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 even seen Simon walk by, let alone seen 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 your 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.

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.

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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.

Sunlight, ch. 07: Hannah Johnson

Monitoring: Hannah Johnson
Vienna, Virginia, USA

12:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
16:10 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd 2014

Fast forward—

When Rucker comes back from her trip, wherever it had taken her, Hannah is speaking with Heron about pigments. There had been a problem with the lights in her room, which led to some experimentation with the effects of differently-colored lighting on the appearance of her artwork. That had required asking somebody to purchase some bulbs for her, though, and Heron was willing enough to run out to the hardware store (or at least she thinks that’s where he went, but she isn’t clear about whether there’s another place one could go for light bulbs), and then one conversation topic led to another, flitting around the general subject of art. Hannah is pretty sure that he’s only trying to build a rapport with her, but that’s alright; she’s trying to do the same with him.

There are dark circles under Rucker’s eyes and she doesn’t seem to notice Hannah and Heron as she passes by them until Heron speaks up. A light movement of her hand, barely lifting from her side, waves away Heron’s questions regarding her well-being, and Heron settles for following her into the elevator.

Ever mindful of potential problems, Hannah goes along with him.

“Get the others,” Rucker says, sounding out of breath. “We need to talk. The situation might be changing,” she says, and Hannah’s intestines seem to curl up around themselves and tighten. Her tactfulness might be more, hm, tactical than empathetic, but she still resists the urge to immediately inquire after her siblings. Whatever is or might be happening, Rucker isn’t acting as though a delay of a few minutes will cause irreparable harm.

Heron leaves, texting on his phone as he goes, but Hannah stays with Rucker as they head to the room that they’ve been using for meetings. Rucker slides into the nearest chair and puts the side of her head against her right hand for support. Her left hand, clutching a thermos that she had brought inside, is raised to her mouth, and Rucker perks up ever so briefly before the alertness fades from her eyes and she looks exhausted again.

As Hannah takes a seat beside her, the others begin to file in.

“Peter. What do you, you have something for us?” Rucker asks, and he nods, lifting a small cardboard box of papers. “Good. I need some good news. First the part that I don’t like.” Rucker pauses to take a long swallow of whatever’s in the thermos, then waits another moment. Her eyes brighten again, and she begins to speak. “India has a number of superpowered children—I don’t know how many—and seem prepared to use them for military purposes. They’re running the project under the auspices of their armed forces, anyway. We need to be prepared for a flashpoint in the region, between India and either Pakistan or China. That means, among other things, preparing to go public with the situation so that we can try to keep our hands on the narrative.”

“We were always planning on doing that,” says Guthrie. “If anything, we’re lucky that we haven’t had to do anything until now.”

Rucker gives a slow nod, almost as if her head is simply drifting in a downward direction. She closes her eyes. “Broadly speaking, our aims are, in order, to prevent the deaths of nine out of every ten people on the planet, as Akvo suggests is the most probable outcome; to prevent a nuclear war, which is probably but not definitely linked to the first bit; and to maintain the continued and independent existence of the United States and its allies. It isn’t going too far to assume that a conflict in Asia, between India, China, Pakistan, and maybe even Russia, could lead to the exchange that Simon has seen in his visions.

“We know that the range of these powers is going to increase. It’s very possible that nuclear weapons might not have to be used in order to wreak large-scale devastation, and it’s even a possibility that their use might be in response to superpowered activity. It isn’t exactly our usual modus operandi, but shedding as much light as we can on these things is probably the best course of action that we can take. More awareness means more minds that we can put to solving the problems that we are encountering and means a less fearful public compared to a scenario where they first learned about the existence of superpowers after an Indian or Chinese invasion. Before we go forward with anything, though, we need to make sure that you’re okay with our plans,” Rucker concludes, looking first at Hannah and then at Simon and Austin.

“What do you have so far?” asks Austin.

Rucker gestures to Blank, who answers for her. “First, we coordinate with our counterparts in other countries that we intelligence agreements with. If possible…we approach Russia, China, and anyone else that might be important here, and then we arrange for a press conference. We’ll be keeping your powers hidden, with the exception of Hannah, who can give people a demonstration and hopefully give people the impression that, while there are some dangerous powers, the majority of them are, no offense, innocuous.”

Hannah shrugs. “Will I get to collect my Randi Prize winnings then?”

“I don’t see why not,” answers Blank. “We’re also going to keep your identities hidden, of course. If there’s any upside to the fact that you are children, it’s that we can withhold a lot of information on the grounds that we’re protecting your privacy.”

“That’s the only upside?” asks Austin.

“I would rather that children not be burdened with the responsibilities that you have,” Blank says before he continues his overview. “We’ll explain that we’re looking for more children like you so that we can grant protection, et cetera, but stress that we aren’t forcing anyone to cooperate. Hopefully, our allies are willing to do the same in their respective jurisdictions.

“After the bombshell that is the initial revelation, we will also have to broach the possibility of nuclear war. We only want to discuss it as a possibility, mind, and not even slightly as a certainty or even, more truthfully, as something that Simon has seen in visions of the future. For one thing, it probably isn’t a good idea to make it public knowledge that we have any kind of precognitive, let alone one whose power would, I’m sorry to say, probably not have great optics.”

Simon shifts a little in his seat, but Blank either doesn’t notice or sees no need to address his discomfort. Maybe it’s the right decision. “We probably won’t make people suspicious if we approach it from the angle that this is a new situation and anything new is liable to make people jumpy. We don’t want to say anything that suggests to the public that a superpowered child is a threat, especially since John Q. Public will happily come up with that idea without any encouragement on our part, but we should be able to impress upon people the need for caution on general principle. If possible, less emphasis on international affairs and more emphasis on making sure that the children involved are being taken care of and have all the resources that they might require.”

“The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters?” asks Simon.

“I doubt it. With only a hundred of you across the world, that would require some real international cooperation. And, to be honest, sometimes the only thing we’re able to cooperate on is, just barely, not killing ourselves and everyone around us. There’d be issues just about whose soil to put it on, so your school would have a pretty dismal class size. Anyway, our intent is to defuse fear as much as we can, in a neutral climate rather than in the aftermath of violence, and take advantage of the fact that we no longer have to hide as much. After this, our biggest secret will probably be you, Simon, although even in your case we should probably still be able to work more openly than we are at the moment, with greater interagency cooperation and aid from contractors.”

“What if somebody else doesn’t like what you’re doing?” asks Austin. “What if India or China, or even someone in the U.S. government, responds badly? Couldn’t that start a war on its own?”

Rucker nods, the first action she’s taken in the past few minutes besides nursing the contents of her thermos. “Talked with the director about it. He had those concerns too. Doing nothing is making a choice just as much as actively doing something is, so if we balk at every possible action then we’ll be as responsible for the consequences just as much as if we had been more proactive. All we can do is minimize the risk, calculate the odds and the costs again, and go forward with whatever looks like the best plan, and hope for the best. Depending on how long the details take, we should be ready to make the unveiling in…February or March, I’d say. The Asia thing certainly does put a kink into it, which we should make sure is settled before we move forward.”

“So, what about your box, Peter? What did you find?” asks Rucker. “I might need to reread your report after I’ve gotten some sleep, if there’s any for me to get, but we’d all appreciate some better news than this trouble around India.”

Newsome sighs and taps the sides of the box before he stands and reaches inside it. “Unfortunately, what I have is a bit of a mixed bag.” He bites his lip. “Good news: the background checks that we’ve been running for the past few months has turned up some fruit, which I have here,” he says, tapping the box again with his left hand. “Bad news: there’s a lot that we still don’t know, and some of this just opens up more questions than we had before. But I do think that the good news outweighs the bad.”

Photographs are dropped or tossed down, thrown haphazardly around the table so that there are at least a few in front of any given person. Hannah receives three photographs of Akvo and one of Viejo. Most of the photos that she can see appear to have come from photo ID. Their thematic coloration is on display in each one.  “Our friend Akvo might be better known as Wajid Gerges,” Newsome says. “Or Falah Maloof, or Diya Nazari, or even Steve Tuma. Viejo’s names are equally diverse: Ana Araujo, Matilde Pinto, and Ana Castro, to name only a few.”

“And they’re probably all fakes,” mutters Heron.

“Yeah. They’re tied to a bunch of bank accounts, mostly in the United States and Canada but a few in other countries, all in Central America.” Newsome takes a long breath. “It’s all pretty good stuff. You could run these through, and I don’t think that anybody would notice that something was weird unless you were looking for something, unless you had a reason to be suspicious already.”

“Does that mean that we can’t locate anyone else that they were working with?” asks Austin. “If they were doing the same thing that Akvo and Viejo were, I mean.”

“Not so fast,” says Newsome, more happily than before. That doesn’t require much of a difference, though. “I don’t know how feasible this is, and it’s almost definitely going to be a hassle, even for us, but…I couldn’t find any paperwork that predates December 31st, 2000.”

“Our birthdays,” says Simon, and Newsome gives a nod.

“That isn’t to say that there are no records that predate that,” Newsome hastily adds before anyone can interject further. “When I say paperwork, that’s exactly what I mean. Hard, physical copies. The electronic stuff has all sorts of dates—all of them very plausible, so far as I checked—but I did some additional digging and made more requests, and nobody could find physical evidence from before that time.”

“Well, that’s got to mean something,” says Guthrie.

“At the very least, if we’re willing to expend enough resources to cast a wide enough net, we could conceivably find a couple more of Akvo’s associates. It could also turn up nothing, though, or at least take too long to bear fruit. We would need people to go through an ungodly amount of records, not to mention break a couple of laws if we wanted to be really thorough.”

Blank taps one of the photos that was thrown before him. “Are they American citizens?”

“And Canadian, among others, usually with places of birth that correspond to their accents. We might be able to do something with the number of identities that they’ve forged for themselves, searching for photos of people with different names and even life histories, who share faces and were born in similar regions. It would still take time to set up, but that’s life, it seems.”

“You keep mentioning America and Canada and so on,” Hannah says. “Isn’t there anything outside of this continent?”

Newsome shakes his head. “Not a thing. I couldn’t tell you why, though maybe Akvo would be willing to say.”

“Or not say, in a very particular fashion,” responds Austin. “I think we’ve proven that sometimes, what he’s implying or referring to or just…gesturing in the vague direction of, can be useful.”

“Yeah.” Newsome draws another paper out of his box and unfolds it several times, revealing a map adorned with red circles and neat cursive writing. He sets it roughly in the middle of the table, a little too far for Hannah, at least, to make out exactly what the writing is supposed to say. He puts his finger down on one of the circles. “Twenty-six people dead. Four people dead. Sixteen people dead,” he says, moving his finger to different circles as he makes each pronouncement.

“The massacres typically took place in a small town with a tiny police force. Some of them had as few as three officers. Each case demonstrates a fair amount of planning and knowledge about the area. Where they happened in public locations, the murders were often carried out in earshot of at least one witness, for all the good that that did anyone at the time, and happened in quick succession, one after the other. The amount of time varied in a way that doesn’t seem linked to the number of victims but was always well below what you would judge police response time to be.”

Simon picks up one of the photographs and holds it closer to his face. “This was Akvo and Viejo?”

“I’m ninety-five percent certain that it was them. The smaller murders, the ones that took place in people’s homes, tend to display Akvo’s penchant for, um, artwork, and what makes them all notable as a whole is that you can see Akvo and Viejo withdrawing money and using credit cards in or around these locations, at these points in time. That would be enough to suggest that they’re following the killers, at least, but the new and bloody paint jobs point to Akvo and Viejo.” He pauses. “Unless we have another pair of serial killers with Akvo’s M.O., which I suppose cannot be discounted.”

“How many?” asks Blank.

“Two or three massacres every year, and around fifteen of the smaller cases, with one to four murders, in the same time frame. Mostly concentrated in the United States, Canada, and Mexico,” answers Newsome. “Adding all of them together, we’re looking at more than sixteen hundred murders over the past fourteen years.”

Guthrie’s eyes dart to the door and she opens her mouth, but Blank holds up a hand—after glancing at Rucker, who is less responsive. “He isn’t going anywhere, and we can’t act without thinking. Let’s not forget that the bastard bit off his own finger just to make a point. If he can be intimidated then we haven’t found the method by which that’s possible, and dispensing justice isn’t as important as squeezing him for whatever information he can provide. If we have to wait six months or even six years to do that, in order to save millions or billions of lives, then that’s just what we’ll have to do.”

Hannah wonders why nobody had ever figured this out before, but after a moment’s thought the reason is apparent: It’s easy to look at the information that PALATINATE has recovered and start connecting the dots, but there are probably only a few groups who could access it at all to start with. Beyond that, too, it might be easy to look at the information now, but putting it together in the first place is the thing that was the real roadblock to making the discovery. They needed Akvo and Viejo, or at least one of them, before they could begin to connect these identities.

“There’s one more thing,” Newsome says, and this time, finally, he looks unambiguously pleased. “It took a little bit, but if you’ll look here,” he says, and Hannah cranes her neck without success to read what he’s pointing at, “there were multiple murders over several years in this location, and here, and here.” Hannah isn’t sure what he’s getting at until his finger goes to Baton Rouge. “And here, and here,” he says, now pointing at Toronto.

“They were…stalking us,” Simon says.

“Or something like that. But if I’m interpreting these return visits correctly…”

“Then we’ve found the others!” exclaims Rucker, with a new alertness that startles Hannah as she leans forward with a quick jerk.

Hannah looks at the map more closely. She doesn’t bother to read the writing. The important thing is where Newsome’s tight scrawl covers the most space: Toronto and Baton Rouge, as he pointed out, and scattered across Virginia, yes, but there are four more locations beside those, two in Mexico, one in Cuba, and one in Utah.

We found them, she thinks. We found them.

Sunlight, ch. 06: Vihaan Sengupta

Monitoring: Vihaan Sengupta
Jalandhar, Punjab, India

3:35 p.m. India Standard Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
10:05 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Rewind—

As was typical for the Children, Vihaan goes from revelation of his powers to experimentation in short order. Seeing as he is living on India Standard Time, he has the good opportunity to be riding the school bus when it happened, and there is someone sitting beside him, who he can test his newfound powers on.

He doesn’t need to do it more than once to get the confirmation that he is looking for, at least for the present, but as the bus comes close to his stop, Vihaan pauses to give counsel. “Just tell your parents what’s worrying you,” he says before he slips away from his seat. Vihaan had boarded the bus as a fourteen-year-old boy, and now disembarks as a saint or minor god.

Or at least that’s what how it seems, but Vihaan can’t explain what exactly is going on. He isn’t a swami or fakir or any other sort of person who might deserve supernatural powers. There has been no training or process of enlightenment, nor any kind of blessing (so far as he can tell). That may be the oddest part of it all, and the most disturbing. There is no good religious framework through which he can interpret these events, and the good old materialist understanding of the universe is clearly lacking. By the time that he goes to bed, and has had a chance to practice on his siblings, Vihaan feels as though he has actually lost knowledge, even though he has really just learned that what he thought he knew is false.

It is disappointing, He would prefer that he were the one who was mad, and not the world, but he can’t go through life with the belief that nothing that he sees is real. Just to live, he will have to accept something, so he accepts this: His name is Vihaan Sengupta, and he can read the thoughts of other people.

And he ought to do something. It is not that being in possession of this power implies that he has also been given a responsibility; Vihaan is wary of assuming too much, now that he it looks like he can trust very little of even what science has discovered. He does, however, feel that he has an obligation regardless: that he ought to do something, because he can.

That is no excuse for acting hastily and inadvertently hurting someone, however. Again, he has received no specific injunction against doing so, but if Vihaan has not been given moral instruction from whatever being or force is responsible for his empowerment then he can still make those decisions on his own, and he chooses to value caution and prudence.

A week passes, and Vihaan is no closer to deciding on a course of action than he was before. Another week after that, however, and he decides to double down on his original position. His power exists, which means that there are ninety-nine others like him, in accordance with the other part of the revelation that he received. It is too much to hope that they will all be patient, and therefore the wisest thing to do might be to wait, see what they are doing, and help those who should be helped and hinder the rest. Without coordination, plans will collide. He will be doing the world no favors by adding another plan to the pile.

The plan, then, the better plan that will hopefully not collide with anybody else’s plans, is to wait until he knows what some of the other plans are and can evaluate whether and how he can involve himself in them, and in the meantime build on his capacity to be useful.


Kolkatta, West Bengal, India

2:40 p.m. India Standard Time
Saturday, May 24th, 2014
9:10 Coordinated Universal Time
Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Fast forward—

The air is thick with incense, but not as much as Vihaan is used to. When he tried to set the proper amount, or what he said was the proper amount, it got to be too much for the man that he is sitting in front of and they had to air out the room so that he would not be disoriented. After all, he might not be able to properly evaluate Vihaan’s (purported) abilities if he were occupied with a choking fit.

“I sense that there is this decision that you have made, you are still wondering about it,” he says. “Not often, yes, not often, but sometimes you are unsure as to whether you made the right decision.

The man, Divyansh, stares back at him, nodding slightly but clearly unimpressed. Vihaan can’t blame the man for thinking that he’s a fraud, even if he is currently reading the man’s thoughts about how unexpectedly dull and formulaic this test is turning out to be. He did, after all, specifically train himself in cold reading techniques, not just to get his subject’s mind walking down the right path (as it turns out, VIhaan can only read conscious thoughts) but also to supply an easy explanation to anyone who is trying to figure him out.

“Now, I’m getting something from your grandfather,” he says. “Wait, no, your grandmother,” as soon as Divyansh thinks about how both of his grandfathers are alive. “Yes, that’s it. Samaira? No, Prishna? Pihu? No, Pari. That’s it. Pari,” he says, though Divyansh had thought of his grandmother’s name as soon as Vihaan supplied the first wrong one. “She wants you to know that she’s very proud of you, even though you’re a skeptic and you don’t believe that she’s actually trying to communicate with you or even still alive. You’re honest, and there are a lot of frauds out there. She’s glad that you’re exposing them.”

From Divyansh there is now unadulterated anger, and a bit of uncertainty about whether it’s right to be so furious with a child. Vihaan is the youngest person to apply for these tests, after all. Divyansh would prefer to believe that he’s just a kid who’s been manipulated by his parents into being a faux-mystic money ticket for them.

“Enough,” Divyansh says, as someone hands him a sealed pack of cards. “Let’s proceed with the first test.” He opens the pack, plastic wrap crinkling in his hands, and feeds it a shuffling machine on a small table to his left. It spits out a card, which he retrieves without letting Vihaan see it. A quick glance, and then he sets it down on the table.

Vihaan will be confronted with a series of twelve cards. His success, based on the rules of the test that both he and Divyansh had agreed upon, requires that he correctly call six out of the twelve to pass it.

He puts his hand over Divyansh’s. “Are you thinking of your card?” he asks, but the question is superfluous. Vihaan already knows that he is. Ace of Hearts, he reads, and “Six of Hearts,” he says.

Without saying anything, Divyansh repeats the process.

Two of Spades. “Four of Clubs.” Two of Hearts. “Queen of Diamonds.”

They go through all twelve, and Vihaan fails every one except the eleventh, which he correctly calls as the Four of Spades. Vihaan complains about the lightened incense on the fourth failure, but Divyansh will have none of it (and rightly so, Vihaan acknowledges in his head).

“You agreed to the rules. If you couldn’t perform under them, then you could have said so in the beginning.”

Fair enough, Vihaan thinks. I just need an excuse for the believers.

They run through two more tests, similar to the first, and Vihaan performs just as badly on those. That’s fine.

The Prabir Ghosh Challenge offers two and a half million rupees to anyone who can demonstrate proof of supernatural powers. That’s a decent amount of money and the biggest single payout in his short career as a psychic.

It’s not that much, though. This time next year, he’ll be making that much every two months. Maybe more, if his career really picks up steam. There’s no end to how credulous some people are, or how much they’ll pay to communicate with the dead.

He can afford to lose this contest, and that’s the point of coming here. The believers will always believe; this will not harm his potential to make money and connections to use later, when the others have revealed themselves. In the meantime, though, he’s discredited himself. After all, what bonafide supernaturalist would voluntarily take a challenge like this and fail?

One that was trying to hide.

There are ninety-nine others like him, and he can expect that at least some of those will be looking for people like themselves. Let them reveal themselves. His plan, inasmuch as it is merely a plan to assist those who deserve it, requires that he be able to locate them. Being located, though, is…not in the cards, as it were.

Vihaan and Divyansh shake hands at the end, and he makes one last excuse for his poor behavior. Divyansh doesn’t even grace this one with a response, and Vihaan doesn’t have to read the man’s mind to know how dismissive he’s feels. What Vihaan especially enjoys is the small note of confusion in the man’s mind: Divyansh can’t figure out why Vihaan is smiling.


Jalandhar, Punjab, India

1:25 p.m. India Standard Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
7:55 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Fast forward—

Vihaan has an office now. It’s small, admittedly, and it’s just a converted room in his house, and ever since he switched to correspondence school he’s used it more for schoolwork than for business, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it exists. He feels so official that it hurts. Maybe he should get a visiting card: Vihaan Sengupta, Certified Psychic.

The certification isn’t a lie, either, even if the paperwork was from societies for paranormal research. That’s fine, though. It’s all fine. Lots of people eat that stuff up, and for everyone else it’s just one more reason to dismiss him.

Now that’s what he should really have on his card: Vihaan Sengupta, Nothing to See Here.

The best part of this office is the chair. It reclines all the way back, so his back is completely parallel with the floor. He bought it with his own money, too, which is nice.

There’s a light knock on the door, and his mother comes in. Well, there goes the illusion of being all official and business-like. “Vihaan, there’s someone to see you.”

That’s odd. He doesn’t remember setting any appointments. Still, he can always do his schoolwork later so his schedule is effectively open and it wouldn’t be polite to leave them waiting.

No sooner does he express this position than a man steps past her, pausing briefly to thank her again before he takes a seat in front of Vihaan’s desk. He’s middled-age, probably somewhere around his late forties, with a hard, rough face, like he had spent his youth smashing it against granite until his face toughened up, and bits of it had chipped off in the process.

His smile is unexpectedly bright and inviting, as if he had stolen it off of somebody else, a person with softer features than his own.

“I know that I already sat down, but we should shake hands,” he says, reaching over the desk. Vihaan reciprocates without unthinking, and just as reflexively exercises his power.

Found you, the man thinks, and Vihaan recoils violently, slipping away from the man’s hand and out of his chair, onto the floor.

“W-What? You can’t—you c-couldn’t… “ Vihaan pauses, hand pressed against his chest, and tries to not hyperventilate. “Who are you? How?”

There are too many questions. He can’t do this. What’s going to happen to him?

“I’m a friend,” the man says, and Vihaan forces himself to calm down. Whether or not it’s a lie, Vihaan can’t do anything about it. Not for the first time, but definitely more strongly than ever before, Vihaan wishes that his power came with a truth-detecting component, but unfortunately that aspect only functioned insofar as somebody consciously thought about the fact that they were lying. Someone who was good at it could conceivably lie without thinking. In fact, Vihaan is pretty sure he had read an article about how some people are just able to convince themselves that anything is the truth, on command, like they’d walked out of Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

Or something. He had read it awhile ago.

The man waits for Vihaan to return to his seat, and then for Vihaan to speak. “Okay. So. First question: Who are you?”

“Colonel Rachit Sharma. I’m here as a representative of the government,” he says, and Vihaan feels like he’s in danger of falling out of his seat again.

He isn’t dead yet, though, and this is even more evidence that Vihaan’s options are, well, limited to say the least, so he might as well stay where he is, at least until he gets more information and he gets more options.

After another minute of silence, which Colonel Sharma again does not interrupt, Vihaan finds his next question. “How?” A pause. “I mean, why? I-I mean, I failed the tests. You should have passed me by. I’m not the only kid who’s done tests, not even the only one to get some of the endorsements that I have.”

Vihaan had wondered how long he should wait, and whether his age would be too much of a tip-off for him to successfully obscure it. The other ninety-nine were children too, after all. After much deliberation, he had decided that the risk was reasonable, compared to the opportunity cost that he would have to pay by waiting for a year or three before he started to exercise his power.

Maybe he made the wrong decision. Vihaan isn’t sure, though. Colonel Sharma’s reply makes everything very doubtful.

“Everyone that we’ve found like you has been born on December 31st,” he says. “Also, you’re prone to more academic success than average, although that isn’t a surefire sign because there can be confounding factors and reasons why even a bright child would receive poor grades. Really, it comes down to your birthdate. Someone who is doing extremely well in school is certainly noteworthy, but for other reasons, and there are lots of babies born on any day of the year, and plenty of fourteen-year-olds in this country, and you are correct that it is not unheard of for a teenager to evince supernatural powers, but all of these things combined? It makes us suspicious.”

Vihaan nods glumly, but does not say anything.

“Be more cheerful, Vihaan,” the colonel says. “What you did was very clever. You couldn’t have known that your birthday would betray you, and as far as that goes, you would have to have literally done nothing in order for us to overlook you. That would have been a waste of a good gift, just as much as if you didn’t apply your intelligence.”

“What now?” asks Vihaan.

“We talk for a little bit more, and then I give you my contact information and leave you to think about it.”

“You’re trying to recruit me?”

“We would have to stretch to find a combat utility for your powers, and thankfully enough, it isn’t hard to come up with other applications.” Colonel Sharma sounds like he’s genuinely grateful for that. “You would be put in a strictly non-combat role, then, assisting your government through other means. In addition, you would be put in contact with others like yourself, which I’m sure is an interesting prospect.”

“What can the others do?”

“A variety of things,” says the colonel. “A variety that is classified unless you agree to work with us.”

“How long? What will it be like?” asks Vihaan, and Sharma pulls out some sort of brochure and sets it on the desk. It’s about life in the armed forces.

“Sort of like that, with equivalent pay and a little less physical training, to be renegotiated when you reach your age of majority. I can’t tell you more unless you accept, and then we’ll talk with your parents and make sure that they accept. Since they seem to believe that you have supernatural abilities, what we tell them will be reasonable close to the truth.”

Vihaan picks up the brochure. “I don’t have to make a decision now?”

“No. But we’d appreciate getting one within a week. It would be nice to know where we stand with respect to each other.”

He nods, then looks down at the brochure again. It might be time to do some research on what military life is like. “I’ll think about it,” he says. “I’ll let you know.”

Sunlight, ch. 5: Hannah Johnson

Monitoring: Hannah Johnson
Vienna, Virginia, USA

4:25 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
20:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Meanwhile—

Mary deliberates, Simon panics, and Hannah draws. Her world is not perfect, but it is coming together in the right ways and she feels very good about it: the world that she is living in, and the world that is coming to life on the canvas mounted on the wall.

She has visited Paul and Debbie, the only siblings of hers that shared her blood. She wondered what effect, if any, that might have, but they seemed no more and no less important to her than any of the siblings that she has picked up over her years in foster care. That she is attached at all to any of them is just some product of her lizard brain, but she’s grateful that it’s there.

The world on her wall is supported by its own bonds, old clans and more ancient oaths, emerging from chaos through a blue ballpoint pen tracing over penciled lines. It makes her wonder about Akvo’s people, what sort of rules they have to follow, and why. Hannah has not visited with him since that day at the restaurant: there’s nothing for her to gain from him, and besides that he seems dangerous. She perceives a similarity in him, more than the superficiality of how he is painting in blood at the same time that she is drawing in pen.

He is fixed on a goal. Hannah doesn’t know what it is, but if cooperating with the CIA and saving the whole world is only a means to the end of saving the world that matters to her, the siblings that she has made over the past seven years of being shuffled from home to home, then the same is true for Akvo. It is true of all of his partners in crime, if anything that he says can be trusted, though nobody is any closer to figuring out what their goals may be.

Hannah ought to be the one to solve that puzzle, really. The adults take their shifts here, and Guthrie has pulled more than a few all-nighters when she really should have returned home, but Hannah is the only who really lives here. It isn’t as if she has somewhere else to go, after all. But the memory of their single meeting makes her wonder how well they know her (and how they know her), to know what she would sacrifice for her siblings, and she doesn’t want to think about that any more than she has to. Instead, the honor of figuring out Akvo will probably go to—

A long shadow appears beside her as someone steps into the doorway.

“Knock, knock,” Austin says.

“The door’s open,” she replies.

“Well, yeah, I’m standing here.”

Hannah traces over another mountain before she turns to face him. “Done with TV Night already?”

Austin has taken to some sort of twice-weekly pop culture club with their resident murderer, consuming and discussing the media that Akvo requested. She tried to join in (with Austin only) but… Battlestar Galactica just wasn’t all that good. Or at least she doesn’t think it was. If one is going to write about impossible things, then it seems to Hannah like the proper place to do that is in fantasy, not something that purports to be science fiction. Dark lords and wizards are meant for enchanted forests, not starry galaxies, and Galactica seems closer to Star Wars than, well, whatever the actually scientific science fiction is.

It was a waste of a good fantasy plot, is what it was.

“We don’t watch the show,” Austin says. “We just talk about it.”

Of course, perhaps she ought to reevaluate what is and is not impossible, and inappropriate, for science fiction. A few months ago she would have scoffed at pyromancers and seers, but now she is in the company of one of each of those.

But on second thought: How about no? She still has zero evidence for faster-than-light travel or extraplanetary human colonies, and Galactica is still boring. There may be grounds for reevaluating her opinion of some superhero comics, though.

“Besides,” adds Austin, “I don’t think that he’s feeling well. Maybe a disagreement with something that he ate.”

If so, Akvo isn’t the only one who’s feeling poor. Simon is getting worn down, despite her best efforts (and possibly Dr. Denham’s, but if that’s true then his best isn’t good enough, and Hannah might have to lower her opinion of him even lower), and Austin is, well… Hannah isn’t sure what’s going on with him. He isn’t suffering, not like Simon, but there’s something about him that reminds Hannah of a kid who’s hiding something.

Is it bad? Could it hurt her siblings? He could be hiding something from Hannah and the others, or he could be trying to protect them. She isn’t sure what she looked like on the outside, when she had to do that. Maybe she looked the same.

She just has to trust Austin, and maybe keep an eye open for when he needs help.

“We’re going to be reading another book in a couple of weeks,” he says, and Hannah feels like he’s changed the subject, even though he’s really just brought it back on topic.

“More science fiction?” she asks, and he shakes his head.

A Night in the Lonesome October. Urban fantasy or horror or something. Late 1800s, early 1900s, somewhere around there.”

She considers the idea. It would be beneficial to strengthen her bond with the others, regardless of the current state of their relationship—and enjoyable, too. Hannah doesn’t read much urban fantasy, at least beyond the sort that only technically qualifies, and quickly goes off to another world, but it isn’t false science fiction, either. She can afford to give this one a go, and probably keep her patience with the story even if loses her interest.

But, to fill two needs (or three, counting personal entertainment) with one deed… “We should invite Simon to join us,” she says. “Without Akvo. I would prefer that we not add to the time that they spend together, and anyways I’d like to maintain my successful avoidance of him.”

“That’s a good idea. The first part, anyway. I think you might get something out of meeting Akvo,” Austin says.

“I did meet him. He talked with me, and then he talked with Simon, and then he and the other lady tried to kill each other and he won. I think that’s enough conversation for at least the rest of this year. Thanks for the invitation, though.”

He sighs, ever so slightly, evidently trying to hide his disappointment. Hannah wonders if Akvo has gotten to him somehow, but…no. Austin doesn’t seem the type, even now, and she doesn’t know what his angle is but she doesn’t feel like he’s angling for the two of them to meet for Akvo’s benefit.

Curiouser and curiouser, but what can Hannah do except stay alert? She’ll figure out what’s going on, sooner or later.

Sunlight, ch. 4: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

4:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
20:15 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Meanwhile—

Simon returns to the world, instinctively jolting from an impact that he didn’t feel but which he knows will happen. Or could, anyway, but what is he supposed to do, write this woman a note and tell her to take the bus…forever? He doesn’t even know the date of the death that he just witnessed.”

“—”

And what does it matter, anyway? He isn’t allowed to communicate with these people in the first place, or do anything else that might leave more of a trail than there has to be, but even if he could, even if he were allowed to explain everything, prove it so that she will believe him, what would it change? It wasn’t her fault. He can’t prevent that car crash just by telling her to pay more attention.

“Simon.”

It isn’t a very big thing either, though. If she will just take a different route that day, whenever that day might be, or if she’s just five minutes behind her schedule, then she’ll live. With enough time for the butterflies of his words to flap and send her down a different trajectory, he could save her life without even knowing the exact advice to give. Just saying a few words could be enough, and their content wouldn’t even matter.

“Simon,” someone says.  

But that thought is more discomforting than the last. Being five minutes late in that instance would save her life, but in another instance it could kill her. All of it is so arbitrary, and it makes him wonder about the bigger cataclysms. How much of the future is in flux, and in what ways? Could he make things even worse, just as easily as make them better?

Simon,” and Heron grips his shoulder tightly. “What happened?”

Heron is about to say his name again when Simon finally responds. “S-Sorry. Car crash,” he says, and Heron breathes a sigh of relief.

“Was the vision extra long?”

Simon shakes his head. “Just…” He shrugs his shoulders, despite knowing that it’s going to earn him an extra trip to Dr. Denham’s office. “It’s interesting, how there are some visions where I never see what kills me. Sometimes, I’m bleeding out and then the world fades away. Or I’m a Giger tree, or something like that. There’s pain, and that lets me know that I’m not just about to die, but that I’m already dying. Other times, though, there’s just a transition, and I never see the threshold, let alone the other side.

“Bullets move too fast. I only feel it if the damage wasn’t severe enough to begin with. It’s the same thing with a car crash. I saw what was going to lead to the impact, I caught it just in the corner of my eye, but I died then and there. The crash happened, my head collided with God-knows-what and probably crunched, faster than the nerves in my brain—that is, her brain, could process what was happening.”

Simon takes a step away and leans his shoulder against the wall. “I’ve read about how humans—how we live on a time delay, always reacting to things that have, sort of, already happened. I mean, it’s not a huge delay, they didn’t happen that long ago, but still, by the order of, I don’t know, a couple of nanoseconds or something, we’re all living in the past.” He chuckles, just a little. “Kind of weird, in that light, how I’m actually able to live in the future, even if it’s only for a few seconds at a time. But I still don’t live in the present, even then.”

He feels Heron’s hand on his shoulder again. “You’re starting to ramble,” Heron says, and then, “I think that we’re done for today.”

“I’m… “ I’m fine, is what he’s about to say, but Simon catches the words before they pass his lips. He isn’t okay. “I’ll be okay,” he says instead. “Just give me five minutes.”

“No. We’re done,” Heron says, and Simon allows himself to be led out of the room, down the hall and the stairs, till finally they reach Heron’s car.

Simon slides into the front passenger seat. The vantage point isn’t exactly the one that he had when he died a few minutes ago (or a few weeks or years from now), but it’s still off-putting. “I can do more. I have to do more.”

Heron pulls away from the wheel, where he was putting in the key, and shifts in his seat so that he can face Simon. “Do you think that you can save the world on your own?” he asks. There’s a pause there, but before Simon can muster up any sort of response or even collect himself enough to give a dismal “no,” he continues on. “Where would you be without support? You can tell a little bit of the future. That’s great. Now try to do something about what you see without security clearance, or without other powers. Maybe you could do it if you were willing to kill someone in another timeline in order to get information in this one, but you’ve drawn your line in the sand—which I have respect for, mind you, even if I don’t necessarily agree with your decision—and you have effectively crippled your ability to brute force the problems that you encounter, which is the only way that you could possibly save the world on your own.”

“But I can still do what I can, and do more, and—”

“No. Absolutely not. Did you hear those words as you said them? Do what you can, and then do more? I know that was just some poor phrasing on your part and not a Freudian slip, but really, Simon, listen to yourself. There is a limit to what people can handle, and all of the therapy in the world is not going to keep you…” Heron’s face scrunches up in what might be anger or frustration or sadness. “…Is not going to keep you together. I will say that it this is about keeping you useful, if that’s what it takes. I will say that you will be no good to the world if you don’t take care of yourself and let us know when too much is being demanded of you, but really, what it honestly comes down to is that you are fourteen years old, and I have done some pretty terrible things, but I am not going to stand by and let you permanently traumatize yourself.”

Simon turns away and sets his head back, nestling the side of it in the space between the seat and the door. He tries to say something, say that the world is more important than him or that he’s more capable than Heron thinks, but the words get stuck in his throat.

The light shifts on the edge of Simon’s vision, like Heron has moved, and he hears the engine rev, and the world outside his window begins to slip past.