Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 7: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

10:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
17:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Fast forward—

Simon is the last to take a seat at the oval table that they’re using for meetings, following close after Hannah. Mary starts talking as soon as he’s sitting. She doesn’t bother to explain exactly what happened in the interrogation, and Simon isn’t sure that he wants to ask. Either it’s going unsaid because it isn’t important, or because Simon and the others won’t like it. Simon and Austin, at any rate; he isn’t sure how much Hannah would care.

He isn’t sure, for that matter, how much he should care. Simon weighs things a little differently from Hannah, but she does a better job about not being squeamish when the time comes to get her hands dirty. It wouldn’t be great if the man in green had been an innocent person but if a million or a thousand or ten lives could be saved by hurting him then… Simon isn’t sure if he could justify it for the sake of ten people. He doesn’t know if it would be right, let alone if he could stomach it, but there has to be a line. Could he let everyone in the whole world die for the sake of not torturing someone? Of course he couldn’t. Besides, going to that extreme would just leave the person dead anyways—if there was one trope that he hated in stories, it was the one where the villain holds the hero’s loved ones hostage and demands a the key to the world-threatening superweapon or something like that and the hero gives it up to save them, even though they’re going to die anyway if the villain’s plan succeeds.

Somewhere in the middle, then, there was a line. Like Winston Churchill had once said, Simon knows the sort of person that he was and the only thing left was to figure out the exact price. How many people can be hurt, and how severely, to save how many other people?

It isn’t a question that he had found the answer to yet, but maybe it doesn’t matter for the man in green. He’d killed his partner or friend or whoever Viejo had been, and maybe he would have killed Agent Guthrie if she hadn’t hit him first. It ought to be easy for Simon to write him off as an acceptable cost, and Simon ought to let his feelings follow his ethics, not the other way around.

Easier said than done, he thinks as Peter Newsome finishes explaining something about Akvo’s accent.

“I’ve been searching for the terms that he was using,” Newsome continues. “I ran through every sentence that he said, and then the keywords. His so-called name, it might be better translated as ‘It is good fishing in troubled waters.’ One of his other statements, where he’s asking if he’s truly free, brings up an article about anarchism. It’s barely a match, though, just something that the search engine turned up because something has to be the first result on the list, but that bit about ‘an undivided Europe’ makes me wonder.”

“I highly doubt that anarchists are behind this,” says Rucker. “A non-state actor couldn’t possibly arrange to violate the laws of physics just to enact some political agenda.”

“Because a state actor definitely could,” says Hannah.

“Point taken.”

“Maybe that’s so,” says Blank, “but who can say for sure? We don’t actually know what’s responsible. Let’s say that it’s ultimately aliens, okay? I’m just mentioning it for the sake of argument,” he says when Rucker raises an eyebrow at him. “So, it’s aliens, and there’s some machine that they used, except it’s been abandoned and Akvo’s people found it. If we don’t know the cause then we can’t know whether it’s possible to have co-opted it.”

“Point,” Rucker says. “What else have you turned up, Peter?”

“That line about the doorway and the city of knowledge brought up mostly random results, but one of them was a link to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Probably nothing, but…” Newsome shrugs. “He is an Arab. But probably nothing. I’m just trying to exhaust the possibilities, and there’s one other thing that makes me question, a little bit. With just the keywords, the top few results are all a hadith, a saying of Muhammad’s that isn’t in the Quran: ‘I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate; therefore, whoever wants the city should enter through the gate.’

“Ali in this context is Ali ibn Abi Talib,” he continues, “one of Muhammad’s possible heirs, not Ali Baba, but the keywords did also turn up a link to Ali Baba again, which is probably just noise but might not be. Unless Akvo is telling us that we should convert to Sunni Islam, though, which I’m pretty sure is the point of that hadith, I have no idea what any of it means. Oh, and I turned up different Bible verses every now and then as I was searching phrases, but there wasn’t a pattern so far as I noticed.”

“What Bible verses?” asks Austin.

“Something something shepherds.”

“That isn’t a lot to go on. There are a lot of Bible verses about shepherds. You might as well have said, ‘the one with Jesus in it.’”

Newsome shrugs. “There wasn’t any pattern to them. You can look them up yourself.”

“What did you look them up on, anyway?” Simon asks. “CIA Google?”

“That’d be Coogle, right?” Hannah suggests.

Austin shakes his head. “Ciaogle,” he says, and he gives a fake goodbye wave.

“Actually,” Blank says, “CIA Google is just Google. We helped fund it.”

“So you don’t have some secret CIA-only search engine?”

“If we were going to spend the resources on a whole new search engine then we wouldn’t do it just to duplicate the kind of things that a preexisting engine was built to do. We’d make it to, hm, not find websites, but find the people who are looking for those websites.”

“Do you have that?” asks Simon.

Blank shrugs, then grins.

“At any rate, we could be looking too deeply,” says Guthrie. “If he’s trying to tell us something without tipping off some other party, then maybe he isn’t giving us obscure references, just giving us something with a plain meaning that’s simply been covered up by a lot of other words.”

“Example?” says Heron.

“That one statement, ‘I am the doorway and I am the city of knowledge.’ That’s too eloquent to be ignored. He had to have intended for us to notice it, but if you just examine it for what it is, without wondering if he’s referencing something, then it’s something-something ‘I have a lot of knowledge.’ Unless he’s just taunting us, Akvo is telling us that he knows things, so if he isn’t telling us anything then…” April nods her head in Simon’s direction.

“Then I need to be the one to find out what he has to say,” Simon finishes for her.

“Exactly.”

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