next volume. Then he took his drawing paper and his blue-lead pencil, and started to sketch the opening panels. He did well until he came to the first fight panel. He drew the two combatants, then stopped, frowning. Something wasn't right, and he stared, trying to figure out what was wrong. Nothing, as far as he could see, but he wasn't happy with it. Sighing, he set it aside and tried again. This one didn't come out right either, and in frustration, he went to make dinner.

After eating and cleaning up, he came back to his desk, staring down at what he'd drawn. It still wasn't right, and he didn't know why. Something about the way that the figure stood. In desperation, he adopted that pose, and nearly fell over. No one could fight like that! He quickly sat down and redrew the scene. There, not only was that better, but it was an accurate Wushu stance.

"How do I know that?" Eddie muttered in Japanese. It was like the thing with the racket ball court. He rubbed his forehead with a trembling finger, racking his brain. Experimentally, he adopted a stance, amazed at how right it felt. His fist curled shut and he punched the air, his feet following through in a shuffling maneuver that left him balanced and ready to follow through. Without hesitation, he followed through on what his body was urging and swept his foot into the air. He came down lightly on the balls of his feet. How did he know to do that? What was going on?

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An hour later he was sitting back on his couch wondering when exactly drawing mangas had become knowing martial arts. Except it hadn't. He'd looked over some of his old stuff, and it was all wrong. Those kids would have been falling on their faces or at least getting sucker-punched in the face half the time if they actually moved like he'd drawn.

And that was only the half of it. It was hard to sit still, his mind was in overdrive and his body seemed up for the challenge. He'd been in shape before, but after the gym (which he didn't want to think about) and then an hour of martial arts in his living room, he was still barely winded. He felt like he'd taken six or seven RedBulls and chased them down with equal parts of MountainDew. And he was hungry again. Hungry enough to order out from the pizza place just a few blocks away and splurge on their Family Meal deal. Two large pizzas, an order of wings, breadsticks, apple pie for dessert and a two litre. They were all gone twenty minutes after he tipped the driver.

He was contemplating whether or not to go back and update some of the panels for Feather Fists when the apartment buzzer cut through his thoughts. The pizza guy had already come and gone, and he didn't get any other visitors, but it was rude to leave people waiting at the front door, so he reluctantly left his drafting table and made for the little white box mounted next to his apartment door.

"Yes?" he electronically queried from several floors away. The little white box only returned silence. He tried two more times and then thankfully gave up on his would-be visitor. He turned to head back to his drafting table when he noticed the manila envelope peaking out from under his door.

It was light, and when he opened it, contained only two items: a hand drawn color sketch of a woman and note written on the same thick material that could have been vellum or maybe woven papyrus; Eddie wasn't particularly up on his ancient papers. They were faded and cracked at the edges, and completely sealed in what looked like laminate plastic. Much as he wasn't a connoisseur of ancient paper, he knew just enough about kanji to know that the note he was looking at was written a very long time ago. Or by someone as into ancient China as he was into martial arts mangas. Either way, he could only make enough out of the pictograms to know that they were referencing someone and telling the reader to do.....something.

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Normally, Eddie liked puzzles. They were patient, they didn’t make fun of you if you didn’t understand them, and they were generally something he was good at. Puzzles involving drawings of beautiful women were another thing altogether.

Still, he gamely got out his kanji dictionary and dug in, kneeling before his table. Many of the symbols were already familiar to him, so it was just a matter of checking to make sure he was right. When he was done, he had:

Time to become the samurai, Izumi Wakiki. Seek the seer, who is named for bitterness and lives in the place where ocean and land meet.

He blinked, wondering if it were code. No, he realized after a moment, it was merely that the kanji was trying to name places but wasn’t really meant for it. That solved, he glanced at the picture of the woman, his eyes going right past her image to the image itself, noting its style and the talent of the artist. It was almost photo-realistic, though there was no background, and he could see the marks from the ink nubs.

Sighing, he moved to his computer and pulled up Google. He tried several variations on ‘seer’ and ‘bitter’ and ‘beach’ since that’s where ocean meets the land. He found very little information and finally gave up that route.

Why was he bothering with this? He had his own problems. He looked at the picture and kanji again, as a single thought pestered him: would something so strange be somehow unrelated to the strangeness he’d already experienced?

No, he decided. It was all linked, or else the world had gone mad. He laid the image on his scanner and scanned it into his machine. Then he drew a deep breath and turned to his one unique resource: Feather-Fists.com. The forums were active, but he glossed over them for now to quickly add a new thread. The picture was linked there, and he typed a short message. Then all he could do was sit back and wait.

I have found this picture and I think the woman within was on vacation here. This is an unlikely to be answered, yet I have no other way to find her. Does anyone know her?

He checked the other threads and found his own problems were negligible. There were troubles further up the coast; several members had already posted ‘have you seen’ and ‘are the FFers from there ok?’ posts. Worried about his online friends and fans, he started to read.

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None of his fans appeared to be injured, or anyone they were close to. After a bit of poking through the other threads, he saw there was a reply from Skins. Eddie paused, feeling the Heavy Hand of Fate resting on him. It was a most unpleasant sensation. He shivered and read the post. It held another unpleasant surprise, a validation of the ancient Kanji: she was in Portland.

Port land, where the ocean meets the land.

He sat there for a time, thinking. He decided to go back to his old life. He would just slip back into his old life, safe and hidden. He thought about what happened in the gym and knew that was a false hope. He had only one way to go: forward.

Picking up the phone, he called a travel agent and booked a flight to Portland.

He wondered if he'd ever have a normal life again.

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