Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 9: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
22:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Fast forward—

Akvo clammed up shortly after dropping that last nugget of information. He claimed he was exhausted and wanted time to decide on “negotiations,” which on the one hand was kind of surprising from someone who had just claimed that he was in the world-saving business, at least currently, but on the other hand maybe not too unreasonable, depending on what he was planning to negotiate for: “I would like to be located somewhere other than a concrete room with a mat on the floor” would probably be topping the list, and Simon couldn’t blame him if that was so.

He was still going to be locked up somewhere, though, as Rucker established as soon as everyone gathered around for another meeting.

“Trust, but verify,” she says, after the recording of their interview finishes playing for the second time. “We can start by trying to locate the rest of the Green, whatever those are. It’s a bit of a needle in a haystack, however brightly color-coded they might be, but we should have an easier time of figuring it out once we’ve finishing tracking down Akvo and Viejo’s real identities.”

“It’ll probably be another month before we’re done with that,” says Newsome, and Rucker nods.

“Then he’ll have to wait. Whether or not it was really in self-defense, he went far enough overboard in his retaliation on Viejo that he can’t blame us for being hesitant. We’d all be having a very different conversation around this table if they had just come along peaceably, without anybody getting killed and their corpse mutilated. They might even be joining us.”

“Pardon me,” says Austin, and he waits for everyone to look at him before continuing. “Speaking of, um, that, there’s something that’s confusing me. Green is supposed to be saving the world, right? But Viejo, White, told Simon to do the same thing, except that there was apparently some sort of disagreement between them, enough that, whoever wanted to the kill the other one, somebody decided to get violent. So either White really isn’t interested in saving the world even though she did something that really seems like the sort of thing that somebody would do if they wanted to prevent the apocalypse, or Akvo is lying, or Green and White both want to save the world but there’s something else that they disagree on.”

There’s another question to add on top of that, but Simon doesn’t feel comfortable voicing it aloud: If Green (and maybe White) want to prevent the things that Simon has seen in his visions, or at least do damage control, then why aren’t they allowed to interact with other people more directly? Immediately before Simon received his vision Akvo was being as ambiguous as ever, and even afterwards he refused to share the whole game plan as he knew it. Simon still doesn’t know if they have powers of their own or what they did that makes Akvo unsure whether or not he’s responsible for Simon and the others receiving their powers.

What did he do? Who was he?

Why does Akvo not trust PALATINATE?

…Simon maybe has more than one question, then, a whole bunch of cherries resting on top of the mystery sundae that Akvo has presented to them. As he might well say, echoing Austin: “There’s something that’s confusing me.”

And Hannah, it seems, has a disturbing question of her own: “How are they watching us, are we being spied on right now?”

“This facility is locked down, top to bottom. I have to step outside just to access the Internet, and there are no outside signals past the first floor,” says Newsome.

“Sure but Akvo’s not acting like he’s free is he? If we assume he actually does want to tell things to us and isn’t just stringing us along for some reason—I can’t begin to count the reasons, maybe he just finds it funny—then he ought to be spilling his guts to us right now. But he isn’t so either he’s lying to us about what he wants or he thinks that he’s still being watched and, stay with me for just a moment, there is all sorts of shit going on that we don’t have the faintest clue about. Knowing what we do just about the powers that we’ve learned about, as few as those might be, how do we know that there isn’t something that would let them watch us anywhere, anytime?”

Newsome puts his back against the chair and clasps his hands together. “Okay. We don’t. How paranoid do you want us to be, kid? There’s only so much that can be done before we start worrying about whether or not it’s even safe to think the wrong things.”

“I want you to be as paranoid as you have to be,” says Hannah. “Aren’t you supposed to—” she continues, but she’s cut off by the beeping of Rucker’s phone.

“April says that our mystery man is waving at the camera,” Rucker says, glancing at her cell. “Sounds like it’s time for me to meet with him. Oh.” She looks at Simon. “He wants you there, too.”

Simon pushes out his chair and follows after her, descending the stairs in amicable silence broken only by the sound of footsteps knocking against concrete and echoing through the halls.

“We built this facility back in the ‘60s,” she says on the second flight of stairs. “I don’t think that there was ever more than a skeleton crew here, a research team not much larger than PALATINATE and a couple of guards. Maybe if the project hadn’t folded, but it was a spinoff of MKUltra and that folded not long after they were done building.”

“What did they do here?”

“Trying to turn people into psychos at the drop of a hat—or a prearranged signal. If I had to guess, somebody got an idea after hearing the conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination,” she says as she unlocks the first door to Akvo’s cell. “Maybe he thought that if the Russians already had mind control, then we needed to have it too. That’s how PALATINATE began: the Russians decided to research psychic phenomena, and we wasted millions of dollars playing catch-up just in case they were on to something. Anyway, the point was to make sure that, if they succeeded and then something went wrong, nothing would get out.”

Rucker consults her phone before she opens the door, checking with Guthrie that everything is alright, and looks through the window for good measure. Akvo is walking across his cell, slowly and with careful movements, one foot placed neatly in front of the other, toe and heel touching, as if he’s measuring its dimensions.

“Mrs. Rucker,” he says. “Simon.” He takes a few more steps, finishing his journey across the room, and puts his back against the wall. “Thank you for seeing me so quickly. I was just double-checking my measurements as I waited.”

“What do you need measurements for?”

“So that I know how much to request.” He holds up a hand. “I’ll be brief. I want a DVD player and a television, Being John Malkovich and the full collection of Battlestar Galactica DVDs—the new series, of course. I’ve heard that they’re making a Man in the High Castle adaptation, which I would also like a copy of when it’s released,” he adds, holding up his right hand and tapping a finger with every request.

“We can do that,” says Rucker, and Akvo nods.

“Next, copies of Night Shift, by Stephen King, Job, by Robert Heinlein, and A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny. I will ask for others as I tire of them.”

Rucker nods. “Anything else? I was expecting something about food or sleeping accommodations, not just entertainment.”

Akvo shakes his head. “Whatever you decide is suitable. I also require a sponge, at least three paintbrushes—fan, angle, and filbert styles—and a pint of blood every week.”

Simon pays a glance to Rucker. “Excuse me?” Rucker says.

“I don’t care where you get it from,” says Akvo. “I just need it. This is non-negotiable.”

Rucker lowers her eyelids. “What for?”

“Painting.”

“Then we’ll get you some paint.”

“It won’t dry the same way. I watch it dry,” he explains, and despite the subject matter Simon has to stifle a chuckle on learning that there’s at least one person in the world for whom “like watching paint dry” would sound more fun than intended.

She crosses her arms. “We’ll look into it.”

“It doesn’t even have to be human, you know.”

“We’ll look into it,” Rucker says again, and Akvo smiles.

“I have one final request,” he says, and Simon gets the feeling that he isn’t finally going to ask for a nicer bed or a favorite meal—Unless he eats his paint like Van Gogh, Simon thinks, and he shudders. “I must meet with Simon for an hour each week,” he says. “Alone.”

“Sure,” answers Simon, at the same time that Rucker says, “Absolutely not.”

“It’s my choice,” he protests.

“You don’t make the cost-benefit analyses, Simon, least of all without so much as two seconds of thought on the matter.”

“You can post someone outside the cell if you want, but either I’m doing this or I’ll stop working with you,” he says. “We need more information, and we know that he’s willing to give it but not able to. I trust Future Me, and he said that Akvo could be trusted.”

Rucker glances back at Akvo, leaning silently against the wall. “You shouldn’t be so quick to assume that you’ll turn into someone that you’ll approve of.” She shakes her head. “We’ll post two people outside the door every time, and they’ll come in at the slightest sign from the cameras that something’s wrong.” She stares back at Akvo again, her gaze fiery and lingering, then turns back and leads Simon out of the room.

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