Monitoring: Michael Williams
Vienna, Virginia, USA
11:35 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Saturday, November 1st, 2014
15:35 Coordinated Universal Time
Saturday, November 1st, 2014
However cliche it might be to say, a chill runs down Michael’s spine when he sees the video recording of Akvo and Simon’s last conversation, such as it was. Or rather, the chill runs down, not his spine, but the one that he’s borrowing. Whether it’s because he has grown more acquainted with his power in general or this body in particular, it’s growing easier for Michael to forget that it belonged to someone else.
It isn’t clear whether Simon knows or was just used by a future personage to relay a message, but it is clear that Akvo knows who Michael is, or whose body he is inhabiting. Since Simon disappeared two days ago, Akvo has insisted on speaking with the director of the CIA and no one else. Akvo and his late companion knew who they all were, and appeared to have some amount of familiarity with their powers.
And “Sunshine Boy” had been a stupid nickname given that his mother used for him until a couple of years ago.
Akvo has so far kept mum on what he knows, but who can say how long that will be true? There’s nothing for it but to go ahead and meet Akvo on his terms, which is why Michael finds himself in Akvo’s cell, Blank and Heron standing behind him. The room smells. The walls are stained browning-red. Akvo’s face is bruised purple, nose busted and left eye swollen, but he sits cross-legged and tall.
The man acknowledges, or maybe graces, Michael with a nod. “I would like to have this conversation outside.”
Blank is about to protest, but Michael holds up a hand. He doesn’t have any room to negotiate. If it comes to it, he may even have to let Akvo go in order to preserve the secret of his identity. Nothing that Akvo could say would be enough to outweigh the fallout of that revelation, and Michael is at any rate doubtful that they could extract anything that he didn’t already want to reveal.
“We’ll hold this conversation outside. Alone, I presume?” he asks, and Akvo nods. “You will be handcuffed,” Michael says, and Akvo shrugs in acceptance. Michael would sigh in relief if he weren’t trying to keep up a face; it seems that Akvo only wants a private conversation. Perhaps they can come to an understanding, then.
The others argue, but Michael overrules them both, and a couple of minutes later Akvo is waiting patiently as Heron cuffs him. Heron and Blank accompany the two of them to the elevator, but are left behind as Michael and Akvo ascend to ground level.
Michael takes the opportunity to examine the man standing beside him. Akvo’s hands are behind his back, and maybe secured a little too tightly for comfort, but he isn’t complaining. Nor is he fidgeting, as some might. Rather, his eyes are centered straight ahead, as if he is expecting something very interesting to happen any moment, and he doesn’t want to miss it.
Nothing happens, though, and they exit the elevator, and then the facility itself, without incident. Outside, there is dying grass and trees dropping their leaves in the final weeks of autumn. They continue along the main road for a few minutes before Michael nods and Akvo, apparently getting the message that they are free to speak, begins to explain himself.
“We looked for you for a long time,” Akvo says. “We were expecting you to be in the White House by now, not dilly-dallying in the CIA.”
“Senora Viejo and myself.”
Michael nods. “That was my intention, yes. Then, as I was making my way there, I learned about LN/PALATINATE. I thought it would be best if I oversaw it directly, and made sure that nobody of any importance was made aware of it.”
“I approve. We’ll need you in this position for the trying times ahead, and it might be that, despite the surprise and how that derails our projections, this will work out for us in the end.”
“What do you need us for?”
Akvo turns away, facing a copse of trees. “Under extreme conditions, like drought or disease, a once-healthy forest enters a period of decline and the trees die. When all is well, this is perfectly normal and a few survive, as they always do, and with their numbers reduced it is harder for the disease to spread or there is finally enough water to go around until the rains return.” He shrugs. “More or less.”
Of course he would know what Michael has been thinking about. If Akvo knows where Michael was planning to go (or rather, who he was planning to be) before he learned about PALATINATE, then it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Akvo is aware of other things.
Akvo returns his eyes to Michael. “Wildfires are healthy for an ecosystem. Trying to stop them can even be detrimental to the long-term health of the forest, preventing new growth and, inevitably, leading to more devastating fires down the road. You don’t think that the case is quite the same with humans, but…”
He is silent for almost a minute before Michael realizes that he is waiting for Michael to complete the thought. “But some people still have to die,” he says. “If there is going to be a conflict, not just a nuclear exchange but a war between countries with superpowers to wield against each other, then casualties will be inevitable and our resources would be better spent directing death rather than trying to eliminate it–after a point, our efforts will into diminishing returns and we’ll need to adopt an alternate strategy of dealing with the problem.”
Akvo nods. “Your nature, and I speak of you collectively, as the children, is a fundamentally moral and idealistic one, for different values of ‘moral’ and ‘idealistic.’ You are all altruists but you do not agree on what is best. Do you see the problem?”
“W-We’re going to bump against each other,” Michael says, a sense of horror slowly dawning on him as he realizes the implication. “The world isn’t going to be big enough for all of us–nothing would be big enough for us, not really, not when the range of our powers will grow bigger over time and utopia for one of us is going to be dystopia for the next. We could try to negotiate, but…” He pauses, looks at Akvo, and shakes his head. “Not all of us will agree. Getting into a couple of big factions might even make it worse.”
Apparently satisfied, Akvo raises a new topic. “Simon Martin is going forth to gather the others. After this is done, you need to kill him.”
Michael pauses. “I’m sure that he can be convinced, and even if he can’t, his power is too valuable for us to discard him so soon,” he says, but Akvo shakes his head.
“Simon Martin is a foolish boy whose power is greater than he can handle. You see, as he does, only a means of acquiring information. I see, as no doubt others do, a means of acquiring disinformation.”
“What do you mean?”
“Imagine that you are living in the future timeline which Simon Martin will see in one of his visions. It doesn’t matter whether these are fully-fledged universes that will continue after the point of his vision or just simulations; if you are not conscious then you are being portrayed as if you were, and your actions will be the same. What are you able to do if you learn that you are in a timeline that he will receive a vision of?”
Michael puts his hands together in thought. He can act as if nothing really matters, especially if Simon is only witnessing a simulation that will later be ended. Something in him rebels at that thought, though; even the “real” universe is going to end someday, but Michael is still fighting to keep things going for as long as possible, as well as possible. But in that thought lies the seed of another one… “You can leverage your universe against the other one, making a sacrifice here for a payout there.” Like Hannah did, he realizes. Like Akvo did.
“It doesn’t matter what Simon saw in his vision, does it? Whether you’re actually working for us or not, you could easily have scrapped that whole timeline and everything you’re striving for in order to convince him that you’re an ally.” And it’s easy, too, if you know how Simon’s power works, if you know that his inability to receive new visions means that you’re living in the world that he’s going to see.
If all one cares about is maximizing the odds and the degree of success in a single world, then it doesn’t matter how many others are thrown into the fire. If it were possible, Michael might kill a thousand worlds to shift the survival rate by one percentage point, if that would ensure long-term sustainability.
“Just as my partner, in a world that never will be, no doubt passed information to him.”
“Why are you being helpful all of a sudden? You’ve only been forthcoming with cryptic phrases up till now?” Left unspoken is another question: How can Michael trust him now? It’s one that Akvo will never be able to answer to anyone’s satisfaction, not unless one of the other children is a mind reader or a truth detector.
That doesn’t matter, though. They can verify any information that Akvo gives them. He can be kept in his sub-basement cell and be kept on a leash on the rare occasions that his presence is required outside. It’s okay.
But that still leaves the first question.
“I have only told you one thing,” he reminds Michael. “Everything else was only an illustration of what you knew. I believe that I am acting well within my restrictions. But come,” he says, pointing back down the road as best as he can with his hands cuffed as they are. “It is time for us to return the way we came. We can speak again at another time, if you wish. I am content with your knowing that I know who you are and what the stakes are.”
And that Simon is too easily manipulated by his visions, Akvo didn’t add, but Michael remembers the other part of their conversation. It’s a noticeable omission, which means that Akvo might just as well be intending for him to be suspicious of it, but down that way lies madness. Michael will be suspicious, but he will not drive himself into an early grave by worrying how many levels of you-know-that-I-know Akvo is playing at.