Sternutative Precognition

In an unnumbered subbasement beneath a nondescript concrete building in the brutalist style, Dario walked through mazelike, angular hallways, led by guards. For as many times as he’d been here he still got lost. But that was sort of the point.

He’d been called in about an hour ago; read the brief on the way in. He wore a casual button-up and dark jeans; business casual of the most forgettable sort. The sign on the building said Federal Office 7S12B: Logistics Audits. That’s not what went on here, but the sign had the desired effect: it kept people away.

The guards stopped at a heavy door and slapped it a couple times. Cylinders slid and the door swung open. The guards took posts outside. Dario entered.

The room smelled like a spice market. There was an aluminum table bolted to the floor. Behind it, and man was seated in a chair with his head slumped down. He was handcuffed to the table. A digital tape camcorder on a tripod winked at the man with its one red eye. A clock on the back wall ticked quietly. 9:07 AM. There was a bowl of dark multicolored powder on the table. An old CRT television on a cart sat in one dark corner with Riggs—field agent; Dario didn’t know him well. More armed guards in the other corners. One of them shut the door.

“You got a name?” Dario asked.

The man lifted his head. Opened his eyes weakly. Bloodshot. Face was tear streaked, snot dripping from his nose in long strands. “Prester,” he said.

Dario kept one hand in his pocket, casual; rubbed his chin with the other. “Prester. Well, you can call me—”

“Dario,” the man interrupted.

Dario looked to Riggs, who shook his head.

The effects of contact with the Xenos varied widely. Prester’s condition was especially uncommon—and pronounced, if the reports were to be believed—but not unknown. He had some limited, uncontrolled ability to know the future. When he sneezed.

Dario said, “My name is Dario. I once golfed a 72. My grandmother was born in Haapsalu.”

Riggs flipped on the TV. It was hooked up to a VCR. He hit play. It was a recording from this room. The clocked read 7:44 AM. Riggs, on screen, reached into the bowl. Threw powder in Prester’s face. Various peppers. Prester sneezed profusely, in a chain. Eventually he stilled. Riggs smacked him around a little. “Tell me what you saw.”

Prester responded, “Dario. I saw a man called Dario. Jeans and a buttoned shirt. He told me he golfed a 72 and his grandmother was from Haapsalu.”

Riggs let the tape keep rolling.

“The Xenos will kill us all—you, me, this Dario man—before the day is over. Unless you let me go. I saw that, too.”

Now Riggs stopped the tape.

Dario rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a fistful of pepper. “Let’s talk more about that last part.”

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