It was that soft twilight hour. The sun had fallen beneath the sea, signaling the youth on the beach that the time was right. The bonfire was lit and the music played. They laughed and danced. Celebrating their life. Their living.
There was one who wasn't quite so animated. He sat on the beach, downing cheap alcohol. And though he participated, he was still somewhat to himself. Somewhat distant.
The truth was Jefferey Bright was upset. Jeff had recently learned that his significant other no longer thought of their relationship as significant. Jeff was angry at her. He felt betrayed. A bit of self-reflection, and Jeff would have realized that he was to blame for their distance. Still, he was young and foolish, and never had been much for self-reflection.
His attendance here had been an attempt to… well it had been an attempt to do something. Jeff had not actually planned this very well. He wasn't sure if his presence here was an attempt to win her back, find another girl, or something else entirely.
As it was, Jeff was not having much success executing his plan (if one could call his confused thoughts "plans"). The "significant" other had long left the party, failing to notice that Jeff was even present. And so now he sat, too distracted by thoughts of his former companion to fully involve himself in the revelry.
It was not long after the moon rose that Jeff was approached by a stranger. Like Jeff, this stranger was dressed in a T-shirt and swim trunks. Like Jeff, this stranger appeared to be another mid-twenties college-type. Like Jeff, he was drinking from a can of cheep beer.
"Hey, bro, you look like you need a drink." The smiling stranger tossed an unopened can to Jeff. "You're Jeff, right?"
Jeff looked up morosely, but accepted the can. "Yeah, how'd you know that?"
The stranger sat down, and took a deep swig from his drink. "Believe it or not, I worked with your dad a bit. Had an internship with the feds years back. Guessed who you were, you look just like him. Small world, huh?"
Jeff nodded. "Yeah. Guess so."
"We were some of the only guys that would eat at the cafeteria there, so we got to talking a lot. I remember he was always going on about this old car he was fixing up. You know whatever came of that?"
At that, Jeff perked up a bit. The nostalgia of childhood memories helped wash away his relationship troubles. The alcohol certainly helped as well. "Yeah, dad and I were working on that car for years. I think he might have finished it a while back. I dunno, I haven't really heard from him since I moved out here and he got promoted into Top Secret or whatever."
"I know what you mean. Hard enough to keep up with the family, and that Men in Black shit doesn't help, does it?"
"Yeah. Last I heard, he's working on some thing in Switzerland. You know, they won't even let me see him anymore. I'm only allowed to talk to him through emails. Been that way for years. And the worst thing is, he won't even tell me why. Can't tell me, I guess. If this keeps up, I don't really see how…" Jeff trailed off, staring into the distance.
The stranger put a supportive hand on Jeff's shoulder. "Man, that sucks. Have you ever thought about trying to see him? Just surprise him? I mean, screw the feds. They shouldn't be able to pull shit like that."
"Yeah, I've thought about it. I can't, really. Mostly, I just don't have the money. Last time I checked, flights to Switzerland were almost two grand. And on top of that, I'd have to get a train or something to get to Lausanne, since you can't just fly there. An even then, once I get there, I wouldn't know where to start looking."
The stranger smiled and finished his beer. "Yeah, that's tough. Anyway, looks like I'm gonna need another one of these worthless beers. I hate things that don't work the way they're suppose to. I mean, I'm not even feeling a buzz. You want one too?"
Jeff returned the smile. "Yeah, I guess so. I wish Steve was willing to shell out more for something good."
The two continued to talk about beer and college and life for some time. As the party eventually drew to a close, Jeff and the stranger parted ways. Once on his own, Jeff attempted to remember the strangers name, but he could not recall it.
Actually, the entire conversation left him with an odd feeling. Perhaps if his mind was more clear, he would have understood why he felt that way. That stranger was just so normal, so average, that it was hard to really keep his mind focused on him. Even thinking back now, not long after, it was hard to remember what he had said.
As Jeff collapsed into his bed, he cleared his mind of these thoughts. After all, why bother worrying about some stranger on the beach and what he said? After all, he was just another college guy. Just another party-goer. Just another nobody.
The small coffee shop was quite busy, despite the early time of morning. Several people were already up, attempting to acquire that wonderful liquid that would make their daily tasks much more bearable.
In a small table to herself, a well dressed woman nursed her cup and watched the people moving through the street. It gave her some comfort, to be alone in a crowd. It made her troubles seem quite small. The weight that she was forced to bear, the pressures of her career, all seemed a touch more endurable.
She was shaken out of her thoughts when a stranger approached. Offering a slight smile, the new arrival pointed to an empty seat at the woman's table. "Pardon me, miss. Is this seat taken? May I sit down?"
This person was also a sharply dressed woman in business attire. The stranger appeared to be a native Swiss, and her relaxed posture showed that she was comfortable and familiar with her surroundings. However, something about the stranger seemed off. As part of her employment, the woman had been trained to notice these types of oddities. After a few moments, the woman's eyes grew wide and her posture tensed. She stammered, "Oh no, it's you. I haven't even finished my coffee yet."
The stranger sat down anyway. "Well, then. I suppose I'll take that as a yes. It seems that we have no need for pretenses, Director Ottmar."
The director nodded slowly. "Yes, it seems so." She couldn't help but squirm a bit. She tried to think of how to best approach the situation, but her thoughts were blank. It did not help that she had not been sleeping well recently. The stranger sampled her own beverage, her eyes never leaving the director's.
Finally the director sighed, and went still. "I suppose I should call this in, but I don't feel there is really much point. I fail to see how it could have an effect. By the time a response is determined, I'm sure that you will have already accomplished what you came here to do."
The stranger sipped from her coffee. "Well said. However, you sounded unnecessarily fatalistic. I'm not here to harm you, or even antagonize your organization. I simply seek information."
Ottmar nodded. The stranger's words were not much of a relief. "So, what exactly is it that you are seeking?"
After a brief pause for coffee, the stranger replied, "I'm looking for Dr. Bright. I already know that he is here in this city, but I don't wish to waste time searching the whole of Lausanne myself. And, as the Regional Director, I'm sure that you can assist me in this matter."
Director Ottmar scowled, deep lines consuming her normally stern expression. The sarcasm almost dripped from her voice, "Right. I suppose I should just cooperate and make everything easier on myself? Tell you everything you want to know?"
"Again, so fatalistic. The short answer is yes," the stranger stared into the director's eyes. "I only wish to talk with the esteemed Doctor. For what it's worth, I can promise that no one will come to harm because of this."
The director was the first to break eye contact. She sighed. "So, in essence, I can tell you how to find him, or force you to seek him out yourself. I notice that both of those choices that you present end with the same result. So, why would I not inconvenience you? I do not see any reason why I should cooperate."
"As you said, I will find him eventually." The stranger paused, carefully considering her next words before continuing, "And, unfortunately, the longer I am here, the more likely I will become an inconvenience to you. You have been Director for many years, yes? And sterling record as well. I would hate to be the one that would cause you undue distress, Ms Ottmar."
"So, now you choose to threaten me?"
"Not a threat, Director. I cannot abandon the path on which I am set. I therefore ask that you be the one to step aside." The stranger took a long drink from her now lukewarm beverage. "I only ask you to wash your hands of this. Allow your superiors to decide matters, as is your normal procedure when dealing with me. Director, you must make so many difficult moral decisions as part of your daily work. I am simply asking you to not answer this one. Do not burden yourself with this choice, when you already have so many worries. Tell me what I would like to know."
The Director hesitated, but she eventually gave way. She told the stranger where Dr. Bright could be found. After the strange woman left, the Director called and reported the incident to her superiors. Logically, she should feel upset after this. In some way, she had given surrendered when she had promised herself long ago that she never would. She should feel devastated. On the contrary, Director Ottmar felt relieved, like a weight she did not realize was present had been lifted. Let her superiors handle this one. She still had to finish her coffee.
The noon day sun was radiant, reflected shimmering in the waters of Lake Geneva. Several pedestrians were milling about, enjoying the feel of the weather and the sights of the great city.
A man sat on a park bench, looking out over the water. Though he was only middle-age, his eyes were the eyes of an old man. Eyes that had seen too much. Suffered too much. This time was the only time he could truly rest, as the night is no sanctuary for those that cannot sleep. This man had used many names, but the only true name was Dr. Jack Bright.
Another man sat down on the bench next to Dr. Bright. Like Bright, he was dressed in a suit and tie. Like Bright, he seemed far older than his appearance suggested. Like Bright, his eyes were eyes that had seen much suffering. They sat in silence for a time.
It was Dr. Bright who broke the silence. "Well, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
The stranger grinned, and couldn't quite suppress the chuckle underneath his words. "Oh come on now, Jack. No need to be a sarcastic ass. I'm just here to talk."
"Oh really? What could we possibly have to talk about?"
"Lots of things, actually." The stranger shrugged, "I mean, after all, we're sort of in the same business. Don't you think comparing notes could do some good?"
Bright scowled. "Look, I consider myself pretty good at being able to bullshit someone, so I know when someone's giving the runaround to me. Let's just cut the crap, OK? I've only got twenty minutes left in my lunch break."
The stranger nodded, serene and relaxed. "Really, I wasn't just screwing with you. I've noticed a lot of similarities between us. I was hoping that cooperation could help both of us with our… problems.
Bright barked out a harsh laugh. "You and me similar? I don't see it. What do we possibly have that is similar?"
The stranger's expression became sullen. The mirth gone from his words, he whispered, "We are both trapped, Dr. Bright."
At that, Dr. Bright turned to stare at the stranger. His hand found itself caressing the amulet he wore underneath his shirt.
After only a moment, the stranger's former expression and demeanor returned. He grinned. "I figured that would get you to listen. I mean think about it. We both have rather varying identities. We both pass on our qualities to our successors. Most importantly, we are both suffering from anomalous conditions we cannot seem to break."
"Sounds to me like a whole bunch of coincidences. Seems like you're stretching things a bit to make those connections."
The stranger sighed. "Maybe. I admit I have my share of logical and emotional failings. I'm not perfect. However, I do feel there is a possible connection. Is that not worth exploring? Hell, worst case scenario is we don't find out anything, which puts us exactly where we are now."
Dr. Bright frowned. "OK, you're going to have to explain a bit more. Quit with the whole mystery and riddles thing. What do you mean by connection? And what the hell do you actually expect me to do?"
The stranger stood up, and took a few steps towards the lake. "I'll answer your second question first. I don't expect you to do anything. I honestly don't expect this conversation to have any affect on your life at all. That said, I'd hoping that it does, and would be happy if it did have an impact. I would say the result I most hope for is that we become allies after this encounter."
"As to your first question," the stranger continued, talking over Dr. Bright's scoff, "I'll try to explain in a straightforward way. I think that the origin of your amulet and the origin of me could be related."
The bottom fell out of Dr. Bright's stomach. "So, are you saying that I'm like you? A…?"
The stranger interjected, "An artificial one, perhaps." The stranger spread his hands, "Or at least an attempt to do so. It's hard to say for certain. After all, how can you really measure the impact your life has had, and compare that result to how things would be if you never existed? Of course, this is all just my personal theories. But, now don't you feel like this might be worth looking into?"
At that, the stranger began walking away. Dr. Bright quickly stood up. "Hold on," he called out. "That's it? You're just going to leave now?"
The stranger looked over his shoulder at the doctor. "I've said what I came here to say. I know that I can't change your opinions. I mean, I literally can't. Whatever happens next, it has to be something you decide. So, I guess I'll just have to wait to see what you will do." The stranger smiled. "If you ever want my help, look for me. You'll know how to find me. After all, we're kindred spirits, you and I."
As the stranger left for good, Dr. Bright sat back down on the bench. He did not return to work after his lunch break. He continued to sit for many hours, his fingers slowly tracing the ridges of the amulet beneath his clothing. Bright stared into the horizon until long after the sun had sank beneath the sea.