Though drowsy and sore, both Kahlee and Marian did as they were bid, though both seemed genuinely mystified by my mood. It did not matter; today was the anniversary of the Finding, and I preferred to spend this morning alone.
But as I watched them leave, both clutching their negligees and swaying their hips suggestively as they parted, my heart mourned for what I knew would be happening soon. They would not understand, and I knew Kahlee would take it the hardest.
I should explain. My roommates, Kahlee Bhatia and Marian Hamilton were both fellow NYU students. While they each had rooms of their own, more often than not I found at least one of them in my bed (if not both), awaiting me whenever my nocturnal wanderings brought me home.
I had long since ceased to question this; women often offered themselves to me, something inherent in their psyches recognized my superiority and I accepted their advances. Kahlee, in particular, I suspected had the stronger bond, as being a fellow native of India, no doubt visions of a more permanent attachment danced in her heart, even though such an attachment was completely outside my plans for the future.
After they both had gone, I rose from the bed and went to my closet, prying up the floorboards there to reveal my safe. Technically, my parents owned this building, through several holding companies of course. Not only did I live here free, but the rent paid by Kahlee and Marian were routinely deposited to my account, a very satisfactory arrangement. But it was the contents of the safe that were my focus this morning.
Reverently, I lifted the tiny thumb drive from the safe, then unlocked the bottom-most of my desk drawers and removed the aging laptop I kept there. Long ago the laptop’s primary drive and WiFi capability had failed, and the net of copper wires I had glued to it’s outer casing served as an adequate Faraday cage. I plugged the thumb drive into the special serial adapter I had designed to interface with the laptop, waited for the operating system I had written as a much younger man to take hold, and opened the file I sought.
When I was a boy of ten, my mother had come home one evening from an auction, very excited and even more secretive. Though both of my adoptive parents were of above average intellects, neither was truly my equal. I listened to their hushed discussion of her purchase at the auction, and knew that I must somehow gain access to it myself; the Great Khan’s journal, from his final days in Chandrigarh until just before his death (or disappearance, as I now had reason to surmise).
It took perhaps a day to locate the safe, and a few hours to guess the passcode. I quickly photographed the pages, then laboriously scanned them into my computer. I will admit, I found them quite eye opening as a ten year-old. But depressing, as well. I loved the eloquence of his words, but also saw the flaws in his dynamics. His very drive to conquer, to control, was ultimately his undoing, I saw. He was a product of his time, and his culture, as much as I was.
I swore to myself that I would not repeat his mistakes. It is a vow that I have held to, even ten years later. I might be superior to the writing mass of humanity, but that very superiority meant only that I must earn their adulation, and never try to force it from them – that path clearly led to defeat. I also realized that my greatest threats, like Khan’s, would certainly arise from my own kind. Fortunately, most of the Children I had encountered thus far had embedded themselves in roles where their minds could shine, the sciences, music, and the arts.
Except for two, of course.
Of course, I had recently had my eyes opened even further – the threats to my world, to my people, were still more dire yet. The shadows held threats even Khan appeared to have known nothing about. What might he have done, I wondered, if he had known the extent of the Red Court, the Fey, or the Formor?
Closing the file, and returning each of the components to their hiding places, I lay back on the bed, comparing my life to that of my predecessor. Of his early days, I knew but conjecture, shreds of hearsay. He’d been an orphan, raised by the state. He’d suffered deprivations and disasters first hand, such as Bhopal. But by nothing more than his wits, his forceful personality, and his indomitable drive to succeed, he’s come to rule nearly a quarter of the Earth – but at the cost of the respect of those over whom he’d ruled.
My childhood had been one of plenty; wealthy, loving parents, and the finest tutors the city had to offer. 9/11 had been the worst disaster of my younger years, and we’d been vacationing in Alaska at the time. I had keenly felt the shift in the nation afterwards, as many times we were mislabeled as Muslims, but for my part I shared their outrage – such events could not be allowed to happen again.
But I also deplored the loss of freedoms that so many raced to embrace.
Franklin’s words echoed to me every time I passed a checkpoint or a metal detector, and I rankled at every stop-and-frisk I’d been forced to endure when out walking by myself. Clearly, I needed to make an effort to move forward at leading this nation, this world out of the quagmire it was racing towards.
Knowing that this nation drew it’s leaders primarily from the lawyers, it became my first study, one which I mastered quickly and easily.
Political science, too, I was near to mastering, though truth be known, my heart was no longer in it. Recent events had shown me that traditional methods were doomed to failure. One need look no further than the current political race to understand that.
My associates in misfortune, my not-so-magnificent seven, had shown me other possibilities. As had Miranda.
Ah, Miranda. Not merely beautiful, but powerful in ways I had not dreamed were possible. And with secrets of your own. I could only hope that you were as drawn to me as I felt myself drawn to you. And I knew that our association would only make both of us stronger, more capable.
Weeks later, I began to believe that my future path was clear. After all the nonsense with riddle-speaking liches, Telluria’s maleficent uncle, and his girlfriend (who turned out to be Telluria’s department head, of all things, as well as an alumni of the original Project), allied crime syndicates, demon spawn from assorted Hells, the chaotic Labyrinth, magical computers, and a somewhat humbling encounter with the lady of Spring, the world was slowing down to a “normal” pace again.
On 7/31, I stood naked on the slopes of Mt. Shasta in California, participating in the rites that formalized my Apprenticeship under Miranda. Much like my friend Alex, she too stood outside the official umbrella of the White Council, a decision that while right for them, I knew I would eventually have to make for my self.
In my mind, I knew that eventually I would have to join that organization, as I saw it as the lever by which I would move the world.
I had spent many hours discussing the matter with her great-uncle, who himself admitted that now that the war with the Red Court was effectively over, divisions within the Council were becoming more and more obvious.
When I was ready, I would make my presence known. And I would utilize all my skills to make my way to the position of Merlin, and exult mankind over all of the feral creatures lurking in the shadows, and teach them a proper respect.
Until then, I knew that I would have to keep a low profile, especially around the Wonder-twins. Interesting times lay ahead….