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. 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. 1: Austin Smith

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Kevin Reynolds.

Monitoring: Austin Smith
Vienna, Virginia, USA

2:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Saturday, October 18th, 2014
18:10 Coordinated Universal Time
Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Getting information from Akvo is a little bit like squeezing soup from a stone: if you think it works, then you’re probably imagining it. At least, that’s what Austin’s pessimistic side says to him, but doing something has to be better than doing nothing at all, and what else is he going to do, if he doesn’t try to talk with Akvo? It isn’t like he can even ask people for a better idea, or tell them to go do it if they’re better-suited. IT might be watching, that thing that was almost certainly lurking behind Akvo’s eyes, and maybe behind Austin’s and everyone else’s.

How do you organize a conspiracy when Big Brother is peering over your shoulder?

The answer, as far as Austin has been able to determine, is to make references and speak metaphorically and hope that Big Brother isn’t as well-read or as linguistically adept as you. If that isn’t working, and Austin supposes that he has no way of knowing for sure, then everyone is just doomed and he might as well come to terms with the idea–God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, et cetera, et cetera.

But before Austin is ready to speak the Serenity Prayer, he’s got to do his job, and that means Semiweekly Book Club with Mr. Akvo.

Agents Blank and Rucker aren’t questioning it, thank God, because Austin isn’t sure that he could lie well enough to make a good explanation if they wanted to challenge him. He’s grateful that they’re willing to trust him (and perhaps, he thinks, they’re grateful for the opportunity to make me earn that trust, here in a low-risk setting rather than in somewhere that the stakes are higher).

The worst-case scenario is that Akvo pulls some sort of stunt and Austin dies. Awful, sure, and Austin in particular isn’t happy about the possibility, but worse things could happen if he made a poor decision in the field.

Agent Heron glances through the one-way mirror, checks his phone to see that Agent Newsome (watching the camera feed on another floor) has confirmed that Akvo hasn’t been doing anything suspicious, and takes another, longer look before he opens the door and allows Austin to pass through.

Heron does not follow, but closes the door behind him. The illusion of privacy is always welcome.

The room smells like stale rust and decay, courtesy of the red-brown illustrations that adorn its walls. Akvo takes the sponge to them every few days, always within the week, but Austin feels as though the scent is seeping into the concrete and wouldn’t leave even if he stopped making new art. It’s as much a part of the room as anything else now, a mark that he’s left on it, even should he one day be allowed to leave.

Akvo does not immediately acknowledge Austin’s arrival, but continues his work, painting a portrait just below the one-way mirror. It is, Austin realizes with a start, a representation of Viejo. Her edges are wispy and indistinct, as though she is dissolving or is being viewed through a light mist, and her features look slightly different, perhaps a little smoother, than Austin remembers her from the pictures.

(He never had to see the body, fortunately. In fact, he never saw her in the flesh, which maybe makes her feel a little less real to him than she would otherwise.)

“This is a younger Señora Viejo,” says Akvo. “Fourteen years ago. Of course, she doesn’t look like a spring pup back then, either, but it’s…different,” he says, and there’s something in his tone that Austin can’t quite pin down.

Other images that are on the walls: a mountain range that Austin does not recognize; a series of concentric circles, too many for him to count at once; four people, their features too undefined for Austin to tell if he knows them or not; a very large square that covers nearly half of its wall.

Austin can’t think of anything to say in response, at least not very quickly, and before he can fix that, Akvo resumes speaking. “I didn’t hate her, you know.”

“But, you tried to kill each other,” Austin says, and Akvo shrugs.

“I spent every day of the past fourteen years and change with her. Even if I hated her, and I don’t know how people manage to hate and not understand each other under those circumstances, I think that I would still miss her. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have different priorities, or that those weren’t more important than our, hm, friendship,” he says, and Austin is reminded of the man’s analogy to the Cold War, weeks ago. Which of them was the United States and which was the USSR?

More to the point, how much does the answer matter? Since the time that they botched their recruitment of Olivia, Austin has made it a to-do to read up on his history of foreign intelligence services. He still feels mostly okay with cooperating with PALATINATE, at least for the time being and under the present circumstances, but he is also uncomfortably aware that saying, “Akvo is America” would not be cause for very much comfort. It would still require that he answer questions like, “In this analogy, who are the Third World Dictators that are being propped up, and what are the long-term consequences of this figurative policy of supporting totalitarian governments and giving them lessons on how to torture people?”

There is an uncomfortable silence (or at least Austin thinks so; Akvo appears to take it in stride, or not even notice it), which Austin finally breaks by asking if Akvo has finished the reading. He nods, but continues to work on his painting until Austin has gotten himself situated.

If the boundaries of the room are delineated with red-brown, then it is filled with green. Akvo didn’t request that the room be furnished, and there’s at least some evidence that this was less an oversight than it was a sign of disinterest, but it was furnished anyway: there are three chairs, a cot, a small bookshelf that stands at half Austin’s height, and a couple of those felt storage bins that Austin’s parents liked so much. Austin isn’t sure if the green color on all of them was an attempt to satisfy whatever visual aesthetic Akvo had or, as the green prison jumpsuits suggested, a joke, but Akvo hadn’t made anything of it in either case.

Austin takes a seat on a plastic folding chair and Akvo sits on the floor, not moving from where he was crouching beside the wall.

“So,” Austin says. “Job.”

It’s one of the books that Akvo had requested. Job: A Comedy of Justice, a story about an evangelical Christian who unexpectedly steps into one alternate history after another, losing everything he’d made in the previous universe, and ends up falling in love with a Norse-worshiping hostess named Margrethe and learning that God and Satan were responsible for the mess, and that they had done it more or less on lark.

“One of the things that I enjoy most about the book is that Heinlein doesn’t start it out in our world,” Akvo says. He presses his shoulders against the wall. “Alex begins in some other world, one with zeppelins and theocracy. That’s a refreshing change of pace in and of itself, but if the story is to be taken on its premises and Alex’s world is authentic in a way that those others, manufactured temporarily and on the spot, are not, then we might well infer that our universe is one of those false ones that the gods made up. I like a book that tells you that there’s such a thing as reality, and then says that you aren’t part of it.”

“I can’t believe that I didn’t think about this before, but how does that relate to Margrethe?” asks Austin. “Alex didn’t meet her until after he started traveling through worlds. But she existed, exactly as Alex knew her, in the afterlife.”

“She probably still existed. Alex still existed in the other worlds too, even if he was Alec Graham in some of them,” Akvo says, and Austin isn’t sure if he’s actually missing the point or trying to guide the conversation in a particular way.

“I don’t think that somebody is just their memories, but memories are still important. Even if she had the same soul…” Austin frowns. “What sort of person was she like before Alex started traveling? What does it say about the world that the Margrethe that we see later, in the afterlife, is the same that Alex was traveling with? Do Margrethe’s parents, from the real world, have a daughter that they don’t really know anymore? Or did every set of memories in every world get its own soul, and there are as many, I don’t know, Robert Heinleins in the afterlife as there are worlds that Alex and Margrethe experienced?” He pauses. “Are we supposed to take something from that, do you think, that one of the book’s major characters is, at least in some ways, the product of a universe that’s younger than the man who’s walking it?”

Akvo cocks his head. “It reminds me of one of those parody religions that get so much truck on the Internet. Last Thursdayism.” He frowns. “Or Last Tuesdayism. One of those. Their doctrine is that God created the world only last Thursday–or Tuesday, as the case may be–but created it in such a way that it had a perfectly falsified past, not just with fossils that are apparently millions of years old but also living things that have apparently been alive for more than the past couple of days, and their memories of lives that never actually happened.”

“Huh. That sounds like the Omphalos Hypothesis, which is a little less extreme version of that. And taken more seriously, but then again, that’s probably what Last Thursdayism is making fun of. Deacon Matthews mentioned it one time.”

“The Reverend Deacon Patrick Matthews,” says Akvo, and he closes his eyes for a second. “I had his cooking, once. He makes a fairly good pulled pork. Señora Viejo asked for the recipe.”

“You know him?”

Akvo shrugs. “Knew, or know of. One of those. It was long ago and I’m sure that we didn’t make a lasting impression on him, even if we were a little more unbehaved in those days.” Akvo pauses until he catches Austin’s eye. His stare lingers, as though Austin is an amoeba under the microscope, then he shakes his head lightly, just an inch or so, almost a twitch but careful and measured. “You’re still a good Catholic boy, aren’t you? Even after all of this.”

“Well, I don’t know about ‘good,’ but that would have been true even before this.” Austin shifts in his chair and looks away, while Akvo chuckles at his reply. “But yeah, I still have faith.”

“I don’t remember any of this being mentioned in the Book of Revelation.” Akvo raises an eyebrow. “Remind me, where does it talk about the girl who makes coins disappear?”

Austin shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not a scholar. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t think I am–I mean, I have doubts, doesn’t everyone have doubts? But I have faith, too. Everything’s weird and not like I expected it would be, and there’s definitely a lot that I’ve experienced, and probably a lot that we’re going to experience, that I really have to think about, but that would be true just if I were moving to the big city from rural Punxsutawney, Alabama. I don’t really have any answers, but saying, ‘There’s no God,’ doesn’t give me any answers either. I ought to keep with my original belief until I have something to replace it with, at the very least.”

“Ask you again when you find out what’s going on, then?”

“Maybe. If you’re able to tell me, then you might be able to ask me again right now.”

Akvo’s laughter is a little like a dog’s bark, brief and forceful, and it is followed by a silence that doesn’t break for at least a minute. “I don’t think so,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper, his eyes no longer facing Austin. “I enjoy your visits,” Akvo says, as if that’s an explanation for his reticence (and perhaps it is). He still isn’t looking at Austin.

“Are you okay?” asks Austin, and Akvo takes a long breath and nods.

“I…” He trails off, then tries again. “I’ve been better. You’ll figure it out,” he adds. There’s a distinct pause between the two, and Austin wonders whether they’re part of the same thought, or if he’s giving an assurance that Austin will learn the answer to his other question.

That possibility, more than the other things that Austin has seen or been told will come to pass, thrusts a needle of apprehension through Austin’s heart. Whether or not he is correct, Austin suspects that Akvo has met something that he at least thinks would qualify for the position of God. Coming against–not a mere disbeliever, but a witness to something else, is disquieting for more reasons than one.

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. 8: Simon Martin

Monitoring: Simon Martin
Vienna, Virginia, USA

10:55 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
17:55 Coordinated Universal Time
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Heron and Blank go with him to see Sinjoro Akvo. He’s being held in a cell, concrete walls on four sides, a one-way mirror, and a heavy door. The hallway leading there is short, more like a between-space whose only purpose is to separate the cell from the main hallway. One more door between him and escape.

The lighting in the hall is poor, so that the one-way mirror will be transparent on their end and they can look in on Akvo themselves and not have to rely on anyone with cameras. The glass is bulletproof and the mirror is small and positioned high enough that it would be difficult for Akvo to escape through it even if it could be broken, but…that is part of the reason that the second door is there. Extra precautions. Continue reading

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