Hope you're all well.
Remember when I said I found some notebooks and one of them had an alternate life for Elle?
Turns out I was briefly toying with ending the series a lot earlier. Well, that would've been the result if I'd carried on down the path I was clearly traveling.
While I was reading the notebook and chuckling to myself I attempted to work out where this forked road came from. I thought it was somewhere after Exacerbyte.
It's not Satellite or Ethernet. Both of which exist on my flash drives and neither of which are part of the current Byte Series - except that they have the same people in them. Written and set aside because I did't like where the stories went. :)
I believe this is the story that follows Satellite or Ethernet (whichever one comes second - yeah nah, I have no clue, it was YEARS ago).
Some of the characters I played with (tormented) in those books did make it through to the Byte Series proper. Like, the UN, for example. A scene from one of those books was re-written because it fitted in DATABYTE. Bits and pieces turned up in short stories but would be largely unrecognizable compared to the original.
What follows is a glimpse into Ellie's alternate life, a life where she made different decisions. Updated slightly because I couldn't help tweaking a few things but it's largely raw words so take that into account please. :)
What might have been ... an SA Conway alternative reality.
Stillness resonated with a beguiling calm. I peered into the pure darkness. The only sound was water lapping at the shore. Pitch black offered no shadowed effects, nothing for my eyes to latch upon. A curtain dropped over the world. Nothing beyond. Nothing anywhere except right here. Within the soft glow of a single electric light. Illuminated.
That’s how I felt. In the spotlight, albeit unwittingly and with no one else to see. So was it really a spotlight?
It felt like it.
The eyes of the night were on me. I felt them watch. I felt their expectant wait. A whisper floated from the lapping seas. ‘What will she do next?’
Looking through the large glass door into the mezzanine floor between the bedrooms offered no sign of life. I could see the glass backdoor from my vantage point. I couldn’t see out. All I could see was me. And again, no sign of life.
Once I would have relished this solitude. This breathing space. This peace.
Tonight standing on the balcony looking at the diminishing bars on my phone - it all felt empty.
I reminded myself that this was my dream. My hideaway. My worry tower. The secluded spot Mac and I talked of having in our lives.
Why did it feel like the set of a horror movie?
Darkness reached for me. It’s air cold and damp. I stepped closer to the light within. The bars faded then returned. Maybe the fuckers were toying with me and turning the cell tower on and off?
I stepped through the door, closed it quietly, and locked it. Because possums or bats might manage to open a closed door?
A smile crossed my lips. I caught my reflection in the glass. The phone in my hand searched frantically for a signal, unable to comprehend it’s isolation from the world.
I could almost feel it’s joy when the signal returned and it’s utter disappointment as it again faded into the night.
Plonking myself in one of the big wicker chairs on the mezzanine I began flicking through photos on my phone. Some of Rowan, candid shots. Some of the beach. A few shots of a jelly fish I found this morning. Mac.
HIs dark hair in his eyes, a cheeky smile on his face. Selfie.
How the hell did that get on my phone?
Maybe it was from the cloud? I stored ninety per cent of my photos in the cloud and not on my phone.
Studying the picture gave clues. Behind Mac - a hint of water. The time stamp and date in the metadata put the photo right after the jellyfish photos this morning. Confirmation that it wasn’t an old photo from the cloud. It was taken today.
I leaned back and closed my eyes, picturing the beach and the jelly fish. What happened next?
I moved some logs from the path to the house. Hot work. I took my fleece jacket off and lay it on the up-turned dingy. My phone was in the pocket. I moved more logs working about twenty feet from the dingy. The dingy was past the high-tide mark, almost in the bush.
He took a selfie and put the phone back. I enlarged the background, I caught sight of my arm. I was right there.
This is taking haunting to a whole new level.
I jumped up and drew the curtains over the large windows and door then scurried downstairs, locking and curtaining the backdoor and down more stairs to the living areas. They were in darkness. I flipped the wall switch.
Light flooded the living spaces. I checked all three sets of external doors and pulled all the curtains.
It was difficult to determine my actual feelings. Seeing him in my messenger windows, in mirrors, as a shadowy figure on the street, that I could barely cope with. Thinking he was in the room with me in Germany at one Grange’s gigs, that was pushing it. Pushing it to the point that I finger printed a glass I thought he’d touched. Until something came back from those prints it was a hallucination brought about my a migraine and nothing more.
But a photograph on my phone. A selfie?
I checked the signal strength. Not strong enough to send the photo to Sam or Lee.
For the life of me I couldn’t think why I’d thought it was a good idea to be in a land of poor signal strength.
With my ghosts.
A flashing light on the counter top caught my attention. Telephone. Pressing the button I heard Rowan’s voice.”Ellie, I’m leaving Christchurch in the morning. See you mid afternoon. The gigs without you aren’t as much fun, you know.”
The message ended. I’d missed being at the concerts, but I didn’t want to return to that stadium. Last time I was there a kid exploded all over me. Somethings are harder to shake than others.
The stadium in Christchurch was added to a growing list of places I never want to see again. Rowan understood. We met in Christchurch amidst carnage and personal wreckage. We survived.
I picked up the phone and called him back. Straight to voice mail.
“I miss you too. Can’t wait until you’re here.”
I hung up. The clock above the kitchen door said it was eight-thirty. He’d already be on stage for his last South Island gig. Turning I saw the big screen TV, hanging dormant on the wall.
Maybe watching would be a good idea.
I found the remote on the coffee table, sank into the big leather couch and brought the television screen to life. I knew the gig was streamed live, just needed to find the channel. A few clicks and a bunch of grumbles and groans later I found it. Thank God for Satellite.
Why didn’t that occur to me earlier? I struggled out of the squishy leather. Free, I bounded from the room and down the dark hallway into my bedroom. Scrambling through my bag in the light offered by the bedside lamp made me wonder why I hadn’t turned the main lights on.
Finally I found the dark shape of the Satellite phone. Never leave home without one.
I turned it on. A smile settled on my face as I sat on my bed and saw the strong and fully charged battery. My cell phone lay dormant beside me. I hoped it would pair with the SAT phone and let me send the picture of Mac to Delta. After a rough start it began to look promising. And all of a sudden the photo sent.
Five long drawn out minutes passed before the SAT phone rang.
“You all right out there?” He asked.
“Nothing changes huh?” Lee replied, laughter evident in his voice.
“Not much,” I agreed. “The dead return and I’m okay.”
“About that. I got the fingerprint analysis back and the water sample.”
That was when I realized I was holding my breath. I exhaled.
“Not Mac. The prints weren’t in the system at all. The water was pure … water.”
Air rushed past my teeth.
“But they were prints?”
“Oh yeah. No match to anyone in Grange either.”
“So it was a random and not a hallucination.”
“You didn’t hallucinate fingerprints, Chicky. Who owns them is another matter entirely. Maybe you’re brain wanted him to look like Mac.”
“Give me your opinion in the photo from today.”
“Mac. I can run it through our facial recognition program to be sure.”
“And your positive it was taken today?”
“And you’re alone?”
I hope so.
“Thought you had security these days?”
“We do, but not here. No one but Rowan and I know where this place is.”
“You heard of public records?”
“You know you can have your name withheld, right?”
“No. Technically this place belongs to a trust and our lawyers.”
“Your names appear anywhere?”
“Sure. On the Power of Attorney form we filed when we appointed our lawyer to buy and sell for us. We’re not his only clients Lee.”
“And someone would have to know where to look. The county, region, town. That’s pretty clever.”
“Almost like i used to be FBI,” I quipped.
“Almost,” he snapped back. “And yet you opted for zero security. Knowing someone breached security in Germany.”
“What can I say? A little bit of danger keeps the blood flowing.”
“As long as it flows within your circulatory system …”
“Let me know what the Facial Recognition software comes back with.”
“Take care Chicky.”
I left the SAT phone and my cell phone in my nightstand drawers. Sounds of the crowd cheering for Rowan crashed through the bedroom wall and surrounded me. The lure was too great.
Moments later I was curled up in a soft leather armchair watching my husband rock out one of his new songs. By the third song I decided the experience could only be improved by a nice Pinot Noir.
Down two flights of stairs from the main living floor was the wine cellar. I didn’t need to turn the lights on, small recessed emergency lights lit every third step. It was enough. At the bottom of stairs an expanse of terra-cotta tiles covered the floor of the formal entrance to the house. A door on my right led to the double garages and a door recessed beside the stairs on the left opened into a climate controlled cellar.
I opened the door and waited for a moment. The light came on automatically as did the air conditioning, keeping the twelve by fourteen foot room at an even temperature. Racks lined the walls. More racks stood in rows in the center of the room. I walked passed the Merlot, Shiraz, Ports, and Cab Sav, stopping at the Pinot Noir. I selected a 2001 Cape Campbell.
We had more red in stock than white due to both Rowan and I sharing a preference to red wines. I closed the door and carried my chosen bottle upstairs.
Pausing long enough in the kitchen to take a wine glass from the cabinet before resuming my position in front of the television.
I set the glass and bottle on coasters. Two other glasses were already sitting on coasters.
Strange. Pretty sure they weren’t there when I left the room. Maybe I hadn’t noticed? I scanned the room. Unease tugged at my stomach. There was no one in the living area. I turned to look through the glass panel behind me, it offered a view of the hallway to the bedroom and the stairs. Nothing.
“Settle Ellie,” I muttered to myself, opening the bottle and dropping the cap on the table. It bounced and flew onto the carpet. I left it where it lay.
A moment of madness took over and I poured two glasses of wine before sitting on the couch. Opting for a closer to the table seat so I could reach the bottle.
With glass in hand I Settled back to watch my husband gyrate across the stage amidst screams of delight. Rowan announced the next song as one we’d written together. He stared down the camera and winked.
A door opened the closed.
The floor vibrated as feet moved toward me. It took my entire being to remain seated and keep my hand from seeking the Glock that used to be at my hip. I glanced up as a shadow fell over the coffee table.
Mac reached for the full glass on the table then sat on the couch next to me.
My mind stumbled over him being in the room.
He sipped from the glass in his hand.
“Nice wine,” he commented.
“Didn’t know the dead could drink.” I took a large mouthful.
“You want to carry on playing this game?”
“Not really. I’d like to get on with my life.”
I felt his body move. He nodded, his hair fell into his eyes. He pushed it back with his free hand.
“We need to talk.”
“Yeah, Captain Compass we really do. For starters, how the hell did you find your way out here when you can’t even read a street map?”
He grinned. Something inside of me melted.
His death came flooding back. The aftermath fell about me in shards of pain. Waiting for him. Missing him. Wishing I could be with him.
“It wasn’t easy being a complete idiot when it comes to direction.”
“You weren’t acting - unless you’ve been doing so since the age of ten. You forget, I know your Dad.”
The grin came back. “I never forget anything, ever, Sweets.”
“Guess that’s what made you so good at your job.”
He took a bigger sip, it bordered on a gulp.
“How much do you know?”
“I know about Christchurch. I know you were working undercover, that Director Brewer and Misha Praskovya knew. That you lied. That you died but didn’t. That I waited for you, grieved for you and even now I miss you.”
“I was always there.”
“As a ghost. A ghost in a messenger window. A ghost on my phone. A figure in the shadows. Just enough to make me doubt myself. Just when I think it’s a hallucination some sort of grief thing you do something like this …” I waved a hand at him. “This!”
“When I pulled through inexplicably the decision was made to utilize that and to allow me to try and work the case I was working when I died.”
“What about your wife and family? Your friends? Your team? Did we figure at all?”
“I was dying El, you were going to lose me anyway, why lose me twice?”
The drugs I found in my living room under the sofa. Strong anti-nausea meds usually given with chemotherapy.
“But here you are …”
Not dead. And not looking ravaged by chemo or cancer.
“Seems I’m harder to kill than first thought.”
“Why don’t your prints match?”
“Oh right. They do. My prints were changed within the system.”
“You’re here why?”
“To explain why I did what I did.”
“I left the Bureau over this. Secrets. Director Brewer knowing. The whole dead husband come to life thing.”
He nodded. His wine sloshed. I noted he had the good grace to show remorse.
“And you … you prick. You left me with your fucktarded brother.”
Mac’s head tipped back as laughter erupted from deep within.
“Now, for that, I owe you a great debt.”
“No. You owe me for not putting a bullet in you tonight. Can’t kill a dead man. It would be the perfect crime.”
He raised his glass.
“I owe you.”
“Lee knows you’re here, or that you were here earlier today.”
“You sent him the picture.”
“I needed to know I’m not insane and seeing things.”
“You ran my prints in Germany?”
“Doh. How else would I know they didn’t match?”
“Have you closed the case?”
“Corrupt senators in bed with the underworld. Well done. Hope it was worth everything.” More venom enveloped my words than I intended.
“It’s never worth it.”
Mac poured us more wine.
“Have you eaten?”
“Not yet,” I replied.
“I’ll fix you an omelette.”
So close I could smell him.
“There’s no need,” I knocked back the entire glass and poured another.
“You should eat. I’ll cook.”
I finished the glass while listening to Rowan singing and Mac finding his way around the kitchen. Memories converged. Mac banging about in the kitchen. Grange or Bon Jovi playing on the TV and me going over case files while everything happened around me. Just how present was I during our life together?
Guilt edged in. How dare he make e feel guilty. I wasn’t the one working undercover. I didn’t pretend to graduate from the academy when I was already a special agent undercover in Brewer’s private army.
He lied to all of us. We all thought he was Mac Connelly stock trader, when he was really Mac Connelly Special Agent. Mac my knight in shining armor. Mac the lying bastard who left but couldn’t stay gone.
Rowan grinned at the camera and for the world to hear but me to understand he sang, “I’m coming home. Think I’ll drive through the night.” He changed a line in the song to tell me he was coming home tonight. He then launched into the chorus of their biggest hit to date ‘Coming Home’.
I called out to Mac, “Rowan is driving up tonight.”
He didn’t reply. I didn’t care. Disappearing into the song felt like the best course of action. The song ended my thoughts once again emerged.
I married Mac. He died. Some years later I married Rowan. And here’s Mac.
Laughter bubbled inside me. Two husbands?
To think my mother despaired of me at thirty saying I’d never meet a man who’d marry me. Proved her wrong.
Mac placed a plate on my knee and a fork in my hand.
I ate. The twelve year old in me wanted to scream no and throw the plate at him. I didn’t. I ate until the plate was empty then slid it to the table.
“Yu cannot keep doing this Mac.”
“Looking out for you?”
“Yes. Looking out for me. Turning up. Dropping into messenger. Being around but not really.” I took a breath. “It’s not fair to me or Rowan.”
“We were great, you know?”
I smiled. “Yeah, we were.”
“Does Rowan know what you know?”
“Of course. No secrets Mac. Secrets destroy.”
“So you told him about your undercover stint as a PI?”
I glared at Mac. “Gunmen attacked our engagement party because of you. Tony’s kids were there. Children were in danger. Lee was shot. I was shot. Because someone thought I had information. They thought we had the evidence that would convict a bunch of senators and mafia types. I was under close surveillance.” I stopped short of telling him he destroyed my life and career. Too dramatic. True but dramatic.
Mac picked his glass up but kept his eyes on the television as he spoke. “I tried to get it back.”
“It was you who broke in, but didn’t, there was no forced entry. How?”
“I kept a key in the truck.”
Confusion formed rain clouds.
“I had the truck keys with me. No one broke into the truck.”
I saw his mouth turn up at the edges. “The spare house key was in a magnetic box inside the front left wheel arch.”
And I missed it.
“Did you plant the bugs?”
“Because I’m a perv and wanted to hear you and your boyfriend playing around …”
“Just answer the question.”
[that's all I have at the moment - I thought there was more but I guess that's still in my notebook!]
Clearly there is a lot that happens before this ... for instance, Germany? Gunmen at an engagement party? Mac was never dead?
Perhaps I was toying with writing a soap opera? :) :)