Returning home, Momoko heaved a sigh as the front door closed. How much should she tell her guardian? How much of it was even real? It all seemed like a dream now.
"Momoko? Is that you?" Sylvia's voice chimed from the room she used as an office, all though it was so piled full of dusty books with hardly anywhere to work that it was more of a closet than anything.
"Yea, I'm home." Momoko made her way up the stairs. "Um, I couldn't find the place. Did you give me the right directions?"
"What?" Sylvia's head popped out from the room at the end of the hallway as Momoko made it to the top step. "You couldn't find it? I know I wrote down the right address!"
Momoko shook her head. "It was just an old run down building. There was no one there."
"Strange." Sylvia tapped a long fingernail against the door frame. "Perhaps we should reschedule for tomorrow?"
"That's okay." Momoko headed towards her room. "I set up an appointment through the team doctor."
"Great idea!" Sylvia smiled. "I like to see you taking charge of your health! Well, I'm sorry I sent you on a wild goose chase today."
"It's all right." Momoko shifted uncomfortably, sensing that the conversation may continue further into the weird things she'd been going through if they stayed on the topic. "So, um, what are you working on today?"
"Research!" Sylvia shook her head. "I won't bore you with the details, but I have a new commissioned project that my department director's personal friend gave me, so it's top priority. Will you be bereft if I ask you to do dinner without me tonight?"
"That's fine." Momoko grinned. "Well, get back to work! I'll call Grisla and see what she's up to tonight."
"Ah to be young!" Sylvia sighed and waved her hand dramatically as she disappeared back into the study. "Tell Grisla hi for me!"
Momoko laughed and slipped into her room, closing the door. Once safely inside her own space, she allowed herself to relax and try to process what happened. She plopped on the bed and stared at the smooth ceiling, recalling the musty smell of the dark little room with the fortune teller, and the impossible office of Midnight Hong.
She pulled the "egg" as she had started thinking of it, out of her purse and held it up to the light. It was as opaque as it was red. She clenched her fist over it. It was warm, she had never felt it be cool to the touch like stone, yet it seemed solid and as hard as a rock, the lines swirling across it like etch-work. If it was an egg, it had to be a fossil or something.
"Phlox-spore..." An idea dawned on her.
She set the egg down on her pillow and headed over to her desk. She slipped off the M-band, setting it into the docking stand and tapped the screen built into the desk, illuminating the wall ahead of her with a desktop background. She accessed the net and input "Phlox spore". A lot of images of red flowers and horticultural records pulled up. As she scrolled through the results, she found nothing at all to do with anything that had happened at Midnight's office. She thought about the tarot cards, and revised her search to "phlox spore occult".
A blue icon of a bell popped up on her screen—an incoming call from Grisla. She tapped on her M-band's remote and smiled when her friend appeared in a small blue box on her screen.
"Grisla! I was just about to call you."
"Hey! She grinned, leaning into the camera. How are you feeling? How'd everything with the head doctor go?"
"Good." Momoko lied. "I'm fit as a fiddle. Still bummed about the medical leave though. I'm going to miss the biggest game of the season."
"Well, that's why I'm calling! I have just the thing to cheer you up! Guess who scored two VIP passes to Almond for this Friday night?"
"Almond?" Momoko tilted her head.
"Oh! Don't be backwards!" Grisla fanned the holographic passes across the screen. "It's only the hottest club in town right now! Sherri swears B-K frequents it. Oh my gosh, how cool would it be if he was there Friday! This could be my chance to snag a hot celebrity, Mo—tell me my wing girl is going to be there to back me up."
"How can I say no to that kind of invitation?" Momoko laughed. "Provided, of course, that I get to be the maid of honor in your fantasy wedding."
"Deal!" Grisla squealed. "I'll pick you up at 9, sharp. It's through the Deluxe gate, so splurge on something cute, okay? Gotta go, practice starts in five; ciao!"
Momoko stared at the "end call" flashing across the screen, a mix of excitement and disappointment swirling in her stomach. All though she had lived in the citiplex her whole life, she could only think of a couple of times she had been through the Deluxe gate, the security platform that led to the high rise and affluent neighborhoods.
"Geez, no pressure." She chuckled to herself, glancing at her closet. Maybe an excuse to get out of the house was just what she needed. The hermit lifestyle really didn't suit her. Plus, she had been itching to go shopping anyway. Momoko did wonder what kind of club it would be, if it attracted pop idols like B-K... it might be a little out of her league. She shook her head, glancing back to her search screen. She'd still go, it could be fun.
As she browsed the results, her heart caught in her chest when her eyes met a hand-drawn version of four wolf eyes staring back at her. She immediately clicked the image, her blood pumping a beat-box rhythm in her ears. As the page pulled up, the beat of her pulse dropped.
"The Phlox Spore Myth."
Below the title was the hand drawn image, next to a set of grainy photos of crumbling buildings and vehicles she recognized as twenty first era antiques.
She skimmed the short paragraph on the site, it cited a journal found in an archeological dig in Vada that claimed the events that destroyed everything started with the appearance of unknown creatures known as "Phlox".
She hurriedly followed a related link that lead to a conspiracy watch site. The more she read, little more was said or made sense. It was like chasing an urban legend. After a few more pages, Momoko gave up. The scrap of information from the first site was the best lead. Especially with the drawing that was eerily identical to what she had experienced at practice. Combined with that, the events with Midnight led to an epiphany.
She glanced over to the egg, which seemed to be glowing brighter every day.
"If you're an egg... that means you'll hatch into something, right?"
She imagined she heard the thing coyly respond "yes."
She trembled a little, not sure if she could trust her senses. She watched it a few more moments, and the egg did nothing. With a sigh, she turned back to the screen. "I wonder, then, what will you hatch into?"
She rubbed her forehead with her good hand, wishing she could go back to the phone call with Grisla. That seemed.... So normal. Not like when she was left alone with her own thoughts. She stood up and stretched. She needed to get out of the house for a little while. If she was imagining the egg starting to talk back to rhetorical questions, it was time for fresh air.
Momoko left a note, letting Sylvia know she had headed downtown for dinner. She was really craving getting lost in the crowd, so she dressed down in a tee, jeans, and threw on a ball cap. She headed out of the house, making her way to the nearest subway line. She didn't take the subway often, but she was feeling adventurous after being cooped up, and it'd be a break from seeing all the earthquake clean-up.
The evening air held a light chill as fall was creeping in. She inhaled deeply as she walked, trying to think about anything but the egg nestled under her shirt. Despite her best effort, it's all her brain wanted to puzzle over. Was that creature at practice a type of premonition? Her imagination? When the egg hatched... is that creature what would come out? She frowned as she mulled it over. It seemed the egg far too small to yield a creature that would be bigger than a horse—
Too deep in thought, she missed and slipped on a wet step as she was making her way down into the subway station. She caught herself on the tan coat of the stranger in front of her.
"Sorry!" she grabbed the railing to rebalance herself.
The blonde man turned with mouth agape, and seeing that her other arm was in a sling, his mouth drew into a thin line and he shrugged. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." She nodded, caught off guard by the deep violet of his eyes.
"Good. No harm done, no need to apologize." He turned back around and continued down the stairs.
She stared after him, confounded by his brisk manner.
"Rude." Someone whispered.
She glanced around, but with the stranger now out of sight, she was alone.