Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 8: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

10:55 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
17:55 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Heron and Blank go with him to see Sinjoro Akvo. He’s being held in a cell, concrete walls on four sides, a one-way mirror, and a heavy door. The hallway leading there is short, more like a between-space whose only purpose is to separate the cell from the main hallway. One more door between him and escape.

The lighting in the hall is poor, so that the one-way mirror will be transparent on their end and they can look in on Akvo themselves and not have to rely on anyone with cameras. The glass is bulletproof and the mirror is small and positioned high enough that it would be difficult for Akvo to escape through it even if it could be broken, but…that is part of the reason that the second door is there. Extra precautions.

Akvo is pacing around his cell, as much as its small size allows him to do much pacing. There are a few streaks of browning red on one wall, and every so often he raises his left thumb and runs it against his front teeth. He’s missing one more finger than last time, Simon notices, and he looks at Blank, who understands what he means.

“He did it to himself. Bit it off,” he says. “Don’t worry about it. You aren’t going to be alone.”

Simon isn’t afraid though, not exactly. He still hasn’t told anyone about everything that he saw in his vision of Dr. Denham’s death. The man in green had already sent him a message once, though, and Simon doubts that it was all some convoluted attempt to lure Simon in to kill him right now.

Although… How did that vision come to pass? Now that he thinks about it, Simon finds himself a little confused about the sequence of events. He doesn’t see how anything that he did between seeing Denham’s death for the first time and PALATINATE’s capture of Akvo could have caused the latter to not happen, which would imply that Akvo was released or managed to escape despite their security measures.

For a moment, Simon considers advising Blank and Heron to hold off but Akvo’s entire reason for featuring in that vision was to arrange a conversation between the two of them. So far as anyone had been able to tell, between what Viejo had initially said and subsequent experimentation had appeared to confirm, the future was mutable, even if Simon’s visions captured only the future as it would have happened at that point and didn’t change to match subsequent altered futures. Akvo couldn’t possibly have done this in order to set up a stable time loop where he escaped and was able to make a message to the past that caused Simon to move into a position that allowed Akvo’s escape.

As Blank fits a key through the door, Simon shakes his head. He isn’t quite getting headaches from thinking about time travel, but he might be getting there.

“Ah. Simon,” Akvo says as the door opens. “I’m sorry that we didn’t get our chance to talk the other day. My partner was apparently reluctant to afford me the same opportunity that she had secured for herself,” he says, looking at his damaged hand.

“That was purposeful, then?” Simon asks. He had assumed so and recent events appeared to have supported that idea, but he appreciates the confirmation anyway as Akvo nods. “How long have you known about us then?”

“For longer than you’ve been born.” Akvo leans forward, lowering himself a little to be at eye level with Simon. Heron bristles, but holds back. “I know all about you.”

“D-Did you make us?”

Akvo shakes his head slowly “I can’t say.” He extends a hand. “Now, you came here for something. I believe that you want to see how I am going to die, is that right?”

Simon nods. “Let’s sit down. I don’t want to hit my head on the concrete if I can help it.”

After they’re settled on the floor, Blank and Heron still standing and looming over the two of them, Akvo extends his hand again. Simon closes his eyes, takes a breath, and tries not to think about what he’s going to see. His previous experiences with Akvo and Viejo had led to visions of nuclear war and raw butchery. He doesn’t see a reason to think that the next will be any better.

Still, though. This is important, he thinks, and he takes Akvo’s outstretched hand and—

He is looking at himself. Or rather, Akvo is looking at Simon, an older and dirtier version of himself. Nothing feels wrong with Akvo’s body, so this is probably a prepared scene, like Hannah and Viejo had each arranged.

“Hello, me,” says the other Simon. “It’s 2017. It’s weird but you can trust Akvo. He’s got rules that he has to follow. Tell him about PALATINATE. It’ll make this go faster if he knows earlier.”

Akvo closes his eyes, and then—nothing. Simon opens his own, returned to his body and looking back at Akvo. “How did you die?” he asks, but Akvo, of course, only shrugs. “I didn’t see anything. Didn’t feel anything. You just stopped.”

“It could have been a gun,” Blank says. “Akvo would have been dead before the shot registered in his brain, if it were aimed properly.”

Simon takes that fact, sets it aside, and tries to not think about how an alternate version of his mother died, focusing his attention instead on more immediate and important matters.

“We’re called PALATINATE,” Simon tells Akvo. He hears something behind him, like Heron or Blank made a sudden movement of some sort, and supposes that he might be in a spot of trouble now, but that should be fine once he’s explained what’s going on.

“PALATINATE,” Akvo says, like he’s rolling it across his tongue, exploring flavors and textures that he’s never experienced before. “PALATINATE.” He sets his back against the wall and smiles. “You cheaters,” he says, looking at, or maybe through, Simon and the others, his eyes appearing as though he’s focusing on something very far away. Simon thinks again to what his alternate future self said, and PALATINATE’s suspicions just before this, that there were rules that Akvo had to follow.

“I don’t think we cheated,” Simon says. “Or, are we supposed to follow the rules too?”

Akvo’s grin slides down into a smirk. “I can speak a little more freely than I thought I could, but there are limits. Some facts are more valuable than others and I can only divulge so much before I risk crossing a line. The most important thing that I can tell you is this: Señora Viejo and I worked alongside each other and we compromised where we could, but to say that we worked with each other might be going too far. We were intended to balance each other, keep each other in check on behalf of our respective…” He pauses. “It is a rare thing for me to not know the right word to use. I feel like Señora Viejo,” Akvo says, and he chuckles.

“Let us say colors. I am Green and Señora Viejo is White. There are others who are Green, in Africa and South America, and another here, in North America, though they won’t be staying put like that for much longer. If you meet one of them, then you can trust that they are… I will not say ‘friends,’ I will not mislead you, but they are allies, if you can explain yourself to them. If I die, then you must tell them about PALATINATE as well.”

“Why?” asks Blank, before Simon can form the words himself.

“Because we didn’t know about it,” explains Akvo. “We thought that we knew everything that was important about the battlefield, but we didn’t know about you.”

“What are the Greens trying to do?” Simon asks, and Akvo shakes his head.

“Not Greens. Green, in the singular. And what we are trying to do is save the world, much as you are. Imagine, for a moment, that it is the Cold War again, and something terrible is happening that threatens both Russia and the United States. They will cooperate, so long as cooler heads prevail, but they will not necessarily agree on all things.”

“What are you saving the world from?”

“The worst-case outcome is the death of every living thing on this planet by the end of 2018, though of course there are less terrible possibilities. For instance, a ninety-percent human death toll, which is what I’d be betting on if I were a gambler.”

More than six billion people, Simon realizes with a shock, and he feels the urge to retch. He had known for months, of course, that there was something terrible approaching, with nuclear war and Giger trees and the growing potential of other superhuman powers, but there is something different about meeting someone who has knowledge and not just a few clues and the subsequent guesswork, and hearing him predict that the most likely thing was the near-extinction of the human race.

“You asked me if I, or maybe we, had created you, and I played coy about it,” Akvo adds, talking slowly. “The truth of the matter is that I don’t know.”

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3 thoughts on “Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 8: Simon Martin

  1. “Visions are fixed; futures can change.”

    I can’t help but think this is more important than it appears. Almost as if Simon did Hannah a really huge disservice by not telling her about the message prior to her being the first to bring back info via Simon’s power.

    I mean, everyone did a good job of rationalizing how it’s all a simulation game they can pump for info, but if the first part of the quote is in effect then they effectively signed Hannah’s death certificate for a year or so from now in the ‘main’ timeline.

    Which may also be a reason why that one ‘time-traveler’ guy didn’t want Simon to touch him until a very specific (preordained?) time. IIRC the Green and White people treated Simon halfway between a bomb that might go off and a weapon the other team might jump across the table and grab. Maybe because Simon can lock in new futures that only he and his “main” timeline team can take advantage of, thus depriving the time-travelers of their foreknowledge?

    Loving the story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What was meant by “Visions are fixed; futures can change” is that, once Simon gets a vision, that vision won’t change even if his later actions invalidate that vision (e.g. if Simon has a vision of X being killed by Y, and then Simon kills Y before that can happen, the vision that he receives from X will remain the same even though it is now impossible).

      Apologies for the lack of clarity.

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying the story! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Like

  2. Ahh…that does make things a lot more complicated than I’d thought. Now I have to go reread it all with this in mind to pick up everything I missed. It’s like a brand-new story.

    Liked by 1 person

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