Chapter Six


  George sighed. The Bards had spent their entire session building towards something. He liked milestones, epiphanies and revelations as much as anyone but the Bards were taking too meandering and torturous a route. It felt like they’d never reach their destination.
The dialectical sparring in James’ classes was better. So was Linda’s agile, dynamic approach. Arty’s delicate, suggestive cues weren’t perfect but they did appear to work. Even Henrik’s teaching, which was almost absolute in its avoidance of explicit pedagogy, was preferable.
George scowled, betting that the conclusion the Bards were about to reach would not be all that profound.
“The pathway,” said Isabella. “How does it go?”
No student was fool enough to raise a hand or speak an answer. By now, all knew such questions were rhetorical.
“Information is picked up by the senses,” answered Isabella. “The senses then filter and encode it, telling us a story about the world, its events and its characters. These characters, of whom we are one, are also allocated status.”
“Status,” said Charles, “as we’ve discussed, is a relative concept and it is in constant motion. You need only attend to myself and Bella’s duets to see it in action. Its motion is essential to all human relations, for it allows us to create and to alleviate conflict. And it is from conflict that everything is born.
“Consider today’s wisp of a tome, The Songs of Bomba—and the medium of the novel and its elements, in general.”
Isabella took over. “An author’s intent arises from conflict with something within or without—no conflict means no creation. A character feeds on the conflict at their core: fear versus desire, belonging versus separation, honesty versus concealment. A world is a collection of entities of different scales, from the atomic to the cosmic, all conflicting. Events are the handpicked consequences of a world’s thrashing. Even narration relies on conflict–words require a negative reference to form a positive impression.”
“From senses to stories,” concluded Charles, “from stories to status, and from status to conflict. That is the universal pathway.”
The twins paused, luxuriating in the profundity of their conclusion and inviting the class to do the same. Not many took them up on the offer. Most sat, waiting to be dismissed. George was amongst them, but only for several seconds.
A question came to mind. The rest of the class, upon hearing it, would tag him as a manipulative sociopath. He didn’t care, though, for the question concerned another gifted manipulator—James Barker.
George raised a hand and the twins acknowledged him.
“If someone understands the pathway, can they reverse it? Can they master conflict in order to control status and twist stories?”
Charles answered, but not before examining George with a quizzical eye. “We would call such a person a narrative practitioner. Shakespeare was a masterful narrative practitioner. His stories are not about the highest matters of good and evil, world-changing technologies or earth-shattering plots. They’re about human beings, relationships, emotions.”
Charles took a step back and Isabella stepped forward.
“All power-players,” she said, “whether depicted in art or manifested in real life, understand this on some level. They are in sync with the ebb and flow of agency and influence and status around them. They feel it, and they manipulate it.”
The twins switched once more.
“James mentioned this in the fourth session of the Hitler series,” said Charles, “in the talk on Nazi military operations. Fingerspitzengefühl. Fingertip feel. Understanding who matters and who doesn’t. Reading risk and hazard. Surveying past, present and future relationships. Computing the effects of all these different combinations the way a bird adjusts its wings to take advantage of wind and heat flows in the air.”
“So,” asked George, recalling some ideas from Linda’s class and hoping to nudge the twins into a less oblique response, “they analyse all these variables and settle on the optimal response?”
The twins looked at one another and smiled.
“Not quite,” said Charles. “The process is often too dynamic for such formal computation. It is instinctive. From the outside, it looks effortless, and in a way it is. But it’s also risky. Remember, those who are still playing these games have to have learnt to be good at them, been endowed with genetic competence, or been lucky enough to have survived.”
Charles stopped speaking and Isabella whispered to the class. “The terrifying players in the game of life have all three forces on their side: nature, nurture and luck.”

***

George was still thinking about the Bard’s notion of a terrifying player during lunch in the boathouse. Once George had eaten, he fell into a thoughtful reverie, with his eyes unfocused and his mind astray.
“—orge. George. Hey!”
George looked up. Both Alex and Christopher had risen from their seats.
“Coming?” asked Alex.
His gaze flicked from Alex to Christopher and back again. Both looked at him with a mixture of amusement and concern.
George returned to the present. “Ancient Insults, Modern Curses, right?” Alex nodded, confirming the title of the imminent single. He stood. “Not for me. But I’ll walk with you.”
“You’re telling me,” said Christopher after they’d exited the boathouse and begun to walk the trail, “you don’t want to learn to swear in Ancient Greek? Or Russian? Don’t you think it’d be fun to be a foul-mouthed polyglot?”
“If I want to curse or insult someone, I’ll do it in a language they can understand. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
George took a few more steps. The trio reached a fork.
“I’m going this way,” said George. “See you in a bit, yapushska,” he added to Christopher, before flashing a grin at Alex and darting in a different direction.
He heard Christopher ask in his wake, “What did he say? What did he call me?” and he heard Alex respond, “I think he was making it up.” George smiled at Christopher’s deflated, “Oh.”
A few minutes later, George strode into his room. He sat down, opened his laptop and logged in. But before he could begin transcribing impressions and ideas from James’ and the Bard twin’s morning sessions, he noticed a slew of messages. All were from Kissaki, one of his primary online correspondents.
It’s heating up.
Dark rumours about BAIL. Saying it’s Barker’s very own amusement park.
Angry people.
VOS gaining second wind.
Remixes of the Race session = VOS revenue and activity.
Oh boy.
Let me know when you’re online. Next level now.
George paused after reading Kissaki’s updates. He hadn’t triggered read receipts or unlocked the visibility of his online status yet. Kissaki wouldn’t know he was online, or that he’d read the messages. George kept it that way as he re-read the messages once, then twice. As he did so, his dismay grew.
Like his fellow students, George had grown up amongst insipid cultural conflict and witnessed the United States’ fall to the status of a fourth-world nation. The term originally denoted alienated populations existing within the confines of a first-world nation—the Native American tribes, for example—but in the decaying Anglo-American bloc it had taken on a new meaning.
It now meant a wealthy, technologically advanced society whose fundamental infrastructure was failing increasing numbers of its populace. The infrastructure referred to wasn’t buildings and roads—though local and regional governments were busy planning their own funeral services—but the official institutions and the informal communities that formed the backbone of a society.
Orgs like Voice of the Silent were the structural consequence of such decay. They were decentralised and sophisticated, which meant that only a coordinated approach from a centralised authority could take them down. But in a fourth-world country, that never happened; there were more pressing concerns for the powers-at-be to confront.
It also helped that VOS maintained a passive front. They relied on, and cultivated, underestimation. They let others play the lion, roaring and posing. VOS preferred to be quiet, hidden, effective, and small. In appearance, anyway.
Size invites attention and is synonymous with the appearance of a threat. So VOS spread itself thin. To investigators, it seemed their presence was marginal. But they also spread themselves wide, so in terms of mass they were equivalent to other, more overtly powerful organisations. Like human skin, VOS were a light—yet resilient and adaptive—layer atop the body.
This is what puzzled George. VOS had been arrayed against James and BAIL in the aftermath of the Race lecture. Now, VOS’ opposition was—due to a campaign of conspiratorial smearing linked to Alex’s actions a few nights ago—strengthening once more.
What did that mean? More noise? More people saying more things more often? Somehow, George guessed it wasn’t that simple.
With reluctance, George triggered read receipts, revealed his online status and replied to Kissaki: Here.
Kissaki’s response was instantaneous: Heard?
No, wrote George. What’s up?
Aware of HOS? asked Kissaki.
Like Voice of the Silent? typed George.
HAND of the Silent… replied Kissaki.
George had never heard of the Hand. He told Kissaki as much.
Look them up, typed Kissaki, then get back to me.
Kissaki dropped offline before George could ask any of his many questions, however, so George was forced to conduct independent research.
He began by mass-searching the traditional internet for Hand of the Silent. Finding next-to-nothing, George mass-searched for Voice of the Silent. Now, he found numerous legacy media pieces on online vigilante culture, as well as a couple books and studies on the new wave of clandestine activist groups, but nothing concrete concerning the Hand.
George changed tack and set a search for similar terms on a handful of popular and niche forums he frequented and on others he knew of but didn’t participate in. The yield was more promising but it still resulted in incoherent fragments—mentions, references and anecdotes, all of which lead nowhere. He decided to dig deeper.
Opposite the notetaking and messaging apps on the left-hand side of his screen, George triggered a compartmentalised browser in a virtual machine.
George was heading to the deep web, and although he wasn’t about to engage in anything nefarious he still wanted to maintain his privacy and his security. The problem with the deep web, however, was that it wasn’t indexed—in practice, you can’t get somewhere unless you know where it is. He needed the first crumb of the bread-trail.
George exited the shielded browser and began to type a message to Kissaki. He stopped halfway through—Kissaki had given him a crumb: the name. He leaned back in his chair and began to twiddle his fingers.
Alex and her friends knew about the Voice, so the org couldn’t be that deep in the undergrowth. At most, the Voice was semi-clandestine—a known entity with unknown members. Which meant they had to have channels for recruitment and broadcasting. Would the Hand be the same?
George’s fingers separated and hovered over his keyboard, ready to respond to the thoughts developing in his mind.
Voice of the Silent implied a civilised protest—speaking out. Hand of the Silent implied something beyond words—action?
Is that what Kissaki meant? Speech had spilt over into action? The Voice had called upon the Hand? But hadn’t Alex said the Voice campaigned for the protection of civil liberties? In that context, what could a Hand do that a Voice could not?
Against his will, George recalled his mother’s fear when his father became silent. She knew what it signalled. And so did George.
The Voice’s relationship to the Hand couldn’t be that simple, though. Alex would never align herself with a violent organisation, with an org with links to violence—would she?
What if the relationship was strained? Or explicitly denounced? George detested his brother, but that blood tie was undeniable. Maybe the Voice-Hand relationship was like that?
George entered his shielded browser once more. Then it struck him. The deep web browser he was using was open-source and maintained by skilled contributors on a mostly voluntary basis. Perhaps the Hand’s relation to the Voice was akin to a hard fork, a radical yet divisive rewriting of the org’s purpose, or their rules of engagement?
Similar to James, Kissaki had an annoying habit of compelling George to answer his own questions. George typed a statement instead of a question and hit send: The Hand is the militant sister org of the Voice.
Kissaki responded: Correct.
George speculated further: And they’re about to engage Barker.
Correct, typed Kissaki.
George hadn’t found evidence for the Hand’s existence, yet alone justification for a campaign against James.
Why? wrote George, hoping he could trade his previously correct speculation for a straight answer.
A minute passed before Kissaki responded: Between me and you, okay?
Intrigued, George wrote, Sure.
Kissaki then shared a link. George knew from its formatting that it was a deep web location. George copied it into his shielded browser. It sent him into the midst of a document. He scrolled up to the top, scanned down to the bottom and, out of habit, copied the contents wholesale into his own archive. This was what he had been looking for.
Kissaki had shared a blow-by-blow comparison of the differences—and similarities—between the Voice and the Hand. It began with a brief recounting of the cause of the hard fork, then went on to describe the sibling organisation’s characteristics. George sent Kissaki a quick message—Reading—then dove back in.
The document suggested the cause of the fork was the Voice’s tendency towards passive, limited and increasingly ineffectual means. It then compared the Voice’s and the Hand’s supposed mission statements: balancing the scales versus unbalancing them. It summarised their perception in the public domain: the Voice was equivalent to a subculture, the Hand was a spectre, a myth. It sketched out how each managed their operations and assets, and their respective recruitment and compensation methods. It hinted at how the two orgs were able to dodge excessive scrutiny from government agencies and how they utilised algorithms, observers and informers to select targets. It even laid out some fundamental tactics and the basic sequences they were employed in.
George spent a while examining the information. Several times, he embarked upon the rich trail of references, citations and hints, archiving all along the way. Eventually, he reached the section Kissaki had linked to.
It was a comparison of funding methods. It claimed that both the Voice and the Hand operated according to a “Need/Greed” dichotomy. Both orgs undertook pro bono operations that strongly aligned with their core missions and both undertook operations on a paid basis. For both the Voice and the Hand, the paid work subsidised the pro-bono work. The difference was in the ratios.
The Voice possessed a more stringent, civil-orientated ethic. Because of this they were more need-focused. They could be incentivised to act via funding but a lot of their campaigns were undertaken without cost, out of a sense of duty or or in reaction to an impending crisis. It helped that a lot of their methods had small marginal costs, too.
The Hand, however, was greed-orientated. Because their campaigns were custom, targeted, advanced and often risk-heavy, abundant resources were required. This meant they acted infrequently, or when significant funds were offered up.
The document shared by Kissaki looked to be a year, maybe two or three years old, judging by its references. It was likely compiled in the immediate aftermath of the original split and so it contained no information on current activity.
This meant George had to think through the Hand’s opposition to James independently. It didn’t take long. In George’s mind, James didn’t represent enough of a threat to the fabric of Western society to trigger a need-based, precautionary takedown. Which left one alternative.
George messaged Kissaki once more.
It’s not need, he wrote. It’s greed. Someone’s funding a Hand campaign against Barker.
Kissaki replied: Correct.
George paused once more. James had tangled with many people and multiple institutions over the years. A contract from the Hand, according to the document he’d just seen, would require not only extreme cash but the willingness to unleash it in pursuit of a personal grudge or ideal.
Despite being intimate with James’ story, George knew of no one that fit the description. Frustrated, he sent another message.
It’s a specific person, wrote George. Do you know who? And what do they want? George thought of the fundamental tactics and stratagems he’d just learnt about and added, And how far are they willing to escalate?
Can’t say, typed Kissaki.
*won’t, typed George.
Correct, typed Kissaki.
Swearing, George opened the groupchat containing himself, Alex and Christopher.
Single finished? he typed.
A thumbs up emoji was the response from Alex. Christopher responded by sharing a large amount of the curses and insults he’d just learnt.
We need to talk, wrote George. Ignoring Christopher’s multi-lingual barrage of obscenities he typed, Where are you going to be?
Arty’s studio, replied Alex.
I’ll meet you there, wrote George before securing his laptop and exiting his room.
As he exited the residence, George wondered. This incarnation of BAIL hadn’t even been operational for five weeks and already James was amassing the attention of a group of radical activists.
Christopher had, of course, told George and Alex about his late-night library excursion. He’d also told them about the book James was returning—a book about clandestine groups. At the time, George had dismissed it as a reactionary move on James’ part. But now?
Would James really have anticipated the involvement of the Hand? George didn’t think so. If James wanted to garner such attention, he needn’t have taken years to build an online learning platform and then spent more time and money developing it into an in-person institution.
He could’ve started at A, skipped B through Y, and gone straight to Z. He could have stirred up the Hand without dragging so many other people into the fray.
George exited the trail and came upon BAIL’s central campus. He headed towards Arty’s studio and, as he entered, he had another idea. It would’ve been a shame for Henrik to build these structures only to see them abandoned because of James’ callousness.
There were a few students already in Arty’s studio, Alex and Christopher included. It looked like Arty was coordinating some sort of gladiatorial contest. Between two of the wooden supports, he’d fixed a narrow wooden beam. It was a man-height off the floor. Underneath and to either side were crash mats. Either two people were going to climb atop the beam and try to dislodge one another, or the beam was set up so the students—and Arty—could practise climbing, balancing and falling. Knowing Arty, George guessed the second would degenerate into the first.
George managed to catch Christopher’s eye and gestured for him to come away from the group. Christopher nudged Alex with an elbow and the two approached George. They took to the floor in a corner and sat down, attempting to look like they were discussing something related to Arty’s discipline.
“What’s up, capullo?” asked Christopher, grinning.
George gave him a look calculated to wither. It didn’t work. Christopher just kept smiling with pride. George turned to Alex.
“I have a question for you,” said George.
“Go on,” said Alex.
“Heard of the Hand of the Silent?”
George, looking for some sort of reaction on Alex’s part, saw nought but indifference.
“They’re involved?” she asked.
“They are now, thanks to you,” responded George.
Alex bristled, but before she could answer Christopher spoke.
“George,” said Christopher. “What are you talking about?”
Alex, rather than facing Christopher, kept her eyes on George’s face, like she was reading his reaction.
“The Hand are cultural terrorists,” she said.
“What does that—” asked Christopher.
“It means,” said Alex, disdain evident on her face and in her voice, “they exploit cultural tension and amplify it towards violence. George seems to think that I’m responsible for engaging them against James. He’s wrong.”
“Am I?” asked George, giving his frustration full rein. “Whatever you did on Monday night seems to have succeeded. You and your gang’s insinuations about James and BAIL summoned a mob, and now you deny responsibility? Typical.”
Alex didn’t bristle; she became still, a sign of her budding fury. Christopher sought clarification before the fury could reach its zenith.
“Got an example?” he asked.
“The Border riots,” said Alex, switching her focus to Christopher. George eyed him too. Clearly, he had no idea what Alex was talking about. George did.
In the last couple of years, the world’s climate had become increasingly erratic. Colder winters, volatile autumns, scorching summers, unpredictable springs. As a consequence, countries close to the equator had suffered. Agricultural yield suffocated. Industry bottomed out. People, sensing even greater ruin in their future and heeding common sense, fled north. In Europe and the Americas, this provoked a crisis. There was no precedent for such mass migration and some countries dealt with the problem in the interim by slamming shut their borders.
Some migrants responded by crossing illegally, often with the help of opportunistic local guides. Others, their faith in law and order shaken yet not abandoned, remained at official border points. They protested, in the beginning, with dignity. Unfortunately, many of these peaceful protests devolved into petty skirmishes and some descended into outright violence.
“That was the Hand?” asked George.
“If you’re talking about the violence that took place during the Riots,” said Alex, “then no. The Hand had nothing to do with the murder and mutilation of climate refugees claiming asylum. They did, however, fan the flames of protest. It’s likely their fault that such lukewarm demonstrations boiled over. That’s what they do: a push here, a pull there. Supposedly anyway. Their signature is hard to detect.”
Christopher spoke. “Nothing like that will happen here, right?”
“I hope not,” said Alex.
George’s anger flared. “Hope?” he said. “You—”
George held his tongue. Alex’s actions had, whether she agreed or not, triggered this series of events and now she was talking of hope as an adequate response? As if there were no preventative measures? As if consequences didn’t have causes?
Such fatalism infuriated George, for those who espoused it seemed happy to claim agency one moment and disavow themselves of it in the next. George would not—could not—be so inhumane. Fate was a joke whose punchline was suffering. George wanted no part in such a comedy.
“I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, George,” said Alex, seeking to soothe his anger. “There’s a reason the Hand separated from the Voice. The Voice have an agenda, principles, a purpose. Limits. The Hand doesn’t. They’re misfits. Insecure, angry people who want to see the world burn. If I’m at fault for attracting their attention, then so is every other person who spread rumours about BAIL, who expressed outrage about the Race lecture, who gave thoughtful, considered critique. And so is James.”
Many different ideas and feelings were pulsing through George’s mind, forming a terrible maelstrom. Uncertain and unwilling to voice his confusion, George remained silent.
He looked over Christopher’s shoulder, towards Arty and the students around him. One student was balanced on the beam and others were chucking balls and objects to him, either testing his balance or trying to knock him off.
“Maybe we should tell James about this,” said Christopher.
Alex’s laugh was rich with scorn. “What’s he going to do? Oppose an org that governmental powers can’t even touch?”
Christopher wriggled and adjusted his posture on the floor. He made to speak, paused for a further second, and began to speak again.
“You’re right,” he said. “James always seems to be one step ahead.” He addressed Alex. “Maybe he anticipated your reaction, Alex. Maybe he provoked you, knowing you’d respond.”
Alex didn’t buy it, for she crossed her arms and tilted her head to one side, indicating to Christopher that he needed to explain in more depth than that. Christopher took the cue.
“The twins talked about terrifying players,” he said. “People with nature, nurture and luck on their side. James is all that, I think, and more. He also loves conflict—George, you said that yourself. He adores chaos.
“Think about the rise of BAIL. People tore into him, mocked him. They made him out to be some sort of devil-troll. He didn’t deny it. He wasn’t cowed by the accusations. He used them. But there’s more to him than that. He’s not a troll. He’s after something. He’s got a specific purpose in mind.”
George had seen Christopher get like this a few times. He could talk himself into a tornado of insight. George, still suffering from uncertainty but intrigued to see where the storm was heading, provided a prompt.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Christopher paused for a second.
“Have you ever seen James make a mistake and actually be hurt by it?” There was no response. “Me neither. Even his mistakes are calculated to benefit him. Plus, I think there are some fights he desperately wants to engineer. He’s taken shots at the biggest thought leaders. He’s always baiting ignorant anon accounts and hooking dumb bigots. He’s gone blow-for-blow with renowned scientists. But they’re all white knights, accepted parts of the establishment. Who hasn’t he tangled with? In public anyway.”
George kept silent, giving Christopher his moment.
“The underground,” said Christopher. “Organisations like the Voice and the Hand are a different threat. A novel enemy. He wants them to come for him, because that means he has a legitimate reason to retaliate.”
“I like James, but he’s not an action hero,” said George. “He’s not about to embark on some personal vendetta and bring the Voice and the Hand to justice for the good of the world”
“That’s not what I mean,” said Christopher. “Maybe James is like a prizefighter, working his way up the ranks until he encounters a worthy opponent?”
“Hang on,” said George, shaking his head. “You think that James wants to be attacked? And not just by anybody, but by a group with a reputation for merciless, calculated, effective action? No way. It’s taken him, what, seven or eight years to get here. He quit the tenure-track and gambled on his ability to scale and monetise an online, alternative curriculum. Then he went double-or-nothing and figured out how to transition it into an in-person educational institution.”
“James never goes double-or-nothing,” added Alex. “It’s always double-or-something.”
George looked across to Alex. She looked as uncertain as George felt, like she was engaged in her own inner battle. Christopher did too, but he operated in a state of perpetual confusion, so that was nothing to worry about.
Alex continued. “George, maybe James doesn’t care about us as much as you think. Do you remember James talking about the Reichstag fire? After Hitler became Chancellor, it burned down. Some Dutch communist was convicted as the arsonist and the fire was spun as an attack on German political authority. Hitler used it to issue an emergency decree and take away people’s ability to oppose the Nazi party.”
Silence reigned.
“Isn’t it obvious?” said Alex. “If you think that the Nazis valued the Reichstag and everything it represents, then it makes no sense to burn it down. Zero. But if you realise that they didn’t value it, that what they wanted above all was ultimate power, then it makes perfect sense.
“They pivoted to gaining power through legal means after they failed to take power by force. That was the party line they hammered home for years until Hitler was elected Chancellor. So, to many, it was inconceivable that they would regress to barbarian methods and burn down the symbol of German government as a pretext for consolidating their authority. To even voice the accusation was equated to heresy. But it wasn’t considered heresy for the Nazis to take advantage of it.”
George looked from Alex to Christopher. There was polite interest on his face, like he’d just stumbled upon a fragment of gossip concerning an acquaintance. George wished he could be so relaxed, so reserved, so unconcerned.
“What if James doesn’t value this incarnation of BAIL as much as we think?” asked Alex. “What if he’s aiming at something higher and using BAIL—us—as a means to get it? What if he’s built it up so he can burn it down?”
George didn’t want to hear the question. He didn’t want to consider the answers.
He stood, mumbled a few words and exited. His face burned because he knew Christopher’s and Alex’s eyes were on his back, but right now he wanted solitude. He wanted time and space, to think.
He headed out of the building, across the yard, and towards the residence.
As a part of the research related to Linda’s course concerning complexity, George had looked into 4D chess. Quickly, he’d learnt that computationally-heavy approaches didn’t work in such a game.
To sift through vast amounts of information, speculate on the higher-order effects of numerous actions, and choose the most right decision among many that seemed equally right required a measure of computational power that was impractical, and often impossible to achieve.
He’d also learnt that overly competitive players—those whose all-consuming purpose was to win—were more likely to lose.
Instead, the best approach for a hypothetical player of 4D chess was to take simple actions, complicate the field for their adversary and prolong the game.
But what game was James playing? Games have definite rules concerning participation and specific conditions for victory and defeat. James acted with impunity, unheeding of defeat and dissatisfied with success, and focused only on relentless motion.
His agitation coincided not with the approaching of loss or the proximity of a win, but with the onset of banality and boredom. James ups the stakes, not to multiply his winnings, but to re-engage his attention.
He left tenure. Why? He’d reached the end of his leash. He built up BAIL’s online platform but then expanded it into an in-person institute. Why? Because it was unprecedented and thought impossible in the long-term.
Would he see BAIL fall in order to elevate the stakes once again? Would he see it fail in order to graduate to something bigger, more novel, more unexpected? Or would he see it crumble in order to rebuild it on steadier ground?
George pictured the score of students—all outliers in some way or another—who had pledged a year to James and his cause. A year which many could’ve spent in service of countless other opportunities. The professors—Linda, Henrik, Arty, Charles and Isabella. The roster of visiting and guest professors travelling to campus to share questions, answers, experiences and ideas with the students. The staff on-site and distributed across the country, the continent even. He imagined the people—faceless—aligning themselves against BAIL, intent on taking it down. The cultural activists known as the Voice, the cultural terrorists known as the Hand, and the growing list of victims.
For the first time, George’s adoration of Barker transformed into something like fear of how far the man was willing to go and the price he was willing to pay.
After reaching the safety of his room once more, George logged on to his laptop and messaged Kissaki. George found it hard to admit, but he wanted someone to soothe his fears.
Talked about the Hand with friends, wrote George. Do you know about the Border Riots? The Hand’s involvement?
Of course, replied Kissaki.
Source? asked George.
I was there, wrote Kissaki.
In what capacity? asked George, already knowing the answer.
No reply came.
As an agent? wrote George.
Correct, responded Kissaki
George’s fingers trembled over the keys. He’d directed anger at Alex for soliciting the attention of the Hand and here he was, talking to a participant, an agent.
George exhaled with force, as Arty had taught him, and slackened his shoulders. He opened a browser and searched for reports concerning the Border Riots. Specifically, he was looking for information concerning the violence accompanying the protests. After a few minutes of reading, he sent another message to Kissaki.
The murders that happened in Tijuana, Mexico. The abuse in the Pyrénées? The deaths in the Strait of Gibraltar? Was the Hand responsible for them?
Kissaki replied: Only in the way that predators are responsible for the carrion-eaters in their wake… So yes and no.
What about Barker? asked George. What’s his role?
He baited someone, replied Kissaki.
George closed his eyes, leaned back and sighed. He looked out of his window. The sun’s light was petering out. So much for the soothing of fears.


Hitler, My Hero: A Novel by Matthew Sweet
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