Eddy woke up to the smell of coffee. Yep… he loved that woman. He had been surprised to see her so early last night, but not disappointed. Now if his body would just start working without the pain, life would be perfect.
Vivian hadn’t explained her rapid return, but he didn’t really care. If it meant she wouldn’t be working with some wildcard he didn’t know and trusted even less, that was okay by him. Eddy didn’t like bounty hunters. He’d had one bad experience too many working with their ilk.
After a quick shower, a quick three cups of coffee, and innumerable glances across the table at his lady, Eddy was ready to go. They hadn’t said much over breakfast, Viv seemed to be thinking about something pretty seriously, but now Eddy was all words. He couldn’t believe he was actually looking forward to this.
“So… Ole Blue sans mask,” he said absently. “I wonder if he expects us to recognize him.”
Vivian smiled, closing the door behind them. “With the eye you keep on this city, I’ll be surprised if you don’t.”
Eddy shook his head. “I didn’t figure out who you were… well… not until you forgot to check your balcony….”
“Very funny.” They hit the elevator and a minute later were on Eddy’s motorcycle and heading towards the restaurant. For all his image and bravado, he was actually a bit nervous about this meeting. Blue didn’t do anything without thinking it through, and Eddy wondered exactly what might be going through his ‘friend’s’ mind right about now.
The steering wheel rolled easily under ‘Ryu Kokezaru’s’ fingers as he pulled the steel blue z4 Beemer between the faded yellow parking lines. Its cool purring seemed to just disappear as the key slid out of the ignition. ‘Aaron’ thumbed a few quarters from the dispenser and popped the door open, ducking slightly under the hardtop. “You’re right. That is nicer than the trains.”
“I told you.” He picked a few dead leaves from the hood as ‘Aaron’ filled the meter. “I highly recommend one.” He grinned.
“Right,” he said, falling into step with the man in his body, “At this rate, I’m probably going to start looking for a new job when this is over… again.” They walked in silence a moment, crossing the parking lot. “Of course, if we don’t clear this up, I’ll just keep yours.”
‘Ryu’ held a straight face rather poorly. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” They turned on to the sidewalk, heading towards the main drag of Garrison’s Chinatown. It was a small street leading to the beaten path of King Street. ‘Aaron’ walked along hands in his pockets. Beside him, ‘Ryu’ read the sign fronts now and again. It took him a few moments before realizing most of it was in Mandarin. “You know Mandarin Chinese?”
“I read Mandarin. Speaking it can be kind of embarrassing. I take it you-” He turned but ‘Ryu’ had stopped. ‘Aaron’ walked back a few feet and looked up to the storefront sign. “Looking to pick up a book?”
‘Ryu’ had stopped in front of the Peking Bookhouse, a small store that had been in Chinatown for years and years. The name had changed over time, but it had always been there. ‘Rare and Modern Books’. As they had passed it, something stopped him. He could feel that tingle of Enry along through his nerves. It was subtle, but enough to give him pause. “I-I’m not sure.” He looked through the window into the darkened bookstore. “Enry. Something’s pulling him here.”
‘Aaron’ bit his bottom lip, moving around and stepping up to the door. “That’s a sign. Be it good or bad. He’s got amazing instincts.” He pulled the door, reading the hours that hung there. “Closed. Doesn’t open ’till noon-thirty.” His arms folded, joining ‘Ryu’ back on the sidewalk. “I know it can be difficult to put into words, but what did it feel like?”
“I get – or rather used to get – gut feelings. Sort of a sixth sense thing.” ‘Ryu’ started to explain.
‘Aaron’ grinned, “Your Spider-sense was tingling?” He took note of ‘Ryu’s’ scowl, “Sorry, bad joke. I do know what you mean.”
“Yeah, well it’s usually more reliable than the sensor array in my mask. But this…,” he paused, “This was almost like a physical pull. Like he would have yanked me off my feet if he could. I’m thinking we need to check that place out after lunch.”
They rounded the corner onto King and walked the two short blocks to 53rd Street. Three storefronts down from the intersection, they found the Szechuan Palace. ‘Ryu’ scanned the street for any sign of Kardiac’s bike, but didn’t see it, so they stepped inside assuming they had arrived first. The Szechuan Palace was typical of most Chinese restaurants; dark stained booths, tables, and chairs, with worn red carpeting lining the floor. Aaron had seen Kardiac without his mask in Vivian’s apartment and none of the patrons looked at all familiar, even with his current change in appearance, so they were indeed the first to get there. The hostess greeted Ryu and Aaron, showing them to a booth when ‘Ryu’ explained that they would be meeting someone else for lunch. They slid into the high-backed booth, opposite one another, with ‘Ryu’ facing the door.
Eddy pulled his bike into a space a couple of storefronts away from the Palace. He wanted it close enough to leave in a hurry, but far enough away as to not be noticed. He helped Viv onto the sidewalk, more out of a need to hold onto her than because she needed it. The closer they got to the restaurant, the tenser he felt.
“You alright, love?”she asked, seeing it even though he did his best to hide it.
He nodded, but only half-heartedly. “I’ll be better once we’re inside.”
She took a firm grip on his hand. “If he wanted to kill you, he would’ve already. I’m not a big one on trust, but you’ve trusted him this far.”
“He’s seen my face,” Eddy replied softly. “But this is so… personal.”
They started the short walk toward the restaurant. Eddy stopped every now and then to look at a sign dragging out their walk a little. The time they got to spend outside, out of costume anyway, was slim and far between. So as they walked, he paused to point out signs and tell her what the different storefronts were.
“You know Mandarin?” she asked with a hint of disbelief.
He laughed softly. “I only live a few blocks away, so when I started ‘patrolling’ this was one of my beats. Knowing what was what became a necessity.” He turned toward the restaurant finally and led her to the door.
She stopped and pointed at a handwritten sign in the window. “What does this say?”
Eddy stared at it for a bit, and then shrugged. “Something about not selling anything in front of the store.”
“I thought you said you read this stuff,” she said, eyes narrowing playfully.
“I never said I read it well,” he answered with his trademark smirk.
They stepped into the Palace and paused by the front door. Eddy closed his eyes and listened to the almost-quiet restaurant. He opened his eyes suddenly and stared across the room. A young man was staring back at him… and it wasn’t Bluewolf… but it was. The man with him was someone he knew as well… but it wasn’t.
He walked past the host as he approached, holding up a hand and giving him a quick, [[Thank you…]] in heavily-accented Chinese. Vivian felt his hand tense as he started walking, and leaned into him.
“What’s the matter?”
Eddy shook his head and pasted on a smile. “He’s here… with a guest,”he said quietly. “But something isn’t right.” He stopped just short of the table and took a good look at the two men. Something about them confused his senses… at least, the senses most people don’t have.
Still, he had appearance to maintain. If they had something to tell him, they’d tell him. “Eddy Lane,”he said, presenting himself and throwing his worries away for the moment. “And this is, of course, Vivian Green,” he added with a smirk. “I guess we both brought guests….”
Eddy had been directing his introduction to the table, giving a nod to both of the men seated. Ryu, sitting there in Aaron’s body started thinking about just how complicated this was going to get. Names. Bodies. Secret Identities. They hadn’t discussed it beforehand. A brief silence was starting to take root. That would be a bad start. ‘Ryu’ cleared his throat, getting up from his seat. Almost simultaneously ‘Aaron’ half stood. “It’s a pleasure. Please sit.” ‘Ryu’s’ hand extended to the open booth.
Vivian slid in where ‘Ryu’ had been and Eddy took a seat beside her as ‘Ryu’ took his place next to ‘Aaron’. Clearly the couple was awaiting some sort of response. Or at least names. ‘Aaron’ bowed his head slightly, as one did meeting new people. “I apologize for the surprise. I’m Ryu Kokezaru, but please. Call me ‘Roo’.” He smiled.
“Aaron Matthews.” ‘Ryu’ said, following suit. “I also should apologize. You were only expecting me, but…” he glanced briefly at ‘Aaron’ then turned back to Eddy and Vivian. “Our situation is… complex.”
Vivian let out an uh huh under her breath as Eddy took the next several moments looking from one man to another. “Uh huh,” Eddy echoed Vivan – out loud. “Just how complex are we talking?”
Ryu and Aaron exchanged looks and replied in unison, “Very.” The two men proceeded to explain the events of the previous evening, everything that had happened after meeting ‘Blindside’ to where they were currently.
Eddy laughed out loud, probably a little louder than was appropriate for a restaurant. Vivan put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, reminding him that this was probably a conversation they didn’t want people listening in on. ‘Ryu’s’ eyes narrowed slightly, reflexively, then leaned back and crossed his arms with a somewhat-forced smile.
“I don’t exactly see the humor–”
“That’s why you looked… odd,” Eddy said with a smirk. “She transposed your neuro-electrical patterns on a systemic level.”
‘Aaron’ raised an eyebrow. “Oh, well that makes perfect sense,” he said with a casual shrug, before putting both of his palms flat down on the table. “But just for our other party-members’ benefit, do you think you might be able to say that in English?”
Eddy smiled slightly, forcing back another laugh. “She didn’t ‘switch’ you. The human personality and memory systems work on bio-electrical impulses tied to brain shape and very specific patterns. She apparently couldn’t change your brain wrinkles, so she duped them instead….” He paused for a moment… just long enough to notice that everyone at the table was still staring at him.
“She xeroxed you both and then superimposed you on each other,” he finally said, giving up on trying to be scientific. He figured Bluewolf would probably get it if he explained it in more detail, but it just didn’t seem worth it. Truth be told, bio-electricity was the only biology he knew anything scientific about, for personal reasons of course, and it was only a theoretical science… hardly empirical knowledge.
“I’m still missing the humor,” ‘Ryu’ said.
Eddy bowed his head slightly, “Sorry. I had just been trying to figure it out… come to think of it, that’s probably why the cape attacked you. It wasn’t that he didn’t recognize you. He saw you as an intruder on the man he did knows brain. You’re both still in there somewhere…”
‘Aaron’ smiled at that. “So how do we fix this?”
“I could fix it,” Eddy said, leaning back and sipping down some ice water. “I think.”
“Well, I could wipe the extra engram out of your systems,” he answered after a second. “You’d be you again, but you’d forget everything that’s happened since she swapped you out… and there’s only a minor chance that I’d accidentally erase part of the ‘real’ you…”
‘Ryu’ nodded, suddenly looking a lot more like Bluewolf in his manner. “A little risk is acceptable, but I don’t like the ‘losing the memory’ bit all that much.”
“I agree,” ‘Aaron’ added. “Any way to swap them back so we hold on to the stuff we’ve experienced since the switch.”
Eddy’s expression darkened. “Well… it’s possible… but there’s a lot more risk. If I slipped…”
He paused longer than he should have. His two compatriots leaned forward, awaiting the end of the sentence. Vivian leaned against Eddy, trying to relax him a little. “What is it, love?” she asked in that tone she had that reminded him that he could do anything as long as she was with him.
He smiled weakly… that tone always worked on him, and she knew it. “If I don’t do it right, you could wind up with just the memories you’ve accumulated since the switch… or worse. I could leave you both completely blank.” He leaned forward against the table.
“What’s it gonna be?”