Acton’s study was quite impressive. Long and high ceilinged, it somehow managed to feel warm and cozy. There was a fire—real or imitation, Nabel wasn’t sure—chirping away in an elegant fireplace which boasted an impressive collection of model ships on its brow. Two large sitting chairs, a couch and a loveseat were gathered by the fireplace with a lush patterned red carpet uniting them. The furniture was very elegant and made of dark wood with mysterious dark blue upholstery and had an antique appearance to it. However, unlike some antiques, these were very comfortable. A large grey cat with sleepy golden eyes was curled on one of the sitting chairs watching them as they chose seats. Acton took the remaining sitting chair, the cousins chose the couch and Mirenda and Nabel were forced to share the loveseat. A fact both were aware of and did their best to sit as far from each other as the loveseat would allow.
Once they were all seated, Acton began. “I would start from the beginning, but that would take too long. So we’ll have to make due with somewhere in the middle. There was once a man who everyone knew was a Somebody. Even if they didn’t know what exactly he did, or why exactly he was famous, they knew his name. His name even reached many far off planets where mothers told their children that he would save them from whatever unfortunate situation they were in. Now, I’d like to tell you that that powerful name was Acton, but that would not be the truth.
“No, the name that everyone paid attention to was Julius Grayend. He was a politician and athlete, an inventor and a musician. He was wealthy, good looking, kind and likeable in every way. And to his closest friends, of whom I was one, he was generous and honest. He never talked behind your back or put you down. He always fostered healthy dialogue and he was known for helping end arguments. So he was perfect? You are probably thinking. And that’s what we thought too. He was almost too perfect to be true. Which is why we shouldn’t have been surprised when we found out that he wasn’t true.”
The boy Acton paused and sighed. It was the sigh of someone who has seen too much and suffered too much. And it was extremely strange coming from so small and young a person. Nabel tried to reconcile Acton’s appearance with his words and body language, but it just wasn’t working out. Somehow, this kid was a lot older than he looked.
“But we were surprised. Completely and thoroughly. This was partly because it wasn’t the ordinary type of lie that brings men like him down: an uncouth relationship with a woman, illegal financial dealings or some other dark spot in a relatively clean past. No. It was far… far more than that.
“I was the one who brought forward the accusations against him. In case I had somehow made a mistake, I didn’t accuse him in front of others the first time. We were in his garage where he was giving me a private unveiling of his Stopper, a fancy fast vehicle that he had been modifying and improving. He found time for everything. I brought it up as casually as I could even though it had been annoying me like a little insect in the back of my mind for quite some time. I wanted to be told that my worries were unfounded and lay that annoyance to rest.
‘Julius,’ I said, as I fiddled appreciatively with the multitude of switches on the Stopper. ‘I have a contact, who lives on the other side, who has told me that he heard some private information about my past I once shared with you, and only you.’”
“The ‘Other Side’?” Nabel interrupted.
“Yes. At that time the known universe was divided in half and the two sides had been at peace for over a thousand years, minus a few skirmishes at the borders. There was even beginning to be some discussion between the two sides, but it was minimal.
Anyhow, we talked that day in his garage for half an hour. And he persuaded me that there must be some mistake or confusion, and that I had nothing to worry about. This is what I wanted to hear, so I accepted it. Until, two years later, that friend of mine on the other side told me a second piece of information that no one on the other side should have known. Both things were insignificant in themselves, and not dangerous, but they were enough to tell me that there was something wrong. Was Julius a traitor?
I tried to talk to him again and heard the same story. But this time, I didn’t buy it. So I brought it up at a high-powered government council that we both sat on, as did many of our friends. Even then, I thought logical explanations other than my suspicions would be found and the issue would be over. But it was not. Instead, one other friend brought forward similar accusations. Everyone began to wonder. But Julius denied it all. And his cover was very hard to break. The government police kept very close tabs on everyone in those days and his whereabouts could be traced for over fifteen years. Never had he done anything or gone anywhere suspicious. There was no record of any strange distance-communications. It took over a year to find out what was going on.
Julius Grayend, in the end, was not really a traitor. He was not really anything. He was a machine. A robot so convincing that he fooled every doctors examination. He was being remotely controlled by a team of people on the other side who worked full time. They watched everything through his eyes and analyzed every situation, deciding what Julius would say and do. It was better than any spy who might change sides or withhold information. They saw, knew and had recorded everything Julius had ever seen or heard.
To me, this complete intrusion was an act of war. And these people knew far too much about everything in our government. Julius sat on more councils than should have been possible for one man.
When it all came out, we, a group of us who were closest to Julius, got in contact with this group. They told us that they were not meaning to invade, but simply wanted information. After many talks and negotiations, my friends were willing to accept this, and let the issue go. I fought this. I wanted these people brought to justice for what they had done. And so I argued and I manipulated speech and convinced the public of my view. And that is what led us into war.” The boy stopped talking and there was a very long and awkward silence before he continued.
“I have since regretted my actions. Seeing how much this war has destroyed and how many lives it has claimed.” He addressed Nabel and Mirenda directly during his next words. “Whatever way you attempt to stop this war, I have one piece of advice. Do not fool with time. You’ve probably been wondering why I am a boy. This is because I tried to go back in time, to change the choices I made that led to the war. I failed. And my timeline was disrupted in the process. My body is now growing backwards in time. It has been sixty years since I attempted to go back in time and that is why I am now a boy. All too soon I will be a baby again and I suspect I will die when I become too young to live.”
“If you don’t die much sooner,” spoke a tall, handsome and heavily armed man who entered the study, followed by a stream of just as well-armed men. More had come in through the door on the other side of the room and in a space of a few seconds they were surrounded at gun point.
Also within those few seconds Acton’s small face paled under his blond hair and his eyes went wide as he stared at the man who had spoken. He whispered in a half-strangled voice, “Julius? Julius Grayend?”
Even more happened in those few seconds. Anith reacted to the sudden invasion by drawing his own weapon. The man who had spoken, Julius(?), shot Anith in the heart. The tall man died almost instantly. Linth’s face morphed from shock into rage. But before he took could draw his weapon to avenge his cousin, Mirenda had his arm twisted behind his back. Linth stood shaking, but not struggling. His breath was strained. Julius watched this impassionedly.
“That’s right,” he said. “Resist only if you want to join him,” he waved his gun at Anith’s still corpse.