For Clara this is her first time to see the Golden Gift in action, the central mystery and devotion of the Green Dome Church. The children are not allowed to attend the actual ceremony upstairs in the Temple Sanctuary, and it would have been unseemly to run around and play while the body of Kim’s father is sent to his long home, along with five other Church members from across the globe. So they sit around in the Temple basement getting quite bored as volunteers prepare the Sunday afternoon dinner for hundreds of parishioners.
Jerry Shybear joins them after breaking away from a group of boys smoking outside. The original Shy Bear is his grandfather and he seems to know a lot of secrets about the Temple. Jerry leads the girls into a gigantic supply room which isn’t locked, and they go along with him because there is nothing else to do.
There is no electric light within, only a window with blinds, and since it is gloomy outside the Temple it is even more gloomier inside the storage room. There’s an old piano which is probably broken, a map of the Tri-State corner area, and heaps of the sort of things one typically finds in a church unused hymnals, stacks of old bulletins, empty mason jars, and dozens of folding chairs. The children can hear organ music and the choir bleeding through the ceiling from the main sanctuary upstairs.
There are Green Dome scrapbook albums, Green Dome cookbooks, Green Dome paints and brushes, Green Dome wood carvings, Green Dome homespun, and broken Green Dome furniture. Hunky finds a Green Dome walking stick made from a gnarled old piece of wood and shifts it from hand to hand to get the feel of it.
One of the walls is unfinished, and Jerry moves aside a piece of plywood to reveal another dark space beyond. It was so black inside it drinks their vision like a sponge. I’ve never been in here, he says.
None of the girls want to go in there either but Jerry dares them to go, so naturally Hunky is the first one through. Then Jerry follows her to show he isn’t afraid. Dory and Kim are both afraid of the dark hole, and they are not afraid to admit it, but they also don’t want to be left behind so they squeeze in after them.
It is too dark to see, but Jerry lights a series of matches, which only last a few seconds. This gives him time to find an ancient dusty candle, and he lights that. After that the kids have a little bit of light and they can see where they were.
There is no tile floor, just natural stone and dirt, and a sort of stone igloo in the center of a circle of stones. This is the cairn of the avatar of Chokhmah in its original state, resting on the very summit of Green Dome. The structure is completely unmolested. Superstition overcame Prophet Lange and the Apostle Wanica at the end, it seemed. They built the whole Temple right over the top of the cairn as if to hide it.
There is even a little commemorative Green Dome mouse. Dory and Kim scream together when they see it.
Without a word Hunky lets her cane fly in an arc over her head, and she brings it down, hoping to scare the mouse away. But she ends up hitting the mouse instead, with a lucky shot.
This is a church right? So there’s your church mouse.
You crippled it.
Dory has shifted instantly from fear to maternal concern. The animal is in obvious pain and tries to stagger away.
I didn’t mean to actually hit it.
They all take a closer look at the creature. The head of the mouse is misshapen. There is a huge white bump on the back that is nearly as large as the mouse’s head itself.
Look what you did, Hunky! Look at that bump!
That isn’t from anything I did.
Hunky puts the end of her cane directly over the head of the crippled creature and presses down hard to finish it off.
And I don’t want it to suffer. This is better.
Now what do we do with it?
She is disgusted by the sight of the dead creature with what looked to be a flat furry coin where its head had been. The bump is still intact, but no one knows what it was. Hunky scratches the bare ground with the cane and digs a little trench. When it is deep enough Sophie slide the mouse into it with her foot, and then both she and Jerry kick dirt over it and stamp it all down to finish the job.
Rest in pieces.
Now if you ladies will join me, I want to find out what’s in that pile of rocks. He goes to the cairn and begins trying to pull one of the stones loose, not realizing his grandfather Jashen Two Pricks once did the very same thing on his vision quest, but he had told nobody but his father.
Jerry isn’t making much headway. Hunky offers what little help she can, and one of the stones slowly gives way like a hinged door. They move it aside just enough that they all could squeeze inside the stone igloo one at a time. This is it, the Holy of Holies, the very tippy-top of Green Dome hill where the avatar of Chokhmah still lies in its original position. The white exterior surface of the little dome is dotted with thousands of tiny holes. Some of these holes have spines sticking out of them like the needles of a cactus.
Kim puts an index finger close to a part of the dome that is needle-free, and that is something that she ought not to have done. There is a sound like a short squirt of steam and her fingertip is instantly skewered. She pulls away involuntarily before the pain even registers. After that the white dome sports one more extruded spine from its surface.
Dory is a little smarter. She grabs a pencil out of her purse and leans over the black sphere with the eraser tip prudently standing in for her finger. She verifies the white dome is still active and just as nasty.
Jerry thought about kicking it, but a glance at his thin moccasins leads him to change his mind. So the thing is a mystery. Best to leave it at that.
Hunky is the only one who is not afraid. She allows her own finger to be skewered by the white dome.
Whatever trouble you’re in for getting stabbed by this thing, I’m in the same trouble.
And so she has her final victory over Jerry in the test of courage.
After that Kim, Jerry and Dory all shake their heads and slide back out of the stone cairn, followed last by Hunky. But when Dory and Kim are outside they hear another sound and both of them freeze. One of the elders of the Church is standing in the storage room cocking his ears to listen. All of the kids hold their breath and try not to make a sound. The deacon looks into the dark gap and could just make out two silhouettes.
Get out of there!
With red faces Jerry, Kim, Hunky and Dory scramble out of the hole, then out of the supply room, and they sit down in a corner of the basement lunchroom. The deacon locks the supply room tight, and after that it always remained locked for so as long as the Temple stands, which actually wasn’t to be for much longer.
When Kim sees her mother again during the meal after the ceremony she seems somehow different. Kim can tell she wasn’t mourning my father anymore.
It’s all true, Kim. Everything in the Buron, it’s all true!
Of course Clara has always believed what she was taught with the ears of faith, but now she has seen the Golden Gift work with her own eyes and she comes away with an unshakable bedrock foundation of belief that she would carry with her until her own end. And that is precisely the intended effect of the Last Rite. But a week after that, Kim and Sophie both come down with the same disease as that little church mouse. They get matching little bumps at the base of their necks.
Nanoengineering is inspired by the molecular machines of life, but it bypasses the trial-and-error watery sloppiness and superseded functions that are carried out by all cells and duplicates life’s useful functions with more deliberate precision. In 1942 no human being is anywhere near actually working on that scale. What the avatar of Chokhmah did to Kimberly Lokken, Sophie Krouse, and that little church mouse they found under the altar was infect living nerve and brain tissue. On a one-for-one basis this infection gradually replaces each nerve cell with a nanotechnology facsimile after learning the ropes and figuring out how to respond to hormones, nutrients, and electrical signals from other cells.
Soon after their mothers discover the bump on the back of their respective heads, Kim and Hunky are taken to a small hospital in town. The doctors cannot diagnose them, so the girls are handed off to the government and eventually flown to Washington State and placed in quarantine.
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 Reservation 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 Sophie 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 mechanical 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
They’ll never let us out of here you know.
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.
They will catch us before we even get started. They are watching us through the mirrors.
What do you mean?
They look like mirrors from our side, but they work like windows from their side.
How do you know?
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.
But now they know that you know they’re watching us.
Shit. You’re right.
We can turn this to our advantage.
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, confined in here, age eighteen, we’ve fallen in love with each other.
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 Relbimian, 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 private 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 perfume.
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 languages, a genuine Relbimian and the false Relbimian that Dr. Trochmann’s team is hopelessly trying to piece together from Kim and Hunky’s lies. Finally, Dr. Trochmann gets fed up and separates the girls totally.Kim and Sophie 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 hourlong 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 continuously 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.
It would be the girl’s last interview with this well-meaning technical director of the Kim & Sophie Project.
Time for everyone to tell the truth. 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. Nor does Nurse Ramsey.
We know it’s not transmitted through the air, like by sneezing. 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.
Sophie, your brain isn’t even alive anymore!
HUNKY 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 everything 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 structure that straddles the length of the old cell but it’s skinnier, more compact. No more sloppy life. No more proteins floating randomly in water, more like a deliberate design. Like a machine.
KIM What do you mean, like a machine?
All those cells are dead. Both of you girls have been hooked up to an Offner 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.
HUNKY Why can’t we see our folks, even through glass?
That’s a decision for Mr. Roland.
My father dotes on me, 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.
We think this has happened to you for a reason and so far we haven’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. I keep having the notion that we’ve been picked to be go-betweens or something. Like translators.
That’s true, I sense that too. We want to start keeping the Purple Cable with us overnight.
That’s entirely out of the question.
In that event we want the one-way mirrors removed from our space.
What one-way mirrors?
Come on, Doctor. 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 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 letting 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.
I hope you know what we’re trying 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.
He is 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. We should clear the way between us and continue to talk.
Trochmann’s mood brightens at this breakthrough. He seems a different 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 Sophie is spoken for. But the girls remember 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 yellow light and it is ready to accept another try. Kim figures if they start at 600 pm and go all through the night to 600 am, trading off at midnight, 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 illuminated 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 burrowing 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 dimly 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.
How did you solve the lock so fast?
It’s hard to explain. It’s as though I can daydream the future. 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 installations of closed-circuit television in the United States. Only the best for the Manhattan Project. By 100 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 Kimberly 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.
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 riverbank near Nancy so we’re concentrating downstream and northeast of the clinic. This is Hanford. There’s nowhere for them to hide.