“I will tell you a story of these children,” Ky Xuan Nguyen said, startling Ela again with his voice so intimate in her ear. “It is said the Roi Nuoc are not human. Some say no children are truly human anymore. They are invaders, living in disguise among us. Aliens. They hope to keep us unaware until they reach breeding age, at which time they will bear only alien-type offspring. At that point the world as we know it will end. If we are unlucky, or undeserving, they will murder us all. If we have shown the proper deference and respect, they may choose to see us through an honored old age, but even so, we will be the last human generation. Any children we bear will belong to them.”
Ela caught herself barely breathing. She had heard this same story in Bangkok, after Sawong left with his lover and she was alone. “If you want to be afraid of something,” she said softly, “it’s easy to find an excuse.”
“I’m not afraid.”
No. Why should he be?
She spoke to the green-tinted mud. “People like to talk. But these are not evil spirits. Not alien invaders.”
Her mouth felt dry. Sawong had left her with a thousand baht, a set of farsights, and the keys to his apartment. She’d been twelve. “They are just children.” She tapped her fingers, wishing she could see Nguyen’s face so Kathang could read him. “They are just children. I should do an article on them. That would be a good thing, if I show—”
“No, Ms. Suvanatat, that would not be good. You will not write about the Roi Nuoc. Not now. Not ever.”
Ela stood still, gazing back at the village and the silhouettes of distant women working in their platform houses, feeling as if she stood on the rotten floor of an abandoned tenement. Only a fool would take another step. So. “You think you can make it forever?”
“You are much like the Roi Nuoc, Ela. You are very like them. You could have found Sawong, or waited for him to return. But you didn’t. Why not?”
Anger blended with her surprise. He should not know about Sawong. He should not have bothered to know. “Say, did you want to do an article on me?”
“That would be difficult. There’s not much to tell, is there?”
“Sure. Aliens lead dull lives.”
“I take it we understand each other, Ms. Suvanatat?”
Oh yes. She understood him. He had made a mistake, talking to her about the Roi Nuoc, and now he wanted to pretend that mistake was repaired. Fine. “Of course, Mr. Nguyen.”
So what was his connection to the Roi Nuoc anyway?
With a few quiet finger taps, she passed the question on to Kathang for investigation. After all, she was not going to stay trapped in the Mekong forever. Someday soon she would be in Australia — and beyond Nguyen’s reach.
[A] compelling biotech thriller. Nagata…enlivens this extended chase through the steamy murk of Mekong swamps and the monsoons of the southeast Pacific with fascinating biotech hardware and gadgetry as well as clever extrapolations into nanotech potential…an idea-provoking narrative that is genuinely innovative in conception.