“You know,” John said, looking at the fountain that had once been Salim. “I actually don’t think we had that before.” He noticed the new lockers. “Or those lockers.” There was a pause. “Also… wasn’t the décor sort of Asian fusion and not kind of Middle Eastern?”
Mubashir, Bai, and I took a look around. “Uh, Moob,” I asked, “you really don’t remember…?” My mind blanked and my voice trailed off. I had no idea how to put what had just happened into words.
“Never mind that,” Bai said, “I don’t know how you got away from Salim, but unless you killed him, we need to get you out of here. And if you did…”
“So he did inject something into me,” Mubashir said. “I thought it had to be him. Or an NIU employee.” He then distractedly asked no one in particular, “Wonder what he gave me?”
“Well,” I said, “according to the man himself, about two hundred ccs of Heroin.”
Everyone turned to me. “Wait,” John spluttered, “That… that should’ve killed him! That should’ve killed a horse!”
“But is Salim… alive?” Bai asked. “I saw him dragging Mubashir into the student center while John and I were… a little busy.” She suddenly looked a little uncomfortable, then she shot John an annoyed look. “Sorry we’re so late by the way. Someone didn’t tell me you two were supposed to be meeting, so it took me a little while to put two and two together.”
“He told me not to tell you!” John protested.
“Guys,” I said before Bai could start yelling at me, “We’ve got bigger problems. Mubashir’s the Architect.” Bai and John froze, trying to comprehend what I just said. Bai reacted first, raising her Glock. “No no no no,” I said, grabbing her Glock by the frame. “That’s a bad idea.” Bai, in response, began to struggle with me to try and aim the gun at Moob. Bai’s gun went off in the struggle. Luckily, my grip on the pistol’s slide was tight enough to stop it from chambering another round.
“What’s going?” Mubashir asked over the sound of Bai’s grunts and my pleas to get her to stop and listen to reason. “What’s the Architect? Why am I not dead? Why’s Bai trying to kill me?” In response, John shrugged and made a noise to indicate he had no idea what the hell was going on.
In response, Bai said, “It means he’s going to kill everyone!” She paused for dramatic effect. “…And I’m the only one who can stop him.” She then kneed me in the balls. I let go of her pistol and doubled over.
After a brief pause, I held up the slide and barrel that had originally been on Bai’s gun. “Looking for this?” I wheezed. Fending off Bai’s sudden attempts to steal it, I said, “Dammitt, Bai, fucking listen to me!”
“Why are you doing this?” Bai asked as she tried to grab at the missing part of her gun. “You, of all people, should know what he’s capable of!”
“Salim already shot him!” I yelled.
Bai stopped trying to grab the slide. “He did?”
“Yes,” I said, straightening up. As I did, I noticed everyone was looking at me with varying degrees of confusion, shock, and fear. Also, Mubashir was slowly backing away. “He put a three-round burst into his skull. Then, while he was turning into a rather tasteful fountain, one of his friends put a few rounds into Moob’s chest!”
“So that’s why we have a fountain,” John said, breaking the understandable stunned silence that followed this statement. “Thanks, Moob.”
Mubashir sighed. “Well, at least someone’s happy about all this.” He paused, then suddenly yelled, “Why can’t I ever remember when this kind of thing happens?”
“Wait,” John said, “you’ve had… more than one incident where you have no idea where you are?”
“Yeah,” Mubashir said, “and it’ll be up to two hours later and I’ll be in some weird place with some out-of-place furniture that probably wasn’t there before. Or I’ll doze off for a minute or two and something will have changed slightly.”
“That’s… disturbing…” Bai said.
“Well,” I said, “if it makes you feel any better, you seem to… have a different personality when you’re doing this. It’s almost like you’re sleepwalking.”
“That… is even more disturbing,” Bai said.
“Agreed,” Mubashir said with a shudder. “How was that supposed to make me feel better?” I opened my mouth to think of an answer. Then I closed it again.
“Well,” Bai said, “I’m sorry, Mubashir, but you need to die.”
Before I could protest, Mubashir asked, “Do you have any suggestions? Because at this point, I’m out of ideas. I tried blowing myself up. I tried eating an AK round. I tried drowning, poison, defenestration, and electrocution. Hell, the first thing I tried after Al-Qaeda came to take me away was cutting my throat.” He shook his head. “At first, I thought Allah was just punishing me for my suicide. Now, I’m starting to wonder if he’s punishing me for telling Him I could do a better job.”
“Uh…” I said, “…Aaaanyway, how about we come up with a plan that doesn’t involve Mubashir dying because we like him and that might not be physically possible.”
“You realize,” Bai said, “he’s a time bomb at the moment. He has no idea how to control his powers.”
“Would your… organization be willing to teach him?” I asked.
Bai shook her head. “If they did, other organizations like the one Charlotte and Eliza have joined would be… displeased. If they found out, we would need his protection. Plus… while I would trust my elders with almost anything, this power is so great could corrupt anyone.”
“He made a fountain.” John said. “And two lockers. I’m pretty sure people could resist that level of unlimited power.”
“Yeah,” I said, “he’s prophesized to be about a third of how the world will end, and from what I’ve heard, I kind of think it’s true.”
“Wait…” Mubashir said, “I’m going to end the world?”
“Well,” Bai said, “you’ll be one of three forces.”
“And the prophecy was kind of vague on how fucked the world would be, right?” I said. “I mean, it didn’t specify whether it would be life as we know it changes fucked, Nuclear war except without nukes fucked, or the Earth physically does not exist anymore fucked. For all we know, you get that power under control, and humanity might end up surviving… right, Bai?”
“Or he could finish off the entire universe… But you are right, I suppose,” Bai said with a shrug. “Do you want to take that risk?”
“Well,” John said, “if what Moob said, it’s not like we have another choice. Problem is, this doesn’t seem like a good place to keep a person who can allegedly end the world.”
I shuddered, thinking of The President finding out how about Moob. On the one hand, he might have a better chance of killing Mubashir. Loathe as I was to kill someone who had helped me in cold blood, in Mubashir’s case, it might actually be for the best. Or, The President could find some way to gain control of Mubashir, reality-warping and all. That thought was enough to give me nightmares.
“And if I go to the CIA, I’ll run into a similar problem,” Mubashir said, obviously thinking along the same lines I was. “Shame. Apart from the people who run it, the US seems like a nice place to live.”
“Wait,” I said, “maybe the CIA won’t find out about this.” Everyone looked at me askance. “Think about it,” I said, a plan forming as I spoke, “the CIA mostly deals with other spies and terrorists. Bizarre shit like… whatever Moob is, is more a UNIX job. But since UNIX deliberately sold you out, it would seem they’re not speaking.”
Moob nodded. “I suppose…”
“And,” I continued, “whatever you are, I don’t think it’s something the CIA is looking for. If you contact them and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Handler, I think UNIX sold me out and the rest of Al-Qaeda is on to me,’ they’ll dump you into their version of the witness protection program. No one who knows you’re The Architect will know where you are and no one who knows where you are will even bother to look for you. I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but it could work.”
There was a pause where everyone else considered my idea. “Come on, guys,” I said, “You’ve got to have thought of something I’ve missed. There’s got to be something.”
“So…” John said, “what are we going to tell Charlotte and Eliza?”
“We tell them that Mubashir’s the Architect,” I said, “and we’ve decided the safest place for him to go would have to be someone who doesn’t know he’s The Architect. We just won’t tell them that he’ll be going somewhere courtesy of the CIA.”
“And that will work because…?” Bai asked.
“Well…” I thought about that for a second. “Charlotte thinks similarly to how you do in some ways, right? You both live and breathe this Final Prophecy stuff. If you’re going along with this, Charlotte might as well. And if Charlotte agrees, Eliza will too.”
Bai considered this. Finally, she said, “You’re right. It’s the best chance we’ve considered so far.” She collapsed onto the bench. “Ughhhh… why can’t anything be simple?”
Mubashir shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it comes with thinking for yourself.”
“Well self-determination is overrated,” Bai said. “It was so much easier when the elders told Li and I what to do. No need to question, just doing what we were told.”
“You know,” John said, “I think even those guys aren’t all-knowing. I mean, if they thought they knew everything, why’d they send you here instead of training themselves.”
“That actually scares me quite a bit,” Bai said. “They’re supposed to be infallible, or at least Li and I always thought so.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” John said. “Or maybe they trust you two enough to compromise between their ways and… whatever method NIU is trying to teach us. Personally, I think it’s a pretty big vote of confidence.”
“You know, John,” Bai said, “you can almost always make me feel better. Thank you.”
“So are we doing this?” I asked. The answer was a unanimous yes.
Breaking the news to Charlotte and Eliza was a little trickier. Sitting in the couch across from us, Charlotte leaned forwards, resting her chin on her hands to study us. Eliza stood behind her, obviously feeling awkward. Of the people discussing this, only Mubashir was not present. He seemed to be afraid that one of us might steal him away, which was actually somewhat reasonable.
As Bai explained our reasoning, Charlotte’s frown grew deeper. Finally, she said, “So… I’m supposed to let you send off The Architect on his own, to a place known only to him… and he can’t even control his own powers? This seems like planting a landmine in the Buckingham Palace gardens in the hopes no one important will step on it.” She shook her head. “And what’s annoying is that you don’t trust me enough to tell me who’s taking him in.” She then had a horrible thought. “He does have a patron of some sort, no? He isn’t just going to wander the globe, hoping no one comes looking for him?”
“No,” I said. “He does have a patron, but…”
Bai cut me off. “I’m sorry Charlotte,” she said, “but I’m not sure we can even trust ourselves with this kind of… responsibility. I’m not even sure I could trust some of the people I respect the most with this. There is also the possibility that taking in The Architect could cause a war between several of our societies.” She made a bow while still seated. “Please forgive me.”
“Well,” Charlotte asked, “what’s to stop them from declaring war on whoever’s harboring Mubashir?” It was a good question.
“We aren’t going to tell them,” Bai said. “We’re going to leave Mubashir to his friends. No one will know The Architect has even been revealed.”
“Assuming I don’t tell on you.” Charlotte’s eyes narrowed. “You know, I would much rather he be with someone, anyone, learning to control his powers, rather than just waiting around hoping he doesn’t turn his neighbors into a cup of tea instead of fixing them one.”
“It seems to be a stress-related issue or physical defense mechanism,” I said. Personally, I didn’t like Bai’s insistence that her both own people and Charlotte’s be kept in the dark, but no plan would work without Bai’s consent.
Evidently Charlotte realized this as well. “Fine,” she said. “You have my word.” She was obviously lying.
Bai, probably picking up on that much more easily than I did, said, “I… appreciate your understanding. Thank you.” They stood up and shook hands. John, Eliza, and I breathed out sighs of relief. This was going to get interesting.