Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 12: Daniel Hernandez

Monitoring: Daniel Hernandez
Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico

8:50 p.m. Central Standard Time
Sunday, August 17th, 2014
1:50 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, August 18th, 2014

Fast forward—

Click-click-snap, and another piece slides into place under Daniel’s hands.

Little-known fact: There is only one store in the entire country of Mexico where you can legally buy a gun. The majority of firearms are sourced from outside of the country, with anywhere from eighteen-percent to ninety-percent coming from over the Mexico-United States border. In the north, the markup for a smuggled AK-47 can be as high as the original purchasing price. Further south, where Daniel lives, a semiautomatic can go for as much as eight times the original price.

Click-click-snap, and Daniel has a completed gun in his hands. He could do this with his eyes closed, which is a good thing. There’s no light in this room, no windows, no bulb hanging overhead. Total darkness.

The rifles that Daniel is assembling can be sold for any price and still make a profit. The only limit is the production time–he has to build from scratch, molding each piece individually and slotting it in by hand. There’s no other way around it, so he turns out no more than four AK-47s every day, a source of profit that might be chump change but is still steady enough to be worthwhile to his… “employers” would make it sound as if there’s something consensual about this arrangement, but “masters” is too defeatist, the sort of word that Daniel thinks would mean that he had become resigned to his lot in life.

There’s no click or snap now, just the sound of a brush being dipping into paint and then running along something that’s not quite metal or wood. It’s a necessary step, as important as the lightless conditions that he has to work in.

He hadn’t planned for it to go this way, of course, but Daniel can’t absolve himself of all responsibility, either. It started as an amusement: He made blocks in the darkness and stacked them on top of each other. Maybe that sounds infantile, but the fashioning process was so novel that maybe there was nowhere to start exploring it but as a little child. Soon, though, he progressed to making more complex objects. Then came his breakthrough idea, his solution to address the biggest problem with the process, the flaw that stood in the way of turning his ability from amusing toy to useful tool.

Drip and swish, and the last of the paint has been applied. He sets aside the brush and leaves the gun to dry. When it is ready, Daniel will be able to hand over this one and the others to the guard standing outside his room, and if they pass muster then he can go to sleep with the knowledge that he’s earned a few hours in the sun tomorrow morning.

Daniel decided to sell the things that he was making. His family had fallen on hard times, like most of the rest of the neighborhood, and they needed all of the help that he could provide for them. But he wasn’t careful enough. Somebody had found out, another person had passed on the message, and whether it happened quickly or took a month, the narcos finally caught wind of the rumors. If only they ignored what they had heard, then Daniel would be free, but the narcos were as superstitious and credulous as they were corrupt, and instead of scoffing they realized what he could do for them and snatched him away, threatening to murder everyone that he cared about if he didn’t work for them.

Now he builds weapons. Maybe one day he will build more terrible devices, if ever his captors become more imaginative and his newfound abilities prove up to the task. Can he create something to mimic the properties of uranium? Daniel doesn’t think so, but then again he hasn’t fully explored the potential of his abilities, either, and he doesn’t know much about uranium except that it would be very bad if he could make it. Perhaps a kidnapped or corrupt physicist could run tests and figure out how to get the job done.

What Daniel can do is a simple trick with a few obvious applications and, as he has already demonstrated to himself and the narcos, at least one clever exploit. He can take darkness and transform it from absence to presence, making it into a thing in its own right, a physical substance that he can shape with his hands and make as soft as jelly or as hard as stone. There is no limit to how much he can produce, either: so long as he is making something from nothing, there will always be more nothingness to take the place of what he has made tangible.

The one imperfection in this is that no darkness, not even in this solidified type, can stand up before the light. Under the bright noonday sun, a fist-sized amount of the material will evaporate in a few seconds, and dimmer conditions only stretch out the evaporation process. Only in complete darkness can Daniel’s product survive.

This weakness in his abilities frustrated him at first, though Daniel now wishes that he had never looked for a way around it. He found one, though, a solution that was as simple as it was clever. By painting over the darkness that he had shaped, he would prevent light from coming in contact with it. So long as the coats remained intact, so would the object that he had made.

Daniel wonders how many deaths he is responsible for already. He tells himself that it will be worth it, that he will figure out a way to free himself and his family and make up for the damage that he has caused, but…he isn’t sure. Maybe it’s just a lie that he’s told himself often enough that it’s started to sound true. Perhaps he will never get out, and people have died because of him for no reason at all except his stubbornness and cowardice.


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