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The Best of You
<small>[[continued from Connections]]

The super let Connor into the Ms. Chadova's apartment. The building was a run-down affair. He'd taken the stairs with the super because the elevator looked dicey. He wasn't even sure it worked. There was a musty smell to everything, including the apartment.

He thought about the girl, Katya. He'd seen her face in the news. Dead of "the sickness." He grimaced. Another one. Mr. Zhirov was a fat man, mostly bald with a very pathetic comb-over. His shirt had stains on it and from the look of everything, only did enough to keep the building from falling apart and nothing more. He was surprised that any of Katya's things were still there, especially the powerful workstation he had been sent to retrieve. As if reading his mind, Zhirov said, "I'm not going in there. I'm not gonna get sick for a bunch of junk!"
He chewed on a cigar and looked him up and down through watery brown eyes. "If you ask me, this is a foolish. Her parents didn't even want her things, they were so afraid."
He looked around irritably. "Now they don't even answer my calls. They need to come and do something about this mess."
He hocked as if to spit and then looked at Connor and refrained. He muttered, "Not my job."

Connor looked down at him frankly. "I'll get Paragon's property."
He worked for them too and had volunteered when this assignment came up. His mouth turned down. He knew what the sickness was. Hayden's face flashed across his mind. "You don't need to come in if you are afraid."
He walked into the room carrying a couple boxes and started looking around. The workstation dominated the room. Course anything would, really. Not much to the small single room. Small kitchenette, bed, small bathroom. The computer sat on a desk by the bed. Connor heard the door close behind him. The room was quietl. He just stood still, imagining the young girl. It made him sad, to think this was her home. It was an ugly place.

Even worse, there really didn't seem to be any personality to the room. No pictures adorned the wall, no photos of family or friends, nothing to say who this girl was. It made him sad. Such a lonely life. She'd died on the subway surrounded by strangers. He looked down, once again struck by how lucky he'd been to be with Hayden at the end.

Magic is everywhere. My son had it. Ayden has it. Jensen. Giovanni. Now this girl had it. He'd seen the news reports regarding the events in the DV. And some of the guys at work who frequented conspiracy sites were talking about strange events that were rumored to have happened there too. He'd even been shown grainy video of a man supposedly using magic to lay waste to one of the armies. Others in the office made fun of them of course. You could do anything with video editing and effects these days. But Connor knew all too well that magic was very real. He'd seen Giovanni use fire to burn that Ijiraq. He'd seen Jensen freeze it, just before Aria cut its head off. He pushed away the twinge of guilt at thinking of her name. The video was real. He knew it. He could vaguely make out the face. There was nothing really familiar about it, though that didn't surprise him. The world had changed. Soon the facts would be undeniable.

A part of him smiled at that thought. Once this gets out, those bastard Atharim won't be able to just put down people like they used to! Then, maybe, people like Ayden or Jensen could use their experience to teach, so that kids like Hayden and Katya didn't have to die. That would be good thing. A great thing.

He went to the workstation and when he jostled it, it woke up and he saw the images he'd expected on the wall instead floating across her display. Of course. She lived in a virtual world. That's where she displayed her loved ones. This was her true home. He felt some sense of reverence as he shut it down and boxed it all up.

He let himself out- the super was gone. Not a very good one at all, he thought, To let a stranger take whatever he wanted. He'd said he was having trouble reaching the parents. Maybe he hoped the place would get robbed and remove some of the stuff he'd have to dispose of.

It was odd though, her parents. Connor really couldn't imagine them just leaving their daughter's stuff, sickness or no. A dark thought occurred to him. The Atharim. The article had been in the news. They would have seen it. Jamie had said that families had also disappeared. Anger welled up inside him. Is that what had happened? Now that Katya was dead, her family also needed to be killed as well? He was angry. Because of them, Hayden had died. And countless others. Even though he vehemently disagreed, he could see their rationalizing it. But to also kill the family? He was shaking his had in rage. It was not right. He hated the Atharim, hated their setting themselves up as judge, jury and executioner for society.

By the time he got back to his office, his rage had given way to frustration. He'd warned Tehya and Ayden. He really didn't know what else he could do. He set the computer up in the lab and booted it up. He used the administrator login that was built into every computer. Course, everyone here was an expert, so he expected layers of home-grown security before he'd be able to get into the machine and retrieve any of Paragon's files Katya had been working on. It took hours. He ate lunch and texted Ayden. She was going to be getting off soon and said she wanted to take a nap and that she'd see him later that night. He smiled thinking of her, then frowned. She was someone who needed protection from those Atharim. Shaking his head, he got back to work.

At around 4 he finally made it through the last layer and had full access. He started pulling the last files Katya ahd been working on. One of them was a large database that she had been decrypting. That wasn't on the list given to me of projects she'd been assigned. Then again, it wasn't uncommon for people like her to do side work. He thought about her apartment. If she did do side work, it sure didn't pay well. He was curious so he opened up the file.

What he saw was strange at first. Lots of names and locations and dates, along with other names tagged as "handlers". Next of kin. Status. And pictures. Many pictures. One of the pictures made him stop, scalp prickling. He looked around to make sure he was alone in the lab, and then clicked on the image. A larger version came up, along with more detailed information. Family, a bio, summary of evidence, danger assessment, last known location.

The face was unmistakable. It was Giovanni. But the name given was "Francesco Moretti". And there was also a "reborn god" confirmation and date. And a kill-order. He knew what this was. He shut the computer down immediately, his heart racing. If they knew he had it...He wondered at how Katya had gotten this. But it didn't matter. If someone knew he had it then he would be in danger. He thought about destroying the drive. But he just couldn't do it. He had proof in his hand. Evidence of the Atharim and their murders. Many of the entries had said "terminated" under status. He'd be willing to bet searches of those people would bring up suspicious deaths. He had a powerful weapon if he could just figure out how to use it. A voice nagged at the back of his head. He also needed to let Giovanni- Francesco, really- that he was in danger. Had Giovanni known what Aria was, how dangerous she was to him?

As he thought, he got out an old drive that was exactly the same as Katya's. He then zeroed out the drive, so that it would be irretrievable. He'd tell them that Katya had booby trapped her drive with a secret security program that he'd missed. She had been low level, so what she'd been working on would not really be too important. It's why they'd sent a relatively new guy like himself to get the system and retrieve the files in the first place.

Then he slipped her drive into his bag and walked to his desk and wrote up his report. At the end of the day, he headed out, bag in hand. He was very careful to be aware of his surroundings. It didn't appear anyone was following him. But his heartbeat raced anyway.

Edited by Connor Kent, Aug 27 2014, 03:55 PM.
Life was always full of surprises. Her father had been in town for a little while and he'd had no progress on finding her half sister. Much to his chagrin he asked Alex to help. There was little she could do other than try to pull it off as someone of interest for her. But she had feelers out and was looking the best she could. He wasn't happy with the slow progress. He never was.

With Giordano staying at her apartment, she didn't want to go home after work. So Alex headed to the History Museum, a rare exhibit was showing for a limited time here in Moscow before heading on to Rome. This particular exhibit was rumored to be of a man who claimed he was a god. From what Alex understood of the find, he was buried rather unceremoniously under a large flat slab of rock that had been engraved upon. Only a few carvings on the slab remained in tact, one of which was the word "god".

History intrigued Alex, the strange and the unknown too. After meeting Dane Gregory and his unique ability made Alex wonder if this self-proclaimed god was like him. History had a strange way of repeating itself.

The museum only had a few hours left before it closed, so Alex would have to hurry to see what she wanted. There was only a short line, and she could stand and look and absorb the piece. The strange thing about being Sentient was even old things still could emote something. And if the piece was emotionally significant it lasted even longer.

Alex studied the slab in its glass enclosure. And there was no denying it, but clearly visible on the slab, one of the few markings still visible was a snake in the shape of a ring, eating it's own tail. She knew what that was - the Atharim had a hand in making this tablet. Alex had a hard time containing her own fury. First Autunna Luna came and made life difficult, and then they come again and kill her sister, and then she finds out she's a half sister who IS Atharim. Alex muttered to herself, "Fucking Atharim!"
probably a bit too loud and venomously as a man next to her took notice.
He walked the streets, conscious of the weight in his backpack. Even though it was a standard 500PB weighing in at less than half a pound, the weight of it was palpable, as if each qubit of data weighed in at a pound and the combined weight was about to topple him. All in your mind, he thought as he watched the faces of the people he passed. It was 4pm and he was walking to the metro. The sun had gone down past the building’s heights but he estimated that it wouldn’t get dark for another hour or two. Despite his assurances, he was nervous. On his back he had proof of a clandestine organization that went back…honestly, he had no idea how far it went back, no idea of the extent of its power. All he had to go on was a stupid movie series from his childhood.

Reborn gods… The term echoed through his mind as he boarded the train. Those who could use magic were spoken of as reborn gods. Hayden had been a great kid and had turned into a good man before the end. But it was hard to think of your son as a ‘god’ in that sense. And Ayden too. She was a complicated woman, but a woman nonetheless. He didn’t think he’d fallen in love with a goddess- well she was a goddess to him only because of what she meant to him. But in the strict definition of the word…He paused. Was there such a thing? What did it mean to be a god anyway? Not God, not the creator. His mind flashed back to the mythologies he’d learned about as a kid. They were gods, but not in the Judeo-Christian sense, a perfect, omniscient loving Creator who ran the universe.

No, the gods of myth were every bit as petty and insecure as any human. What made them gods was the fact that they had power and were immortal. Could it be? Were those myths and legends really just distortions of stories of people with power, people like Hayden, Giovanni, Jensen and Ayden? The realization was like a smack in the face. Duh! It made perfect sense. Obviously someone with that kind of power would be looked at as a god. They would be worshipped even. And then he remembered that saying about power corrupting. He had to admit that power of that nature could play a role in inflating ones ego, in causing a person to forget compassion and humanity.

He remembered the myths of “heroes” like Hercules or Zeus or even the ‘wise’ Athena. Hercules carried on affairs- or maybe killed one of his wives, he couldn’t really remember. Zeus had affair after affair, even pretended to be husbands. And there was at least one story about him nailing a goose. And ‘wise’ Athena? Who got so pissed at that one woman who spun cloth so well that people were saying she was better than her? She challenged Arachne to a contest and when she lost, turned her into a spider. Come to think of it Apollos did the same with some flute player. When the guy lost, he had him skinned or something.

While just myths, he could easily see that behind those myths were very normal but powerful humans whose power had let them plumb the depths of depravity. Of course, that didn’t excuse the Atharim for just exterminating people who had the power- them and their families. You didn’t have the right to preemptively kill someone just because they might do something in the future. Hayden was not a bad kid and would not have done those kinds of things. He was his father. He had raised him. He knew him better than anyone. They didn’t have that right, he thought angrily. Was it possible the Atharim went back that far? Had they been around for centuries?

His eyes focused and caught site of a subway ad display. There was an exhibit at the Pushkin Museum of Art about ancient gods, on loan before going on to Paris. Suddenly, he felt like he wanted to see it. Ayden was probably still at home sleeping. He had some time. And he just…he wasn’t sure but he really wanted to see the exhibit. He wasn’t really sure why. He figured out what stop he should take and after one more train ride and then a walk of a couple blocks, he found himself outside the museum. He felt drawn inside.

After getting in and wandering around, he found his way to the exhibit and just began wandering. He’d seen antiquities before, had seen old sculptures and tombs, frescos and jewelry. But this time, every display he saw that spoke of this god or that goddess made him pause. Was he looking at a distant memory of realities? Was Achilles real? Ares? Hades?

One of the displays was interesting because, according to the description, the tomb belonged to a man who had later proclaimed himself a god. There was a long story that went with it: Humble beginnings; taking power; worship and adulation. And then, betrayal by his new bride, quick death by poison. On the tomb were a bunch of carvings, including a snake eating its own tail. He vaguely remembered that from history class. An old symbol of eternity, if he remembered right. There was always something about snakes and eternity.

He read the details of the story again, heedless of the people around him. Was this one of those ‘reborn gods’ the Atharim referred to? “Fucking Athatrim!”
His head jerked around and he was staring at a short woman, dark hair in a ponytail.

He looked at her, the shock on his face. "What was that!?”

Alex scolded herself for her inability to keep her mouth quiet. The man seemed lost in his own thoughts until that moment. She didn't pry into his emotions, it was not polite, though she regularly did with her clients, she didn't with complete strangers. Why should she have that advantage over others?

Alex laughed softly. "I had hoped no one heard me."
But she pointed to the snake biting it's own tail. "That's the symbol of an so-called secret society called the Atharim. Few know of them, sadly my family has had encounters with them. Just makes me wonder what they had to do with this man. But I'm not surprised to know that they existed even back then. A symbol of eternity, just shows their arrogance."

Alex knew she was rambling "I'm sorry I'm rambling."
She held out her hand, "Alex."
Connor's mouth dropped open as the words came out of her mouth. She had said atharim. He hadn't imagined it. Indeed, not only had she said it, but she knew all about them.


He shook her hand. 'Connor."
He looked around. No one was standing near them. He was very much aware of the weight if the drive on his back. Was she a spy? Was she trying to distract him. It couldn't be coincidence that he happened to have a smoking-gun with the atharim's prints all over it in his back pack and then happened to meet a woman who knew all about them, could it?

"I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. It's just..."
He stopped. He didn't know this woman. From what he knew- which wasn't much at all- they were a dangerous group that had been around for...well for a very long time, if they were responsible for this. It was entirely possible that this was a ruse. He lied. "It's just that I'd never heard that name before. Atha..what? A secret society?"
He looked at her, feigning puzzlement. "You mean like the Illuminati kind of stuff?"
He laughed, hoping it would sound skeptical instead of the nervous that he felt. "What would they have to do with this..."
He looked for a date but nothing jumped out at him. "...this old tomb. Or the guy in it?"

What she said came back to him regarding her family and he couldn't help narrowing his eyes. He was glad she wasn't a mind reader or she'd see that he was all over the place. He looked back at the display, hoping to figure out how to proceed. "To be honest, I've never really bought into large conspiracies. Too many people required to keep silent. Seems like someone woulda said something to someone, even accidentally. Husband to a wife; friend to a buddy after having a few. Not to mention getting the funding."
He smiled at her, hoping she'd think he was being a friendly skeptic. "No offense meant. Not saying it's not true. Just saying why I've never bought into it."

He had no clue what he was doing. If she was atharim then she knew what he had and his feigned ignorance wouldn't fool her. There could be people surrounding the place as they spoke. Course, that seemed overkill. He was just one guy and while he new he could take this lady easily enough, all it would take is a man or five with a gun to get the drive. Distraction seemed unnecessary. That left the very real possibility that she was really just someone who knew what they should not and wasn't being careful.

He thought of the warnings he'd given to Tehya and Elias, to Ayden. He hadn't been careful either. He even remembered Tehya warning him that such a group might not want their secrets broadbast. Well, he hadn't cared then, about the consequences. But things were different. He had Ayden to think about. Maybe this woman, Alex, needed a warning too.

"Like I said, I have trouble believing in conspiracy organizations, I will say that if something like that existed, it might be dangerous for you to let on that you know. At least so freely."

He looked at her. He wasn't sure what else to do.

Edited by Connor Kent, Jul 17 2014, 01:19 PM.
Alex smiled. He'd assumed she was a conspiracy theorist. Well at least her slip hadn't been taken for the real deal, but she could find out for sure. She sighed inwardly. That was cheating, her mother would have her writing lines for a month if she found out she even thought of using her gift to manipulate the situation. But here mother wasn't here. A sad groan and Alex knew her father was. He'd have no problem listening in his thoughts. He'd say 'Better safe than sorry'.

Of the two voices sitting on her shoulder she was more inclined to listen to her mother than her father. But what are the coincidences of this piece and her half sister being in Moscow at the same time. A trap?

Alex choose to listen and from the moment she opened herself to his emotions she felt the discomfort of lies, guilt and a heavy underlying fear. He knew more than he was letting on. She smiled. "I think thou dost protest too much, my friend."

"Perhaps a cup of coffee and we can discuss the nomenclature of secret societies?

Edited by Alex, Jul 17 2014, 01:59 PM.
Alex listened to him calmly, staring up at him through green eyes. For some reason, he was reminded of Aria's eyes- a thought he pushed away immediately.

She listened...and then smiled and burst his bubble. "I think thou dost protest too much, my friend. Perhaps a cup of coffee and we can discuss the nomenclature of secret societies?"

He was confused. Was she one of them? If so, why would she want to talk to him? Why didn't she just demand that he give her the drive? It's not like he knew anything. Maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe her family had run afoul of them.

They were in a public place and that was gonna stay that way. He looked at her with suspicion. "You're not one of them are you?
He was aware they were now in a largely empty exhibit room. He didn't like it. "Alright, if you want to talk, let's go to the museum cafeteria."
There were probably many people there.

He gestured for her to take the lead- he wasn't going to walk behind her- and they exited the hall and went to the cafeteria. Without trying to draw attention to himself, he tried to look everywhere, to see if there were any suspicious looking people coming toward them. Of course, it's not like he'd know. Not like he had any spy training or whatever you called it. Special ops. More like special moron in his case. This was a real chance he was taking, especially given what he was carrying. But he couldn't get out of it now.

They got to the cafeteria and found a table near a wall- he remembered that at least from a book he'd read in High School. Sit with your back to a wall so you can watch. Course, the book really didn't specify what you did if you actually saw someone coming toward you, what with your back against the wall and all. He felt so dumb.

"Ok. We can talk. are you?"
He felt stupid, but how do you start a conversation about a secret organization that would have killed your son- not to mention you and your ex-wife?
Alex nearly laughed, he was a mess. He knew way more than he should. He looked guilty of something. He needed to relax.

They got a table and Alex had picked up a disgusting cafeteria coffee on the way. At least it was hot, maybe the taste would be worth that little comfort. "I'm not one of them. But you really need to relax. There is no threat here."

Alex wished she could sent him a calming feeling, anything to make him look less like a deer in headlights. But she could not, her father had always thought less of her because she could not. It made her stew in her own thoughts. She was the least in terms of power of the family, but she was also the only one who could dig as deep inside someone's emotions. There was power in that, power in the truth.

Alex smiled to take the edge off, but she doubt it would do any good. "They hunt what they deem to be monsters. Most truly are monsters, but not all. Sound familiar? They bear a mark on their left forearms - a snake eating it's own tail. It comes in many forms, some a circle, others choose the infinity symbol, and like the two I've met personally, a knot. Conspiracy theorist don't know that, they assume the circle, but from what my father tells me they abandoned the specific symbol to hide themselves among us. But the location is always the same. They hunt us like animals fit to be slaughtered. Disgusting practices if you ask me."
Alex remembered the phone call that brought news of her sister's death at their hands and the words were like spitting nails. She hated them, and to think she had blood ties to them now only made the fury rise even higher.
She told him to relax. Of course, they'd all say that. They'd deny it as well. But looking at her, he just didn't get the same sort of predatory way about her as he had from Aria. The twinge was there, but he forced himself to remember. She walked dangerously, aware of any and everything lurking about. While this woman reminded him of her physically, everything else about her, including her relaxed, open and casual manner, was at polar opposite to Aria. He supposed that there had to be other Atharim- ones who didn't hunt. The thing is, she just didn't seem....something. He couldn't put his finger on it. She seemed genuine and used to being with people, used to helping them calm. He wanted to trust her.

She went on, explaining what she knew of the Atharim. But the end, her tone was filled with fury, as if she had personally tasted the sharp end of Atharim policies. "They hunt us like animals fit to be slaughtered. Disgusting practices if you ask me."
He knew the feeling all too well. While Hayden had never run afoul of them, just the idea that they would take it on themselves to kill him without a moment's thought- well, he felt the same way.

He looked at her for a moment, trying to decide. "I know of them. I've met one. Just one, unless you are lying to me."
He grimaced. "I'm sorry. The one I met actually was a decent person. She...killed a creature that was going to kill...some people."
He looked around. No one was close to them and no one seemed to be paying attention, but he lowered his voice. "She told me that my son was born with a gift. The Atharim refer to them as reborn gods. I don't know anything about that. But he died of the Sickness- he couldn't control his power."
His voice hardened. "But they would have killed him if they knew. We kept him from the hospital because we had heard rumors. He died with us, safe from them. But just the thought that they might have put him down a rabid dog. Well, let me tell you that the Atharim are my enemies even though I'm just a nobody."

He watched her. The sympathy and understanding in her eyes was a give away. She knew. She was telling the truth. He relaxed a bit. He was still nervous with what he carried. But perhaps he found someone who might help him. "I know you know that feeling."
Alex sighed. She did know all too well that feeling. "They've come and ruined are lives on at least two occasions. The first my father took care of by changing her heart."
Alex disliked the fact that because of him an unknown Sentient who know strange men who could do spectacular things with very questionable personalities walking the streets of Moscow, her home. "The second time, they killed my sister. My brother and I were at MIT finishing up or degrees when they came. My mother called to tell me of her passing at their hands. I didn't even make it home for her funeral because she thought it best we stay where we were."

"I know nothing of these reborn gods, or the sickness. I know they only hunt what they deem dangerous. But that information is not what is making you jumpy. You speak the truth, of your knowledge, but that's not why my words made you jump."
She smiled at him knowingly. Alex hated reading him, but it was necessary. He had something questionable about the Atharim, she could feel it.

Edited by Alex, Jul 18 2014, 10:05 AM.

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