28 October 2004: Paul Hughes.
me. Lock me. Lock me lockme lock lock
fucking lock me."
07 December 2004: Paul Hughes.
Two aspirin tablets: lock confirmed.
"Tune in, Tokyo."
Tossed to mouth, crunch: bitter.
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
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
Inhale and shudder. "Seventeen dosed and ready for roll,
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
"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."
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
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
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.
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.
07 December 2004: Paul Hughes.
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.
09 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
"You've got t'have a good corn broom, boy. Just a good broom,
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
"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
Click, click, ka-boom. Arve decided to follow this
path. The little birdy was singing.
10 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
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--"
Frown. "That's me." Survey. "Yes, Officer
"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.
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
"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."
"No, the dude builds big robots shaped like insects. Doesn't
"Well that's... sad."
Shuffle. Arve cleared his throat.
"Ever lock on-- I don't know. Ever lock on someone who
"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
"Good luck with that. Try looking out the windows.
I could never direct her observer's vision, but you're good
"Ever think of pairing up? Two-for-one?"
"With you, Norrie, all the time." He winked. "Queen
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,
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.
"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
"My name ain't on any list, boy. D'you see any tractors
on this farm?"
"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
"We're sorry, sir. There must have been a mistake with
"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."
11 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
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
"Milo White or the Grissom brothers?"
"Mr. White, please. And Susan?"
"Yes, Major General?"
"Did you know that in Hebrew, your name means 'lily'?"
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
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.
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
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
"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
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.
"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?"
"Ahight, boy. Be right in."
Vertigo as the boy spun back to the stairs, slammed the door
"He comin' in?"
"Talking to the fuel men first, I think."
"They've been out there a long time. Your Pa'll set 'em
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--
12 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
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.
20 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
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.
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
"He's in the barn with his father, who just happened to fucking
find the door."
"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,
"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
"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.
"What's that, Pa?"
24 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
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.
"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
"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
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.
"You home from harvest yet, son?"
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.
26 January 2005: Paul Hughes.
"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
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
* * *
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
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?"
"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?"
"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,
"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."
31 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?
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
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.
01 February 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
"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
"Inherited. I think we have a genetic passdown here."
"You're feeling the father?"
"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
Morseburst from the front office: Target engaged. Stand
"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."
"I'm sorry; I'm old. I'd like to talk to the person
"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
"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
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."
"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
"Good neighbors are neighborly, aren't they?"
"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
"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
08 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
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
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,
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."
"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
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:
HYPERBLACK INCOMING: ENCODED
TO: ROCKLAND, M.G. SABRA, SBO:RV:A24.NE66:H
SUB: TRANSGRESS, FRONT OFFICE.
BODY: MILO WHITE MUST LIVE. CONFIRM.
Rockland frowned. "But he's--"
HYPERBLACK INCOMING: ENCODED
TO: ROCKLAND, M.G. SABRA, SBO:RV:A24.NE66:H
BODY: ENSURE TARGET SAFETY. CONFIRM.
"Can I have a 'why'?"
HYPERBLACK INCOMING: ENCODED
TO: ROCKLAND, M.G. SABRA, SBO:RV:A24.NE66:H
BODY: HE DIES, YOU DIE. CONFIRM.
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
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?"
08 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
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,
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
"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
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
Rockland went to find out.
09 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.
"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
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.
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
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
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
"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...
There was something behind those black eyes as they looked at
the brown suit, a flicker residing somewhere between recognition
Rockland returned the salute, tripped over a word or two before:
"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
"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
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."
"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,
"That's not-- That can't happen. These hardline
"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
"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--"
"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.
to The Grange, Part Two.