Tete a Tete

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On the morning after Quinn's return, Toby rolled out of bed, and picking up his tablet, saw that she had messaged him half a dozen times during the night.  He tapped the 'Clear All' button in a corner of the tablet screen with his thumb, watching every bubble of thought dissipate, once he confirmed with an additional tap that he did indeed want to clear the conversation he was not willing to have.

Setting the tablet back down, he picked up the old photograph that lay beside it on the end table.  The corners of the picture had curled with age, making the frail scrap of photo paper look somewhat like an open hand that, attempting to close around the moment it captured, was rebuffed by time.

It was the photo Cass gave Toby of his parents, taken at a Christmas Party many years past.  Toby also grabbed his wallet from off of the table, rolling over onto his back in bed.  Tucking the picture between his teeth, he rifled through the wallet, pulling out a thin slip of graphene paper tucked in its folds.  He held the slip up, reading the inscription:

'Beware the tet tlet,

Nevermore! Quoth the raven,

In his shrieking noise'

The tet tlet was odd.  He had researched the sounds of various calls made by ravens, and it sounded similar to a female's knocking call, but at the end of the haiku the gender of the bird was specified as male in 'his shrieking noise'.  The middle line was lifted word for word from Poe's famous poem, though the word order had been changed. 

Toby thought he had heard the phrase tet-tlet before, but had never seen it in print, of that he was sure.  He closed his eyes, letting his mind drift into a shadow land of half formed and forgotten thoughts.  It came to him then, and it all made sense, the whole incoherent bit of phrasing that added up to an ill-formed haiku, which his father had nevertheless deemed important enough to imprint on graphene paper, and place with Dennis Moore for safe keeping.  It was actually another phrase that his brain had registered from the strange bit of word play: tete a tete.  It dawned on Toby then that this was the purpose of the haiku.  It had clearly been intended to serve as a private conversation, encoded in a seemingly nonsensical poem. 

Toby closed his eyes, letting the words in the poem float over the surface of his awareness.  Picturing it in his mind's eye, he discovered that the letters of the last word in each line formed an anagram for the same name he had recognized without knowing it: Everatt Neilson.


Toby turned his attention back to the picture.  He studied Everatt Neilson's face, which was narrow, with high cheekbones that angled into a sharp chin.  Neilson's eyes were dark and deep set, and his prominent forehead featured like a hood over his face, seemingly obscuring his expression. 

He recalled the conversation with his old substitute teacher Bill, when he and Dr. Guro had run into him at Kaisers.  Bill had talked about the office of one of HomaTech's executives, which was decorated with statues of predatory birds built from machine parts.  Toby felt a tremor of excitement at the possibility that this too could be Everatt Neilson, the same man about whom his father had left the cryptic warning.

Toby studied the picture again.  Everatt Neilson had worked at HomaTech with his father.  Toby wondered what danger his father had sensed from this man, and then he remembered the other graphene slip that he had found in the same envelope with the one he held in his hand.  That slip was an account key that unlocked the secret of who, or rather what, Toby was.  Toby drew in a long slow breath. 

His father spent countless years conducting the secret research that culminated in bringing his greatest project to fruition, his own child.  From a research standpoint, Toby literally embodied an invaluable commodity.  Staring hard at the picture of Everatt Neilson, Toby's senses were heightened.  Here, at last, he found an enemy straightforward.

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