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Fandom: David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas


Written for: such_heights in the Yuletide 2008 Challenge

by Cyphomandra

Buenas Yerba

1975

gate of ivory


Alberto Grimaldi's handshake, a practised double hand-clasp, has just the right degree of firmness. "We understand each other, then," he says to Rufus Sixsmith. The scientist is everything Grimaldi thinks of when he thinks of England, a neat grey man in neat grey clothes, with a prissy accent. Old. Irrelevant. He lets go, smiling.

Sixsmith frowns. "The reactor is still unsafe--"

"On paper, professor," Grimaldi says, cutting him off. "On paper." The paper that makes up the Sixsmith report, all copies of which are currently being collected up under Napier's supervision and destroyed, even down to the embossed vanilla binders. Thoroughness is a business virtue. "On paper, maybe you're unsafe as well, but you look pretty good right now. Or maybe it's the other way round."

Sixsmith hesitates. "I'm not sure what you're implying," he says, but Grimaldi doesn't believe him. Even the English can spot a threat. Photographs of smiling friends and family look safe, too, until you hold a cigarette lighter to them.

"You should take a night off, professor." Grimaldi steps back, waves him towards the door. Smoke is opening it already, silent and attentive. "Get some perspective. We'll talk again tomorrow." He's hooked, but Grimaldi doesn't trust him yet.

The professor picks up his cane -- Grimaldi keeps the smile on his face with an effort -- and exits. Outside the big picture window the seagulls belly up to the wind, hovering on invisible currents. Once this report is buried Grimaldi's position will be far higher and far more secure.


Gresham's School

Norfolk

1922

"They're a reasonable lot," Jessop said, shrugging on his coat. "Only the lower Fourth contains any hint of fons et origo mali in the form of -- oh, thank you -- " He took his hat and gloves from Ferrars. The driveway outside had been swept of snow, leaving neat banks on each side all the way to the big iron gates. Overhead, the sky was slate-grey, heavy with clouds, and as they stepped outside the wind cut through Ferrars' light clothing like a knife. Jessop looked far more comfortable. He also looked prepared to discuss every boy he'd ever taught in detail.

"I think it's important to form my own impressions," Ferrars said, diving in when the stout classicist took a breath. "I feel the boys will respond best if they see me as a colleague, not just a teacher." He'd already spent some time this morning discussing the new theories of education with Jessop, but the man seemed determined to ignore them, responding instead with irrelevant anecdotes. Ferrars supposed there was only so much you could expect from someone of his advanced years.

"Hmm." Jessop tucked his chin into his coat collar. "A colleague?"

Ferrars prepared to expound again on the merits of encouraging an open and inquiring mind, but Jessop clapped him on the shoulder. "Whatever you are, if we stay out here you'll catch a cold and I'll miss my train. All the best, my boy, and don't hesitate to ask for help."

Ferrars, who felt it highly unlikely he'd need it, nodded shortly.

As Jessop strode off down the driveway, stick cracking against the gravel, a group of boys turned in at the side gate, trotting in a loose file. Ferrars stepped back into the shelter of the foyer as the leading two broke into ragged sprints, chests heaving and breaths white against the winter air. Diverted, he held the door open to watch. The boy in the lead was taller and angular, using his greater leg length to leave the shorter boy in his wake; just before they reached the outside steps, though, the shorter lunged forward; the lead broke stride in a slowing flurry of limbs; and the shorter boy nipped through to slap the brick wall by the base of the steps, letting out a short whoop of triumph.

Ferrars frowned. He rather thought that the shorter had said something to the taller as he'd surged past, something that made him stumble. Not that it was his position to interfere... The taller boy had collapsed onto the gravel, one arm flung back over his eyes. The winner, hands braced on mud-stained knees, said something too indistinct to hear and proffered an arm, which was accepted, to help the other boy to his feet. No ill-feelings, then. Ferrars let the door go.

+

Halfway through his fortnight's locum Ferrars felt that, on the whole, things were proceeding satisfactorily. Stepping into someone else's shoes was always difficult, but a talented man could do more than just fill a vacancy, using it instead as a spring-board; he'd tried, in the little time he had here, to enlighten both his colleagues and his students. He'd introduced himself to all the classes with a short prolegomenon, and emphasised particularly how keen he was for the boys to approach him with any concerns -- "As a colleague," he'd said to the lower Fourth. They stared at him blankly. Remembering Jessop, he amended it somewhat -- "Or an older brother."

Unfortunately, that particular class had not responded as well as some of the more senior boys. A number of the Classical Fifth had asked him to explain his theories in more detail, a duty into which Ferrars had flung himself with enthusiasm, to the extent that he'd fallen somewhat behind in the course material -- still, it would serve them better in the long run. The lower Fourth remained stolid and unmoved, plodding onwards slowly through the work with only a few flickers of enthusiasm. Ferrars tried to see this as a challenge, but it was beginning to strike him more as wilful resistance. His teaching was what these children needed, and all the theories backed him; however, while his favourite author frowned on such irrelevant time-wasters as lines or detention drills as a means of focussing the mind, he was less clear on suitable replacements. Ferrars' solution was to hold additional classes, which pleased neither the boys, nor the other masters whose timetables this disrupted.

The tall boy who'd lost the race on Ferrars' first day, Rufus Sixsmith, was last in the lower Fourth and showed no desire to change this. Irritatingly, he had argued over the offer of additional lessons, stating that he had permission to use the school laboratories out of hours for extra work, and could he not just do lines instead? "As usual," he'd said, further demonstrating how such repetitive tasks only served to dull the edge of the developing consciousness. Ferrars insisted and Sixsmith attended, with no noticeable improvement.

The breaking point came one Tuesday afternoon. Ferrars had a headache, exacerbated by an unexpectedly bitter discussion with the housemaster about his progress and a letter from the university press saying that regretfully they felt there would be insufficient interest in his proposal on classical pedagogy. He sat there with one hand over his eyes while the Lower Fourth battled with the first book of the Aeneid in a manner similar to that exhibited by Aradus and Sidon at the approach of Alexander's troops, surrendering at the first hint of force, and wrote the marks down in Jessop's mark book (which, like that of the senior boys', had a surprising number of gaps) with little of his usual commentary.

Frobisher -- the boy who'd been the victor over Sixsmith -- confused infinitive for imperative again, despite the extensive amount of previous discussion Ferrars had led on the subject. "Next," Ferrars said, and wrote "beta plus" next to Frobisher's name. Ferrars, looking slightly startled, sat down again.

Last, as always, was Sixsmith, and the vagaries of chance had given him some of Virgil's most famous lines. Ferrars listened with gritted teeth as Sixsmith read.

"Sunt hic etiam, praemia laudi, sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt."

"Construe." Ferrars waved him to a stop.

Sixsmith scowled at the text. Eventually, he determined that they were in a place, and rewards were involved. Then he stuck, almost inextricably, before hazarding that "things were crying."

Ferrars had once attended an entire lecture on possible interpretations of this line, none of which had involved inventing lachrymose monsters. He lost patience entirely.

"A week's detention," he snapped. The room's attention suddenly sharpened its focus. Sixsmith stared at him. "And I don't want to hear about any experiments," Ferrars said. "You're obviously incapable of benefiting from any further education."

Returning to the staffroom afterwards with an air of grim triumph, Ferrars heard a cough. Glancing sideways he found Frobisher, hovering.

"Sir?"

"Did you want something, Frobisher?"

"You did say -- if we had anything particular to talk to you about -- "

It was ironic, Ferrars thought, that discipline had reached the boys when all his other softer approaches had failed. Perhaps it was just as well that his manuscript had been rejected; perhaps it was just incomplete.

"Of course," he said. "Come to my study."

Frobisher took some encouragement -- obviously, Jessop hadn't tried to draw the boys out at all -- but eventually admitted that he was speaking on behalf of another student, who was unaware of his interference, and that it was a personal matter.

"You see," Frobisher said, twisting his hands together, "He's very sensitive about it. I shouldn't be saying anything at all, Mr Jessop doesn't know, but I knew you'd understand..."

Ferrars smiled. "Of course," he said kindly. The boy was still staring at his hands. "Go on."

"And in class today... Were you in the war, sir?"

Ferrars hadn't been expecting that. The boy looked up as well, studying his face intently.

"Unfortunately not," he said. "Just missed out."

Frobisher looked down again. "Oh. Sorry, sir. Anyway, this boy's brother was. In the war. And he'd been here too, and done Latin - prizes and everything, his best subject - and so he used to send - send his brother little tags of Latin, at the end of his letters home. To encourage him."

"Admirable," Ferrars leaned forward.

"And - well. He was killed, sir, gassed. His younger brother was there when they opened the telegram. But it was a week later when his last letter arrived, the one he'd written the night before the attack."

Ferrars felt a distinct chill run down his spine. "This boy - " he began, but Frobisher was already speaking, his fingers knotting together with a tense grip.

"It's Sixsmith, sir, although you've probably guessed that. He can't do Latin now, because of how it reminds him, but he keeps trying, because his brother would have wanted him to. But the lines you asked him to read today -- "

"Were the ones in his brother's letter," Ferrars said, feeling his insides sink. The wrong approach, again. He'd been a fool, failing to read what lay beyond apparent stupidity. As blind as Jessop.

Frobisher's hands relaxed.

+

"Honestly, I think the Jessie must be mad, leaving us with that lunatic while he's off coddling elderly relatives in the Welsh marshes," Sixsmith said. "Pass us that beaker -- ta."

Frobisher was sitting tailor-fashion on top of one of the laboratory stools next to him, a precarious position not helped by the fact that he had his head tipped back and a piece of black cloth draped over his face.

"Oh, he's harmless enough," Frobisher said.

"Until he goes entirely mad in white linen and finds the kitchen hatchet... are you going to stop developing your third eye or whatever and help me with this?"

"No," Frobisher said, holding his hands out, palms up, in a meditative fashion.

Sixsmith, who had not really expected it, made another note in his lab book and continued.

"I was in detention yesterday," Sixsmith said, "having bagged one of the decent places next to the radiator, which is no mean feat in January, and then Ferrars comes striding in, gown swirling around him, and declares that he's made an error, but he's man enough to admit it, and I should be released without charge. And when we get outside he grasps me by the shoulders --" Sixsmith gestured with the tongs, although Frobisher was still blindfolded --" and says, 'You bear your sorrow bravely. I shall say no more.' as if I'd been disinherited and falsely accused and saddled with an idiot heiress into the bargain. And now I'm off detention, and off Latin prep as well -- which I have no problem with, shocking language, can't see the point of it -- but what am I supposed to do when the Jessie comes back?"

Frobisher lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "Jessop's problem."

"Hmm." Sixsmith turned off the gas-tap. He fiddled with the burner a minute and then set it down.

"Bishop? You didn't -- do anything, did you?"

Frobisher, arms still raised, was humming softly to himself and didn't answer, but Sixsmith could see a smile spreading across his face where the black cloth ended.

"Oh damn," Sixsmith said, and didn't ask.

+

The interview between Ferrars and Jessop on the latter's return was educational for both parties. Jessop, Ferrars thought, placed an undue amount of emphasis on the lack of marking for the time he'd been away, and seemed uninterested by the rapport Ferrars had established with the students and their interest in his theories.

"Although at least you seem to have made progress with Sixsmith," Jessop said, running one finger along the relevant row, where Ferrars had marked Sixsmith appropriately once he was aware of all the facts. "It'll be a relief to us all when he gets his remove, and can drop classics entirely."

Ferrars thought this uncaring. "Such a shame about his brother."

Jessop's eyebrows went up. "What, is young Tully as bad? Thought he didn't start until next year -- don't you prefer to meet the students before judging them?"

Ferrars remembered his promise to Frobisher and shut his mouth again. He could suffer in silence, he thought, knowing he was doing the right thing.

Jessop's finger moved on to another row. "Frobisher didn't give you too much trouble? Unusual boy. Odd sense of humour."

"I thought he was very perceptive," Ferrars said.

"It's what he does with that perception that I wonder about. Family wanted a little too much from him after his brother died. You'll have seen his name on the memorial plaque in Chapel along with all the others. Beloved of the gods, one assumes."

Ferrars' silence this time was a little more thoughtful. Jessop never offered him the chance to teach for him again, which was a great shame as Ferrars had spent considerable time polishing a speech of refusal.


Caius College

Cambridge

1928

10 - i

I return. Train's whistle a despairing shriek as I left the Aged Ps, all hope abandoned, only to be conveyed in a brisk rattle over endless dreary fens until the coldly lucid spires tore through my last remnants of illusion and left me gasping on the platform. No porter, either. S. met me outside college and we repaired to Paton's in mutual commiseration. Like the rest of Rutherford's boys he's been back a week already, firing atoms into gold or transmuting lead into swans, am vague on details. Note from tutor in my pigeon-hole casting a faint shade of concern over my last term's achievements but not, alas, suggesting the panacea by offering to adjust my marks upwards for any feasible consideration.

6 - ii

Have been thinking of that Capek play S. & I saw at St Martin's that half, the vat-grown children of industry destined to serve. Problem is that the only story such settings prompt in one is return to the human mean, the mean human, all emotions and autonomy or, worse, children. Always some grit in the gears. What's wrong with perfection? Extended this argument by declaring change ringing only true form for composition, where sequence is all -- no key, no notes, just music or silence -- and presented Prof M. with a string quartet for reverse bob minimus, or possibly vice versa. Fiddly to score, but worth it to see him puff himself up against the oak panelling in wounded pride, like a bull walrus whose harem resist his charms and turn to each other in Radclyffian solitude. E.'s piano trio for performance this weekend, very superior about it. Flashing dark looks under his eyebrows at me as synecdoche for the unappreciative masses. Up the staircase to S.'s room just now and found him out. The laboratory again?

17 - ii

Flat blades of daffodil leaf struggling out beneath the still bare poplars, whipped on by the remorseless engine of spring. Wheeled my bicycle home from a painful session on harmony to find S., pacing up and down the landing. Settled him in one of the sturdier armchairs and propped myself against the mantel, inviting him to tell all. Essentially, S. has clashed numerous times with G., a more senior student, over rival indecipherable theories involving protons. G. is about to defend his thesis, and gave a short talk last week that included a series of graphs that S. is convinced are at best wrong. G., on appeal, affirms the work, supporting but not central pillar of his thesis, but alas, inadequate lagging of his landlady's boilers resulted in the inundation and loss of most of the notebooks containing his raw data. Repeating the work would delay his thesis significantly - and why should he, when he has the results? S. should repeat his own experiments, as more junior and more likely in error. S.'s tutor (also G.'s) leaning towards this. S.'s own opinion impressively Anglo-Saxon. Made soothing noises (S. now pacing across the hearth-rug with determination) and when S. continued to steam asked whether it really mattered, S. apparently having discarded this line of work himself. S. stopped, mid-tirade, and said, "So you think I'm wrong, then?" I said that I had no idea, and did he want me to intervene? S. barked "Good God, no," a touch over-vehement, and followed up by declaring that, just once, he'd like me to consider the morality of a situation before charging in. Caught me on the raw. Said at least I wasn't so hypocritical that I had to be drunk to the point of incoherence before I'd consider the immorality of one, and S. turned white and slammed out of the room. Oak sported subsequently, in college and in passing.

3 - iii

Working on tone clusters &agrave la Cowell, trying to get a sound that will stab through the slick surface of the music and strike blood underneath. E. hanging round the practice rooms lounging in doorways, hair tousled and collar undone -- portrait of a promising young composer. Should never have talked him into testing the soundproofing. Took him up the river anyway and found the sun too glaring, the water unpleasantly splashy, the sick buzz of insects a reminder of inevitable decay. Ridiculous. Relations with S. have improved to tight smiles of acknowledgement in passing, but he's hardly here -- tonight, coming back from Hall, the first time I've seen him all week. Letter from Mater, impressed if uneasy with my improved performance and cautiously approving my Vienna plans -- next year in Jerusalem? Left my window open in the slow twilight, curtain flapping, and have just wound up the gramophone. Piano and violin, Paghiella, by some new French prodigy. Questions that demand a response.

5 - iii

Naturally the first day of the holidays sees the countryside wrapped in a thin mist of a particularly insinuating dampness. I write this on the train home, my knees swaying with each sleeper as the white-haired lady opposite me tsks contentedly over yet another body in her sixpenny novel. S. came down after only a dozen Paghiellae, a sharp knock and a grumbling, "D'you mind?" Certainly not, I said, and offered him cocoa. He sat stiffly in the chair by the window while it cooled and he thawed. Scientific dilemma was solved with Gordian efficiency, one clean stroke of destruction. Rather than repeat old experiments S. designed a new one that went right to the heart of G.'s thesis. Informed his tutor and the head of the lab, and ran it like a theatre, stage or surgical. Results conclusive. G. devastated. S. unsettled. Is glad for scientific truth but regretful at personal cost, unused to his railway lines diverging thusly. "At least you do the wrong thing for the right reasons," he said. I demurred. He leaned forward. Outside a nightjar rattled. "What was that thing you were you playing?" S. asked, and the old lady claps her book shut with a murmur of satisfaction as we glide to a stop with a hiss of brakes.


Ajaccio

Corsica

1930

"Travellers will rarely have much cause to complain if they try to comply with the customs of the country, restrict their luggage to a moderate quantity, and learn enough of the language to make themselves intelligible."

They'd been able to smell the maquis since the boat had rounded the lighthouse outside Ajaccio, sharp and peppery, but with an underlying sweetness. Climbing up through it was like moving through perfume. Everywhere not thoroughly domesticated was invaded; myrtle and cistus and asphodel, arbutus, lentisk and bay, and the path dodged through it with erratic fervour. Sixsmith found himself regretting his recent lack of exercise.

"Are you planning to stop at all?"

Frobisher, halfway up the next incline and balancing on a rock like a mountain goat, glanced back over his shoulder. "Not dealing well with sunlight?"

"Appreciating the view," Sixsmith said. Frobisher snorted.

Going on, the path rose to an impressive steepness and then ran along a ridge and doubled back into a small cluster of stone houses that clung determinedly to the edge of a gorge. When Sixsmith caught up with Frobisher, he was crouched down on his heels next to a wizened peasant woman sitting on a log outside her house skinning hazelnuts, her hair wrapped up in an intricately folded black kerchief. Frobisher was gesturing and occasionally using a word or phrase in some language that reminded Sixsmith unpleasantly of his school Latin; whatever it was, it was good enough to get them two fresh bread rolls, a soft white cheese that smelt (and tasted) of goats, some slices of ham cut so fine you could have read the newspaper through it and directions towards the village well.

"You're very good with older women," Sixsmith said, leaning back against the cool stone coping.

Frobisher looked hurt. "She's twenty-three," he said, and then doubled over at the expression on Sixsmith's face. Sixsmith flung the rest of the water at him.

Canteens refilled, they took a different path that descended more gradually through the maquis, eventually taking them into the shade of a series of abandoned olive groves, tree trunks distorted with age. Frobisher began talking loudly about the bandits d'honneur, forced from their homes by a desire for vengeance and a loyalty to the code of the vendetta that overrode all the petty laws of lesser powers such as the French. Sixsmith, less taken by the wild romance of this, broke into his conversation frequently with certain pertinent inquiries - were the hours reasonable? provisions for relief in case of illness? could they access a decent library? That last prompted Frobisher into recounting some massively unlikely tale about twin brothers who knew what the other was experiencing, and then, deliberately provoking, expound his theories on the persistence of the soul across lifetimes.

The trees ended abruptly, leaving them at the edge of a granite outcrop.

"You should have taken the Zurich offer," Frobisher said. He'd unbuttoned the neck of his shirt in the heat, and Sixsmith could see the birthmark above his collarbone like a bruise. Far below them the white sand blazed in the sunshine, the waves against it a spent force.

Sixsmith shrugged. "I'd never manage the German."

"The inhabitants of the island, although rustic, are for the most part self-respecting and devoid of the squalor and ruffianism which too often characterise their class. The traveller should, however, avoid turning the conversation on serious matters, and should above all refrain from expressing an opinion on religious or political questions."

The beer tasted strongly of bay, making Sixsmith feel as if he was still in the maquis. He put down the mug and squinted at the drawing his fellow drinker was constructing on the wooden bench-top with a rather blunt pencil. One of the local fishermen, the man was attempting to elaborate on the pulley system he used on his boat to haul in the nets after catching Sixsmith studying it from the quay, although either the beer, the fisherman's artistic talent or their joint lack of a common language was rendering this difficult.

The caf&eacute was small, windowless and crowded. Giant hams swung uneasily from the overhead rafters, barely clearing the heads of the unperturbed clientele. Sixsmith rubbed his eyes again and drank the last of his beer. The fisherman clapped him on the shoulder, stood up and grabbed both their mugs before shoving through the crowd with vigorous enthusiasm, ignoring the protests of those he pushed past.

"Come on."

Sixsmith twisted round to find Frobisher on his other side.

"Where?" he said, but Frobisher was already disappearing through the crowd towards the door. Sixsmith hesitated, placed a few coins on the table in the middle of the sketch - enough to cover the beer, anyway - and made his way out after him.

Outside the night had fallen with a swiftness and completeness Sixsmith was unused to. He could hear the waves lapping against the quay and smell, as always, the maquis. He caught up with Frobisher just as he turned into an alleyway so narrow Sixsmith had to walk behind him.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere else," Frobisher said. At the end of the alley he turned right and went up a rickety flight of stairs strung across the front of a tall white house with peeling plaster. Sixsmith, dubious, followed, and hung back as Frobisher opened the door at the top.

Voices, singing, something weird and droning that kept changing in intensity. Sixsmith went in after Frobisher, and found a dilapidated room with a well-scrubbed bench in the centre, with the remains of dinner still on it. Three men stood behind it, side by side, arms around each other's shoulders and swaying slightly with effort; they were the ones singing, their eyes closed, apparently unaware of the small audience that was quietly sitting on the floor in front of them as well as the new arrivals.

"The cunfraternita," Frobisher said, low-voiced, his mouth almost at Sixsmith's ear. He reached behind them both to pull the door shut.

"Brotherhood of singers. Used to sing everywhere here, even in church, but the pope banned it and now they're mostly hidden away, deep in the interior. There are always three, a segunda, the lead, u bassu, the accompaniment, and a terza, the ornament, but when they sing together some say they make up a fourth voice, the angel. Listen."

Sixsmith was tone-deaf, and Frobisher knew it. He stayed there anyway, watching the singers and their audience, listening to the noise, the whole thing as far away and incomprehensible as the moon.

"If a prolonged stay is made at a hotel the bill should be asked for every three or four days, in order that errors, whether accidental or designed, may be more easily detected. When an early departure is contemplated the bill should be obtained over-night. It sometimes happens that the bill is withheld until the last moment, when the hurry and confusion of starting render overcharges less liable to discovery."

Someone shook his shoulder, and when he opened his mouth to question they clapped a hand over it. Sixsmith, alarmed, tried to disentangle himself from both the sheets and his attacker when the attacker hissed at him to shush. Sixsmith froze, and Frobisher took his hand away.

"What are you doing?" Sixsmith said in a violent whisper.

Frobisher nodded towards the windows. "Came in through the balcony. Get your things." His eyes gleamed in the moonlight.

"My things?"

"The early boat leaves at five," Frobisher said.

"Leave without paying?"

"You are quick for this hour of the morning."

Sixsmith pushed himself up onto one elbow. He had, he supposed, half-anticipated something of the sort.

"No," he said.

"No, you're not awake?"

"No, I'm not creeping out of a perfectly reasonable hotel at four in the morning simply because you like to live dangerously."

Frobisher sat back on his heels, bracing himself with one hand on the bed.

"You should curb this overly moral tendency."

He sounded amused. Sixsmith, waking up a little more, distrusted it.

"I'm not asking you to climb down the ivy," Frobisher added. "We can get out through the pantry."

It sounded perfectly reasonable. The room was booked in Frobisher's name, so at the worst his parents would receive a demand for payment. Or, he supposed, he could take one of the ferry's crew aside, ask them privately to take money back to the hotel, with an explanatory note...

Frobisher was waiting, silent and tense.

"I'm going back to sleep," Sixsmith said, lying back down. "I'll follow you in the morning."


Buenas Yerba

1975

gate of horn

Sixsmith wakes up with a catch in his chest. The boat, he thinks for a moment, I must get to the boat, and then he is back in Buenas Yerba, back in the future. Seaboard has insisted all its consultants stay on site. The room is luxurious in an oppressive way, the drapes so thick it could be midnight at the bottom of a mine shaft. When he turns on the bedside light and gropes for his watch he sees it is six am.

His enemies surround him like pieces on a chessboard. If he picks up the phone he will speak to an operator, a helpful warm-voiced woman who will, she's sorry, be unable to connect him to that number at this time. When he goes outside a smiling aide will fasten to his side within a few steps.

It took him far too long to realise that people could be like this, that complacency and carelessness and greed could run in harness towards such an obscene goal. After sixty-six years he still wants to believe that if you show someone the truth they will acknowledge it.

The truth that Grimaldi has shown him is submission. Sixsmith has seen the other scientists on HYDRA fold one by one, pawns and bishops and rooks.

Each loss leaves him more exposed, but also makes his testimony less valuable by association. Anyone he reaches for will just be dragged under.

He gets up, showers, dresses. He knows they will search his bags again when he leaves the room. Although he usually carries the letters in his pocketbook it is possible that they have already been read, photographed, stored on microfilm, and analysed, but the words are not the most important thing. Sixsmith pulls a notepad towards him and tears off the top sheet, holding it on his knee as he writes to avoid leaving any imprints.

One of the men at the yacht club has an empty apartment downtown and leaves the key with the club to avoid unfortunate conversations with his wife. In lean months he rents it out to other members. Get there with the report, contact the IAEA, warn Megan.

He has carried Frobisher in his heart for long enough. It is time to use his head as well.

 
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