“Some, of course, don’t properly appreciate the new way of things.” There’s a faint smirk on Elias’s face, like the cat that caught the canary. Or the Avatar that caught the world. “You’ll be observing and reporting back.”
Well that at least is familiar.
“The travel account has been topped up for your use. I have a list of locations, but you can, of course, investigate elsewhere if you find a likely candidate. They’re unlikely to cause any real problems,” the smirk grows for a moment, “but better to keep a watch on them.”
Nicole nods, careful to meet his eyes. Careful to ignore the way his Eye stares at her from offset angles, refracting like shattered glass, and the way the tape recorder hisses quietly on his desk.
The Eyes on the walls follow her as she leaves. She wonders how many of them are visible to the rest of the world.
God she was stupid.
Nicole starts to take a step back; stops, as the gun jerks.
“I know what you are,” the man says. His hand is shaking. The others with him look terrified too, underneath the anger. There’s no mercy in their eyes.
Human. Entirely human. And they’re going to kill her anyway.
Stupid. As if anyone in this world wouldn’t recognize when they’re being Seen. As if she’s any safer because...
Is anyone even going to notice? As far as Mike knows, she’s been gone for a month. (A year and a half. If he’s even alive.) She’s only been working for this Elias for a month, would he even bother finding out what happened? Would anyone-
Behind the still-ranting man with the gun, an Eye blinks open. It looks around, before turning to stare at her. Nicole can feel the pressure of Beholding, added to the mundane, hateful gazes of the fledgling cult.
This is the Eye's world. Everything is seen.
The man's done speaking now. The gun jerks again; raises to aim at her head. Nicole's back hits the wall.
At least someone will know, Nicole thinks desperately, clinging to it. At least someone will know. At least I won't just vanish. At least-
Another Eye blinks open, behind them. Another. The man with the gun's gaze abruptly jumps up, above her head.
The world turns upside down.
Nicole is standing with her back to a wall. In front of her is a patch of very clean concrete, and a half-dozen eyes, hovering. Anything else is gone.
Her legs give out and she slides to the ground.
There's a tape recorder sitting next to her on the concrete. Nicole stares at it. The Eyes stare at her.
"Thank you," she says eventually.
"Martin says you should come home, because of shock," the Archivist says. His voice sounds normal. Matter-of-fact. Maybe a little concerned.
Maybe it's that, that has Nicole automatically start to reply "I can't, I'm still supposed to-"
Nicole's mouth snaps closed.
There's a second, muffled voice audible through the tape recorder.
"...Please," the Archivist says.
Nicole inhales. "Okay."
Beholding's price catches up with her on the train back. The pressure of an incoming vision is subtly different from the pressure of being watched. She hasn't had one yet in this world, but it was only a matter of time.
Nicole closes her eyes and leans back, bracing herself for blood, pain, horror. (At least this time, in this world, she doesn't doubt that it's worth it.)
A single ameboid organism, swimming through the water. A single switch in one codon of one gene; the flexing and folding of a protein structure. The pathway leading to the future, showing how one change builds on another, builds on another, until it builds a whole new machinery.
Nicole breathes out.
"Did you think the mutation was interesting?" The Archivist - Jon - asks her, from a tape recorder waiting inside the Institute. "It's going to be a few thousand years before anything comes from it, but it's really something!" His voice is cheerful, and maybe just a touch concerned.
"Yeah," Nicole says. Feels herself start to smile. "Yes, I really did."