Alistair is taken aback a touch at Tyler’s comment. Of course, his thoughts immediately turn to the dark: If only they knew why… All that and I remain stuck. And then darker: Perhaps this is impassable. Perhaps the world is just… Irredeemable chaos by complexity, all cause and effect with no trace between them.
Alistair sighs, closes his eyes, and then looks up again. For a moment, he clenches his fist, his eyes smouldering. No. The surface is barely scratched. Give up and…
You can’t. You can’t give up. You can’t.
It is in this state of mind that he listens to Tyler carefully step around discussing Mikhail – around his latent anger, his fragile self-control, his – his past… That… That could be useful. Shaking his head idly at Tyler’s question, his mind’s mechanisms suddenly slot into place, forging and throwing off ideas as a tempest throws off lightning: That implies broken processes, unintended consequences. Analysed structures alone to now, lacking context – focus on a specific case could be useful for clarity, to create and test theories, to break established patterns of thought. He raises a hand to the side of his head, fiddling with a strand of hair. Even beyond, another event akin to today would be best avoided. The ability to avoid or diffuse – could be gained through knowledge.
And thus, Alistair begins to entertain an almost heretical thought.
He looks at Tyler again, eyes flashing with worry. Do I know… Can I risk it? Do I have the right? He winces. Gah. Balancing long-term harm for short-term – but it wouldn’t be short-term, would it? Not potentially… Agh, this is dangerous! The fingers on his hand twitch, just a little.
Alistair shuts his eyes. No. No, you’re overreacting. This would be a tiny, tiny aspect of his life. It is time he is evidently spending anyway, you do not necessarily have to provide any input at all, he is even able to talk about something that concerns him. Which could also backfi- no. This will be fine. This will be fine.
Alistair breathes. Then he offers that same half-smile to Tyler.
“I’m currently walking up to Richmond Park… You can join me and talk on the way, if you’d like.”
Name: Caroline ‘Callie’ Lidmann Gender: Female Sexuality: Bisexual, as far as she is able to tell. Height: 165 cm Weight: 63 kg Age: 23
Noble Arm Name & Appearance:
Noble Arm Abilities: Leaguespanner: Wielding Charter allows Callie to realign the fabric of the universe to join one space to another, effectively creating a two-way portal. She may only do this between places that she is able to visualise. Whenever she does so, Callie must anchor each end of the portal to an object in space in relation to which they will remain static; she frequently uses the ground, the Earth as a whole or some part of her body for this purpose. Creating a connection takes no energy but keeping it open does; the larger the portal is the more energy it will consume from Callie until she releases it. Distance, on the other hand, has no bearing on the energy required. Sight Unbounded: Charter is far more capable than a spyglass of its apparent age or, indeed, any spyglass at all has any right to be: it has the potential for near-infinite magnification. Whereas Callie can by now manage this intuitively, anyone else attempting to do so would find the spyglass insanely sensitive to any adjustment. She also sometimes finds herself drawn to things are pertinent to her and her goals when seeing them through Charter, whether she knows how they are important or not.
Personality: Callie is determined and unrelenting by nature. Unlike many of this archetype, however, she doesn’t naturally chafe against authority to any great extent; she instead demands that she be accomplishing something in every waking moment, set by others or, if they do not, by herself. If that is achieved, she is an invaluable asset to any team – focussed, personable, unfailingly, effortlessly energetic and downright inspiring. If not, she can be impersonal, quick to anger and generally utterly horrible to be around. She is, needless to say, a little polarising. Likes: Achieving short-term goals, feeling capable, learning, using her Noble Arm, dogs, Ribena. Dislikes: Vagueness, duplicity and secrets among friends and teammates, purely utilitarian goods, cats, alcohol. Fears: Being powerless, causing harm to those she cares about.
Callie Lidmann never knew her mother, who died in a terrorist attack caused by an Arms Master under the banner of a splinter faction of the IRA only a month after her birth, and instead grew up with her father, a designer of cameras used for aerial archaeology, and her stepmother, a military veteran, who married when she had just turned two. Her early life was uncomplicated and carefree and she, like most children, developed a profound curiosity about the world around her. Unlike most children, that curiosity never really went away; she dove into books and the internet, ran her own science experiments in the garden and begged her parents to take her to museums and art galleries where most of her peers wanted to go to theme parks and the cinema.
By her teenage years, Callie’s path seemed to be set; she was receiving ‘A*’s and ‘A’s across the board in school and had her heart set on going into academia, even if she wasn’t entirely sure where yet. For many people in that situation, receiving a Noble Arm would change that entirely – and yet for Callie, summoning Charter for the first time while on a walk in the hills outside her home only kicked her plans into high gear. Perceiving the Arm’s abilities as obvious symbolism for her identity, she invested days in theory-crafting and experimenting to see just what she could do with it. Only a few weeks after she first manifested it, she was in contact with a major energy company to use her portal to generate electricity through perpetual motion; that, she thought with significant glee, would make her more than enough money to pursue education for as long as she wanted while simultaneously providing clean power for thousands. With this as her goal, Callie pressed on with school and, with her A-levels under her belt, began her preparations for university.
Unfortunately, this was the moment at which the energy company she’d been in contact with cancelled the deal. Despite having had extensive talks and already done a small interest piece for the BBC, the company in question was informed late by its lawyers that any accident resulting from Callie’s powers would leave it open to severe legal ramifications. The only way to alleviate this would be to have Callie herself in the building with the portal for every second that it was active, watching for anything to go wrong so she could dismiss it; that not being an option for somebody in full time education, the project was canned. Her dad and stepmum stepped in to fill the gap that this and the lack of a student loan had created – and ultimately succeeded – but the psychological damage was already done; Callie, having never really failed at anything on this scale before, was thrown totally off balance, her once-unshakeable motivation declining and her work’s quality fading with it.
To this difficulty her stepmother offered an unconventional solution: join the military, the one place where you weren’t allowed to be demotivated. She’d honestly been a little concerned about Callie’s mental fortitude for several years and, knowing and exceedingly grateful for what service had done for her, she thought that her stepdaughter might benefit from something similar. There was extensive back and forth in the Lidmann household over that year’s course but, in the end, Callie was becoming more and more frustrated with herself and her lack of success and it became clear that, even if she could probably pull herself through university, she likely wasn’t going to enjoy or gain much from doing it.
As such, Callie found herself dropping out at the end of her first year at university and instead signing on as a sapper in the Corps of Royal Engineers, taking communications as her trade. She expected that she’d complete her four years of service and, her mind fortified, return to civilian life. Instead, she found herself far more fulfilled than anyone close to her could have predicted. Her choice of heading into the Engineers was in part based on her quickness of mind, in part because it had developed a strong Arms Masters community, and both of those certainly panned out well; more than that, though, with her actions planned out for her, she could commit to doing in a way that she never really had before while still being able to bring her mind to bear within that and possessing enough free time for unstructured thought when she needed a break from the relentlessness of it all.
It was thrilling – thrilling to the extent that, after spending time with the ISAF in Afghanistan, Callie decided to stay on with the military. She was in the middle of debating whether to try for a leadership position or apply for the Special Reconnaissance Regiment when she was offered a place in Operation: Symbiosis. She took it. Quickly.
Current Goal: Aid the cause of and ingratiate herself with the members of Operation: Symbiosis.
Military Rank: Formerly Sapper, as of now undetermined.
The Sociology Corridor, Evergreen Grammar School Friday Morning
Motion all around. A boy approaches from the right – Isn’t that that person who – and says something about him “spacing out,” tone gentle. Then another, portside, darting through in a flurry of words – “himbeinglikethathavea –” that he can hardly catch. Alistair’s head swivels back and forth, mind snatching up everything it can as it strains to analyse and assimilate everything while still reverberating from the events of moments before.
For a moment, he halts, putting a hand to his temple and rubbing it in firm, circular motions. Alistair breathes, compartmentalising.
He gives a nod and a half-smile to the blue-haired boy alongside him. Then he turns forward once more – and flees.
Wimbledon Park Tube Station, Arthur Road, Wimbledon Friday Afternoon
Alistair emerges into an irregularly breeze from behind the station’s threshold, the clouds parted to let the golden glow of the Sun pass, shining from its home low in the sky. He lets the corners of his mouth rise, a fine mist glazing his vision as he turns down the relatively quiet street. He holds onto some level of awareness, just enough to let him perceive the lack of traffic and step quickly across the road, but lets it go thereafter.
He needs peace and contemplation, after this morning’s events. No sense in concentrating a part of his mind away from that.
His gaze wanders down the track whence he came, his feet carrying him over the bridge above it, before a line of not-quite-regular houses in reds and whites occupies it as he turns onto the helpfully marked Home Park Road. He smiles idly at that. Appropriate… Joins of the few places of this city where I can feel like it.
A few people pass him by as he ambles down the lane – someone walking their dog, a small, wiry, bouncy creature that wags more intensely as he passes by; a group of kids that rush through on scooters, far too focussed on their own games to pay him attention – and in doing so are noted by Alistair, somewhere in his subconscious. They stir his mind, its currents now melding, now separating. The same, too, can be said of the iron-spiked gates to his right as they glint in the sunshine; the wave of the trees to his left, all increasingly bare aside from the resilient pines; the slight irregularities of the pavement beneath his feet. From his subconscious, like the motions of the Earth’s ferrous core, they energise the layer above.
And as he enters Wimbledon Park, with its playground filled with eager children running this way and that, its rustling oaks, ashes and willows and the paths weaving between them, its glassy lake populated with geese, its golfers and (of course) its tennis players, there is more than enough to provide all the mental stimulation for a good couple of hours of thought.
Wimbledon Suburbs, Wimbledon About half an hour later
…right – you’re going to have to make rules to keep those people’s preferences in check. “That means a group of people making rules…” Alistair frowns, letting out a sustained puff of air through his nostrils. And those people are obviously going to be those charismatic ones. There isn’t a stable system here.
He sighs, that train of thought coming to an end alongside the crunch of shoes on gravel, replaced now by the low slap of those shoes against tarmac. The roads here are much like the ones on the other side of the park, a little shabby but well-built and serviceable, though the homes and driveways are larger and the pavements smaller and less frequent – like the people, in that last regard at least.
That’s the core problem with Utilitarianism… No account for human imperfections. If you try to apply it to a society you inevitably fail because the system can’t deal with the complexity. If you try to apply it to yourself, then you can’t deal with that complexity. Just too much unpredictability. He purses his lips. Though I suppose it’s more me trying to force it into doing something that the people working on it weren’t…
Huh… Case in point.
From the other side of the pavement corner comes striding a boy – the boy, the one with silver-white hair whose speech he’d barely caught in the earlier tumult at school, having apparently sighted him a few seconds before. Caught more than a little off guard, Alistair slows, then halts mid-step, seemingly frozen. There he waits.
Thus, it is the other boy who speaks first. “…Umm, hello there. You’re a student from Evergreen, yes? …My name is Tyler Blackmore, an upper sixth at Evergreen as well. I…umm, I’m sorry for coming up to you out of the blue like this, but that boy who ran into you a while ago was a friend of mine. I wanted to apologize about that incident in his stead. …I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive him. He… he wasn't always like that.”
Alistair blinks once, twice, mind unprepared and therefore sluggish to adjust to the new topic. “I… I hadn’t thought much about it yet,” he answers honestly. Finally, old channels open, long-forgotten social protocol clicking into place. “I’m Alistair, Parton – Lower Sixth. Thanks…” He considers, new knowledge melding with old knowledge and ideas, then nods. “You don’t need to apologise, though. If I judged someone for things happening to them that they didn’t see coming or doing something with results they didn’t intend…” He smiles weakly. “Well, if you work out how to predict them, I’d love to know. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry – I can carry on.”
The Sociology Corridor, Evergreen Grammar School Friday Morning
Of course, he’s still standing stock-still in the middle of a corridor in the minutes between lessons; said corridor is very busy. It is perhaps inevitable that, at that moment, one element of that business takes the form of an unstoppable force.
At this moment, Alistair is distinctly not an immovable object.
Sent sprawling, he’s barely in time with his arms to stop his head from hitting the polished stone floor; no sooner has that happened than he freezes, his eyes widening as some great thing – a fist – stops centimetres before his face. Said fist withdraws, opening to become an up-helping hand. “Oi, babyface, I nearly socked you for a moment for bumping into me, so watch where you're going!”
Now, Alistair these days is not a person frequently found in the moment, always casting his thoughts backwards to mine the past for ideas or extrapolating towards the future to test them. What time he spends in the present is, in general, in service to these, listlessness conserving energy for his higher functions. This, though? The potent combination of reaction to perceived danger and utter confusion as to both the chain of events that has brought him to this point and what exactly this person is doing now throws him rudely out of listlessness and back towards currency.
Even so, his head is still a touch hazy, instinctually accepting the hand up. Things did happen rather quickly. Alistair shakes it, working to clear his mind, before examining the person standing before him. A little shorter but looks about my age, mid-length sand-blond hair… The boy’s appearance is tinged with familiarity but nothing more than that. Probably a year above or below.
For a moment, he grapples with what to say next; the other participant in the conversation, however, examining him curiously, jumps in first. “Why weren't you paying attention anyway? Something weighing down your mind?”
Oh, no, just grappling with how to avoid potentially triggering a societal backlash against any efforts meant to advance a given socio-political cause! Nothing major! “Sorry, just… Just working through something.” Perhaps realising that the person in front of him – who, he notes, seems unusually highly strung (if the fist didn’t support that conclusion already) – won’t accept this as a complete answer, he continues: “I’ve been stuck with something of a… An ideological dilemma over the past few years.” He breathes, offering a sad, quiet smile. “Sorry it got in your way.” Also, please don’t almost punch me again…
Wait, no. That would mean –
He’s already talking. “Anyway, my name is Mikhail. Mikhail Chekhov. If you want to make it up to me, go buy me some... Pie. Not rubharb, that sh - stuff is gross.”
That’s ‘rhubarb’, right? That accent sounds eastern European… And haven’t I heard the name ‘Mikhail Chekhov’ before – wasn’t there a rumour or something… Alistair considers for a moment, then dismisses the idea. Don’t know. Probably just passed someone in the hall talking – subconscious. “Alistair – Parton. I, ah…” He bites his lip, edging away as it gradually dawns on him that he’s talking to a complete stranger who nearly punched him in the face. “I don’t really know any good bakeries. Walk mostly in parks.” Alistair glances behind him. “And I need to – sorry, I think I’m already late – ah – bye.”
Just before the corner joining the Psychology Corridor to the Sociology Corridor, Evergreen Grammar School Friday Morning
It does seem to fit… Alistair wanders through the bustling corridor to his next lesson, head resting on the unsupported pillar of his arm and hand as he does his best to keep himself from falling totally asleep. The cloud-covered sky doesn’t exactly help matters; the daylight that might supply him a touch of extra vigour is, at best, much reduced. With the world now… Feminism, populism, all the… ‘isms’. All fighting power gaps. Some more than others.
He sighs, mind too exhausted even for indignation. It… I can’t believe it. Conflict Theory’s Marx’s. He saw society having an end state – that’s not right, and if it’s not right… People can’t spread their work across humanity; they help people they care about. Enough people with good ideas, there’s a new power gap, new conflict. No room for growth past it.
On Alistair pushes; a few rays of sunlight splash in through the window. I suppose… Communications? Get the world joined up, throw those ideas arou-
And then he feels a weight.
Alistair lets go of his forehead – and then lets his hand drop to one side, falling into a slightly more regular walking position even as he shrinks, shoulders subconsciously hunching, head bowing. Along the corridor powerful, shuddering steps ring out, beating a drum of submission and order. Mr Ashcroft, Vice-Principal of Evergreen Grammar School, marches forth; his eyes flick over his charges, trapping and dissecting students caught in their burning gaze. As he strides past, Alistair feels the imprint of his aura, authoritative and judging, undeniable, unbreakable and imposing. He shrinks further, the force crushing him downwards, unresisted and irresistable.
From within his deep recesses of his mind, the tolling returns – and his conscious mind misses it, not even processing it enough to dismiss it as imagination.
The Parton Residence, Cricklewood Thursday Evening
“Hi, Dad, I’m back.”
Alistair’s voice drifts out into the hallway of his parents’ flat. The dwelling is mid-sized, humble for someone of his father’s means (even for London) but cosy, furnished with soft carpet in an inoffensive cream that gives way to a kitchen floor of varnished floor of warm wood and adorned with bits and bobs that the Partons have collected over the years – a little clock with flowers on the face here, a plush cat from the eponymous Belgian festival (attended on a holiday a few years ago) on the mantlepiece there, a wedding photo hanging on the wall over yonder. It’s all very nice.
Alistair sighs. Looking up, he traces his hand over a framed drawing in coloured pencil. One, small, black-haired stick figure stands in a line with one taller individual and several others standing at somewhere between the two. All wear pronounced smiles.
‘back’ still works.
“Hi, Alistair!” He draws his hand away as his dad’s voice echoes, warm, comforting and, as ever, imbued with that little bit of hope, from beyond the study door as it clicks open. Out Henry steps, expression reflecting his tone, the wiry man’s movements never firm, always a little hesitant and conscientious but still revealing latent purposefulness. Approaching, he extends his arms for a hug; Alistair, smiling a little, goes to meet him. “How was your day?”
“Fine,” is the answer Alistair gives. “We looked at different household structures in Sociology, which was interesting.” Slowly, still smiling, he disentangles himself.
“Oh, good!” Henry beams. “That’s wonderful to hear… Any clubs today or anything like that?”
The smile fades; Alistair shakes his head, pressing his lips together. “No… Did some reading in the library over lunch, though.”
Henry’s own smile turns sympathetic. “Well, as long as you’re happy.”
Slowly, Alistair nods.
There is a moment’s pause.
“I’m going to get on with my homework,” he finally says, breaking the silence. He offers that same, weak smile again. “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re more than welcome.” Henry’s mouth opens a touch, then closes again. Alistair sees little else before his bedroom door closes.
––– ⛉ –––
“…worry about him, Steven.”
The muffled voices of his parents filter through the door, intelligible even amidst the evening traffic. Alistair, pausing in his typing, swipes at his laptop’s trackpad towards the volume control for his studying music to block them out.
I need to know.
His face takes on a pained expression. But it’s a betrayal of trust – but if it can help me – I – Alistair screws his eyes shut, focussing his mind towards the obliteration of his internal debate.
Of course, that means that he doesn’t turn the volume up.
“I get that but – Henry, he’s growing up. It’s around this time that you need to be doing this sort of thinking. We can’t solve this for him – he has to figure out who he is.” There’s a pause. “Or maybe it’s just that I can’t solve it and I’m projecting. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself, love… I just think that – yes, he does need to be doing that but he can’t do it if he doesn’t have any support. I remember how happy Alistair was with everyone else at the club and now… That’s not your fault – that’s not your fault, I’m sure there are lovely people at Evergreen for him to be friends with. He just seems so much more withdrawn now…”
“Could it be that he just needs a push?”
“I’ve tried… I… I don’t know, Ste-”
Alistair turns the music up.
––– ⛉ –––
That night, Alistair dreams – dreams of a shadowy bird on the wing, of beings half-formed and ethereal, of a tolling bell.
His eyes flash open, breath stolen from him; for a moment, he is grasped by terror’s claws. Then, slowly, he takes in his surroundings: an empty room, dim lights playing above the curtain, all silent but for the traffic outside. His body untenses and, as he fades back to sleep, he forgets.
Room P3, Evergreen Grammar School Monday Afternoon
“Yesterday we looked at Jeremy Bentham and Act Utilitarianism and discussed its advantages and disadvantages – I think most of us concluded that it was well-intentioned but had some fundamental problems to it. Yes, Farina, I know you think differently – you’ll get the chance to debate later, don’t worry! So, today we’re going to go over Bentham’s successor, John Stuart Mill, and his attempt to fix some of those problems.”
Evergreen Grammar School’s Lower Sixth Monday afternoon Philosophy class is fundamentally divided. Among the students there, about half of them are slouching, elbows on desks, eyes half-lidded – waiting for the first day of the week to be over so they can reclaim what semblance of weekend remained back at home. These are those who took Philosophy under the impression that it would be an easy, if slightly boring, subject. Working on Natural Law at the start of the year put paid to that idea.
The other half, on the other hand, listen closely, some nodding and many taking notes.
Alistair Parton is a part of the latter group.
Dr Brower walks to the side, tapping at his spacebar to advance to the new black-text-on-yellow-background-with-accompanying-photo slide. “Mill was born not far from here in Middlesex. His father was a friend of Bentham’s and agreed with his views on Utilitarianism, so he decided to raise Mill as a genius who’d be able to think his way through the Hedonic Calculus as Bentham set out.” Dr Brower grimaces. “Basically, Mill was hot-housed – he learned Greek and Latin before his teens and his father actually had him teach his older siblings himself, among other things. This brought him close to suicide before he was twenty.”
Brower’s face takes on a more open expression, looking out across the room. “It was this experience that made Mill realise that a person just can’t figure out the right and wrong thing to do in every circumstance – or, well, I suppose that they could, with enough work, but it wouldn’t be practical or desirable to make everyone go through that work.”
Alistair purses his lips, considering. That’s basically… He presses his pen to his notepad a little more firmly.
Dr Brower steps back towards his computer, smiling. “Mill put forward his own version of Bentham’s principle of utility, which modern philosophers see as the first form of ‘Rule Utilitarianism’.” With a flourish, he presses the spacebar again. “Instead of taking actions that maximise pleasure and minimise pain, he argued that people should follow the set of rules that maximise pleasure and minimise pain; that way, they have a guide to make those decisions. The mental burden is laid on coming up with the rules beforehand and tweaking them every so often, not on working out every action in the moment, meaning that a Rule Utilitarian won’t get overwhelmed like an Act Utilitarian would. Mill compared it to the idea of a ship’s captain taking an almanac with him, which held information about the night sky that allowed him to navigate, rather than trying to work out all of those details in the middle of a storm.” He looks up. “Yes, Jeremy?”
Okay, good start, but… That’s not enough, right?
A tallish, boy with blond hair and glasses speaks from the middle of the class. “Sir, wouldn’t that just become Act Utilitarianism again after a while? A set of rules that really maximised utility would be so… So huge and complicated that someone wouldn’t be able to follow it, right?”
Brower nods. “You could argue that, yes. Alternatively, you could make the case that that set of rules wouldn’t maximise utility for that reason – that a system of rules would have to be useable to do so in the first place.” He grins. “Keep thinking that way, though; it’ll be useful in the debate.” He glances around the class again. “Alistair?”
Alistair lowers his hand – then brushes his hair out of his steely eyes, his earlier headshaking ineffectual. Need to get that sorted soon… Where was – right. “Did Mill set out the rules he thought would maximise utility?”
Dr Brower frowns; he walks forward, then leans against his desk. “I don’t think he ever sat down and wrote out a list like Aquinas did, not really… He was an MP and a political thinker, though, and a lot of his thinking in that area is in a book called On Liberty. A lot of people don’t think it’s fully consistent with his views on Utilitarianism but it’s still a good place to look.”
Alistair nods, his gaze turning resolute even as he angles it back towards his notes.
“Now, Mill differed from Bentham in another important way: what pleasure actually was. If you remember, Bentham…”
King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park Monday Evening
‘…the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.’
What’s ‘harm’, though?
Alistair sighs. He swings his legs from atop the metal lattice, planting his solidly-shod feet on the ground and resting his head on the pillar of his hand and arm. Down at the book he gazes. “It’s… It’s like the pleasure machine. What’s to stop someone locking people up to prevent them from getting hurt – in the most specific sense?” He growls. “Or, in the other direction, to convince people to trust no-one in academia because they think they’re part of some nonsensical conspiracy?”
He shakes his head, lying back against the metal post. It’s just too vague. You could use this to justify anything. Then he closes his fist – the one not holding the book – and shakes his head again, leaning down to drop the text into his bag and standing, picking the whole thing up in a single, fluid motion. “Need to keep reading. Probably explains later.” Still…
His thoughts trail to a halt as he looks behind him, confirming the appearance of an elderly couple waiting patiently and a little nervously off to the side. Alistair opens his mouth slightly, then shuts it, hunching over a little in guilt and walking away to allow them to use the telescope. As he does so, he looks up slightly to take in the view of London, then back to the hole through the hedges to where he knows by now St Paul’s Cathedral is, crowning the City. And it doesn’t solve the main issue, either. No matter how much thought I put into rules, or how much I think I might be protecting people…
I could still just be hurting them.
Courtyard, Evergreen Grammar School Tuesday Morning
Alistair heads through Evergreen’s main quad towards the school library, his stride neither long nor short, energised nor trudging. His head is down, his lips pressed firmly together.
A burst of noise catches his attention; he looks over. Apparently, somebody – likely Upper Sixth, since he doesn’t recognise him (not that that’s a hugely reliable indicator these days) – has taken it upon himself to climb into the boughs of one of the school’s many trees. He’s not the only one who’s noticed, either; a small group of onlookers is gathering beneath him. Frowning incredulously, Alistair stops. Then he turns to walk over…
And an expression of sorrowful, painful conflict manifests on his face. He glances down, away.
Callie nods in agreement at Ishaq’s words, a minor smile crossing her face at the first and a firm, solemn expression appearing at the last ones. Following on, she looks to the officer. “If you have the minehunting drones fan out in front of the ship, Ma’am, I’ll report to the Operations Room after this meeting and clear them as we find them.” She grins at the other two. “Don’t worry; somehow, I think I’ll be in position before the landing.”
Alistair’s physical form is fairly average; he’s perhaps a touch shorter than medium height, is neither scrawny nor bulky and has a face somewhere between broad and angular. His hair is jet black and his eyes are a dull green. He’s normally at least somewhat well-kept – he washes his face enough to avoid outbreaks of acne but does get the occasional spot; has his hair cut every four or five months or so; and shaves once every two days.
In regards to clothing, Alistair’s wardrobe isn’t extensive or especially varied, since he isn’t exactly fashion-conscious and lets his parents and grandparents buy most of his clothing for him. His school uniform is worn according to Evergreen’s policy; when dressed casually he prefers mostly plain and fairly dark clothes, favouring mostly forest greens, maroons and deep blues, though he’s also a fan of burnt orange. Where he does wear more colour is on his t-shirts – which most people don’t know because he also favours heavier clothing, to the point that he’s been known to wear jumpers during heatwaves. Given that he enjoys walking, he possesses very rugged and practical footwear and sees little need to use anything else beyond his school shoes.
Once extroverted and constantly cheerful, Alistair is now a considerably more muted and deeply introspective young man, questioning everything about the world around him to try and make some sense out of the growing chaos and contradiction. For now, that contradiction has rendered him more than a little mechanical, simply going through the motions of daily life. He rarely attempts to make friends anymore; that said, should one take the effort to crack his shell and get to know him, they would find someone who is still very personable, kind and warm – even fun-loving! What was previously his main drive, the determination to push society to be open and more welcoming, has been stifled; his primary goal now lies in finding the answers to the questions which are stifling it.
Alistair’s life did not begin favourably. His biological parents died in a car crash when he was about three. Both were only children and, by a stroke of misfortune, all of his biological grandparents had died already; with no family to care for him, Alistair was thus put up for adoption. This, in most cases, would not have set him up well for the future.
Enter Henry Parton and Steven Daniels, a young, kind couple who had entered into a civil partnership two years previously, as soon as the law allowed, and were now looking to adopt. Their application came through and, after warming quickly to Alistair and he only slightly less quickly to them, the two became his new parents and their mid-sized apartment in Manchester his new home.
This would be precursor to the best part of Alistair’s existence thus far. Proving bright, he was placed into private education funded by Steven’s job as a civil rights lawyer, something which he enjoyed thoroughly. At the same time, Henry’s work running a youth club in Manchester’s heart, where he kept watch over Alistair each day after school, kept the young boy from becoming snobbish – in fact, he became something of a little brother figure to several of the teenagers who frequented it. Through them, Alistair learned about many of society’s social ills, an education that was redoubled by his participation with his parents in Manchester’s Pride events and them simply telling him about their experiences when they were younger and society was less tolerant. Indeed, Alistair only knew two of his parents’ parents; Steven’s were heavily religious and had ostracised him upon his coming out. Nonetheless, that was the past and this was now; now the two of them were happy together and now they had a son who was quickly developing the fire to confront obstacles to his own and others’ happiness head-on.
Indeed, things could seemingly only get better. Henry and Steven married in 2013 as soon as same-sex couples gained the legal right to do so and Alistair took the surname ‘Parton’ at his own insistence, binding their family yet more closely. At around the same time, Steven secured a high-profile job at a law office in London and, with Henry assuring him that one of his fellow youth workers was actively eager to take on a leadership role, the two moved southwards. Fortuitously, this was just before Alistair was due to start secondary school; while he did shed some tears over leaving his friends at his old school and at the youth club, the transition was more inevitable and thus somewhat less painful. Performing very well in his SATs, he more than passed the threshold for entrance to Evergreen.
And then things got complicated.
Alistair never quite learned to love London – the place was unfamiliar, yes, but Alistair also found it more claustrophobic than Manchester; there were noticeably more people and buildings packed into any given space. It all felt rather hostile and, unfortunately, that set a tone. Alistair never quite secured a friendship group at Evergreen in the same way that he had at his last school. Nor did he find himself with much social activity outside of school hours; not one to fall into gang activity, he instead started exercising his independence in walking through London’s many parks (one of the few things he preferred about the city). Richmond Park quickly became one of his favourite places to be and he’d often spend hours traversing its pathways.
That gave him time to contemplate, and he needed it, for his beliefs were also under assault. In 2016, when Alistair had just turned 13, the United Kingdom held a referendum on membership of the European Union. He and his parents, like most others, expected a Remain victory. They were wrong. For Alistair, this was a shock. Brexit, and especially the surge in racist abuse afterwards, presented a profound challenge to his previous belief that humanity was moving towards a more open future and would continue that way if only there were people to strive for it. He came to question whether fighting for a cause at all could in fact do more harm than good; after all, in Brexit’s case, the backlash against the values that he treasured had actually become more powerful than the case for those values. This wasn’t helped by his increasing predisposition towards philosophy, especially existentialism, and his hardening certainty that there could be no such thing as an objective right or wrong – meaning that all of the beliefs that he considered abhorrent were, in fact, as justifiable as his own. They could still be fought against, of course, but then he was reluctant to do that now.
This brings us to the Alistair of today. Having passed his GCSEs with a mixture of ‘A*’s, ‘A’s and ‘B’s, he’s set to enter Evergreen’s Sixth Form for the coming two years and, caught between his desire to provoke positive change and his fear that attempting to do so has an equal chance to bring about the inverse, he has chosen subjects that he hopes will give him some answers. He’s still really not okay with just sitting back as he has been, though; he wants the chance to act, to dedicate himself to the justice and harmony that, deep down, he’s still hopeful that society can one day embody.
Perhaps he’ll have that chance.
Student at Evergreen Grammar School entering the Lower Sixth, studying:
A-Level Philosophy A-Level Sociology A-Level English Literature
Henry Parton – adoptive father Steven Parton – adoptive father Janice Parton – adoptive grandmother Terence Parton – adoptive grandfather
A Strange Boy in a Hat – Alistair saw A Strange Boy in a Hat once this year when he witnessed him climbing a tree in the Evergreen quad before the school day began. Despite his ultimate inaction, he perceived such behaviour as erratic and dangerous at the time and felt somewhat compelled to either quickly resolve or at least comprehend the situation.
Mikhail Chekhov – Alistair’s first meeting with Mikhail consisted of him being knocked down, almost punched in the face and then asked to buy rhubarb pie, an encounter that didn’t serve to dispel any of the few rumours that he thinks he may have previously overheard about him. His first instincts were of fear, confusion and capitulation, which still define whatever connection he may have formed with the Russian expat, though they perhaps haven’t bedded in quite yet.
As a close combat weapon, Alistair carries a montante; a practice weapon made of nylon in reality, it cuts just as well as its historical steel counterparts in the Metaverse. Almost as long as he is tall, Alistair whirls this surprisingly defensive two-handed sword in great slashing arcs to keep multiple Shadows at bay and allow his teammates to work and fight unimpeded.
Alistair doesn’t carry any true ranged weapons; instead, he keeps a bag of caltrops on hand which he scatters immediately before a fight and collects afterwards. These small tetrahedral spikes always land with a point up, significantly limiting the mobility of Shadows which move across the ground. This can be used to simply slow them down or to concentrate them into chokepoints - where Alistair will almost certainly be.
‘Horatius alone remained where he had first taken his stand, and directed Herminius and Larcius to tell the consuls, as from him, to cut away the bridge in all haste at the end next the city... the rest, he said, would be his concern. Having given these instructions to the two men, he stood upon the bridge itself, and when the enemy advanced upon him, he struck some of them with his sword and beat down others with his shield, repulsing all who attempted to rush upon the bridge. For the pursuers, looking upon him as a madman who was courting death, dared no longer come to grips with him... Finally, when he was overwhelmed with missiles and had a great number of wounds in many parts of his body... he heard those behind him shouting out that the greater part of the bridge was broken down. Thereupon he leaped with his arms into the river and swimming across the stream with great difficulty (for the current, being divided by the piles, ran swift and formed large eddies), he emerged upon the shore without having lost any of his arms in swimming.
Horatius, who had shown so great valour upon that occasion, occupied as enviable a position as any Roman who ever lived, but he was rendered useless by his lameness for further services to the state; and because of this misfortune he obtained neither the consulship nor any military command either.’
Background and Symbolism
Publius Horatius Cocles (the last part, meaning ‘one-eyed’, coming from the fact that he had previously lost an eye in battle) was a junior officer in the legendary earliest days of the Roman Republic. After the Romans lost a battle against an army of Etruscans seeking to restore their former king and their own forces fled into the city, Horatius fought first alongside two more senior officers and then alone to hold the Pons Sublicus, the wooden and at the time only bridge across the River Tiber, as it was torn down behind him. Though battered by enemy missiles and wounded in many places, including being run through entirely with a javelin above the hip, he stood steadfast against the entire Etruscan host until the bridge began to collapse; at that point he jumped into the Tiber itself, trusting himself to the god of the river. At this point tradition diverges. According to Polybius Horatius died in the waters, swept away under a hail of spears; according to Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, he reached the bank despite the weight of his wargear but was crippled by his injuries. Whatever happened, Rome survived.
As Alistair’s Persona, Horatius takes the form of a man with bronze skin, wearing sandles, a bronze breastplate, greaves and a broad-brimmed, crestless helmet over a deep red woollen tunic; all are battle-worn, marked with innumerable scratches and dents. Highly prominent are two holes that run straight through his body, one above the hip and one through his eye-socket; the latter of these is the only properly visible part of his face, as the helmet casts an unnaturally dark shadow over it. He wields a bronze Italic sword, stained with blood, in his right hand. Most notable, however, is the shield that he wields in his left: of the Republican style (a heavily bowed rectangular shape that bends backwards less than its later evolutions) but absolutely massive, easily as tall as Horatius himself and proportionately wide. Its face is similarly bloodstained, stuck with dozens of broken and half-broken javelins and, like Horatius’ armour and skin, covered in scratches and gashes, as is its rim. The one exception is the entirely untarnished central bronze boss and its plate, formed in the shape of an outward-facing, halting palm, which gleams defiantly against oncoming foes.
Horatius represents Alistair’s ability to dedicate himself to his allies and friends after realising that he need not understand every facet of the causes for which they fight to do so. Horatius also reflects the potential pitfalls of that approach, however, both in his semi-historical origins and his appearance: broken and known only for his martyrdom, leaving nothing of himself to the world.
☄ Wields Earth Skills ☄ ⛉ Resists Physical and Gun Skills ⛉ ⛶ Weak to Aqua Skills ⛶
Callie looks between Ishaq and Robert for a moment, raising an eyebrow at the implication of the former. “I did say that I’ve got attacking capabilities too.” She picks up her copy of the briefing notes, holding them up to the other two; with her other hand she plucks Charter out of the air and, with a moment’s focus, forms and then dismisses a tiny portal with either end inside the corner of the sheets, trifurcating it in an instant. Callie grins. “Specifically surgical, silent attacking capabilities. Charter’s portals can cut through anything – walls, barricades, equipment – so long as I know where it is and what it looks like. Against enemy personnel, meanwhile…” She turns to the commanding officer again. “If we have any holding cells, could I see them after this? With your permission, I’ll memorise them and drop people through – weapons disabled, obviously.”
Callie turns back to the other two. “Beyond that – jets or sheets of ultra-pressurised water from the Marianas Trench; heat and fire from Kilauea; I can even bring in lightning from Lake Maracaibo on a good day by cutting the distance from the stormclouds there to wherever I want. Path of least resistance. Charter also allows me to see as far as the Earth’s curvature and the terrain allows, so I can do all of this at range or just scout. And there’s transportation too.” She smiles to Ishaq. “If you want, you can focus on keeping us alive and I can handle moving us around. You know your Arm better than I do.”