An excerpt from Birth Right

Alex didn’t need to ask if Angélica and Allie had enjoyed themselves on this trip to Léon. His wife’s expression and his daughter’s animated recitations of the day’s events made it apparent that they had. Though Alex had spent much of their time in the country working with the king, not to mention staying connected to the home office and to various interests around the globe, he’d managed to share a number of meals and excursions with his family. He’d noticed immediately that there was something unrushed about these experiences, a sense of flow that he’d rarely felt
on other vacations. Maybe it was simply because this was a bonus vacation; there was none of the pressure on this trip that often accompanied those that took months of planning. Or maybe it was something that had more to do with where they were and what they were doing.


They’d be heading back to New York this afternoon. Allie had been lobbying for one more trip into the countryside, but that wasn’t likely to happen. Maybe they could take a circuitous route to the airport that would allow her to see the rolling hills outside of Castile a final time before their departure, but that was likely to be the best that Alex could offer. It tickled him that his daughter had so completely fallen in love with this place. Léon was home to some excellent universities.
Maybe college or postgrad here was a possibility for her.
After all, he’d spent his college years as a foreign student, and things had worked out pretty well for him.

 

Alex had awoken early, planning as always to respond to email from his office sent after he’d gone to bed and to reach out to a few people in Asia. When he got to the common room in their suite where he’d kept his laptop, though, he found Allie propped up on the couch looking at her own laptop.


“Morning, Dad,” she said.


He walked over and kissed her on the top of her head. “Morning, Babe. Why are you up so early?”
 

“I couldn’t sleep. I really don’t want to leave – and, yes, I know we have to. I’ve been watching stuff on YouTube. Have you heard of this guy Romeo Ólgar?”
 

Alex chuckled. He’d told Allie that he was working with the king on a very important project, but he hadn’t given her many specifics, not wanting anything to color her experience of Léon and knowing that any conversation that involved Ólgar was going to require showing Allie the nation’s more complicated side.
 

“Well, yes. He’s the main reason we’re here, actually.”
 

“He has a very weird aura.”
 

Alex’s eyes widened at this pronouncement. Alex had taught Allie how to read auras by the time she was three, so this part of what she’d said wasn’t surprising at all. What was surprising was that she’d been able to read Ólgar’s aura when Alex himself had not. And then there was the matter of her doing this through a video. Alex had never known anyone who could read auras in
any way other than being in the presence of the person he was reading. He looked at the screen now and saw no indication of an electromagnetic field around any of the people in the image,
even as he adjusted his eyes the way he had during his meeting with the prime minister.

 

“You can see Ólgar’s aura?”
 

“Yep. And like I said it’s very weird. It’s like it’s every color at once and then it’s like no color at all. You don’t see this kind of thing too much.”

“Does that mean you’ve seen something like this before?”


“You see all kinds of things on the internet, Dad.”


“Something tells me I don’t actually want to know the answer to this question, but what kinds of things are you talking about in this case?”


She smirked at him. She’d been smirking at him more often lately, and Alex didn’t want to get used to this becoming a normal thing.


“Don’t freak out,” she said. “I’ve been trying to remember where else I saw something like this. I’ve only been reading online auras for a few months, so it couldn’t have been that long ago. I’m pretty sure I saw it on this guy who pranked people into hurting themselves. Caryn showed his videos to
me at school once. I thought they were pretty mean, but lots of other people thought they were hilarious. I tried to find them today, and it looks like they were taken down.”

 

“I’ve been working with the king to do something similar with Ólgar. Maybe I should contact YouTube. What’s your reading on the aura?”
 

“Not totally sure. You know when I said that his aura seemed to have every color in it? They’re all there, piled one on top of the other, but they’re all really muddy. Like the grungiest version of all of these colors.”


“Romeo Ólgar is not a very nice guy, Babe.”
 

“Yeah, I kinda figured that.”


“The question is how not nice he is.”
 

Rather than responding, Allie stared deeper into the screen.
 

“Tell me about this video aura reading thing,” Alex said.
 

Allie looked away from the image and toward her father. “It isn’t just videos. I can do it with any picture online. Here, see this one?”
 

Allie opened a tab that showed the Twitter feed of the star of one of her favorite teen television shows. Then she clicked on a tweet to enlarge the photograph of the same star on a red carpet.

 

“Lots of green in there. She’s definitely doing better. There was so much gray in her aura a few weeks ago after she broke up with Clint Blake.”
 

“You’re blowing my mind a little bit here, Allie.”
 

She smiled up at him. “That’s my job, Dad.”
 

“And you do it brilliantly. Hey, if we leave for the airport a little early, we’ll be able to take the long way around so you can take some more pictures of the flowers. Sound good?”
 

“Sounds great. Thanks for bringing me here, Dad. I really like Léon. I’ll finish packing my stuff.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Alex was still processing his early-morning conversation with Allie and all that it implied when he went to say goodbye to the king. As soon as he entered the room, IV rose to embrace him.
 

“We’re doing important work here, Alex. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your contribution to it.”
 

Alex wasn’t entirely sure what his contribution had actually been. They’d worked with a team to study the prime minister’s public actions and policy statements, debriefed dozens of friendly staff members within the Ólgar administration, and game-planned a number of scenarios regarding Ólgar’s possible next moves. Alex had never felt as though he had the skillset to be a politician, but he knew he had real value as a strategist, so he’d spent most of these sessions focusing on plans that were within the king’s direct authority that could help blunt the prime minister’s effect on the nation and their closest allies.


“I wish I could have contributed more, sir.”
 

“I trust that you will as we continue to work our way through this.”
 

“You have my private line. I’m going to be underwater with corporate initiatives over the next month or so, and I’ll be playing catch-up with my staff, but if I can’t get back to you right away, I’ll do so as soon as I possibly can.”

 

The king clapped him on the shoulder, his large hand pressing its weight. “Léon needs you, Alex.”
 

Of course, Alex wanted to help – because he cared about the king and his son, because the people of Léon mattered to him, and because he had very real concerns about what Ólgar could do both in and out of the country. At the same time, he knew that this could easily become an obsession or an all-consuming campaign. And while he’d finally gotten the upper management of his company to the point where he felt the corporation could run comfortably without him for a stretch of time, he was not convinced that the same would be true if that stretch ran more than a couple of weeks.

“You can count on me to do everything I have the capacity of doing.”


The king hugged him again at that point, almost certainly not hearing what Alex was trying to say.

◊ ◊ ◊

Later, on the plane, while Angélica and Allie dozed, Alex took himself into the deep meditative state that allowed him to reach out to Vidente.
 

“Our little girl is a prodigy,” he said. “She’s getting readings I didn’t even think were possible.”
 

“You’re a good teacher.”
 

“I’d love to take credit for this, but I think this is all her. It’s as though she’s working with a next-generation operating system.”
 

“You know how I abhor high-tech jargon, bisnieto.”
 

“Yes, sorry.”
 

“I understand your point, though. Allie is taking things further. This is cause for celebration.”
 

“I suppose it is. But there’s more. She was able to see colors in Romeo Ólgar’s aura.”
 

“She was? But not even I could see them.”

 

Alex found that amusing, a reminder that even in the afterlife his great-grandmother’s pride remained vital.
 

“She wasn’t sure how to interpret what she was seeing. She said it was like all colors and no color at once and that all of the colors were ‘muddy.’”
 

Vidente didn’t respond for several seconds. “If that’s true, she might have discovered something about this man that should concern you deeply.”
 

“Everything about this man concerns me deeply.”
 

“This should concern you the most. I should talk to Allie about this directly, but if she’s seeing what I think she might be seeing, Ólgar has a very rare level of control over himself and his environment. The consequences could be dire.”
 

“You sound like the king. I think he’d prefer it if I took a sabbatical to work exclusively on countermeasures.”


Vidente paused again. “Is that an option?”
 

“No, it is not an option.”
 

“You might want to make it one.”
 

This was not at all the way Alex thought this conversation was going to go.
 

“Vidente, I have promised to help Léon to the fullest extent I can. But I can only take so much time away from the company. I have many responsibilities, and Léon is not chief
among them, no matter how much I care.”

 

“I understand, bisnieto. Your responsibilities are vast. Understand this, though: you’ve been given this particular responsibility as well, and it might indeed be your greatest.”
 

Alex’s great-grandmother had never spoken to him with such portent in her voice before. Even in this state suspended between levels of consciousness, it gave him chills.