TC17

The United States has embarked on a vast but secret project to develop
atomic weapons for use in the Second World War. To be safe the research is
conducted in the Great American desert east of the Cascade mountain range
where population is sparse. The medical facilities at the Hanford Reserva-
tion are very good, especially for treating radiation sickness. Hanford is
roughly the size of an entire county of a western state, with unprecedented
security arrangements. The wildest portion of the Columbia River itself
formed the northern and eastern border. Kim Zinter and Sofie “Hunky” Krouse
are taken to the clinic there. Both Kim and Hunky remain absolutely silent
about the avatar of Chokhmah. If there is one thing Greendomites are good
for it is keeping a secret.

In a few weeks the bumps in their skulls crack open and both Kim and Hunky
are sedated so the doctors can take a close look. Apparently their brains
aren’t even alive anymore. Their heads are now opaque to x-rays. Part of
the brain of both girls actually penetrate the skull and terminate in white
oval cups made of repurposed bone. The cups have smooth inside walls and
many short, fine black graphite bristles growing out of the cup’s floor. It
is an electrical connector with exactly fifty-five pins. If the pins are
crushed or snapped off they quickly grow back just like the lead in a me-
chanical pencil. The doctors try shaving off the whole external structure
on one of the girls but it just grows right back. They manufacture a cable
that fits the connectors perfectly. In time Kim and Hunky came to call it
simply the Purple Cable.

The cable proves mostly useless. The staff read electrical signals from Kim
and Hunky and print them on a fat roll of paper, but they don’t know what
to do with the information. Attempts to write information to the girl’s
heads using the same 15 millivolt level that was present on the pins only
gives them bizarre total-body sandpaper static sensations they find very
unpleasant and refuse to endure again.

Very briefly, Kim and Hunky are hooked up together directly, skull-to-skull
with the Purple Cable, just for perhaps a second to see what happens. In
that single second risked by the investigators, they have the following
wordless conversation:

Hunky: They’ll never let us out of here you know.

Kim: We could punch every combo on the door. It wouldn’t even be boring.
After doing the first two or three numbers we could go automatic and snap
out of the trance when the door clicks open.

Hunky: They will catch us before we even get started. They are watching us
through the mirrors.

Kim: What do you mean?

Hunky: They look like mirrors from our side, but they work like windows
from their side.

Kim: How do you know?

Hunky: Remember when I suddenly threw books at those two lamps and killed
the lights in here?I could see people scrambling to kill the lights on
their own side through the “mirrors”. I guess they aren’t perfect one-way
mirrors.

Kim: But now they know that you know they’re watching us.

Hunky: Shit. You’re right.

Kim: We can turn this to our advantage.

Hunky: How?
Kim: It will take a little acting ability. We have to try to embarrass Dr.
Trochmann. We have to convince him that after all this time together, con-
fined in here, age eighteen, we’ve fallen in love with each other.

Hunky: I think I can pull that off.

In the last few milliseconds while they remain united by the Purple Cable
the girls agreed to go on strike. Meaning they do not cooperate with their
captors at all. They just sit there in the clinic all day and do nothing
except eat, drink, use the restroom, and only speak to each other in Relbi-
mian, the language of the Boda they invented years ago.

The girls are interrogated together and separately about the words they are
speaking. They decide to keep the language to themselves as their own pri-
vate thing. So the word thann, instead of a distance of about 1,700 feet,
becomes “duck.” And the word chorzon, instead of a period of time of about
six minutes, becomes “purfume.”

The girls keep these false words straight with their newly organized minds,
and share any new false words they invent between themselves by tagging
them in Relbimian to keep each other updated. So there emerges two lan-
guages, a genuine Relbimian and the false Relbimian that Dr. Trochmann’s
team is hopelessly trying to piece together from Kim and Hunky’s lies. Fi-
nally, Dr. Trochmann gets fed up and separates the girls totally.Kim and
Sofie go into scorched earth mode.

There are two ways of dealing with all the dead time. Kim prefers to “get
tall”. She imagines herself growing in size and the clock speeds up before
her eyes. Her heartbeats run together in a butterfly flutter and become a
quiet hum. She speeds up, cruises for a short while, then slows back down.
Her muscles are a little sore from staying in one position for too long but
four hours are gone.

Hunky thinks the time-lapse movie method is too gross because she can feel
her bladder fill up and she doesn’t like the way food feels moving through
her intestines when she gets tall. She prefers to take a series of hour-
long “naps” or little jumps in time with her consciousness simply turned
off. Either way they choose, both girls are well disposed to play this
waiting game with Trochmann.

Some people eat unnecessary meals from sheer boredom, but that was not a
factor here, even with chubby little Kim. They only eat about every two
days. Large meals, to be sure, but the other times when the nurse arrives
to escort them (one at a time) out their locked doors to their meals they
refuse to budge. Otherwise it would seem to them like they were continuous-
ly eating. So four meals, a couple showers, and many other stops to use the
restroom or drink some water made for a rather busy “day” that compressed a
full week of real time.

At length Trochmann surrenders. “Ladies, time for a heart-to-heart, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Dr. Trochmann begins, in what would
be the girl’s last interview with this well-meaning technical director of
the Kim & Sofie Project.

“Time for everyone to tell the truth,” Kim agrees. “So tell me, if we’re
not contagious why are we still locked in here?”

“This thing is indeed contagious, otherwise how did you catch it?”

“You don’t seem too afraid to talk to us face-to-face,” Sofie puts in. “Nor
does Nurse Ramsey.”

“We know it’s not transmitted through the air, like by sneezing,” he ex-
plains. “Otherwise you’d be in total isolation. And telling us more would
go a long way toward getting you out of here.”

“I don’t feel sick,” Hunky says.

“Sophie, your brain isn’t even alive anymore!”

“How could we be having this conversation then?”

“I’ll tell you what we know so far. Obviously it’s artificial. It spreads
just like a virus, but we’ve never seen anything like it before. When it
gets in a nerve cell it sits there and learns the ropes. It learns every-
thing that the cell does in response to chemical signals from other cells,
to nutrients, hormones, everything. And it takes over the cell’s job. It
uses material found on hand to remodel the nerve cell into a white struc-
ture that straddles the length of the old cell but it’s skinnier, more com-
pact. No more sloppy life. No more proteins floating randomly in water,
more like a deliberate design. Like a machine.”

“What do you mean, like a machine?”

“All those cells are dead. Both of you girls have been hooked up to an Off-
ner Dynograph and they show nothing. Both of you are brain dead. So far
it’s only had an affinity for nerve cells but we’ve been watching to see if
it changes, and starts attacking other tissues in your body.”

“Why can’t we see our folks, even through glass?”

“That’s a decision for Mr. Roland.”

“My father dotes on me,” Hunky warns, “and he said he was talking to our
congressman to get permission to come here and see me.”

“Mr. Roland knows about that.”

“So you’re just going to keep us here forever,” Hunky snorts.

“Because we think this has happened to you for a reason and so far we have-
n’t learned what that reason is. That’s where a little more cooperation
from you gals would be very helpful. For instance, we don’t know what the
connectors in the back of your skull are really for.”

“Sometimes I feel like some hidden things are getting more and more clear,”
Hunky offers after a sigh of resignation. “I keep having the notion that
we’ve been picked to be go-betweens or something. Like translators.”
Kim nods. “That’s true, I sense that too. We want to start keeping the Pur-
ple Cable with us overnight.”

He looks her in the eye, and shakes his head. “That’s entirely out of the
question.”

“In that event we want the one-way mirrors removed from our space,” Hunky
said.

“What one-way mirrors?”

“Come on, Doctor,” says Sofie. “You think we’re just two stupid girls,
don’t you? We’ve had a lot of time on our hands, being locked up in here,
and we’ve found your two filthy peeping-Tom mirrors and people looking in
on us.”

“I see there’s no fooling you two. But the windows are not used for what
you seem to be implying they are.”

“Look, yeah maybe we’re infectious, and you’ve got some law that says you
can take away our liberty and keep us in this quarantine of yours, but
guess what? We’re eighteen now. There are basic human and Constitutional
rights we’re both entitled to now.”

“Like what?”

“Like plain old-fashioned privacy! You wonder why we don’t want to play any
of your games anymore? We’re tired of being watched by strangers and we’re
pissed off to find out you’ve been watching us all this time without let-
ting us know.”

For the first time he becomes aware that Kim and Hunky are holding hands,
and he blushes. And the realization that he is blushing makes him blush
deeper.

Kim sees the opening and drives the point home. “Look, we’re young women
and you’ve locked us up in here together for a year, what did you expect?”
Hunky scoots tighter against Kim and adds, “I hope you know what we’re try-
ing to get at here, Doc. I hope you don’t make us have to spell it out.”

“I see what you mean by privacy issues,” Dr. Trochmann said, chastened by
the realization that it had, indeed, been his fault that the girls are now
much more than friends. “I think this whole spat between us has been due to
nothing more than bad communication.”

“I agree,” Kim says. “We should clear the way between us and continue to
talk.”

“OK!” he says, his mood brightening at this breakthrough. He seems a dif-
ferent man. “There are some security things I need to change first, but
then I’ll let you have your privacy. Curtains on your side of the windows.
Honestly. You have my word.”

That activity which Doctor Trochmann assumed they were doing with their new
privacy they did not do. Kim knows Sofie is spoken for. But the girls re-
member he wanted to change the security arrangements before granting their
privacy. There is only one change in routine as far as they can tell. In
the past their tormentors seemed to have the code for the door memorized
and they just punched their way out without a second thought. But now, very
often they would take out their wallet, or look at a scrap of paper from
their pocket before punching the buttons that would let them out. That
could only mean they are now scrambling the code more frequently, perhaps
weekly, to balance the loss of their direct view.

Hunky almost despairs but Kim explains to her that the change actually does
not make their task any harder at all. They just have to pick a fixed range
and try all the combinations in it, night after night, until the daily
shifting combo happened to fall into that range.

It was a hex keypad, a four-by-four square with sixteen buttons numbered 0
through 9 and A through F. The girls also knew from listening carefully
that the code was always just four taps. The problem is that there is a ten
second delay after trying a number before the red light resets to the yel-
low light and it is ready to accept another try. Kim figures if they start
at 6:00 pm and go all through the night to 6:00 am, trading off at mid-
night, they would just be able to do all of the “Lucky 7’s.” That is, the
whole range from 7000 to 7FFF. Then the next night pick a different range.

Kim starts pounding combinations, one after the other. And when she does,
she senses a tower of future moments stacking on top of each other. Each
floor of that tower is an attempt to punch the combination, topping out in
a moment of joy, five days down the timeline, when she would hit the right
combination and the door unlock. The joyous number was 1DFC. She read it
right out of her memory of the future, but that memory hadn’t presented
itself until Kim started trying to punch out.

So Kim simply enters 1DFC and gets the green light after only punching in
about ten different combinations. Hunky is impressed. There’s a click, and
the girls step out into the muted light of the rest of the clinic, hoping
it is deserted for the night. Which it is. Hunky scoops up the Purple Cable
hanging from the wall in the main room of the clinic and wears it around
her waist like a belt. Then Kim does the same precognitive trick with the
outer door. BF76 and click. They waltz out of the building and into the
cold desert night of Washington State.

It wouldn’t do to have the girls locked up inside the clinic in the not-so-
unlikely event of a fire, so for safety and also as a security precaution
in the unlikely case they did get out, a guard is posted in a shack nearby
with bright lights flooding the doorway. The escapees stand there illumi-
nated like deer frozen on the highway. Fortunately for them the guard isn’t
expected to just stare at the outside of the clinic for the duration of his
watch. Just staying awake is sufficient, it seems. So he has his back
turned, hunched over a newspaper. Kim and Hunky creep around the outside of
the clinic as quietly as they can until they are exactly 180 degrees around
from the guard shack. Then they head straight out in the long shadow of the
building.

There is no outer perimeter of eight foot high barbed wire fences or rolls
of concertina wire or dogs or land mines as they feared since the clinic is
intended mainly for treating Hanford’s radiation burn victims. Soon they
are trodding through sand and sagebrush on a gentle slope down to the shore
of the Columbia River. Kim looks up into the clear and dark desert sky and
gasps at the beauty of the white phosphor Milky Way above, more stars than
she has seen in her life before. But she is wearing a tan and white dress
and begins to shiver in the night time desert cold. Shortly the girls come
to a wire fence and Kim puts her hand out to spread the wires apart so they
could crawl through, but quickly pulls back again when she senses that she
is about to suffer an electrical shock. She looks at it for a moment and
decides to try to roll under it. The task requires a little bit of burrow-
ing into the sand to get more clearance. Soon they are both through the
electric fence and standing at the river’s edge. In the moonlight they dim-
ly see the roaring whitewater of the untamed stretch of the river called
Hanford Reach. They both know they cannot set foot in the water right there
or they would be swept away and drown.

Hunky asks Kim, “How did you solve the lock so fast?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Kim said. “It’s as though I can daydream the fu-
ture. I saw the moment when I hit the right number, and then just read the
number right out of my daydream. And also, just now, with the fence, I
daydreamed being shocked.”

“So daydream our way out of here.”

“That’s not how it seems to work. It’s like we’re on this kind of railroad
track, and I can see that we’re going to royally screw up if we keep doing
what we’re doing, but my daydream doesn’t show me what we need to do to not
get caught.”

The interior of the clinic is monitored on one of the earliest installa-
tions of closed-circuit television in the United States. Only the best for
the Manhattan Project. By 1:00 AM a call is made to the guard shack at the
Allard clinic, and soon after that the word is out on the street that Kim-
berly and Sofia are gone.

Still half asleep, E. G. Roland fumbles with the phone receiver and there
is quite a pause before he remembers he is supposed to bring it to his ear
and say hello.

“Sorry to wake you up at this hour, Director Roland, but you wanted to be
informed immediately if the Zinter or Krouse girls escape. Both of them
just did.”

“What time is it?”

“One fifteen in the AM, sir.”

“And who are you?”

“Sergeant Jim Lasker in Building 1002 at Pearl.”

“How did they get out?”
“As far as we know, sir, they just punched the right combination on the
door and walked out.”

“The sentry at the clinic dropped the ball. Have they been picked up yet?”

“Not yet sir. But we’ll get them. We’ve had some wires tripped on the riv-
erbank near Nancy so we’re concentrating downstream and northeast of the
clinic. This is Hanford. There’s nowhere for them to hide.”

With 960 square miles of territory the Hanford site is large enough to re-
quire “town” names to identify places within it. The Manhattan Project has
chosen to use mostly women’s names. So there are places like Ruth, Edna,
and Susie, which are nothing more than railroad junctions, really. The
clinic is only a mile north of Helen, which is really just a large electri-
cal substation and a cluster of warehouses.

Kim and Hunky are steered away from the Mulberry trees along the river by
the electric fence and gravel pits connected by a maze of unpaved roads
that make up the relative highlands of Nancy. There is a single rail line
crossing the area from southwest to northeast.

The girls veer off the gradually ascending scrub-brush plain into a newly
dug mile-long trench intended to hold contaminated water from the Q West
reactor. This is a mistake, and Kim starts to get antsy. After they walk
about halfway down the huge ditch, which is only wide enough to hold per-
haps four cars side-by-side, a pair of headlights appears ahead and turns
to line up on them directly.

Kim and Hunky throw themselves flush against the gritty trench walls. They
could feel the cool moistness of the face of newly-exposed gravel, and
smell the flinty odor of…flint. The tiny rocks are somewhere between sand
and small pebbles in size, and they are held together loosely by a sheen of
underground moisture.

Hunky thought about climbing, but she discovered it would be useless to try
because she saw the gravel face is unstable. In some places clods of dirt
and gravel are actually overhanging, easily knocked down by the brush of a
hand. In other places a single scrape would unleash a miniature slide of
loose gravel, the tiny rocks piling around their feet. But that right there
gave Hunky an idea. She began scraping the walls of the trench and deliber-
ately pulling the gravel down over herself.

A third light mounted on the windshield and hand-operated by the driver is
sweeping methodically up and down the slopes of the gravel pit as the vehi-
cle slowly advances.

Hunky pulls Kim close to her until they are close enough to kiss. They both
scrape at the walls until enough gravel has collapsed to leave only their
heads and one arm free, each.

“Don’t ask me how I know this will work,” Hunky said, “But it will. Put
your mouth against mine, Kim. My body will supply the air you need to
breathe.”

Then, as the MP’s white jeep approaches very close Kim and Hunky engage in
a kiss. Hunky completes their self-burial, hoping the soldier is too intent
studying the sides of the trench to glance at the little ongoing rockslide
ahead. Since the newly-dug trench is pretty unstable anyway there are many
such piles of gravel along the walls.

Kim calms herself as much as possible, and breathes what Hunky gives her.
Hunky, in turn, breathes what Kim gives her. It wasn’t anything sexy, but
it did seem to work. Like Kim’s ability to see the future there is no imme-
diate explanation for how it worked or even how Hunky knew it would work.

After a few minutes of being buried alive Kim and Hunky push back through
the gravel and tentatively take a breath. They dare no loud gasping, be-
cause the jeep is still very near, moving away maddeningly slow. But the
red glow of tail-lights means that it has indeed passed by. In fact the
driver did not even give the brand-new little landslides a second look, he
was checking the nooks between the landslides where he figured someone
could hide. Kim and Sophie patiently and quietly recover. The crisis of the
first security sweep has passed.

After the guard’s jeep leaves them far behind Kim and Hunky continue on
their way east along the dry floor of the future waste-water sump. Their
ordeal has not gotten them very dirty. The gravel they had buried them-
selves in was a lot like wet sand at the beach, only with bigger grains.

After about fifteen minutes of walking they stand where the jeep had been
when they had first seen its lights. Railroad tracks were there. A white
sign said “Bettie” in stenciled letters. Kim and Hunky decided to walk
along the tracks, and though they didn’t know it, the tracks are a good
choice, because they would cross no trip wires, and there was no road par-
alleling the track, paved or not.

Two miles to the south across a sagebrush plain many yellow lights illumi-
nate Hanford’s main cluster of tritium production reactors. They are pre-
paring the Fat Boy bomb that would be used on Japan on August 9, 1945.

At about 3:00 AM the girls reach the halfway point across the wide, flat
tongue of land they are crossing formed by a northerly bend of the Columbia
River. They reach a major rail junction identified on a sign as Ginger as
well as a cluster of paved roads. In the distance to the southeast a few
approaching vehicles can be seen by their headlights so Kim and Hunky hide
behind some rolling stock on a Ginger side track.

They choose a low brown Union Pacific gondola car to climb into. With many
other identical railroad cars sitting around it was a good place for them
to hide as long as they laid down out of sight.

“Even if we do manage to contrive an escape somehow,” Hunky quietly says,
“they will never stop looking for us. So you are going to have to change
your name just like I did from Sofie to Hunky.”

“You’re right,” Kim admits. “So from now on call me Robyn. With a ‘y’. But
I’ll never risk going to a judge to make it official.”

Exactly right there, in that empty railroad car when Kimberly Zinter
changed her name to just Robyn, the order of the B’nei Elohim was born.
After a long moment, Robyn says to Hunky, “Dory isn’t like you, Hunky.I
know you know that.”

Hunky crawls back in the gondola car to get as far away from Robyn as she
can.”None of your business, Robyn.”

Robyn says, “She will never tell you so, because she cares about you more
than she cares about herself. And that’s exactly why I love her.”

“That’s exactly why I love her too,” Hunky says.

“Okay, Hunky. So what I’m asking here is, never let her have to decide to
throw away a lifetime of happiness for herself just to make you happy.
Alright? She doesn’t deserve that.”

Hunky says nothing, but just nods her head.

Out in the night the army police are setting up a tripod. Television has
been nearly perfected, but World War II intervened just before the technol-
ogy could be rolled out to the public. Soon after the war TV would replace
radio as the main source of family home entertainment. In the hands of the
army, television permitted a kind of night vision. A bulky television cam-
era could be modified to respond to heat rather than light, and when the
image was displayed on a CRT, warm bodies would stand out in the night.

Once the camera was mounted on the tripod the soldiers stared at the green
screen and began slowly sweeping the horizon all around Ginger. The dark
boxes of many railroad cars crept across the screen. There was a pair of
infrared sources out there in one car, but the cold steel walls shielded
them well.

It was 3:30 AM. The second sweep by the military police was over and they
bundled up their primitive night-scope and drove away.

Kimberly Zinter had crawled into a rail car with Sofie Krause to hide from
the Army but both of the girls were forever dead. Only Robyn and Hunky
crawl out and go on.

They decide to stick with the train tracks and continue northeast. If any-
one came again, with any luck they could hide in another one of the scat-
tered rail cars. In a mile they reach a place where the tracks, a paved
road, and a gravel road all come together. Now the gravel one ran parallel
to the tracks on their right, making the girls feel a little exposed.

A half-mile after that a paved road took its place alongside. They both
could see a hint of the coming dawn in the eastern skies. Robyn senses the
available choices are becoming fewer and fewer.

The rail curves sharply north, then northwest for a quarter of a mile, then
north again for about fifty feet before coming to a dead end. Here was an
old forgotten boxcar, forlorn in the dim gray light of 5 o’clock in the
morning. Now Robyn senses clearly that there were only two paths open to
them. They can hide in the boxcar and wait to be picked up, or they can
hoof it across the sand.

They see a line of white cliffs about two miles to the east and guess that
was the far bank of the river. They begin to grow hideously exposed and the
light is getting slowly but steadily brighter. There is little else to do
but to make for the water again and hope to find somewhere to hide.

They strike off due east. In eight hundred feet they cross a row of fence
posts and trip over a single wire. The army cops have them on their lighted
map again.

Five minutes after tripping the outer picket they cross a wide paved road
on the brink of a gentle slope down to the river. They hear sirens. Blue
flashing lights are visible to the north and south. Almost the entire Han-
ford police force is closing in like the jaws of a steel trap. Robyn and
Hunky run downhill toward the river, kicking up sand.

They meet that old electric fence again, and drop to worm themselves under
the bottom wire. They hear dogs but once they get to the other side of the
fence they figure they wouldn’t have to worry about them.

When they girls get their first good look at the river current they both
know they are in luck. Here it was not too fast and not too slow. Robyn
senses they have completely run out of other options. So Robyn carves out
for herself a new option by simply wading straight out into the water, and
Hunky follows her. A grin breaks out on the faces of both girls. They are
pleasantly surprised. It being the late summer, the water has baked in the
sun behind a dam twenty miles upstream, and behind another dam before that.

So it wasn’t too cold. More like old bath water.

At this particular stretch the great river slows and silt piles up to form
several islands. Seven miles per hour. It wasn’t the dangerous speed of the
whitewater at the rapids upstream, but it also wasn’t still water backed up
behind a dam, which would force them to swim for it. There was even a wide
zone shallow enough to permit Robyn and Hunky to touch their feet on the
bottom now and again. But their bobbing heads are very visible in the
brightening dawn.

There is a hard splash in the water a fraction of a second before they hear
the sharp report of a rifle.

Up until that point it has been almost a game for Robyn and Hunky. It never
occurred to them at all that they would be the target of shooters. Quickly
they both dive under the water and repeat the same breathing trick that
worked so well at the gravel pit.

When they come back up again they hope they are beyond rifle range. But the
southern group of MPs are getting out of their jeeps to look at the river
with rifles in hand, and the girls are coming up on them fast. So they sub-
merge once more.

One of the itchy trigger fingers on the bank thinks he sees something and
fires a round. The sound of his shot sparks a barrage of blind fire by the
other men. Robyn and Hunky pass through a gauntlet of instantly forming
white bubble-lines as dozens of bullets lace the water.

After they surface again well downstream it is followed by almost two hours
of drifting along with their eyes darting and scanning the shore before the
river carries them past a roadless marsh and they can begin to relax.

At the first community downriver from the Hanford site Robyn and Hunky
crawl out of the water and shiver for an hour, dangerously near hypothermia
as they dry out in the bright morning sun on the right bank of the Columbia
River, just below the first few houses on the northern edge of the brand
new town of Richland.

Still soggy, their shoes squish as they slog their way through back yards
and side streets and emerge on a thoroughfare named George Washington Way.

In the bottom of one of Hunky’s shoes is a damp twenty-dollar bill from her
mother, sent by mail on her birthday and it is all the money any of them
had. But it is enough to get some food and a bus ticket home.