Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 13: Gabriela Silva

Monitoring: Gabriela Silva
Londrina, Paraná, Brazil

2:20 p.m. Brasilia Time
Thursday, October 13th, 2005
17:20 Coordinated Universal Time
Thursday, October 13th, 2005

Rewind—

In later years, Gabriela’s first memory will be of a midnight mass that her family is attending as part of their Christmas celebration. It is close to the end of the service, and after her parents and extended family members have exited the church, they sing Silent Night.

It is comforting, but not as important as what will be her second memory, from when she is five years old. It is when she meets the angels. Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 12: Daniel Hernandez

Monitoring: Daniel Hernandez
Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico

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

Fast forward—

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

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

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 11: Ayaan Yadav

Monitoring: Ayaan Yadav
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

3:15 p.m. India Standard Time
Friday, August 15th, 2014
9:45 Coordinated Universal Time
Friday, August 15th, 2014

Fast forward—

Ayaan isn’t bitter at the turn that his career has taken. Annoyed, sure, but not bitter. Ayaan doesn’t consider himself to be overly selfless–you have to help yourself before you help others, after all –but it would take a spectacular amount of selfishness and lack of perspective to be resentful of his present circumstances. He’s isn’t masking up to fight crime anymore, but he’s still doing good, and now he’s got nice company to do it with. At the worst, he’s back where he started before he got powers, and that isn’t too bad. And it goes a lot more smoothly than it did at the factory.

Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 10: Austin Smith

Monitoring: Austin Smith
Vienna, Virginia, USA

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

Fast forward—

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

Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 9: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
22:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Fast forward—

Akvo clammed up shortly after dropping that last nugget of information. He claimed he was exhausted and wanted time to decide on “negotiations,” which on the one hand was kind of surprising from someone who had just claimed that he was in the world-saving business, at least currently, but on the other hand maybe not too unreasonable, depending on what he was planning to negotiate for: “I would like to be located somewhere other than a concrete room with a mat on the floor” would probably be topping the list, and Simon couldn’t blame him if that was so. Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 7: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

10:25 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
17:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Fast forward—

Simon is the last to take a seat at the oval table that they’re using for meetings, following close after Hannah. Mary starts talking as soon as he’s sitting. She doesn’t bother to explain exactly what happened in the interrogation, and Simon isn’t sure that he wants to ask. Either it’s going unsaid because it isn’t important, or because Simon and the others won’t like it. Simon and Austin, at any rate; he isn’t sure how much Hannah would care. Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 6 Jin Xue [null]

Monitoring: Jin Xue
Tianjin, China

1:30 a.m. China Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
17:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Meanwhile—

It is an unpleasant analogy, but more and more Jin feels himself to be a kind of scarecrow as he observes these operations. It has a little to do with himself, the weight that he has been losing and other small details, but mostly it is about his relationship with the surgical team that he supervises, who he more easily imagines to be crows. Are they not picking apart the bodies of the living and the dead like feasting carrion birds? Their scalpels might as well be sharp beaks, and their commands and requests to each other sometimes seem more like imitations of human sound than the real thing. Jin has been hearing too much of it lately.

They stay away from him as much as they are able to. His presence is tolerated, because his authority supersedes theirs, but they enjoy it as little as he does. Both he and they are, if not happy, then at least as content as any of them can be if he restricts himself to standing here, near the corner of the room, and speaks only to the surgeon, Dr. Qian.

The object is to determine whether there’s a risk of contamination: whether more people might be altered in the same manner as the original subjects. It would be simpler to treat their remains like hyper-concentrated nuclear waste, render them down to ash and bury them half a mile deep in the ground, but there are other people to be concerned about. Other nations might condemn the CPC for guiding China with a firm hand, but Jin knows that what China does in the open, other states do behind closed doors. His opposite numbers in America, in Japan, in India, will not keep their hands clean when the time comes for dirty work, and if the alterations are “biologically insidious,” as he termed it some months ago, then it may not be long before others find out. Before then, Jin needs to discover the scope of the threat: can altered humans can be mass-produced?

It will be a relief once these experiments are over, but Bao thinks that they need to conduct further tests just to be sure that there’s no danger, and despite his distaste for the whole thing, Jin is in agreement. Experiments must be replicated in order to verify their accuracy. Jin can, at least, console himself with the fact that they have finished with killing the children that he had already become acquainted with.

He doesn’t know the name of the boy on the table, only a code name: Subject 7-0. Other children, normal humans without paranormal alteration, will be given names in reference to him, Subjects 7-1, 7-2, and so on all the way to 7-25, corresponding to the organs that they are due to receive from him. Jin finds some solace in the fact that, in this respect, his work is already saving lives. The comfort is minimal, though, inasmuch as he recognizes that the world at large couldn’t be convinced to accept widescale abductions for the sake of better handling the transplant list. These are some terrible things that he is doing, that they are doing, and part of him hopes that he will be able to later kill some of the less scrupulous members of the surgical team, the ones who aren’t having any trouble with what they are doing.

By all means we have to do it, of course, Jin thinks as Dr. Qian extracts a kidney, but if we lose our sense of decency, if it stops bothering us as it ought to bother moral people, then we have turned from protectors to thugs.

Subject 7-0 was (or rather still is, for at least a few moments) probably the most disturbing type of altered human that Jin has thus far encountered. Meifeng had been worrisome in her way, but Subject 7-0 had disturbed Jin. He makes it a point of practice to get a demonstration of the paranormal alteration of each child that they find, and in this case, where a mental effect had existed, he had insisted on experiencing it for himself.

For a brief time, till Subject 7-0’s hand had been taken away from him, Jin had lost the ability to… He isn’t sure just how to put it, even now. How to conceive of people as people, or imagine them as having thoughts and drives of their own and inner voices. It wasn’t simply that Jin couldn’t ask what it was like to be another person but that he had, for that long minute, forgotten that it was even a question that should be asked.

According to the information that they retrieved via Meifeng, the altered humans will find their range increasing. Jin can very well picture what would happen if Subject 7-0 decided to apply the effects of his alteration to hundreds or thousands of people at once. He does not want to, though. Subject 3-0, who drew the water out of things that she touched, could have killed a great many people with less effort, but at least there would have been no fundamental change to who Jin was as a person.

Jin is still smoking and fidgeting with the ring on his finger as he oversees the surgical team, but the need for these things isn’t as great as it usually is. Until the operation is completed, Jin can never quite shake the feeling that something will go terribly wrong, but in a few minutes he will be feeling safer than he typically does after an altered human has been harvested.

His phone buzzes, giving four short pulses in rapid succession. “Pardon me,” he says, and he peels away from his spot in the corner, putting out his cigarette in a bowl as he goes. The surgical team is less than enthusiastic about his smoking, but they don’t have to worry about existential threats, now do they… None of them know the full scope of the problem.

Li Bao is there when Jin reaches the elevator, and leads him into an unoccupied office without a word passing between them.

“There are no bugs in here. We can speak openly,” Li says as they find seats, and Jin nods. “I spoke with the Standing Committee. We have received authorization for the final commands, under the name Operation Anthem.”

“Anthem?”

“It’s more hopeful than a dirge, wouldn’t you agree?”

Jin is quiet. “So, this is it,” he finally says.

“This is it,” Li affirms.

The process of acquiring information from Meifeng had been a difficult (and potentially dangerous) balancing game, as well as prolonged and laborious. Each time, they could decide to acquire more or less information about a possible future, at the cost of not spending those bodies to learn about other scenarios. They could have pushed Meifeng more, but she already needed medication most days and breaking her would have been worse.

(“Her,” not “It.” He wonders, sometimes, if that’s a mistake, if he ought to distance himself from even the dead ones. He wonders if it’s technically correct at all. Are they still human? Jin doesn’t know.)

Most of the futures that they investigated had involved tweaks to Operation Anthem, though it hadn’t held that name (or any other) at the time. No matter what they did, there were still devastating, unacceptable losses, and replications of various scenarios had shown a remarkable margin of error: two separate futures could show a difference of millions of estimated deaths despite being based on the same plan, diverging on the backs of butterflies that nobody could reliably pin down. There was too much that came down to chance events.

“An anthem,” Jin says, half-whispering. “A song of celebration.”

“Or a final cry of defiance.”

Jin nods. It would be the last command of the first phase. Whether a second phase would follow thereafter would depend on how lucky they were in singing out the Anthem.

“I should be going,” Jin says. “Dr. Qian will be almost finished by now, and she and I ought to discuss Subject 8’s lobotomy before the day is out.”

He is not so foolish as to think that a phase two would be unnecessary, but Jin can still hope. Against whatever force the altered humans represent, knowingly or not, hoping may be the only thing that he can do, as despairing as that thought might be.

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 5: Peter Newsome [null]

Monitoring: Peter Newsome [null]
Vienna, Virginia, USA

1:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
17:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Fast forward—

The room that Peter is looking into is stark and cold, a series of panels that run a veritable rainbow of light to dark gray and every color in between. A single set of sausage-shaped fluorescent light bulbs hangs over a metal table, bare on one side and covered with papers and notepads on the other. Dan Heron is sitting on the covered side. Across from him is Sinjoro Akvo, who Simon had called the man in green. His hands are folded over each other, handcuffs arranged awkwardly, but Peter can still see a bit of the bandages wrapped around Akvo’s left hand. It was a very unlucky strike that Viejo made, or at least it must be from Akvo’s perspective, seeing as it separated him from a solid inch or two of his hand, plus one of his fingers, but Akvo is hardly in any position to complain. Not that he seems inclined to, at any rate; he hasn’t so much as mentioned the damage done to him. Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 4: April Guthrie [null]

Monitoring: April Guthrie [null]
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

1:25 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014
17:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014

Rewind—

Face turned to the lionfish on her table, April watches out of the corner of her eye as Hannah converses with Simon’s mystery people. Even when they reveal their knowledge that they are being watched and Señora Viejo, as she is apparently named, blatantly looks around the restaurant, April keeps her face impassive. They know about two PALATINATE agents and one of those is almost certainly Mary, so there’s a fifty-fifty chance that her cover is intact. Continue reading

Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 3: Alex Melnyk

Monitoring: Alex Melnyk
Huliaipole, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine.

8:30 a.m. Eastern European Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014
5:30 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014

Meanwhile—

Alex talks to his family mostly by email nowadays. By his request he was moved away a few months ago, as soon as it became apparent how useful he could be. It didn’t take a genius to realize that, the closer he was to his family, the more likely that someone else could connect all the dots and trace the line from his employers to himself to his loved ones. There’s a lot that he will do for the sake of ideology, but needlessly endangering bystanders isn’t one of them. Continue reading