Not Too Small, ch. 10: Austin Smith

Monitoring: Austin Smith
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

5:00 p.m. Central Standard Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
23:00 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Rewind—

When Austin returns to the kitchen, the first order of business is to find out, since Simon is staying for more than a few minutes, if there are any dinner requests.

“Your parents aren’t going to be home for a while, are they?” Simon asks.

“Dad’ll be around in…” Austin checks the clock. “In an hour or so maybe. Mom could be home from the office then or later, if there’s still work to be done. I mean, I’d wait for Dad and my sister to get home, at least, but you probably haven’t eaten in an actual house for a few days.”

“Mostly fast food,” Simon says, nodding.

“So what’ll it be?”

Simon seems to think for a moment. “Do you have ramen?”

After Austin says that they only have the instant kind, and Simon says that’s totally fine, it becomes obvious that Simon is just trying to avoid making extra work for Austin, though it takes a couple of minutes before Austin is able to get him to admit it. Eventually, they’re able to settle on a substitute, Ramen “with a few extras,” which Austin manages to turn into, well, something more than what Simon was expecting.

“We agreed on… I don’t think this is what we agreed on,” Simon says as Austin adds the baby spinach.

“It’s instant ramen, and I’m adding a few things. That’s what we agreed on.”

“But you’re cooking it over the stove! I don’t think it qualifies as instant ramen that way.”

“Check the package. The name hasn’t changed, and you didn’t say anything about having to put it in the microwave.”

“Okay, but eggs? And spinach? What happened to ‘a few’, anyway? You’ve hit that limit with the number of spices alone!”

Austin grins. “Sure, but check the ingredients for the seasoning packet. I put everything–and not all of this is ‘spices’, by the way–I put all of it in one bowl and mixed it together, so if the seasoning packet is any precedent to go by, then this all counts as one ingredient: seasoning. So,” he adds, continuing before Simon can get another word in, “what do you think of our visitors?”

Simon pauses. He opens his mouth, closes it, looks away for a moment… “Our visitors? That’s a weird thing to be using an inclusive pronoun on, considering that I’m, technically, your visitor too.”

“You’re deflecting,” Austin says. He gives the ramen one more stir, turns off the heat, and carries the pot over to a crocheted hot pad on the table. “I’ll refine the question and go one by one: What do you think of Hannah?”

Austin is able to pour for both of their bowls and take a seat before Simon finally answers, “I don’t know.”

“She scared you,” Austin says, winding noodles around his fork. Simon doesn’t say anything in response, so Austin thinks for a moment. “It’s how she died,” he guesses. “You were spooked even before she started talking about, um…”

“Right, the ‘human of mass destruction’ thing didn’t help either,” Simon says. Austin looks down at his ramen, and Simon adds, “I think it explains a couple of my visions,” and then Austin  wonders if he could suffocate himself in the noodles.

“I, uh…” He notices that his thumb is digging into his index finger, and releases the pressure, but there’s still a couple of seconds where his mouth opens and his tongue even makes some useless flaps, moving but not really doing anything because he can’t get the air out to make any kind of coherent sounds.

“It’s okay,” Simon says. “I’m sure that it was for a good reason, and I’ve, um, seen worse.” Simon pauses long enough to finally get a taste of the ramen. “Damn. This is good,” he says, and he takes another bite. “So. Hannah. She killed herself. I don’t know what I was expecting, but, I don’t know, I guess I was thinking that she’d be on her deathbed or something, or maybe I just wasn’t thinking at all.”

“If she didn’t know exactly when she was going to die, then she couldn’t count on fitting the whole message into your vision.”

“Right. Which is why it’s stupid to have been surprised by it, but I was. She had rigged up this whole system so that she could kill herself. You know, pull on this cord here, and that pulls the trigger of a shotgun. Except it was three. I guess she wanted to make sure that she died, but still. How long was she planning that? Did she know, when she offered to do this, that she was going to kill herself?”

“You said this was like a Warren Ellis comic,” Austin says. “Agent Blank seemed to get it, but I don’t have a clue. What was that about?

“Now who’s deflecting?” Simon chuckles. “In some of his comics, there are these people called century babies. They’re born at the beginning of each century–1900, 2000, et cetera–and they have special powers, like being able to freeze things, and they’re supposed to be, I think he called them ‘planetary defense systems’ at one point. It’s been awhile since I read Planetary, but it’s something like that. The century babies exist to protect Earth and everything on it.”

“Maybe you can get him to write your story when we’re done.”

“Please.”

“Well, someone’s going to be interested in putting this all down when it’s finished, right? Why not this comic book guy? If you don’t move on it, I’ll go sell the rights to Stephen King. Or maybe they could collaborate.”

Simon snorts. “If anyone is going to be writing our story, then I would prefer that it be optimistic science fiction and not horror, thank you.”

“Stephen King doesn’t write just horror. The Eyes of the Dragon is a kids’ fantasy book,”  Austin points out.

“Right,” Simon says as he pours himself another bowl. “The idea still makes me nervous. Some of my visions have been twisted enough as it is without imagining an H. R. Geiger-Stephen King collaboration. We already have those trees, so all we need now is a clown or something.”

Austin considers steering the conversation further into the topic of Simon’s visions, but decides against it. Simon can bring it up when he’s ready. If his efforts to discover and reach Austin are any indication, then Simon will step up when he’s needed, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Simon drums his fingers against the table, evidently both willing and able to change the subject on his own. “We should consider what our next moves are going to be. Our, ah, new bosses are probably going to be deciding this, if they haven’t already, but it would be a good idea for us to do some planning on our own, so that we don’t find ourselves getting swept up in their agenda. If their plans and ours start to diverge too much then there will probably be a good reason for that, like them having access to information that we don’t have, but it could also be a alarm bell. At any rate we’ll have a better chance of realizing that something is going wrong if we’ve already set up warning signs, instead of justifying each little change as it comes.”

“It looks like their goal at the moment is to find as many people like us as possible,” he continues. “I don’t know if this is purely a U.S. thing, but I’d guess that it isn’t, or at least not totally. Rucker or whoever mentioned talking to Canadian intelligence, so this might turn into a NATO thing. Maybe NATO-adjacent, or however you want to call that, if the Commonwealth of Nations as a whole gets involved–I assume that Canada and the U.K. would like that. I don’t know how much the States would object, or if they would, or what.”

He pauses for a moment. “One thing that we want to figure out–I mean you and I, and probably Hannah–is how your government learned about us in the first place. I didn’t get the impression that Hannah told them. In the Warren Ellis comics, like I said, the century babies were a recurring phenomenon. If this had happened before, then that would explain a couple of things: the CIA knew to look for us because there was a record of this happening before, and the woman in white knew for the same reason. Maybe she has powers of her own, even. It’s a weird coincidence that I managed to bump into her just a few days after this started. On the other hand,” he continues, “this raises other questions. According to my visions, some of the stuff that’s going to happen just couldn’t be covered up.”

“Maybe that’s just because of the powers that are in play this time,” Austin suggests.

“I don’t think so,” Simon says softly. “I don’t want to talk about it, not right now. Just, think about what your powers could do.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Sorry, but you see what I mean. We don’t have a large sample size, either, so even if, I don’t know, you’re only half as likely as you would appear to be, that’s still one person in six that has significant range. Or to approach it from another angle, just in case you’re an outlier for one reason or another, the world should still be different, shouldn’t it? If the KGB or Hitler or somebody had been using somebody who could see the future like I can, don’t you think the world would have turned out differently? But the people who lost, lost, and the people who won, usually did so by the skin of their teeth. Superpowers should have tipped the balance in the losing side’s favor or given the winners more of a comfort zone, and if they both had superpowered agents then I really doubt that it could have been kept from spilling out into the open. There’d be rumors, at the very least.

“It’s still possible, I guess, but unlikely. Mythology is another possibility–maybe the last time this happened was thousands of years ago, and we remember the last round as gods–but then that doesn’t explain how the CIA knows anything, unless the woman in white is really, really old and she told them, but then Hannah wouldn’t have had to, you know, kill herself in some alternate future in order to tell us where to find her.”

“Then that looks like a worthwhile question to answer, though it doesn’t seem particularly actionable right now. I mean, unless they’re willing to just tell us, I’m not sure how to go about finding out without, um…” Austin trails off, but makes a half-hearted gesture at Simon with his fork.

“We’re going to find the woman in white, and maybe the guy that she was with at the time. That should get us a step closer. It seems like Hannah’s more on our side than on theirs, if sides have to be drawn, so I think that we can count on her. Hopefully the same is true for anyone else that gets recruited.”

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2 thoughts on “Not Too Small, ch. 10: Austin Smith

  1. A teenager. That cooks. With passion and creativity. Even in the face of protest.

    Austin is officially awesome.

    Also, what kind of twisted mind must Hannah have to commit suicide based on nothing else but the assertion of some boy that he can see the future?! I mean, if I understood correctly then Simon’s powers “stopped working” when he attempted to see her death in that timeline. Or did they only stop working for that instance. Though since that could be cheated by reading two people in sequence that end up dying together I assume that in that timeline he never used his power again.
    Until I read this chapter I was curious what killed her with enough warning for her to start reciting her 10 second message but ending your life on a hunch is just fucked up. Was there nothing worth to live for? Does she have no fear of death whatsoever? Because no matter what, she was definitely a distinct person from who this Hannah Johnson will be henceforth.
    With her being so determined and ready to sacrifice herself to oblivion in practice for just potential gain one doesn’t want to know how far she’ll go for her siblings of which it has been already mentioned that she consciously values them more than [(arbitrary number)>100] human lives. In a world with potentially world-shattering superpowers the implications could be decimating (as in 1/10th of the human population perishing because of her actions).

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    • I’m glad that you like Austin.

      Simon’s power stopped working from that point on. It took a little bit of time, but they figured out that this must have been what had happened on previous occasions, because it was too much of a coincidence that Simon’s power would just fail, then and there.

      Hannah… I’ve rewritten this paragraph a few times, not sure what exactly to say about her. There are a couple of possibilities when it comes to Simon’s power. One is that the timeline gets rewound, upon the death of whoever it is that he’s going to get a vision of. If that’s true (and Hannah likely had reasons to *want* that to be true, if she was unable to protect each and every one of her siblings) then Future Hannah was going to be unmade anyway.

      (That said, as much as I try to justify the extremes of my characters and notice when a personality trait or behavior is getting out of hand, it could very well just come down to my bipolar. Hannah’s hardly the only character who’s willing to commit some strange form of suicide to get things done. Between Hannah, Viejo, and Zahra, there’s definitely a pattern. I’m not sure whether it betrays self-objectification, suicidal ideation, or something weirder.)

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