Account of the Change Book 3 – Swell: A Different Path Chapters

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When Mick Renalds packed his bags and left for Japan, he thought he was rid of his old life, but some people are destined to walk a Different Path. As much as Mick would like to live the quiet life, Destiny has something else in mind and Mick is just the man for the Job. As the world turns upside down, the real monsters are out to play, and only Mick can stand in their way.  

Crazy Friends

Saturday, June 26

A stiff elbow to the ribs pulled Mick out of his daydreaming as the jet taxied towards the runway. He shot a reproachful glare at his neighbor and ‘friend’ who not only wasn’t fazed by it but didn’t even seem to notice. It would have miffed him if anyone else did that, but with Jake, it was just who he was. “What!?”

“You ever wake up one day and think ‘Today is the day that everything is going to change?’ I mean like really change, the kind of change that did in the dinos, wiped out the mammoths, ate the dodos?”

          “Dude, no more anime for you! Just because we’re all on the way to Japan doesn’t mean that something daunting is going to happen that requires the rise of a champion to lead the starved, beaten, and weary to victory against all odds, Jake!” Mick Renalds retorted with a snort from his window side seat. Blond hair, blue eyes, 23, and pushing 6″5′ and with a physique that would make a mountain troll princess swoon. Like the dreamer next to him, he was on his way to Japan to work as an English Assistant Teacher or EAT for short. He was also a realist. Had he watched his fair share of Anime? You bet. And he’d enjoyed tearing holes in the plots. Yah, sometimes things happen which stand convention on its head but all that really is, is the undeniable truth making its presence known. Try to tell that to a dreamer like Jake and you were in for a long argument with someone that could almost make the unbelievable sound believable. Imagine if he ever learned the truth.

On second thought, better that he stays unawares. He’s already too perceptive for his own good.

Mick wasn’t quite sure how Jake could do it, but on the drop of a dime, he could lead you down a most plausible sounding rabbit hole and then drag you not only through Wonderland but make you accept that you weren’t tripping and that the Caterpillar was actually a larval telepathic alien that was learning about how messed up the human psyche really was. In a lot of ways, it was a wasted talent. Had Jake ever applied himself to something like politics or business, he would have been a force to reckon with. Alas, every time I even mention such an idea to him, he gets a very serious look on his face and says something like ‘You do not want a person like me in a position like that. I might just succeed.’ Which is probably for the best. Honest dreamers meet bad ends and things could become ticklish for his continued existence should he show up on other’s radar. He sighed while giving his friend a sideways look. Some secrets are best left sleeping.

          One of these days something is going to happen that shatters that protective dome of reality that Mick relies so heavily upon. I only hope that it isn’t to his detriment when it does. Because I’d hate for Mick to be dodo-ized. “Where’s your sense of adventure, man?” Jake Jameson said with a frown, shaking his head.

Jake Jameson was the epitome of normal looking. Look in the dictionary for a picture of average white American and there he was. 5″10′, short brown hair, with an average, if slightly athletic, build. Check, yep normal. The only thing a little different was his eyes. They were a marbled hazel green that gave those that stared the feeling that a swirling galaxy was gazing into their soul. He also looked a good five years younger than he actually was at 26. He could never decide if that was a good or bad thing.

“What do you call what we are about to do?” Mick demanded. Considering what they were currently doing, Jake’s question made little sense. “It’s not like you, me, and the fifty or so others with our group alone, aren’t moving to another country where the culture, language, and environment are starkly different from anything most of us have experienced before! Some of us may even stay and start whole new lives here!” he said, watching as his chastisements bounced harmlessly off of Jake’s chipper mood.

          “Well, yah. But that’s a little adventure. I’m waiting for the big one to come along!” Jake replied, practically bouncing up and down in his seat with anticipation. He couldn’t really explain it but somewhere deep down, maybe in his atoms themselves, there was something that screamed that there was more, much more, out there than mankind had ever imagined. “or forgotten,” the voice whispered, half heard, in his head. He did his best not to think about that. The voice had been there for as long as he could remember but he had been smart enough not to let anyone know after that one time he had freaked out his family. He didn’t want people thinking he was crazy.

          “Well let’s hope that your grand adventure is kind enough to wait until we land in Japan. I don’t have any desire to wind up like those people in the TV show having a shared final delusion. Oh, and wake me when we land!” Mick asked, promptly passing out before the Jet had even taken off.

Whiners

Sunday, June 27

          Mick had not gotten much sleep for the last two hours of the approach into Tokyo. None but the dead had, and even theirs probably wasn’t that sound. To say that the turbulence was bad would have been an understatement on par with saying that they only hadn’t crashed yet because the wind was so strong that they couldn’t fall from the sky. The seatbelt light had been on full time and the two fools that had tried to get up had found themselves bouncing off the ceiling of the fuselage as the jet had hit a particularly bad spot and suddenly dropped several thousand feet in altitude. In fact, that was the only reason they were being allowed to land instead of being diverted. The restless dead man didn’t help either.

Go to Japan, gain a little experience, and have some fun. Escape family obligations and heritage. Mick chuckled as he clutched at his armrest. The jet lurched sickeningly, eliciting a moan from the injured man and a new volley of puking from the passengers. To say that the jet would need a thorough cleaning, if it managed to survive, was an understatement. If this keeps up, crashing may be preferable, if only to bring an end to this stench. Fell-hound stool stinks less than this!    

          “Well Mick, it looks like we won’t end up like those folks in the show. According to the map we are over Japan now. Granted we still need to land. Preferably on land and on a runway. Bad things happen when jets do crunchies on buildings and with these waves a water landing would be pure suicide. In one piece would be nice but alive will do,” Jake said as the jet began to shudder, emphasizing just how dubious that proposition was quickly becoming. There was no doubt that they would be on the ground here soon, but in one piece? Well, that was another question altogether.

The jet jerked again, eliciting a moan of pain from mister ‘seatbelt signs don’t mean nothing’ and a bit of flopping limbs from the dead one.

          “Jerk!” Mick retorted, white knuckled. The maniac is smiling!!! Man was not meant to fly!

          “Attention!!! We are now banking in for our landing. Remain seated! And a little prayer might be a good idea,” the Pilot gritted out. You could hear the strain in his voice from hours of fighting like a one-armed strongman trying to bench a squirming elephant in freefall to control the jet. In fact, if you listened at all, you could hear the strain going through the fuselage in shudders, creaks, groans, and what sounded distinctly like cracking and rivets popping.

          “Did the Pilot really just suggest that we seek divine intervention for a safe landing?” Mick asked, going even whiter than Michael Jackson.

If he gets much whiter, he’ll either be a ghost or a pop star. Though at this rate we might all be right there along with him. What fun. Jake smiled gleefully as he looked over at Mick.”You see, if you had a little faith, that would have given you a little reassurance. For today is either your time or it’s not!” he explained in a most matter-of-fact tone. In the end that is what it always comes down to!

          “Dude, you are so not helping,” Mick growled, through clinched teeth, worried about biting his tongue as he glared at his ‘friend.’ Why did I ever think being his friend was a good idea? Oh, because usually he is only an amusing amount crazy.

A sudden gust swatted the jet almost 45̊ off of the course it had been on. Which was bad. It was only made worse by the fact that the jet had been about to go wheels down. This meant that where the jet, by some miracle, had been coming in almost straight on with the runway, it was now coming in just shy of sideways. Before the Pilot had a chance to correct, the jet touched down and things were going good. For about .003 seconds. Then the right-side landing gear collapsed in a screech of torn metal and exploding pneumatics and hydraulics. Granted, it was barely audible over the screaming of the passengers. The wing quickly followed suit, folding under in gouts of flames that would have done a cranky dragon proud as the jet tumbled over it. It was soon joined by the other wing as the jet completed the roll and it too snapped off. Surprisingly the fuselage had been taking it pretty well so far but being treated like a seesaw over two wings was more than it could take. Just behind the rear wing joint, a third of the way back in coach, and right in front of where Jake and Mick were sitting, the two halves of the fuselage separated. It was a bad day for the pilots and first classers as they rolled away and right into a fuel truck. Jake only got a glimpse of the ensuing fireball as they continued to roll over. The two halves had been separating in a more or less V-pattern. After several more rotations, Jake’s half began to slow and finally came to a stop with them sitting at only a slight angle with the storm baring its fangs directly into their faces. Seeing as how the rows in-front of them had torn free they were now effectively moved to the first-class and had plenty of extra legroom. Mick stared out into the fangs of the storm as the warm rain washed over him. At least it doesn’t smell like vomit any more. Mick looked to his side as he caught motion, and found Jake getting out of his seat.

          “I’ve always wanted to fly first-class. Now that I’m here, I don’t see what all of the hype is about.” Jake turned in his seat and smiled to Mick. “Well, we’re on the ground, we crashed in a storm, and on an island in the Pacific. Yep, sounds just like that show. Pinch me quick and see if this is a hallucination,” Jake joked as he stopped the recording he’d been making on his phone since just before things went sideways, horizontally so. Getting out of his seat, he pulled his Indiana Jones style leather messenger bag out of the overhead and grinned out into the fury of the storm. As the lightning flashed, Mick could see him clearly and even the devil himself, after reaping a world, would have been scared to tread near him. And then he was gone. Just gone.

          Mick sat there blinking against the torrent of water cascading down on him and quickly inundating the fuselage as he came to grips with everything that had just happened and the truly sane insanity of his friend. The strobes of the emergency vehicle’s lights jarred him out of his reprieve from reality. What am I doing!? Yah, Jake ditched me, but that was just Jake being Jake. I’m uninjured and over the shock. It’s time I got a move on and it’s not like that is even the closet that I have ever been to death. He stomped down hard on that train of thought before it could get any more traction. He had left that life behind. And for very good reasons.

          Mick climbed out of his seat and made his way to the gaping maw of the fuselage. Given the choice of wading back through the remaining passengers to get to the remaining emergency slide at the rear hatch or following Jake’s example and climbing down, he chose to climb. And I don’t even have to worry about carrying anything because my bags were in the overhead a few rows up and that section is gone now. I really hope that my check bags were in the rear half of the jet. It wasn’t like he had brought anything really irreplaceable with him, but finding clothing for a man of his stature was nigh impossible in Japan. Even Amazon.jp didn’t carry his sizes.

          Mick turned around as his feet met the asphalt only to find himself face to face with a perturbed looking man that positively exuded authority.

          “Are all of you passengers crazy!?” he demanded. “What part of sit, stay, and await aid from emergency personnel don’t you all understand? I’ll make it as simple as whitewash on a picket fence. Jet. Crash. Sit. Wait. Get rescued. Real simple. No?” he explained using exaggerated hand motions before shaking his head in frustration. “But, oh no, no, you all just come sauntering out without a care in the world!” He glared over his shoulder at the sound of a rumble that was just barely perceptible over the rage of the storm. It became a frown as he spotted a departing bus through the squall washing out the tarmac. “You have got to be kidding me!” He let loose a slew of expletives in at least five languages that would have made Mother Tereasa blush and Mark Twain and Shakespeare swoon with envy at the sheer poetry and inventiveness of it.

By that point, some other personnel had gathered round and were staring at who was apparently the response team’s chief. “You, take this lost little,” Chief gave Mick another glance, “make that big lamb to the bus,” he ordered, nudging Mick over to the waiting man. “The rest of you start getting the remaining passengers out and onto the busses. Be on the lookout for anyone suffering from shock. I have to go track down the one that got away before he causes any more problems,” he finished, standing there expectantly as no one moved. “Now would be a good time to start!” he barked and the responders jumped back into action while he rubbed his temples and trudged off, muttering invectives, to a waiting car that seemed primed to take flight in the gale-force winds that were tearing across the tarmac. All Mick could catch was a portion about ‘raving mad foreigners,’ the rest was drowned out by the roar of the storm.

          Mick jerked as he felt a hand clamp onto his elbow. It wasn’t painfully tight, but it was solid and informed him that ‘resistance was futile. He would be assimilated into the rescue effort.’ Great, now I have Star Trek going through my head. Could be worse. It could have been Galaxy Quest. He gave up with a shrug and followed the man without putting up a fight. Not that they really could do anything to stop me if I wanted to resist. All things considered, I would rather get out of this deluge and something says resisting would only prolong my stay. And it isn’t like I really want to draw any undue attention to myself either. I’m pretty sure that I lost them at this point, and it would be a real shame to find myself back on their radar because of some pesky reporter and a camera or a police report. His stomach let out a rumble as they neared the buses. What with the turbulence, they hadn’t been able to serve any of the inflight meals – which was not really food and everyone knew that it was better to not eat on flights anyways – or refreshments after the first go around shortly after they took off and he was getting beyond hungry. “Any chance that there is some food and dry clothes waiting for me at the end of this ride?”

          His keeper turned and gave him an appraising look. “Food, yes, probably. You are pretty big, so clothes may pose a bit more of a problem. We should be able to find you something, but no guarantees.”

          I hope they have plenty of food because I could eat a whole cow at this point. Mick stepped up into the bus and took the seat nearest the exit by right of conquest. “Any idea how long I will need to wait?” he asked, trying not to cringe at the feel of his sodden clothes while still wrapped in the oppressive heat and humidity of the storm. He liked to be clean and hated wearing wet clothes. You’d think that after growing up in Seattle, that he would be used to being wet, but he’d always hated it and was one of the rare and devout umbrella users in the Pacific Northwest.

          “Shouldn’t be long. We don’t have that many people to recover,” the man replied, before realizing what he had just said. He looked back with a fear for his career in his eyes.

          “I understand,” Mick said, giving him a tired shrug. “Those of us that made it are lucky to be alive. Some of the others may not feel the same, but when all of the rows in-front of you shear off, and you’re left staring out at the flaming front half of the jet and the jaws of the storm responsible for it, you develop a very clear appreciation for just how lucky you are to be alive.”

          “Right.”

          Mick turned away and looked out the window as the first shaky survivors were being shepherded towards the bus. Despite no real signs of injuries, many of the survivors were being carried on stretchers or practically being dragged between two responders. I may not have taken it with a smile like Jake did, but at least I don’t think I looked as shocked as those people. Granted, there are more than a few wires loose in Jake’s head. Although, now that I think of it, it may be more of a case of a different wiring template altogether and not just loose wires. He shook his head reproachfully as the first of them reached the bus and fell into a seat in a sobbing daze. Something says that I am going to regret not having joined Jake in his exodus!

          By the time his bus pulled out, he was more than ready to leave and be rid of the pity-party he now shared the cab with. It had only taken thirty minutes to load, but it had been a maddeningly long thirty minutes filled with the incessant sobbing and whining of the other survivors. It usually wouldn’t have bugged him so much, but between his soggy clothes, low blood sugar, sleep deprivation, and all-around cranky mood, he was definitely a less than happy camper.

          “Would you all just shut up already!?” Mick commanded in a holler, cutting through the sniveling hoard as he stood and rounded on the rest of the passengers. Heads snapped up and fear filled many of their eyes as they recoiled away from him and his words. With the dark backdrop of the storm outside and the dim bus lights he must have looked like some kind of towering barbarian or monster to them. “You are alive. Unless you had family in the other section of the jet, you have nothing to whine about, and everything to be thankful for! Next one of you snivelers that I hear, I’m throwing you back out in the rain and I’m not going to ask the driver to stop before I do it. Then you will really have something to whine about!”

 Mick sat back down with a huff as the entire bus went quiet and stared at the back of his head since the head rest, unfortunately and painfully, only managed to reach the top of his shoulders. The bus driver started whistling happily.

***

          Mick was the first off of the bus when it reached the terminal. In his haste to be free of the ‘sniveling hoard,’ better to be back out in the rain than stuck another minute with that lot, he almost ran over the small Japanese man that greeted him at the door with a wool blanket. He forced himself to take a breath and put on a smile as he took note of the worried look on the man’s face as the probably 5’2″ little man craned his neck to look up at him. “Thank you!” he said, accepting the blanket with as much grace and courtesy as he could muster. He must not have looked very convincing because the man wilted before him as he moved the rest of the way inside. He was just in time to see a TV clip of Jake giving a quick and vague statement. Despite his current irksomeness, he found himself smiling and shaking his head. Lucky jerk. He may get burned for that, but at least his visibility just got a big boost and it looks like he will make it clear of the airport before the safety Nazis can detain him. Who knows, he may even be able to get a girlfriend now.

Mick’s brief reprieve was interrupted by the arrival of the other survivors, who were still maintaining a wide berth around him. The remaining support staff had moved in and were, with little success, trying to shepherd the confused herd in the proper direction. He let out a sad sigh and hung his head as he shook it, before rounding on them once more. Why me?

“Persons in flashy orange and blue outfit will lead you where you want to go. Follow persons!” Mick barked at the lemmings. They jumped a little, but after his threat on the bus they obeyed and fell upon the surprised staff in a gibbering mob. Apparently feeling protected now, they wasted no time starting in on their demands, complaints, and other plebeian jabberings. Of which, unsurprisingly, more than a few seemed directed at him; as shown through their jabbing fingers and vile sneers in his direction. Mick let the shadows build and extend around him ominously. They quickly found their other complaints more pressing.  

One of the staffers quirked an eyebrow at him and sauntered over. “What was all of that about?”

Mick turned on the man with a sigh. “Lemmings,” he answered flatly, walking away in the direction of the smell of hot food while the man stood there confused.

          He quickly snapped out of it and turned to stop Mick. “Hey, wait! You’re going the wrong way.”

          “No, I’m not! There is food this way and I mean to get at it!” Mick said, continuing on without missing a step.

          “But you have to get examined…” The man drew up short as Mick rounded on him. He had long since learned to read people and for just a moment he found himself faced with the unfathomable. It made that inner part of the brain that ran purely on instinct freeze as if it had suddenly found itself confronted with a predator that it couldn’t hope to fight or escape. So, as any prey found in such a situation, he froze in hope that the predator might pass him by.

“When would I get to eat!?” Mick asked, taking note of the cold sweat that the man had broken out in. Not good if that much is peeking through. I need rest and food soonest. I can’t afford any accidents now.

          The man paused as the waves of fear passed and whatever monster had suddenly loomed before him sunk back down into the depths from which it had reared, leaving in its place just a mountain of a man before him. He knew that the memory of that brief glimpse into the dark would stay with him for the rest of his life, though. At last his brain re-engaged and he registered the terse question. “Probably after a check-up and once we get everyone sorted out and through customs. About an hour. Maybe two,” he answered, dubiously.

          Mick smiled and walked away leaving the man to tail him at what his brain considered a slightly less dangerous distance. Most of the restaurants and stores were already closed thanks to the late hour, storm, and therein non-existence of customers, but he somehow managed to find an Udon shop that was still open. “Rice and a large Kitsune Udon with extra green onions, please,” he ordered, dropping into Japanese and stepping up to the window. The proprietor just stood there surprised for a moment while giving the wet giant before her an appraising look.

          “Coming right up,” she said, breaking into a smile and a nod as she set to work. It wasn’t people’s usual reaction on first meeting or seeing him, but the smile gave him a bit of a warm feeling. She moved like a leaf caught in the wind as she flitted about the tiny kitchen, barely seeming to touch the floor. Although, it was her skill with the blade which held Mick’s eyes captive. The ingredients seemed to fall to pieces without even a hint of force being used. It spoke to a level of training and experience far beyond what a person working in a place like this should have had. It was par with, if not superior to, the skill of any knife user, inside or outside of the kitchen, he had ever seen. She surprised him further when, instead of just handing him his tray, she came out and brought his order to one of the nearby tables.

          Mick made to pull out his wallet to pay but she cut him off before he had the chance.

          “You were on ‘The Jet’, right?” she asked, as he took a seat and pulled the tray a little closer and tucked a napkin into his collar. Past experience had shown that noodles were rather dangerous food to eat with chopsticks. Not that his soppy clothes would be much worse for the wear should he happen to fumble a noodle and cause a splash, but he didn’t know how long he would be stuck in them and didn’t much like smelling or looking like a sloppy person.

          “What gave it away?” Mick asked. There was sarcasm in his voice but also amusement and curiosity. Never met anything like her before.

          She laughed. “You look like a ghost, you’re sopping wet, you don’t have any bags, and there is a perturbed looking staff guy glaring at you from around the corner. I think he is trying to decide if he should stick his own neck out and drag you back or if he should pass it on up to his boss. Given that he’s getting out his radio, I figure he decided on the latter and you have between fifteen and thirty minutes before they come for you.”

          “Plenty of time.” Mick smiled and snapped apart his chopsticks.

          “Heh. You are an odd one,” she said, taking a seat. It wasn’t like there was anything else that she needed to be doing at the moment and she highly doubted that there would be any more customers tonight.

          Mick finished his slurp of noodles and looked up with a smile. “You should see my friend. Then again, you may have seen him already if you were watching the TV. No sooner than we stop rolling, he gets up, cracks a joke, and heads out into the storm like it’s a sunny day in the park. Then he somehow manages to get past all of the red tape, which should have hogtied him with a pretty bow, and winds up on TV.”

          “Oh, I saw him. He seemed like a real odd fellow. I got the feeling that there was a lot more to him than most people ever see,” she said, with a curious smile.

          Mick gave a shrug but watched her a little closer all the same. She’s rather perceptive. I’ll have to be careful not to let anything unwonted slip. “I don’t think he really even understands himself.” Not that I understand him much better than he does. It’s a good thing that I found him first and that whatever it is that lurks inside him has never reared its head or there may have been issues.  

          “Enough about him for now. What brought you here?” she asked, giving him a curious eyebrow.

          To be sarcastic or not to be sarcastic? I’m too tired for sarcasm and she gave me the food for free. Well, that and she is rather pretty. Admit it! Fine, she’s beautiful. “I came over as a CE-J or Culture Exchange Japan employee.”

          “Oh, I’ve met a few of them before and I had one at a school I attended when I was growing up. If you don’t mind me asking, where were you placed?” she inquired.

          “On the shores of Lake Towada in Aomori Prefecture,” Mick answered. He was a little surprised when another question didn’t immediately follow and looked up to find her smiling. It was now his turn to give her a curious eyebrow to which she laughed. She has an exquisite laugh. There was a rakish beauty to her laugh that reminded him of a wolf’s serenade in the deep woods. But I’d best not let it distract me too much. But maybe a little bit is okay.

          “Sorry, it’s just that I guess we will sort of be neighbors. My family lives in that general area. Granted, general areas are a mite bit bigger up in the north than they are down here in the more civilized areas,” she chuckled, like it was an inside joke. “Some areas are somewhat cutoff up there and a touch insular but for you, I might consider hopping the border and stopping in for a chat or a coffee,” she added, smiling coyly at him and trying not to blush and give up all of her cards. He’s not what I expected but maintaining proper decorum is still only proper in this situation. “I was just working here as a part-timer for my uncle during the summer while I did some research here in Tokyo. My research is over now, and I’ll be heading home tomorrow if the weather cooperates,” she explained.

          “Imagine that! I mean, what are the odds!?” Mick mused before giving himself a shake. Rather low I would think. And you remember how coincidences tend to turn out. Especially under these kinds of circumstances. Be caut… Oh forget it. I left that life behind and I’m not going to let it chain me down any longer!  “In that case, it is a pleasure to meet you. I’m Mick Renalds, and I’d love to share a cup of coffee and a good talk with you or whatever you would like. I have a feeling that talking with you could become addictive,” he said, giving her a sheepish smile. He could feel the blush reaching to his ears. And rightfully so. The more he looked, the more he recognized just how amazingly beautiful she was. She was beautiful but also carried an ‘I work for a living’ bearing about herself. She had well developed, but not oversized muscles, was around one-hundred-sixty centimeters tall. Her face was just slightly rounded in a heart shape with strong cheeks and tiny but proud chin. Her hair was a little long, just reaching past her shoulders, but you could tell that she was confident, because she wore it tied back, revealing her face. And there was something about her smile, with her just slightly pouty lips, and big eyes that made him stare despite himself. 

          She smiled at the offer of his name, his slight blush, and his obvious ‘covert’ re-appraisal of her. “Uesugi Ai, a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to being neighbors. It’s a big area, but I look forward to sharing a cup of joe and a good talk with you once you get settled in. In any case, I’m sure you will fall in love… with the town and way of life I mean,” she assured him, smiling coyly.          

 “I think you may be right,” Mick agreed, feeling his blush deepen even further. Stupid! You don’t stand a chance.

He’s rather cute when he is blushing and there is something different about him. A darkness but also a light. Ai started to say something, but a depressing shadow suddenly descended over their table.

“Was the flight full of crazies or was it just your row?” The newcomer demanded.

Mick didn’t need to look to recognize the Chief’s voice. He sounded even more peeved than the last time. “Not crazy, just famished. What with the turbulence, they missed all but the first drink and snack run,” he commented absently, setting his chopsticks down on his empty bowl, not that he really remembered having finished it or his rice off, and turned to face the Chief.

Chief glared down at him but soon gave it up when it became apparent that Mick wasn’t about to be intimidated and threw his hands up in frustration. He was a big guy, but next to Mick he looked average. “Crazy Americans,” he grumbled. “Well, now that you seem to be fed!!! I am going to have to ‘Insist’ that you rejoin the others so that we can give you a proper check-up! That one crazy that slipped free was bad enough.”

Mick had to cover his laugh with a cough at the mention of Jake. “Yes, Jake is a little bit of an oddball,” he agreed, smiling at the chief’s surprise.

“I should have known that you two knew each other. Birds of a feather indeed,” Chief shook his head sighing. It had been a long, wet, and trying day and the paperwork, interviews, and meetings on today’s events were going to take days to get through and many long nights of work. And the sooner he got this lost ‘lamb’ returned to the flock, the sooner he could get to it and get home. “Now, am I going to have to get some help to drag back the obviously ‘confused’ and ‘distraught’ passenger or will you come quietly?” Chief asked, nodding to the two; large-ish Japanese men flanking him.

Mick smiled and stood up. He was a full head taller than the tallest of them and probably out massed them by at least a third if not double. And, in his case, it was all muscle. “Tempting, and I’m sure the lawsuit would pay out splendidly, but you are in luck. I hate lawyers and now that I have had some food, I will come back quietly. It was for the good of everyone that I got fed. You really don’t want to be around me when my blood sugar gets too low or I get a bit anemic. So where to?” he asked, looking between and down at them with a smile.

Had it come to a tussle, he doubted that they would have prevailed unless they were willing to do things like shoot him, and even that wouldn’t have guaranteed them victory. He had long since faced far, far worse than them and had the faded scars to show for it. He wasn’t just strong and massive. He was trained and had perfect muscle memory as well as a photographic memory. He could easily have gone pro MMA, Karate, Judo, Boxing, or several other armed and un-armed martial arts. To the annoyance of most all of his masters and trainers, he had refused on the grounds that if he ever had a reason to fight, it was to destroy his opponent and there wouldn’t be any rules dictating what was allowed in the fight. The only Master that hadn’t been annoyed, and had wholeheartedly agreed with him, had been his Iai-master. A broken sword, chest plate, and three broken ribs had more than convinced that master that competition was a no-no. And let’s not be forgetting the family reasons either.    

          “Um…” Chief looked up and up at the tower of muscle, and it wasn’t show muscle but the thick build of real working strength, looming before him now. Was he always this big? He gave his head an internal shake to clear the cobwebs. Years of training and experience were the only thing that kept the doubt from showing on his face. “From here it would be faster if we cut across the terminal instead of heading back the way you came,” he explained. I’m in charge here, why in the world am I explaining this to him!?I need a break.

          Mick smiled, knowing full well what the Chief had thought. Realized you bit off more than you could chew didn’t you! “After you then.” Chief twitched a little but turned to leave without showing any other signs of apprehension.

          “Wait!” Ai ordered before they made good on their departure. They all stopped in their tracks like the President himself had given the command. She grabbed a sticky pad and a pen from under the counter, scribbled something on it really fast, tore it free, and handed the note over to Mick. “I hope you fall in love with the area and if you ever need help or are in trouble, go here,” she whispered into his ear where the others couldn’t hear her. There was a twinkle in her eyes as she stepped back that spoke of enjoyable mischief. She gave an equally demure smile before turning back to the task of closing up shop. Fate is a weird thing.

          Mick glanced down at the note and smiled. There was a basic map with some scribbled landmarks on it. It looked more like a trail map than a town, but he recognized enough of them at a glance that he was confident that he could find his way. Just what kind of town does she live in? “Same.” He smiled, wishing that he could stay and chat with her more but knowing that it was time to go. He turned and followed the Chief and his improv-goons as he led the way. There was a little extra spring in his step. Just what game is Fate playing now? Maybe my luck is finally changing. Right, and wouldn’t the others just flip if that happened. Then they would really have something to be torqued about.   

Good to his word, the Chief buzzed them through all of the security doors and cut clean through the heart of the terminal instead of taking the long way around through the civilian areas. Why there wasn’t a bypass for civilian traffic that did the same was one of those mysteries that he figured there was no satisfactory answer to beyond stupid design practices and sales quotas at the kiosks. They exited out of one of the baggage handling areas and back into a common area, which looked like a small gymnasium or conference hall, where the other survivors were already gathered and milling around like a herd of squawking sheep. There weren’t as many as Mick had expected. The chief apparently could read stoic expressions or thoughts better than most con-artists, because he answered the question before he even asked it.

“Of the one-hundred-eighty-seven passengers on Allen Air’s 626, only seventy-three survived the ‘landing.’ Or a little over a third. The front half of coach is always the most crowded,” the Chief explained.

“Given that I was in the front row when we came to a stop, I probably have a better idea of just how lucky to be alive we all really are than most of these people,” Mick stated, sighing tiredly. “So, what line do I go stand in first?”

“Crazy Americans. If I didn’t have a passel of perfectly normal ones, whining away, making demands, and calling for their lawyers, I would have had to think that our media had been grossly misrepresenting you. But I have those aplenty. So, I can just write you and your friend off as strange rule breaking anomalies. Or, in your case, maybe ‘mutant aberrant’ would be more apt,” he mused with a grin. Mick chuckled appreciatively at the jest, even if it was rather closer to the mark than he would have liked to admit. “That line by the doors is the one that you need to start in. They will direct you from there.”

“Thanks. So now for my one American question. Any ideas on our luggage? I’d really like a change of clothes and something says that they probably don’t have my size,” Mick asked, squaring his already square shoulders and making his bulk evident.

“In your case, I’ll take that as a reasonable question. Sadly, I don’t have a good answer at this point. At a best guess, if your bags survived, we will probably get to them late tomorrow. The storm has us pretty much completely shut down. No point risking anyone else out in the storm now that we have recovered the passengers,” Chief answered.

“Thanks for trying and sorry for inconveniencing you,” Mick apologized, he was even a little sincere, before heading for the line.

“Ticket, passport, other identification, or name please?” the person at the intake table, which was covered in folders, asked without looking up as Mick came to a stop at the table.

Mick fished his ticket and passport out and handed them over. He was lucky that he had at least kept his wallet, passport, and cash on him instead of leaving them in his lost carry-on.

The man checked them really fast then seemed to do a double take before finally looking up and handing them and a folder back to Mick. “You’re lucky. You are the furthest forward survivor. Well, there was that other guy that somehow got out, but he’s not here to claim the position,” he added conversationally. “Anyways, take this and wait in that line, the doctor will give you a quick checkup. Once you are done there, just keep following the directions and you should be done fairly quickly.”

 “Thanks,” Mick said, taking the folder and stepping into the line. While he waited, he went ahead and flipped through the folder that they had given him. It was more than a little disturbing just how much information it contained on him. There was everything from his ‘minimal and false’ medical history to his academic history in there. Jake is right to be paranoid about doctors and electronic records. Once it’s in the system, it is nigh impossible to get it completely out again. Good thing that there are places which the system still can’t reach and those who work for the system that are willing to make adjustments if you know how to ask right.

“Are you okay?” a nurse asked, noticing his shiver and was obviously concerned that he was hypothermic or going into shock.

“All good. I just had a little bit of a disturbing thought and found myself in agreement with the sentiments of one of my friends,” Mick answered, shrugging.

The nurse gave him a quizzical look that said she wasn’t quite sure if she believed him, but she moved on after a moment.  

          Mick shook his head as she walked away to see to another passenger that was on the verge of hyperventilating. Dude’s alive! What does he have to be so worked up over?

          “Folder?”

          Mick’s head snapped back around as he realized that he had reached his destination. “Do I get it back?” he countered. “No offence, but there is a lot of personal data in here that I would just as soon not have get lost or misplaced in filing somewhere or worse logged into public records when this court case blows up.” Or cross-checked against my actual condition.

          The doctor blinked a few times in surprise. “It will be filed away with the rest of the records once this is all over with!”

          “That doesn’t work for me. You can make your notes and record the results but the file stays with me!” Mick retorted, just loud enough to draw a few curious looks, adding to the pressure on the doctor not to make a scene out of it.

          “You won’t be able to make a claim for injuries if the chain of control is broken!” the doctor warned.

          “I’m more worried about reimbursement for my belongings than about injuries. So, thank you for the warning and I’ll take my chances,” Mick informed him as he handed over the folio with his medical records alone. He held it tight enough that the doctor had to give a little tug to get it free. It was a little petty, but he didn’t much like the doctor’s attitude either and despite eating he was still hungry and feeling a touch cranky. His soggy clothes were doing little to improve his disposition either.

With a slightly disturbing creak from the gurney, he took a seat while the doctor fussed over him and made some notes in the folder while mumbling under his breath. I must be channeling my inner Jake or something. Probably a good thing Jake isn’t here. He would be bored out of his mind and would have flipped when he saw the file on him. Then again, his file would probably have been almost blank, and he would have seen to keeping it that way.

          The doctor made a few quick checks, looking for any injuries and taking his vitals before consulting the folio and scrunching his forehead and frowning. He was still frowning as he looked back at Mick. “Are you on any kind of depressants?” he asked, flatly.

          Mick was caught off guard by the question but recovered quickly. “No, I don’t take any medicine except for coffee and tea – and drugs are just stupid.”

          The doctor’s frown deepened. “The truth now!?” he repeated, a dark flicker lighting in his eyes as he figured that he could get back at Mick for his previous actions.

          Mick wasn’t in the mood to play petty games. “Cut to the chase already. I’m tired, soggier than a Lejeune bullfrog, and I was just in a plane crash. I don’t really care for the verbal jousting at the moment!” He let a little heat slip into his voice and leaned a little forward, towering over the doctor to make his point. Usually he was a distinctly level-headed person but that had less to do with his natural tendencies and more to do with a highly developed amount of self-control to keep his inner ‘Mr. Hyde’ at bay. Jake was one of the few people that had any idea of the sheer volume of emotion that he constantly kept under lock and key, but even he didn’t really know the half of it. For that matter, even his own family didn’t. On the flip side, Jake was the only person that he knew of that possibly had even more going on inside of him and in his head than he did. Even if Jake doesn’t know it. It’s probably for the best that that particular chasm never sees the light of day, lest it open its maw and swallow the light completely.  

          The doctor felt the heat and saw the embers in Mick’s eyes but wasn’t convinced and apparently, he had somehow already lobotomized the areas of his brain that should have been telling him that this was not someone you wanted to get on the bad side of. Some people were just that way. Super type ‘A’ personalities with inflated egos. “That is exactly the problem. Even if this was a completely normal situation, your vitals are far too low and calm. They are almost at the same point as someone in deep sleep. The only way that that is possible is if you are on depressants of some kind! Those are highly regulated in Japan and illegal to possess without a doctor’s permission. In light of current events, I am willing to overlook all of this as long as you tell me the truth right now and hand over any remaining drugs. If you refuse, I will be forced to seek assistance from security, reports will be filed, and you will most likely face deportation at the bare minimum!”

          “Draw a blood sample if you must, but I’m telling you I’m not taking or on anything, and I don’t much like being called a liar and a junky!” Mick said, getting up off of the exam table and towering over the tiny doctor. Apparently, some part of his brain had escaped the lobotomy.

          The doctor blinked, finally backing down and stepping back a little. He quickly set about getting out some blood drawing equipment. “When this comes back, you can expect that you will be arrested and that charges will be filed!” he said, with more than a little dark glee and anticipation in his voice and eyes.

          Mick smiled, sat back down, and held out his arm. “You’re lucky I hate lawyers and media, or this would be a fine lawsuit. As it is, I just really don’t care except that you are holding me up and I’m sick and tired of pushy people with inflated egos an ideas about their own authority. So, hurry it up!” The doctor gave the tourniquet an extra tight tug and wasn’t all that friendly about inserting the needle. But his aim was decent enough and he found the vein on the first try and the vial filled quickly. “Happy now?” he asked as the needle was removed and he held a cotton swab over the spot. Blood draws are always tricky. Wouldn’t do to have him notice anything out of place.

          “You can leave,” the doctor ordered scribbling a note on the tube with gleeful malice and waving him out the exit.

          Mick didn’t need to be told twice and left, rubbing out the spot so that it wouldn’t bruise too badly. The next area had some people handing out blankets, towels, toiletries, and clothes to those who were missing their carry-ons or clothing. He processed past each pretty quickly, getting two blankets instead of the customary one since he was so tall. It was smooth sailing until he reached the person with the clothes. There was a jumble of different designs and styles apparently donated/appropriated, from the terminal shopping areas. The person took one look at him and walked away to a side area and came back with a little old lady. She wordlessly walked up and quickly took a few measurements and notes before disappearing for a few minutes. When she came back, she was carrying several layers of cloth and hung it up on a rack by a changing stall.

          “Sorry, but it’s going to have to be a summer kimono for you. No one really stocks clothes in ‘giant size.’ On a plus side, you will soon be the proud owner of what is a several thousand-dollar kimono. Just please don’t tell the others, because it really isn’t preferential treatment,” the man explained. The little old lady had finished laying out the parts and dragging over a step stool by that time. She shot them a look that said she was ready and despised waiting.

          With a nod, Mick made his way over to the changing room and began to strip out of his sodden clothes. He was a bit startled when the little old lady came in behind him, as quiet as a mouse, with a layer of cloth and her step stool while he had on nothing but his boxers. She didn’t even pause as she started fitting him out. He could have sworn that she rolled her eyes at his reaction. After the underlayer was on, she directed him out of the changing room and started adding the other layers. She was almost painfully thorough and made sure that he could see what she was doing. Despite not uttering so much as a sound at him, she apparently wanted him to at least know how to put it on right the next time that he needed to.

In the end she’d decked him out in a night green outer layer with a subtle checkered print that looked a mite bit like stars while a shadowed forest pattern dominated the hem. It was truly marvelous, and he was pretty sure that he had caught a slight smile cross her otherwise expressionless face as she gave a content nod and handed him two extra sets of washable liners so that he could at least cycle the inner layer. With that all done, it was off to staking out a cot, bench, or comfortable looking stretch of floor to call his for the night.

It only took him one look at the cots to tell him that they would be a non-starter. Almost all of them were a solid eight inches shorter than him which left him with trying to find a bench without armrests that he could use. In the end he had to cheat by dragging two of the benches together. Given that it was the middle of summer, he didn’t need a lot in the way of blankets. After pulling off the outer layers of his kimono and carefully folding and setting them aside, he rolled up his blankets as a pillow and got as comfortable as he could. He was out cold as soon as his head touched down. It was one of his gifts. He could immediately fall asleep anywhere and anytime he needed to. Within a few minutes he was in a deep sleep and snoring gently.

If you would like to read more, follow any of the links and enjoy. Oh, and if you could leave a review when you are finished reading it, that would be a great help. Reviews help me to know your thoughts and help others know if a book is for them. Thank you.

If you are interested in looking at any of my publications, here they are:

Account of the Change Series:

Swell:

Swell: A New Beginning:

Swell: A Different Path

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