The day passed Fisher by. Any thought of Sam, Jack, and their mysterious package was lost in the mundanity of lesson plans and classroom management. He even forgot to call Naemah so he might be able to pick the brain of an ex-SOLAR operative for advice on what to do about the whole situation. Maybe he didn’t forget. Maybe it was lingering resentment from the way his ribs still hurt.
Fisher sighed. He couldn’t blame Jack for that. The younger man was troubled, always had been, and was scared and lashing out. Wherever he was now, Fisher hoped he was okay. That evening, when Fisher returned to his apartment, tired and weary, he told himself that he would call Naemah the next morning, sort out the whole issue then.
As always, he ran through his post-working day routine. Feed Octopus, remove shoes, throw jacket over the couch, pour a scotch. He had just taken the slug down, relishing the burn, when someone said, from the kitchen, “Good evening, Mister Fisher.”
What the hell?
Fisher turned towards the voice. There, seated at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in his hands, was a short man in a formal suit. He looked about Fisher’s age, but he had never seen him before. Nothing about his black hair or brown eyes or fair skin spelled out recognition.
And he wasn’t in any Academy uniform.
“Who the fuck are you?”
The man stirred at his coffee, not looking at him. “Just a friend, Mister Fisher.”
The short man nodded, raised the mug. “That’s right.” Finally, he looked at Fisher. “By the way, I do apologize, but I had to help myself. It was a long flight.”
“Yeah? And where are you from?”
“Geneva? This some kind of performance review?”
He chuckled. “Something like that.”
“Well, you’re not any friend I recognize.”
“As it should be, then. I am called Magnetar.”
The name meant nothing to Pavel Fisher.
“I don’t know who the hell you are, Magnetar, but I think you should get out of my apartment before I call security.”
“Do try, Mister Fisher. But I think you will find that I inhibit the gap between your desire to move, and the ability to think to do so.”
Fisher frowned. “We’ll see about that.”
For the hell of it, Fisher crossed over to where he had set down his phone. But when he reached for it, he found that whatever came next eluded him. He could reach for his phone but no thought, no act of will, could enable him to actually grasp it.
“You’re a telepath,” Fisher muttered. “Great.”
Magnetar shook his head, looking offended. “Oh, no. Not quite. Nothing so esoteric. It’s all in the name.”
Magnetar. Sounded like it had something to do with space. Fisher sifted through his memories. Mark had been into space and astronomy, and it was difficult separating the man from the facts that had, at the time, seemed so pointless. What’s the point of the stars? Fisher had asked. Haven’t we got enough problems down here?
“A neutron star,” Fisher remembered. “A type with a very strong magnetic field — that’s it, right? Magnetic fields. You’re messing with my brain.”
“Quite astute, Mister Fisher. Just an application of magnetic fields — very slight, but very precise. Do not be alarmed — my control is quite absolute. It’s why you can’t pick up your phone, and why you didn’t notice me when you came in.”
“So you could kill me if you wanted.”
“Correct,” Magnetar said. “Or I could irrevocably alter your personality with a flick of my wrist. But I am not here to harm you, Mister Fisher. I’m only here to strike a concord.”
Fisher squeezed his eyes shut, grimacing. “You’re with the Concordiat.”
“You’ve done it again, Mister Fisher,” Magnetar said with a patronizing smile. “Yes, I represent the wishes of the Concordiat.”
Now, there was a name Pavel Fisher could’ve done without hearing so close to his for the rest of his life. If there was one group that could be said to realistically be a challenger to the global dominance of the IPSA, it was the Concordiat.
Fisher had never directly met someone working on behalf of the Concordiat before, and he had seen their members in the flesh only once. That was when they had come to Paradigm City, to face down the Engineer. They had won, too. But Fisher had been there, huddled on the rain-soaked sidelines, and he’d seen that they hadn’t cared about collateral.
That was the tension, the paradox. Some called them ruthless pacifists, others called them benevolent monsters. To some, they were the last scions of the Golden Age, driven by that utopic, transcendental faith in a better world — and, to others, they were still scions, but ones motivated by nothing but a horrifyingly cold calculus.
“What do you want?” Fisher asked. “What does the almighty Throne want with a glorified school teacher?”
Magnetar sipped from his mug, said nothing. The man relished his sense of being in control, Fisher could tell. Loved making him wait just one extra second between question and answer.
What a fucking prick.
It almost made him miss Blueshift. Almost. At least he was fun to look at.
Magnetar finally continued, “To borrow a phrase from salespeople everywhere, Mister Fisher: I’m here to make you the offer of a lifetime.”
Fisher shook his head. “I’m not interested,” he said, pointing to the door. “I would like you to leave.”
Magnetar didn’t move. “Actually, I think I’ll finish my pitch first. Then, we’ll see if you’re still so set in throwing this opportunity away.”
“I’m just curious what you think you can offer me.”
“Why, Mister Fisher, the same as we offer anyone else: the one thing they’ve always wanted.”
“Yeah? And what’s what?” Fisher raised his empty glass. “A good, stiff… drink?”
Magnetar gave him an unimpressed, sarcastic smile. “Not quite. You see, we can give you something back, return to you something thought lost. Something utterly irreplaceable.”
A horrific, gnawing wound opened in Fisher’s heart, the scar throbbing raw.
“You see, Mister Fisher,” Magnetar said, “We can give you Mark Fisher.”
Mark. The memories. Too many to count.
There he was, the first time they met. When Fisher was drunk on his own heroism, his own status, and Mark brought him back down to Earth with a word and a look. From there glances, touching. A kiss. More.
And there, in uniform as the invulnerable Ravenstorm. Sleek and athletic and all in black, the ostentatious feathered cloak and mantle that somehow Mark made work. Medals and magazine covers.
Fighting Taurine, horned and vengeful. Mark spread his arms and hurled feathers that he made sharper than steel, shredding her again and again. With Fisher’s ability to twist distance around his hands, Mark could never miss.
She had her revenge, of course — she tied Fisher down and hacked his hands clean off. But Mark? For him, Taurine had something special planned. To drown him forever.
“Is this a fucking joke?” Fisher growled, stepping forwards, clenching his fists. “I said, is this a fucking joke?!”
Magnetar stirred his coffee, making a show of focusing on it and not Fisher. He wasn’t concerned. Why would he be? He was in control here, and all it would take was a slight motion from him, and Fisher would find his grey matter scrambled.
“It’s not a joke,” Magnetar replied, “About fornication or otherwise.”
“Do you think I want a fucking clone?!”
If Magnetar noted his anger, he made no sign. “Do you think I would come here to bargain with you with some imitation?” He scoffed. “Please, Mister Fisher, have some respect for our great work.”
The anger cooled. “He’s lost,” Fisher said. “No one can find him. It’s impossible.”
“To most, perhaps. But the Concordiat is not most people. Reports of our capabilities have not been vastly exaggerated.”
“Tell me where he is, or so help me God…”
Magnetar’s face split in that subtle, sarcastic smile. “You’ll what, Mister Fisher? You’ll beat it out of me? We both know that isn’t possible. So, no, I won’t tell you where he is. But I can explain how we found him.”
Fisher gripped the back of one of the chairs, shaking. The whole thing was impossible. Had to be. It had to be a trick. But why? Was the Concordiat looking for the whatever-it-was Jack and Sam had found? But if that was the case, why make a deal for it?
No, this was a design for something else. But what? Something to do with the Academy?
Wouldn’t that be worth it? To have Mark back?
Fisher noded to Magnetar and said tersely, “Please.”
Magnetar sipped at his coffee. “The world is really quite simple when you get down to it, Mister Fisher. It’s all just a matter of equations. Ultimately, when you have enough information in front of you, you quickly find that everything is quite deterministic.”
“Get to the point.”
“I am. It’s important to provide context. Besides, you’re an old cape — you understand the importance of theatrics. So, please, allow some time for them. It’s not often that I get to make a speech like this.
“Really,” Magnetar continued, “That’s one of the core ethos of the Concordiat: that the world is deterministic in its entirety and that we, as humans, can master it. That by doing so, we can fulfill our solemn duty to prevent another Collapse. But the answer to this problem isn’t morals or symbols or education or regulation or debate: it’s merely information and computing power.”
Magnetar rose from his chair and crossed the kitchen, set the mug in the sink. “Now,” he said. “The location of Mark Fisher was a problem that required a fair amount of information and a fair amount of computing power. It was a clever strategy of Taurine’s, really. How could anyone find a single person, empowered or otherwise, within the depths of the ocean? Add in eleven years of oceanic currents, and it’s like looking for a needle in a typhoon. But, as I said, you just need enough raw power.”
Fisher swallowed. “So, you’ve found him. You know where he is.”
“Yes. And recovered him, in fact.”
“Is he…” Alive? Sane?
Magnetar just nodded.
Fisher groped around for his next question. “When did you…”
Again, that self-satisfied smile. “Now, Mister Fisher, that would be telling. Suffice to say, he is with us, and he is, shall we say, on the mend. But he is whole and, in time, he will adjust.”
“I see. Thank you.”
Magnetar bowed his head. Looking up again, he said, “Now, with everything I have just said, would you still like me to leave?”
Something about this felt wrong. The Concordiat was impenetrable to outsiders, and that was how they liked it. Wherever the Concordiat held sway, no one entered – and no one left. They didn’t make their deals for anyone but themselves. Here and now, all Fisher could think of was of someone adjusting a cold, inhuman abacus.
And he was one of the beads.
And yet, did that even matter?
“I’m still waiting, Mister Fisher.”
“No,” he replied. “Stay.”
“Excellent. Now, as much as I would like to just give Mark back to you, my superiors would be unhappy with me. So, as I said, I am to strike a concord that will benefit everyone involved — you, them, me, and even the wider world, if you can believe it.”
“I used to think I’d do anything to get him back.”
“Such a romantic sentiment,” Magnetar said, with mocking enthusiasm. Then, his voice grew grim and serious: “Would you still?”
The question was as pointed as a knife to the heart. It demanded an answer.
Fisher began, “I…”
He wanted to say no. How desperately he wanted to say no. The older, wiser part of him was screaming a warning. But the younger part of him, the one that still poked and prodded at that scar to see if it hurt (and it always did, it always did) pretended not to hear it.
To say no or I don’t know. That would have been so easy, had the idea of finding Mark still been impossible. But the Concordiat wouldn’t lie about it. They didn’t lie. They never lied, and that was what made them so terrifying.
We can give you precisely what you want, and we know you’ll do anything to obtain it.
“I would,” Fisher croaked. “I’d do anything.”
“Then we may yet strike our concord,” Magnetar replied. “This one, Mister Fisher, you’ll find is quite straightforward. Your reunion with Mark Fisher is predicated upon one, simple task.”
And even though Pavel Fisher found himself thinking of his father, found himself remembering something about smiling devils bearing gifts, he could only ask, “And what’s that?”
“A life for a life,” Magnetar said. “To fulfill your part of this concord, to see Mark Fisher again, you must do one simple thing: you must kill Sabra Kasembe.”