Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 10: Austin Smith

Monitoring: Austin Smith
Vienna, Virginia, USA

2:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Monday, August 11th, 2014
18:40 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, August 11th, 2014

Fast forward—

Austin doesn’t know what to think anymore. Certainly, he can’t tell anyone what he’s figured out. He may not even be able to allude to it, if he isn’t able at the same time to convey that under no circumstances should the other person say anything about the realization that he had helped them to arrive at.

Akvo had requested a book by Stephen King. A collection of short stories, specifically. Preferring novels, Austin had only ever read one other King anthology, Skeleton Crew, but PALATINATE had purchased two copies and Blank had given one of them to him. He hadn’t given any instructions, but Austin thought he knew what was going on. Austin had gotten the same hunch, after all: If Akvo was being so indirect about everything, then what if he wasn’t requesting some favorite science fiction and horror titles but trying to send them another message? As the secret government operation’s resident Stephen King fan, Austin was the best candidate to puzzle out some minor detail of one of the stories and figure out what Akvo was trying to tell them.

It took him an hour to figure out what was going on, though it turns out that a quick flip could to the table of contents could have done the job (or at least gotten him looking in the right direction, since he Austin had never read the story before). He’s just finished going over the story for a third time now, looking for anything that he might have missed before, but Austin isn’t taking notes. That would probably be a bad idea.

Austin remembers pretty well what Newsome said were Akvo’s words: I am the doorway and I am the city of knowledge. He still doesn’t know what that “city of knowledge” bit means, but there’s a story in this anthology with the title, “I Am the Doorway,” so he damn well knows what Akvo was trying to say with the first part.

His biggest problem, now, is figuring out how much he should read into the story. Is it supposed to tell them only one thing or more? Akvo could have conceivably referenced another story about pervasive surveillance, so it isn’t impossible that he chose this particular story in order to tell them multiple things.

The story, in brief, is about an astronaut who travels to Venus and picks up an alien contagion that manifests in eyes that grow on his hands. These eyes serve as doorways (or windows, really) for some sort of extradimensional intelligence that is using him to look in on Earth, and which can sometimes control his body and maybe manipulate the laws of physics (if that lightning strike near the end of the story is anything to go by).

The implications are obvious: At the very least there is something lurking behind Akvo, watching what he is saying and doing, and this entity (if there is only one) is, if not malevolent, then at least opposed to Akvo’s people. If it were otherwise then there wouldn’t be any harm in freely distributing information. Whatever rules Akvo is operating under must be to restrict its own understanding of the situation—how much was he even able to say to Viejo, assuming that they were both viewports for whatever being is watching through their eyes?

No wonder Akvo is still being cagey about what he knows, even after he’s gotten everything that he had asked for.

Except that isn’t right at all, as Austin discovered this morning when Rucker let him view their footage of the interrogation. There were two references that Akvo made in that video, not just one, and now Austin wonders if he made a mistake in asking, if the motives of his actions could be understood too easily.

Akvo hadn’t just said, “I am the doorway.” Immediately thereafter, he followed it up with, “But make no mistake, you are the one with the bandages over your hands.” To the average observer, it would have seemed like some sort of play off of his wounded hand, but now that Austin is more familiar with the material that Akvo has been referencing…

In the Stephen King story, the astronaut wrapped his hands in bandages in order to prevent the entity on the other side from seeing into this world. It’s possible that Akvo means that it can’t see through other people, but Austin isn’t sure. It would be a terrible gamble to make and, anyway, bandages can fall off and the story concluded with eyes beginning to grow on the astronaut’s chest.  Even if Austin assumes that he isn’t a doorway (so to speak) right now, there’s nothing to say that he won’t become one or that he’ll know when it happens.

How does one explain that something is watching you—is watching everyone—without letting it know that more people have just found out? Make circuitous references, maybe, counting on the fact that it—or “It,”  after another Stephen King story that comes to mind—probably doesn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of human culture. The less plainly one talks, the more obscure the meaning. At least It can’t look into people’s heads, right? If It could then there wouldn’t be any sense in trying to be sneaky: Akvo could have just told them everything, because It would know that they knew, whether It had watched them hear it from Akvo or just seen them puzzle it out alone.

What does It want? How did this begin?

Austin doesn’t have any guesses to the first question. Not even the astronaut in Stephen King story had a clue. Maybe the answer is somewhere in Akvo’s other requests; Austin will have to read and watch those as soon as he gets the opportunity. Maybe he can spin it as trying to find things to, hm, bond with Akvo over, just in case It is paying attention.

That second one, though… He doubts that Akvo traveled to Venus and picked up an alien disease as a souvenir but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a nugget of truth lurking in the idea. Did Akvo, or at least his people, the Green or the Colors or whatever they are, do something to draw Its attention or invite It in? Is that what Akvo meant when he said that he didn’t know whether he was responsible for these powers?

What happened fourteen and a half years ago, the day that Austin and the others were born? Was that when Akvo first encountered It, or when the consequences of that meeting finally manifested? And, whatever occurred on that day, why did it take so many years for their powers to manifest?

Wait. No. That’s the wrong question, Austin realizes. Valid, maybe, and definitely worth thinking about at some point, but the really important one, which he might even be able to discuss with the others, is about Akvo’s group. Forget about when they encountered It, or where. Ask instead: Why? Akvo wants to save the world. Okay. Grant that, as Simon has apparently done. Unless everyone is suffering from a terrible misunderstanding, when Akvo says that he wants to save the world, he’s talking about saving it from It. That doesn’t explain, though, why his people first set out to do whatever it was that brought them to Its attention or unleashed It on the Earth.

Akvo compared the situation to the Cold War. It wouldn’t be smart to assume that the Soviets were trustworthy, that you could let your guard down around them, just because they were trying to prevent the apocalypse. They’d helped out against Hitler, after all, and then after that war was won they swallowed up Eastern Europe. What, then, ought PALATINATE expect the Colors to do after this crisis is over and the Earth is safe once again?


2 thoughts on “Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 10: Austin Smith

  1. In the paragraph beginning with “Austin doesn’t have any guesses to the first question” there’s a line “just in It is paying attention”. I assume you meant “just in case”?


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