night.blind: 02.1.1: 12 February 2005: Paul
17 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
Karsten Nacht liked the cold.
He contemplated that enjoyment from the safety of his exposure
suit as his men pulled the last layer of thermal underwear from
the pale, hairless waste of a man that was Nils Lehrer.
--was shivering, his chest blooming goosed ridges over ribs
in places Nacht had never seen goosebumps. The shivering
started quietly enough, progressed into great sobbing heaves
of breath as Lehrer started to freeze. His jaw clamped
shut and inhalations whistled through his ice-clotted nostrils
when he realized speaking made his saliva ice.
"Please!" This repetition was choked out through clenched
teeth, three distinct syllables voiced more with the wracking
reactions of impending hypothermia than any vocal cord.
The wind picked up. Lehrer rubbed his hands across his
chest, crossed his arms, danced in place, a pathetic reminder
of just how fragile the human body is, and just how much we
aren't meant to be certain places on this planet.
Nacht's men each grabbed an arm, pulled them apart and away
from Nils Lehrer. He shook his head. "I promise--
Karsten, I promise--"
Karsten Nacht slashed, the throat, the chest, the belly, flaps
of flesh splaying forth long enough to freeze in place.
The flash-frozen glut of blood and viscera spattered to the
ice in various stages of solidity. It was music: tinkle,
tinkle. He watched the hacked neck spout a scarlet hailstorm
as Lehrer flailed backward, released from his captors' hold.
He flopped onto his back, his head a meaty crack on the ice,
his body one last jitterbugged spasm.
The only sound was the wind, and the day lasted six months.
Karsten Nacht liked Antarctica.
* * *
Night Primary was as close to hell as you could get.
Bored into eight thousand four hundred feet of ice, Primary
hived through the three-kilometer drop of the Bentley Subglacial
Trench in Lincoln Ellsworth's Land in lesser Antarctica.
The outpost rested at the lowest elevation not underwater on
the planet. The citizens of Primary, when they were in
a jovial mood, liked to joke that if the elevator cable snapped
on the way down, they'd be unwitting participants in a one-way
supercollider ride, their atoms smashed against the bedrock
and spiraling off into higher energy states long before the
sonic boom. Such humor is generally wasted outside of
CERN, from where many of the Primaries had been stolen.
Did I say "citizens"? Not exactly. Night Primary
existed well outside of any claimed territory, although once
it had hovered dangerously close to the Chilean claim.
Antarctica had once been the most popular pie at the picnic,
the general area Primary inhabited blueberried between such
glorious grabs as Ellsworth's Land and Marie Byrd Land, quadrangulated
between Byrd and Russkaya, Siple and Druzhnaya, but no one drew
maps anymore. Chile had given up their claim (along with
seven million Chileans), and the superpowers no longer had the
resources to care much about the irradiated iceberg at the bottom
of the world.
In the previous century, people with long hair who actually
enjoyed tofu had bitched a lot about the "ozone hole" over Antarctica.
"Hole," at that point, had been a misnomer, a Chicken Little
attempt to get Republicans to stop driving sports utility vehicles
and hug more trees. It had been only a seventy-percent
depletion in the ozone level above the continent. Still
plenty of ozone to do whatever ozone does, and honestly, no
one really gave a shit until that remaining thirty percent dissipated
and friendly scientists began growing cancers in their eyeballs
and earlobes after taking an afternoon stroll with their hats
Karsten Nacht liked Antarctica, and he liked the cold, and he
liked his job, but what he didn't like very much was the fact
that Lehrer had gotten a signal out before they caught up to
him. He would have much rather have been back at the bottom
of the slit, checking the morning's playlist, drinking Pepsi
Cola, perhaps doing horrible things to a young woman, than trudging
across the ice, the item now secured in a heating pack alice-clamped
to his ruck. His exposure suit provided him with enough
warmth to keep him alive, but it did nothing to substantially
reduce the glare, even with the triple-polarized shields down
on his goggles. No exposed flesh-- he didn't cherish the
thought of the doktor blading a writhing, blood-vesseled mass
from his forehead or cheeks.
Across the plain, their vehicle appeared as a blocky interruption
to the white.
"Finally," young Thule Nast sighed. "I hate the outdoors."
"That's what you get." Nacht let the non-accusation hang,
and Thule shut it. He wasn't a bad kid, but Nacht knew
weakness, and he knew someday he'd be taking Thule out one last
Thoughts of home: meat, liquor, smoke. Snatch. Life
in the slit was good, and there was some good slit to be had
at Primary. Nacht ran a different playlist in his mind,
tried to choose a half-mate for the night. The possibilities
were as endless as a buried city of five thousand could allow.
He knew them all; it was his job to know them all.
"Warm her up."
"Ja." Sepp Bahlow's conversational skills were as limited
as his physical form was plentiful, a great hulking beast of
a man, apparently constructed of hair and gristle and steel.
He remoted the cat, which ratcheted to life, the ramjet screeing
across the ice, quieting into idle, that auditory interruption
just one more reason that Nacht would make someone pay for his
inconvenience that night. Clamps. Electricity.
Needles. There were still twenty-seven female virgins
left in Primary, twenty-six tomorrow. Maybe twenty-five.
It was a good kill, he thought to himself as he took
one last look back at the rigid red outcrop that had been Nils
Lehrer. He just wished that Lehrer hadn't gotten so close
to the pole.
18 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
The B1 and B2 buildings from naughty-five were still there.
The cracked dome, all three crashed planes pushed well to the
side of the runway, Max Conrad's from 1970, Dave Crouse's 917
from 1973, that miserable failure of the mini-X33 from seventeen,
still rent into burnt slabs of aerial silicate-aluminum many
handfuls of years later.
Cold preserves, and that was the driving force behind Harris
Aloha Jones lay strapped to a makeshift sledge, lilting forward
a few feet with each exertion Stanhope slumped forward.
He'd tried to make small talk early in the run, a mixture of
shock and personality, using humor to alleviate despair.
Stanhope had removed the black rain slicker from the compartment
on his 7000ci duffel and covered Aloha's swollen face.
A caul, a shroud: it hadn't shut his companion up.
"Al," Stanhope stopped tugging. "I can't keep talking.
Can't walk and talk." He hefted forward.
"Getting close though, right?"
Stop. "I see her." Start.
"Good. That's good, right?"
Stop. "Want to spend another night out here?" Start.
The ensuing silence might have been another slip into dreams.
Stanhope set aside all concern for his companion's condition
for the moment. Silence was more productive than answering
He navigated the sledge through the debris field on the camp's
perimeter, continued on underneath the raised dormitories, blackened
and gutted as they were. He surveyed the damage; great
segments of the dome had collapsed. There were still bodies.
He'd scavenge the bodies later.
For now, his main goal was to locate the secondary ingress.
Biomed arch. Too many quonset huts to--
And then he found it. He thought he heard a moan from
Jones, but it might have been the wind. Probably the wind;
Aloha wouldn't have wasted breath on a verbalization that wasn't
The primary ingress had been in Vault 4, but he knew from the
digested data that Vault 4 had been taken out in the first strike.
From its appearance, the biomed arch had only sustained peripheral
So he was awake. That was a plus. Stanhope knew
that Aloha was strong, but that exposure...
"I'm checking the secondary. Bee are bee."
He ducked under the folded steel walls. Enough daylight
filtered through the cracks and separatations to illuminate
the interior: shattered equipment, frozen doctors, the legendary
Seabees plaque half-torched on the floor. Looked for--
a closet. Found it, but had to pry loose a very dead nurse
from the floor before the door could open enough to allow him
They hadn't done a good job hiding the port, but the inhabitants
of Amundsen-Scott hadn't exactly done a good job of hiding anything.
He tore down a plywood shelving system, knocking boxes of gauze
and cleaning solution and bandages and broom handles to the
closet floor. He used one of the handles to pry loose
the false wall behind the shelf, et voila: secondary ingress
He smiled in pride as he ripped the velcro closure of his bib
pocket open to withdraw his linkup, but God hates proud men,
and the linkup's display was as black as frozen plasma could
be. Frantic, he checked his exposure suit's heating unit.
That was fine; he hadn't expected a malfunction, since he was
not yet frozen to death. Patting himself down, he pulled
out his hydration unit. It had sprung a pinpoint leak
and frozen solid. He should have put the link in a different
pocket; those drops of water must have gotten into the device
and wreaked havoc as liquid transformed to solid.
He ran through upcoming priorities: Get Aloha out of the cold.
Hotwire ingress port. Enter. Acquire fire.
Melt water. Drink water. Burn things. Get
warm. Make sure Aloha doesn't die from the second-degree
burns on his face and the cancer probably fucking growing on
him already and try to make contact with the network and Jesus
fuck, what am I going to do?
Harris Stanhope was at the bottom of the world.
Karsten Nacht was shaking.
19 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
It wasn't the guilt or the cold; he hadn't the ability to feel
guilt, and his quarters were kept at a luxurious 294 degrees
Kelvin. He stubbed the filterless Rote Zigaretten still
smoking into the agape mouth of Virgin One, and traced the infinitesimal
line of hair between Virgin Two's navel and pubis. There
was more blood in the room than the two-for-one defloration
He rose to one elbow and reached to retrieve his cigarette case
on the nightstand beside Virgin Two's corpse. Two conquests?
Two cigarettes. Both maidens and cigarettes were in short
supply, but he felt a certain victory after tracking and locating
Lehrer that day. Click, flick, click, inhale. Looking
off at the blank viewer, he ashed between Ms. One's breasts.
He shook from the adrenaline spindown. Intensely aware
of his body's internal functions, he rolled his head, splayed
his toes, began flexing every major muscle group from his feet
to his face. An onlooker would have suspected a stroke;
he simply wanted to allay the onset of post-coital cramping.
He'd given the girls workouts, but they wouldn't have to suffer
Lost in playlists and recollection, he allowed the cigarette
to burn down to his fingers. Most would have dropped it,
cried out in pain or surprise. He'd long ago learned to
live an offset life, and was able to choose a actionable directive
microseconds before the burning was relayed to his brain.
He shut off the reflex and placed the butt in Ms. Two's mouth.
Clambering from between the two forms, one too young to know
any better, the other too ugly to care, he pulled his pants
up over feet and knees and deflated, cum- and blood-slicked
penis, clicking the fastener home. Testing the floor,
he found it acceptable in terms of warmth, unacceptable in terms
of soil. He socked brain matter from his feet and left
A reader from a previous century might find the concept of a
shirtless man wandering the hallways of an Antarctic base unbelievable,
but those dark days had not yet seen the development of efficient
renewable energy sources. Nacht's room was frigid compared
to the balmy heat in the remainder of the complex, heat provided
by that old reliable engine of twenty-first century Antarctic
industry: the sun. Five thousand people required a lot
of sun, and that tumored and baked continent had a lot of sun
People here, people there. As he walked down the mazework,
they'd stop in turn, salute, hurry past at his dismissal, their
faces suddenly studying the floors, their steps a little faster.
Not all of that fear could be blamed on the dried blood and
tissue on his unwashed face.
As he cut through the torrent of subordinates, he had to make
a conscious effort to tune them out. He knew each by name,
by intimate detail, knew every thought and dream and hope and
kink. Night Primary was the largest private army in the
world, each participant in the experiment at the world's end
selected by Nacht, hand-picked from those the governments had
not yet brought into their own viewing programs. That
was about to change. Everything was about to change, as
Nils Lehrer and Aloha Jones had proven in the past days.
He got into the bridge elevator. He'd a penchant for nautical
The elevator door opened, and he debarked into the center of
a vast circular chamber, the edges of which were honeycombed
with two hundred remote viewing null-stimulation pods, one hundred
seventy-five of which were occupied at all times. Five
nobody analysts saw him enter and immediately walked to meet
him. He waved them off, chose instead to address the hidden
"My children," a whisper that echoed. He wiped crusted
blood from his cheek, an errant hair from his lip. "Tell
me about the cold."
23 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
"Took you long enough."
"Don't start." Stanhope was popping the bindings that
held Jones to the makeshift journey-gurney.
"Listen, I'm--" Jones started to sit up, the brisking wind whipping
the black slicker around his slicker black face. "I know
I'm the comedy relief, I'm just--"
"--not funny. I need you to open the door."
"Not anymore. You know that. And the link's dead.
No hotwiring. Arms up."
Jones reached up, and Stanhope lifted him from the knees, draped
him over his shoulder like a duffel. "I'll try not to
hit your head. The building's caved."
Into the warren of corpses and snow, Stanhope carried Jones
back to the closet, helped him down to slump against the wall.
It was eating him-- His legs weren't working anymore.
"Door's probably ringed with--"
"Don't set it off, then. Be gentle."
Jones took the veil from his face, not that he really needed
to, and Stanhope would have in fact preferred he hadn't, but
he didn't stop him. The nose was mashed flat under eyes
swollen to slits, beyond, burst. Each nostril was plugged
solid with caked black blood and ice, making every word an exercise
any primary school resource room deprogrammer would have been
proud to tackle.
Lids and brows plump with swelling reoriented themselves in
what Stanhope assumed was concentration. "No power.
Can't trick it. It's ringed, too. Ka-boom if you'd
"Take it down."
"I'm not feeling--"
"You can rest once we're inside, Al. Please. Just
take it down."
Jones snuffled through the somewhat-thawing clots in his nose.
If Stanhope hadn't found him, he would have been blind out on
the ice, wandering, lost, probably worse. Probably dead,
as he sensed Lehrer now was, somewhere out there.
They'd split up to double their chances of escape, and now,
those odds were in no one's favor. At least he was alive.
He remembered first seeing Antarctica from the viewport of the
coldjet-33, making a snarky remark to his traveling companions,
just another nigger with an attitude ban-i-shed to the bottom
of the world when the man realized he was too smart for his
own good and too dangerous for his own country. In certain
contexts, of course. Danger can be malleable, and his
particular danger had been extruded into razor-sharp remote
The Amundsen-Scott station, like all the rest of the Antarctic
outposts, had been abandoned when the ozone popped and people
started dying horrible, bleeding deaths. Lost in thought,
analyzing the molecular composition and the fuzz between of
the secondary ingress, one hand rose absently to touch his face.
He could feel that contact more through his exposure gloves
than from the bare, bruised, dying flesh.
A-S had been dormant for a good three or four days until superblack
ops began populating it with viewers.
You must understand that there are levels to government, and
some of those levels run at their best when they are completely
unknown to the highest public levels, when anyone who knows
about them is locked into a lifetime commitment to them, thereby
forfeiting what most human beings would consider a normal existence.
Aloha Jones was too smart for his own good, and his life didn't
mean much of anything to anyone at all, at least until he was
given a one-way ticket to the South Pole and became a new animal
named Rubyshoe-179. The Rubyshoes had essentially been
in charge of overseeing every United States remote viewing outpost
on the planet, and they'd done a fine job of it until Karsten
Nacht and his army had murdered most of them.
That's where Harris Stanhope came in.
The door opened with an audible pop and hiss, the massive swing
mechanism racheting open on protesting servos. A burst
of chill escaped. The air was dead inside.
"Okay. Arms up."
28 February 2005: Paul Hughes.
Pod doors retracted, and almost two hundred sludge-slicked viewers
peeked out. A chorus of non-voices swelled and receded at
Nacht's raised finger, the subtle tilt of his head as he closed
his eyes. He'd call on them.
"Report, Viewer Forty-One."
"Day's playlist: Munich. Subject--"
"Enough. Viewer Nine?"
"Target acquired in Scotland. Tracked on--"
"Continue tracking. Viewer One-hundred Sixty?" Nacht
walked to his empty command chair, slumped into it, the cooled
leatherette surface clamping his sweated back.
"Hitch, Nebraska, Direktor."
He sat up from the slump. "Go on."
"Issued directive to outpost at 0937CST. Success."
"He is safe, Direktor."
"Excellent. Excellent. Dolpha!" He snapped
his fingers twice, gave a short whistle. His shepherd's
ears picked up, and the bitch ran to his side, sat at attention,
her muzzle lowered, her front paws planted. Dolpha's tail
didn't wag. Nacht leaned down, grabbed the sides of her
face, mussed her hair, stroked the too-long nose to its wet
Sepp Bahlow grunted from his point of onlooking, leaned against
a bulkhead next to Thule Nast. Karsten Nacht showed no
affection to anything in the world other than that savage old
dog. Dummer Hund.
"One Six One," Nacht whispered more to the dog than the viewer,
before he looked in the general direction of pod 161, "You've
done well. Continue tracking subject and advise when necessary."
That was about as sensitive or personable as Nacht could be
to another human being.
"Children," he rose, as did Dolpha, her tail not between her
legs, but held straight out, as if her decades-old form could
leap to action in an instant, ravaging a throat, an Achilles
tendon, ripping through a septum into the heartmeat of a man,
which it could and had, "we've made great progress today, and
I know we will continue. We have the farmer in our grip,
and soon, we'll have the last of the polers hunted down."
He turned and looked at Thule Nast over his shoulder.
Nast tried to hide in Bahlow's shadow, but the room was bright
with halogen and thoughts. "No matter what setbacks we
might have experienced these last weeks, no matter how deep
the betrayal cut into our ranks, we're only just beginning."
God, his eyes are blue, Nast thought, and was it-- a
trace of a smile? Across Nacht's face? Nast pushed
the thought of God and eyes down deeper than any Judas betrayal.
"You've done well, children. Rotate out, and--
* * *
--"fucking watch it!"
The clang of Aloha's head against the metal seal of the door
still echoed in the airlock. They'd traversed the ingress
path, and Stanhope was relieved to find the interior was a simple
twist-arm bulk. Although it was larger than the ingress,
he still managed to smack Aloha against the side on his way
He'd cracked his final glowstick, which would last another eight
hours, but after that... He'd have to get the systems
back online if they had any chance of remaining liquid in the
"Okay, you're going down." At a harrumph from Jones, he
tilted forward and guided the mangled form to the floor, leaned
against the wall. He wondered if it was a bad sign that
his breath was no longer visible, as if he no longer had the
lung capacity to emit steam.
Jones touched his face, testing his senses. Maybe it was
better that he couldn't feel a thing.
"First off, first aid. Generators. Water.
You know the layout better than I do. Where do I start
"We need a fire, man. Should be able to find some paper
on this level, magazines, books. Anything. Just
The Amundsen-Scott outpost had been constructed to much the
same specifications as the Grange, although at a larger scale.
The Rubyshoes had required considerably more space than the
two-dozen Majestics and their support staff. The secondary
egress was located in one of the top dormitories, a hive of
interlaced hallways feeding out into the cubicles where the
exiled viewers had lived and slept and fucked and brushed their
teeth until Nacht had found them.
Stanhope tried the first door. It was open, as he suspected
all of them would be. The Germans would have gone door-to-door
hunting, and in confirmation, he noted the scoring of a ram
on the steel jamb. The green of his glowstick offered
more confirmation: what appeared to have been a young female
Rubyshoe, half of her head missing, frozen to the floor beside
her bunk in the utilitarian chamber.
It was too cold to stink, but the ice blood across the floor
made his walk slippery.
He tried the sink first. Nothing. Any residual pressure
had probably been released in cheap burst government contractor
plumbing, if it weren't frozen solid. Either way, they
were fucked without water, unless he could find some--
and he did. If there were one thing viewers had in common
with one another, it was a propensity toward self-destruction.
He ran back into the hallway to Jones.
"First aid enough. Stoli?"
"Jenkins. Plastic bottle. Don't complain.
Not frozen." He popped the pour spout, took a liberal
mouthful for himself, and coughed through it as he tilted Aloha's
mouth up. "Brace for it."
After a coughing fit, spilling residuals from his split lips
and cheeks, Jones started laughing. "Battery acid don't
freeze, does it?"
"Here, take the bottle." Stanhope placed both of Jones's
hands around the half-full, half-empty, either-way,-we're-fucked
liquor. "I'll be back-- Have to get the heat on."
Harris Stanhope left Jones in the dark, his path down the steel
tube illuminated weakly in ghostlight.
03 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
It would be an understatement to say that Sepp Bahlow was a big
man, and a tragic understatement to underestimate him based on
his frame. He was big in a Tor Johnson way, a grade-z horror
movie way, the perfect hench to the man who would unseat Hitch
and all the delicious little viewers from existence. His
was a deceptive girth. The pushing-four-hundred pounds of
him weren't fat, as any observant dietician would have assumed.
He would have pulled the arms from any observant dietician Wookiee-style
without the slightest difficulty. He was good for hauling
The tropical steam of Night Primary graced Bahlow with a sheen
unbecoming on his barrel chest, the too-tight spousal abuser
he wore stretched wet and tight over man tits that were more
conical pectorals than too many hamburg sandwiches. There
were legs draped over his chest now, four of them, and from
the crease between each set, a sour waft of blood and cum marked
the target of Nacht's earlier transgressions. He carried
the two corpses as a Navy man of past centuries would wield
his duffels up a gangplank. People didn't look at him
or the fucked-to-death as he passed them in the tubes on his
way to the disposal shaft.
But they would, apparently, talk to him.
"Sepp--" Thule Nast fastwalked to his side, matched his stride,
two steps for every one. "Are these the-- Oh fuck.
Smokes in their eyes."
Bahlow stopped walking, and one of the butts fell from Virgin
Two's socket, a viscous strand of something unmentionable and
probably optic fluid dangling it for a second before gravity
grasped it down to the floor.
"What do you want?" American doesn't nearly as neatly
construct sentences that are succinct, menacing, and utterly
Sepp Bahlow as the original German.
Nast was lost for a moment in the flesh presented before him,
the bodies slung over Bahlow's shoulders, the sudden appearance
of two clefts as he turned to face Nast. The first cunts
he'd been allowed visual access in far too long, and both were
far too dead. His tongue traced his bottom lip before
Bahlow grunted, laughed at the sight of the youngster lusting
"What is it?"
"Oh," recovery, eyes tore from secret places, "Is-- Do
you think he's mad at me?"
Bahlow chuckled, turned. Started to walk again.
"No, really. I know I fucked up, but--"
"You more than fucked up, kid. You almost cost us the
"I know. I'm just wondering... Do you think I'm--"
"Next? Yes. Fuck up again, you're next to go.
No question. Get the door."
"Oh." Nast went around Bahlow's burdened form and wratcheted
the waste shaft door open.
"Listen, kid." Bahlow heaved Virgin One into the open
shaft. Somewhere far below, a miniature clean fusion device
would disappear her from the world. "Just don't fuck up
"I didn't mean to."
Bahlow threw Virgin Two to the floor, her head a sickly crack
and spill across the steel. He grabbed Nast by the neck
and swung him into the waste shaft, eliciting a response of
a scream not unlike a girl's from the terrified boy. He
held him over the pitfall just long enough, then swung him back
around and tossed him to the ground, where he skidded and rolled
to a stop ten feet away. With unexpected speed and agility,
Bahlow ran to Nast's crumpled form and cracked two ribs with
If he broke a sweat, the jungle environment hid it under the
rest of the day's slick.
"Nobody means to. Just keep your thoughts to yourself
Nast, grasping his right side, maneuvered to a kneeling position.
He looked up, met Bahlow's black gaze. "Yes, sir."
Bahlow nodded, offered his hand. After Nast was standing,
favoring his right, Bahlow thumbed a look back at the nude corpse.
"You can have her if you want her, kid. Just throw her
down the chute when you're done."
Nast smiled, teeth red. "Thank you, sir."
With no more use for words, Sepp Bahlow clapped Nast on the
back, a solid crack that hurt as much as it reassured, and ambled
off down the hall to torture some prisoners and eat supper.
07 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
"All of this could have been yours, enkel." Karsten Nacht
the Elder sipped a glass of iced schnapps. The San Juan
heat was made less oppressive by the air coming in over the water.
Karsten Nacht the Grandson sipped a Coca Cola.
"Puerto Rico, Grandfather?"
"No, boy." His eyes narrowed over cataracts that wouldn't
complete their clouding before he died three years later.
They only brought a haze. Young Karsten wondered what
the world looked like to a man so old, through those translucent
disks, through a life filtered by half a century on the run.
"The world. It could have been yours."
"Why can't it be?"
The old man laughed, used his napkin to pat beads of sweat from
his upper lip and forehead. "Keep thinking that, son."
The beachside expanse wasn't quiet, stippled with waves and
tourists and the tinkle of music from the line of restaurants
and bars. Young Karsten felt quiet, though, sitting there
watching his grandfather waiting to die, dreaming of a world
he'd had within grasp, a world without the money-changers, without
the Communists, a world where deviants were eliminated upon
offense and the damaged were eliminated upon birth.
"Why do you live here?"
The boy was precocious. He was already piecing together
the fragments of his family history from snippets read in schoolbooks
and on web pages devoted to things good American boys aren't
supposed to think about.
"I've lived many places, boy. This just seems to be where
I ended up."
"I didn't think my dad would let me come." He carried
a grin of mischief, of intrigue.
"Karsten probably had to pull a few strings with the State Department,
yes. But the question is, why did you want to see me?
Aren't photographs enough?"
The boy considered.
The waiter approached. "Otra bebida, senor? Amo?"
"Si." The old German pushed his glass to the table's edge.
"Schädlinge," under his breath. The waiter looked
confused for a moment, shrugged his shoulders. Took the
glasses and left.
"Why'd you call him that?"
"Because he is." The old man adjusted himself in the chair,
tilted the brim of his Panama hat forward. "Vermin."
An emotion stirred behind the Elder's eyes. "Because of
this." He tousled his grandon's hair. "And this."
He cradled the boy's face in one hand and pointed at his startling
blue eyes. "And this." One swift, brutal movement,
and the boy's hand was on the table, a steak knife tracing a
shallow line across its palm. The boy cried out.
Tears started to hover on the edge of falling.
The boy's eyes snapped to his palm, where a thin line of blood
was emerging. The initial fire and shock of the act was
supplanted by realization. Karsten Nacht released III's
face and wrist, slumped back in his chair, wiping the knife
on his cloth napkin. Blood and sweat and schnapps and
"Remember this, boy. Our blood is all we are. And
those without this blood-- vermin."
A mile beneath the Antarctic ice shield, Karsten Nacht III turned
over in his sleep, settled back into the fresh comforters, and
for a moment had the face of that boy, before all of this had
begun, before the wars and the plans and the beginnings.
08 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
Harris Stanhope paused to wipe sweat from his forehead.
Sweat-- Unimaginable. Sweat, here. But it was.
He got back to work.
Work was wratcheting. He thought of cars a century before,
the movies that showed men turning a handle at the front of
the engine to get the car started, the horror stories of the
handle kicking back and shattering arms, wrists. Somehow
he thought that this handle wouldn't kick back, but the radiation
might kill him.
Thrust forward, levered the handle around. The pencil-sized
control rod to the clean-core reactor finally slipped home.
There wasn't much air down at the outpost's bottom, and Stanhope,
winded, let himself slide to the floor. He swept a few
spent rods over from the surrounding floor and put the pencils
in the leadish case. Not enough to kill-- yet.
Sweating, dehydrated, even more so because of the belts of vodka
he'd tossed back before coming down. There'd be water
soon enough, and heat. He grasped for motivation, stood
up, a little dizzy, a few cramps, half-stumbled to the reactor
controls. The flatglass should have an emergency backup
power-- there. He plugged the black box into its socket
under the display, which flickered from black to an underlit
sheet of iced blood that concealed most of the control zones.
He tore part of the dead technician's shirt off and used it
to scrub the red ice from the glass. It was in inactive
mode; his scrubbing could have been fatal if he'd accidentally
fingered one of the hidden kill areas.
The blood mostly removed from the flat surface, he removed his
gloves, his hands and fingers protesting the brittle cold, and
referred to the activation codes split-burst into his long-term
memory before the mission had begun. The glass chirped,
and he knew he was in. Trained his consciousness down
another deep-memory path, recalling the startup routines, the
best way to conserve the pencil energy, shutting down tertiary
systems, shunting heat from abandoned dormitories (the bodies
would only thaw and rot, not that he really wanted to be around
long enough to smell that, but he knew the chances), and most
importantly, locking all egress ports.
To transmit home, he'd have to find the main array. This
basement panel couldn't reach that far.
Karsten Nacht. Karsten Fucking Nacht. What a mess.
Satisfied that the initiation routines were running smoothly
and that he'd allocated essential utilities conservatively,
Stanhope ran his thumb up the side of the glass, boosting the
output levels. Overhead lights grew bright with the pressure
of his thumb. A few flickered, died at the sudden influx
of electricity. The replacement of the glowstick's green
with reassuring white made the place feel warmer already, and--
The ducts started sputtering air. Warm air.
He knew somewhere out there, the Germans would read the power
signature. Aside from an atomic drop, they'd have a bastard
of a time getting in, though. Locking the egress ports
wasn't just a question of securing deadbolts and employing maglocks.
Somewhere far above him the four entries to the outpost would
have slammed shut, their interior airlocks following, and several
thousand tons of space-grown industrial-grade epoxy were solidifying
into gargantuan bricks of blockade within microseconds.
The fortress above him was little comfort. He'd seen what
Aloha Jones could do to the door, and he was just one viewer,
dying, at that. Nacht had dozens, if not hundreds of viewers,
supertalent psychics of all persuasions. Stanhope knew
that they wouldn't be safe for long, not with the kind of manpower
the Germans had. Their only hope was to alert home of
the situation. It wasn't a great only hope; he knew Nacht
had infiltrated many layers, hard and fast. Chances were
good that no one would believe him, even if he could get through.
Harris Stanhope was a pragmatist in a time where hope had less
worth than polyester.
His hands burned, the kind of burning you can only experience
after the numbness of deep cold. It was enough to bring
tears to his eyes, but he grit his teeth and left the reactor,
hoping that the elevators were now working. He had to
get back to Aloha. A large percentage of his brain hoped
that the man had died, even though he knew that Jones would
have a lot to tell home. Again, the question rose to the
surface, a corpse at a summer camp: Would anyone believe them?
Only one way to find out.
* * *
"Gehen Sie weg." Mumbled. Nacht turned over in bed.
"Come in, Sepp."
The giant entered, the lights adjusting slowly as the door opened
and closed. "Sorry, boss. Thought you should know--
We have a signal."
Nacht sat up, his sheet dropping just enough to reveal his sex.
"Where are they?"
09 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
A sound more a feline hiss than any other. "I knew it.
"I've tasked overseers to allocate resources."
"Well done." A deft swirl of fabric, and Nacht was on
his feet, wrapping his fluids-stained sheet around his waist.
He clapped Bahlow on the shoulder as the door opened.
"Are we going after them?" The ogre jogged, a lumbering,
clodded gait, to keep pace with Nacht.
"Of course." Nacht smiled. "After we do a little
* * *
His fingertips traced over the blackened black skin, peeled
a sheaf loose, added it to the pile on the floor. He could
see, but he couldn't. The vodka was gone, as were his
The grind of metal plates, something slamming home, and a warm
breeze filled the hallway. Aloha Jones smiled; Stanhope
had apparently been successful in restoring power.
The next minutes were another torture, the feeling returning
to blackened black extremities. He thought he felt fingertips
swell and split, but he couldn't be sure. Maybe the lights
were on. Maybe the outpost was on fire. He knew
he hadn't long.
A humming, a resonance, and another sound, this time of metal
parting, lubricated on crusted oils. Ding. Elevator.
"I'm here. You blind?"
Seventy-eight steps of composite on steel, and Harris Stanhope
bent to his side. "How you feeling, bud?"
"Peachy. Power on?"
"Minimal, but it's running. Where's the comm system?"
Jones thought, his inner eyes reconstructing the outpost layout.
"Down seven, over three. Center thrust. You'll need
this." He grappled fingers over velcro closures, ripped,
took out an identification tag: Rubyshoe-179. A tiny alligator
clip snarled at the card's top.
"We kept it old school while we could."
"Hold on to it. You're coming with me."
"Can't do it alone, bud."
"Fine." Jones lifted his arms, and Stanhope hefted him
once again over his shoulder. He'd become a marginally-warmer
bag of ice and blood.
* * *
"Empty the grid." Nacht sat in his command chair, Dolpha
at his side. "Fresh, all around."
It was a sight to behold, one hundred seventy-five pod lids
popping open, the same number of used viewers clambering out,
awash in nil-stim slurry. It was a wet sound, frantic,
the slapping of three hundred fifty bare feet on steel, forming
ranks and marching to the side. It sounded like sex, rumbling
a desire into Karsten Nacht's midsection. If the night
was good-- He noted three young women and two men from the outgoing
group who would share his bed. None would live the night.
Klaxons roared with the broadcast orders: Aufmerksamkeit!
Löschen Sie das Rasterfeld! Achtung! Zweite
A full complement of two hundred replacement viewers double-timed
in ranks, split in geographic precision as they feathered out,
climbing into their assigned pods. The extraction and
replacement routine took fewer than three minutes. Karsten
Nacht's children (some were, you know) had drilled relentlessly.
Two hundred faces, four hundred eyes locked with his two.
He stood, his sheet billowing out, Dolpha at his side, her tail
The tug of two hundred minds.
"Targets: Two American males. One African. One Jew.
Each aged between thirty and forty years. The African
is a wounded Rubyshoe. The Jew is-- something else.
Sensitivity focus on the Rubyshoe. Exert secondary threads
on the Jew. Locate and incapacitate. Do not allow
them to communicate with the outside. Do not kill them.
Is that understood?"
A wordless assent.
"Good, children. Get to work."
* * *
23 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
Rubyshoe-179's identification card still worked, even at minimal
power, and Stanhope was relieved. He was weak, and the blinded
bundle of dying over his shoulder was getting heavy.
There were three empty chairs before panels in the communications
room. Nobody had been at the communicative wheel when
the attack came, or they'd been killed trying to get there.
The room was the first he'd been in without the slick of blood.
He put Jones in one chair and sat next to him, adjusting the
sluggish pneumatics to a more appropriate height for his legs.
Channeled down another flash-memorized command line, his fingers
reflexively tracing over hot zones on the glass. It sputtered
twice, then flared to life. One corner of the display
was black from a hairline fracture down to the panel's edge.
Maybe there'd been violence in the room after all.
"Who you calling?"
"Can't tell you. Don't really know, myself."
"How'd you get roped into a job like this, man?"
"I'm a freelancer."
"Outsourced. Can't tell you much more than that."
"Give the dying man a secret, Harris. Not like I'll make
it out of here."
"Don't say that." His eyes marked places his fingers activated
in sequence. "Still a good chance the Germans know we're
here. Especially now that we're sending a power signature."
"Fuck those skinheads." Jones grabbed Stanhope's sleeve.
"Tell me who you work for."
"We're dialing. Far-orbit sats are still up-- That's
good." He unclamped Jones' fingers from his right arm.
"I need this."
The display, sitting on top of an in-house backdoor subnet,
split into layers. One layer showed a cartoon outline
of a human hand. Stanhope placed his right hand over the
diagram, let it scan the crimson-stained surface. Maybe
he should have washed--
The outline glowed green. He was in. Words: WAIT
Jones guffawed when the wall speakers gushed forth an old-fashioned
Display: ENTER YOUR FOUR-DIGIT PIN NUMBER.
2001. The year the world had hit the fan.
The dial tone jolted with static, making both men jump.
A voice filled the room, probably a long-dead voiceover artist
doing freelance herself: "Please hold while we connect you to
your Global Transcommunications account. Thank you for
your patience!" Cheery.
"Well," Jones muttered, "that scared the rest of the shit out
Another shift in the tonal harmonics: "Please enter the telephone
number to which you would like to connect!"
"Activate voice dial."
"Voice dialing activated!"
"Plus six seven two plus zero one plus zero one one plus one
plus seven zero three plus four eight two plus zero six two
Pulsed bursts of voice data being translated into an archaic
"Please hold (and the voice changed to a decidedly androgynous
menace), MISTER STANHOPE (back to Miss Cheery Voice), while
we connect you to the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY of THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA."
Music followed. In a century, elevator music hadn't changed.
"Hey--," even without eyes, Jones looked confused, "I thought
you said you weren't Government?"
"There's more than one, Al."
And then it happened.
25 March 2005: Paul Hughes.
Jones screamed, engaged in an action that could only be described
as beating, yes, beating his blackened black hands against the
side of his head.
Stanhope's eyes felt the way ears feel in airplanes before they
pop, but it was nothing to scream about.
Somewhere down the ravine of his sensation, he realized that
the elevator music had stopped, and a tin voice was saying something,
but everything was dulled, and then his ears did pop.
His eyes didn't, but they blurred an acid trail, every motion
of his head jarring echoes of vision into his mind. Living
in offset-- He watched blood spurt from Aloha's nose and
ears. Yes, spurt was the word, at least initially, until
tapering off into trickle, but it was all so-- delayed.
And. He found his fingers wiping blood from Aloha's cheeks,
didn't remember commanding them to do so, and the voice still--
and the voice still
"Repeat, connection locked. Mr. Stanhope? Over."
Human indecision is often bundled into moments of turning, and
he turned from Jones to look at the black glass, a wave line
trailing off from the last transmission, blurring, echoed, disjointed
and unseated, his reality a dozen minds, a hundred, two?
A great reaching and grabbing, as with wet fingers, unable to
find complete purchase, but growing nails with which to dig.
Echo, echo. Jones had stopped screaming.
"Mr. Stanhope? Report. Over."
He summoned the forefront of his consciousness into action,
bit down hard on his tongue, snapping him into a semblance of
lucidity, shearing off shreds of flesh on each side. Blood
filled his mouth, and he realized that Jones was probably dead
"Stanhope, if you are unable to--"
"Amundsem. Amudsen--" He fought it. "Amundsen."
"We read. Report. Over."
"Germans-- I've found the... Nacht. Under
attack." He added, attempting a modicum of procedure,
"We read you at A-S outpost, Stanhope. Report position
of enemy base."
He spit, felt a wretch impending. To his side, Jones was
indeed as still as he could be, probably dead, and now whatever
psychic barrage had taken Jones out seemed to be focusing on
"A-S base is dead. Rubyshoes offline."
"We know. Report Nacht's position. Over."
All the implications of the first two words of that exchange
found a place to fester at the bottom of his stomach and began
* * *
01 April 2005: Paul Hughes.
"Do you have him?"
Two hundred voices whispered in affirmation.
"Excellent, children. Reach for the other one. The
* * *
His grandfather's linen guayabera shirt had soaked through with
sweat, but in that climate, no one seemed to notice or care.
Karsten Nacht's cane tapped over the cobbled streets of Old
San Juan as Karsten Nacht III followed him on the way to the
San Cristobal Fort. The distracted boy stopped in front
of the open entrance of Hooters and ogled the buxom servers.
He ran to his grandfather's side and kept pace.
It took longer than it should have to reach the fort, given
the elder's knees, and that stumbled trip down inclined streets
gave Karsten plenty of time to think. He was a boy given
to thinking, some would say too much, and that day, between
thinking about his grandfather's bitter treatment of the waiter
on the beach and the girls in white and orange, what hid beneath
that white and orange, he allowed himself to devote some thinking
to his lineage, a taboo subject in his family, especially when
his mother was present, and never in polite company. His
father had offered only tidbits of the past, but Karsten wasn't
a boy likely to forget a tidbit.
He knew his father's side came from Germany. That was
a starting point laden heavily with implication.
He'd torn voraciously through any reading material related to
the Second World War that he could find, but it had never seemed
enough, and such reading, when found out, had been discouraged
in his family's household. The past was distant and hidden,
something to be improved upon, not analyzed. He had a
hard time creating a focal point for improvement when he knew
so little about from where to start.
He thought perhaps he shouldn't think too much about the Second
World War. It made his hand throb again. His heart
seemed to beat in time to the call of the coquis hidden in alleys.
He was a bright boy. He could guess what had happened
to his family during the dark times of the previous century.
They were at San Cristobal finally. Admission, entrance,
the walk up dozens, hundreds of stairs, finally out onto the
open stone plain that looked out over the ocean. They
settled down on the edge before the drop, Karsten I afraid of
Karsten III toppling over and breaking on the rocks below, which
he would, in fact, three years later, not by accident, but by
"There it is, son."
There are moments in childhood when children have a hard time
discerning between concepts that require inquisition and those
that do not. Karsten filed through every answer to the
unasked question he could before settling on trying his luck.
The old man looked into the boy's bright eyes for a moment,
looked back out across the water, almost a whisper:
"Amerika. Die Feinde."
04 April 2005: Paul Hughes.
His school had scrapped its foreign language requirement in favor
of a larger percentage of the federal impact aid going toward
replacement football equipment. The German he hadn't bothered
to try to pick up from his father's hushed telephone calls to
his exiled grandfather wouldn't have added much more to the equation
of understanding that statement; he relied on extrapolating homonyms.
Karsten I's arthritic hand settled on his chest, feigned scratching
for a moment, but just settled, exhausted, over his heart.
From what Karsten III understood of the enmity between the exiles
and his own native land, he wondered if any heart at all beat
in the old man's chest. There was a part of him that struggled
to bury that sentiment under filial piety, but there was a more
surfaced part that just wanted to run to the nearest phone booth
(were there any left, really?) and beg his father to let him
The hidden patriarch studied the fort's stones. "He was
a good man. A good man. And that--" as if he could
no longer bear to look out over the blue, he pointed, knuckles
a twisted, snarling accusation, "could have been ours."
"Who was he?"
* * *
The other end was silence. Dropped connection.
Secretaries know when to run. Her running was prefaced
by a download and broadcast of the entire transmission to tactical,
skyshield, and everyone up the hyperblack chain. She knew
as her office door slid open that the combined resources of
a skyscraper of computers were struggling to maintain the lock,
a battery of trustlobes were running matrices on Bentley,
knew as she clumsily circumnavigated the fellow travelers down
the hallways of Floor 27 that they'd have a lock and orders
would be directed at shield forces for intercept, knew as the
boss's door slid open and she stumbled in that a dozen pilots
would be opening a dozen throttles.
The boss was already on the glass, his stylus arcing destination
paths from the strike teams based on the puzzle piece the agent
had relayed: Bentley. She wasn't as fit as some
mock secretaries, and the minute of hard running had taken the
breath from Josie Seh. Her breasts ached from the jostling.
Most secretaries don't need to wear sports bras, but she reconsidered.
"Bentley Subglacial Trench, Ellsworth's Land, Lesser Antarctica.
Explains the no-read. It's deep. We're tracking
to confirm, attempting a sideby." Mick turned, steel eyes
shifting visibly from business to concern. "You shouldn't
have run, Josie. We have electronical computing machines
for that now. Sit."
She sat, flipped the plate she'd not realized she'd been carrying
open for action.
Grant McCarthy was a good boss, a caring boss, given the jobs
he was assigned on a daily basis. He cared about his underlings
almost as much as he loved his country-- almost. He'd
kill for either, which was good, given the swiftly interchangable
nature of targets and enemies in century twenty-one.
"Play it back, volume seven."
She fingered the plate to action, and as he listened to the
telephone conversation, he crouched at her side, nodding his
head where appropriate, shaking it likewise. She'd heard
it before, so her thoughts were more focused on trying to guess
what lines of decision were scoring themselves into Mick's mind.
He was beautiful; she wasn't ugly. She appreciated the
fact that he'd asked her to play the call back, even though
she knew it had already been downloaded into his own glass.
It was nice to feel like he still needed a secretary at all.
They'd had more and more of these Josie-sitting, Mick-crouching,
both (okay, one) listening moments lately. Ever since
Garfield had fallen off the map, things had gotten a little
hairy in the office. Add Project Embryo. Add the
Rubyshoes. Mick was a good boss, and it was that good
nature that made her regret that he was the man who was in charge
of saving the world, time and time again, at least in some part.
War hero, even after the officially-sanctioned wars were over.
He stood up, walked silently to the glass, thumbed it wide to
global, zoomed again to continent seven, the big useless lump
of ice at the bottom of the world. Redirected traffic
around weather. Tapped his stylus on the trench.
"All this time, Jose." He knew she loved it when he truncated
her name, would never admit to that knowing. "We've been
* * *
07 May 2005: Paul Hughes.
drink, motherfucker, drink, motherfucker, drink, cocksucker, think,
cocksucker, think... think. just think.
Seven years before, Harris Stanhope had developed a tumor.
The motherfucker/cocksucker had wrapped itself securely around
the pineal gland in his brain. Surgical removal had been
deemed far too dangerous to attempt, given the fact that the
invader had chosen to bury itself so deeply in the gray folds
imbued with everything Harris Stanhope, so he had opted for
vacation, effectively ending his career with Majestic-24.
He'd lost the sight.
You might ask yourself why a superblack program such as
M-24 would allow a dying agent to leave, when the powers would
much rather disappear former family. They hadn't allow
him to leave. His diagnosis and departure had coincided
conveniently with one Garfield incident, and it had been in
those awful, torn days after the attack that Stanhope had jumped
ship, or bus, to be exact, during the evacuation to Offut AFB.
Twelve Majestics had gotten out of Burwell. Eleven had
arrived at Offut.
For quite some time, he'd blamed himself for the attack.
Maybe if his brain had been fully-functional, Nacht would't
have been able to get a lock on the target and take it out.
Maybe, but probably not. Definitely not. From what
he later learned of Nacht's army, there was nothing the Majestics
could have done to prevent either the attack or forest fires.
He'd wandered until he'd gotten tired of tipping over.
The headaches had been the worst part of the ordeal, those
blinding, throbbing headaches coupled with a omnipresent ringing,
the nausea, the unexpected waves of vertigo that convinced him
to fall to his right at the most inconvenient moments.
When it had gotten too bad, he had called in some old favors
and had finally gone to a midnight sawbones.
The doctor had tinkered, but hadn't really solved anything.
Stanhope still had the stub end of a stainless shunt sticking
from the back of his head, and any time the pressure got too
much to bear, one twist, one sickly pshhh, and he felt kilometers
better. He ate aspirin like Tic-Tacs. He hadn't
been to the dentist in fourteen years.
They'd tried encapsulating the tumor with radio crumbs,
and hey bingo, the non-gov doc declared a miracle: it wasn't
a malignant tumor after all, just an inconvenience, just a marble
gnawed into his pineal.
think, motherfucker. think.
He thought he could feel his germinoma growing under the
bombardment of the Bentley viewers.
He flopped out of his chair, away from the split glass and
the open phone line, just like old times, like a kitten he'd
had as a child that had had an ear infection that had festered,
dug in. They'd been too poor to take it to the vet, and
the thing just got worse, the most adorable kitten that would
roll over, not on command, just roll over, always to the right,
because there was rot in its brain, from the ear deeper, fucking
its coordination, and he felt that way, flopped out of the chair,
the voices ringing, screaming in his mind, cracking his skull
against warming, utilitarian concrete. The Rubyshoes had
never invested in carpeting.
The impact was a flare of lucidity, and he reached back,
spun the flange, that hiss, the stink of pressure, his eyes
returning almost immediately to normal. Centuries past,
he'd be dead a thousand times over. Nobody had found a
cure for cancer, but they'd certainly found ways to make the
afflicted live with it.
It was better than shitting or coming, and he left the shunt
open. A smile, a laugh, tears draping his cheeks from
the agony, he passed out.
* * *
"Report!" Nacht sensed the change.
Sixteen and two-thirds dozen repeating voices: "Primary
and secondary targets flat. Contact lost. Primary
presumed dead. Secondary--"
"Secondary achieved contact. Unable to maintain lock.
Tasted physical abnormality of internal broadcast structures."
Nacht spun, accidentally stepping on Dolpha's tail before
she could leap from his path. She didn't yelp. "Seb!
Ready for assault."
"We're going to Amundsen."
25 May 2005: Paul Hughes.
The most troublesome aspect of human evolution was perhaps the
tandem inflation of the parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes,
which gave the hairy monkey men delightful abilities to think
and remember and not scratch their balls in public, with the
overgrowth of the frontal lobe, which, when it boils down to
it, simply made mankind the only animal species that can recognize
the fact that someday we will all die, and death is something
we generally do alone. We traded in smushed-in foreheads
for lifetimes of waiting to die. What a bargain.
Nils Lehrer knew that he wouldn't be coming back from Antarctica.
His frontal lobe worked well.
He was constructed more for accounting than for secret agenting,
and that was why he was such a successful secret agent: no one
suspected. If this is a book of lineage and war, know
then that Nils Lehrer's maternal grandfather had given up a
burgeoning import business in Chicago to fly to Paris and resist
Nazis. He had been almost immediately killed in a completely
unrelated train crash outside Calais. The Chicago Lehrers
still regarded him as a war hero, because he had done the right
thing. He'd honeymooned the Paris streets in 1938.
He'd shaken an upraised fist at the hundreds of thousands of
upraised hands the newsreels depicted from the Nuremberg rallies.
His fist had been one of the few recognizable pieces of him
not smeared on the train tracks. One his most popular
imports? Leather gloves.
Two generations down the line, Nils Lehrer decided to do the
right thing and aid the governments in the war on terror.
When we think of terror, given this time and place, most of
us think hummus and shitty left hands. Terror is a term
laden with meaning. To Lehrer, terror was defined by an
abstract collection of memories and images, as it was for most
people in that future, quite specific abstracts, the terror
of the African Blockade, in which a white planet sat patiently
while a continent consumed itself, the terror of the Charismatic
Christian assault on Salt Lake City, which effectively exterminated
the Mormon menace from American shores, the Garfield incident,
where, well, you know.
Lehrer had seen them all.
"What's in Antarctica?" He held a pencil. An actual
pencil. And a notebook. It was charming. He
made to take notes of his assignment.
The pencil snapped. Lehrer took his time looking up.
Somewhere beyond the barrier of the door to Grant McCarthy's
office, another Floor 27 employee was laughing. It was
a meaty, hearty laugh. Probably another animation of the
president fucking poultry.
"I know." McCarthy slid a glass across the desktop.
"Use this instead."
"It's our best lead. The following falls under superblack
confidence. I assume you know about Project Rubyshoe?"
"I've heard rumblings."
"They're probably true. We've a listening post at the
pole. We've tortured enough of his eyes to know the other
six continents are too hot for him. Figuratively.
The bottom's the only place left for him, as improbable as it
"He's rich and crazy enough to make it work."
"And that's why the Shoes are searching there. Since Garfield,
we've criss-crossed every forsaken inch of this country looking
for him. Working with other agencies in the major zones,
"So he's hiding where he thinks no one will look."
"Stroke of genius, but strokes only last so long."
"Any idea on numbers?"
"Garfield-- that was big. Our Grays estimate hundreds,
maybe thousands of viewers."
"And we haven't found a facility big enough to handle them yet?
No warehouse out on the ice?"
"That's the thing. We should have found him by now.
The infrastructure alone... But nothing. Which--"
"--leads you to believe that the Shoes have been infiltrated?"
McCarthy didn't say anything. He didn't have to.
Lehrer wished his pencil had a tip. He had the sudden
urge to doodle. Something. Anything. Yeah,
he knew he wasn't coming home this time.
"When do I leave?"
12 June 2005: Paul Hughes.
The answer had been immediately, and the journey had been painfully
and painstakingly long, shunting him through a vast network of
contact with individuals and nations each of whom thought they
knew the truth of his mission. America had abandoned the
notion of "allies" almost a half-century before, but the dollar
still carried enough weight to secure safe passage through the
Floor 27 had done a majority of the footwork already, working
closely with Floor 47 to ensure there'd be a bed for Lehrer
once he got to Amundsen. A few fingerprints on glass later
and he was Rubyshoe-61, Todd Koppel, an in-transfer to replace
a Shoe who had recently suffered a pulmonary embolism.
The real Todd Koppel had been a rated Viewer with superblack
clearance at the Boise Factory, at least until the lax security
of that facility had allowed him to run screaming into a local
bar, superblack information spilling as easily from his lips
as the Miller Lite had flown in. He'd been an easy vacation.
His identity had been maintained in the declass list of Viewers,
at least as declass as Viewing was in the governments.
A few messages to Amundsen, and Nils Lehrer, today playing the
part of Todd Koppel, had been on his way.
The only real problem Lehrer could see with convincing the Shoes
that he was a Viewer was the fact that he was about as precognitive
as algae. He faked his logs as best he could. If
there weren't a mole within the Rubyshoes, Floor 27 could have
just sent play nice orders and allowed him to conduct his ferreting
in peace. Because the Shoes had to believe that this pasty
Chicago Jew was a brainer, 27 trained him in the most basic
of mind reader skills, the kind of crash course in carnival
trickery that generations of trailer park psychics had passed
on to their cheesecurl-covered progeny.
He was good enough to pass in the cafeteria, good enough to
write fake reports, but he always got the impression that he
was being watched internally by the Shoes, and he couldn't look
back. The rumor was that indiscrete Shoes made a hobby
of digging into minds they shouldn't, people far from the target
lists, their own co-workers.
The first few months were the worst. Lehrer wasn't exactly
a social butterfly, but suddenly being transported to the bottom
of the world with little better to do on Friday nights than
jerk off to canned porn and the occasional game of checkers
wore him down. He thought he passed as a Viewer well enough,
one time hitting a bullseye by "seeing" the fact that his colleague
Aloha Jones had grown up in Hawaii. Jones had been amazed.
It had been blind luck for Lehrer. Jones wasn't the smartest
apple in the sauce.
Their friendship had developed over the aforementioned games
of checkers and canned porn, and it wasn't long after meeting
him that Lehrer noticed a change in Jones, nothing as dramatic
as a personality shift, just a recurring headache that flared
after the day's playlists had been completed. Lehrer often
found Jones in the mess, poised over a steel tray of baked beans
and meat paste, rubbing his temples, at times, the pain so intense
that there were tears in the man's eyes. Lehrer began
to realize that it was a gesture he'd seen reflected in the
rubbed temples of dozens of the Amundsen staff. None of
them seemed to put the pieces together, or maybe they just wrote
it off as work product, but Lehrer saw. Someone in that
facility was digging into heads after hours.
"Headache again?" Lehrer tinked his tray to the tabletop
as quietly as he could.
"Mmmph." Jones cracked a half-assed grin. "Long
day at work, I guess."
"Looks like a lot of long days. You always have that ache."
"Shit, never used to be this way. Might be the assignments.
We're all being pushed, man. You get Munich today?
"Yeah, Munich," Lehrer lied. During the eight hours he'd
been assigned to in-pod duty, he'd napped, sung as much of the
Nirvana discography as he could remember, and thought of things
to fake on his playlist reports. "Have you seen anyone
about those headaches?"
"Naw. Wouldn't do no good. I hear the aspirin shipment
fell into the Atlantic."
The conversation continued along surface lines, Lehrer steering
the discourse back to the headaches as often as he could, but
Jones seemed unreceptive to the line of inquiry. He was
more interested in who was going to win the World Cup.
They were joined at times during the meal by various Viewers,
old and young, male and female, female and holy shit, she's
a Viewer living out the rest of her life in fucking Antarctica?
female. Lehrer observed them all, taking mental pencil
notes on mental paper at the interaction of the staff.
There were many rubbed temples. He thought later that
he'd rub one out while thinking about the temples of Ms. Fucking
Hot Viewer, but that thought was interrupted when another colleague
joined them, a wiry young man who'd apparently joined the staff
a year before. He sat down at the place Lehrer offered
him between himself and Jones.
"Well, shit!" Jones' smile was all teeth. "My headache
just disappeared. Just like that!"
"You had a headache?" Thule Nast asked between forkfuls of beans.
"That's too bad."
12 June 2005: Paul Hughes.
"'Bad' might be the understatement of the year, bro. Tool--
don't you get headaches?"
Nast shrugged. "Not really. My mom used to get migraines,
"Shit," a forkful for Jones, chomping, "lucky motherfucker.
You my good luck charm, boy. You sit here whenever you
want to. Least when I have a headache. Went right
away, I swear."
The conversation veered off into the usual directions for conversations
generated by rats in a maze, playlists and pussy, beer and bud.
Nils "Todd Koppel" Lehrer did a lot of half-assed listening
and head nodding while his mental pencil made mental notes in
his mental mind. Nast seemed innocent enough, but the
fact that Jones' headache had disappeared with Nast's arrival
had to mean something. Nast wasn't an imposing figure,
just a scrawny, pasty kid with a generic European accent.
Lehrer didn't know anything about the kid. That would
have to change. Generic people like Lehrer knew that they
were dangerous because no one ever suspected them. That's
how his cover had lasted. Had Nacht installed Nast at
Amundsen in a similar stroke of desperation?
Lehrer also began creating an elaborate mental back-story for
his Todd Koppel character. He borrowed heavily from the
actual Koppel, but added a few hefty doses of painkiller addiction
and baseball fever. He figured the painkiller addiction
storyline would be enough to cover any suspicion as to why he
didn't suffer from the horrible headaches, but still, he began
to insert some references to headaches of his own into dinnertime
conversation. If his brain could broadcast a convincing
enough veneer to any sniffing Viewers, i.e. Nast, they wouldn't
dig deeper, and his cover wouldn't be blown. And he wouldn't
Things were simple when you really boiled it down: Karsten Nacht
was a rich, powerful, psychic-adept psychotic German motherfucker,
and Thule Nast was Lehrer's in. If he could ingratiate
himself with the suspected mole, maybe he could ferret the location
of Nacht's base. If it turned out that Nast was a dead
end, well, people die all the time, and no one would miss him.
They'd conduct an investigation, sure, but Lehrer would be on
the first transport out, and 27 would cover his departure.
He made his move.
"Yeah. Shitty day." Lehrer/Koppel rubbed his temples
as convincingly as he could, then slowed. "But-- Al's
right! You're the magic man, Tool."
"What can I say?" Thule Nast continued his sit-down descent
and studied the almost-food on his tray. "Maybe I'm a
"You're something, man." Jones spooned through Jell-O.
It was another in a long line of headache dinners.
Lehrer cleared his throat and looked around the mess, motioned
Nast and Jones in closer. "You guys want to have some
The conspirators smiled the kind of smile someone only issues
when they're not sure what's coming next.
"You got some mainland pussy, Toddy-boy?" Jones licked
his lips-- whether or not unconsciously is up to interpretation.
"Even better. But I need assurances before we go on that
this stays between us. Got it?"
"Better than pussy, you can count me in." Jones stuck
out his hand in a mock display of propriety.
The little man nodded once, looked around the room, trying to
find an onlooker. He found none. The left side of
his mouth turned up, matching his right eyebrow. "I'm
in. What is it?"
"Come with me, boys. Leave this shit they call supper
for the dogs." Lehrer winked as he rose. "You won't
need food tonight."
12 June 2005: Paul Hughes.
Baseball, apple pie, grandma, hemorrhoids, calculus, Smurfs, linoleum
Lehrer filled his mind with nothing as they entered his pod.
He motioned for Nast and Jones to have seats, and they did.
He took a lockbox from beneath his bed, placed it on the coffee
table in front of his fellow Viewers.
"You can still opt out, you know. Our little secret."
"We're in, Negro. Just show us what's better than pussy."
Jones sat forward on the couch.
Lehrer thumbprinted the lock, and the top of the box opened
with a pop and a depressurized hiss. The economy was not
in the lockbox. There was a gun.
Lehrer grabbed the pistol and swung its butt up to connect solidly
with Nast's jaw. He oofed and slumped back, but rebounded
almost to his feet before he saw that there were in fact two
guns out of the case now, one in each of Lehrer's hands.
Lehrer looked at Jones, whose jaw was working over his confusion.
"Al, I'm gonna need your help."
Jones looked up but didn't respond.
"Al!" Lehrer held the gun from his left hand to Jones,
handle out. "Listen to me carefully. I need your
help. This man is a suspected mole, and I need you to
keep him out of my head. Those headaches-- I think it's
his fault. I need to confirm that. Can you help
"Yeah..." Jones took the gun. "I think."
"Good. Keep it pointed at him."
Lehrer took a look at Nast as he rummaged through his lockbox.
Nast was sprawled on the couch, arms out, trying to crawl into
the fabric if he could have. He looked scared, which was
good. Lehrer had a moment of doubt; would Nacht have sent
such a miserable excuse for a mole into Amundsen? Maybe.
Probably. No one would have suspected Nast.
Finally, Nast summoned words: "You're--"
"Shut it." Lehrer pulled two plastic handcuff strips from
the box and cinched them around Nast's hands.
"What are you going to--"
He pulled a syringe pistol from the box.
"Dude." That was Jones. "I hate needles."
"You're not the one getting it." Lehrer sat down beside
Nast on the couch, one leg incapacitating Nast's bound hands,
one arm pushing Nast back against the couch, one arm placing
the syringe against Nast's neck and pulling the trigger.
The little man yelped with pain. Lehrer stood and waited,
his arms crossed.
"What did you give him?" Jones had let his gun lower an
inch. At Lehrer's look, it went back up into place, Nast's
chest visible over the end of the barrel.
"It's a thiopental sodium mod."
"Almost. It'll lower his inhibitions, and if he doesn't
communicate what I need, the solution's been altered to act
as a poison. This," he held out a silver capsule, "is
Nast's head was lolling, and he blinked more often than normal.
Finally the spell passed, and he sat upright on the couch.
"I'll tell you nothing."
Lehrer considered the capsule in his palm. "I think you
12 June 2005: Paul Hughes.
"No, it's clear."
They ran around the corner and down the short hallway, two men
with guns and one man dragged between. They hadn't had
time to put on exposure suits-- Lehrer was gambling that they'd
find suits in the cat.
One thing Nast had told them stuck out in his mind: I'm not
the only one.
That meant that they had to get out of Amundsen as soon as possible.
Lehrer was reasonably certain that he could trust Jones, but
that didn't mean that he wasn't ready and able to head tap him
at the slightest provocation.
He ran down the new information in his head as he carded the
garage door open and ran to the nearest cat. It was after-hours,
and the garage was empty. Lucky, lucky. He had to
get out of Amundsen and broadcast out to 27.
Because he knew the location of Nacht's army.
Because he knew that Nacht had five thousand people in his underground
Because he knew that Nacht was planning another attack, and
He had to relay that information to 27, and Amundsen was no
longer safe. If Nast weren't the only mole...
Lehrer had been about to open the cat's door when he heard the
shout. He turned slowly.
"Nothing to see here, dude. We're just going outside for
a while." Jones had his patent-leather grin on.
The man who had shouted was Jerry Schultz, Rubyshoe-89.
Lehrer had seen Schultz with Nast on many occasions. He'd
often seen them eating meals together, when Nast hadn't joined
him and Jones at their table. Jerry Schultz was German.
Jerry Schultz was holding a gun.
Lehrer fired, and Schultz crumped to the floor. He threw
the cat's door open and started pushing Nast into the passenger's
side. "Start it up!" he shouted to Jones, who ran to the
other side and clambered in.
Metal echoes, and Lehrer could hear running footsteps approaching
from the hallway that ended at the garage. The footsteps
cut off as the cat rumbled to diesel life. Jones wheeled
the vehicle around and headed up the garage ramp. Already,
the wind buffetted the cabin. Lehrer didn't want to think
how cold it would be outside.
The roar of the engine didn't quite blanket the ratcheting sound
of gunfire from behind them. Nast must have squeaked out
a distress call to his fellow moles, even under the heavy sedation.
Lehrer forced Nast into the back seat and punched him twice,
savagely, in the face. The man passed out. He wouldn't
be delivering any distress calls for a while.
"Which way we heading?" Jones' hands were clamped to the
"Just drive. I need to make a call."
"What is it, Sepp?"
The giant ducked under the doorframe and entered Nacht's quarters.
"There's been a signal."
Bahlow wasn't sure if Nacht was asking for the point of origin
or the point of telling him that there had been a signal, but
he chose the former. "Amundsen."
Nacht jumped from bed. A signal from Amundsen could only
mean that something had gone wrong-- their agents had strict
orders not to broadcast until it was time for Strike 17.
He started to reorder the schedule before he even knew the details.
"Agents report that cover has been compromised. One of
"Let me guess, Thule?"
"Is he being questioned?"
"He's been taken."
"Agents report that Nast was in a cat last seen heading out
of the station. Someone took him."
Nacht slammed his hand against the wall. "Get a transport.
We're going out to get him. We can't let anyone take him."
"Oh," Karsten turned back to Bahlow. "Report back to our
agents at Amundsen. Tell them to start."
A look of disdain. "Tell them to start clearing out the
station. Leave no one alive."
A look of realization. "Ja."
* * *
"That should do it." Lehrer flipped his glass shut.
"They're tracking us and sending help."
"Which way do I point this thing?" Jones hadn't yet released
his grip from the wheel. Nast snuffled through a broken
nose in his sleep in the back seat.
"Up. Only direction to go, here."
Jones shook his head. "I don't get it-- Tool was working
"Never heard of him."
"It was our job to make sure no one did."
The cat drove into the white.
* * *
Harris Stanhope groped for the phone and sleeptalked something
wholly not English into it.
"Mmmph. Yeah. What."
"Sorry to wake you, but we have a job for you. Urgent."
"This is Grant McCarthy. Come into the office as soon
as you can, okay?"
Stanhope placed the phone back on the nightstand and wiped sleep
from his eyes. He tightened the shunt at the back of his
neck and ran fingers through bedhead. He could feel the
beginning of a headache developing.
It would be a long, cold day.
Harris Stanhope liked the cold.
to The Grange, Part Three.