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Authors: Kristina Meister

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The waitress
was perched on a bar stool, watching me not-too-surreptitiously. I caught her
eye, and she hopped off.

“Need some
more lemons?”

“Can I ask
your advice?”

She frowned. “Okay,
but we’re kinda not in the same...universe.”

I looked at
her in confusion until she waved a wet hand at my body. Then I remembered my
transformation, how I appeared to her. Lean, perfect skin, shining dark hair:
the best version of myself wearing a designer coat that I bought only because of
its durability and number of its pockets.

I brushed
aside the compliment as an incidental.

“Let’s just
say, you’ve been presented with a huge opportunity to save a bunch of people
from a terrible life. Not good people or bad people, just people. But to do
this, you have to compromise who you are, or maybe lose it, or maybe even
become someone else and forget you ever were that person. What would you do?”

She leaned
back on her heels and curled a hand around her chin. “Where’s the downside?”

“You don’t like
who you are?”

“I work in a
shit hole,” she said dryly. “I eat shitty food. I spend my shitty free time
thinking about how long hepatitis lives in open air. I have a shitty life. Compromising
me ain’t such a bad idea.”

I looked
around.
Touché
.

“Okay, but say
you
did
like who you are.”

“Okay, I like
who I am and for some reason care about whether these
hypothetical
people are miserable. Though why I should, I’m not sure.”

“They’re
people and maybe if you save them they’ll pick a side.” I said. “So would you
do it?”

“You know….”
She shifted her weight to one hip. “I heard something once that seems to fit
this particular day, and I’ve never had a chance to repeat it.”

If she said “a
bad day can only get better” or “if you succeed at failure, you’re still a
success,” I thought I might have to scream.

 

“By all means.”

She cleared
her throat and stood up tall and strong. “‘I’ve regretted the things I never
did, but I’ve never regretted anything I
have
done.’ Good huh?”

I chewed my
lip thoughtfully. Perhaps even a negative experience could teach you something,
and if a person were standing at a crossroads, they either had to pick a path
or set up camp. I wasn’t sure I liked where I was just then, and, despite her
charms, I wasn’t sure I wanted the waitress for a roommate.

“An excellent
point. I’m thoroughly convinced.”

“Yeah, I was
totally going to have that tattooed on my back or something, but it’s too long,
you know?”

She picked up
my money.

I swallowed my
laugh. “Like I always say, it’s only worth saying if you can carve it onto your
flesh. Keep the change.”

“Sooooo true,”
she murmured, meandering away as if we were still sharing a truly deep
reflection.

Jinx still
hadn’t returned, and, rather than become engaged in another conversation with
her, I pulled out my smart phone and used it to boogie-board through the tiny
net. One hundred and seventy-eight years made it 1830-ish. Add France, a shot
to the stomach, and math, and one answer presented itself.

“Holy shit.”

It was him,
and guess what—he was someone. There was a drawing of him at fifteen. I stared
at it in absolute awe and marveled. It looked just like him, minus the cranial
adornments and garish color scheme. I couldn’t believe it. But the article said
he’d been shot in the stomach at twenty-one, so why did he look so damn young? It
had to be because of the difference in height, average being a full head
shorter than me even for men. That, combined with his ability to make himself
as flawless and angelic as he chose, made for an amazing youthfulness.

He trotted
toward me, a legend, and fresh as the proverbial daisy. I dropped the phone in
a hurry and tucked it away.

“Let’s blow
this suck-pod.”

“Yes, please.”
I got up and followed him out.

On the
threshold, he turned and saluted the girl. “Thanks for the grub.”

“Are you guys
vampires?” she blurted.

He looked at
me. Our laughs spilled out in chorus. I was tempted to quote
Lost Boys,
say
something about all the damn vampires in Santa Carla, but Jinx cut me
off.

“What if we
were?”

She shrugged
and examined her nails a little too closely. “Whatever.”

“It wouldn’t
scare you?”

“No,” she said,
a little too idly.

“Even if it
wasn’t what the stories said?”

“Nothing ever
is.”

He turned to
me and slapped my arm. “See, I told you! Never thought I’d say this, but thank
you, Stephenie Meyer!”

“Car, now!”

He ducked outside.
I stood there, looking at her. She was staring at me, nails forgotten, waiting
to hear what I had to say, and I found that I had only one response. Jinx’s
fervor was contagious, and my path seemed so obvious.

I crossed my
lips with a finger. “Shhh.”

At the car, I
gave Jinx a dirty look. “So, New World Order, eh?”

“Yep.”

I sighed. “So
that you can come out of your anonymity cave and start leading the wayward
scientists to a greater understanding of the universe.”

He made a
noise in his throat.

“Answer me one
thing.”

He fastened
his seat belt “Shoot.”

I flinched at
his word choice. “If you’re so awesome, why do you have to eat when you get
shot at, Mr. I-have-a-theory-named-after-me?”

His eyes slid
to mine, held, and then slid away. “I have to repair quickly, so I need
elements. There’s probably some kind of Quantum Physics explanation for how you
do it without eating. Feeding off the natural potential of the universe. You
know, zero-point fields or some-such. Who cares? It works, and I have bigger
fish to roast.”

I pulled away.
The waitress was sitting in a booth, watching us leave, with a cell phone stuck
to her ear. The faster we made our escape, the better.

“I can see why
you changed your name, you know. Everisté is sooo lame.”

He curled up
in a tight ball, apparently sleepy after his injury. “Bite me.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter
6

 

 

 

 

Kali Ma

 

When I looked back at the safe
house, the chaos was settling. Petula was gone, just as Jinx had predicted, her
room a scattered mess with two drying puddles, one red and one black. How they
had gotten her out of the place, given her agoraphobia, I hadn’t a clue, but it
had probably involved a lot of kicking and screaming.

I was pleased
to find the Smiths sitting around like members of the Three Hundred, nursing
their slowly healing wounds, trading hypotheses on the unfortunate events that
had befallen them. From what I could glean, they had barely seen me. I had
dropped out of the blissful state, become visible for mere seconds, and had
been moving too quickly for any of them to get a description beyond “blackish
blur, vaguely female.”

Needless to
say, the man in charge was not happy. He had gone from pacing up and down the
hall in front of the broken and dismantled elevator, shouting incoherently, to
pacing in a room that seemed to be his office.

I thought back
to when I had heard him argue with Karl over the loudspeaker of the phone. At
the time, he had seemed faultless, treating Karl as a hopeless idiot; and
without a way to contradict him, I had let the impression stand. Now he shook
visibly, chewed his nails to nubs, only to grow them back and chew again, toyed
with the hair at his temple until tufts came out, and convulsively tapped his
sternum. He walked back and forth, murmuring to himself until he was blue in
the face.

“I cannot go
back to him. I cannot go back.” He tapped and tapped. “Curse you, Karl!” More
hair-pulling. “Without her, I know nothing. Without her I can’t watch him to be
certain.” Up and back, up and back. “I can’t call them back. They wouldn’t
come. They’ve turned to him, I know they have. There aren’t any more. Even if
there were, Devlin would not send them here. He won’t help. Even if he could …”—the
ground was covered in fine hairs and nail ends—“even if he could, I...I have
nothing left to give.”

In the
jhana
,
there was no ridicule. I watched him disintegrate into a quivering pile of
worries and felt nothing but compassion. Whatever mess he’d gotten himself
into, it seemed there was no way out, and by interfering I had unwittingly made
it worse.

That’s what
happens when you always want what you cannot have, and have a knack for finding
ways to get it.

I opened my
eyes in an incredibly introspective state of mind. To my amazement, Jinx was
asleep, snoring quietly after his ordeal.

I tapped him
gently. “The National Weather Service called to let me know that Hell just
froze over. Want a Redbull?”

He looked
sleepily out the window. It was almost daybreak. We were waiting out the night
as far from Ananda and Arthur as we could get, hoping there would be no
retaliation from the Sangha, but, really, I didn’t want to go back to them.

I had parked
across from a narrow spit of sand, somewhere in the Marin headlands. Waves
crashed in a soothing rhythm, lulling the senses nicely. Moonlight danced and
sparkled through mists in the dim but growing radiance of the sun. All was at peace.

Rubbing his
eyes, he sat up. “Wow. No shit. Can’t remember the last time I
napped
.”

“I checked in.
You were right. Petula’s not there anymore.”

He smiled
weakly. “And our friend, the overseer? He still walking around with his tail in
the air?”

I pulled my
legs into a cross-legged position and leaned into the headrest. “That’s where
it gets weird. I think we may have actually made the situation worse.”

He turned and
rummaged around in the back seat. “Uh huh. My movements are no longer being
tracked by an immortal low-jack, and we’ve tossed a cog into their wheels. What
could be bad about that? Last time I checked, that pattern worked out for us.”

I sighed. Petula’s
disconnected whispers came back to me, talking of the dark spot in her visions
she hated to look at. “The overseer is shitting himself right now, all sack
cloth, ashes, and gnashing of teeth. I’m beginning to think the man behind the
curtain is way scarier.”

Jinx opened a
can and brooded over it. It was a long time before he bothered to sip or
answer. “Well, I agree the dude cutting out tongues is probably not someone we
want running around unchecked. And if we happened to make friends with Mr.
Overseer in the process, so much the better, I guess. Anything specific we can
look in on?”

I wasn’t so
sure I liked the idea of having him for a friend. “He mentioned a name. I don’t
recognize it. Maybe you do.”

He waved his
hand.


Devlin
ring any bells?”

There was a
sudden spray of sticky, bubble-gum scented juice. “Did you say Devlin? D-E-V-L-I-N.
Devlin?”

“Yeah.” I
pointed at the glove compartment where all napkins and an odd coagulant pack
ended up. “He said he couldn’t go back to Devlin, that Devlin wouldn’t send him
anymore...whatevers, because….”

“He’d want
something in return?” the boy interrupted with a knowing grimace.

“Yeeeaah.” I
wiped off the dash and windshield, a bit bothered that there were still things
I was learning that other people in the gang obviously knew. “I thought
friendship had this whole clause about The Loop. Why is it I don’t know this
Devlin person?”

“Trust me when
I say that you don’t want to know Devlin. He’s a
bad
dude.”

“Well, if he’s
bad, then maybe the overseer is a compatriot, not an enemy. After all, he did
say he didn’t want to have to deal with the guy.” 

Jinx put his
can into the cup holder and got out the netbook I had stashed behind his seat. “That
isn’t saying much. Nobody wants to deal with Devlin. Problem is, you almost
always have to. Asshole’s like the goddamned wind, he’s everywhere but
invisible, and no one can live without him. Hang on a minute.”

He opened a window
on a program I didn’t know and began typing in code-speak, outlining parameters
for what seemed like a search algorithm.

“What is that?”

“A way to see
the wind.”

“Um….”

“A spider.”

I leaned
closer. “A what?”

“It’s a code
bot. It crawls through whatever I tell it to, looking for whatever I tell it
to. People have been writing these things for years. Usually they’re used to
gather market data, you know, scan social networking pages for likes and
dislikes, cruise Tumblr for the top-mentioned movie or song, you know? Of
course, my spiders are like Shelob or Aragog. They put others to shame. I use
them to research memetic patterns, ideological trends in cyberspace.”

“It can do
that?” I gasped, wondering how much of my former life was visible to such
automated think-tank bots.

“It’s an
artificial intelligence, learning as it goes.” He looked at me slyly. “Right
now, I’m scanning a select group of back alleys, looking for....” He pointed. “The
bastard’s footprints.”

Hand to my
forehead, I leaned into my seat. “Okay. Why are we looking for him?”

To my
surprise, he seemed a bit nervous. He set the tiny computer on the dash and
turned sideways in his seat. “Petula and William are a rare breed. People like
them break down very quickly. I can’t imagine what it would be like to know
exactly
what man is capable of doing. It would certainly taint my naive idealism.”

“No shit,” I said,
knowing exactly what he meant. Since I’d met William and incorporated his gift,
it was difficult to keep focused and not interrupt the screaming match two
rooms down or walk down the road to the Meth house and set it on fire. Since I’d
met William, the only response I had was to go into the
jhana
, where all
actions seemed perfectly normal expressions of human nature and judgment seemed
arrogant. The
jhana
was like Novocain, and I was becoming an addict. The
problem was, the longer I tried to stay away, the more I yearned to go back. The
withdrawal got worse each time. Reality was turning into an endless
pabor
noctumus
.

“Seers usually
find a way to end it,” Jinx said, “unless they come to think of their gifts as
central to some greater cause. It gives them a memetic reason to keep
suffering, a psychological failsafe, and because the human nervous system is
largely subject to the values we ascribe to our surroundings and situations,
they thrive. It’s a perfect example of how humanity is sculpting its own
biology by thought alone.”

I thought back
on Will and his bottle of pills. He popped more in a day than Dr. Gregory House
and was constantly bobbing on the surface of reality like a buoy. He had begged
for my help, but, like Petula, I had had no concept of
how
to help. My
only advice was to channel his gift to a greater good and to introduce him to
people who could really put him to such a use. I had kept him alive, but was he
really better off?

“Okay. And?”

“Well,” Jinx fluffed
his spikes and sighed, “I just had a terrible thought. What if Devlin has one
of them too? What if his supremely sadistic felicity with a bartering economy
has aided him in convincing a Seer that their fate is so much worse without him
that they’ll supply him with any information he wants? What if he sent Petula
to the overseer out of his enormous stash of trackers? What if he’s tracking us
too?”

“Don’t you
mean
you?”
I blinked. “And so what if he is?”

“That’s not
something we want. Certainly not something
I
want.”

I frowned at
the ocean. “Because he’s a bad dude.”

“Yes.”

“And the
spider….”

“Is going to
help me find out what he’s been doing,” Jinx said in exasperation.

“How will it
do that?”

He smacked his
forehead and turned away. “Sometimes I forget you’re a Geek In Training.”

I chuckled. “Actually,
I’m an alumnus of F.U. It’s a vocational school.”

He shook his
head. “Look, it’s going through our communications network, which,
incidentally, I designed, and is scanning for Devlin’s unique interactions.” He
rolled down the window and let in some fresh, sea air. Inhaling deeply, with a
renewed respect for life, he stuck his head out like a retriever and closed his
eyes. “He’s a parasite, always looking for someone who needs something. If he’s
looking, we want to know.”

“What is it
you think that will accomplish?”

“Sometimes if
you watch him closely, you can tell if you’re in his crosshairs.”

“Based on what
he’s
not
doing or who he chooses to help in exchange for whatever
specialty they might have,” I murmured, finally understanding. If, say, an
immortal assassin with a specialization in seeing the invisible really needed
help with his gambling debt and Devlin answered the call, it could be very bad
for us. “Point taken. Way to be safe.”

“Have you
checked in with Art?”

I changed the
subject. “How’s the Redbull? I much prefer Monster. I mean if you’re going to
take in enough caffeine to vibrate out of the space-time continuum, you should
at least get some amino acids, right?”

He leaned back
into the car and shook his head. “You can’t stay mad at him forever. Remember,
this is how it works with him. You’ve known that all along.”

I remained
stoic. “Well, it would be
nice
to know his plan.”

“There is no
plan. We’re the plan. We have the plans. He has no plans!” Jinx shouted. “I’m
not even sure if he knows
how
to plan. All exercises in strategy aside.”
He mashed his face with his palms. “Come to think of it, he’s probably always
playing
Go
because he needs to
practice
strategizing.”

I rolled my
window down and waited for a pleasant cross-breeze. “What exactly does that
mean?”

“Okay, okay,
let me see if I can explain this to you in a way that makes sense. Try to see
it from an objective position.”

Unconvinced, I
lay my head on the window sill and closed my eyes. I, too, had a renewed
respect for life. “Fine.”

“In a linear,
consecutive universe, there can be only two types of inferences. You can either
assume you know what is going to take place based on previous experiences,
inferring C from A, or you can rely upon the idea that something unexpected
could happen, like a Zed, or something. But this is not a linear universe. At
least, I’m not sure Arthur is a linear creature. He has a kind of reasoning we
cannot comprehend because we aren’t seeing it from his perspective. He isn’t
planning or waiting; he’s doing something else.”

“Something you
can’t speculate about because you’re linear,” I murmured.

“Yes!” the boy
shouted in an impassioned whoosh of cool air. “As annoying as it sometimes is,
and as pissed off as it might make you, you just have to chill. Ananda gets it.
Ananda is at peace. He’s not fighting it because he knows there is no point.”

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