Curveball Issue 17: Enemies Within

Part Four: Unknown Location, Tropical Climate

David Bernard finds the fishing cottage right on the treeline. It’s old, but someone has lived there recently—the area around the house is clear of brush, the roof is in good shape, and the walls were painted within the last year. There doesn’t appear to be anyone around at the moment.

David should leave the place alone—it’s obviously still being used, and there’s too much of a risk, given the lack of any other information, that whoever uses it will come by today. But David’s head is throbbing harder than it was earlier, he’s getting dizzier, and his vision is blurring with more frequency. The cottage is kept up. Someone lives there. It might have medicine.

He sways on his feet as a wave of nausea washes over him. He’s going to have to risk it.

The front door is unlocked. A part of him finds that unusual, the rest of him is too relieved to care.

The cottage has four rooms: living area, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, all furnished and fully stocked. It also has electricity and running water. This is not a shack that someone comes to on a fishing vacation, this is someone’s home. David goes back to the front door, locks it, and slides a deadbolt across for good measure. That should give him some warning if the occupant returns at an inconvenient moment.

He goes to the bathroom and starts rummaging. The mirror over the bathroom sink opens up and David sighs in relief when he sees pretty much everything he needs: a thick roll of gauze, tape, rubbing alcohol, scissors, cotton balls, needle, thread, and—probably most important—acetaminophen. He was afraid he was going to find aspirin. He usually prefers aspirin, but he has a half-formed memory of a doctor lecturing him about aspirin and how it can make the bruising of a concussion worse.

He fumbles with the acetaminophen bottle, cursing the plastic child-proof cap as it takes him six tries to twist it open. He tries to read the recommended dosage on the back but he can’t focus on text that small. He guesses the dosage, counts out six, and swallows them dry, two at a time. He gags the third time, but manages to force them down.

Next he sets about cleaning the wound. His eyes keep unfocusing, so it’s hard to see what he’s doing in the mirror, but leaning against the bathroom wall keeps him feeling steady, and his hands aren’t shaking like they were earlier. He picks up scissors and starts cutting his hair, clearing it away from the wound so he can clean it more easily. There’s no way he can do this with any precision, so he ignores his vanity and cuts off as much hair as he can. When he’s cleared as much as he can manage, he turns on the spigot, grabs the cotton balls and the rubbing alcohol, and starts cleaning the wound.

The cut isn’t deep, just bloody. Cleaning it stings like hell, but when he’s finished and he covers it with gauze he feels better. He wants to sleep, but he knows he can’t sleep here. The owner is going to return, and he needs to be gone by then.

His stomach growls. Maybe he’ll raid the refrigerator first.

The kitchen is fully stocked, and whoever lives here eats well. The refrigerator is packed with healthy food, fresh fruit, and there’s even a gallon jug of milk. He grabs the milk, finds a glass in one of the cupboards, and sits down at the kitchen table. He unscrews the jug, gives it a whiff. Smells fresh. He pours the milk into the glass, and it looks fresh. He drinks greedily.

It’s not until he’s finished pouring a second glass that he notices the expiration date on the jug. He starts, spilling a little milk over the side, and hastily sets the jug down on the table to get a better look.

EXPIR 7/22/92

That’s when he notices the calendar hanging on the wall between the kitchen and the living room.

JULY 1992

Some of the spilled milk starts to seep into a newspaper folded up and sitting to the right of the chair. He picks it up.

PORT LIBERTAD DAILY

Saturday, July 18, 1992

He stares at the date for a moment. The paper doesn’t feel that old—and the milk tasted fine.

You have a concussion. You can’t be sure the milk tasted fine.

Except that he’s pretty sure. What’s more, he’s pretty sure the milk wasn’t twenty years old.

The bottom half of the newspaper falls down, revealing the entire page. David is immediately drawn to the large photo in the center: a white-haired man in gleaming metal armor, a cape bolted to his shoulders, a circlet or crown of some sort resting on his head. He has a noble and benevolent face. He looks familiar.

The caption reads: Emperor LaFleur addresses the nation today. He is expected to make it clear that he will tolerate no attempts by so-called “liberation forces” to set foot on sovereign soil.

LaFleur? David looks at the picture again. That face… he’s seen that face…

He’s sitting in the cargo bay of a plane, checking the straps to his parachute for the seventh time. LaFleur is sitting across from him, doing the same.

After we jump it’s likely we’ll be separated.” LaFleur has to raise his voice to be heard over the engines of the plane. “I’m sorry for that. It’s going to be a difficult transition…”

The memory fades. David stares at the photo in amazement.

“Overmind.” It’s the first thing he’s said since he woke up that morning. “This man is Overmind.”

David stands up. He’s feeling lightheaded again. He really needs to rest, soon.

“This man is Overmind… and I know him.”

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