Sunlight, ch. 13: Renzo Posada [null]

Monitoring: Renzo Posada [null]
Córdoba, Province of Córdoba, Argentina

8:40 a.m. Argentina Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
11:40 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Renzo is about to kiss the woman, Unu Hako, again, when the door opens and her companion walks in. A hair’s breadth away from her face, she holds up a hand and rises from where they are sitting on the floor. As Renzo shifts to a lying position, Gatitu takes cautious steps around Georgio and Otilia and picks up a button-up shirt from where Georgio had dropped it. She wraps it around herself like a shawl, and makes no attempt to clothe herself further.

“Noor’s done it,” announces her companion, a man who goes only by the name Mr. Rukomo, even to Unu Hako (who, herself, has offered no first name to Renzo or anyone else whose services she has procured). “Several videos, from different angles, are circulating online.”

“The protest,” Unu Hako says. “Pakistan will notice. India will notice.” She raises a hand to her face, index finger against her chin and thumb against her cheek. “I was hoping that we would have till January, but that was always going to be unlikely.” Unu Hako shrugs.

Neither of them seem to pay Renzo or his coworkers any attention, and not for the first time Renzo wonders about the precise nature of their relationship. For Unu Hako to be so unabashed in these circumstances seems just like her; even when they are having sex, she seems to not be seeing Renzo, like he and the others are just props that can move under their own power. How probable is it that Mr. Rukomo would be just the same way, though, if they were just partners in (hopefully figurative) crime?

“Yes. Well,” says Mr. Rukomo, and then he offers a more substantial reply. “There will be something to talk about when we wait for the new year to come in.”

“I would have preferred to catch up with the others. We haven’t seen them for such a long time.”

“We haven’t ever seen them. Not really.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. You can’t tell me that you don’t miss the others. I’d like to have dinner with some of them again. Wouldn’t you?”

“I never ate with them,” Mr. Rukomo says after a long pause. His head hangs low, and his shoulders have slumped further. “At least not in memory.”

There is intimacy in their relationship, but it is hard for Renzo to define its nature or cause. He doesn’t think that it is anything sexual. Mr. Rukomo is rarely present when Renzo is working and sometimes carries on conversations in the middle of the job, just as Unu Hako is often willing to hold up her half of it in those situations. Neither has he ever seen them touch each other.

But there is a softness in Unu Hako’s voice that he has only heard her use when she is addressing Mr. Rukomo.

“If that’s how you want to think about it.” Unu Hako sighs. “None of us can fault each other for our quirks,” and though Renzo has closed his eyes he feel as though she is looking in his direction now. “We are all looking forward to it, however. We can speak freely, in person. And think of what comes after: it will be good to traipse across some new countries after being restricted for so long, won’t it?”

“It will,” agrees Mr. Rukomo.

“So then, where do you want to go? You can pick our first destination.”

“Yokahama. We can see how–”

“No, no, no. What do you want to see, Mr. Rukomo? Not who. Forget about the children. Forget about people, too, for that matter. I know you’ve been having trouble with them. Give me a place, Mr. Rukomo, a mountain, a river, a valley. Business can wait.”

Renzo must have drifted off to sleep, because he doesn’t quite notice the end of their conversation, and his first notice that Unu Hako has returned is when she delivers a light kick to his side. “Wake up,” she tells him. “I’m not done.”

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Sunlight, ch. 12: Noor Raja

Monitoring: Noor Raja
Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan

10:30 a.m. Pakistan Standard Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
5:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

The protesters have been gathering for nearly an hour by the time that Noor arrives. She isn’t entirely sure what it’s about, really–corruption this, corruption that, maybe something about electoral fraud, but she might be mixing it up with one of the protests from earlier in the year. It hasn’t been a good year. Signs of the times, perhaps. Is it just her imagination that the protests have gotten worse, the product of paying more attention now that she has been changed?  Or maybe it is just a consequence of getting older, and she would have known these things anyway, change or no change, gift or no gift.

The wind probably won’t be too bad today, it’s chilly enough already and Noor finds a place closer to the crowd, where maybe their bodies will help to break any gusts that come down on them. It will let her blend in, too.

One of the men takes notice of her as she gets into position beside him. “This is no place for children,” he tells her. “Shouldn’t you be at school, or at least at a park or wherever the hoodlums gather these days?” His words are a little harsh on their own, but she looks up there’s a smile beneath his mustache, and his eyes seem more concerned than annoyed.

Noor withdraws a hand from her jacket pocket and points further along the crowd. There are scars there, only a few months old, but he is tactful and does not say anything. “There are other children here,” she says.

“They should not be here, either. It may be dangerous.”

She nods, more to herself than to him. “That is why I am here.” Clashes with the police, massacres by the Taliban, mob violence… There are many places that Noor wishes she could have been, but she was not there and she did not make a difference. She can be in Faisalabad, though, and if there is an incident then she will be able to do something about it.

Only if there is an incident, however. She will be no good to anyone if there is no violence, but then, that in itself will be enough good for everyone.

“It is not for you to put yourself in harm’s way,” he says. “Do you even know what we are here for?”

“The government is unjust,” she says, and the man frowns, apparently recognizing her reply for what it is. “The details don’t matter,” she continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you are PTI or PML-N, or here for fraud or bribery or discrimination. People should not be hurt here.”

“You will not keep that from happening,” he warns. “They will not turn back just because a child is standing in the way.”

“No,” she admits. “God wants me to be here, though.” At least to herself, she sounds more confident than she really is, but either the man is tired of arguing or he thinks she is a fanatic, because he doesn’t say anything after that.

Around them, the crowd chants slogans against the prime minister, decrying his policies and demanding his resignation. On the other side of the city square, counter-protesters assemble, and at times the shouted chants turn to bouts of yelling exchanged between the two groups. Noor remains silent and the man, still looking back at her every couple of minutes or so, is likewise quiet. When protesters and anti-protesters close on each other, fighting until the police arrive and break up the fights with batons and water cannons, Noor makes her way to the front but does not take action. The situation has not become severe enough yet.

Then a stone is thrown. She thinks that it was one of the other children but she can’t be sure: squabbling children turn to fighting protesters, stones turn to loose bricks, and members of both sides close in again. Closer to where the police have set up, there is shouting about tear gas, and then a loud crack. The furor continues and then Noor hears it again and, beside her, the man lilts to the side, then falls to his knees and his shirt blossoms red. There is screaming.

Part of Noor crumbles. She is fourteen years old and this is not her job, not her responsibility, not anything that she has experience with. Another part of her has simply gone blank. Surely someone else will do something, surely this is not actually happening in front of her, surely everything will turn out alright, she just doesn’t want to confront this.

But there is a third part of her, which remembers photographs and videos, and remembers funerals of relatives long dead and visits to gravestones belonging to people that she does not remember but could have, if things had gone differently once upon a time, and it does not flinch. It recognizes the opportunity, and gives thanks to God, or fate, or chance, whatever led her to this moment and these circumstances.

“The bullet went through your scapula,” she tells the man.His eyes are locked on hers, ignoring the people who have crowded around him, who are asking him questions or trying to staunch the flow of blood or call for medical attention.

Noor has been studying the bones of the human body, and a few other things besides. This is a bad wound, and there are major arteries that the bullet may have severed. He could be mildly inconvenienced by this or he could bleed out before help arrives.

Unless she helps.

“This will hurt,” she says, and before he responds, she presses her hand against the wound and then, biting her lip, pushes into the wound, her fingers sliding through flesh and meeting bone, hard bone, damaged bone. Beneath her touch, it is repaired.

It is more than repaired. It expands, sealing the whole cavity and any vein or artery that has been opened up. It grows further, extending out of his body, surrounding him, surrounding her, becoming ever larger and reaching above the heads of the crowd like a thorny web. Noor withdraws from the man’s wound but remains in contact with the structure that is growing out of his body. Even as the screams take on a new tone and the crowd’s terror and confusion is reenergized, Noor continues to guide the bone and prod it on, telling it to grow, telling it how to grow.

This would have been easier had she been able to manipulate her own bones, or animal bones, but things are as they are, and she was forced to wait until someone else was hurt. In retrospect, what she decided to do was very risky, and she might not have been able to reach anyone in time. Things are as they are, though, and it has paid off.

“Everyone should go home,” she says, as the man’s bone flows around her like pale white mercury, solidifying over her in layers like armor. “We are all living in the same city and the same country.” A wall of bone emerges between the two sides of the crowd, and between the crowd and the police. “So let’s go home.”

The man beside her will not die. Others, who might have died, will also live. Noor isn’t sure what will happen past this point, and she probably won’t be able to conceal herself in a crowd of protesters again, but she did something good here.

She terminates the physical connection between the man and the structure that she has brought forth from out of his body, and it becomes dead bone to her, no longer clay for her to mold.

Sunlight, ch. 11: Michael Williams

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

Fast forward—

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.”

“We?”

“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 experience diminishing returns and we’ll need to adopt an alternate strategy for 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, who shakes his head. “Not all of us will agree to that. Getting into a couple of big factions that can compromise within themselves but not between each other might even make it worse, and, hell, one rogue kid with the wrong power could be worse worse than a gang of twenty like Hannah.”

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 to play nicely, 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, Michael realizes. 

“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 one knows how Simon’s power works, if one knows that his inability to receive new visions means that one is living in the world that he’s going to see.

If all that one cares about was 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, just so long as 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, to the degree that I remember and understand them. 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.

Story Recap

After the current Sequence is completed, this post will be moved and renamed “Year 1 in review.” I hate it when stories update after a lengthy hiatus and I can’t remember exactly what happened, though, so I’m posting this a little bit ahead of time.

Our story opened on the morning of December 31st, 2013, as fourteen-year-old Simon Martin grappled with his newly-acquired power to see the future, which is rather less spectacular than it sounds because of a few unfortunate constraints: most importantly, the future that he sees is the final ten conscious seconds of a person’s life and each vision is “locked,” never to be changed even if Simon’s actions make the events of that vision impossible.

His first vision revealed an apparently apocalyptic future, with many people bodily twisted into “Giger trees.” Matters didn’t improve when he met a woman dressed in white, whose foreseen death is due to a nuclear strike. In this vision, she addressed Simon by name and gave him a few useful facts in the seconds that this future version had had.

Simon Martin was not the only child to develop a superpower today, however. In Virginia, Hannah Johnson hightailed it to John Randi’s house but was discovered by LN/PALATINATE, a CIA program that began searching for the Children only a few days after their powers manifested. In February, Austin Smith’s firefighting activities brought him to the notice of both Simon and PALATINATE, who arrived at about the same time.

Chatting around the kitchen table (Austin’s parents work late), they exchanged the information that they had on hand and Hannah, after learning how Simon’s power works, committed to finding out as much as she could about the woman in white and her companion. This done, Simon used his power on her, glimpsed her death, and learned more about the constraints of Simon’s power and where the woman in white will be in a few months. Agents Rucker and Blank, from PALATINATE, reached terms of cooperation that are amenable to the kids and left, and we learned (from Hannah’s thoughts) that Hannah included a couple of code phrases in the message, to inform her that she can trust PALATINATE, Austin, and Simon, and that there’s at least one child who can read her thoughts.

PALATINATE began to use Simon to learn more about the future, discovering that the range of powers will increase over time, and particular cities that will be hit by nuclear weapons. Fortunately, however, they didn’t decide to subject him to countless hideous deaths without a therapist, and Dr. Denham appears competent at his job. Through Hannah and Austin, PALATINATE approached a girl named Olivia Garcia, who rejected their offer as soon as she learned that they’re with the CIA.

In August, PALATINATE and the children approached the woman in white, Senora Viejo, and her companion, Sinjoro Akvo, the man in green. Despite the hopeful tone of the first few minutes, it turned into a fiasco, ending with shots fired, Viejo dead (by her companion’s hand, no less), and Akvo in PALATINATE custody, minus one finger. The interrogation that followed was either strange and unproductive or just very strange, but a later one, with Simon, was a little better. In exchange for further cooperation, Akvo demanded a random selection of novels and DVDs, and weekly one-hour meetings with Simon.

Austin began meeting with him too, reasoning that the books were a way for Akvo to feed them additional information without breaking whatever rules were governing his behavior. One of his previous nonsense comments, “I am the doorway and I am the city of knowledge,” seemingly referenced the title of one of the stories in an anthology Akvo requested, and from that story Austin deduced that Akvo and those like him were being watched by something–and that it was possible that it was also watching other people, Austin included. It also seemed that Akvo had encountered something that he felt was a candidate for the title of “God.”

Meanwhile, Mary Rucker and others involved with PALATINATE worried over the broader implications of what is going on and concerned themselves with the geopolitical ramifications. In particular, there is a possibility that war could erupt between India and China (and possibly Russia), depending on the exact number and variety of superpowered children accessible by each. Among other things, they decided to prepare for a press conference to reveal the existence of superpowers and to begin communicating with other countries on the matter, to reduce the risk that someone might act catastrophically out of fear.

After learning that Akvo and Viejo had committed countless murders over the past few years, Simon struggled over the knowledge that a future version of himself decided that Akvo was still trustworthy and trying to help them. In another vision, he saw an older version of himself actually killing another person to deliver another message to him, explaining that another child, Michael Williams, is a body jumper and currently running the CIA, that he is attempting to use Simon’s visions to engineer an “acceptable” (but not lowest possible) casualty rate, and that Simon needs to get out immediately and find others. He got additional information from another vision, learning that Simon and the other children were in some sense made and not merely altered. According to Future Simon, everything that’s happening is a sort of test to determine whether humanity is worthy of superpowers, and Akvo’s people were forcibly recruited to oversee the process, with the colors representing disagreements about whether to follow their orders and so on.

Having been told by a Future Simon to trust Akvo for the third time, Simon finally relented, transmitted a couple of nonsense words to Akvo, according to the instructions of his future self, and prepared to leave.

India

Uniquely, at least as far as we’ve seen, Ananya Sharma has government connections of a sort: her father is a colonel. She informed him of her power (electricity generation, in a nutshell) and they moved up the chain of command to, eventually, the Prime Minister. A little to her disappointment, and much to her boredom, they don’t want to weaponize her, but instead hook her up to bigger and bigger batteries. So far, it appears that she could give power to hundreds of thousands of people.

Alerted by Ananya, the Indian government began looking for, and found, other Children: Aadhya Verma, who was using her pocketspace to steal high-priced goods to sell them online for the poor; Ayaan Yadav, who can alter the physical properties of clothing, making it harder or heavier, changing its color, and more; Kyra Pawar, who can selectively remove herself from the memories of other people; Vihaan Sengupta, who intentionally failed a mind reading demonstration with a skeptic in order to throw off anyone looking for him, but was found anyway by his birthdate; and Rudra Pillai, who can animate any humanoid object.

China

China not only learned of the Children but was pointed in their direction–by two of the Monitors, as we later find out. They used Meifeng Wu, who could feel the pain that someone would experience in the future, as a traumatic fortunetelling device, and various facts about the future. Among them: the locations of other Children, various facts about the Monitors, and that Meifeng would eventually stage a successful escape (as she transmitted messages in code, she was unaware of signing her own death warrant).

Shortly thereafter, Li Bao and Dr. Jin Xue moved on to medically experimenting on the Children, or “altered humans.” They regard the Children and the Monitors as an existential threat not just to China but to humanity as a whole, and are working on something called Operation Anthem, apparently an attempt to prevent the end of the world.

The Mysterious People in Colored Clothing

Much of what has been revealed about them has been thanks to Meifeng’s transmissions from the future, or Akvo’s conversation with Simon: At least two are meeting with representatives of countries around Asia, including China and India. At least two of them are resistant to torture. They knew about the Children before they were born, and have made projections that are, at least in the United States, already going off track.

The colors that they wear represent factions and they are in some sort of conflict with each other. It is not entirely clear what each represents. As Akvo describes it, the Green is “Curiosity. Benevolence. An axe chopping a piece of cordwood in two with a single, intentional swing.” Also: Anger and generosity, and, perhaps, the belief that “Men are like fish; the great ones devour the small,” though Akvo claims that he is not one of the great ones, or even a fish at all. According to a communication between Simon and a future version of himself, it is also about protecting the children until they’re powerful enough to not worry about anything except other superpowers, and that their survival is more important than anything else.

They have strange quirks and hobbies, like watching milk spoil or listening to people screaming. They are dressed in various colors, which correspond to something, but each pair is made of a different combination of colors. The ethnic backgrounds of their physical appearances and names are diverse, but do not appear to match each other.

It also appears they have not all been able to see each other in person for a long time, but that this will be changing shortly. There are other rules that they must follow, apparently governing what they can say to other people and under what circumstances, and something about not interfering, but these rules have loopholes. It is not clear who or what set the rules.

Assuming that Akvo was telling the truth, it is possible that they were responsible for creating or empowering the children, but he doesn’t know for sure.

Elsewhere

In Israel, Noam Sitz “downloaded” the mind of his dying grandfather.

In Japan, Yuka Sato used mind control to stop her bullies–rather aggressively.

In Iran, Zahra Ghorbani feeds the hungry by killing her clones.

In Thailand, an anonymous boy is healing the sick.

In Russia, Vasily Popov pretends to be a psychic, accurately reading dreams and making up fake meanings to them.

In Nigeria, another Child is purging a corrupt city and  impersonating those that are killed in order to penetrate it further.

In Tanzania, Grace Hamad is exploring the soundlessness of the deep past.

In Ukraine, Alex Melnyk is performing backroom surgeries and changing faces for the Mob.

In Mexico, Daniel Hernandez is making weapons for gangs out of darkness and hoping for an opportunity to escape.

In Brazil, Gabriela Silva learned what darkness (or rather fear) lurks in the hearts of men, and later traveled to Argentina to find Agustina, who was using her power to animate trees to kill other killers in the rainforest.

Whether they are aware of it or not, they are waiting for their time to come.

In the United States, Michael Williams became acquainted with his power to jump from body to body. Intending to take advantage of this power to the fullest, he hopped along from body to body until, as recently shown, he became the director of the CIA, at which point he turned PALATINATE toward the task of locating other superpowered children and, in general, preparing for their existence to be made public. 

Sunlight, ch. 10: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

6:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
22:10 Coordinated Universal Time
Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Rewind–

“So, Simon,” his mother says, twirling spaghetti around her fork, “how’s, um, your project going?”

They’re in public, eating out at the Olive Garden, but his mother would probably be as reticent to directly address his work even if they were at home. Still, the conversation has fallen to a lull twice so far, and as much as she dislikes at least some aspects of what he’s involved in, she also wants (or needs) to know more.

Simon has not been exceedingly forthcoming. Which he is fine with, by the way, even with the memory of today’s appointment with Dr. Denham and the way that the man has seemed determined to make Simon feel guilty over hiding things from his mother. It’s not like this is something that she could help him with, though. Hannah’s okay, Hannah knows what it’s like (in more ways that one), and he never feels like he’s putting more on her shoulders than she can bear. He’s not one of her siblings. Hannah will tell him when she can’t handle anything more.

He doesn’t get the same feeling from his mother. As bad as she might feel from knowing that she isn’t getting the whole story, it’s still better than knowing that a couple of days ago her son found out what it feels like to get his eyes get pecked out by an impatient crow. How is he supposed to comfort his mother after he tells her that?

“Oh, don’t worry. That was nothing, really. I’ve gone through worse.”

Not a chance, and she knows that, and he knows that she knows, and so on, but she isn’t willing to push the matter. Silence falls for a few seconds, broken only by the occasional scrape of utensils against their plates or the conversations of other tables, and then Simon tries to speak again.

Repeat until the meal is done.

Simon knows that he’s running away, that it would be better if he just explains everything. He could say everything that Denham would say, if the doctor were here. How is he supposed to do it, though? How does he tell his mother that the world is probably ending?

He still remembers what Akvo said, how the most probable outcome is nine out of ten people dead. How is he supposed to tell her that?

After dinner is finished, Simon excuses himself as they wait for the check to come. He walks to the bathroom, washes his face and hands, and he sees the waiter pass by as he exits.

The decision is made quickly, with hardly any thought behind it. It’s an impulse, really, but Jack has been making a lot of jokes and he’s been attentive and he seems nice, and Simon has a thought, or a question, or a desire to know: Whether “nine in ten” means Jack.

He brushes Jack’s hand, taps into his power and reaches for the vision…

Ten seconds later he’s on the floor, eyes up, looking at Jack the Waiter. His lips move, his voice speaks, assuring Jack that he’s alright, that there’s no problem at all, he just got a little woozy.

Simon is responding halfway on automatic, though, speaking without thinking, his mind more focused on what he has seen, and what seems stuck in his mind’s eye even now. It has been burned there so fiercely that Simon suspects he might remember it with clarity even had he not been practicing with Dr. Denham.

First, he saw himself, a few years older, with facial hair, but undeniably Simon. He is shaking, his right fingers struggling to keep their grip on the gun in his right hand. His face is full of tears.

The sight lasts for only the briefest moment before a piece of paper is shoved in front of the waiter’s eyes. Behind it, Simon hears his future self apologize, stuttering and breaking over the words. Pressed against his head, the waiter’s head, he feels the cold weight of the gun. But most important of all is what the paper says:

Palatinate is compromised.
You remember them mentioning Michael Williams?
He can jump bodies.
He’s the CIA Director.

You need to get out ASAP.

His plan got screwed in this timeline, obviously, since I couldn’t get visions anymore, but he was using–and will continue to use–our visions to secure an “acceptable casualty rate.”

Acceptable ≠ lowest possible

I don’t know why. No Visions means losing a lot of info and apparently all the other prcogs precogs are dead.

China/India turns bad 6 Jan 2016

Recruit other kids. Start with Olivia, grab Joe Jones next

247 Wakefield St. / St. George Utah

Diana Martinez

Rio Missouri No. 500 Villa de Alvarez
Guadalupe, Nuevo León (Mexico)

Not sure how much more you can memorize.

Keep looking for others

Tell Palatinate about Daniel Hernandez before you leave. He’s in bad trouble.

Simon makes it back to the table where his mother is sitting. Jack mentions nothing, but takes the card that’s been set there, returns it a few minutes, and leaves for good, with two more jokes but nary a hint that he even saw Simon walk by, let alone saw him collapse. Jack would make a good mob lawyer, knowing what to keep discreet without even being told.

The next morning, Simon decides that he has to talk with Akvo. There are lots of things about the man in green that disturb him. Basically everything about the man disturbs Simon, honestly. How it is that another version of himself decided that he was trustworthy is a question that Simon can’t answer.

But he has to get it answered, all the same. Akvo might be the only one who knows what to do.


Vienna, Virginia, USA

4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Friday, October 24th, 2014
20:00 Coordinated Universal Time
Friday, October 24th, 2014

Fast forward–

Simon has spoken with Akvo, trying to figure out whether he can trust the man. Results: inconclusive. Akvo is still a serial murdering son of a bitch, and his interest in convincing Simon of his good intentions seems only matched by his interest in fucking with Simon by supplying ambiguous or outright cryptic responses.

At the end of the day, Simon is going to have to trust that when he got a vision from another Simon, saying that Akvo was on his side, that the information was correct. He’ll have to trust himself. If he hadn’t already trusted himself, though, would he have been willing to just ask Akvo where the man’s loyalties lay?

He could second-guess himself all year long. It won’t change anything. He has to take a chance.

Simon walks. It isn’t true that there’s nothing else for him to do. That’s patently false. There are plenty of things for him to do. But they’re all awful nasty things that threaten to make bile rise up into his throat, no matter which way he turns.

What it comes down to this: He can do nothing, or he can try to get more information.

Doing nothing is not an option. A future version of himself, some “hypothetical” Simon, as Denham has encouraged him to say, thought that this was important enough to commit murder over, and unless it was all an act, that wasn’t an easy thing for Hypothetical Simon to do. If Simon is going to trust his hypothetical self, which he’s got to do if he thinks that he can trust his present, real self, then he has to act under the assumption that this was worth killing someone over.

Even if that person was just another hypothetical like the Simon who killed her, it’s important enough that he has to give it weight. It wasn’t imaginary to the Simon who did the deed.

What else, then?

Figure out what more Akvo has to say, of course. He already wanted to talk about this, if the vision of that bloody message about “your masters” was anything to go by. The surveillance in Akvo’s cell, though, means that simply approaching him is a poor idea if Simon wants to keep the details of their conversation secret.

That leaves just one other option: use a hypothetical timeline to speak with Akvo.

All that Simon has to do, in the here and now that’s real, is touch somebody and receive a message from a history that will never happen. In another timeline, assuming that they exist at least until the vision is sent back, Simon will touch that person, receive no vision at all, and know that he’s in a soon-to-be-hypothetical timeline. With this confirmed, he can go back, speak with Akvo, find one pretense or another to leave the premises, and…make sure that the message is delivered as planned. That history will (hopefully) unravel, however that is supposed to happen, and Simon himself, the real one, will get that message as soon as he touches his target.

And all he has to do is be willing to kill someone in a version of history that may or may not actually cease to exist after the vision is sent back, but which definitely won’t be the history that he experiences. Sort of. The Simon who will have to do that is going to be thinking the same thing, up until the point where he touches his target and doesn’t receive a vision.

It’s sort of like downloading one’s mind into a computer or something, put like that. Somebody can go into it feeling fine with everything, sure that it’s going to work out, and the thing of it is that there’s a version of that person for whom that’ll be true. They just have no way of knowing, before it happens, whether they’ll wake up in a silicon chassis or in the old failing meat body that they’ve always worn.

As much of a coin flip as this is going to turn out to be for him, it feels weird to not get Hannah involved in this. Simon knows how she would decide, though.

He goes to a McDonald’s, orders a medium fry, and nearly fails to hand over his money when he reaches across the counter. The fear of what he might have to do, of what some version of him will have to do…

But there’s nothing useful there, just another death like so many that Simon has seen before, and after Simon returns to the present he allows himself to be guided to a nearby table. It doesn’t make any sense, what he saw. Simon went here because he should be able to count on seeing the employee again, if not today then tomorrow, or the next week or something. The cashier wasn’t just a passerby, but Hypothetical Simon was nowhere to be seen.

No. Hypothetical Simon chickened out. It’s one thing, apparently, to murder under whatever circumstances the first time occurred under, but it’s another one altogether to work up the nerve to do it again, especially when this Hypothetical Simon didn’t have the benefit of, well, of whatever the first one had been forced to experience up to that point. It couldn’t have been easy, whatever path led to finding out that the CIA had been compromised.

But none of this is about what’s easy, Simon knows. It’s about what’s necessary, and if Simon can’t work up the resolve to do this just one more time, then… Maybe he’s better, if that’s the case. Maybe whatever that other Simon experienced had made him a worse person. But it could also get a lot of other people killed.

Somebody put a set of plastic utensils in his bag, even though there’s no point to them when all that he ordered was a fry. Looking at them, however, and more specifically looking at the knife, he wonders what sort of person that other Simon was, and what sort of person he’ll turn out to be if he does the same thing.

He wonders, and then he removes himself from his table to try again at the Burger King a few buildings down the street.

Small vanilla milkshake, two dollars and change, brush of the hand, and–

He doesn’t see himself in this vision. The message is already being held in view. Simon can hear the muffled sobbing, though, and see how the paper trembles in the other Simon’s hand.

They’re watching. Not supposed to interfere. Obviously they do it anyway but they need excuses. Loopholes. 

This is some sort of baptism by fire; some kids get superpowers, and if the species is mature enough then some of us survive and we get more powers. If not, well, we don’t.

Akvo doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Won’t say what they did, if they’re to blame for inviting or attracting attention, but they got co-opted into this role. Colors represent disagreements–some think they should flip the table and spite power-givers. Green means something different: we’re vulnerable right now, with our powers so limited, and Green means keeping us safe until we don’t have to worry about armies and bombs, even if the rules have to be broken. But basically, people with superpowers > people without them, to Akvo.

There’s something else you need to know.

We were made.

We’re all pretty good kids, it turns out. We’re going to disagree on things but nobody’s selfish or insane. We all look beyond ourselves. That’s how they wired (rewired?) us. Like Akvo, but younger (maybe with fewer psych problems too, hopefully).

The rest of humanity is going to have to learn to live with us, but we’re going to have to learn how to cooperate. Caring about things other than ourselves is supposed to make it easier than if we were heartless sociopaths.

Other Green agent in NA is Sinjorino Forton. Talk to her about getting out somehow, putting an ocean between you and Michael.

4140 Elliott Ave, Seattle WA
20 February 2015 give or take

Tell Akvo “Sunshine Boy.” That means “Michael Williams” apparently?

Tell him “Four.” Then wait that many days before you hightail it. Unless he closes his eyes for a long time, then wait six days total. He’s apparently put some thought into how to communicate with hypothetical selves and what he’d say in this situation.

Simon returns to the world, and the woman is standing over him. He mutters an apology and reaches for the vision again at the same time that he reaches for her hand, to get it one more time and catch anything that he might have missed.

She’s a lot more worried after he passes out for the second time, but that’s okay. Forgoing a third attempt, he manages to convince her to let him sit at a table and wait fifteen minutes to prove that he’s alright. Also, eat the hamburger that he ordered. She’s convinced that Simon needs to get some food in his body.

That’s fine. It’s all fine. Simon knows what’s going on, and where to go, and everything is fine.

Hopefully.

Wary of making too many visits, too quickly, Simon waits till the next morning. Then he returns to PALATINATE, descends to Akvo’s cell, and in the middle of another conversation he works in the words “Sunshine Boy.” He probably does it sloppily, all things considered, and PALATINATE will figure out that he was speaking in code at some point, but Simon isn’t practiced at this sort of thing and they only have to overlook the conversation for a little while.

Before Simon leaves, he says “Four,” and Akvo closes his eyes.

Sunlight, ch. 09: Gabriela Silva

Monitoring: Gabriela Silva
Rosario de la Frontera

4:20 p.m. Argentina Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
19:20 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Rewind—

Her fingers are still wrapped around his, and the vision of his deepest fear repeats itself in her mind’s eye without end, changing in the details but always retaining its essence.

“Mister Lopez,” she says, leaning across his desk, “this is not the time to challenge me…” She pauses less for effect than because the differences between Spanish and Portuguese still tripping her up on occasion. “I know what terrifies you. I have seen your nightmares: a needle being driven deep into your eye, pushed further and further until it skewers your brain. I can picture it in my mind right now. Do you know that you might not die from that? You could survive it. I remember reading about a man who survived after a railroad spike went through his skull. The needle could stay in your eye forever. Depending on where it was…placed, you might not even lose your vision, at least at first. Imagine it, being able to see the needle extending from your own eye, knowing how far it goes, knowing that it is stuck in your br—”

“W-What do you want?” he says, and Gabriela gives thanks to God in her thoughts. Lopez is much larger than her. He could have hurt her if this had gone wrong—she hasn’t had an opportunity to practice this type of intimidation very much, and some people break into hostility rather than compliance. Still, she didn’t have much of an option.

“I told you. I want to know about the thing that is haunting the Chaco Austral,” Gabriela says. She has been pursuing it for a couple of months now, beginning on a hunch that was finally confirmed when one of the survivors turned out to fear that thing more than anything else in the world.

Lopez’s story tells her much of what she already knows, requiring only a little more pressure to confess to the criminal aspects of his agricultural operation. He admits that there is something happening in the forest, but is unwilling to say that it is a ghost or demon, like his men are claiming. More likely, the people whose land he is trying to steal are simply being more persistent than usual.

Whatever he might think about it, Gabriela knows that his men are not too superstitious. She has seen it herself, or at least a version of it, translated through the experiences of the survivor that she had spoken with.

“Mister Lopez,” she finally says, “I would be very pleased if you would escort me to the Gran Chaco. I want to…see it for myself.”

“Why would I do t-that?”

“Because once I have taken it away, you will be free to conduct your business as usual,” she answers. It is only a partial lie: Gabriela has been accumulating evidence of this company’s activities—even the present conversation is being recorded—but they will still have a few days before that information reaches its many destinations (being unsure who can be trusted to act on the information, Gabriela has opted to send a packet to every news outlet and department of law enforcement in the region). “This thing is not what it appears to be, and neither am I. The sooner that I can finish this, the more quickly we will both be gone from your life.”

He needs only a little more encouragement after that.

They depart the next morning, and it takes them the better part of the day to get close to where the attacks have been occurring. It isn’t long before the roads turn bad and their drive becomes bumpy, but neither of them remark on it and they pass the time in silence.  

Once or twice, she asks another question, and Lopez is a little hesitant when she suggests that they go to the scene of the latest attack, but overall he is in good spirits. It’s impossible that he has forgotten the previous day, but it seems that he has put it out of mind in favor of looking forward to Gabriela’s promise that she will be ending the problem for him.

In the meantime, Gabriela concentrates on the little Portuguese-to-Spanish book that she purchased when she still riding the bus into Argentina. There are lots of similarities between the two languages, and she can understand it alright, but those similarities just make it harder to remember the idiosyncratic ways that they diverge from each other.

The car comes to a halt. “We are here,” Lopez announces, his voice a curious mix of apprehension and hopefulness.

“It happened here?” she asks, and he shakes his head.

“A little further on, but I can’t drive there. We’ll have to walk.”

Gabriela slides out of her seat, feet landing softly on the dirt road, and slams the door behind her. The sound seems to reverberate through the forest, and Lopez winces. “Do you think that it is still here?” she asks. She removes and folds away her sunglasses; the light is comfortable now, and there’s no reason to conceal her face here.

“I don’t know. Probably,” he says, and that’s good enough for her. They may have to wait a while but, unlike lightning, the creature is known to strike twice in the same place.

“Show me where it happened, please,” she asks, and they pass the next half hour in silence again. Now and then, he bites his lip or his eyes dart back to her, perhaps wary of both Gabriela and whatever is in the forest. A couple of times, he pulls nervously at his uniform, which makes it apparent to all the world exactly who he works for. Gabriela thanks God that his fear is still outweighed by his desire for all of this to end. Perhaps it is that his greed is stronger or maybe he fears someone else even more, but it is a blessing all the same.

Even before Lopez stops, Gabriela knows when their journey has come to a conclusion. She is put on alert to its nearness by the way that Lopez’s hand strays more and more often to the gun at his side, and their arrival is confirmed by the sound of the bullet casings that she steps on, scattered across the ground like so many seeds.

“What were they going to do here?” she asks, and Lopez shrugs. He has told her before that he doesn’t micromanage these affairs. They are hired for a purpose, to clear out the locals so that he can fell the trees and plant soybeans, and whether they do so by starting fires or persecuting the locals more directly, it matters little to him. Gabriela doesn’t know very much about guns, but judging by the number of casings there were either many people here or their guns could fire pretty quickly. Whichever is the case, it seems unlikely that they were intending just to start a fire.

A bird sings in the distance, but she can’t tell from which direction. The trees stand thick and tall, like great pillars in an overgrown temple, and their branches reach overhead to form a loose roof. The sounds of the forest echo off the trees, coming from anywhere and everywhere.

The day is late, and the light is growing dimmer, so Gabriela can make it out clearly when Lopez lights his cigarette, a tiny fire burning in the growing darkness. A moment later, he sets his backpack down and pulls out a lantern.

“Till tomorrow. Then I leave,” he says, now sitting on his backpack.

“Till tomorrow,” Gabriela agrees. She doesn’t need him here to meet the thing in the forest.

The night advances, and with it comes a cooler air. Inside her coat, Gabriela shivers.


The Gran Chaco

7:45 a.m. Argentina Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
10:45 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Fast forward—

“”It is tomorrow,” says Lopez, as he nudges Gabriela’s shoulder and awakens her. “It has not come. I am leaving,” he continues.

She notes the use of “it,” and wonders if she has made an “ignorant superstitious fool” out of him after all. What could not be done by the reports of his men has been accomplished, she supposes, by meeting someone who could speak of fears that he had never confided in another.

“Fair enough,” she says, and she tries to rub the grogginess out of her eyes. “You’re leaving the backpack, right?” It never hurts to double check, and it will make a better pillow than her arm.

“Yes, I told you,” he says, then he makes a weird noise, like a grunt or a gasp, something short and somehow watery. Gabriela is about to question him but she hears another sound after that, a slinking rattling sound that, in context, strikes her as quite ominous. As she prays once again that God will see her through, Gabriela keeps her hands pressed against her eyes, as if the only thing keeping her safe is that she can’t see what she has been looking for.

It takes no less than forever for Gabriela to work up the nerve to speak, and another long eternity to remember the right words in Spanish. “I-I’m here, I mean, I’m h-h-here to help, I’m your friend…” is all that she manages before her mouth refuses to keep working. Maybe she’s all wrong about this and it’s something else and now it’s going to eat her, or it’s someone else and they’re going to kill her or worse, or…

“Did he hurt you?” Gabriela hears, and she rejoices as she realizes that the voice belongs to a girl, like herself.

“N-No,” Gabriela answers, and she removes her hands from her eyes. There is something in front of her, filling most of her field of vision. It twitches and undulates, with a long, slender body with rough brown skin and countless limbs that sprout from either end. When she looks at the thing’s far end, she sees that the limbs there are covered with leaves and realizes that it is a tree. Both its roots and branches come together and untwine in strange motions, and a moment later she notices Lopez’s body, impaled on two long roots and hanging by his chest. Below him, other roots are digging up the soil, perhaps to make a place to bury him.

He was a bad man, she tells herself at the same time that she holds back the need to vomit. Angels sent me here, so this was done by someone like me, so this is the vengeance of God. People are dead because of him.

It is another minute before Gabriela is able to find her voice again. “I’m l-like you,” she says. Her eyes are averted from the tree-thing, but she hears something slide and hit the ground. Something touches her shoulder and Gabriela jumps and nearly screams before she realizes that it was a hand.

“My name is Agustina,” says the girl, and Gabriela swallows down her fears and turns her eyes back to the girl. Her clothes are dirty and torn, and her hair is messy. Buttons litter her jacket, too numerous and too diverse to not be some kind of customization. Behind Agustina, the tree-thing appears to be inert. Lopez still hangs from its root-limbs and blood stains his uniform, running down his body and dripping from his shoes.

“G-Gabriela,” she says in turn, and she extends a still shaking hand to Agustina, hoping that she is on the right path. “Let’s b-be friends.”

Sunlight, ch. 08: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

3:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Friday, October 24th, 2014
19:50 Coordinated Universal Time
Friday, October 24th, 2014

Soon there will be shouting and clamor and confusion. There will be accusations, demands, and threats. Simon will not be present, then, but he is here now, leaving Peter Newsome behind him as he enters Akvo’s cell.

The cell is full of the stink of copper and decayed organic matter. It grows thicker every week, as if there’s some small trace of Akvo’s bloody paintings that can’t be washed away, no matter how hard the man in green scrubs at the walls, and it builds up a little bit more every time that he makes another painting.

Or maybe it’s just Simon’s imagination, his nerves getting to him. There’s so much that he doesn’t understand about Akvo and Viejo, so much that doesn’t make sense. They could have been his Obi-Wan or just supervillains, but he’s been taught only a little and so far as anyone can tell, Akvo doesn’t have any superpowers. They made it possible for him to know about the end of the world in advance, long enough that there might be a chance to stop it, but they’ve killed countless scores of people, but Akvo has given genuinely useful information, but he’s clearly and happily fucked in the head…

Not for the first time, Simon wonders what it is that has made Akvo the way he is, and whether he is an outlier among his peers or typical of their number.

What did you do, to make it that I exist?

There’s little doubt in Simon’s mind that Akvo and the others are responsible, somehow. He just doesn’t know how, or why they did whatever it was that made all this happen, or how it was possible in the first place. If this could have happened at all, if it was ever possible for superpowers to exist, then why not earlier?

Without saying anything, Simon takes a seat on the ground near the door, and Akvo, brush in hand, sweeps his legs beneath him as he follows suit. Simon thinks that he spies interest in Akvo’s eyes, but not impatience.

“Give me one reason why I should trust you,” Simon begins.

“Because I helped you. Or at least, a version of me, in a timeline that never happened but which you witnessed a piece of, helped you.”

Simon wonders if Akvo knows why he is here, if Akvo knows what he has seen. Akvo must have some clue; the man in green sent him a message about it once, in a vision from not too long ago.

“Then why did you help us? Why are you…being so difficult to figure out?”

“I don’t know what you were told when you witnessed my death, but either you or your alternate self must have misunderstood. If by ‘us’ you are referring to PALATINATE, then your very premises are wrong. I helped you, Simon. I helped Hannah, and Austin, and any others that PALATINATE might have recruited. I helped the Children, and not their masters.” Akvo brushes a hand against the back of his head. “Why the questions, Simon?”

“I need to know if I can trust you.”

Akvo smirks, just slightly, just the hint of an upward turn at the edges of his mouth. It might just be a trick of the light, but Simon interprets it as a smile anyway, and wonders if Akvo noticed that Simon had said “I,” and not “we.”

Finally, he gives a reply. “I’ll be honest with you, because you deserve honesty and I think that you’re smart enough to keep things in perspective. I’ve killed people. It takes the edge off. You have no idea what it is like.” Akvo scratches just above his left eye. “Those people that I killed don’t mean anything to me. They’re only relevant insofar as they might turn out to be unexpectedly dangerous. But I care very much about you, Simon, you and the ninety-nine others like you, and you are the reason that I am doing all of this.”

Simon looks away. “Did you make us?”

“You asked me that before. The answer’s still the same: I don’t know. But probably not.”

Simon has heard that before, it’s true. He remembers that conversation. He just isn’t sure that he believes it–and yet he also can’t say whether he thinks that Akvo is lying.

There’s a kernel of an idea germinating in his mind, a question as to where Akvo could have come from, but there’s no definite answer yet. Possibilities, but mostly just more questions.

“What is the Green about?” Simon asks, and Akvo leans back, his shoulders slumping in relaxation.

“Curiosity,” he says. “Benevolence. An axe chopping a piece of cordwood in two with a single, intentful swing. I believe that there is anger, and I believe that there is generosity, and that is the Green. Fiŝo pli granda malgrandan englutas: Men are like fish; the great ones devour the small.”

“And are you one of the great ones?”

Akvo shakes his head. “I’m not even a fish. No, think of me as coral, or as an anemone.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ask me in another time,” he says, and Simon catches the extra word. He considers what Akvo has said. He thinks about the murders, and about the message that another Akvo sent to him through Dr. Denham’s future death, and wonders how he can possibly be expected to choose wisely here. He’s just a kid. He isn’t even fifteen years old yet. But he can’t talk to an adult, can he? And at the end of the day, Hannah and Austin, the only ones that he can possibly trust, are just as young as he is.

Wordlessly, Simon picks himself up from the ground and departs. Peter Newsome gives him a quizzical look, but says nothing. Simon isn’t sure what he would say if he had been asked anything.

Simon is going to need to have another conversation with Akvo. Not now, though. Not in this timeline, he thinks, and the idea of what he is going to have to do makes him sick to his stomach.