STAR FINDER

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Chapter 3: The Skye Inside Her Mind.

Lilly broke into her father’s thoughts. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Right. Something about making your own decisions?” Cosmo returned to his computer. His fingers danced over his keyboard. One-by-one the lights on the silver boxes on his desk blinked, changing from green meaning shielded to purple indicating open and active. “I promise, we’ll talk later. But, we have a window of opportunity to make a little money. Time to go to work.”

“Oh, now you need me.” Lilly meandered around the makeshift kitchen island. As if browsing at the jewelry counter her fingers trailed across the wood. Her sock snagged on the cracked edge of the yellowed linoleum. She tripped, and then caught herself. “Gr-r-r!” Her less than graceful recovery drew a chuckle from her father and spoiled her intended thunder. “Okay. I am declaring a temporary truce.”

“Thank you. Sit down at your desk and let’s get started.”

Lilly was an expert finder or dowser. Dowsing was an ancient art often requiring a pendulum or forked stick as an amplifier that directed those with the gift to water, minerals, or even lost people. Lilly’s amplifier was her mysterious connection with Skye, a work friend of her father’s. As an international bounty hunter, her talents were highly sought on the dark web. Her identity and location were hidden beneath convoluted cryptographic digital signatures. Cosmo negotiated big bucks for her employment. Using his daughter’s gift—didn’t sit well with Cosmo but it was their sole source of income.

To Lilly, this was a game, a scavenger hunt of sorts and Skye was her tutor. Her father provided clues, perhaps a picture or police report of a lost item. Using only the power of her one-of-a–kind mind and her lucky headband what had been forgotten, misplaced, stolen, or buried was found.

“Focus on the background information I just sent you.” He signed in at his Cayman bank and saw that his retainer, one hundred thousand dollars, half his fee, had been deposited. Cosmo Randall wasn’t a greedy man, on the contrary. All the money was saved for his daughter. Several million had been tucked away in secret accounts all over the world. Father and daughter led a complicated frugal life that required false identities, frequent moves, and staying off the grid, including the government’s radar. Relocation and being an untraceable citizen required large sums of ready cash and today’s job would help pay for their fast-approaching next move.

Miffed, Lilly peeked over her computer as her father opened the middle drawer of his desk and took out his stopwatch. Behind him, a thin pillar of steam rose from the crock-pot, where her vitamin enriched organic vegetarian meal simmered. She wished for cotton candy or ice cream. Neither was on tonight’s menu. Lilly’s eyes followed the vapors as they escaped through a crack at the top of the window. If only it were that easy for her to break free.

Thumb poised atop the stopwatch, Cosmo asked, “Have you studied the history of the jade vase, its box, and the photos?”

“Yes, meticulously.” Lilly recited from memory: “It is an artifact from the Song dynasty, 960-1127. A beautiful princess was hand carved on the exterior of the vase. Her gown symbolizes the fashion of that period and—”

Her father interrupted, “No dresses, no fashion critique, Lilly.”

“As you wish. I was simply going to say the style of clothing helped me accurately date the piece.” She picked up a bottle of water and took a drink. If the bottle tipped over how long would I be without my computer…unable to study? She screwed the cap on tight and placed it at the back corner of her desk.

“The ebony box that held the vase was hand painted by Wu Bing. It is more valuable than the vase. However, the jade from which the vase was crafted has a telling history...” Lilly paused and shifted into thinking pose. Lips puckered.

Cosmo’s eyes rolled up, head tilted down as if looking over invisible reading glasses. He drummed his fingers.

“Okay, okay. The relic is hand-carved out of one solid piece of jade. I also read the police reports and determined the credibility of the evidence. I have sorted and discarded the irrelevant information, analyzed, and tested several hypotheses.”

“Good girl. Did you consider…”

They recited in unison, “…there is more than one way to approach every problem?”

“Yes, Dad. May I continue?”

“A bit snippy today, aren’t we?” It was a rhetorical question.

“I have an image of the lost item fixed in my mind.” Projecting an accurate image was critical to her mind search. The bridge of Lilly’s small nose creased, eyes sparkled. “I assure you I am capable of the task you have assigned me.” Her businesslike façade faltered. She bounced in her chair. These dowsing puzzles were separate from Lilly’s structured regime. She enjoyed the diversion. Tests of her skill not only provided them with income, they were fun.

Cosmo bent low, faked checking his computer to hide his grin. His daughter possessed the intellect of a twenty-something graduate student; emotionally she was still just a girl.

“Please. Come on, Chichi. Turn me loose.” She fidgeted in her chair.

“This dowsing is more complex than anything you have tackled previously.” Would this stymie his daughter? Prove she still needed him? “Take a moment. Prepare yourself. Clear your mind.”

“I am ready, Dad.”

“After you link up with Skye…be prepared to do the positioning and tracking.”

“Yes, yes. I understand. It’s not like I haven’t worked with her before. The same old parameters apply.” Since the age of four Lilly and Skye had shared a symbiotic relationship. Accustomed to this joining, Lilly opened her mind.

Brows arched Cosmo asked, “Why do you think Skye is female?”

“Maybe because she’s as close as you will let me get to having an actual girlfriend.”

“Right. Never mind.” Cosmo’s eyes crinkled in the corners. “Turn on your GPS, baby. Get your hair out of your face. Grab your headband. You know the drill.”

“I don’t want to wear that ratty old thing anymore. It is inappropriate at my age.”

“Don’t get cocky young lady. It’s your good luck charm and this is a tough job. Put it on.”

Lilly tugged the wide pink band out of her middle desk drawer and placed it on the top of her head unaware that it contained a sophisticated microchip that made linking, mind-to-mind, with Skye safe. “Ready.” Lilly gripped the arms of her chair.

“Entering password…” a series of quick sharp taps echoed, “log on accepted, Skye is connected. You have thirty minutes of internet time.” Any longer and they risked exposing their location. “And go!” Cosmo sat back and clicked the stopwatch.

Lilly’s eyes glazed over. She sat statue still, without blinking. Linked with Skye, her brain’s powers expanded exponentially. Her mind soared and investigated people and places over multiple dimensions.

The corners of her mouth turned up. Her body twitched as she watched the movie play in her mind. A second passed. She was swept away to exotic places: China, Australia, and the American Southwest. Connections between neurons deep in the subliminal areas of her brain opened. She tracked the vase through history. Made connections that a lesser mind would have deemed unrelated information. Her thoughts moved faster than any normal brain could handle. A scan at this moment would reveal flashes of electrical networking a thousand times greater than any human on the planet. The sparks of light would have been blinding.

Lilly blinked. Her flip-flops fell off her feet. Her eyes dashed right then left. R. E. M. or rapid eye movement was expected.

This was the one thing for which Lilly didn’t need to study. Her father said she was gifted. He failed to mention even a gifted person needed a little boost. Hers came from Skye, who she would never meet, except inside her mind. Skye delivered EMP (electrical magnetic pulse) bursts to Lilly’s brain.

Minutes later, Lilly’s vacant expression dissolved and pink returned to her cheeks.

“Assignment completed! Location acquired! Indubitably. Another victory for the amazing me.” Lilly snatched a pencil and scribbled down a country, state, city, and a person’s name. “Wyoming. The key was the mineral content of the jade. The box is nephrite from the chaparral and desert country around Lander. The history books say Guatemalan’s mined gold and jade in that area and traded with China. The vase was stolen two years ago by this man,” she handed the sticky note to her father. “He is a rich sheep farmer living in the same chaparral area. At the international jade exhibition, he boasted during an interview. I quote, ‘I have every piece of native Wyoming jade known to exist. My collection is complete.’ I saw the vase inside his safe. He stole it.”

Lilly’s feet pushed off the floor and her chair glided away from her desk. She made four quick spins. “I wish I could be there when the police arrest him.”

“Not happening.”

“What was my time?”

Her dad’s heavy brows gathered, almost touching. “I hate to say it but…eighteen minutes six seconds. That’s your best. And this was a very complex case. Well done, kiddo.” He reached out, palm flat, and they high fived. He picked up her wrist and counted her pulse beats.

“Eyes.” Lilly obeyed and tilted her head back as her father shined a narrow beam of light into each eye and watched the pupils react. He logged the results in a small notebook. “We’re good.”

Her breath whooshed out—she hadn’t realized she’d been holding it. She removed her headband and tossed it on the couch. She smoothed her hair as she rocked in her chair. When she noticed, her father was also rocking in his desk chair they both laughed.

Moved, he stood and went to her with a congratulatory hug. “I’m proud of you.” She hugged him back. His throat thickened. Her love was worth a lifetime of hardships.

The scientist part of him wondered, were his daughter’s talents expanding? She had just taken a trip back into history. That was new. He mumbled, “How is that possible?” He would consult Skye. Since Lilly’s DNA had been altered and he lacked the proper equipment to do sequencing, he doubted he’d ever figure out exactly how his daughter’s brain operated. His heart ached for what had been done to her and the challenges she would soon face. But this was not the time to slack off.

He pushed her away. “Playtime is over, daughter.” It was his teaching voice. “I want you to think about something. With me as your teacher, it’s one-on-one. You get all my attention. Other professors wouldn’t do that. If you want to stand on your own. Prove it. Be responsible. Next time remember all the rules, wear your headband. Today could have been a failure.”

“Why? I was perfect and what does that stupid old headband have to do with anything?”

“You figure it out.”

“Maybe I will ask Madame Zilla.”

“I told you not to talk to her. Our gypsy landlady is nothing but a scam artist. I don’t trust her or her son,” he snapped his fingers thinking, “Tem. Please tell me you are not that gullible.”

“I am not. Logic and the mystical are incompatible. But, maybe just for fun, she could read my fortune.”

“No.”

“You are a black hole sucking the fun out of everything?” She kicked the edge of her desk. “You twisted the tiniest mistake into a big object lesson. I hate it when you do that!” She curled up in her chair.

He went to the kitchen, lifted the crock-pot lid, and stirred. He taste tested dinner.

“Shit, I got distracted and left the lines open!” Cosmo dropped the wooden spoon in the sink. A small dribble of tomato sauce glistened on his upper lip as he rushed to put his security measures back in place. The lights on the silver boxes returned to green and he sank into his chair. Big hands rubbed over his bloodshot eyes.

“It will be a while before dinner is ready so you get your wish. Let’s talk.” He pulled his chair closer to her, leaned forward, elbows on knees.

Both feet hit the floor. “Really?” Her face brightened.

“I appreciate that you are restless and you are right, one day you will be on your own.”

“Before you start what is sure to be a long boring lecture, I have made a list.”

“A what?”

“I wrote down a few of my thoughts. Questions.”

“Hold on. I thought you wanted to talk about the next steps in your education.”

“First, my list. It all ties in with my education.” She picked up a yellow legal pad. The pencil between her fingers windmilled. She scanned page one then flipped to the second page.

Cosmo sat back. “I see you’ve had a lot on your mind.”

“Yes. Let’s start with the obvious. You have overprotective-father syndrome.”

“There is no such thing.” He smiled. “Well maybe, but that’s not an issue.”

“I was hoping for a simple solution. Moving on. Your fears. What is so terrible about me attending college? Worst case scenario.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be able to cope when faced with complicated situations. This morning for an example.” This was working. Give her bits and pieces and let her draw conclusions.

“Complicated? Like sex and bullying? Those I can handle. Your secrets, now, they make my life complicated. You guard your computer screen so I can’t see it. All the formulas and calculations that you scribble into your notebooks, but do not share. You have a drawer full of little red notebooks. What are they for, about? You lock them up, hide them in that drawer.” She pointed at the bottom left of his desk. “I can only assume that you are doing something illegal? Are you an accountant for the mob? A fugitive from justice. Are there hit-men stalking us?”

“No. No and no.” He laughed. “Cross off visiting me in jail if that is on your list.’

“This is serious.”

“Sorry. Those notebooks are all about you. You are my work, my world.” Face scrunched he added, “That didn’t come out right.”

“Yes, it did and that is the problem. You need to find a new job. I want my own world. Unless…. which brings me to my next issue. Why am I treated like a prisoner? Granted, I am different from other girls my age. My vocabulary exceeds the average adult’s. So, is that a problem?” Her words and thoughts rushed out. “Should I thrown in urban slang, and swear words to fit in?”

A tear trickled down her cheek. True, he was her family, the one who loved her. Wounding him like this was difficult. But why couldn’t he understand the depth of her loneliness?

Lilly longed to sit in a classroom next to other students. Attend a real dance and try some of the moves she practiced alone in front of her mirror. Experiment with a new hairstyle and have a friend tell her it was crazy and wonderful. Eat a bad cafeteria school lunch. Was that asking too much?

Cosmo started to speak, but she held up one hand and stopped him. “Am I too smart? Should I dumb myself down?”

“No!” He shot back, “Never dumb yourself down for anyone.”

She rushed on. The knot around her heart drew tighter. “Then is it because I am a finder?” It couldn’t be that. It wasn’t like ‘finder’ was tattooed on her forehead.

She thought again, a shaky finger ran down her list. There at the bottom of the last page was the most painful question. If what she feared was true and her father affirmed it, all hope of escape would be crushed. There was no correcting this flaw. She gathered her courage. “Is…is it something organic? Do I come off like I am…strange, alien? Is that why you keep me hidden. Tell me!” Inside she prayed, please don’t let me be a freak. Please…please. She would wither and die if life turned out to be an exclusive club she was never allowed to join?

“You think you’re what…repulsive?”

“No, I meant peculiar, like I am mentally ill.”

He saw pain fill her eyes and went to her. One large hand rubbed down her back as he embraced her. Lilly nestled in, under his chin. He gathered up a few silky strands of her ebony hair and rubbed them between his fingers. He didn’t know which of them was more comforted by that action. Cosmo knelt in front of his daughter. She slid onto his lap. “No baby, no.”

They stayed locked together a few long moments. He had to put a stop to her self-doubts. They weakened and eroded her confidence. Cosmo whispered, “Lilly, believe me. You are not that different from other teens your age.”

Lilly straightened. “What? You said that. What do you mean by not that different?” She pushed to her feet and paced. “Please, Dad. This is my life! If you are not in trouble and it is not me then what is going on? Why do we move so often? The stacks of money we have squirrelled away but never spend? When I was little you dressed me up in a wig and sunglasses when we traveled.” Face scarlet, her voice reached fever pitch. “How do I get out of this…this jail?” She jerked out of her chair, hands fanned out then collapsed back down as if exhausted.

“You remember that?” He smiled then his face turned serious. “Never mind. I apologize. The Alcatraz inmate impression…was not my intention. Neither were my actions intended to make you feel inferior. You are not. The way we live has nothing to do with your outward appearance.”

“But it does have something to do with me.” Her lower lip quivered.

He folded his hands on his lap. “You’ve asked the right questions so you deserve honest answers. In a way, it’s a relief that you are finally putting it together. I only hope your education has prepared you for what you are about to hear.” Full disclosure wasn’t going to happen, but obviously, it was time to give her a few pieces of the truth. He stared down at his hands. Tonight, his baby would take an unforeseen leap into a dangerous world. He prayed she could stand up to the storm. He filled his lungs and let out a prolonged breath.

“Lilly, do you know what a savant is?”

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