The Grange: Part One.
by Paul Hughes.
see also:
The Grange: Part Two.
The Grange: Part Three.

forum: night.blind: The Grange
a collaborative fiction.

......... ....... .....  

night.blind: 01.1.1: 28 October 2004: Paul Hughes.
        "Lock me.  Lock me.  Lock me lockme lock lock fucking lock me."

          Two aspirin tablets: lock confirmed.

          "Tune in, Tokyo."

          Tossed to mouth, crunch: bitter.

          "Tune in."

          Adjusted, settled into his chair.  The sweats of a dozen government summers had cracked the leather, turned the underlying foam a jaundiced solid.  Minute polystyrene particles dusted his bare back, but he was on the clock.  He'd bathe soon enough.

          Radio static, a confirmation tone.  Flanged: "Eyes read.  Stand by, Em One Seven.  Over."

          "Seventeen standing by, over."

          Index fingernail to syringe side: tap.  Popped the cap with his teeth, pressure.  Wiped a trace of the sedative from the arm of his chair.

          "Eyes rolling, One Seven.  Dose.  Over."

          It didn't hurt that he'd been a junkie.  They'd hard-lined his left elbow, but the flow, the needle..  He loved his work.

          Inhale and shudder.  "Seventeen dosed and ready for roll, Eyes."

          The glass on his desk shattered to life, a single history compressed into three seconds of laserlight.  M-17 uttered a perfect Luke release at the signal's completion, his temples flaring, his heart raging against the sedative dose.

          "Confirm background receipt, One Seven.  Over."

          His mind bent Eyes' mangled voices into his father's, into Sonny Chiba's, into that bear on the Snuggle commercial's.  He fought the insertion just long enough to remember how much he needed this.

          "Background received, Eyes."  A housewife, a station wagon, an allergy to dogs, finger-fucking after high school football games, the taste of a playpen slat, digging, deeper, harder, now.  Where is she?  What's she done?  "Closing connection, beginning subject track.  Will advise.  Seventeen over and out."

          "Eyes out."

          Arve Norris, referred to by colleagues and superiors around the global remote viewing network as "Majestic-17,"  rose from his chair, waved off the glass, and stopped by the coffee machine before leaving his office.  The coffee was cold, his back itched, but he thought of little more than a middle-aged homemaker from somewhere on Earth that his governments had deemed necessary of viewing.  As he sank below the 98.6F bio-sludge of his sensory-deprivation tank, Rosie, what he wanted most was a smoke, a new job, and a better, faster pain-relief solution than Bayer offered.

          He closed the hatch over himself and began the hunt.

* * *

          Once upon a time, the Grange had moved to Hitch when Garfield County, Nebraska fell off the map.  They'd lost a dozen active viewers that day, but the black trucks had bundled the dozen remainders off before the dust had settled.  Didn't speak well to the lost dozen's abilities, but they'd been otherwise engaged.

          The building wasn't much.  That's the way it needed to be.  The fact that Cherry County already had fifteen agricultural co-ops made it easier to turn away actual farmers who expressed interest in their sporadic visits to the mock-level offices.  The secs would give them coffee and cookies and send them on their way.  We'll get back to you, boys--  The Cherry County extension at Hitch's right full up at the moment, but we'll look over your app and call you.

          It was no big secret to perhaps a thousand American women and men that D.C. kept a handful of super-black ops stations sprinkled thoughout the heartland.  It was a big secret to the three hundred working folks of Hitch, Nebraska, who never knew that two dozen psychics lived below the gravel surface of the Grange office parking lot out off Sparrow Road.  Had anyone ever actually met a farmer let in there?  S'some kind of country-bumpkin club?

          Twenty-four government psychics.  Majestic-24.  The Grange, known in some circles as "Superblack Outpost: Remote Viewing, Agents: 24, Loc. NE66: Hitch," housed twenty-four Americans, aged seven to seventy-seven years, in a hardened bunker supplied by military vehicles cleverly disguised as diesel fuel tankers.  The surface complex in turn offered cleverly-disguised diesel fuel at rock-bottom prices to any farmer accepted into the co-operative.  No one had ever been accepted.

          Remote viewers spent their entire lives at SbO:RV:A24.NE66:H, and when they got too old or when puberty sometimes erased their vision or when they went crazy or when they just burned out, the government permanently vacationed them.  Most were convicted felons.  Most had never truly lived.  The Grange didn't get HBO.  The viewers lived their lives, quite literally, through the eyes of others.

* * *

          Arve Norris, our reluctant hero, if he could be ascribed any designation more appropriate than "hesitant protagonist," had first encountered the concept of remote viewing as a fifteen-year-old boy who had witnessed his father's death through his father's eyes.  He'd thought it a dream, one of those falling dreams just before sleep, as he snapped upright in bed, the vision gone: alcohol, bridge abutment, speed, fire, falling, river.  Cliche.  Two hours later, his bedroom curtains had flashed red and blue with reflected police light, and he had heard his mother scream from the door, her hand slap the wall, knocking a framed photograph to the floor.  Shatter.

night.blind: 01.1.2: 07 December 2004: Paul Hughes.
          Of course, his father hadn't actually died.  That night.  His mother's scream had been one of anger, and the secondary slap had been to his father's face.  It was a good thing Harvard Norris was a poker buddy of the village rent-a-cop who'd caught him asleep behind the wheel on Town Line, because a real cop would have taken him downtown to dry out by night and stand before the justice by morning.

          Most real deaths are inconvenient in their placements, and Arve learned a year after his first viewing that the vision of his father's demise held a special place in his spectrum of experience, joining the nut busted onto Tami Gritt's outie navel on the mantle where he kept his collection of infamous early accomplishments.

          Just a tickle, just a tickle behind his eyes and from besind his ears, down his neck, and that memory of the bridge and the river slammed back into the place from which he'd halfway unseated it the last year.  During such a psychic phenomenon, overpaid screenwriters would have asked Arve's nose to issue the faintest trickle of blood, which he would wipe away with the back of his hand, but reality required the physical manifestation of his reaction to this event to begin with a bleeding hangnail on his left forefinger, the slightest aching in his gums (from which one of his wisdom teeth actually cracked), and a sudden, spasmic sensation in his groin that might be classified as pain, or in Germany, pleasure.

          He didn't see his father die at that moment, but he knew it had happened regardless.  Never one for nostalgia, Arve silently took on the patriarchy of the Norris clan and continued doing his trigonometry homework in seventh-period study hall.  He was unsure if the aforementioned groinal ache should be attributed to his father's death or the aforementioned Tami Gritt, who sat laughing with other Pep Squad members at the next table.  After locking eyes and breaking off, her hand covered her mouth from next-table-over observation, directing the whispered tale of Belly-Buster Norris to the mostly-virginal (and indeed, her social status was a lie perpetuated in the cock tease back seats of Foci and Neons) social circle of Ms. Gritt, who did feel a moment of remorse for her personal rumor mill the next day, when several teachers reported that Arve's father had drowned in the river the day before, and several students reported that "drowning" was the simplified version of events; they'd still not yet found his legs.

          Arve Norris generally told people to take their Eastern meditation translocation bullblast and shitpipe it, but he realized that the deep breathing he exercised and the wordless space he entered when beginning an assignment reflected some of those concepts.  Never a lit candle or a folded leg, never a yoga, a yogi, a Yoda or yogurt (how could anyone eat a living colony, People for the Immediate Defense of Animals be fucked?), he denied popular meditative constructs and preferred to think of Viewing in the Peeping Tom vein.  What he did was experience without censor or censure.  All the angels of Heaven, all the Gods of Olympus, Asgard, and the million billions of other choice rental properties thunk by man, none of their mental invasions compared to the real power of Majestic-24.  He'd lived lives in toto, and admittedly, enough of Judy Garland transferred to her granddaughters to give him at least a taste of the Wizard.  His Viewing targets presented him with the richest landscape of experience a voyeur could fantasize: he'd had his pinkie finger rent apart in a pencil sharpener, he'd been burned alive in an out-of-control tire junkyard fire, he'd given birth to twins, and oddly enough, he'd found that tampon insertion was strangely stimulating.  Majestic Seventeen was all that was man, woman, and every variation thereof.

night.blind: 01.1.3: 07 December 2004: Paul Hughes.
          "You've got t'have a good corn broom, boy.  Just a good broom, an'it b'easier." 

          Often comical, always decontextualized, he sometimes found the fragments of his labor disconcerting.  Where had that snippet of a life come from?  Was it current, a memory, a simple fantasy looping in a guilty mind?  He focused, bore down on whatever part of his brain signed off on his subtle visitations into strangers' minds, entered into a complex internal mathematical analysis of those two sentences in an attempt to separate fiction from non.  He was still crawling along the ground of the tree that would lead to his target, and many of these paths of inquisition would end as nothing more than mud he'd later wash off.  The real treasure was probably somewhere up in the tiniest branches, clasped between the hooked claws of a fatigued sparrow.  Just find the bird.

          Shunting his mind down the path of inquiry, he climbed into the possible subject's head.  Male, female?  Age?  Few answers so far, but he had a lot more to dig.  Released, allowed enough entry to judge his position better.

          The woman sweeping the hardwood floor looked at his subject with rheumy eyes produced well into the prior century, and her horny, knobbed knuckles indicated a lifetime of thankless labor lasting well into her race for triple digits.  The floor itself was clean enough to fuck bareback, albeit ridged and scarred enough to mirror the woman's face, if combined with a dose of the appearance of a chocolate Easter rabbit left in a cupboard long enough to gray, to splinter and escape any consumption sentence.

          "Ya'll take yuh Swiffahs, yuh vac'yums.  All's ts'need'sa good corn broom, boy."

          His subject looked down (not far down; from what Arve felt, the subject was rocking in a chair, hands folded respectfully before him) to regard the good corn broom (his grandmother?  great-?) mostly dragged over the decades-shined boards.  It had a wooden shaft in which her hands had patiently worn holds, and at the bottom, metal rings and once-red thread just barely bound together at most three inches of functional corn bristles that had probably been at least a foot longer sometime before he had been born, the type of broom favored by farmers and in warehouses, perpetually sold in bulk and on clearance in hardware stores, industrial supply companies, and in grange discount cooperatives.

          Click, click, ka-boom.  Arve decided to follow this path.  The little birdy was singing.

night.blind: 01.1.4: 09 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Not the least exciting part of Majestic-16's life was the fact that he had rocketed to a marginal, fleeting fifteen minutes of fame by being the first man successfully revived from cryonic suspension at the Alcor Scottsdale facility.  The fact that he'd achieved cardiac death via the Broulee Phage and not something nasty like, say, cancer, had helped, along with the fact that Alcor had abandoned all hope of mass-market nanotech being able to piece together the ice-shattered cellular walls of their patients/investment capital donors and simply stopped freezing them as hard as a chunk of last year's venison.

          Many of the Majestics held quite a bit of disdain for Matty Rose's "late blooming" remote viewing ability, and the not-inconsiderable financial gains he had made making the talkshow circuit post-mortem before Nagel and the higher-ups had brought him in.  What money was left in his bank account allowed him luxuries unheard of at the Grange, like bottled beer and name-brand deodorant.

          He'd been smoking a fag in a Studio City parking lot, fresh from a taping of the New Sally Jesse Hour (and Matty didn't exactly smoke cigarettes, if you know what I mean), when three crisp raps on the rear passenger's window interrupted.  Flash of a badge, his own puppy dog eyes guiltily reflected in mirrored sunglass lenses, and he tested his oops routine: a shrug of the shoulders, a little grin, and he helped tuck his wrap date's deflating rollercoaster thrillride back through the toothy zipper and up against the bottom hem of a bikram yoga t-shirt.

          Outside the car, he ran ringed fingers through product-slicked hair.  "Listen, officers--"

          "Mr. Matthew Rose?"

          "Listen, it was--  I'm not--  He had a knife.  He tried to--"

          "Matty Rose?"

          Frown.  "That's me."  Survey.  "Yes, Officer Epstein."

          "If you'd come with us, sir..?"

          "Where to? Downtown?"

          "Nebraska."  Officer Epstein detached a dark gray boomstick from his belt, raised it to Rose's chest.

          "Whoa, whoa, listen, guy.  I already have a bad--"

          "You die again, we'll jumpstart you again."


          "Well, I know I never get tired of that story."

          Matty cracked open another beer.  "And I never get tired of telling it.  Another brew, Norrie, or are you too proud to drink the ill gains of my rebirth?"

          Arve Norris nodded an affirmative, adjusted his ass for optimum comfort.  He didn't trust Matty Rose any more than he could possibly trust a Majestic, but he trusted a cold beer.

          Majestics-16 and 17 shared a special bond, being roughly the same age, having been brought into the Grange in roughly the same month, and both roughly possessing that endearing scumbag charm that resides almost solely in the hearts of dead men and addicts.  Majestics were allowed limited social interaction in off-hours, and the two men found themselves spending most of that off-hours time together because the old remotes didn't trust them and the young remotes wouldn't fuck them.  12 and 23 would sometimes drop by, but those visits had declined in the months since things began heating up.  Poker nights dwindled and misspelled Scrabble nights thrived.

          "New shoes?"

          Arve swallowed and clinked the bottle down.  "Love that new shoe smell.  Go fish."


          "Not tonight, honey."  Arve put his cards down.  "How was work today?"

          "The Peterson contract fell through, and we lost a shipment of dvd players to the Sopranos again."  Matty scooped up the cards and began to shuffle.  "Nothing new.  Dead air.  Locking anything good?"

          "Finally scraped into an Olsen twin.  Not as good as I'd hoped."

          "Which one?"

          "I think it was the skinny one--  She didn't eat all day."


          "And you, dead man?  Anything of note?"

          "They have me locking some guy who builds robot bugs."

          "Surveillance specialist?"

          "No, the dude builds big robots shaped like insects.  Doesn't shower much."

          "Well that's... sad."

          Shuffle.  Arve cleared his throat.

          "Ever lock on-- I don't know.  Ever lock on someone who looks back?"

          "What do you mean?"  Matty dealt.

          Arve started picking up cards, arranging them.  "This one project I'm on, little old lady with a broom, she--"

          "Shit, man.  They have you watching her, too?"

          "I'm not the only--?"

          "I've locked on her three or four times, but they always pull me out before I get anything good."

          "You know who she is?"

          "Just an old fucking lady with a housecleaning obsession.  Never cherried up anything."

          "Three or four times, huh?  She's on tomorrow's playlist again."

          "Good luck with that.  Try looking out the windows.  I could never direct her observer's vision, but you're good like that."

          "Ever think of pairing up?  Two-for-one?"

          "With you, Norrie, all the time."  He winked.  "Queen of Hearts?"

night.blind: 01.1.5: 10 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          The sorghum harvest ended early, the usual drought resistance proving problematic in that year's scorching early summer.  Prices--  Milo White was too tired to think about the prices.  He maneuvered his sputtering rust collection onto Sparrow Road for the first time in three weeks, resentful as he passed the elite Grange that had three times now rejected his membership application, yet thankful as he approached his driveway, thankful to be home at last, thankful to be out of the cockpit of the Case International 2575 combine that had become his home during the harvest.  HEPA filters or not, it felt like there were thirty pounds of sorghum chaff adhered to his shoulders, back, and face.  No amount of rubbing or wiping could dislodge that weighty dusting of grain particles, and Milo looked forward to his first shower in days with a fervor that rivaled the travel-hunger in his belly and the wife-lust to its south.

          Finally home, 24129 Sparrow Road, to a wife, a mother, and a son.  The White farm wasn't much, bordered on one side by the Hitch Grange and on the other by the elongated puddle inappropriated named the Swift River.  In his father's day, the labor's fruits had been generous enough to warrant Warren White naming his only son after the sorghum: Milo.  Warren's wife Patience hadn't liked his first-born choice, but those had been the days when a raised fist had been enough to change minds quickly.

          Up the driveway, feeling that particular tug in his heart that the horizon line of just that place, just that home could inspire, Milo felt a measure of comfort in the towels hung out to dry, the scatter of chickens and the old duck from his truck's bearing tires, and the half-assed gaze of a half-assed horse he kept for his kid.  He pulled into the truck's old spot, somewhat disheartened that the lack of rain had preserved the tracks of his departure in the dusted gravel.  Nothing changes, except--

          There was a diesel delivery truck parked by the barn.

          Milo frowned.  He hadn't had diesel delivered in eight years, not since the farm had gone under and the bank had taken his land.  He killed the engine and opened the door, ached his legs to the grit of the driveway.

          The duck waddled over, as did a few chickens.  He heard snips of conversation from the open kitchen window, and the screen door grated open: "Pa!"

          Milo's diesel-fueled frown was quickly replaced at the sight of his son, now all leg-bones and ears, that unfortunate stage of pre-manhood where people are perhaps the ugliest, but no amount of ugly could stop Milo from smiling at his son.  "I'll be right in, boy.  When'd he get here?"  He cocked a thumb at the diesel truck by the barn.

          "Half hour?"

          "Ahight, boy.  Be right in."

          Milo turned to the barn and heard the crack of the screen door as it slammed back into its dry-rotted frame.  Boy Warren was growing up much faster than Milo'd thought possible, but he'd never lost the habit of disrespecting that ancient door.

          His stump ached at the tip of his right leg.  You could wrap it in the most finely-woven expensive socks you could find, but it'd still ache after seventeen days harvesting.  He planted his right boot in the gravel and shifted his leg a little, which helped, but that shower would help so much more.  He walked over to the diesel truck and looked in, expecting the driver to be waiting for him.

          The cab was empty.  He walked to the open barn front, the duck following his path.  "Leave me be, Ruth.  Men's talking business now."

          Milo ground to a halt under the coolish shade of the barn's front.  It wasn't much, a two-level crib barn that had once housed livestock on the bottom and bales in the loft.  To the left, he saw the feed room entrance that led to the echoing, empty silo that now served as a pigeon community center.  To the right, a rusting row of stanchions bordered a hay-filled, spider-infested gutter.  He'd sold the gutter chain a decade before, although a few spare links still hung from a nail on one of the main beams that stretched the length of the building.


          There weren't many hiding spots in that barn, not downstairs, where Milo could survey the entire length from open front door to missing back door, missing because the iron tracking had finally given up and fallen into the barnyard in the rear, depositing the back door as a pile of splayed gray lumber as it did.  His son had once stepped on one of the rusty old nails from the door while he was playing back there.  Brays of pain and doctor bills ensued.

         Where the--?  "Hello?  Anyone in here?"

          A flutter of motion to his left, which Milo first assumed was one of the many pigeons nesting in the silo, but the motion solidified into the image of a young white man, two young white men, emerging from the feed room entrance.  They were dressed in Nebraska Diesel uniforms.

          "What you doing in my barn, boys?"

          The two youngsters sheepishly came forward into what afternoon light slanted through the patched barn windows.  Milo sensed...  He didn't know what he sensed.

          "Mister..?"  One of the uniformed men stuck out his hand.

          "Mr. White.  Call me Milo."  The sorghum chaff on his face and the back of his hands would have made Eddie Murphy chuckle.  "Now what you boys doing in my barn?  I ain't had no diesel delivered in years."

          A stammer, a start, a look between them.  "But your name's on our--"

          "My name ain't on any list, boy.  D'you see any tractors on this farm?"

          "No, sir."

          "So why're you in my barn?"

          The to-now-silent man chimed in.  "We were looking for your diesel tanks, sir."

          Milo laughed.  "What kind of city moron are you, boy?  Who keeps a diesel tank inside a barn?  And I told you, I don't need diesel, my name's not on any list, and truth be, you're making me some suspicious as to why you're looking around my barn."

          "We're sorry, sir.  There must have been a mistake with our--"

          "Damn right there's a mistake.  Now I'm going to have to ask you to leave; I have some time with my family and a long hot shower coming."

          "We're sorry for the mistake, sir."  The two men passed another glance and started to leave.

          Milo stuck out his hand.  "You all take care, and have a nice day."

          Shake one, shake two.

          Milo watched the young men as they got into the delivery truck and rumbled out the driveway.  Ruth the duck quacked quietly by his cracked workboots.  He bent to pick her up, ignoring the creak of his bones and the biting of his stump sock.

          "Ruth, what d'you think those boys with the buzzcuts were doing in our barn?"  He tickled her under her beak, eliciting several contented throat clucks.  "Ain't no business for diesel in our barn."

night.blind: 01.1.6: 10 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Major General Sabra Rockland, the highest-ranking military officer attached to the Grange, swallowed a mouthful of black coffee and placed the cup down on a cork coaster on her desk.


          "Yes, sir."  Unison.

          "Cut the shit and sit down."  She tapped her stylus tip on her glasstop.  "You think he suspects anything?"

          Private First Class Aaron Belmont, still dressed in his diesel deliveryman costume, answered from the edge of one of Rockland's guest chairs.  "Came home and found us in his barn.  Not very convincing."

          "I see."  She swung her gaze toward PFC Gill Masterson.  "Your impressions, son?"

          Masterson shrugged.  "I don't think he believed us."

          "Of course not.  Front Office says the guy's applied for Grange membership three times, denied all.  Suddenly one of our trucks just drops by to top off his tanks?  What would you think?"

          "Sir," Belmont's tone implied that he was still trying to convince himself, "the guy's family believed us."

          "What, a mother older than dirt, a wife with a sixth-grade education, and his gawky teenage son?"

          "They bought it."

          "But nobody on that farm bought the diesel, did they?  We can't turn into the Diesel Fairy to cover our asses."

          "You want..." Masterson's eyes narrowed.  "You want us to go back and take care of the problem?"

          Rockland considered.  "If he knocks out front asking questions, we'll vacation him.  Until then, let him wonder.  You did secure the breach point?"

          "Yes, sir.  Checked the seals, rewired the hardware, and covered it back up."


          "Shit, I don't know," Masterson smiled affably.  "I'm from Queens.  We don't have barns."

          "Enough of the levity, Private."  Rockland sat up rigidly.  "This could become a compromise scenario, and I don't especially feel like erasing a family and raising any more questions in town than this Superblack op already has."

          "Yes, sir."  Again, unison, although the comment had not been directed at Masterson.

          "Dismissed."  She fingertipped the comm panel next to her glass.

          Affirmative beep, and a face flashed up on the screen.  "Yes, Major General?"

          "Susan, get me a full compromise scenario workup on the facility's secondary breach point."

          "Yes, Major General."

          "And run diagnostics on the primary again.  Prep for the tertiary inspection tomorrow.  And let me know if our neighbor comes in."

          "Milo White or the Grissom brothers?"

          "Mr. White, please.  And Susan?"

          "Yes, Major General?"

          "Did you know that in Hebrew, your name means 'lily'?"

night.blind: 01.1.7: 11 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          At 1300 feet "tall" and with 4.7 million gross square feet of floor space, the structure that had been built beneath the Hitch Grange looked, if one could look through drought-hardened Nebraska sod, like a short, squat little brother of the Sears Tower.  The Hitch complex was a feat of covert megascale engineering of which any architect or contractor could be proud, but such participants tended to die in freak car crashes not long after the ribbon cuttings.

          Because no one had yet invented a feasible workforce of giant robots (save Matty Rose's unshowered insect machine contructor [but what possible work could insect robots truly perform, when the only giant sea creatures yet discovered had been dead squid and a lonely plesiosaurus?  Godzilla hadn't emerged on any morning threat matrix, at least not in America.] and his car-sized steel cockroach), the corescraper beneath the Grange was serviced by a veritable army of janitors, lunch ladies, electricians, computer technicians, a lone interfaith chaplain, researchers, a dozen publicists, a dietician, a personal trainer, and a platoon of specially-selected, hermetically-sealed E-4+s who had no families or connections to society at large, all living beneath Sparrow Road and ensuring that the twenty-four members of Majestic-24 led a safe, moderately-comfortable, and most importantly, productive professional lifespan.

          Each Grange employee, hand-picked by Human Resources maven Dante Nagel, was well compensated for their service to the nation, but each in turn had no great expectation of growing old, raising a family, or of someday not living underground.  Their service was a slow-motion hostage situation from which the willing captives would never get out alive, and each employee had been selected according to their willingness to someday die for their country, most likely at the hands of their country.  Most believed their sacrifices were worth living and dying for; the Majestic program was a final solution to the series of wars that the new century had borne.

          There were of course moments of doubt in any Grange employee's day-to-day life, and one of these moments flickered to the forefront of PFC Gill Masterson's CUNY-educated mind the instant he first heard Milo White's inquisitive "Hello?" coming from the open front of the barn.

          Bad idea, he'd known it was a bad idea to inspect the secondary entrance during the day, but orders were orders, so he'd set off with Belmont behind the wheel of the diesel truck and hoped for the best, and the mission had been the best until that "Hello?," gotten progressively worse with the "Hello?  Anyone in here?" and gone to shit with the unconvincing cover story he'd given Mr. White.

          Masterson and Belmont had been able to float through the cover with the farmer's family, who had seemed far too friendly and trusting, just a bunch of extra puppies having no idea that at any point they could find themselves in a burlap sack floating down the river.  The mission was a quick fuck-and-run: locate the entrance point in silo floor, clear any debris, winch it open, run a speed diagnostic through their palm glass, reboot the codes and arming sequence, replace the faulty ceramic/spongeplast gasket, lock up and get out of Dodge.  They'd been replacing the foot-thick layer of fermented silage over the hatch when Milo White got home, and honestly, Masterson couldn't remember if they'd made it look convincing enough to avoid the farmer's inspection.  He doubted the farmer spent much time inspecting the floor of an abandoned silo, but it wasn't beyond possibility; many of these heartbroken, displaced hicks hung or shot themselves in their barns if the end of agrarian America finally broke them completely.

          These doubts wouldn't dislodge from Masterson's mind as he leaned against the back wall of the superspeed elevator lowering him back into the main complex.  He counted down, three, two, one, and held more tightly to the railing as the dropcar slowed and shifted to horizontal movement into the secondary complex, where the dormitory and a somewhat-comfortable cot waited for him.  He knew he was traveling closer to Milo White's farm, and somewhere a few hundred feet above him, the main communications array rose through the dirt next to egress port two, the exit of which Masterson sincerely hoped Milo White wasn't inspecting at that very moment.

          Unfortunately for Gill Masterson, but more unfortunately for Milo White, he was.

night.blind: 01.1.8: 11 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Arve Norris had gotten an updated playlist that morning.  He scanned down through the day's objectives, disappointed to see the usual run of one-ups: read into an agent in Fallujah and download latest intel, drop by Prague and check in on a woman suspected of double-dealing with a Chinese operative, keep the Secretary of Homeland Security honest, and another usual suspect, the old woman he now referred to as the Broom Lady.  He still wasn't sure who was watching her, but it was disconcertingly easy now to view in and watch her watching him, whoever he happened to be.

          He ripped through the main tasks first, logging and detaching the first three in just under three hours.  No new developments bouncing around Fallujah's brain.  Prague was being fucked and fucked over by her Chinaman.  Sec HomeSec was asleep on a flight from Phoenix to D.C.  Three hours to go before his shift was over, Norris relaxed and reached out for the Broom Lady, or at least her observer.

          It didn't take much effort to look in anymore, having spent the majority of four previous sessions with her, augmented by the work product of who-knew how many other Majestics missioned her.  He tended to keep lines open on projects that troubled or interested him, and the old woman both troubled and interested him.  She had to be approaching 100; of what possible intelligence value could she be?  Norris knew that it was often those unsuspecting Viewed who held the deepest, darkest secrets the Grange needed to preserve national security, but this time, he just didn't feel it, and of course, maybe it wasn't the old lady at all; he still couldn't feel through whom he was looking.

          He activated the burst replay of her session transcripts, laser-lit into his eyes in three metric seconds.  Exhaled, squinted, cracked his neck, settled back into his sensory-deprivation chamber.  Give me love.

          Nothing, nothing, and then lavender powder, biscuits baking, iodine.  It was always the scents that came through first.  He reached out with that hand behind his eyes, feeling a tug, pins and needles.  Closer...  She was close, so close.  Vicks VapoRub.  Pepper.

          Matty Rose had once described the lock-on point like watching a bus full of nuns drive into a river in reverse.  The screams disappeared, the squeal of brakes turned back into fluid rubber on asphalt, and suddenly everyone was having a guitar singalong and praising God again.  Arve didn't exactly think it felt like that, but it was a definite quieting of chaos, a gentle settling of waves of psychic energy.  He felt that settling and opened his interior eyes with a blink to the Broom Lady's world.

          Of course, she was sweeping again, this time the white feathers of a freshly-plucked chicken.  On a kitchen countertop, he saw what appeared to be a fresh pile of guts.  A head.  Two yellow feet.  The rest of the beast was boiling away in a stove-top pot.  Preparing for suppertime.

          Sound of an engine, crunch of tires on gravel, and the skitterered clucking of still-live chickens from an open window..  This could be a money shot.  Look.  The old woman turned toward the window, but her observer remained in place.

          "Pa's home, boy."

          And then there was movement.  Arve appended information to his Broom Lady File: the observer is the boy subject has been addressing.  Confirmation in--

          The observer sprung up from his seat, walked quickly to the window.

          Confirmation based on observer response.

          Then an instant of reward that Arve could not have expected: as the boy went to the window, light reflected from the overhead fluorecent into the top pane and gave him 0.75 seconds of identity revelation.  He was viewing through a teenage boy, big ears, hazel eyes, dumb grin and a half-fro.  It was the kind of peripheral image subconsciously logged in a subject's mind, never remembered, slaved as Arve was to the direct-line vision of the subject.

          "He's early!"  A jostle as the boy went to the door, flung it open, and walked the five splintery steps down from the porch.  "Pa!"

          "Boy Warren, don't you go bothering your Pa."  Half-heard through the kitchen window.

          Run subject locate: approximate age: fourteen, name: "Warren," alias: "Boy Warren," app filters: black, farm, chickens, prairie, suspected minimal developmental delay.


          Augment: diesel fuel delivery, father, sorghum harvest.  Standby for further augmentation as viewing continues.

          Running on augments, will advise.

          "I'll be right in, boy.  When'd he get here?"

          "Half hour?"

          "Ahight, boy.  Be right in."

          Vertigo as the boy spun back to the stairs, slammed the door behind him.

          "He comin' in?"

          "Talking to the fuel men first, I think."

          "They've been out there a long time.  Your Pa'll set 'em straight."

          Diesel... Diesel.  Something clicked behind Arve Norris's eyes.  Sinking suspicion.

          Run confirm on ex-perimeter missions, current.

          Missions as follow: Day pass for Human Resources Director and Administrative Assistant in Borneo, two-hour off-site exemption for Culinary Assistant, two-hour off-site exemption for secondary egress port repair team, one-hour off-site ex--

          Confirm location of secondary egress port repair team.

          Current track: Milo White farm, 24129 Sparrow Road, Hitch, Neb--


night.blind: 01.1.9: 11 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Milo White stood at the barn door long enough to confirm his suspicion: the diesel truck pulled out of his driveway, drove down the road, and took a left into the driveway of the Hitch Grange.  Why a "benevolent" organization would reject his applications three times and then try to deliver diesel fuel for his non-existent tractors was beyond him, but Milo had more urgent mysteries to investigate, such as why those two young men had been hiding out in his feed room.

          He limped back to the feed room, his stump really screaming out now for sock removal and a cessation of vertical pressure.  The room didn't look any different than it had for an empty decade, just cobwebs and-- footprints back into the silo.  A farmer knows trespass.

          When the farm had been in full operation, the concrete silo wouldn't have had an entrance slot at all; the wooden spacers would have been propped on the interior of the ladder tube, blocking fresh silage from spilling out and down, but now, empty so many years of silage and full so many years of pigeons and pigeon shit, the spacers were gone, creating a sixty-foot-tall vertical break in the silo wall.  At the bottom, there was enough room for a man to climb between the rungs and enter the silo floor proper.  There was still a foot or so of shit-speckled shredded corn long-dried and fermenting at the bottom of the silo, and it was in that layer that Milo saw interruption.

          He walked back to the feed room, where a cracked grain shovel and a rusted pitchfork still stood in the corner.  He chose the fork after regarding the split in the functional area of the shovel, carried it back to the silo.

          Milo didn't cherish the thought of squeezing through the space between bent-iron rungs, but he did.  He pulled the fork in after himself, and stood for a moment looking around the useless feed.  The layer was thin near the silo's open side, sloping upward to a thickness of maybe three feet at the opposite curve of the interior wall.  He strode the fifteen feet to the silo's center using the fork as a support.  The silage was dry, and it certainly wasn't a dangerous thickness, but it was just didn't have enough stability to reassure a one-legged man.

          When he got to the center of the silo, Milo found what he'd suspected, a fresh depression in the silage layer, a spot about six feet across where it had been freshly disturbed.

          There was a moment when Milo stopped and considered what the diesel delivery men had buried in his silo.  Drugs?  A body?  The whole situation was bizarre, so Milo planted his feet, brought the pitchfork up, and dropped it down into the corn husks with a grunt.  Instead of the muffled pop of the cellophane wrapping a bundle of weed or the muffled pop of ten-inch steel teeth cutting through a human body, the fork halted abruptly, and Milo heard the unmistakable tink of steel on steel, which was an unexpected response, since the floor of the silo was poured concrete.  He knew the sound of a fork on concrete, and he knew the sound of metal on metal.  Whatever those boys had buried wasn't concrete.

          He got down on his knees and began to dig the loose silage away from the depression.  Old silage is a homespun lesson in sedimentary geology; the anaerobic response within a sealed silo creates a layering effect in which the top-most, longest-exposed layer of shredded grain cures, hardens, and provides a protective layer of rot for the pungent layers of feed below.  The boys who'd been in his silo obviously weren't farmboys, not just because of their buzzcuts and accents, but because their attempt at hiding their intrusion under a layer of loose lower-level silage was laughable at best.

          Two feet down from the new, loose surface, Milo swept away the final stalks and kernels to find what looked like a brushed steel toilet seat cover on the floor of his silo, which came as quite a surprise, because it was big enough for a man to crawl through, not to sit on.  Milo brushed away more silage and felt out the edges.  When he was done, he saw that the toilet seat was about four feet across the long way.  He tried to lift up one edge, his fingertips exploring the entire perimeter of the object, until he realized that that much steel was far too heavy for him to lift, and besides that, the thing appeared to be attached to the silo floor.

          Milo took his bright red snotrag from the back pocket of his overalls and wiped dusty sweat from his cheeks and forehead.  Above him, a dozen afternoon pigeons cooed down, curious for not the first time that day.

night.blind: 01.1.10: 12 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          It would be an understatement to tell you that Milo hated pigeons, hated them for taking refuge in the once-noble remains of his barn, hated them so much that he'd taught his boy to shoot by halving the farm's pigeon supply with his childhood .22.  Milo was a duck man, evidenced by his faithful duck Ruth, and a chicken man, evidenced by the suppertime waft that had set his road-weary belly rumbling as he'd passed the kitchen.  Some birds were useless.

          The interior of a silo offers several unique auditory experiences, and the dozen or so pigeons watching from the gaps in the metal roof chorused an eerie series of gentle bird-speak down.  There was something about that bent cooing that had always grated on several deep, unacknowledged layers of Milo's soul.  Confused, frustrated, and the throbbing commencement of what he suspected would solidify into a days-wasting migraine reaching up through his shoulders and neck, he snapped, suddenly fearful, shouting up at the pigeons with a sturdy "SHEEOO!"

          There's a concussion when flocks take flight, that initial slap of feathers and feathers, and that pop echoed down the vertical concrete tunnel at the unfortunate farmer, arriving almost at the same time as the clotted flop of uric acid that one of the pigeons had offloaded on takeoff onto his shoulder.  Milo jolted, more at the sound than at the

          "Shit."  He reached to wipe the white mess from his shoulder with his snotrag, but succeeded only in dipping his fingers in; his handkerchief had at some point fallen to the floor.

          "Doubleshit."  Milo pivoted around to find his rag, wiping his fingers off on his pantleg.  The red cloth interrupted the mostly-uniform silage, grayed by years and dust and polka-dotted white by similar offloads.

          Milo bent from the waist, not the knees (he had only one), to retrieve the rag, feeling his ever-increasing heartbeat in his throat.  He snatched it up, brought his hand to the small of his back to level himself upright, and stopped short.

          Mold is a luxurious creature, as anyone familiar with decomposition processes can attest to.  The shape, scent, yes, even taste, covers nearly the spectrum of possibility that the coloration seems to handle so easily.  Mold is a presence in any silo, a result of the aerobic decomposition that takes place before the complete dissolution of oxygen occurs.  Any farmer who has handled hay that was baled too wet, any farmer who wraps round feed in a rainstorm, any farmer who has cracked through the mold layer of a feed bunker or silo can attest to the beauty of decay.

          What Milo saw in the silage at his feet was an iridescent spot the size of a coin that reflected what light was failing from the openings on the silo's roof.  Feed mold can possess the same iridescence exhibited in ice, jewels, or those special energy crystals favored by trailer park folk and progressive grad school alumnae.  Milo knew there shouldn't have been such flashy mold in that silo; it is particularly fragile, never lasts long after exposure, and certainly wouldn't have lasted sitting on top of a rot layer that had formed a decade before.  Mold moves on to management positions.

          As soon as he caught the play of light across the "mold's" surface, it was gone.  Milo wondered if it had only been his exhaustion playing with his eyes, or maybe the beginning of a succession of phantom images that would signal a really bad migraine.  He inhaled deeply, but didn't smell the usual blueberry pancakes and motor oil mixture yet, so that was a good sign.

          And the flicker came back.  "What the shit..?"  Milo reached to pick at the thin whatever.

          He'd gotten a cursory at best look at the perfectly-round coin of half-light before the body heat emanating from his fingertips caused it to dissolve.


          Milo wheeled around as best he could, realizing mid-swing who had spoken and the fact that he was still grasping the pitchfork, business end outstretched, in his hand.  Boy Warren guiltily took a step back from the silo entrance.

          "What, boy?"

          "Supper's ready."

night.blind: 01.1.11: 20 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Still tracking, still tracking, Arve activated the emergency release on his sensory deprivation tank and fought through the half-slush ninety-eight-six tube fudge.  He clenched his eyes, as if that exertion would maintain the tenuous link only his mind could grasp, the boy, walking, dust, pigeons--

          He slapped at his glass, eyes closed.  Couldn't lose it.

          "Achtung, achtung, Eyes.  Read?"

          Toneless tone: "We read, One-Seven.  Report."

          "Still locked on target, eye dee confirmed: Warren White.  Repeat, White comma Warren.  Anal it."

          "Working.  Will advise."

          "Jesus fuck!  Don't advise, refer threat matrix, perimeter, Grange hide scheme primary."



          "Confirmed.  Subject Warren comma White.  Confirmed proximity.  Status?"

          "He's in the barn with his father, who just happened to fucking find the door."


          "Wake up!"

          "Situation shift to compromise.  One Seven, dig back in."

          "I'm still locked, god damn--"

          "Maintain lock.  Do you want assistance?"

          "Bet your ass.  Hook in three, four.  Rose, Witty, Glenrock--"

          "Viewer Irene Witty currently unavailable for--"

          "Just give me the two then, douchebag."

          "Retrieving Majestics Two, One Six.  Lock to follow."

          "Thank you.  Going back in.  You're sure front office is--"

          "Secured for compromise engagement.  Will advise if status--"

          Arve slammed Rosie's hatch shut, grasping at the last few threads of Warren White before the boy could escape.

night.blind: 01.1.12: 20 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          "What's that, Pa?"

          Milo's smile was more crumpled leather than teeth, the kind of sad resignation inscribed across cheeks, between the nose and mouth, that only heightened the sense that he was a man forged in sacrifice, a man with so much love for his half-wit son that he didn't know what to do with either the love or the son.  Boy Warren's eyes were crossed in that fifteen degree offset that confuses the focal points of conversations, but Milo knew where the boy was looking: one eye at him, one eye beyond.  Strangers would have assumed the good eye was looking at them, but Warren had spent enough time playing in the empty barn during his life to recognize difference.  The active eye crawled over the metal toilet seat on the floor.

          "Don't know, boy.  Don't you worry none over it."

          Milo grunted against the pain in his sock, but performed a not-graceful pirouhette on his plastic limb to use his remaining foot to sweep a measure of rotten silage half-assed back over the mystery intruder.  Conditioned to assist his handicapable father in tasks of which he wasn't quite capable, Warren White jogged over and started to foot silage back over the thing.  He wasn't a dumb boy, just different, and that difference substituted any curiosity over the cool alloy composite surface with a desire to help his dad.

          "Warren?"  Milo grabbed his son's shoulders.  It was perhaps the most tender gesture he'd ever performed.

          "Yeah, Pa?"  The boy smiled.  No leather in his face; he wasn't old enough to be crumpled too much by life yet.

          "Don't tell no one what's in here, you hear me?"

          Warren's smile faltered.  "Silage?"

          Milo chuckled a chuckle tempered by the underlying fear that was resonating from somewhere beneath his barn.  "That's right, son.  Silage.  Now let's go get some supper.  What's t'eat?"

          "Chicken, biscuits.  Think Mama's hiding a pie."

          "She better be.  She been holding out."

          It's not that the meal wasn't delicious, or that the hot water beforehand hadn't felt good, scrubbing the dusts of harvest and the troubled silo from his greying hands with Lava soap, it was just the fact that Milo White, for the first time since his father had passed, maybe for the first time since his son had been born, was scared.  To those not accustomed to thinking, thinking too much is an overwhelming experience seasoned with peppered twitches, the accidental slosh of milk from the pitcher, reacting a little too enthusiastically to a mince pie that truthfully had been mediocre at best.

          His wife had gotten suspicious at that; she knew her husband more than well enough to know he didn't heap praise on half-stale pie, a homecoming treat bought from the bakery case at Crackers that afternoon when all the last day's deserts went on discount.  She'd straddled the poverty line her life entire, but Netta White had enough dignity to know a lie about pie.

          "How you doing, Ma?"

          Post-pie coffee, the boy lanking upstairs to color books, Netta chipping plates in the sink, Milo regarded his mother, the once-stately Mrs. Warren White.  She rocked.  She wasn't sitting in a rocking chair.  She rocked and wore a smile like she knew exactly what he was thinking, but he knew she wasn't thinking of much of anything at all.

          "You home now, Milo?"

          "Looks that way, Ma."

          "You home from harvest?"

          "Yes ma'am, harvest's done."

          "You gonna stay while, boy?"

          "Yes ma'am, I am.  So how are y--"

          "You home from harvest?"

          "Yes, ma'am.  Harvest's done."

          "Milo, he's up workin' harvest, up there.  He's--"

          "I know, Ma."

          There's a particular brand of heartbreak that surfaces during conversations with the wasted minds of the Alzheimer's-afflicted, a circular, cyclical heartbreak deepened with each repetition, with each misinterpretation, a frustration that makes you want to lash out, to slap them until they become the person you knew, as if imparting pain would force lucidity.  Some lash out; others blame themselves and lash in.  In the last two years, Milo had watched his mother fade and this--

          She reached down beside her kitchen chair and fumbled her broom to her lap.

         Shit, she's got the broom.  Milo interlocked his fingers on the tabletop and prepared for Mrs. Warren White's Patented Broom Lecture.

          "You've got t'have a good corn broom, boy.  Just a good broom.  B'easier."

          "I know, Ma."

          "Take yuh god-damn Swiffahs, yuh vac'yums.  All's ts'need'sa good corn broom, boy."

          Louisa (you won't believe this, but it's true; her maiden name had really been) Black-White had once been an eloquent speaker, had in fact spoken before Congressional subcommittees and resistance rallies of hundreds of thousands of angry Negroes assembled on the D.C. Mall during her tenure in the Black Panthers.  A proud African-American princess of Detroit extrusion, she had met Warren White with all of his red square-state ig'nance, and had, of course, immediately fallen in love with him.  An unspecified number of decades later, her speeches had long been forgotten, her fists had unclenched, and her only son found her obsessing on a fucking corn broom.

          "I know.  Corn broom."  Milo's fingers tapped out the rhythm of a Paul Desmond solo on the vinyl cloth of the kitchen table.

          His mother's eyes lit.  She broke into the sweetest smile, head tilted.  For an instant--


          He sat up straight; her moments of lucidity were almost winning in the race they were fighting to dead.

          "Yeah, Momma?"

          "You home from harvest yet, son?"

night.blind: 01.1.13: 24 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Arve Norris had no real desire to watch a young boy scrub his armpits in the bathroom mirror, but at least it was a change from the yellowed dollar store coloring books Warren had been terrorizing with a burnt sienna Crayola for the past hour.  You can learn a lot about a person from the lines they choose to cross, and Warren's crayon transgressions across the contour line boundaries of Spongebob Squarepants spoke to a mind's deeper unrest.  He was either brilliant or stupid; Arve didn't know much about contemporary art, having been a heroin major during the normal higher-education window of his life.

          "Still with me, Matty?"  He'd made damn sure Rosie's internal pod-to-pod comm array hadn't been equipped with the Nextel chirp.

          "Uh huh."  Distracted, focused, a little too enthusiastic.

          "Don't enjoy yourself too hard, Father Rose."

          "Lay off.  I prefer my meat well-done.  This boy's still rare."

          As the supervisory primary contact with the target, Arve had sent Glenrock off-lock after the boy had gone upstairs to color.  No sense wasting the time of three Majestics when the kid was headed to bed.  The front office was on alert red, and that would have to be enough for the night.

          "I think we're just about done here, unless you want to try branching his dreams, digging in."

          "Not my style, Arvy.  Reminds me too much of my dead days."

          "Copy that.  Cards tonight?"

          "Negative, thanks.  Mincemeat gives me migraines."

          Arve chuckled.  Secondary sensation hit Viewers in strange ways sometimes.  When a target ate fish, any kind of fish, his knees started to ache.  When a target shoveled snow, he became aroused.  The mind is a horrifying thing to use.

          "Alright, I'll maintain lock.  Might read into dreamtime for a while, see what I can see."

          "If there's anything good, take two aspirin and go fuck yourself."

          "I love you, too, sweety."


          If you've ever had your brain and eyeballs cradled firmly in someone's palm and then released, you know how breaking coupled viewing feels.  That doesn't happen often, and most readers here have never been tortured so.  Regardless, Arve exhaled deeply at Matty's departure and finally felt a little less like someone was baseball bat-fucking his optic nerves.  Blinked on the inside and watched Boy Warren bend to spit toothpaste dregs into the sink, remembered the woman he'd loved and ultimately caused to die doing the same, and how much his gag reflex hated her for that.

          Another night in, he sighed to himself.  Get to bed, Warren White.

* * *

          It takes a certain kind of man to wear a brown suit, and Milo White was a brown suit kind of man.  The operative volume of a brown suit's cultural currency floats somewhere between that of a Chef Boyardee pizza and the recently-assassinated President.  Milo was critically aware of his special position as a man who could successfully pull off (or perhaps more appropriately, put on) a brown three-piece, critical of the cut of his jib, the grain of his depillated face, the angle of his Sunday hat's brim in relation to his whiting brows.  He was pleated, double-breasted, watch fobbed perfection, and he couldn't remove the frown from his face.  He felt darker than his earthtones.

          He smoothed his lapels, adjusted the Pratt knot in his brown tie, patted his handkerchief into place.  Still frowning.

          Suits, even brown suits, carry with them a genetic memory: each interview, date, funeral, wedding, mitzvahs, bar and bat, each imbues a suit, even a brown suit, with a history dredged and transferred to every present that you slide your arms into, every now in which you grab the collar and pull forward, settling the shoulders into place, every today that you choose: buttoned, unbuttoned?  Every hundred-dollar date with a girl you never saw again, every wedding where you punched the matron of honor, and every funeral of every brother you ever wept through, a suit remembers, carries it forward, and drapes itself onto your back again.  Consider a brown suit a messenger from yesterday.

          The priority mail the courier delivered to Milo White with the donning of his best suit was an express mailer bearing the image of his brother in a uniform, blood pumped out not only from the landmine that had erased his heart (and most of his neck), but with an assist from the men who work in basements standing next to porcelain beds, drains in the floor, blood replaced with chemical solutions tinged red to simulate blood, looking more like Kool-Aid.  Without a recent photograph from the shoulders up, they'd given him a bodybuilder's neck carved of industrial spackle, gesso, whatever they used to feign normalcy in violent deaths, and they'd paved his cratered face with the same.  Milo's suit remembered the unnatural smell of the end result of the most natural life process: stopping.

          "Ain't Sunday, Mil."

          If he'd had the energy for external reconnaissance, he'd have heard his wife come up the stairs to wake Warren then come into their bedroom, but Milo's thoughts were engaged with the hesitant re-mourning of his brother: better to die forty miles across the Saudi border from a clumsy step than to die two decades after the conflict from the mind-rotting "syndrome" most of the vets had contracted and eventually succumbed to.  Milo had named his son in honor of his brother's sacrifice more than for the goal of continuing the Warren White name.  His father had been the premiere asshole of Nebraska in his day, but he'd given the world at least one good son.

          "I know ain't Sunday, Netta."

          "You don't wear that suit."

          "I do today, woman.  Warren up?"

          "Yeah, barely."

          "Tell him to stay out of the barn today."


          Milo let it hang.  "Winds last month?  Cracks in the silo are bigger.  I don't want him in there, just to be safe.  Have him weed or something."

          "Should just tear that old silo down."

          "Mm hmm."  He tried to sound as convincing as the texture of lying allows. 

          Netta White walked to her husband, primping before the mirror, and adjusted his shirt collar over his tie.  "Where you going, dressed like this?"

          "Next door."

          "Milo White."  To display her disapproval, Netta adopted The Look while swiveling her head into The Tilt and affecting The Arm Cross.  "Fourth time's the charm?  They aren't going to let you in, you old fool."

          "We'll see, baby.  Didn't wear the suit the other times, did I?"

          "Have to admit, you are a fine piece of farmer, Mr. White.  A woman could get used to a fine farmer like you."

          "End of the day, a fine Grange member."

          "That's some confidence."

          "Bet your ass, woman."

night.blind: 01.1.14: 26 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          According to documentary filmmaker Egmont R. Koch, nations must employ a variety of mechanisms of defense including but not limited to, that's right, sometimes, when it's appropriate, homocide.  Tunguska?  Check.  Roswell?  Don't insult me.  Project Artichoke, Snowbird, Blue Book, Outreach, Embryo?  Sure thing.  Majestic 12?  Gotcha.  Majestic-24?  Well.

          In the front office of the Hitch Grange, the glorified double-wide that housed the mock administrative offices of the cooperative, empty file cabinets, a humming water cooler, and a paper-strewn cherry veneer secretary's desk blocking entrance to a mock director's office where a mock director was always meeting mock farmers and bankers, Cady Morrow slid a right-side drawer closed, concealing the .40-cal Beretta CX07 that was slave/imprinted solely to her right grip print.  The drawer could have used some WD-40, but the gun was precisely lubricated and waiting for the day.

          As a secretary, Miss Morrow was shit, but she hadn't been brought in to the Grange to file papers or make follow-up calls.  A casual observer might assume that she'd been hired to sit at her desk and file her nails.  Upon closer inspection, a casual observer might note the uncanny metallic sheen of those nails.  Upon closest inspection, a casual observer might have her throat torn out by Miss Morrow's steel fingertip implants.

          Miss Morrow had been selected from a dozen handfuls of prospective superblack employees of the American militarized governments, all of whom had tested in the higher percentiles of latent psychic receptivities.  Cady wasn't a Viewer, never would be, but she was, we shall say, receptive to the concept.  As a front office clerk, it helped that she was a deceptively brutal assassin and would have no qualms about swiftly dispatching problematic Grange visitors.  It also helped that she possessed a striking hometown beauty that disarmed the stumbling farmers who applied for Grange membership from time to time.  There are women who just don't belong in Nebraska.  Cady Morrow looked like she didn't belong but had stayed behind for a sick father, a high school boyfriend, the unasked histories that bubble beneath the surface of strangers' lined gray eyes and overflow into friendly smiles shadowed with.. with.

          She rubbed her desktop glass on and looked over the day's lock list.  Henderson, Nevada.  Prague.  Moscow, Pittsburgh, Altoona,  New York City, Fort Worth, Montreal, Paris, Mexico City...  And bingo.  Hitch.  She fingertipped the lock specs.  Double-teaming the target, M16 and 17.  Scanned through the previous day's log.  Her double position as mockretary and frontline defense offered her deeper access than most.  She knew she was disposable, but hey, that's life in the brittle future.

          Her briefing had included watchy shots from the fence, some high-res photographs of the man that a battery of brain-trusters had predicted would visit that day: White comma Milo.  She cross-referenced and confirmed two of his previous three applications; she'd been brought into the Grange between the second and third after her predecessor had proven.. troublesome.  Hadn't looked convincing enough.  People bury their insecurities in the trusting eyes of a good secretary, and Miss Cady Morrow was a graveyard of agricultural insecurities.

          Tiny buzzer and a sideline overhead shot from her Majestic trackers opened on the glasstop.  She tipped an open.


          "Threat target is out the door.  Hearing.. yeah, he's in his truck."  Arve Norris looked as if he'd not slept.


          "Yeah, confirmed.  Kid looked away from his Cap'n Crunch long enough to see his dad head out the door."  Matty Rose.

          "Stay locked.  Will advise for adjust."

          Like her hair, Cady's voice was a conscious engineering, swept into place and just as brutal as her propensity to murder.  Some would call her cold, those some hailing mostly from the hive under her feet, the limited social circle that had (and sometimes still, when she needed a fuck thrown in) included her superblack colleagues.  Norris could attest to the supposed circulatory problems that gave her the coldest hands and feet, a disconcerting lack of warmth even on the interior, like making love (and what an inappropriate phrase for their coupling) to one hundred twenty pounds of refrigerated veal.  Veal with steel tips on its fingers.  She was especially cold in her interactions with him; he'd helped her come, but he'd never be able to help her feel.

          The beep-boop-beep of the perimeter pressure alarms buried underneath the gravel chunks of the driveway, more nomadic dirt than stone, shoved a steel rod up Cady's spine.  Pre-programmed actions, reflexes: she slid the mock desktop back into place over her glass, cutting the display.  Opened her weapon drawer one quarter of an inch.  Smacked her lips and placed a stick of Dentyne into her mouth, chewed frantically, working enough spit into her mouth to be able to snap and be obnoxious enough to be convincing.  Placed too-big spectacles onto the bridge of her nose, secured around her neck by a faux-diamond loop.  Breathed, regulated, felt out the sweet spot on the floor under her desk and morsed a coded comm to the under-office with her big right toe: Target engaged.  Stand by.

          Milo White came into the Grange.

night.blind: 01.1.15: 31 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Location, location, location.

          Remote viewing isn't an exact science, nor does it possess any semblance of the harder mathematics that quantify our existence into numbered chunks: three fish, two-hundred twenty pounds, fourteen minutes and seven seconds, thirty-five-to-life, or six million war dead.  It certainly doesn't qualify our existence into a good life, a life less ordinary, a tortured, somber, sappy, or special life.  Remote viewing is a science of approximation, distances and timelines rendered into semi-informed guesswork.  Matthew Rose and Arve Norris were hard at work guessing when it all began to make sense.

          "You feel that?"

          "Hey, everyone does it."


          "Everyone's stuck a finger up their ass to dislodge a stubborn shit before."

          "No," Rose responded patiently.  "Not the kid.  And I haven't, you fucking freak."

          "I'm just saying--"

          "Not the kid."  Rose watched Warren White study his now-soaped hands in the bathroom sink.  At least they looked clean.  "The father.  You feel that?"

          Norris unlocked a percentage of the part of his consciousness that was currently viewing the boy, sent it back to the trunk, felt out for new branches.  "I'm not getting anything.  The father's not--"

          "Yeah, he is.  Holy shit, he is.  You said the grandmother was looking back before?"

          "She seems to watch, yeah.  When she's not talking about the broom."

          "Inherited.  I think we have a genetic passdown here."

          "You're feeling the father?"

          "Getting stronger."

          "He's--" Norris checked the hardline camera output displayed on Rosie's lid.  "He's walking in the door."

          "Latent ability, probably doesn't--"

          "Right on top of us--"

          "And he's broadcasting, he just doesn't know it.  Motherline passdown.  Bet he had migraines, lucid dreams, bet anything he's--"

          Morseburst from the front office: Target engaged.  Stand by.

          "Shit," Norris.  "He's in the ice queens's claws now."

          "I'm comming Rockland."

* * *

          If we were defined by the objects we carry with us, Milo White would be a wallet containing one-hundred thirty-five adjusted dollars, a Nebraska commercial driver's license, a meal voucher, and a battered plastic social security card.  He would also be a silver watch, a crushed soft pack of Winstons, a plastic lighter, and a straight razor.

          "Mr. White!  It's so good to see you again!"

          The bell hung from the door behind him rang and startled him, but he didn't let it show.  Big smile.  Right index finger pointed, bang, at the secretary he'd seen twice before.  "Miss.. Morrow?  Cadence Morrow?"  A glance down at the nameplate on her desk confirmed.

          "Pretty good memory, Mr. White.  How've you been?  Can I get you some coffee?  Please, sit."  She indicated the chair before her desk.  Thankfully, Grange housekeeping had remembered to dust it during the night.

          "No coffee, thanks.  Just had breakfast, an' don't want to have to go too soon."

          "Have a seat, please.  What can I do for--?"

          Cady thought that if Milo White had had a soundtrack, it would be composed solely of the sound of a rusted-shut hinge being forced open.  He wasn't an old man, but he walked like one across the front office to her desk.  He had a new addition since she'd last seen him: a cane.

          "Oh, let me help you--"

          "No.  Thanks, dear.  I can make it, just the stump's hurting a little more today.  Good shoes."

          "That's a fine cane you have.  New?  Is it teak?"

          "Old, but teak, yessum."  It rattled against the arms of the chair as he cantilevered himself into a sitting position.  Cady sat back down opposite the desk.

          "And that's a fine brown suit, Mr. White."

          "Ain't it, though?"  He straightened his lapels, removed a fleck of fuzz from a button hole.  "Fine suit."

          "So what brings you into the Grange today, Mr. White?"

          If pauses can be pregnant, the pause that followed gave birth, reared, and put its kid through college.  The affable smile Milo had been affecting dropped, not so much all at once, but a delayed descent that left one side of his face in position as the other grew serious.

          "Call me Milo, Miss Morrow."

          Cadence Morrow beamed a little too eagerly.  "Then call me Cady, Milo."  She read probabilities into pauses.

          "Well, Cady.  I need to talk to the man in charge."

          "The man..?"

          "I'm sorry; I'm old.  I'd like to talk to the person in charge."

          "No, it's not that, it's just that the director's not in the office today, and--"

          "Cut the shit, girl."

          Cady was too strong to be surprised at the delivery of a sentiment that would slap the face of a real secretary.  She expected this.  She knew what he was about to say.  They'd fucked up, they'd really fucked up this time, and now Mr. Milo White and his family would have to be vacationed.

          "I'm.. sorry..?"  The walls had already told her about the lighter and the straight razor in his right front pocket.  She didn't even begin to be afraid of fire or blades.

          "I'd like to talk to the director."

          "I'm sorry, Milo, but he's not in today.  If you'd like to--"

          "I'd like to know what two of your diesel boys were doing on my property, that's what I'd like."

          "Oh!  Yeah, we meant to contact you about a special on diesel we're having.  We're offering--"


          She knew he hadn't fallen for it the first time, would never fall for it again.  "There's some good news, though.  We're now accepting applications for--"

          "Don't.  Girl, just don't."  He adjusted himself in the chair, his right hand now closer to the blade.

          He studied her.  Thought of cartoons.  The little cartoons in Playboy and Snappers where a boss is fucking his secretary on the desk and something unexpected happens, like a reindeer falling through the roof, with a little caption underneath: "If I'd known filling out TPS reports could be this much fun, I would have canceled the company Christmas party!"  Nobody cares about those cartoons, so they don't need to be funny, but in porn magazine art school, there's a special seminar on drawing cartoon secretaries, and Milo realized that Cadence Morrow looked exactly like a cartoon secretary.  There's no way she was real.  That realization draped him like a rotten wool blanket.

          "So.  What do you want, then?"  All the pretend nice was gone, and for the first time, Milo thought he was seeing the real Miss Morrow.

          He considered.  "I remember when this place was built.  You must have been just a kid then."


          "One of those years that something happens you just can't forget.  My momma talked about the moon landing, Kennedy.  I remember watching CNN on the television the night Baghdad lit up, the first and second times.  Nine eleven.  I remember two things the year they built the Grange.  You know those two things?"

          She inhaled, held it.  "I might."

          "I'll tell you.  Garfield disappeared, and the Nebraska Cooperative Extension bought forty acres of land from Hanley and Dougray Grissom, this land, and they put this building up."

          "I don't--"

          "Always bothered me a little, that they'd bought from the Grissoms and not me.  Could have used the money.  But bad blood's for Jersey.  We've been good neighbors, haven't we, Miss Morrow?"

          "We haven't--"

          "Good neighbors are neighborly, aren't they?"

          "We've always--"

          "Always wondered why Cherry County needed another co-op extension, why here, why no one I know's in it.  Why I've been rejected three times."

          "If this is about admission, like I said, we--"

          "I found the door in my silo, Miss Morrow."

          She said nothing.

          Milo White nodded.  She knew; it was written on her face in Impact Bold, Italic, and Underlined.

          He pulled the razor from his pocket, held it gently, swinging the blade open.

          "Miss Morrow, I would please like to speak to the man in charge now."

night.blind: 01.1.16: 01 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
          "Rockland.  Speak."

          Her wall glass splashed to life, knocking numbers and target lists to one side.  The frosted butchcut of Matthew Rose greeted her, his eyes displayed the size of hubcaps.

          "Em Sixteen, Major General.  You're following the front office?"

          "I'm watching."

          Rose looked at his own display.  Time was scissor-thin.  "Achtung, delay vacation.  Repeat, delay vacation."

          Rockland's left hand went to her kill switch, considered.  "Better have a good reason, Em Sixteen.  Roll."


          "Don't 'just' me, Sixteen.  Roll."

          "Jesus," his frustration running over as he watched Milo White hold out the straight razor.  "We have reason to suspect target is low-level sighted.  Motherline passdown.  Delay his vacation!"

          Rockland's palm hovered over the kill switch.  "Confirm, Em Seventeen?"

          The glass split to show Arve Norris's stubbled face.  "Negative, Em Gee.  I can't confirm.  Don't feel--"

          "I'm picking him up, for fuck's sake.  Branched from his son, reason to suspect the grandmother--"

          "Still can't confirm, Matty."

          Rockland replaced her hand in her lap.  "You know the rules, kid.  No confirmation, no save."

          "But he's--"

          "Listen, it's better this way.  We'll clean up his farm later.  Travel agents standing by."

          "It's a nest!"  Rose swatted the camera.  "How many three-generation lines do we have?"

          Rockland nodded.  "True, but we're not in a position to make that--"

          Her glass went black.


          Sabra Rockland had been in front of a black glass exactly three times before, and this is all you really need to know about those three days: many people had died.  She waited for the pulse-coded transmission.  She didn't need to wait long before the text appeared on the screen:


          Rockland frowned.  "But he's--"


          "Can I have a 'why'?"


          She slapped down on the kill switch.  "Confirm, Night Primary."

          The black fell off the glass.

* * *

          "I am the man in charge, you fucking hick."  Cady Morrow stood from her chair, fingertips pulling her gun drawer open.  She focused her handgun to target: with three chest taps, two head, the situation would be resolved.  Housekeeping was on standby for disposing the body and his truck, and travel agents were waiting beneath her to visit the neighbors.

          "Seen this end of a gun before, girl."

          "Seen this end of a slug?"  Her right index finger slid into the trigger guard.


          His answer was disconcerting, but not as disconcerting as the flash of bursted itch from the communications graft stitched below the skin on the back of her neck.  Someone downstairs had activated the mission kill switch, which in this particular mission, meant that Milo White would not die today, at least not at that moment.  She dropped the weapon to her side immediately.

          Some people get off on killing.  You need to know just that about young Cady Morrow: she got off on killing.  Under the brutal precision of her coiffure sparked a brain amped into overdrive by the adrenaline rush simply holding her pistol had flooded into her bloodstream, and under the German flectar camouflage pattern general-issue panties, beneath the brutal precision of her pubic grooming, hid the place where "getting off on killing" defined the phrase.  As she placed her weapon back in its drawer and slid her desktop glass into position, she felt the heat recede, replaced with her equivalent to blue balls: an aching clit begrudgingly returning to hooded safety, and soaking cotton fabric losing its appeal against bare lips.  She had a kill switch, too.

          Milo White stood confused, the razor slowly losing altitude.

          Cady's eyes zagged across the screen.  She suddenly seemed to remember he was there: "You can drop the blade, Milo."

          He clicked the knife closed.

          "You're safe.  Have a seat."

          A dream?  A ruse?  He sat.

          "The Major General will be up to see you in a minute.  Want some coffee?"

night.blind: 01.1.17: 08 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
          "--land?  Major?"

          A ghost image of those final words superimposed itself over the concerned face of Matty Rose.  Rockland blinked, and they were gone from view, but not from sentiment: He dies, you die.

          Reflex response: "Report."

          A frown whispered between Rose's eyes.  "Uh.  Nothing to report, Em Gee.  The display faltered for a sec--"

          "We're on it.  No cause for alarm.  I've decided to bring Milo White in.  I need you to maintain lock on his son.  Break off contact, even residual, with White himself.  I'm meeting with him in person, and if I so much as suspect you're--"

          "Gotcha.  He's all yours."

          "Briefing later.  Forget the display glitch."

          "I--"  Rose nodded.  "Understood.  Out."

          It had been seven years since Garfield had disappeared, seven years since that day Sabra Rockland had last received a transmission from Hyperblack Outpost: Remote Viewers: A~: Primary, known to perhaps a dozen human beings outside of the actual facility as Night Primary.  Rockland's knowledge of the deeper layer of the Night Eyes program put her in a delicate position, in fact, made her life forfeit.  Living without the hope of someday existing outside of the program made her a better leader, or at least that's what she told herself.  She estimated another two decades serving the militarized governments, and then vacation.

          No one outside of Primary itself knew where the outpost was hidden.  The "A~" in the transmission abbreviation hinted that it was probably in America, but she suspected that the program transcended simple national designations.  She was the only employee at Hitch that knew the Viewers were being Viewed.  She'd not had to make any excuses, never had to cover up that fact, because in the day-to-day operations of the facility, the concept simply didn't come up.  Her crew had no reason to suspect that each playlist was meticulously logged and analyzed by a higher authority; her two-dozen Majestics thought they were the higher authority.

          That previous transmission seven years distant had arrived just minutes before the assault on Garfield.  It had given her enough time to save about a dozen of the active viewers.  It had helped that the Garfield operation had been hidden as a fully-functional regional transportation center in Burwell.  She bundled the screaming, bleeding psychics into a dozen different Greyhounds with orders to just go.  They had standing orders to reconvene at Offut AFB in three days, each viewer assigned a handler and a disposable driver.  Reeling from the attack, her low-line sensitivity digging across her consciousness, Sabra Rockland had closed down the Garfield County outpost, and Garfield County itself, by detonating the last-ditch cobalt seeding package.  Human life is a commodity traded more leisurely than pork bellies in the broken twenty-first century.

          That Milo White had warranted a communique directly from Primary, as the assault on Garfield had, instilled within Rockland the purest form of terror, and she was the most prolific domestic terrorist America had ever known, having erased a square of the heartland in her retreat.  Orders are orders.

          She knew she was being watched, that her Majestics were being watched, suspected that the support staff and everyone who'd ever come into the Grange was being watched.  She was a willful participant in her own violation and the violations of a thousand others, but was hers a true transgression when she was complicit?

          What could that brown man in the brown suit possibly have done or thought or possessed that would wake Primary from a near-decade silence?

          Rockland went to find out.

night.blind: 01.1.18: 08 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
          "Leave that here, please."

          At Cady's instruction, Milo White placed his razor on her desktop, where it joined an antique three-hole punch and an unnaturally dusty hinged dual photo frame.

          "Boyfriend?  Husband?"

          "Stock photographs.  Come with me, please."

          Milo leaned into his teak cane as he followed the petite Ms. Morrow around the L-bend at the back of the front office that he suspected led to the inner sanctum of meeting rooms, a coffee room, maybe the Director's office.  The doors were there, sure, but he had a sneaking suspicion that if he tried any of the knobs, the doors would lead to a brick wall or another dimension.

          What conditioning had created this "Cadence Morrow"?  She walked five steps ahead of him down the hallway, and in that space, he felt a greater distance between them than discount hardwood could measure.  She was unnatural, from the metronome clicks of her heels, to the way her head swiveled around to ensure that he was following, not trying to turn any of the aforementioned knobs.  His own jostling gait, balanced between his cane, his prosthesis, and over half a century of hard labor, seemed somehow profane when trailing her precision.

          It wasn't a dream, couldn't be, although on any other morning after coming home from harvest, he'd stay in bed all day, taking the weight off, relaxing between those coarse cotton sheets to a window breeze and a baseball linkup.  He was awake, evidenced by his body's reaction to an adrenaline crash in progress: clammy palms, a line of sweat tracing the small of his back to be absorbed between dress shirt and whiteys, that peculiar sore throat sensation asthmatics cough through after non-medicated exertion.  He was awake, but perhaps more importantly, he was alive for the moment.

          Morrow stood at the end of the hallway awaiting his specially-abled arrival.  With each step, his trepidation grew, made deeper by the feel of the damp weave of the sock over his stump cutting in farther with each step.

          There wasn't a door at the end of the hallway.

          For an instant, he thought she'd kill him then and there, out of sight of the front office, around that corner, because horrible things happen where no one can see.

          "Secure front office and unlock primary ingress on mark, clearance Morrow, Cadence.  Allow additional, one.  Mark."

          Milo would have sworn later that the overhead fluorescent had exploded, but when he opened his eyes, besides finding his hands covering his face, nothing had changed as far as he could see.  No glass, no fire, no corpses, especially his own.

          "Don't be scared, Milo.  Just a flash scan.  Used to sterilize any possible contaminants and identify returning personnel.  Think MRI with a touch of bleach."


          "Please stand--" she pulled him closer to the dead-end wall, "--here.  Thank you."

          Disembodied, androgynous voice: "Entrance granted, Colonel Morrow.  Proceed with target."

          Milo didn't have much time to wonder about his designation as "target" before a wall fell behind him and the wall behind Cady (Colonel Cady?) slid to one side, revealing a cylindrical silver room.

         Elevator, he thought.  In a pre-fab prairie office?

          It takes time for the average, indeed, even the above-average mind to reorient its concept of technological functions and extrapolate unexpected uses.  Milo pictured the Grange roof, wondered why they would need an elevator (except for gimps like himself) to lift people to the second or third floor.  It took three seconds of focused wondering before he realized that this was one elevator that wouldn't be elevating him.

          They were going down.

          He got in.

night.blind: 01.1.19: 09 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
          Milo had never been in a high-speed elevator, had in fact been in a total of four elevators in his life before the day he visited the Grange for the fourth time, and none of those four elevators had been anything like this one.  Childhood vacations to visit a Yankee branch of the White family, whirlwind tours of the Empire State Building and the old Twin Towers, where said Yankee uncle had worked until being parbroiled by ragheads, and a later trip back to the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower, no, none of those elevators had been anything at all like this.

          There were no buttons next to the door, no visible door, although he'd seen it slide shut.  That seal was tight enough to evade his unbifocaled vision.  There were no handrails, so he leaned back against the back of the chamber, even as Cady stood almost directly center, her planted legs not once hinting at positional adaptation to downward movement.  Even ten or fifteen seconds into the ride, when the elevator car took an unexpected right-angle shift, she didn't move, although the change in direction pushed Milo back against the wall, buffeted him forward, where one swift clang of his cane on the burnished floor was all that saved him from toppling over.

          At the final cessation of movement, the door reappeared.  The entire process had been silent, save the metered inhalations of Colonel Morrow and the pounding of Milo's heart in his throat.

          "This way, Milo."  Her hand moved to stewardess welcome position.  She waited for him to pass, then fell in line.  He didn't like the texture of her gaze on the back of her neck.  She soon joined him at his side.

          "Hell of a co-op, Cady."  His shuffle accented the vocative heh, coe, and kay syllables.

          The hallway was more of the same brushed maybe-steel.  No doors.  It was a long hallway, and he hoped he wouldn't have to walk much farther.

          "I'm not cleared to discuss the details of this facility with you, Milo, but I'm sure you've been guessing, and I'm sure Major General Rockland will confirm at least some of your guesses for you."

          Steps, five, ten, thirteen.  "This ain't no Grange."

          "Again, I'm not cleared to discuss--"

          "What's a girl like you working here for?  You need a family, a little picket--"

          "Milo."  Her voice could have been measured zero Kelvin.  "Stop asking questions."

          The cane was a long echo.  Cady eventually stopped walking, turned ninety degrees larboard.

          The wall opened before her, and she stepped to one side to allow Milo entrance.

          "Major General Rockland, Mr. Milo White."

          "Mr. White, please have a seat."

          He stood for a moment after the suggestion, eyes noting the American flag, the blown-up aerial photograph of what appeared to be a bus station, and the black eyes of the uniformed woman.  That uniform...  The epaulettes, two stars, three sets of three buttons over pressed black-on-black Flectar, gray highlights and trim, black gloves...

          He saluted.

          There was something behind those black eyes as they looked at the brown suit, a flicker residing somewhere between recognition and fear.

          Rockland returned the salute, tripped over a word or two before:


night.blind: 01.1.20: 09 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
          "Get me out, Eyes."


          "Nothing to fucking report, I need coffee and a shit."

          "Request denied.  Use in-pod facilities for--"

          "Listen, Hal, this kid's sitting on the lawn.  Nothing's going on.  Playback the log and take a big honking note of how pointless his day is.  I'm getting out."


          "Don't we have any newbie Majestics who'd like some time in?  String a few out.  I'm telling you, I need a break.  This headache gets any worse, I'll be no good in here."

          "Permission granted.  Reassigning Majestics Nineteen and Twenty-One."

          "Good.  They need it.  I'll look in later.  Out."

          Arve Norris popped Rosie's lid and levered himself out of the sludge.  It wasn't exactly a headache; that had been a white lie, but it was something.  A weight.  He toweled off and blew slurry from his nose.  As he pulled boxer briefs up his legs, there was a chime at the door.

          "Get bent.  I'm not--"

          "Just me.  Let me in."  Modulated speakervoice.


          Matty walked in, as he was wont to do, with a six pack.  "Nice package.  You a model?"

          "Fuck you."  Arve pulled sweats over his package and hit the couch, motioning for Matty to join.

          "Skipping school again, son?"

          "Just got out.  Fucking--  Headache.  I don't know."

          Matty edged a bottle open on the corner of the coffee table reserved for such.  "Here, drink three and call me--"

          "I'm going back in..  Don't know if I should."

          "Of course you should."  Matty opened another beer.  "Good for your eyes.  Tell me of your homeworld, Usul."

          "Aren't you supposed to be viewing right now?"

          "Two can use the headache excuse."

          "I wonder what's going on with the kid's dad."

          "Rocky's bringing him in."

          "No shit?"

          "I convinced her, I think."

          "You couldn't convince Michael Jackson to fuck a kid."

          "Well--  Hey, that's not nice."

          Arve smiled through a beer swig.  "Rockland bought it?"

          "Nothing to buy.  The father's connected."

          "I didn't feel--"

          "What's that?  You have a headache?"

         Eyes narrow.  "No, just..."

          "Yeah, just.  She's bringing him in for the Tupperware boys to play with.  Hey, you ever had a bad screen?"

          "What do you mean?"

          "The link to Rockland flickered.  Went offline for ten, fifteen seconds."

          "That's not--  That can't happen.  These hardline comms are--"

          "It happened, bud.  And rumor says it's happened before."

          "Yeah, just once.  I saw it."

          "When?"  Matty leaned in.

          "Just once.  That day."

          Every Viewer in the Grange, whether old or new, knew what "that day" referred to, whether they'd been there or had been brought in after the strategic repositioning.  Matty hadn't moved in until a few months after Hitch opened.  He soon found that the Garfield Viewers just didn't want to talk about what had happened.

          "So what happened that day, Norrie?"

          "I don't want to talk about it."

          "No, really, what happened?"

          "No, really, I don't want to talk about it."

          "Shit."  He snapped cellophane from a pack of smokes, withdrew and lit.  "It really fucked you up, huh?"

          "You could say that."

          "Rumor says it was China."

          "No it doesn't, Matt."

          "Rumor also says it could have been a private cor--"

          "Matty.  Stop."

          "Fucked you up."

          "Yeah," Arve took another draw, "you could say that."

          The day Milo White visited the Grange happened and ended, and when the beer was gone, when the piped-in football game was over, and when the microwaved quesadillas had been consumed, Majestics 16 and 17 headed off to separate headache beds, each dreaming their own concepts of impending something.

          The Hitch Grange went on.

continue to The Grange, Part Two.


copyright 2004-2005 Paul Evan Hughes.
Paul Hughes is the editor of and the founder of Silverthought Press. He lives in Philadelphia, NY. His previous works include enemy, the winner of the 2002 Booksurge Editor's Choice award, and An End, the 2003 Independent Publishers Book Award winner for Science Fiction.  Besides the collaborative night.blind project on, Hughes is also finishing the third piece of the silverthought trilogy, broken.  For more information, please visit: