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THE COUNCIL OF SHADOWS

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


 

CHAPTER SIX:

 

"I wish we could have rescued them all," Ellen said. "You sent those two Brotherhood types away before the end... couldn't you have sent Cheba with them, at least?"

"Possibly. But possibly that would have aroused suspicions and I could not take that risk. Not with your life at stake. Shadowspawn are paranoid, not least about each other; even when she believed I was another, Adrienne would have watched me carefully for the slightest sign of intrigue. You would not believe what a black brew of murder and madness, incest and sadism and depravity their lives are."

"Oh, I got some faint tinge of an idea," she said dryly, and she could sense he flushed a little. "What with the torture and the rape and mortal terror and mass murder for fun and so forth."

"In any case, you must learn that the mission comes first. This is hard, yes. It is also essential."

"Yeah, I can see that. With my head. My gut's only half-convinced."

Adrian looked eastward again. "And not far away is where it all started," he said.

"The Brézé chateau?"

"Yes. My great-great-grandfather's lair. Grand Adept and Commander of the Order of the Black Dawn. Diabolist, murderer, genius."

"Hey, fellah, don't brood while you're driving at this speed! I think what's really bothering you is thinking about what you might have been like if Harvey hadn't rescued you. Or kidnapped you. Took you away from your family before you really knew what they were, at least."

"True, that thought haunts me sometimes. And he was supposed to kill me, by the way. That was the first time Harvey dangerously exceeded his mission brief. Not the last, of course."

"Kill you?" She sat as upright as the reclined seat and the safety-harness would let her. "Wait a minute, you never told me that."

Adrian shrugged. "Harvey was playing a hunch... and to be sure, by then he knew me, and as he said, killing a young boy he actually knew was... difficult. Despite what his orders were."

"Well, good for him, and to hell with the Brotherhood!"

"They thought... still largely think... that purebreds like me are damned." In profile she could see his mouth take on an ironic twist. "And there's considerable evidence in favor of that hypothesis."

"And you to disprove it. That's... that's racist!"

"There, my little cabbage, is the one sin of which neither Shadowspawn nor the Brotherhood can be accused, at least the younger generations. Not as far as fripperies like skin color are concerned."

"You look like the original variety, don't you?"

"Probably, though the first Empire of Shadow is so far in the past that nobody can be sure. Only broken fragments of legends were handed down among the secret clans. When the back-breeding nears nine-tenths purity, this set of looks and build tend to crop up. But they're not closely linked to the Power, or the personality traits. It's one of the most common human phenotypes anyway; I could pass for a Provençal or a Spaniard, a Sicilian or Greek or Turk or Arab or Kurd. It's the... inner drives that count."

"Adrian, I can see half my job's going to be convincing you that you're not a monster."

"Oh, but I am," he said softly, barely audible over the low humming growl of the engine. "But I'm a humanist monster, of sorts."

 

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Ellen frowned several hours later. "Isn't it sort of... well, blatant of us to stay in Paris?"

"Not more than anywhere else, if we're not under deep cover," Adrian said. "Why should the local Shadowspawn, who are incidentally ruled by the European branch of the Brézés, care about us?"

"We killed Tōkairin Hajime," she pointed out. "And Adrienne."

He shrugged, eyes on the narrow street. "Hajime killed my parents... admittedly, not the Final Death. And Adrienne had tried to kill me more than once. As long as I'm not officially back with the Brotherhood, nobody will much care. It is, you might say, just normal family life. The local Brézés probably considered me only marginally more... unorthodox... than Adrienne."

Ellen nodded. "I'm beginning to see how the Brotherhood has managed to survive all these years. The Council runs the world, but they don't do it very well."

"They approach it more like managing a series of game parks," he agreed. "Or game ranches. With the neighboring ranchers fighting each other most of the time, when they're not indulging in lethal sibling rivalries."

"Back in California, Peter, the other lucy I told you about, the scientist? He said that humans were apes who'd become more like wolves. And Shadowspawn were like apes who'd decided to imitate cats instead."

"That is quite perceptive; he seems to be a very intelligent man."

"He produced that research I got to you," Ellen said proudly; she'd liked Peter.

"We'll see what Professor Duquesne thinks; it's a good sign that he's agreed to meet us." He sighed. "And that catlike nature is part of my problem."

Ellen made an enquiring sound and he went on: "I have to fight a war and I don't know how."

"Seems to me you've been doing a good job."

"No. Oh, I know how to fight, certainly. I was very good working for the Brotherhood—but they pointed me at the targets, and I went after them. I was a, hmmm, black-ops wetwork specialist, not a strategist or even a field commander. A leader of small teams at most. The Brotherhood should be doing strategy, but despite what you and I found out for them they are not. They are in a defensive crouch; too many generations of defeat have demoralized them."

Ellen had been impressed beyond words with the way Adrian had rescued her from his sister.

But come to think about it, that was all fairly small-scale.

"It's not your genes," she said slowly. "Really. Adrienne, well, except for the XY thing she was you, genetically speaking, given how inbred the Shadowspawn lines are. And I got the distinct impression that she did operate on a big scale, with big plans. That horrible synthetic smallpox thing she was working on with Michiko and those other friends of hers! But you stuck a stiletto into the plans."

"Harvey and I did," Adrian said. "Harvey is an excellent general, or at least he's been a colonel in this war of shadows. There's only one problem there."

"What's that?"

"Harvey is a bit drastic at times."

Ellen blinked; she liked the big grizzled Texan, and thought he was extremely shrewd behind the Hill-Country-boy persona. But to have someone who could be as pellucidly ruthless as Adrian say he was too drastic made her think.

"I think," she said very carefully, "that you've been too much in Harvey's shadow, Adrian."

"Merde," he muttered. "I'll concentrate on tactical problems for now. And first let's get onto this ridiculous island."

"I like the idea of staying on an island in the Seine," she said.

"So do I. Unless we have to get off it quickly."

 

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The Île-Saint-Louis was mostly inhabited by very reclusive rich people who liked having a front window facing the Seine. The buildings were all seventeenth-century and immaculately kept, stone and brick and mansard slate roofs glistening in the last of the sunlight, with poplars lining the waterfront paths. She half-expected to see Porthos and Aramais stroll out from an alleyway with ruff and rapier, with a link-boy trotting in front of them.

Adrian laughed when she mentioned it. "The period is right," he said. "And this was a dueling ground before it was completely built up, too. But it undoubtedly smells much better now."

He dropped into French, and quoted: "If you walk along the streets of the Île-Saint-Louis, do not ask why you feel gripped by a sort of nervous sadness. For its cause you have only to look at the solitude of the place, at the gloomy aspect of its houses and its large empty mansions..."

"Ah... Adrian, you didn't lock the car," she said, as they left it by the curb. "And I don't think that's a parking spot."

His teeth glinted white in the semi-darkness. "It's my car, darling."

"Oh. And I don't think these mansions look empty anyway. Painfully well-kept and fully booked, from the looks of things."

"The Île has become effectively a cruise ship permanently anchored in the Seine, for some time. The Rothschilds have a pied-à-terre here. Besides which, Balzac just liked portentous gloom. I enjoyed his work much more as a young man; adolescent Weltschmerz I presume. Baudelaire lived here for a time as well, rooming with Gautier and smoking hashish."

"I remember about Baudelaire," Ellen said. "Et je vois tour à tour réfléchis sur ton teint, La folie et l'horreur, froides et taciturnes," she quoted with relish. "Either that, or you've got gas."

"And I see in turn reflected on your face/Horror and madness, cold and silent," he laughed. "Am I that bad?"

"No, just grumpy sometimes."

His hand squeezed hers. "You are stronger than I, my Ellen."

"Oh, I dunno. You rescued me just in time, I think."

The streets were moderately full, too; a footbridge led to the Île de la Cité northwards, and the towers of Notre-Dame beyond. Besides the tourists there were...

"Is that a Captain Ahab look-alike with an accordion and a harpoon?" she asked. "Beside the fire-eater."

"Indeed. And mimes, those street-lice of Paris."

She privately agreed with that, though she supposed her brief visits made them seem more tolerable; he'd lived here off and on, and gone to university. One of them was complete with black beret, white pancake makeup and the horizontal-striped jumper, doing the supremely annoying I-see-a-glass-wall-in-front-of-you act to a harried-looking woman with a couple of baguettes sticking out of a string net shopping bag. She heard Adrian muttering under his breath.

Then the fire-eater turned, apparently fascinated by something on the river below and letting the burning stick droop. The mime was devoted to his art; it took him several seconds to notice that his fellow street performer had set the seat of his baggy trousers on fire. The mime dashed in circles, beating at the flames with both gloved hands.

Half a dozen people stopped to watch. Ellen bit down on her hand as they started to applaud, wondering how many of them thought it was part of the act.

The mime's efforts grew more frantic; then he dove over the rail into the Seine headfirst, with a high-pitched scream. A moment later he came up, standing chest-deep with water running down his greasepainted face. Both hands were underwater, presumably clutching at his seared buttocks.

"Adrian!"

He grinned sheepishly. "It is the first time, my sweet. I have fought the temptation for more than thirty years."

They came to another of the mansions, this one split up for furnished apartments. A motherly-looking Frenchwoman in her well-kept seventies greeted Adrian with a Bonsoir and kiss on both cheeks in the entranceway, and then gave Ellen the same and a long considering look as she handed over the keys.

"Everything is in readiness, Adrian," she said in French. "But it will be a long time before I forgive you for starting your honeymoon in Italy of all places, rather than here. And giving me only a few days notice!"

"Ellen, an old friend from my time here as a student, Madame Noémi Lasalle. Madame Lasalle, my wife, Ellen, nee Tarnowski."

"It is a pleasure," the older woman said, in English; then she dropped back into French. "Even if you married an American, Adrian, at least your Hélène is beautiful, beautiful! May your lives have much happiness."

The old lady drooped one eyelid at Ellen, who chuckled in reply. Adrian missed the byplay, for once.

"Madame Lasalle, I am an American by birth, as were my parents and grandparents," he said, exasperation in his tone. "It is appropriate that I marry an American as well, hein?"

"Bah. Jesus Christ was born in a stable; does than make him a horse?"

"Ah... She also speaks French, Madame Lasalle."

"Of course," Lasalle said with a sniff. "You are a man of impeccable taste. Could you marry a woman who did not speak the language of civilization?"

Ellen laughed aloud and spoke... in French. Her accent wasn't too strong, and her grammar was good if slightly formal and slow. She'd been speaking it with Adrian for some time now, to gain fluency:

"You have reason, Madame. I was a student of the arts by profession, and French is inescapable if one is serious."

"Indeed. I would also expect Adrian to marry a woman of solid good sense. I have stocked the appartement Henri IV so that you need not leave it if you wish."

"There is glace Berthillon?" Adrian asked.

"Of course there is Berthillon! Did I not know you as a youngster?"

He smiled; Ellen blinked a little at the fond expression.

Well, I do have fifty years of stuff to catch up with.

"What flavors?"

"Agenaise, Banane, Café au whisky, Café Dauphinoix, Cannelle Cappuccino, Caramel, Caramel au beurre salé, Caramel au gingembre, Chocolat au nougat, Chocolat blanc, Chocolat du Mendiant, Chocolat blanc du endiant, Chocolat noir, Créole, Feuille de Menthe, Gianduja à l'orange, Gianduja aux noisettes, Grand-Marnier, Lait d'amande, Moka, Marron Glacé, Noisette, Noix, Noix de coco, Nougat au Miel, Pain d'épices, Pistache, Plombières, Praliné au citron et coriandre, Praliné aux pignons, Réglisse, Thé earl grey, Tiramisu, Turron de jijona, Vanille..."

"You did not stock the entire selection! There would not be room!"

"No, but enough that you will think that I have; the new smaller containers. Go, go, you two are newly married! You do not wish to stand talking to an old woman."

The elevator was another antique, though not quite seventeenth century; there was a sliding accordion-joint door, with wrought-iron curlicue gates at each floor. It clunked and creaked upwards, and Ellen leaned into Adrian's shoulder.

"I wish this was just an extension of our honeymoon," she sighed.

"Me also."

"What's Berthillon?"

"The best glace... ice cream... in Paris. Which is to say, in the entire world. Made here on this island, by hand."

He laid a palm on the apartment's door for an instant, closing his eyes and concentrating; she felt a nearly irresistible impulse to smooth the lock of black hair that fell over his forehead. Then she noticed that her right hand was resting under the tail of the windcheater jacket she was wearing, on the hilt of a knife whose blade was inlaid with silver and etched Mhabrogast glyphs.

Wow. All that inside-the-head training really has started to bite!

His eyes opened and caught hers. "Welcome to my world, my dear one. I am sorry."

"Well, I'm not," she said, grabbing his ears and giving him a brief fierce kiss. "Let's unpack and have some dinner. We have to go meet this atom-wrangler, but we've got an hour or two yet."

He laughed and lifted her across the threshold.

"Very well. I will fix us something to eat, and you unpack?"

"Done," Ellen said. "You'll have to give me cooking lessons sometime."

"I find it soothing to cook, but of a certainty, my sweet."

The apartment wasn't grand, despite the mildly pretentious name, though it shone with expert care and smelled slightly of sachets and wax. A hallway, a living-room with windows on the plane trees of the courtyard and the Seine, a modest but superbly-equipped kitchen, a study and a bedroom. The floors were polished hardwood, with a few Oriental rugs, and the furniture mostly plain in a subtle way that said expensive and old. One of the paintings on the wall opposite the fireplace was very good, but by a nineteenth century Academic she couldn't quite identify. French, certainly, and pre-1900.

Wait a minute, she thought. Wait a minute... Yup. It's by William Adolfe Bougereau, all right.

It was a pleasure just to be an art-history student again for an instant, and the Academics had become hot enough again to be a big part of her second-year course on French painting, to the scandal of old-fashioned Impressionist-Post-Impressionist-avant-garde-succession worshippers still in thrall to the Whig narrative.

This one had a lot less of the slick surface that he used for his mythological pictures; it showed two barefoot girls, one eleven or so and one a few years younger, sitting in a wood. They wore rather plain realistic Victorian-era peasant costumes colored brown and off-white, what working countryfolk actually used everyday rather than the Offenbach-operetta exaggeration of festival-day gaudiness the genre usually showed. Their faces were done with a delicate realism that actually gave you a feeling for their personalities.

Though of course they don't have the dirty callused feet or grime under the fingernails and their hair is far too neat and clean. Still for Bougereau it's practically The Stone-Breakers. Not one of his better-known ones. It'll come to me, it'll come to me... Ah, it's 'The Nut Gatherers' !

There was probably a story about how it ended up here, and she wasn't sure she wanted to hear it. The casual way Shadowspawn just appropriated what they liked from galleries and museums still made her angry—which was odd considering the other things they routinely did, but it hit her at a level below conscious ethical priorities. This was a really fine piece of work; whether you considered it a great painting depended on what you thought of the Academics, but there was absolutely no doubt that Bougereau had total mastery of his technique.

The paint does exactly what he wanted it to do, she thought, with a smile. The question is whether he should have wanted it to do that.

There were times she could just stand and look at something like this for hours. Instead she threw the traveling cases on the bed and continued her tour of the apartment. The only real luxury was a large bathroom, featuring a bathtub carved from a block of some silver-gray stone and shaped like a futuristic gravy-boat.

Just big enough for two, she thought happily.

Adrian was already busy in the kitchen; she wandered in, took a carrot and nibbled on it while she perched on a stool and watched him work.

"I get a man who's soulfully beautiful, with a body like a Greek god, knows just how to tie a girl up, he's rich, and he cooks. There's no justice in the world and for once I'm the beneficiary."

"Of a surety there isn't, or you would have better," he said, pouring her a glass from the bottle of red wine he'd opened. "But this is scarcely cooking; mere unpacking and setting out. Noémi has been very thorough. Hand me those tomatoes, would you?"

She did, then hooked her feet up on a rung, sipping and watching the smooth fluidity of his motions, chuckling occasionally when he added a flourish like flipping a knife up to the ceiling and catching it as it fell; it was a pleasure with a slight frisson, when she recalled the things she'd seen him do with the same assurance. For a moment the wine distracted her.

"What is this?"

"Domaine de la Butte Bourgueil Mi-Pente 2003," he said. "That was a wonderful year, but perhaps... no, it's still at its peak. That hint of chocolate is nice, eh?"

They sat and ate; salad, olives, charcuterie of dry sausage and cured ham and rabbit terrine with herbs, a round loaf of pain Poilâne bread that crackled when you cut it, butter, a hard dry white cheese that bit gently at the mouth. She looked down again when he served the ice cream and she took her first taste. Dense, rich, tasting of actual cream and fruit...

"My God," she said.

"I told you so."

She tried to kick him beneath the table, and found her foot trapped under his. "You mustn't become predictable, my sweet."

Noémi Lasalle gave them another set of kisses when they left. It was full dark now, or at least as dark as it got in a major city, with the tall buildings of la Defense showing to one side in the middle distance and the lower-rise center of Paris to the other. The granite paving blocks glistened in the light of the cast-iron streetlamps, and the heavy silty smell of the Seine was all around them. It was cool enough to make her jacket comfortable; that also made her less self-conscious about going armed. Beneath it she wore a silk shirt, and tights and a pleated skirt and soft black pumps.

And a knife and an automatic pistol. Welcome to married life, she thought mordantly.

Ellen tucked her arm through Adrian's; the wine bar they were looking for was at 1, quai de Bourbon, which put it at the corner with the bridge leading off the island. She looked to her right; the site of the Bastille was that way.

"Don't tell me the Shadowspawn were to blame for that," she said lightly; there were advantages to a husband who could read your mind.

"No. Too early. Though the Marquis de Sade..."

"At last, something good they did!"

He shook his head and staggered slightly, unlike his usual cat-gracefulness. She put out a hand.

"Adrian?"

"I... am a little confused."

"Why?"

"This meeting is a nexus of... possible events. Events which depend on our decisions and actions; they will close some possible paths, open others, make some more or less likely. But there are other decision-points crowding in; more and more and more, in the immediate future. I have never felt anything quite like it. And they are blurred. So many minds, so many of them with the Power and striving to warp the path of the future."

He shook himself slightly, as if to brace himself. Au Franc Pinot had a narrow blue-fronted entrance, and the steps led down to an atmospheric vaulted-stone cellar. It was pleasant, in a funky-rundown manner, though there was a very slight but definite odor of damp stone, and the tables were islands of candlelight.

Adrian sighed a little as they sat. "I used to come here while I was at la Sorbonne," he said. "It was a jazz club then, and a very good one. Though the food was execrable, but of course nobody goes to the Île-Saint-Louis to eat."

"It's a bad-food zone?"

"No, not quite that. You can get a decent meal here. Not one of the famous gastronomique areas, though, nothing to attract someone looking for a special treat."

He flicked a finger for two glasses of white wine and settled in to wait with a hunter's patience. Ellen took out her notepad instead, and found herself looking at a headline for want of anything better to do.

"It's amazing how she's aged," Ellen said, looking at the President's picture. "They all do."

Adrian leaned over to take a glance and nodded. "And I know why. A day or two after their inauguration, they get a visit in the White House from the Council's representatives."

"You're kidding," Ellen said.

I knew they were pulling the strings from behind the scenes, but they put the gimp on the President in the Oval Office? I thought that meant something more subtle.

"Yes. In fact, they require him, or her these days, to make a human sacrifice just to drive the lesson home, and for amusement. From the time of... mmmm, I think Woodrow Wilson was the first."

"Wilson?"

"Note that he was elected on a promise to keep America out of World War One. Then he declared war on Germany. He turned into an old man overnight. Then he had a stroke. I suspect he tried to assert himself, and that is why he took so long dying."

Ellen turned her head and looked at him. Sometimes he does these convoluted practical jokes...

His face was dead serious. She winced.

"This stuff just keeps getting worse."

I mean, what I went through with Adrienne was worse for me, but that gives me an idea of the scale we're talking about.

"And you wondered why I was always so gloomy," he said.

"Darling, before..."

Before you told me anything, and then I left you because you wouldn't open up, and then Adrienne kidnapped me on the rebound, as it were.

"... I thought you were fascinatingly, broodingly, insanely irritatingly romantic."

"And now?"

"Now I just think you're depressive and it's going to be my mission in life to keep you from turning in diminishing circles until you vanish up your own fundament."

He smiled at her, and she simply sat for a moment appreciating. A man cleared his throat.

"Monsieur Brézé?"

The man was middle-aged and thin, with an unfashionable grizzled ponytail and an aquiline face; in Santa Fe she'd have typed him as one of the inevitable aging hippies, though he was dressed rather better in a Euro-casual way. His brown eyes were uncomfortably acute, as well as holding the usual male appreciation. Her experience with Peter Boase at Rancho Sangre had taught her that physicists were no more likely than artists to live up to their stereotypes—less so, since artists were more prone to doing it deliberately.

"Professor Duquesne?"

The man nodded, and they exchanged names and handshakes all around in the European manner. Duquesne remained silent for a moment afterwards, studying them both. At last he spoke:

"So, monsieur. You have persuaded me to talk with you." A slight smile. "A quarter of a million euros will buy even a crank an evening of my time."

Adrian shrugged expressively—money was more or less meaningless to him, since he could have as much as he wanted. He also suppressed a movement that was almost certainly a reach for his cigarettes. Duquesne's eyebrows rose fractionally; Paris had held out on no-smoking rules longer than most other First World places, but the changeover wasn't exactly recent. A man of Adrian's apparent age should have been used to it.

"I think I can convince you that I am, at the least, not a crank, Professor," Adrian said. "Have you examined the files I sent you?"

"Interesting. Rather as if someone who actually knew quantum mechanics had written the draft of a science fiction novel in a documentary style, disguised as research notes whose bizarre quality increases as one goes on."

"Peter certainly knew... knows... his physics," Ellen said.

The Frenchman looked at her in surprise. "Peter?"

"Peter Boase, Sc. D from MIT." She didn't say doctor; in France that only applied to physicians, dentists, apothecaries and vets. "Later he worked at the Los Alamos laboratories. I was the one who, ah, acquired his notes. Long story."

"I know of him, a very sound young man if adventurous... but he is dead, surely? Several years ago."

"Not as of this spring, although it was put about that he died. I came to know him rather well."

Adrian interrupted. "We could save a good deal of time by a little practical demonstration." He looked at her. "Two days, is it not, my sweet?"

"Red cell count doing fine, so Power away, darling, and the drinks are on me tonight."

"Then this is justified. Professor, that is a perfectly ordinary water-glass, is it not?"

The older man nodded briefly; it was, of a long-stemmed type.

"Then please observe closely," Adrian said, and murmured under his breath: "i-Moh'g, tzee, sha."

Oh, how I hate the sound of Mhabrogast, Ellen thought. She could see Duquesne wince too, though he didn't know why. You wouldn't think a symbol-set could sound evil, but it does.

Then Adrian frowned in concentration. Duquesne waited skeptically, glancing between him and the glass. Then he blinked.

Slowly, and without any fuss, the water was beginning to run up the inside of the glass, a thin film inching evenly up the surface. The physicist's eyes went wider and wider as it reached the rim and flowed over it and rilled down the stem, leaving a spreading stain around the base. The last of the water in the bottom froze with a crackle.

Duquesne reached out and touched it. "Cold..."

"Some of the energy came from subtracting the heat from the rest, I suspect," Adrian said.

"You suspect?"

The physicist sounded scandalized. Adrian shrugged again.

"The process is unconscious. But tell me, Professor Duquesne, how long would you have to wait before the molecules in a glass of water spontaneously behaved in that manner?"

Duquesne sat silent for thirty seconds, his eyes locked on the spreading blotch on the tablecloth.

"Not until proton decay and the end of matter," he whispered at last. "I am assuming this is not some sort of hoax. Though I very much wish that it is."

"No. You will require further proofs, of course; extraordinary claims—"

"—require extraordinary proofs, yes," the professor said. "For the sake of argument I am willing to grant for the moment that this is genuine."

His face lit with enthusiasm. "This phenomenon must be studied! Evidently Penrose was right after all! A quantum consciousness—"

Adrian shook his head. "I am very sorry, professor, but study is not possible. Not in the sense you are using the term."

Before Duquesne could boil over Ellen put a hand on his. "Professor Duquesne, you're not a biologist. But consider, how would such an ability arise?"

"If there was something for evolution to work with, a means whereby the mind could affect quantum states, the obvious selective advantages—oh," he said.

"Exactly." Ellen took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I had it explained to me as—"

"A long time ago, when humans first spread out from Africa—which was far longer ago than the archaeologists think—a small band of hunters was trapped in the mountains of High Asia, a few families, perhaps twenty or thirty in all. Each year the glaciers rose around their plateau, and the food was less, and the cold was more. It was most likely that they would merely eat each other and die. But one was born who was lucky..."

"Why would the whole human race not have such abilities by now?" Duquesne asked.

"To a certain extent they do," Adrian said. "As you said, consciousness is a quantum process. My... subspecies... has taken this to another level. Unfortunately, it arose very long ago as a bundle of abilities associated with, how would one say, a particular ecological adaptation."

Duquesne had an abstracted look for a moment. "Predation on human beings?" he said. "But why... ah, the same phenomenon would make a human consciousness easier to affect, eh? And once committed to that, path dependency would maintain it even if it was no longer essential when the ability had grown. A legacy system, as it were."

Well, he's a cool one! Ellen thought. Then: Well, judging by Peter—which is to judge by a sample of one—the stereotype is true to the extent that physicists really can get lost in an idea. But then, so do artists. Or even art historians like me. Or anyone in a field that requires really deep thought and intense commitment.

"I am deeply sorry, but by involving you in this matter, I have endangered you, Professor Duquesne," Adrian said gently. "You now know of our existence, and of the Power..."

"The Power?"

"The term for the ability in general."

The man made a dismissive gesture. "Let me develop my line of thought. So, if this phenomenon is instinctive, it is not well understood even by those who possess it?"

"No. There are many techniques for amplifying the effect, but no real scientific understanding." He smiled bleakly. "My breed is many things; paranoid, sociopathic, sadistic, but we have produced no scientists that I know of, though some have been scholars. It is only a few generations since the whole business was thought of in superstitious terms, as magic."

"If I could do such things," Duquesne nodded towards the glass, "I might not have developed a scientific sensibility either."

He thought for a moment. "The information you sent me... in retrospect, and taking them seriously, the sections on the—"

Duquesne was still speaking French, but Ellen lost him after half a dozen words. She could see Adrian do the same a few seconds later.

"Professor, you are speaking to scientific illiterates," Adrian said. "Can you put this in layman's terms?"

The academic made a quick impatient gesture. "No. Not without complete misunderstanding."

"There is nothing you can say?"

Another string of technicalities, ending with phase shifts.

"And that is why silver resists the Power?" Adrian asked.

"From what Boase said, the transuranics should as well. Fascinating!"

"No less fascinating is that the memory stick itself had... I find myself in the same position as you, Professor... it is hard to express... a feeling of no feeling. Usually anything linked to a significant nexus of probabilities in the future has a feeling of importance. Or of non-importance if it does not. This information simply did not show either."

"Fascinating," Duquesne murmured again. Then he laughed. "Perhaps it is as it was with the Large Hadron Collider. The future is interfering with the present to prevent certain information from being accessible."

He stopped laughing when they both stared at him expressionlessly.

"That was a joke, monsieur," he said.

"I'm afraid it isn't." After a moment Adrian went on: "You are willing to continue this research?"

"Ah... well, that is a difficult matter. I have commitments to other projects. I certainly cannot do research in isolation, without informing colleagues... it would all be completely irregular. Things are not done in such a fashion. But if a project can be arranged—we must think and plan in some detail."

"Of course," Adrian said soothingly.

After a little more conversation Duquesne left, still shaking his head.

"The poor man," Ellen said wistfully. "This is his last normal moment, isn't it?"

"Yes, alas," Adrian said. "Wait... wait... now we follow him."

"How many?"

"It's not quite certain yet," Adrian said as they went out the door and turned right into the bustling night; Duquesne was walking towards the nearest Metro station. "The world-lines are coalescing... yes. Two normals, renfield muscle, and a Shadowspawn. He will intervene only if the normals fail."

"You'll take care of him?"

"Exactly. I'm afraid you must keep the normals occupied."

Gulp.

"I wish Harvey were here to help."

So do I!

 

 

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