I thought about that. “Uh… Is there anything you’re likely to do that would put the human race in danger?”
Lee took another piece of pizza. “Anything that I’m likely to do? No. I’ve been keeping my head down for a long time now, but sometimes I’ve been known to take a risk. Now I take less.”
“I’m assuming that you’re hiding from your people, whatever they are… What happens if they catch you?”
“End of the world, Nick. Rivers of blood. Fire from the sky. Disease. Death. The usual.”
“So… Just by being here, you’re putting the entire planet at risk.”
“Exactly,” he said, and then he took a bite of the pizza. “Don’t worry about it. The way they search, I’m thinking we’ve got ten, maybe twenty thousand years. By that time, I might not be here anymore, or better yet, I might be ready for them.”
“Or if you make a mistake,” Rachel said, “they might come tomorrow.”
“It’s a risk, but if you think about it, they’ll destroy the planet if they happen across it anyway. I say, you might as well have a fighting chance.”
She eyed him. “What are you planning to do? Turn humanity into your personal army?”
“Something like that. I’ve been here a while, and I’ve been following certain people and their descendants if they show any talent.”
“For anything useful. Talent with technology. Organizational talent. And yeah, sometimes powers. Useful talents sometimes show up more than once.”
“You’ve been following us,” I said. “Our family, I mean.”
“One among many, but yes, I’ve been keeping in contact every few generations. It’s useful. This isn’t the first civilization that I’ve watched develop. You’re on the cusp of the interesting stuff–immortality, faster than light drives, and then, within four or five thousand years, real power. It’ll be fun.”
I thought about what he’d said.
On Grand Lake, a speedboat pulled a water skier west toward Lake Michigan. They couldn’t possibly be planning to pull the guy down the channel. It was a no wake zone. Part of me wanted to find out whether they were that crazy. The other part…
“What happened to the other civilizations?”
“Totally destroyed,” Lee said, “but I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
Rachel’s jaw dropped a little. “Oh god.”
“Don’t worry about it. The last time my people came through this part of space was fairly recent, so they aren’t likely to come back. Besides I’ve set up a few false sightings of myself for them to waste time on.”
Rachel began to open her mouth as if to talk, and Lee said, “Far from here.”
“But seriously,” he said, “don’t worry about it. I’ve got some inside information that says we’ve got time. I don’t experience time completely linearly, and I’ve seen things. Nick, someone who looks like you is there when I fight them. Whoever he is, he’s older, maybe forty.”
“We’ve got twenty years?” That was worse than getting hit with some random asteroid.
“No,” Lee said. “The tech’s so advanced that no one’s going to come up with it any time soon. I figure it’s got to be an alternate you, a clone, or maybe a time traveling version. Maybe all three. Maybe something else.”
Very calmly, Rachel said, “What about me?”
Lee shrugged. “Don’t know. You’re mostly good at not being seen, and I didn’t see you.”
I tried to think of another question. I knew that I should have a lot. The end of the world was a big deal.
“Look,” Lee continued, “you’re both focusing on the wrong thing. This might not happen to either of you ever. You should be thinking shorter term if you want to be afraid of something.”
Rachel nodded. “OK. What should we be afraid of in the short term?”
“Our stuff. We left ruins, and planted some things for younger races to fight over.”
“That sounds interesting,” I said. “What kind of stuff?”
“Remember how I said we wanted to destroy everybody? Stuff that helps with that.”
“Oh. Like trapped weapons or something?”
Lee shook his head. “Not the kind that blow up, or something obvious. Think superweapons that need to be fed sentient beings to work, or implant a permanent, irrational need to kill in whoever uses them. Anything that makes you kill a few of your own people to get the enemy, or starts a war that comes home with you after you win, well, that’s what we wanted.
“Because you know what? Once people got used to the idea, they usually came up with their own versions, and we didn’t have to lift a finger.”
“That’s sick.” Rachel nearly spat.
“You got it. Ever hear of the Abominators?”
“No,” Rachel said, while at the same time I said, “Yes.”
Looking over at both of them I started talking. “That’s not their real name, but I think Grandpa and the League fought them once. And all the decent aliens pretty much hate them. Aren’t they basically extinct?”
“Right. They found a lot of our stuff.”