Arkansas, 2006

"There once was an enlightened alchemist with a long-forgotten name, and he lived on an old bark ship on the lake called Constance. I'm just an old Arky, and I don't know what to call him but Adolph Kepler.

But that don't matter, 'cause he's dead, an' he was long dead when th' story began; in a place called Tepid Springs, Arkansas.

Well, it seems that a body found his writings in some town like Dresden, 'cause MI-6 found them in Stazi Headquarters in Berlin, and pieced the shredded bits back t'gether , and turned the encrypted work to the National Security Agency, stationed in Maryland.

Well, that was in 1989, and by and by the program went on a-slowly, and by 1999 a careful observer coulda read some half-truth reports about what the German Domestic Intel had found out.
Well, let me tell ya 'bout a Japanese exchange student who lived in my house back in th' early years of th' twenty-first century.

There I was, Ned Rayshield, in th' setting room of my Daddy's town- house, which was also a church, since my pa was a minister for th' United Baptist Church. (Travis McKee negotiated the reunion of the northern and southern Baptist a few years after this, but no need to nit-pick.)

My dad and I looked out the window, just a-waitin' for th' boy's taxi t' drive in.
(Dad was mighty afraid of planes, so we didn't wait at the aero-port.)

By and by the taxi rode in, and we rode down our bird-cage lookin' elevator, and we let humid air in, havin' opened th' door, and we was face- to-face with Summi Yamamoto, the exchange student I've been talkin' about.

Well, we bowed 'till we couldn't see each other, then we slowly rose on up again, smiling' ear-t'-ear, just like he and his baggage-carriers was. Then we shuck hands, and we introduced each other.

He went first, then I said: "Summi, this is my father, Reverend Fenton Rayshield-we have the same last name!"

Well, he laughed civilly, and I asked him if he'd like t' see th' town- house/church before we see the town.

Well, I showed him around, and he quickly noticed what I had done; I hid all th' things made in Japan, save the silverware, just so I could- I doan know- and I felt pretty dang foolish when he found my stock-pile, and we laughed a mighty deal, and we placed the game-station to the HDTV, and put the radio by my study, and all that.

So then we made like a tree, and leafed into the streets. Tepid Springs, Arkansas, was a town where Latin Americans lived "to be adjusted" into well adjusted and educated citizens (1).

Tepid Springs could not be found on a map more than a few years before this time, but now holds over sixty thousand. and growing.

Quite recently, multiple hot springs have been found, and droves of Japanese emigrates have come to build Shinto Shrines here.

Luckily, the coming Latins and Japanese were having great success in environmentally friendly city planning and the new Clinton Collegiate plans were producing the most talented students the Tokyo based could hope for, and William Clinton University was already on par with Cornell, and all the other power-houses.
If you've never been there, just picture a Portugal oriental colony that is humid.

Anywho, Summi and me toured the town later than a pair of twelve year- olds shoulda done. But my-my, Pappy didn't fit 'bout it, since it was Summi's first day in the city.
But all was curious after that, as Summi got gung-ho 'bout his studies; I couldn't ever figure out what he was working on!

Not an exam or nothing that way, the school year just begun. So I chose to shadow him, like guys do in the theater.
Pop once told me that wasn't proper, but I thought, "Summi's family, since we share a house, and all my friends and I know there's a double standard with rules, or triple, now that I think of it- family, friends, or strangers- different rules apply fur each.

Somethin' was a-goin' down with that boy, so I introduced him into the family quicker.
That's mighty smart thinkin,' huh?1 I had nothing' on him all th' weekdays, and Sunday I'd be helping' Pa in church, so I thought I'd have a lion of a time workin' Saturday, but then I thought "I gotta hook-up with my chums and play ball at noon!"

So I packed up early, and passed my cartoons! (Yep, even with HDTV we had some schedules that shows stayed with, no matter how much they wanted to be seen.)
I had a toaster breakfast, and busted a move, visiting one scholar haunt after another, tryin' t' find that blasted- something!, but he woke up before me, and the early-bird was a sly book-worm. (Huh?)

Even with my sleek skate-board and Arky street-smarts (I was a novice rider), I never caught his scent. Anyhow, the oriental sloped roofs proved enterainin,' you know, and I was in a good way once I reached the ball-park outa town.

The entire crew made it to Savanna Stadium to play what may have been the last big game of the school year, before social ambitions cut down on our game-play.
Well, I lit my bat up and started a riot, and having a swell time the whole way through, but something' funny happened, when I was put on duty to find one of the lost balls, and as I passed all them holly bushes, I heard this infernal typing goin' 90, and the hum of hot electronics. It was a-coming from th' old club-house!

But this place had a been taboo since those girls caused the Mississippi earth-quake while practicing witchcraft! So I was curious, and crept and snuck and creeped along, thinking' about the quake and how it formed the Tepid Springs, and a wonderin' what kinda demon could be residing in there now.

What if th' spirits was tryin' t' make sulfur springs before, and were tryin' t' make mischief right this time? I a peeked in through a warped board and. What the Beirut carpet-bombing was Summi doing in th' taboo club-house!
There was he, dutifully typing the day away, messin' with somethin' he ain't 'sposed to, I reckoned, somethin' with fanciful drawings, and lots and lots of paper.
I gasped, but was lucky he had such a stiff neck, and he didn't spot me, and I ran without tuckerin' for two mile.

I got myself home late that afternoon, and resolved t' go back there that very night, no matter how scared about it I was resolute.
Well, sneakin'' weren't my stock in trade, so I studied on lettin' some other boys go to the club-house, too. I had plum sweated myself dry and I couldn't very well talk on th' phone nohow, and th' other boys had no need for fightin' black-magic, so I put th' phone back on th' receiver and waited for dark.

At long last I killed the time and Summi got home and we ate fried potatoes at th' bar.
After that 'everybody hit the hay; 'cept fur me, I snuck t' Savanna Stadium and into th' club-house. Well it was as dark as a coal-mine, so I brung a video-camera with a light attached, as was proper, thought I, since the news might wanta catch wind of it.
Boy, would ita made a bad film!

I filmed a fifteen-by-fifteen foot shed with a few neat stacks of paper and a printing press. Well, I put th' camera on a wood shelf an' looked at th' papers. Mainly just those fanciful drawings again. But most looked alike, save small color changes. Could he a been makin' a picture book? Somehow it all didn't square, so I booted up his computer and learned myself nothin'; it was all biometric protected, you know, a little owl's eye measures your body parts for access? So I got all the pictures and computer hardware on my camera tape, and planned to show one of my chicken friends all this.

Surely one of my smarter friends knowed what t' do. I snuck out more swiftly than I went in, having resolved t' hold th' tape 'till Monday.

Sunday I woke up 'round six, and rubbed sleep out of my eyes, and cleaned up for church. I took th' elevator down stairs, where th' church was a-waitin'. All th' volunteers was there, reviewing last week and a-doin' some special decoratin' 'cause school had a-started er somethin'. I took up my old job of havin' my cheeks pinched and alterin' synthetic music.

The stereo got me a-thinkin', that last spring I had earned some cash when that party was throwed at that athletic camp in Hamburg secretly. Brock Hampton, he was th' tech-wizard I had a-worked with. I knowed him when he was an eighth-grader in Hamburg, but now he's in th' Tepid High Gifted Class, and I could contact him for help- and hang out, too!

Yeah, I could just casually drop some church literature over- and, I dunno, "Hey, Brock, so tell me, what's th' best way t' by-pass biometrics scanners?" Sounded dang good, and we did hit it off plum well last spring, perhaps this could become a dandy friendship.
I rehearsed it all in my head, even mumbled a few phrases while tunin' th' gear, catchin' my pa's eye.

"You OK, Ned, I thought you liked this job. What are you doing swearing at your age, anyway?" I just smiled, and told him I was rehearsing some lines and I talk to speakers anyhow, so don't worry about it and junk, you know?

He would have probed deeper, but my sister was back from lobbying in Washington, see, and Pop, he was eager to hear all about it, the scoop of the lobbyist and all.

Perhaps that was the first time I wasn't envious of her, 'cause I needed t' be nobody right then! Well, the service was a dandy, and the choir sounded all cool with digitized voices- that tickled us- whata blast!

Well, I got myself out o' service real quick and a-headed out fur brock's place, with witnessin'-papers and video in tow.
I tuck my bike, and rid that away t' Brock's leased concrete dome home.
Well, a, Tepid Springs was a-both warm and wet, not Amazon wet, mind you, but wetter than a lot o' warm places all year long, and what I'm a- gettin' at is this; this 'hood had Mediterranean fruit-trees along with regular Arkansas plants, and at Brock's place they abounded.

Anyways, I made it there, rounded hedges and olives doin' that, too.
Brock, he was the one that opened t door.

"Ah, hello," he said gruffly, before registering who was a-ringin'.
"Oh, a-a-a-, Music Boy! Yeah, N-Ned, Ned Rayshield," he fumbled my name a few times, snapping his fingers as he remembered.

"So, friend, what's up?" He shuck my hand and let me in.

"Your soul. I'm on a witnessin' tour for my pop's church, and I decided t' drop by your place," I told him rather neighborly like, I 'spose.

" Cool, thanks for dropping by," said he, nonchalantly. He eyed th' bag I brung in, gears spinning between his ears for a conspiracy. I told him "Maybe," and give him a booklet and a newspage- no, a whole lot of stuff.

"Cool, I'll take a look at this," he said, keeping his word right then.

"Townhouse Baptist? Yeah, I know where this is. You jam there?" I told him 'yeah,' and he smiled cunningly at that, I tell ya.

"Awesome, I'll head that way sometime." I told him that was great, then I snuckered him into my other business.

"How to bypass some hypothetical biometrics scanner? Hmm... that's ah little vague, I need more information," he said, so I pulled out th' video.

"What's this?" I told him t' play it, and he put it in th' entertainment system. Brock whistled as he watched.

"Is that the taboo club-house, near Savanna Stadium?" I gave him a nod. "What were you doing there?" He suppressed a lecture, trying t' be cool and all, so I calmly explained, tellin' him th' exchange student story.

"Wow, I see why you need help on this," he said, before saying he'd help.

"What about th' biometrics security?" I kinda whined as I asked about this pressing problem.

"All right, all right, I-I'll tell you what to do. He's here from Japan, right? So, he almost certainly carries a check- card, right?" I nodded on both rights, and he continued.

"I'm sure his credit is protected by more than some code, I'll see what I can do. You just keep on living, kid." I left th' tape at Brock's house, deciding to catch up on my normal activities for th' rest of th' day.

Monday I awoke t' optimistic music from the digital radio/alarm, and had mighty little trouble gittin' up, 'cause I was a-motivated t' see if Brock was done with th' hackin' stuff, so I a-ran fur it at sun-rise. But as I got out th' door, there was Hampton , a-stuffin' trash back in th' dumpster!

"Brock!" I yelled his name rally good, but somehow I chambered th' noise down, ya know, and not even th' ally-cats awoke.

"What are you doing?" And he said; "Card companies send mail t' people every day, so I decided to see who's card he's using," he explained but didn't. (You know.) I knowed what he meant. I've got it, too," said he, proudly.

He carries the Pursuit card. Found a weekly report from them here, along with several assist numbers to call," he told me, holding a letter before his shoulder, like a cop might.

"So, we can call a number here, browse customize your card, down-load th' biometrics, and 3D-print it all for our private use, correct?"

"You got it, but first we need to type in his password, and pin- number," he added, postponing our celebration for a bit.

"However," he consoled, "I think I know his password already."

Everybody knowed it was Ty Cobbasaki's fault, but he knowed how t' cover his tracks, and th' brawl he had instigated between Chet Chavez and Leon Joust got them expelled for a week; even though they limited themselves to their dukes.
Beyond that, the day was regular for August; we reviewed old sixth grade stuff, and relearned the ropes of junior high social life.

Chet and Leon didn't get that chance.

All that middle school stuff ended 'round three, when I left t' learn with th' High School Marching Band.
See, I was a regular prodigy, er phenomenon, in music class, So, I was a-moved on up t' th' highest honors Tepid Springs could offer that away.
Out on th' football field was where I catched up with Brock, he's been waitin' for me a few moments there.

"Ned!" He yelled for me, so I a-ran over. "What's up, Brock?" He told me.

"I had a hunch, so I tried it out. It turns out I was right, and his code-word was 'alchemy.' My next hunch worked, too.
I assumed that the pursuit computer would not kick me out for failing to punch in the correct pen-number, since I cleared the password without a single flag against me," he paused for me t' guess th' rest.

"So you could fill numbers in at random with impunity!" He nodded and smiled.

"I got to see his finances, and even more importantly, his biometrics data."
I was plum tickled. "So we done it!" Me and th' band played sing-like stuff th' entire session.

We, Brock and me, both knowed we'd have t' sneak out late, 'cause o' Summi, 'ccordin' t' my 'ssumption as t' his routine.
So Brock hung 'round my place fur hours- so did I- I almost forgot.
Well, anyhow, we had chicken-on-rice, and a discussion 'bout alchemy- Brock, he said Summi's pictures looked like alchemist's work-logs.

"Seems strange that he's de-coding science-papers when he's all ready studying so hard for a top career waiting for the best man returning to Japan," said Brock, stumped over this issue.
I was too, once I thought about it. Ching-ching! He had something planned, for sure.

At last, night-fall came, and so did Summi, looking a bit haggard for a bookish boy.

"Hello, Mr. Ned, Mr. Rayshield... and hello, Mister, I'm Summi Yamamoto," he greeted us all, bowing at Brock, who he didn't know.

"Oh, My name is Brock Hampton, I'm a friend of Ned's," he greeted casually, trying mighty hard t' be dismissed, backing away toward th' pool.Summi just smiled at us and Pop, and retired t' his room without a snack er nothin'.
Brock and me smiled at each other, and left for the park hurriedly. (Pa didn't object 'cause, although th' sun set, we still had some twilight t' work with.)

We hitched a cab Brock had arranged in advance, picked up some gear at th' Hampton House, and rode t' th' park.

"Wait here," Brock ordered th' cabby, a Hampton, it turned out, and ran to the club-house.
We a-brushed past glossy vines blockading th' way to th' shabby square shed.
Brock, he was pumped, saying, "this is it!" Before we moved in. Me and Brock, we knowed all th' tricks t' jimmyin' th' club-house's 'secure' door, and got t' filmin' inside.

"This is Tepid Cauldron Part Two. With Ned Rayshield, this is Brock Hampton, and we are reporting from the taboo club-house," Brock said, holding a mike and a-standin' before th' camera.

"A journalist woulda only said '...Brock Hampton, reporting from...'" I corrected. "Shut-up." We was a-laughin', but stopped, coughed, and became professional-like.

"Anyway, we are reporting a recently discovered alchemist log de-crypt station built into the Savanna Stadium Taboo Club-House-"
I interrupted.

"That's it, Brock, lay it on thick know!" He a-gave me a look we all know.

"Do you mind? I'm trying to work here!" I back off a bit.

"O-okay, let's get this over with, shall we?" I put th' camera on a tripod, and helped Brock with th' "Summi Sculptures."

"Th' thumb-print is connected to th' hand-print, th' iris-print is connected to th' facial..." Brock and me sang through th' entire process, and opened the translated findings to us and the world. (Not at that moment, we'd sent th' tape to th' news later.)

"Ned, the findings aren't here on the hard-drive, not many, anyway, so he's not all that far in progress, I guess." Brock jimmied around awhile, and by and by found that many missing files was involved in a transaction with a separatist group 'round here and North- East Oklahoma.

"My dad works at a security firm, and he has clearance to the FED mainframe, the Bank Reserve computer.
You know how that goes, the family's curious tot learns the trade, too, and I have no trouble 'following the money.'" Brock, he enjoyed explainin' junk t' me. I guess he's proud of what he can do, and he sort of goes int' th' family business, as isle explain later.

"We have a new question, Ned, why would a native of Japan sell classified information to racist rebels at bargain prices?"

Brock's taxi brung me home, and I waited for Tuesday mornin,' just stared at th' ceilin'.
My cranium burned, and my eye-lids was heavy, but nothin' seemed wrong with me, and I wasn't worn out, though I hadn't slept.
Chet and Leon was still expelled, and a few lunches was, too.
It was a lot like Monday- even with th' band, we practiced again, and Brock showed up, too.


"Yeah, Buddy?" He came down th' field, where th' band played.

"I searched through my dad's guild phone-book. Have you ever heard of Josh McKee?" I sure have!

"Th' younger brother of th' McKee Enterprises guy? T-th' one that's a now a mercenary/bounty-hunter?"
Brock affirmed.

"Yep, what if I said we have a meeting with him this afternoon?"

"What d'ya wanta do, Brock?" Before that moment, I thought Brock was sane.

"I want to keep the War-Dogs from using any of those secrets, Ned." I gave him an inquirin' gaze, and he cooled down t' show me what he'd got worked up about.

"OK, I've visited all the super-natural sights- and your friends Leon and Chet have been helping me out- and all goth-files agree, Adolph Kepler was almost exclusively a military inventor; he built things that only the militant faction, the War-Dogs, would find interest in. I was in denial yesterday, but now I'm sure I know what those texts are about," he stormed, kind of, adding that none of the encrypted pages we found had any war affiliated pictures, and that's th' reason Summi still had those.
He went further to say that only th' warrior drawings was bein' decrypted know.
I gave in, and after practice joined Brock, and went t' see Josh McKee.

Brock knowed th' bus route real well, and we took a bus from th' school t' th' Yogurt Yurt, where McKee had a reserved area waiting.
We walked into th' modern dairy store, and found our table. Teal-blue table, with a bone surface. The vinyl seats were that same blue.
A few copper-toned fellows walked in, all well muscled and frowning neutrally. They all lined up, and a little man introduced them all.

"Hello, kids, these guys are Jake, Max, and Sarah," he said, tappin' each on th' shoulder as he featured them.

"And my name is Josh McKee." Brock and Josh was smilin,' my pulse was risin'.
Brock and Josh talked business for awhile, and me and josh's other mercs was left out of it.
Until th' subject of cost come up.

"Brock, no, I can't give 'em that!" He was mad!

"It's not like you're the only one giving away his future, I have to give away my trust-fund, too, and my parents' retirement funds!"
And if all th' other accounts jumped th' cliff? 'Honor thy mother and thy father.' Besides th' practical reasons for not doing as Brock says, Pap would kill me!
C'mon, surely he hadn't been planin' t' pay all this back when we was-

"Why, hey, can't we pay 'em with Summi's papers? Surely they can make a down payment!"
Brock was taken aback.

"Yeah," he blinked, "they could in turn sell to McKee Enterprises, and that could cover perhaps the whole cost!"
Brock, he turned toward th' hired hunters, and said,

"We'd like to barter."

I'd hate t' be anticlimactic or whatever, but Brock and me had little to do with th' conflict between th' War-Dogs and th' four mercenaries, but I did hear some things.
And they had t' hear about a special gadget Summi gave th' Dogs.

"Argh, guys, I visited the War-Dog home-land, and there is something you guys should know; they're compound is covered by a neutralizing field that renders explosives useless," Brock said, killin' th' party. Th' team groaned.

"Laugh So, this kid had given them a...Dud Zone?" Josh McKee gave th' field a fitting name, for sure.
I still didn't know what Brock's over all plan was, I'd just have t' wait 'til th' next day.

Daybreak. Th' golden pasture was barely visible. Brock and me hid in stacks o' hay, or grass clippin's, or twigs. Felt like grass or hay, I reckon.
We watched a connector set shake rain gutter down hill. That's what I thought it was.
What was they goin' t' do without chemical explosives? Why, th' internal combustion engine wouldn't even work.
A pond full of soldiers a-drillin' waited for th' gutter.

"I think I've heard some old folk-story where this happened," said Brock, having catched on.

"If I'm right, what you're about to see will be really really cool." I watched, and, all though th' cun was still low, I could see pink sludge flood down th' gutter!
I was plum amazed at how quick it all happened- it was as if they had dumped a whole crick o' concrete int' th' pond!
I didn't understand it, rows of War-Dogs (not k-9s) was stuck in th' pink stuff.
Th' mercs' skate-boarded down th' gutter, and stood on the pond. I watched in awe as th' team worked without explosives t' capture th' compound.
Jack-hammers punched walls open, and gas was fed in from back-pack hoses.
Stragglers was took out by wire-less tasers or blunted arrows.

I missed school Wednesday, but that's all, 'cause I watched Josh McKee grab th' compound in less than eight hours.

Me and Brock drove off with Josh and his crew in their full sized van, once th' ATF arrived t' clean up "the aftermath of a violent struggle between two separatist factions in the upper Arkansas region." "So, how did you trap them soldiers?" Josh, th' driver, answered me.

"McKee Enterprises developed this sea-weed that held together in colonies. The trouble with this is the weed's hold on marine animals, and thus the project was abandoned."
He went on t' say th' sea-weed was meant t' feed Antarctic colonialists. I'm glad it didn't cause an eco-disaster.

"Where are we going now?" Josh replied,

"To pick-up Summi, I have a warrant for his arrest."
I asked him about motive.

"I'll let him tell you." Jake picked up Summi, who had just reached my townhouse stoop.
It only took a second t' pull him in and drive off. Another half hour more we were at that same Yogurt Yurt, with all th' answers packed up."

Australia, 2026

Ned Rayshield finished his winded story, leaving his audience in suspense.

"Go on, tell us what happened, Ned," an older woman in the shelter asked, eager to hear the end.

"All right, all right, in th' ice-cream store, Josh McKee, th' "Viscount Of Vitamins" let Summi Yamamoto know there was no way out of this.
The World Court would nail him for accessory to genocide, a capital offense He appealed for mercy, and said, listen closely...

"I needed the competing Japanese students out of my way. I Would never have a good job back home if I didn't do something Drastic!'"
The Queensland natives all groaned, more disgusted by this kid, Summi, than the dank typhoon-shelter.

"Well, by and by the court found th' bookish exchange student guilty, and he is still on death-row today."

(1)It is not the author's opinion that these camps should be created.