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To the Victor…
Chapter 9: The Aquapolis
by Tog
(part 1 of 4)

“Sir!  You have to see this!”

“I beg your pardon.  Who are you?”

“My name is Derek Sayed.  I’m an intern in the video production center and I found something I really think you should see.”

Marcus Gauthier followed the young man into the video production room and took a seat at the console.  Everything about his posture implied that this had better be well worth his time.

“First off, sir, a little background.  It’s important for you to not think I’m just a kook.  Right.  Anyway.  I’m a student majoring in sociology and I’ve been researching those riots last October.  I found something really odd about them.  In every case but one, they started at the same time.”

“Same time?  I thought the ones on the west coast were in the afternoon.”

“Right.  Time zones.  The east coast ones started at 6 PM.  On the west coast it was only 3 PM.  The first reports from every city affected came in between 4:38 and 6:10 eastern time, except for one town in Oregon where they didn’t start until 6:48 Eastern.”

“And this matters to me in what way?”

“I got thinking about it.  What could be used to spark a national uprising over a span of 90 minutes but leave one city 45 minutes behind?  If it was some pre-determined thing, they all should have started at the same time.  If was some astronomical event, like an eclipse—same thing, and that’s assuming everyone could see it.  Plus the eclipse was 5 days later and only visible on the east coast.  But then I got called in to work, and that’s when it hit me.  A TV broadcast.  On October 8th, 2004, there were 16 nationally televised live events that were either running while the riots started, or that ended just before.  Of those 16, only three were pre-empted in the market that was late to riot.  Two were pay per view; a concert and a boxing match, and the other was the poker tournament here.”

“How could a live event be pre empted in one local market?”

“Those programs were only carried by cable companies.  The cable company in that city had a hardware issue and couldn’t broadcast, so they recorded the programs on a DVR, then played them back as planned when they got it fixed.”

“So you think that one of these three events was the trigger for the riots?”

“Yes.  Moreover, I think it was the poker game.”

Marcus leaned forward in his chair.  “Why would you think that?”

Derek swallowed hard.  “Because the other events were pay per view, and there just weren’t enough subscribers to either event in that area to account for the number of people in the riots.  There is something else I found odd as well.  No one knows why they were rioting.”

“What do you mean?”

“Of the hundreds of reports I’ve looked over, not one of them has an explanation by the rioter as to why they were rioting.  Every one of them arrested said basically the same thing.  The riot was in progress and they just got swept up in the moment and joined in.”

“So my poker game was used as a timer to start the riots?”

“I think so.”

“And you think it may happen again?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it’s something that we should look into.”

“Then there is something I think I need to do.”

*     *    *

Tog entered the common room to see Lista arrive wearing half a dress and a concerned look.  “I just got a call,” she said.

“You are aware it’s February, right?  Aren’t you cold?”

“I don’t get cold.  I got a call from Marcus.  You remember, right?  That guy I went to the lake with that one weekend?”

“Yeah.  You okay?”

“Not really.  He called me to tell me that the poker game his hotel hosted may have been involved in the riots that weekend.  That reminded me about the murder at the lake, and I realized I never heard back from the detective about the new information we had for him about Mrs. Wilson.  I called the local police up there and they said that there were no loose ends at all, and that everything had been wrapped up.  The case was closed.  I tried a few times to get him to answer some questions about the senator’s wife and he just shut me out completely.  I asked if I could get a copy of the report, since it was a closed case, and he said that it was flagged as confidential due to the senator’s involvement.

“I decided to get in touch with the others to see if they’d had any contact from the police.  Obviously, I couldn’t really talk to the Senator or his wife about it.  Mr. Abernathy probably wouldn’t want to talk to me, but even if his wife was a killer, he’d probably want to know that she was murdered, and why and stuff.  I couldn’t even get through to him.  All I got was a fortress of lawyers telling me that events of that weekend are not a topic for discussion and that if I called again, they would get a restraining order against me.  Mrs. Forsythe did talk to me, but it wasn’t very productive.  She said it would create a conflict of interest for her to publish any story about that weekend if she were actually involved in the investigation or something like that.  Basically, it’s more important to her to tell the story in print than in court.  I couldn’t even find Mr. Hastings, and Davis had a heart attack over Christmas.  I don’t think I believe that, but he was old, so it’s possible.”

“Wow, you know with the move to here, and the personal stuff I’ve been going through, and getting Sliss, I’d sort of forgotten about that stuff.”

“It gets better.  Today Marcus called back.  He’s been going over the footage of the poker game that aired the night of the riots and says he thinks he found something.  He thinks that there was a signal passed through the broadcast somehow that people were able to pick up on and that’s what started them.  He’s afraid the same thing might happen again when he airs the tournament next weekend.”

“Like some sort of mind control thing?”

“Yeah.  Anyway, he wants me to come out to the hotel and see what I can find out.  I’d like some backup this time, so I’m asking you to come to.  Mourning and Ep if they can swing it.”

“I’ll be glad to come along, but I’m just there to do the heavy lifting, right?  You’re not going to be expecting me to figure stuff out or anything.”

“That’s why I want M-A to come too.”

“I don’t think Ep will be available.  She and Zach are still working with Sliss.  Zach got his growth stopped but he’s still a kid in his head.  She also said they had some other project to work on, but didn’t want to really talk about it.”

Lista’s face lit up for an instant.  “Really?”  She quickly changed her tone to mask her excitement.  “Well, if MA can come, that should be fine.  You guys can even be undercover on your honeymoon or something.  Marcus said the whole thing was on the house for anyone I wanted to bring.  He actually sounds a little scared.”

“I’ll talk to Mourning when she gets back.  Where is this hotel, anyway?”

“About 60 miles east of Boston.”

“Okay.  Wait.  East?  I think you mean west.”

“Nope.  It’s built on a big oil platform out in the ocean.  We’ll be flying out to it.”

“Nice!  Okay.  When will we need to leave then?  And for how long?”

“The tournament airs Friday, so he’d like us there no later than Wednesday.  If everything goes well, we can be home before Valentine’s Day on Monday.”

“Sounds good.  Crap.  I’ll need real clothes.”

*     *    *

 “Derek, come in here for a moment, please?”

“What’s up?”

“I did some poking around, and it seems that you are on to something after all.”

“What do you mean?”

Two deep thumps sounded from within the office, the silencer muffling the sound of the pistol report to be inaudible from outside.

*     *    *

The three heroes watched the sky as they talked about the plans for the trip.  It was decided that Tog and Mourning would be a couple on a date, maybe celebrating their engagement.  If anyone asked, Doug worked for her father’s construction company as a laborer and this trip was paid for by the old man as an engagement present.  Lista would be pretending to be Doug’s sister.  That would allow for them to talk as friends, while still allowing her the freedom to flirt and go off on her own.

Tog became aware of Lista staring at him and asked, “What?”

“It’s just so odd seeing you in real clothes.  I owe Purrlina 20 bucks now you know.  I bet her you didn’t even have real clothes.”

“It’s weird for me too.  I feel naked.”

“Even money on whether that would freak out more people than the cow suit.”

Bull suit, if you don’t mind.”

“How’s The Other Guy taking this?”

“He’s okay with it.  I think he’s looking for some time off actually.”

“How the hell does he get time off?”

“Normally he sits there and watches everything, like he’s on alert.  In the base, he can sort of just hang out.  It’s like I need to yell at him in my head to get his attention.”

“So he’s kicking back in some imaginary hot tub right now?”

“Watching imaginary TV actually.”

This came to an end with the sound of an airplane cutting through the low cloud cover.  This caught all three of them a bit by surprise.  They had been expecting a helicopter since they were going to a converted oil platform.  As the sound drew closer, the odd shape of the plane became clear.  There were two large propellers mounted on the tips of the wings.  As they watched, the propellers rotated into a vertical configuration and the craft touched down a little ways away.  The side door opened and a bald man in a very nice suit approached them.

“Hello.  My name is Marcus Gauthier.  I’m the owner of this place, and I thought it best that I have some time to discuss things with you personally before we arrive at the hotel.  We can chat on the plane.  It will take about 30 minutes to get there once we’re in the air again.  Very good to see you again Lisa.”

The first thing Angela noticed was the furnishings in the plane.  It was very nice with hardwood inlays on the walls and large, comfortable chairs.  There was enough room for 16 people with ease.  The first thing Doug noticed was the ceilings were about an inch too low for him to stand fully upright.  Once everyone was introduced and seated properly, Marcus alerted the pilot to head for the hotel.  He then addressed the others.

“Lisa tells me that you both dealt with the riots that weekend.  Well, it turns out I may have had something to do with them.  There is an intern at the hotel who did some checking into the tapes of the poker game we ran, and compared them to the times the riots were first reported in each city.  What he found was a little bit odd.  Several cities reported the riots at the same time.  A few minutes later, a few more cities called them in.  It went on like that for the entire show.  Every few minutes, a new batch would break out.  At first we thought it was just people from one town getting word what the ones in the next town were doing and copied them, but that didn’t hold up.  When the people of Paragon City started to riot, they were part of the third wave, but the first wave hadn’t made national news yet, and it started in the west.  Derek has all of this information in detail so I’ll set up a time for you all to meet with him.”

“Are you talking about some sort of mass mind control through television” asked Doug.

“Maybe.  We’re not sure if that’s what was done, or even if that would be possible.”

“Sure it is” said Angela.  “It’s not only possible, it’s done every day.  And it’s regulated.  It’s called advertising.  If I want you to use my product, I’m goin’ to show you what it is and tell you it’s great, but I’m goin’ to do other stuff you probably wouldn’t pick up on normally.  If I’m sellin’ laundry soap, I’m goin’ to go with texture free, very bright surfaces on everything.  No shadows if they can be helped, because I want you to feel that if you use my soap your world will be bright and perfect and crisp.  If I’m comparin’ my product to that of a competitor I might used slightly different colors in the background, or a little sharper focus to see the grit, or even a slight change in the music whenever I show them in the ad; like all the chords will have one sharp note.  You may not actually be aware of it, but it will have an effect and turn you off of the other product.  Since the annoyin’ sound stops when you see mine, you associate my product with relief, and I get more sales.”

“You must be the person Lisa mentioned at the lake.  So, what you are saying is that advertising is a subtle form of mind control?”

“Sort of.  It can’t really make you do somethin’ you don’t want to do, but it can plant an idea that can influence a person in ways they aren’t really aware of.”

“So do you think it’s possible to broadcast something to make people from all over go nuts like that?”

“Sort of, yes.  I’m just sayin’ that the concept of mind control through TV, radio, or movies isn’t really all that far fetched.  We know that some level of mind control through visual and auditory means is possible.  The three of us have worked with people that could turn a street thug against his own people for a short time just by controllin’ their mind.  It wouldn’t be totally unreasonable that these two things could be combined in some way to project whatever it is that turns friend to foe through a TV signal.  It’s possible, and we can’t rule it out.”

“Is that what you think happened?”

“There is no way to know yet.  It’s just a possibility.  It’s far more likely that a group in every city had instructions to begin to riot at a certain time when they saw the old lady in the third row wipe her nose.  We have to keep an open mind to all real possibilities for as long as they remain possible.  It’s an old premise that first came about in the Sherlock Holmes stories; ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’  Basically, the idea of mass mind control is just as likely as the old woman in the third row until we learn more.”

“So it could be something that was already planned, and just waiting for the signal to begin?  And we could have broadcast that signal?”

“Possibly, yes.  It sounds like your intern did a great job in showin’ that of all the TV programs aired at that time, your tournament was the only one that really had a chance to trigger everything, but there is no guarantee that the trigger wasn’t something totally unrelated to poker, or television.  It’s a very good place to start though.”

“I need to go back over the tapes anyway to see how each person I might be playing against this time plays.  I’ll try and keep an eye out for anything odd around the time the riots started.  As for the three of you, do you have any real plan in mind?”

“Well,” began Doug.  “We don’t really have anywhere to start.  I’d like to have MA, er Angela watch the tapes to see if she can spot anything.  Lis’ is gonna mill around and see if she get close to … well probably everyone.  I’ll just wander and gamble and try to keep an eye out for trouble.  I tend to be much more useful where there is something obvious to do.”

“Fine.  I’ve got you set up in one of the nicer rooms.  Technically it’s a suite, so there are two bedrooms.  Doug is Lisa’s brother and Angela is his girlfriend, is that right?”

“Right.  Doug and I have been datin’ for about a year and he works at my daddy’s factory loading trucks.  Since the hotel is yours, and Lista knows you, she suggested the place and it seemed only right for us to let her come along.”

“Okay.  That all works for me.  We’re about there, so I’ll have the pilot do a lap or two around the place so you can get a look at it before we land.”  With that, Marcus keyed the intercom and passed on some instructions to the pilot.

The plane slowed a bit and made a gentle bank to the right to set up a nice view from the side windows.  The hotel itself was a large building but very unbalanced looking.  The tower which contained the rooms was actually a tall, narrow structure, rather like an airplane wing standing up on edge.  From a distance it looked like a huge, billowed sail.  This was set into a broad flat building which covered the top of the platform and seemed to rest about 100 feet from the surface of the water.  On top of this platform were a total of 8 little bunker looking things which were later explained to be the hangars for the other aircraft to and from the hotel.

After completing a second orbit, the plane slowed to a hover and moved into position to land on one of the two pads.  Marcus turned and said, “This is where we part ways for now.”  With that, the door opened and he climbed down the steps and hurried off to the building.

The three remaining passengers were greeted by Nikolai, the official greeter of the hotel.  “Hello and velcome to the Aquapolis.  This is the only hotel of its kind in the vorld and I vould be happy to show you around and answer all of your questions vonce you get settled into your rooms.  The tour will begin at 4 PM.  That gives you just over an hour.  If you vill please follow me to the desk, ve vill get you checked in and up to your rooms.”

Before anyone could ask a question, he turned sharply in place and strode off to the base of the mast of the tower.  Check-in went smoothly and a bellhop was summoned to show them to their room on the 8th floor.  Once the elevator doors opened, they found themselves at one end of very wide hallway.  It was obvious that the walls curved towards each other making the hall narrow gradually toward the far end.  The bellhop indicated their room was at the end of the hall.  He opened the door and they followed him in.

The room was very nice, and had all the basics as far as they could see.  The outside walls were made up entirely of glass, allowing for an unrestricted view of the ocean all the way to the horizon.  The bathroom and bedrooms were each separate from the main room, and the bedrooms were mounted with one on each side of the main room.  Inside the bedrooms, the walls shared the same vast panorama.  The main room was large and open, with a big television, satellite radio, a large couch and chairs and small dining room type area.

“I hope the room meets with your approval,” said the bellhop.  When Mourning nodded, he continued.  There are a few things I need to show you.  The telephone can be used to dial any room in the hotel directly by entering the 4 digit room number.  You can also use it to call for room service 24 hours a day.  The main room and the bedrooms each have a window tint control.  This activates an LCD sheet inside the glass that can be used to block out the light.  Morning does come very early at this hotel and if your room happens to be facing the sunrise it can get very bright.  Should the wind shift dramatically during the course of your stay, you may feel the room shift as the Sail adjusts to the new direction.  This is perfectly normal and there is no cause for alarm.  If you need anything, dial zero on the house phone.  If there is an emergency, dial 9-1-1 and it will be put through to the onsite emergency center.  Enjoy your stay.”

She followed him to the door, gave him a tip, and closed the door behind him.  Once he was gone, they began to look over the room for cameras, or other electronic eavesdropping devices.  The search was completed quickly and there was time to play with the window tint controls and other toys before the tour was to begin. Upon arriving in the lobby she saw Nikolai standing by the tour desk.  It didn’t look like anyone else was going to be taking the tour.

*     *    *

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