Seth stepped in. "It's good to meet you in person, Justin," he said. The house was fancy. Smooth stone tile, radiant heat coming up from underneath. Fancy, expensive-looking artwork on display, lit like museum pieces - an abstract painting here, a little table with a ceramic breaching dolphin next to a vase of flowers there. The walls were done in glossy slate blue paint, the molding in white.
Justin took his hand off the baby's back to shake Seth's. "Good to meet you too. Sorry, I thought all the kids would be asleep by the time you arrived but Ming is doing the need-another-hug thing and wakes up when I put her down."
"It's not a problem," Seth assured him. "Is your wife home?"
"Yes, she is - Mary?" Justin called.
Mary stepped into the foyer. She was gorgeous, and she wasn't Asian either, so the baby was adopted or babysat, and either one was fine with Seth. Mary smiled at him. "Hi - Seth, right?"
"That's right," said Seth. "This is a lovely house. I bet the mortgage is a heck of a thing."
"Oh, it's ours outright," said Mary. "I inherited it from my parents, I grew up here - we would have gone with something more modest, but it would be such a wrench to sell it even if we don't need all this space -"
"How about that," said Seth, "that's lucky."
A timer went off with a soft ding in the kitchen. Mary ran to silence it, and Justin said, "That's twenty minutes, Ming's probably asleep for good now. I'll go try to put her down and then we can have some cookies and chat, all right?"
"Sounds good to me," said Seth, helping himself to an armchair in the living room. There were a bunch of plastic miniature megafauna hiding in the long fibers of the rug, and a stray few Legos under the coffee table.
"Great," said Justin, swaying off to the nursery.
"She's a cute kid," Seth commented to Mary. "You get her from... China?"
"Yes," said Mary. "And Ioana is from Romania, and Valeria is from Colombia."
"Can't have kids?" asked Seth.
Mary's brow creased a little. "We don't have any reason to believe we can't, but there are so many children who need homes and families already, so we've chosen to adopt." It had the air of a rehearsed statement.
"Gotcha," said Seth. "I haven't found any biological nieces or nephews so far. Destiny's gay, Darius is a teenager, and Justin's the first one I found online."
"Well, hopefully you'll get along all right with our girls regardless," said Mary briskly.
"I'm sure I will," said Seth.
Justin came back holding a plate of jam dots. "I think Ming's down," he said. "Seth, when I got your message, I was so surprised - I'd never had any idea that my dad wasn't my biological dad. Weaver was his last name. I'm not sure whether to tell him - it doesn't matter to me, but if it affected his memories of Mom, well, that wouldn't do anyone any good. Is - our mutual father - is George still alive?"
"No, I'm sorry," said Seth, suddenly subdued. He took a jam dot anyway. "George died recently, actually. I think I was one of only a couple of the kids that he kept in touch with - and it kind of prompted me to go looking for others. I knew it couldn't just be me and Destiny and Darius."
"What did he die of?" asked Mary. "If you don't mind saying."
"I don't mind, we weren't close for all that he appeared in my life every year or two. It was violence, actually - Darius went after him - see, not everybody George had kids with was a hookup or a girlfriend, some of them were just -" Seth trailed off, made a vague gesture. "So Darius, he's sixteen, and he was mad about what happened to his mother when he found out, and he knew where to get a gun."
"Oh, no," breathed Mary, clutching Justin's hand. Justin looked troubled, and patted his wife on the arm.
"Yes. I can't really blame Darius, that could have been me if I'd been in his shoes. I hope he makes out well when it comes time. He's a good kid. Anyway. I've found a few of us on 23andMe, and that can't be everyone, plenty of our siblings are going to be too young or too foreign to sign up or just not interested. Since George isn't around to ask, I can't be certain we'll ever know them all. He's been flying all over the country, and out of it, leaving children conceived this way and that, for the last forty-five years."
"I wish I could ask my mother," Justin said. "I don't know how I'd put it gently, but - I wish I could ask."
"What happened to her?" asked Seth.
"Oh, she was older, when she had me, older than I am now. Old age, died in her sleep."
"And you're how old now?"
"Thirty-four," said Justin.
"I'm twenty-eight," Seth said. "George kinda - he didn't quit. Never caught for anything he did. Finding our whole family is going to be a major undertaking." He raked his hands through his hair, disarraying it picturesquely. "But everybody I find is progress! So I'm really glad to be here tonight. What do you do, Justin?"
"I'm a stay at home dad for our three, but before we adopted Ioana I was a sculptor, and I still am for small pieces when I can find time," said Justin. "And Mary's a pastor."
"And what about you?" Mary asked Seth.
"I'm an attorney," said Seth.
"Prosecution or defense?" wondered Justin.
"Defense. Right to representation and all that."
Justin nodded. There was a silence. Mary took a jam dot.
"Justin," said Seth, "there's something I'd like to talk to you about alone - if that's all right with you too, Mary," he added, nodding in her direction.
"Mary can hear anything I can hear," said Justin.
"And you can tell her later. I don't mind. Just - it's hard enough to spit it out when I'm only talking to my brother," Seth said, turning pleading eyes on the couple. "Please."
Mary and Justin looked at each other dubiously. Finally Mary patted her husband on the shoulder, kissed his cheek, and disappeared to parts elsewhere.
"She seems lovely," Seth told Justin.
"She is. Light of my life," said Justin. "I was very lucky to find her. I assume that's not the secret."
"It's not," acknowledged Seth. "You're sure she wouldn't be listening around corners?"
"She'll probably have gone to bed. We have a new baby, we're tired."
"All right then." Seth took a deep breath. "You need to get a vasectomy."
"I was really glad when I found out your kids were all adopted. Adopt as many as you want. There shouldn't be more of us."
"I don't really hold with all that genetic supremacy nonsense - if George committed crimes in the course of siring us all, that reflects on him only, not -"
"I'm not saying we're genetically evil. It's complicated, and I'm not sure you'll believe me, but the upshot is don't have biological kids."
"Am I a carrier for some disease -"
"No. It's the opposite, really. Can you let me explain without - I don't know, calling an ambulance on me for being a loon? I'm not a loon and I can go through all the evidence for you, it's just fundamentally kind of hard to swallow."
"- sure. Why not."
"Let's start with what I can guess about you. When you met Mary, you were both in the right mood and the right place in your lives to have exactly the kind of relationship you wanted out of life. Her parents left her the house - maybe by dying, maybe by retiring to Florida - right when you felt like it was time you and she had a house. You have found the adoption process to be smooth and swift and your daughters to adjust quickly to joining your family. They all get along with each other and if any of them are old enough to attend school they do well there. You have exactly enough minor complaints about their behavior that you don't feel like an alien when you talk to other parents but no more. You don't know what other people are talking about when they complain about long lines at the DMV. You have never gotten a parking ticket or a moving violation no matter how badly you drive, and no one has ever rear-ended you. You have never been stolen from, harassed, shouted at by a crazy person on the street, defrauded, or assaulted. You always get the nice seats in restaurants, the nice customer service agents on the phone, and the nice presents during any gimmicky present exchanges you participate in around Christmas. If you have in-laws, you get along with them. Your neighbors like you. When you were a kid, if you wanted to be picked from an audience to participate on stage, you got picked, every time."
"- horoscope stuff," said Justin.
"No. Most people don't live like that," said Seth. "People have ups and downs. And so do you - I didn't say you never sprained an ankle, or that you never had a crisis of faith or whatever it is religious people have, or that you are beloved by every dog you meet. For all I know you fell off a cliff when you were twelve and spent a year in the hospital. But if you did, your nurses were good to you and your doctors put in their best work that day and your parents fussed over you just the right amount and your teachers helped you catch up."
"I didn't fall off a cliff," Justin muttered.
"No? Stepped on a nail and got tetanus? Nah, you would have been vaccinated. If your parents were anti-vaxxers they would have changed their tune around the time you were conceived. But I can tell you it won't have been something you picked up from being sneezed on. People don't sneeze on you. Maybe you could get something off a doorknob."
"I broke my leg skiing once," muttered Justin.
"Ah! And: you were not invited onto a slope you couldn't handle. Your instructor was not negligent. Your equipment was not poorly inspected. Nobody crashed into you. You just had an accident, entirely your own fault - stop me if I'm wrong."
"Where are you going with this?" Justin asked.
"I'm the same way," said Seth. "We aren't all. I think it's going turn out to be half. Mendelian genetics and all. But I knew you were in that half when I saw the house, saw the wife - she's very pretty - heard you inherited the house, heard you were a sculptor - is the dolphin yours?"
"Breaching III, yeah -"
"It's terrible. I mean, it's recognizably a dolphin, I suppose you've practiced enough, but it's not pretty, and it's not unpretty in an interesting way. But everybody except me who you've ever gotten an opinion out of - even if they don't have any reason to like you, even if they're critics - they think it's great."
"Because I'm immune," said Seth. "Because I'm the same way."
"I don't believe this," said Justin. "You're clearly having some kind of problem, and -"
"George probably raped several hundred people," Seth said flatly. "Let's generously assume he picked up one new woman a week on average. I think it was more, but I don't have enough birthdates to corroborate that. Let's generously assume he only raped one in four and the other seventy five percent were hookers or looking for casual sex or willing to believe he was in love with them or whatever. He was running around for forty-five years, and under these assumptions that's nearly six hundred girls he straight up raped. None of them went to the police, and we're not talking about a man smart enough to use a fake ID and cash at the bar where he collected his lay for the night. Not one had a gun, or a scary boyfriend, or a protective brother. We're not talking about a crooked cop who molests arrestees or a sketchy gynecologist here, he did this in dozens of different cities with no position of power to abuse. That's how he used his gift. You're using yours to have a pretty wife and a nice house and a career in the arts and an easy time adopting cute orphans, I admit I like your take on it better, but it's the same damn thing."
"So - because we're genetically predisposed to, to, what are you saying this is, is it mind control -"
"It's pretty lackluster mind control. You can't use it like a comic book character. But people get out of your way, or they go your way, or just happen to be where they need to be in the mood they need to be in, the right place at the right time to make your life nice according to you. Nothing Earth-shatteringly weird. Nothing you couldn't chalk up to being a likable and talented statistical irregularity. But take all of us together... have us interacting, weird exceptions to patterns we take for granted... and you notice."
"You don't have any proof."
"It gets a little more overtly mind-controlly if you push it, but you can. Order a pizza, look into your pocket and apologetically pull out a ticket stub and some lint, say, 'oh, uh, I'll look under the couch, I'm so sorry to have wasted your time, I thought I had a twenty but' - pizza guy will tell you not to worry about it. Kick a cop. He might arrest you but you'll get off. Try to adopt a project kid, one with a drug problem or something, and you'll just happen to get one who fits in really well here and doesn't try to stab you in your sleep or sell your car for meth -"
"That's horrifying," said Justin.
"Look, if you want to prove it, you have to do something that gets people to arrange themselves and behave in ways that you know for a fact they wouldn't. And you're used to them being convenient when you act as you normally do, so you have to do something you normally wouldn't, to get a real clear look. Otherwise you'll think the cop you kicked just understood that you... objected to him hassling black teenagers and appreciated the reminder, if that's normally what it would take to get you to kick a cop."
"I wouldn't kick a cop no matter what he was doing!"
"The black teenagers of the world will refrain from calling you a racist for your lack of interest in their relationships with the law. Because they're affected too. And nobody has ever called you racist in your life."
"Well," said Justin, "you, how did you - come to believe this?"
"I have more examples to look at," Seth said. "Also, there's no way I'm as good a lawyer as my track record and my hourly fee suggest, but I picked a career that's very malleable to what we've got. I don't even have to churn out ugly dolphins for critics to nod at."
"You don't like the sculpture, I get it. So you want me to get a vasectomy, just in case the birth control we've got doesn't work, because we're hurting people just by existing -"
"No, that's not it," said Seth. "It's a perfectly good reason and if that's what gets you to go under the knife then I won't nitpick. But that's not why I'm asking. It's because it's no good if too many people have it. And I don't mean that selfishly, I mean... Sure, George did a lot of damage, but think what happens if half the population has it. We don't work on each other - suddenly we're extracting everything we get from the other half. We can't even help it. You like the lifestyle of the pious modest charity-minded pastor's husband? Great, that doesn't hurt anyone all by itself. When your lifestyle needs support, you can get it from hundreds of millions of people who don't have our genes. No one person winds up going too far out of their way, except maybe Mary, and she seems happy, right? The kids you're doing a favor! But the more and more of us there are, the worse it gets to be a have-not."
"You seem to think you know a lot about a - a mutation we're second-generation carriers of -" Justin murmured.
"Oh, we have the most recent version. But my guess is it's happened before. Probably a few times. It's an insanely advantageous property to have! If a mutation can do this, it'll happen now and then, and then it'll spread, every time. I'm not a geneticist, I can't tell you the details, but my guesses are somebody in Europe before it started colonizing everything, maybe. Probably Genghis Khan, who promptly smeared his version all over Asia. Maybe this is how we outcompeted the Neanderthals. Even if it didn't affect the Neanderthals directly it'd rally people around one mutant leader to wipe them out whenever they got too close for comfort. I'm sure some people have fewer, or none - just didn't get a copy, or they've got damaged versions that don't work. And those people are not doing so hot. Those people are probably homeless. Because once everyone has it, it doesn't matter, normal non-spooky effects dominate - unless you're someone who doesn't, and then it matters a lot."
There was a silence.
Justin said, "I'll get the vasectomy."
"Thank you. Will you help me find the rest of us - I don't think he can reasonably have knocked up most of the women he slept with, he obviously didn't care for condoms but some of them will have been wrong time of the month or on the pill. I've gotten ahold of his travel schedule from his credit card company, it's annoying to pick through but not impossible. We can find them, especially if they have the gene. They'll stand out if they have it, succeeding at anything they do that's more subjective than weightlifting."
"Yeah. You're right, this would hurt a lot of people, if it spread -"
Seth nodded. "And doesn't help anyone in the long run, just makes one more way to be below average."
"Thank you," said Justin. "For telling me."
"Of course. I'm glad I found you first. I'm not expecting everyone who wants kids to want to adopt them, and it'll go faster with more eyes on the project."
"Some of us might have them already."
"Even slowing the spread down for a few generations while science learns to identify the gene is worth our time," Seth said firmly. "A few families doing unusually well, that's nothing new, people accomplish that with money and genes for other useful traits all the time. We might miss someone. But we can make it less a Genghis Khan thing."
"Genghis Khan, huh?"
"I can't pretend I'm sure about any of this," Seth hedged. "I'm just guessing, based on when someone seems a standout. And lucky enough. Genghis Khan died old, Alexander the Great didn't - I don't know if someone being somewhere else, inclined differently, could have saved Alexander, but it's suggestive that he wasn't running on our kind of luck."
Justin nodded. "I'll need to explain to Mary."
"Why?" said Seth. "I don't think she'll believe you. You believe me because you've had the kind of charmed life I described - she wasn't there for half of it. And she won't want to know about how she was influenced to fall in love with you, who wants to hear that?" He took another jam dot. They were pretty good.
"It's a major life decision!" said Justin.
"Not if you're adopting all your kids anyway," Seth said around his cookie. "And she'll go along with it fine as long as you want her to. I suppose if you have horrible misgivings and you want an excuse to avoid it then maybe instead -"
"Please stop talking about my wife that way."
"Suit yourself. But even if you tell her about the vasectomy, and I really think you could just as well skip that, you don't have to tell her about the gene. It won't help anything, and it could hurt."
"I'll think about it," said Justin. There was another silence. "I'm going to get some milk to go with these cookies."
"Thanks," said Seth.
After Justin brought back the milk and poured some for each of them, he said, "Can you tell me about the others? Their names were - Darius and Destiny?"
"Yeah. So, George never married my mother, but he did keep coming back to her for a while, openly, after she'd had me and gotten wise about taking the pill so I don't have any full siblings, and Destiny and Darius's moms were another couple of women he was also more or less publicly involved with, so we knew each other a little. I used to babysit Darius. Destiny's between my age and yours. I don't think they have the gene, Darius dropped out of high school and hangs out with druggies and Destiny lives with her girlfriend in a shoebox and keeps turning up with bruises." He washed down the last bite of his jam dot.
"You said you had more examples."
"I do. I've met George, he was the only person I knew who moved through people and institutions like they're air the way I can. Darius has a little sister, Jasmine, and she's doing suspiciously well at everything she tries. It's not enough to get any of us whisked away by men in labcoats, sure, but it was enough to get me thinking about it, get me testing it a little -"
"Did you kick a cop?" asked Justin tiredly.
"No, but I've done the pizza one. Guy looked pleased to have a chance to help me out. I've wandered into employees-only areas prepared to pretend to be lost. Nobody called me on it. I get seats in packed restaurants and tickets to sold-out concerts. I try risky shit in court, at first well shy of what it'd take for a client to sue me for mishandling the case, later - less careful. I win. I always win."
"God," said Justin.
"If you say so. George was a weird pick for chosen one."
"Well, mysterious ways," said Justin. "What are they like? Darius and Destiny and Jasmine?"
"Darius is a good kid. Don't let the arrest for murder fool you, that was all over how George treated his mama, he loves his mama. Publicly acknowledged relationship doesn't mean consensual relationship. And it could only last till Jasmine found out and wanted it to stop, see, after that the effect canceled out and Darius..." Seth mimed a gunshot.
"You're very casual about that."
"I'm a criminal lawyer, I've heard worse. I'd be more formal about it in a courthouse. If I felt like being formal that day, anyway."
"I think maybe you should quit," said Justin.
"What? Why would I do that?" Seth laughed.
"You're pushing people all the time. And not over opinions on dolphins - and I might quit too, even just that is sketchy -"
"There's no 'too'. I like my job and I intend on keeping it," said Seth.
"The judges, the jurors, the defendants, their victims -"
"I'm very suited to it," said Seth. "Look, I'm just existing. We can't help how we're made. Nobody's going home with a mysterious nosebleed, nobody's lying awake having a dark night of the soul over why they thought my client was innocent when in retrospect he wasn't, and the power can just as easily bring me people who ought to get off and might not with a worse lawyer as it can bring me crooks who ought not benefit from my silver tongue, right?"
"Does it? Do you get a lot of people who were framed?" wondered Justin quietly.
"More than your average lawyer. Not all of them. Everybody deserves a defense, Justin, even if I'm getting them off on reasonable doubt or technicalities those are doubts and technicalities that are judicially supposed to affect the trial." Seth's voice was casual, but his eyes had narrowed.
"I just think that given how the power apparently responds to our goals, we should try to maintain goals that don't put our - our wills? Our needs? in conflict with many other people in high-stakes situations. And criminal law - even contract law would be better, wouldn't it? Less likely to hurt somebody in their personal life, you know?"
"The training is not interchangeable, it's not like I've been selling sofas and can turn that sales experience into selling beer."
"Well - even so -"
"I'm not going to tank my career because you want more folks to wind up in prison, Justin."
"I'm getting a vasectomy on your say-so," Justin pointed out.
"Yeah, because you bought my argument. Because when there's a growing population with a luck advantage everybody else loses out in the short run and nobody wins in the long run. Not because I told you that your kids would get good grades in art class and be popular with their peers and might do real well if they went into law. Or into anything else, honestly, what can't people going where you need them to be help with?"
"Math?" said Justin. "Sports? - no, in sports I guess it could handicap competition for you -"
"And in math, sure, maybe you need to produce proofs that actually prove things, but if you can hack it as a mathematician at all - if you can do any math work, even if you do it slowly and it's not very... whatever it is mathematicians look for in publications... then everyone will figure that's good enough. Your students'll love you, and nobody'll notice or care if you plagiarize -"
"I'd like to think none of my children will grow up to be plagiarists, biological or adopted -" protested Justin.
"Sure, but you can't count on that actually sinking in, nobody's dad says 'remember, Junior, when you grow up, always steal the intellectual work of others', do they? And even if you assume they're completely on the up and up they'll have the best teachers for their learning style and the most helpful classmates and access to tutors and this won't compensate for not being able to add but it'll get them from passing calc to a job in the field if that's what they want. It all comes down to what you want."
Justin sighed. "Law just seems like a bridge too far."
"What a pity we didn't meet when I was undeclared in college," said Seth, "you could have tried pushing me into development economics or something like that and I'd gaze at my navel harmlessly day in and day out."
"You're making fun of me."
"Yes. Sorry. Habit. Most people take it well, you know, I get used to it."
Justin sighed. "I probably have unbecoming habits nobody's ever called me on, too, don't I."
"You seem pretty inoffensive but the dolphin's terrible."
Seth laughed. "Anyway. I don't want to get too tired to drive to my hotel, so if we're agreed on the vasectomy and not having to tell Mary about it -"
"I'm still not sure about not telling Mary."
"Well, don't tell her till you're sure, then, you can't un-tell her. And run it by me first, I'm the only person you can run a train of thought by without your audience just telling you what you want to hear," Seth added.
"All right. We'll see you tomorrow morning? Breakfast is at seven," said Justin.
"Oooh, breakfast," said Seth. "I'll be there. What is it?"
"Oh, whatever Mary feels like making -"
"Whatever you're in the mood for," corrected Seth. "When Mary makes breakfast she feels like making whatever you want. Tomorrow, that's only unless I hate it, if I do then it's really up to her. But I'm not picky. What's for breakfast, Justin?"
Justin narrowed his eyes at Seth. He delayed a moment before saying, "Waffles."
"Can't wait," said Seth, and he let himself out, humming a little.
Breakfast the next morning was waffles. Seth accepted one loaded with strawberries and whipped cream. The little girls were curious about who Seth was, but Justin hurried the older one onto the school bus and sent the middle girl to pretend to read a story to the infant rather than answer the questions they weren't asking because he didn't want to answer them. Mary kissed her husband and children goodbye and went off to work.
"You think I'm doing them a favor, huh?" Justin said to Seth, moody. "The girls."
"Sure. I mean, compare it to the alternative, not to the perfect fantasy you've cooked up. You wouldn't have gotten these specific ones without the gene, you'd have gotten different kids you got along with worse - it doesn't only nudge them around once they come home with you, it arranges that you get the right ones."
"How do you know?"
"What, when you listen to Mary talk about before she met you does she sound awful, like she had some huge personality upheaval the day she met you?"
"And you love Mary, right?" asked Seth.
"Of course," snapped Justin.
"So these ones would be worse off, with some higher conflict family they're a worse fit for. And the ones you got instead would be only average fits, and average isn't great for adoptions, last I heard."
"You're very comfortable with all of this."
"I came around to it in my own time. You kind of got it sprung on you. I wouldn't have, only there might be hundreds of us and I can't spend six months getting to know each one before I explain why they need to avoid reproducing."
"What are you going to do," Justin said, "when you find someone who won't get sterilized? A half-sister, especially, more invasive surgery..."
"It suffices if they get an IUD. What I really dread is finding another George."
"- but what will you do," said Justin, "if you find one?"
There was a silence. "Haven't decided yet," Seth said.
"I don't like that," Justin replied. "You're a little confrontational..."
"I'm a lawyer."
"I'm well aware. But you're going to be meeting all these people with the habits you've picked up from having the gene, and confront them, and tell them that for the good of humanity they've got to go under the knife, or the - whatever implement is involved in IUDs -"
"That little interest in your marital birth control arrangements?"
"Mary's on the injected kind. Stop changing the subject."
Seth sighed. "I don't know what I'll do. It's come as a big relief that you prefer adopting. But I can't not try, can I? I can't just let our gene sweep the globe unchecked, backing whatever random act of oppressing the have-nots that first appeals to one or two of our relatives at once. What would you have me do, Justin?"
"- I don't know. I'll help you find people, I guess, and... we'll figure something out. Keep me in the loop."
"Of course I will. What else would I do?" smiled Seth.
A child - Valeria, the Colombian one, Seth surmised - required Justin's attention. Seth said, "I'm going to go have a walk around the block, all right?"
"Of course," said Justin, distracted by getting some substance out of Valeria's hair.
Seth let himself out.
A minute later, he was joined by a woman, too mixed-race to classify on sight, tall and taller with heels. She was between his and Justin's ages, draped in clothes that could double as pajamas and carrying a latte. "Hello, little brother," she said.
"Hello, Destiny," Seth said. "I thought I spotted your car earlier. What are you doing in this state?"
"Following you," she said. "Lifting fancy listening devices from Ye Olde Electronicks Shoppe. Brought my whole tae kwon do class with me and scattered them around, so don't try shit."
"You know, I really didn't think you had it," said Seth.
"My idea of success looks very different from yours, little brother."
"I guess it would have to. I didn't need to know that about your kinks."
"Maybe we breed true, wouldn't that be the darnedest thing?" Destiny said thoughtfully.
"Darius," said Seth.
"Yes, all right, he's going nowhere fast. Are we sure he's really George's?'
"Positive," Seth replied levelly.
"Anyway. I want you to leave this nice man alone, little brother," said Destiny. "He's a sweetheart. And you are not."
"I haven't hurt him one bit."
"You are not overcome with a desire to meet our far-flung relations out of a sense of kinship and you are definitely not trying to prevent the oppression of the have-nots. Whatever you are doing, I want you to leave that poor bunny rabbit with that nice family out of it."
"Are you planning to stalk me through my entire search, vetting each sibling for bunnyhood before I'm allowed to associate with them?" asked Seth incredulously. "Am I to be disinvited from Jasmine's seventh birthday party on your say-so? Anyway, I don't care what you want me to do."
"I know you don't care. I can tell Justin, though, and you'll rather have to care if we both want you to do something until you can explain to Jasmine how it's relevant to unicorns, princesses, and sugar," threatened Destiny. "Can't push you, but two against one for everybody around you, and you're all alone and didn't come nearly clean enough with Justin to get him on your side once I've had a chat with him."
"You've thought this through."
"Your problem is that you can't coordinate. Me, you, and Justin - that adds up to you lose. I don't know what you have in mind but I know you're a right bastard, Seth, and now that whatever it is involves prowling around, finding more of us, telling them not to have kids, feeding them lines about how much of an altruist you are, getting them on board with bits and pieces of your mystery plan... well, I don't like it, and you're gonna cut it out. Me, you, and Justin -"
"Darius," Seth said again.
"What about him?" said Destiny. "He -"
She was cut short by a bullet to the neck. Seth stopped walking. He watched her fall and choke on her blood. He put his hands over his mouth, shocked and upset body language for the benefit of any grainy camera footage that somebody's household CCTV might collect. No one was watching, but they might not have turned off their electronics, and it paid to be a little careful.
Through his fingers, he whispered, "What makes you think I can't coordinate, bitch?"
Destiny struggled to breathe. She failed, writhing on the sidewalk, reaching for him with one hand, eyes open wide and filmed with tears. She fell still. Her arm dropped.
Seth, mindful of cameras, looked left, looked right, ducked behind a rhododendron as though fearful of being shot, pulled out his phone to call the police.
The dispatcher forgot to ask his name and forgot to ask that he stay on the scene. Seth didn't volunteer. He continued around the block, whistling a bit. "Thanks, bro," he said. He wasn't wearing an earpiece, so Darius couldn't answer until Seth had reached his vantage point on the roof of the apartment building down the street. Darius had a change of clothes for him.
"I guess my idea of success looks different from hers," said Darius sourly. Seth laughed and clapped him on the back.
He went back to Justin's. He read Valeria an alphabet book six times. He took Justin and the girls out to lunch and bade them all farewell and went to catch his plane home.
He texted his campaign manager, and he smiled.