Story Thread 3

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ReplicantHissing and clunking, the engine finally gave out and the car slowed to a stop on the desert road.
NieceThe chickens in the back clucking away.
Fork U"Yeah, right." she says. "This is the oldest trick in the book. You get me out here in the middle of nowhere and feign car trouble. All this effort just try to get me to look at your lizard."
Eric J. Gustafson"But the Emerald Gecko is a thing of rare beauty!!"
Replicant"You must realise, though, that your stories don't con me," she said. "Just because it's scaly don't mean it's a lizard." She stood there and glared at him, defiant with her arms folded, the moonlight reflecting brightly from the polish on her wooden teeth.
Kirb"Wowllpp". I'd been dozing again. The conductor needed to see my ticket, and was tapping me gently on the shoulder.

I don't know about you, but I find that when I'm just dozing, I often dream in words and sentences rather than pictures. In those first few moments after waking, I swear I can actually see the words, often in three dimensions. They jostle each other, fighting for space, rearranging themselves into newer and stranger sentences. For a few moments, they make a strange kind of sense "Gecko, chickens, ticket: of course!" . "Engines, Emeralds? Don't you see?". Then they stop making sense, and then the pictures disappear. Then everyday comes back, and I always have a small regret as the dream winks out of sight. I'd really rather be there than here.

Awake now, I took back my ticket, and the conductor moved on to startle another passenger.

We were between stations, so I wasn't sure where we were. That's the problem with this trip: a full hour of rolling through farmland with no landmarks. I should start wearing a watch. But I'm an old hand at this trip: I check the train windows for reflections of other passengers' watches.

Only ten more minutes until we get there. It wasn't worth trying to sleep now, and I'd finished the paper. So I stared out of the window, and watched the trees and grass pass. And started to think about Mike.

Everyone knows a Mike. Someone you've known for years that's always good company for a lunch time, provided you don't do it too often. It's not that he's boring or anything, it's just that you're not really close friends, and you just run out of things to say to each other if you see each other too often. He always asks about your family even though he's never met them, and that reminds you that you're supposed to ask about his even though you don't care about them. Everyone knows a Mike.

I didn't particularly want to think about Mike, but sometimes you don't exactly get to choose what to think about next. It was something he'd said the previous day.

"I need your help with something. I have a big problem here."

ReplicantThe words had come as a shock to me. We were sitting in a diner at the time, nothing special, just a little place on the edge of town next to a gas station and a sprawling trailer park. Nothing that would have looked out of place in any of a hundred, a thousand towns across the dusty span of the Midwest.

I looked up from my beer and stared across the Formica at him. In all the times that we had been in here for lunch, all the times we'd sat at this very table, staring out through the fly-specked window, he'd never said anything like this to me. It was a departure from the mundanities previous circumstance had forced us to exchange, and a radical one. In short, I was very surprised.

Something of this must have shown on my face, because the expression on his face hardened from one of mild concern into a frown. "It's serious, Phil, real serious. Just listen for a minute. Please." Still puzzled, I nodded my assent. Mike didn't notice, because as he spoke he was craning his head around, looking for God knows what in the darker recesses of the diner's booths. His eyes came to rest on a bum in a shabby trenchcoat who was sitting on a stool at the bar, ruminating no doubt upon why Fate had chosen him to end up having to treat a limp two dollar burger as a luxury meal.

Still looking at the bum, Mike leaned forwards a little. "You see him?"
I frowned and nodded again, only to realise that he couldn't see that. "Yes, Mike, I see him. Just like we both see him in here most days of the week. What the hell is your point, anyway?"
Mike snapped his head back around to face me. "Look at his right hand." I shot Mike my best exasperated look and fumbled my glasses case out of my jacket pocket. Pulling it open, I extracted my glasses, and placing them upon my face, instantly experiencing a dizzying wealth of detail that my dreadful long vision didn't normally allow me. After briefly revelling in being able to read the menu, I wrenched my attention back to where it was meant to be and focused on the counter-bound unfortunate's hand, currently dangling half-heartedly by his side. On the ring finger was a small silver ring with a black stone set in the center.

ChrisCyr"Is that what I think it is?" I asked Mike.
"Unmistakable," he said. "Every agent is taught to recognize that ring in their first year of training."
"Wow, to think he's been sitting here in the same diner as us for all this time...."
"Give me a quarter," said Mike as he stood, "I'm going to call HQ. We're going to need backup."
Giving Mike a quarter, I watched the man as he ate. I never would have noticed, if not for the ring. He just looked so... normal. Who would have thought that an outworlder could disguised himself so well? If his projector ring had been smaller I never would have recognized him.

Mike came back to the table, "They're sending backup. We have to follow him back to the other two."
"So we're finally going to catch the last three of them...."

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