From Peshast, Baron Bayard Sala leads Haziel’s dwindling party west through a maze of footpaths that winds through the hills that border the Wall of God. With the baron goes hyz commoner servant Aliwe, and from time to time Bayard stoops to pick up an agate and hands it to the girl. Victoria notices that hyz fingers linger on Aliwe’s hand as she takes the stone from hym, and the expression on the girl’s face is hard to decipher.
For the first time since joining Haziel’s group, Victoria looks at Aliwe very carefully and is surprised to see that the girl’s face has features that strongly remind Vic of her own. But there are also things in Aliwe’s appearance that remind her of Baron Bayard. Vic doesn’t know what to think.
The quest moves at the pace of the oldest and slowest person among them, Count Berek Antero, who is entirely aware that hy is holding everyone up. Hy also misses hyz wife Losna who has stayed behind at Gerazan, and hy is not entirely sure hy is prepared to endure the Catwalk as Bayard has described it. Yet hy is a thoroughly honorable yang who wants to aid Haziel in every way that hy can. So hy is torn by an internal debate as hy trudges along.
Victoria looks at Haziel and sees how har legs have become muscled and wiry. The walk has aged har a decade. Haziel is more handsome now than beautiful. Victoria and Haziel both know full well that beauty has a sell-by date. Haziel regrets only that sha would never grow old together with Princess Khondiel.
Behind them goes a single company of Fallen Angels, only about two hundred forty yin now. Two of every three have elected to stay behind in Peshast and disband, and gloomy Berek warns Haziel that some of the yen who elected to tag along are certain to fall. The law of averages would claim them and there is little anyone could do.
At length the Baron leads them south on a footpath that gently climbs up a long wooded ridge. It looks like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assures them it will become the Catwalk when they walk a little bit further. They all look back down the way they have come. They are now at an altitude where the trees are stunted and sparse, so the views east are unobstructed and spectacular. But at the summit of the ridge the view west is absolutely beyond belief.
Nineteen thousand feet below them lies the land of Haaretz in its entirety, even to the great sea known as Thalury. In one glance they take in both the Northern and Southern Ice, walls little higher than the Wall of God itself, racing west and drawing together until both they and Thalury slip over the horizon. Nowhere else on Barbelo is the spherical shape of the world so apparent.
To the south the trail slips below the ridge and becomes an ice-carved wall almost concrete smooth, and the travelers can see how the trail transforms into the infamous Catwalk, a lip only three feet wide where the cliff juts out and falls once more. As hy feared it would be, all of this is far too much for Count Berek Antero. “I am deeply sorry,” hy says. “I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I cannot go on.”
“I would say that you have made a noble decision, Highborn,” Aliwe says, and not a few Fallen Angels come to the same wisdom as Count Berek. Haziel’s party whittles down to some one hundred fifty souls.
Haziel suggests that they make camp and embark on the Catwalk in the morning when everyone is well fed and fully rested. But rest will not come for many of them. In the morning there is little speech, for the enormity of the task ahead has weighed in everyone’s mind all night.
As Count Berek also had feared, the law of averages begins to take its toll. About once every hour or so the silence of the trek is broken by the terrified scream of a yin somewhere far behind Haziel slipping off the Catwalk and falling to har death. Waiting for the next one to fall becomes a constant and living horror that none would ever be able to banish from their memories for as long as they lived.
There comes a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard makes a move to fondle Aliwe, and Aliwe tries to back away from hym. The problem is there just wasn’t much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she, like some of the Fallen Angels behind her, slips off the face of the Wall of God.
There is no scream but Victoria sees everything and flies down after her, not even taking the time to think that Aliwe’s weight would be too much and there really is no saving her. Didn’t she say as much before they embarked on the quest?
Below the Catwalk the Wall of God is not perfectly vertical. Victoria cannot stop Aliwe’s fall but she can push Aliwe out of the way of any stony outcroppings as she approaches them. Aliwe tells Victoria to let her go, and reluctantly, Victoria has to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff.
Victoria continues down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe’s body bounced so she can attempt to bury her. But when she finds her, Aliwe is smiling, none the worse for wear. She is standing in a small woody glen at the base of the Wall of God. They are at least three thousand feet below the Catwalk where the rest of the party waited for any sign of them.
Victoria finally guesses that Aliwe is b’nei elohim like herself, but one she never knew.
“I’m the daughter you haven’t had yet,” Aliwe explains. “Mom.”
Victoria smiles back. “It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones.”
“And I have Baron Bayard’s eyes.” She knows the implication of that statement has sunk in when Vic stops smiling. “Sorry I ‘slipped’ off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and I wouldn’t be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my own particular talent is indestructibility.”
“Similar. I can heal myself with supernatural speed but I can’t heal anyone else. Aren’t we superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like Kryptonite? And even Del can only fix so much.”
“Let’s see. Bayard is a yang, so I guess that makes you an ambi?”
“A very feminine jen, actually.”
“You are here so it means we win, right? Binah and Chokhmah survive?”
“We win, they live, Thaumiel dies. This quest is important. Thaumiel has this weird passive-aggressive thing going on with his dragon where he can assail any city or army on Barbelo and it’s all Keri Antero’s fault for getting laid and breaking the Dragonthorn. After you kill the dragon he has to decide whether to use his first avatar in the same way, but either way, he loses. If he uses it, people stop following him because he’s a violent and malevolent god. If he doesn’t, then there’s peace on Barbelo. Win, win, for us.”
“So why are you back here?”
“Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for Haziel’s group. It’s already paid off to an extent. On the original loop Kari killed Kirodiel with Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with her lord still living, Joy simply had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant of course that I was the only survivor.”
“So who is that Joy woman? I’ve never seen her up close.”
“Joy is really your aunt Ariel, killed in the Moon War and living out her afterlife here. She’s not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask me. Joy has been possessed by Jill, and even before that Jill went completely over to Thaumiel, so don’t hesitate to kill the dragon even if it means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she’s basically screwed because Yeshua won’t give her a third chance.”
“A long as I don’t fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know.”
“That whole virginity thing was part of Thaumiel’s scam all along. It’s all lies. You could fly straight out of a week-long orgy and still kill Demonstroke with that shard.”
“One thing still bothers me,” Victoria says. “You said on your loop Joy killed everyone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where the hell do you come from?”
“I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council chamber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex with Luzea. I don’t blame him for that, actually. Luzea ain’t one of the b’nei elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! On your timeline I interrupted them because Luzea is all mine, and then Dad went back to see Gramma Aurra. All this this was before you got here, but you’ve heard the accounts so you already know I saved Kirodiel’s life by intercepting the diamond blade with a metal tray. On my timeline Dad was the only surviving noble on the planet, outside of the Middle Land. He became something like a renegade while House Gerash started to take over the world.”
“So how did I meet him on your timeline?”
“Pretty much the same way you did this time around, Mom, except the quest was just you and him. You took the Catwalk, went to Menkant, the dragon shows up, and you fought Joy pretty much the same way you will again. As for how you fell in love with Dad I don’t really know, and do you know what? I don’t even want to know!”
“I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, fifty-fifty you’re a boy instead of a jiste and very few of the events that formed your memories on your timeline will be present again in this timeline.”
“You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have nothing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me back on my timeline. But all I want to do right now is get back to the talented Luzea. Now this next part is going to seem strange to you, because I know you but you don’t know me, but here goes.” And Aliwe pulls Victoria close for a kiss and a hug.
“I love you, baby,” Victoria says. “Will we meet again when it’s all over?”
“I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but it’s not the same.”
Then Aliwe leaves to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a less hardy person. On the coast she will try to find someone willing to take her to Saharad.
Victoria soars directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return to the Catwalk. Everyone sits around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard, who looks guilty. Victoria tells them only, “Aliwe is in a better place,” which considering the nature of the Catwalk is absolutely true. Besides, it would keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got down off the face of the Wall of God.
A day later Haziel’s party has nearly completed the descent of the Wall of God on the Catwalk. Only about a thousand feet of vertical distance remain. But no one lets their guard down just yet. That thousand feet is still perfectly fatal.
On that final afternoon they arrive at a section of the Catwalk that Bayard calls “problematic”. It has been damaged somehow, perhaps in a quake, and for nearly a mile it was no wider than a toehold. But there are steel pitons already pounded into the rock ready for them to snap brass carabiners and sling ropes.
By some quirk of fate or baronic contrivance Victoria is next in line after the Bayard. He says to her, “Haziel calls you one of the b’nei elohim, yet I know almost nothing about them. Can you tell me more, or is it some sort of divine secret?”
“There are some things about us we may never reveal,” Victoria replies, “but what I can tell I will. The most important thing is that we are a family, one big unruly but mostly loving family with the usual family squabbles.”
“Then are you noble born?”
“Not in the way you are royalty, Baron, as the son of Queen Aurra. In a real sense we would be considered nothing more than common folk here.”
Victoria does not know that was precisely what she needed to say to raise Bayard’s interest level in her to eleven. Still, Bayard wants to test that. “And yet you can fly. Some say you are demigods, which would make you far greater than royalty.”
“I can fly, that is true, but it’s not on account of something innate to me, to my body. For all practical purposes, it’s nothing more than a magic trick.”
Applause and cheering break out on the line ahead of them on the Catwalk. Lady Haziel successfully traversed the broken portion to safety on the other side.
“And our foe, this woman Joy, is she also b’nei elohim?”
“She is one of us, and that is what I alluded to when I mentioned family squabbles. Some of us have removed themselves to the camp of the enemy.”
“And the way she controls the dragon, is that another magic trick?”
“More trick than magic,” Victoria said. “Neither we nor the elohim that we serve hold the supernatural realm to be real. So call it a holy deception.”
“The House of Sala has also dabbled in the same sort of thing,” Bayard says. “When the gods of Earth first brought people to live in Haaretz, the Gold Beards feared that many of them would sail west across Thalury and make their homes in our ancestral lands. We sought to discourage that, so we spread a tale among them that the world was constructed like a stair, and the Wall of God was but the second of many such awesome barriers. We told them another wall existed to the west, and Thalury tumbled over this step in a bottomless cataract.
“We went on to tell them that from the beginning of days sailors heeded the divine injunctions of all the elohim never to sail out of sight of Haaretz, lest they meet the edge and fall over it. We made the claim that so rigidly was this law observed that if any sea captain captain, drunk or otherwise, steered his ship such that the land of Haaretz faded from view, it was cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. No such crew returning to port ever faced punishment.
“And the story contained a warning that went something like this: In the fullness of time King Ravenmaster was put to death. It was the days of the revolution in the ancient kingdom of Kurgan, when the union of loosely-united city-states known as the Saiph League was born, and many of the laws established by the elohim were overthrown.
“‘Reason’ reigned supreme, and when time was ripe seamen were found to man two ships, sailors who were willing to disregard the divine warning never to sail out of the sight of land. Such was the rebellious mindset of the men of the Saiph League that it never occurred to them the gods issued their commandment for the safety of mariners.
“Instead, there were rumors of yet another land far in the west, a choice land the elohim created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, and the divine prohibition was to keep this land from being despoiled by mere mortals.
“The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries were Will O’ The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the current with sails unfurled. After two days, the dark line that was Haaretz could no longer be seen in the east, and some of the sailors shuddered, for the tradition was deeply embedded within them.
“And their fears proved more than superstition, for one night after about a week underway the lookout in the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea!
“Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O’ The Whisp that he was raising his sails and turning back. Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will didn’t follow suit until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. In short order she was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.”
By a strange coincidence Baron Bayard slipped off the Catwalk just then and screamed. Victoria pushed her nose into the wall of the Sacred Cliff, resisting the urge to fly after him, since it would be as useless as her attempt to save Aliwe. But Bayard’s fall was arrested by the ropes, as they were intended to do.
When he had been hauled back up, and had recovered enough that his voice had steadied, Victoria begged him to continue his story again. Or his meta-story, his story about a story that had been told to the Israelite colonists in Haaretz to keep them from sailing to the lands of the House of Sala.
“’Will ‘O’ The Whisp had indeed fallen over the edge of the world,” he said. “For not far away from Haaretz the sea poured over a great cataract, an infinite waterfall. For days the ship fell partially submerged within these waters, which had become a vertical sheet.
“The crew found they had no weight, they floated freely, and some floated far away from the ship. Winds eventually broke the sheet into globes of water, ranging in size from a man’s head to the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in some of these spheres of water, and when the food aboard ship ran out these fish provided the only source of food. There was no thirst, for Thalury was a freshwater sea, always replenished every few thousand years by comet-fall.
“As the crew continued to fall, the black underside of the world became visible overhead and the doomed crew could see that the warnings were true, the world was indeed a vast stair.
“The eternal winds blew the globes of water further and further apart, and the heat of the day caused them to slowly evaporate. One day none of the water globes which remained near the ship contained any fish, and the men began to starve. Thoughts of killing each other for meat crossed their mind, but by the time they were desperate enough to act, they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than moan pitifully.
“Then came the final week, when they passed away one by one, according to their remaining strength.
“But the story we told them didn’t end there,” Bayard tells Victoria. “We said that when human beings die in Haaretz they find they are resurrected on the rim of the Wall of God, where they wait for a ship to carry them across yet another sea that lies east of the rim.
“The dead people atop the wall can hear voices upon the winds of Haaretz through a trick of reflecting sound. Ever they walk the ramparts, hoping to hear their loved ones. When they do hear their name it is bittersweet, for they find their friends and loved ones have soon forgotten them and moved on. The more famed a person was in their life, the more fragments they hear, so they linger a while more. The humble accept the truth sooner. It’s really all about letting go.
“But there are always the dummies at far end of the bell curve, and firmly anchored there was Captain Skulldagger, captain of the Will o’ the Whisp. To this very day the shade of this infamous captain is still standing on the rim of the Wall of God waiting for his name to be heard once more as the story of his voyage was retold, just as I have told it once more to you.
“But Skulldagger notwithstanding, at length almost all the dead come off the precipice and rest on the lawn behind it before the Upper Sea, waiting for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The priestesses who attend them always refuse to speak of their final fate, and only say to them, ‘Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings.’”
“Within twenty years all the members of Captain Skulldaggers’s ill-fated crew passed east across the Upper Sea, or leaped from the rim to a more permanent death, but the captain alone remained. For he had attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passed but that his name was spoken aloud by someone far below in Haaretz with a shudder as the story of the Will ‘O’ The Whisp is told to yet another generation. The sound of his name is carried aloft to the rim, and he savors it.’”
When Baron Bayard finishes telling hyz story, Victoria begins to see a glimmer of how she can see the way through to loving this yang. Hy is strong and kind, and more important than that, hy is interesting.
After everyone survived the rope traverse the Catwalk becomes much wider and safer, but their journey is slowed by the presence of many blown-down trees which have been knocked over recently in a storm and lie directly across the trail. Sometimes the travelers roll over them, but other times they must crawl under them, which is exhausting work, and they could not avoid getting their clothing soiled.
The fearsome cliff under the Catwalk comes to an end, and forms a normal slope. The company enters a small stand of fat virgin trees that drape the slope down to the bottom, and here the character of the journey changes dramatically. Victoria thinks it to be a magic place that has escaped the ax in the first, second, and third waves of cutting from Wazol, as though by an oversight.
After that they reach a large outcropping of stone that Bayard calls Picture Buttress. It offers a marvelous view to a forest glade below. Victoria thinks it is beautiful but still dangerous. The trail actually wraps around the parapet here, and a thoughtful person, probably Bayard on his journey long ago, has provided a rope for each of them to hold on to.
They pass a large duckpond so serene that it reflects the sky and the branches of the trees above the water like a mirror. The trail skirts the edge of this pond with a small but calm diversion before resuming its course.
“It’s going to be a little rough going here,” Bayard says, plowing through prickly foliage and bidding Victoria to trust him. The route is flagged with orange and black ribbons. “Not many people know about this trail. Those of us who do know of it use it and we maintain it but we don’t fully connect it anywhere.”
And finally the Catwalk ends ignomiously in some poor old man’s back backyard in the city of Wazol. He is tending his garden and shrugs as one hundred forty people tramp through his property and go out the side gate to the front of his house to reach a city street.
“Where do we go next?” asks the Baron.
“Victoria knows,” says Lady Haziel with a smile revealing her awareness that Vic has spoken to a living Aliwe. “Menkant. Then Joy and her dragon will come to us.”
There is a brief period of only ten years, from the close of the War until the introduction of the Boeing 707 when commercial air travel across the country uses large four-engine propeller planes. They are noisy and slower than jets, the ride is bumpier, the tickets are expensive, but there is a certain luxury and charm about them that is soon extinct. Jill flies to the East Coast of the United States using one of these since she has chosen not to learn how to fly a saucer. Robyn told her that Jerry has died in captivity, and this is foremost on Jill’s mind when she prepares to see her father.
Earl Roland is delighted to see Becky return to his Bethesda, Maryland home after nearly eight months apart. There had been no contact during that time and he has many questions, beginning with, “How many people are we talking about?”
“Well, just the three girls, now, because Jerry’s dead. Not enough to warrant all your attention, father.”
“Who’s the leader?”
“They have no real boss. Maybe Dory, I think. Kim and Sofie tend to do what she wants even when she doesn’t say it.”
“Kim and Sofie are the ones who escaped Hanford. Dory is their accomplice. I want to bring all of them in, Becky.”
“What do you know about Roswell? When Jerry was shot?”
“Nothing at all, dear, don’t be silly.” Her father pulls her close for a hug. He runs his fingers through her hair and feels the bump on the back of her head. “Do you want to talk about what’s happened to you?”
“I know what happened to me. We call it the Change. My brain has been remodeled by some sort of virus from outer space.”
“You don’t know that!”
The source of the Change seems to be a sore spot with him. It is something his mind refuses to accept. She says, “Fine, Daddy, let’s not talk about me. What happened to Jerry’s body?”
“Jerry Shybear lived for a week after the Air Force picked him up. We just wanted to ask him some questions, dear.”
“Asked about the Change and didn’t like his answers either.”
“We just wanted to ask him a few questions, but he died. I don’t know how that happened, but it was not my doing.”
“Let me get the story straight from him.”
“I’m sorry dear, he’s dead.”
“I know that. But Daddy, I’m betting you still have a souvenir from Jerry. A part of him that doesn’t rot because it isn’t really alive anymore. I’m betting your curiosity won out and you have Jerry’s brain. Bring him out to me, Father.”
“I’d rather you didn’t see it.”
“No more hiding the truth. I’ll go back to them, Daddy. Back to your Domestic Enemies! I’ll beg them to take me back and I’ll never return to you, unless you kidnap me too.”
Earl looks at her for a long time. Finally he opens a desk drawer and removes a crumpled white lump resembling a water bag, with one end narrowing down to a connector. He lays it out on the desktop. “People’s Exhibit A.”
Jill stares at him. For a moment the old Becky part of her does not recognize him as her father. He is dead to her. Her father is dead and Jill doesn’t know who this strange man is. Then again, in a very real sense Becky is dead also.
She grabs it and shows him the 55 pin connector. “Look at it! This is what happened to me! This is real! Can the United States do this yet? Can anyone in the world do this yet? Don’t tell me the Soviets. Oh, sure, that’s what you’re telling everybody, enough times that you are even starting to believe your own crap. But no one on Earth has this kind of science.”
“We cannot know the answer to that, one way or the other!”
“We aren’t the only ones in the universe, Father. We aren’t as clever as we think we are.”
“Honey, your brain has been affected. A strong delusion could be built right in, it could be an intended part of the change.”
This isn’t her father anymore, she thinks. He can hatch schemes centered around the strange Change that happened to Robyn and Hunky, even send his own daughter to accept the Change, but he would just dance around the central reality of it. He isn’t really sane anymore, and this makes the part of her that is still Becky Roland very sad.
The Purple Cable doubles as her belt. Jill removes it from around her dress and hooks herself up to what is left of Jerry’s brain. She does the download while her father is watching.
Jerry’s last moments are the most vivid. He had been stripped naked, because that is an foolproof way to remove from a person the natural psychological shielding allowing them to resist torture more effectively. His arms had been tied, bent back around a 55 gallon drum filled with solid concrete that refused to budge even under Jerry’s strongest attempts to move it. His legs were spread straight out, including the one in a cast, and his ankles were held in clamps securely mounted to the floor.
There was another man there to torture Jerry, wielding a pair of bolt cutters. They were closed around the toe right next to the big toe on Jerry left foot. He looked eager to use them, and he only awaited the signal from Roland to proceed.
Roland said, “I’m Earl Roland, Mr. Shybear. Your friends Kim Zinter and Sofie Krause might have spoken to you about me.”
“Who’s this other asshole?” Jerry asked with a side nod.
Roland said, “Meet Ed Conley. He does all my wet work. This is really going to amaze you, Jerry, how much it’s going to hurt. So I really suggest you start telling me everything you know about what’s happened to you and your friends back in Greendome. Because you’ve got ten toes, Jerry, and each one is good for at least two bites.”
So Jerry started to speak about the living suns which men have worshiped as gods, and how they would, from time to time, take possession of human beings and live on Earth as one of them. All of this seemed like just so many lies to Earl. “Obviously you’re not taking this interview seriously at all, Jerry. So Ed, go ahead and take that first bite.”
Jerry chose that exact moment to die. The record came to an abrupt end. But now Jill has all of Jerry’s memories. There was no True Death for him. Jerry is dead, but Jill obtained his final memories. By doing this, she sets a powerful precedent. Going forward, no matter what happens, if a brother or sister goes down, the b’nei elohim drop everything and work to save his or her final memories. In years to come a continuous neutrino transceiver would add a measure of safety, but there would still be times when an extraordinary effort would be required to retrieve a fallen comrade from the True Death.
“You tortured Jerry, Daddy!” Jill says, letting Becky come through once more. “You and Ed Conley!” And with these words, Earl confirms that memories are transferred through the cable.
“That is what I wanted you to avoid. There were some things we had to know and some things I had to do that I’m not proud of. I’m sad that you had to learn about this whole mess.”
“And Jerry died for nothing. He told you the truth!”
“But we didn’t kill him! He did that on his own!”
“It’s the Change. We can kill ourselves just by thinking about it. But Father, don’t you dare tell me Jerry Shy Bear was to blame for committing suicide. Not when you had him tied up and helpless and were cutting his toes off.”
“I know they’re working toward a purpose. What are they really after, Becky? I already know they’re in the waste management business. Is that all they want, just money?”
“Money, Daddy? Is that what you thought when you offered me as bait, with my trust fund opened up to catch their eye?”
“You have to go back. You have to ask them to take you back.”
“Father, listen to me, because on this everything turns. Where did you get all of your new money? The truth, Daddy.”
“The thing growing from Kim and Sofie’s head, it is bone, yes, but there was also a new kind of material made from carbon, the atoms are arranged in ways we never thought of before. We still don’t know what they are, who made them, why, or where it came from. But we monetized that.”
At that point Jill stands up and goes to a corner of the room, and her head becomes very still with not the slightest movement. Only her mouth moved to speak the words, “Go on.”
She does this because she wants to record everything her father says, and it has to look like it is taken from a television camera mounted on a tripod. It’s a sting. Jill gets her own father to make a smoking gun film.
Back in Greendome everything Earl Roland said is taken directly from Jill’s memories and transfered to sixteen millimeter film using a kinetiscope, a television cathode ray tube connected directly to a movie camera. Video tape would have been easier but it would not become widely available until 1957. The procedure also requires a new device to actually map the thoughts, memories, and daydreams of Jill as a television video signal, but with thousands, not just hundreds, of scan lines, since film grain is so dense. This gadget is put together over a period of two weeks by Jill using some of the technology Haziel had brought to Jerry from farther up the timeline.
At first the images she builds up are indistinct, but they become more and more clarified as Jill learns how to use the setup better. She constructs a moving image of her father from the recent encounter. Each take is a performance demanding all of her attention. She has to concentrate as hard as she can to provide every detail of her conversation with Earl. Many takes are rejected because she forgets to animate the muscles in Earl’s face as he speaks, or she mismatches the audio to his lips. Each new take is an improvement over the old. Pathways in her newly-modified brain kick in to make the work easier as soon as the neuron analogues “catch on” to what she is trying to do.
It takes two more weeks, and when it is finished Jill has a short black and white segment of 16mm film indistinguishable from the real thing, as though Jill had somehow worn a movie camera strapped to her head that day with her father. It wasn’t the entire discussion, just the juicy “smoking gun” part at the end that Jill hoped would eliminate her father as an irritant to the b’nei elohim forever.
She also has a number of photographs printed from Jill’s memories of Jerry’s memories including Roland, Ed Conley, Jerry Shybear’s toes with a bolt cutter around them, and the condition of the flying saucer at the crash site.
Robyn straps herself into the thing too and makes photographs of the people at the Hanford Clinic she was going to testify about: Dr. Ian Trochmann, Nurse Karen Ramsey, and Andrew Fulford, who was the man in the white scrubs, the “muscle” to make sure Robyn and Hunky behaved. She also makes a photograph from her memory of the keypad that was used to open the door of the Clinic from the inside.
They figure the only hard part will be explaining how the photographs were taken. Robyn decides she will commit perjury. She will say a camera was smuggled into one of her CARE packages from Jerry and Dory, disguised inside a box of corn flakes, and the film was carried out by herself when she escaped.
Jill’s pictures, of course, would be mixed with the ones she took with Jerry on their little lover’s get-away when she was “Inge Hahn”. Robyn has largely forgiven Jill for that.
“Are you sure this will work?” Jill asks Robyn when they pack everything together for the flight to DC, which would be by saucer since Robyn did take lessons from Hunky and Dory on how to fly the things. She was consulting the oracle.
“It will. We have evidence that Earl Roland is running a government inside the government. And the, you know, actual government, mightn’t like it. We’ll have to surrender to US Marshals and walk right into the lion’s den, Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC. But if we play our cards right, we’ll be free.”
Somewhere over Iowa Robyn comes to a decision. She turns to face Jill and says, “I know you’re in there, Jerry. You must know that I consider our marriage to be dissolved.”
Jill nods and bows her head. Then she smiles and looks straight back at Robyn. “Of course. I understand. But I will still get to watch Edgar and Ariel grow up, and that will be enough for me.” She watches Robyn accept this silently.
“You are b’nei elohim, Jill, but Haziel says you show every sign of becoming what she calls the loyal opposition.”
“Hunky and Dory and I have never quite hit it off,” Jill says. “Must be from being a boy before this happened. Even now I still feel like I’m always on the outside looking in.”
Robyn lays a hand on Jill’s hand. “Haziel also says this mode you’ve cast yourself in will be good for us over the long haul. Things will never get boring as long as you’re around.”
“Earl isn’t my father anymore. I have happier memories.”
“Then let us celebrate your father,” Robyn tells her, “the Earl Roland who was, before he ever heard of the Change.”
At the Capitol building Robyn and Jill are run through a metal detector, patted down, and their papers are searched, but the search is not thorough enough for security to discover the connectors at the back of their heads, hidden by their religiously-mandated pony tails. There is not enough concentrated metal in the things to make a metal detector get anything but get a whiff.
MONDAY, JANUARY 5, 1948
PERMANENT SUBCOMMITTEE ON INVESTIGATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
The hearing is in the venerable Room 315 of the Old Senate Office Building. It is ten o’clock, and Chairman Samuel L. Boren gavels the hearing to order. The first witness of the day is Mr. Michael Evers of Roswell, New Mexico, who operates a ranch that sprawls over many square miles of arid land to the northwest of that town of about 22,000 people. In his opening remarks he testifies thus, from prepared notes:
Mr. Evers: “On July 7, 1947, two cowhands in our employ found a shiny metallic object in the desert that looked like two shallow stainless steel bowls which had been welded together, mouth to mouth. There were many large caliber bullet holes in the object. And when these cowhands took a closer look, they found an Indian inside the contraption who said his name was Jerry Shybear. He was severely injured, with a shattered bone in his thigh and a bullet wound that he had somehow managed to staunch with a tourniquet and pressure. The cowhands brought the man to me, and I drove him to a doctor in Roswell to be treated. After that I asked my cowhands to show me where the disk had crashed, and I saw the object with my own eyes, both inside and out. The next day, the Army came out with two trucks, including a crane truck, and carted the object away. Later that evening the local newspaper carried a story that a ‘flying saucer’ had crashed on my employer’s land, which created a sensation I did not and do not want. These are the basic facts, gentlemen, but I am prepared to testify if any amplifying information is requested.”
The Chairman recognizes Senator Lee Wenden, Democrat, Colorado.
Senator Lee WENDEN: Good morning Mr. Evers. Can you tell me how big this disk was that you found?
Mr. EVERS: Bigger than a car, Senator, but small enough to fit, perhaps, inside a two-car garage.
Senator WENDEN: And you say there were bullet holes in the thing. Is it safe to say it was shot out of the sky?
Mr. EVERS: I don’t think so, sir. There was no odor of fuel. There was nothing in the way of a motor for the thing, or any controls to fly it. The thing was, as near as I could tell, identical perhaps to a toy ‘flying saucer’ a city might put together in a park for kids to play on, except for the bullet holes. It didn’t have the kind of damage one would expect to see if it crashed. There was no scattered debris.
Senator WENDEN: So you have no idea how this object got into the desert thirty miles from the nearest town?
Mr. EVERS: No sir, and the Indian, Jerry Shybear, said only that he found it, and crawled inside to take a look, and fell asleep, and that he had been strafed from the air by planes.
Senator WENDEN: Was Jerry Shybear still alive when you checked him in with the doctor in Roswell.
Mr. EVERS: He was alive, sir, and in my opinion, his wounds were not life-threatening. As far as I know, he is still alive. I left my number with the doctor, and told him I’d like to help if I could. This Jerry seemed like a nice kid, and I felt sorry for him, he was in quite a bit of pain when we took him in over some bumpy roads. There was no way to avoid that. To this day I haven’t heard anything from the doctor.
Senator WENDEN: Thank you, Mr. Evers. I yield the balance of my time to you Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Wenden. Mr. Evers, you may step down.
Robyn is called to take the seat vacated by Evers.
The CHAIRMAN: Please state your full name for the record, and tell us a little about yourself.
ROBYN: My name is Kimberly Barbara Shybear. I was born in a small hospital in the small city of Greendome, Nebraska. I am twenty-two years old. My father Erik Zinter served in the First World War, where he was shot on the Western Front and came home with only one arm remaining to him. He married a Red Cross nurse named Clara whom he met over there in France. After the war he worked as a miner in the coal mines around our town, and that job killed him when I was just fourteen. I was a student at a private high school that was operated by my church, but I was not permitted to graduate, for reasons that I will explain shortly in my testimony.
Senator WENDEN: Thank you Mrs. Shybear. You heard the testimony of Mr. Evers just now. He said he found a young Indian named Jerry Shybear inside some metallic wreckage on his land. Any relation to you?
ROBYN: Yes Senator, Jerry Shybear was my husband.
Senator WENDEN: And he lived with you in the Greendome area?
ROBYN: Yes, Senator.
Senator WENDEN: There is no record of a marriage license filed at the loal courthouse for a Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Shybear.
ROBYN: No Senator, because I was a fugitive, for reasons that I hope will come out in my testimony here today. I was wed by my pastor in the Greendome Church, in the presence of many other witnesses, but it could not be filed with the state. And now, of course, it doesn’t matter, even if I get all the legal paperwork squared away, because Jerry is dead.
Senator WENDEN: So it is your testimony that Jerry Shybear is dead?
ROBYN: Only my friend Becky Roland, who is also here today, can testify how and why Jerry Shybear is deceased, and provide the relevant evidence proving it was due to homicide. All I can give is hearsay.
Senator WENDEN: Do you know how your husband came to be in New Mexico on July 7, 1947?
ROBYN: He said he was going to do some kind of Indian spiritual thing called a vision quest, a very long walk in the wilderness, perhaps a bit like when Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the desert. But how he ended up near Roswell I cannot say.
The CHAIRMAN: Can you tell the committee what is your present occupation?
ROBYN: I am a full-time mother, raising my son Edgar and daughter Ariel. They are living reminders of my deceased husband, and I love both of my children very much.
The CHAIRMAN: How do you support yourself?
ROBYN: My friend Rebecca Roland is helping me make ends meet. She is here today and like myself she is willing and eager to cooperate with this panel, Senator.
The CHAIRMAN: Why are you so eager to cooperate, Mrs. Shybear?
ROBYN: I want to clear my name.
The CHAIRMAN: Clear your name? Please explain.
ROBYN: When I was still in high school I developed a bone cyst on the back of my skull, in the shape of a little white cup. My mother took me to the doctor, but somehow it developed into a federal case. I was quarantined for almost two years at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation about two hundred miles southeast of Seattle. Senator, with your permission I would like to enter into the record this photograph of the interior of the clinic there at Hanford where I was imprisoned.
He nods and waves for his assistant to go fetch it. Robyn gives her the photo, and after Boren looks at it, he gives it to the other senators on the panel to examine.
ROBYN: Senator, I also have pictures of my captors, with their names written across them. Chief among them is Doctor Ian Trochmann, and he was aided by a nurse Karen Ramsey, and a man named Andrew Fulford. Doctor Trochmann said he took his orders from Earl Roland.
Robyn passes these photographs forward as well, to be filed in the official record of the proceedings. She deliberately neglects to mention that Hunky had also developed the bone cyst and was in quarantine with her because it clouds the narrative she is developing and might bring things to a dead stop while they wait for Hunky to come to DC as well.
The CHAIRMAN: Mrs. Shybear, I have to ask how you managed to take these photographs. These could be from anywhere. If I use these images to drag these people in front of this committee, they could be innocents who know nothing of Hanford.
ROBYN: Senator, my friends sent me a camera inside a box of cereal, which in turn was sent inside a CARE package. I have no doubt, Senator, that your staff will soon provide you a roster of everyone who worked at Hanford during the war, and you will find these three names on that list. When you bring them before this committee, you will see their faces match these photos, and that I was telling the truth. In the meantime, please accept that I consider my oath to be binding when I was sworn to tell this committee the truth.
The CHAIRMAN: Since you are seated before this panel today, Mrs. Shybear, I take that to mean you were not deemed contagious, and you were eventually released.
ROBYN: That is partially correct, Senator. I was not contagious, and this was confirmed by Dr. Trochmann, but I was not released. That is the important point that I want to testify to you here today, and it is my sincere hope that you call Dr. Trochmann here to confirm it officially. I am not contagious. This is just a bone cyst.
The CHAIRMAN: Will you approach the panel so we may examine for ourselves?
ROBYN: Yes Senator.
She lifts her pony tail and presents the little white cup at the back of her head for their inspection. Before she did this, she had rubbed the inside of the cup with her fingers to break off all the little black graphite pins, knowing they would grow back later. She knew that showing the Senator fifty-five little black pins in a neat array would lead to a line of questioning she was not prepared to answer.
ROBYN: (after returning to her seat): I remained locked inside the clinic at all times, Senator. It became obvious to me that I would never be released. So I had to escape on my own.
The CHAIRMAN: Please tell the committee how you managed that.
ROBYN: First, Senator, with your permission, I would like to enter one final image into the record. This is a picture of the keypad that was used to unlock the door. It has sixteen buttons, labeled zero through nine, and ‘A’ through ‘F’. The combination to unlock the door is just four digits long. One of my captors, the gentleman named Andrew Fulford wasn’t very bright, I watched him punch the numbers one day: 7DFC. And this was the same number they used on both doors, the room in the clinic where I was held, and also the front door of the clinic. So one night I punched those numbers in and just walked right out of the clinic.
The CHAIRMAN: And you found yourself, no doubt, in the middle of one the the most carefully protected installations in the United States. How did you get out of Hanford undetected?
ROBYN: Oh, I was detected, all right, Senator. But I simply walked out into the river and floated downstream. So serious was this Earl Roland character about keeping me there, dead or alive, that he had his guards take several potshots at me with rifles. I had to keep ducking under the water until it carried me far downstream.
The CHAIRMAN: And what did you do after that?
ROBYN: The river wasn’t too cold, and not very deep. I could keep touching bottom with my feet, so I let it carry me down to the nearest town, where I got out and took a bus to Wyoming. When my pastor and friends picked me up, they said the Army and the FBI was asking about me, and that I was a fugitive.
Sen. BORSCH: When did your association with Miss Roland begin?
ROBYN: It was almost two years after my escape from Hanford, Senator. Sometime in 1945, I’m not sure exactly which month.
Sen. BORSCH: And her last name, Roland, didn’t raise any red flags with you?
ROBYN: At the time, Senator, she went by the name Inge Hahn.
Sen. BORSCH: Thank you, Mrs. Shybear. Mister Chairman, with your leave I move to use our time remaining here today to question Miss Becky Roland, but I reserve the privilege of calling Mrs. Shybear back as a witness if the testimony so requires it.
The CHAIRMAN: So ordered. Thank you Kim, you may step down, but please remain in the chamber until the hearing adjourns.
The CHAIRMAN: Miss Roland would you take the stand? Would you raise your right hand and be sworn? In this matter now in hearing before the committee, do you, Rebecca Roland, swear that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Miss ROLAND: I do.
Sen. BORSCH: Miss Roland, will you state for the record your full name and home address?
Miss ROLAND: Rebbecca Jeanette Roland, 129 Goode Street, Greendome, Nebraska.
Sen. BORSCH: Is that the only name you go by?
Miss ROLAND: No Senator, my friends call me Becky. And as Kim testified I went under the name Inge Hahn recently.
Sen. BORSCH: Why did you use that name?
Miss ROLAND: Because my father asked me to use it. He wanted me to get close to Kimberly Shybear, but he knew that would be impossible if I used my real name.
Sen. BORSCH: And where are you now employed?
Miss ROLAND: My living expenses and allowance are paid out of a bank account that my father maintains.
Sen. BORSCH: For the record: Who is your father?
Miss ROLAND: He is Earl G. Roland, Jr. and he was connected with the Manhattan Project during the War. Today he says works for an agency called DECON but I don’t know anything about it. He also has certain business interests on the side.
Sen. BORSCH: Do you know why your father was interested in Kimberly Shybear?
Miss ROLAND: Yes Senator, it was her bone cyst. He was obsessed with it for some reason. I love my father, but I’m not sure he’s entirely sane. He has a position of authority in the government, but he used it to take away the freedom of Kim, the freedom of another girl named Sofie Krause, and the life of Kim’s husband. I confronted him at his home in Maryland, and I brought a movie camera to film his confession, and he still told me everything, knowing that it was being recorded. His attitude was one of indifference. I hardly know my own father anymore.
Sen. BORSCH: Are you prepared to enter your film into evidence?
Miss ROLAND: Yes Senator, and it is my sincere hope that this will clear Kimberly’s good name, and begin the process to give her justice for the death of her beloved husband and my good friend Jerry Shybear.
The Senate projectionist already has the film threaded through the gate of the projector and it is ready to roll. Boren asks for the lights to be dimmed, and they began to watch the movie. To preserve the first moments of the film, Jill had added the usual Academy leader that looked like a black and white radar screen counting down from five to zero.
Earl Roland stood in the middle of his own living room, wearing his usual black turtleneck shirt under a gray tweed jacket, with no tie. He was bald, with only a fringe of dark curly hair wrapped around the back of his head. Jill was not seen, but her voice could be heard saying, “You know how they got their bone cysts, Daddy, but you dance around the issue and refuse to look at it straight on.”
“You’re wrong, we did have a good look at them.”
He nodded. “Short for Radar Cross Section Zero. We used the government’s own engineers and labs at Hanford to analyze it, and learned to synthesize the white stuff on a large scale. It absorbs radar perfectly, at the same time being totally impervious to heat. We’ve already made a fortune selling the material to a fighter aircraft manufacturer to paint on the leading edges of their wings. It’s a goldmine for us.”
“So you lied. Kim and Sofie weren’t the source of a dangerous infection, they were your cash cow.”
“I don’t call it lying, Becky . I call it dealing with the world adaptively. When Kim and Sofie escaped from Hanford the whole house of cards almost crashed around me and some very powerful people who are also involved in this. The only way to keep them from coming forward was to make them fugitives.”
“Fugitive. So you lied to the Army and the FBI as well.”
“Don’t think ill of me, Becky . I’m your father. I did it all for you and your mother. Civil service pay is just not enough to give you two the things you deserve to have.”
“They won’t take me back. I burned my bridges with them.”
“Stop that film!” a voice is heard, and everyone sees it is Earl Roland, the star of the movie.
Roland is accompanied by three thugs, one of whom advances straight to the film projector. Another thug takes his position near the switch that controls the lights in Room 315. The last thug stays with Roland. This last thug is Ed Conley, and Jill recognizes him of course, from Jerry’s final memories.
“Father!” Jill cries out.
The thug near the film projector speaks a few words to the projectionist in hushed tones. The projectionist looks quite upset and leaves Room 315 in a hurry, speaking no words, leaving the thug standing there in his place. The film abruptly comes to a stop, and the lights are turned back on.
“I think, dear esteemed Senators,” Roland says, “that in your rush to get these ladies before your panel you moved a little too fast, and you didn’t give thought as to whether these hearings should be public, and not in secret session.”
Senator Borsch is angry. “The Senate answers to nobody but the American people. And you, sir, you are out of order. But thanks for coming, you have saved us a little time. I was about to ask my staff to prepare a subpoena to have you appear. We have many questions that require your immediate response.”
“Senator Boren, this is a matter of National Security. You will not allow that film to be shown in an open hearing.”
Senator Borsch says, “Mister Chairman, if I may, since I still have the floor, we will proceed to show the film, notwithstanding the objection by the intruder. And after we have seen the film, I think we should immediately discuss why the intruder should not be held in contempt of this esteemed body.”
Roland turns to his thug next to the film projector and gives a hand sign. He begins to unmount Jill’s movie and mounts one of the films Roland brought along to be shown in its place.
Roland says, “Very well, Senator, you are of course correct. We will immediately comply.”
His other thug kills the lights, and the new film began to roll. It wasn’t Jill’s film at all. In this short movie, the Republican Senator Jeremiah J. Borsch, Mister Family Values, who is also the pastor of a large church, is seen leaving a bar that was well-known to be frequented by homosexual men. The film shows him entering a cab with one of the well-dressed patrons of this bar. After that, the film, shot through the windshield of another car, showed the Senator being tailed. Through the rear window he could be seen kissing the man. And the film winds up with images of the Senator entering a seedy Washington no-tell motel with this man.
The hearing room erupts into a cacophony of disbelieving roars and hoots, bringing on a long spate of gavel-banging by Senator Boren before order is restored.
Roland says, “Senator Borsch, I believe this film will be of some use to you on your Select Committee on Homosexual Activities, which I know you chair. I’m not one to judge, but these days this sort of thing can be a real career killer.”
Borsch looks at Boren and he had the answer to his unspoken question why Boren is allowing Roland to disrupt the hearing.
“Mister Chairman,” Roland goes on, “I am prepared to show two more short films at this time, of a similar nature. One will be very useful to Democratic Senator Lee Wenden on his Committee on Communist Influence in Government. The second film will be of some interest to you, Mister Chairman, in your other capacity as chair of the Senate Sub-Committee on Graft and Corruption.”
Senator Boren says, “This hearing is on hiatus until further notice. The Master-At-Arms will take custody of Kim Shybear and Becky Roland, and transfer them into the custody of the Domestic Enemies Classification, Observation, and Neutralizaion Agency. That will be all.” And he punctuates the proceedings with a final sharp bang of his gavel.
Roland’s substitute projectionist gives his three short films to Senator Borsch, but in return he keeps Jill’s movie. On his way out, Roland tells Ed Conley, “I want the names and addresses of everyone who watched this hearing from the gallery.”
And shortly after this Roland relearns a very important about taking any member of the b’nei elohim into custody. And that lesson is, no matter how secure you make the cell to hold them, do not take your eyes away from the prisoners for even a moment, or they will disappear right out from under you.
By any stretch of the imagination the things Mike Morrich see in Washington, D.C. on October 19, 1973 far surpasses anything Lilith had witnessed or endured in the death camps, but somehow they affect him far less. Perhaps he is wired differently. At seventeen, Mike is a pretty good kid. Sure, he drops out of school just before his senior year, to the great consternation of his father, but Mike figures the kind of work he can obtain after one more year of school wouldn’t be all that much different from the work he can obtain now, so what’s the point? Sure he’s a skinny young black man with a wild afro, but nobody living in the Seventies would look back a few decades later and say they were proud of their hair.
Mike’s father has a civil service job, his parents are still together, and Mike loves both of them. If he had been born ten or twenty years later, he would have been the exception rather than the rule. So that Friday he’s on the job site in a cavern which is dug under the city, a space intended to become an ornate Metro station when the system was slated to open just three years later, although it never would. Mike doesn’t have any construction skills per se, and lacks the upper body strength in any event, but his job is simply to keep the area as clean as possible while the other men work. He does so with a great deal of youthful energy.
The lights go out and there is something like a long earthquake. An eerie white light reflects down one of the connecting tunnels and hot dust fills the cavern even as the light fades to red. But the light never disappears entirely. The city above was on fire. Mike Morrich and his co-workers are lucky, there are very few survivors so close to the footprint of the Soviet fusion warhead.
The yield and corresponding destruction is many times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. On Pennsylvania Avenue between the places where the White House and the Capitol building once sat is now a huge crater so hot the Potomac River continually turns to steam before it can fill the hole. Surrounding this is a ring of total destruction where the Supreme Court, the Treasury building, and all the famous monuments used to be.
When Mike steps out of the subway tunnel and looks to where his home used to be he sees the view is largely unobstructed, yet there is no way for him to locate exactly where it was. All the landmarks are gone. He knows in that instant that he is an orphan. There is no point in even trying to look for his parents. They are as gone as anyone can possibly be. So he turns and begins to walk in what he guessed was the next best direction, which is away from the pillar of steam that is ground zero.
As he walks, he passes through a ring of human bodies that are almost recognizable, for they are charred black, and even the beer bottles and car windows lying at their feet are melted.
He passes through a ring of half-standing blackened buildings with white “shadows” along their base that had been people blocking the burning radiation of the initial flash. There Mike has to pick his way through the rubble of structures that had already been burned out just to exit to the next ring.
Mike passes through a ring of people who are still alive, but burned so badly they have no hope of recovery, and they are in such a state of shock that they feel nothing, make no sound, and would soon die. They are actually the lucky ones.
He passes through a ring of people who do make a sound, for each of them are immersed in a sea of absolutely unendurable agony that never stops. They have stripped themselves naked because clothes only make the pain worse, and their arms are held at a forty-five degree angle at their side, for if their arms touch their bodies the pain of the contact is too great.
Mike is forced to remain in this ring until the fires of the rings farther away burn themselves out. He hasn’t been injured, but even as he walks the residual radiation of the blast does its invisible dirty work, tearing at the DNA in his body, so that in the end, five years later, he does in fact become a victim of the attack with a painful bone cancer.
With Washington DC and much of the surrounding area devastated, America undergoes a profound political shift, far exceeding that of the Civil War. The United States proper is reduced to everything east of the Hudson River, basically New York City and New England. Upstate New York, Michigan, and everything in Minnesota north of and including the Twin Cities become part of Canada. The western half of the states of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, including San Francisco, form a new nation called Pacifica. Everything else is reorganized as the New Confederate States of America.
The FBI now operates only in the rump states of the northeast. Their competitors, DECON, has a lot of surviving infrastructure and they grow to fill the role of internal security in the NCSA, now headquartered in Greendome. Director Earl Roland survived, and his obsession with the b’nei elohim survived with him. Every day for a half-hour or more he sits in an anteroom to contemplate a glass case displaying the dessicated white shapes of the modified brains of Robyn, Jerry, Hunky, Dory, and his own daughter Rebbecca. The amount of science DECON had been able to obtain by studying the once-living subjects was maddeningly limited, on account of the insufficiently advanced state of technology in the late 1940s.
The Hanford site where Robyn and Hunky were once held was also nuked in Black ‘73 but it is about the size of a county and large portions are still in use five years later. The four reactors are completely gone, of course, and Walla Walla downwind is still more or less a ghost town, but contamination levels in the southeast corner along the Columbia River approach the slightly elevated levels of prior to the attack when the facility was used to make plutonium for bombs like Fat Boy, which was used at Nagasaki. This corner is still in use.
The New Confederacy is contemplating shutting the place down for good, but there is still a lot of useful infrastructure, a rail network, a power grid, empty structures, and private industry steps up to keep the ball rolling. The isolation and security are attractive when large corporations meditate doing something that isn’t entirely kosher from a legal standpoint, even the lax laws of the NCSA. So business at Hanford is good.
Enter Pharmadigm, a DECON front company purporting to be a drug maker. Roland gets the ball rolling by turning over a portion of the Hanford site and ordering it tricked out with fake company logos. And Pharmadigm hires one Doctor Amanda Chase as a consultant, with the false narrative that a new high-profile anesthetic drug is stuck in early human trials due to adverse reactions. She is asked to supervise the administration of the drug to two remaining human “volunteers”.
One of the “volunteers” is Freddy Aspin, a convicted murderer on death row who has been promised, in return for participating in the research, the reduction of his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The other “volunteer” is Mike Morrich, who faces a slow and painful death by cancer and has no financial means to manage the pain. For his participation he is promised ongoing treatment.
And all this is happening because Ed Roland has come across the first new case of the “white brain disease” since he asked his own daughter to infiltrate the Boda more than thirty years in the past. He now has in his custody one Dr. Lilith Gervasi, a person of dual British-Israeli citizenship, an officer in the IDF and a former associate professor of linguistics at a college in New Jersey that has since shut its doors.
Lilith came into the hands of DECON in very much the same way Robyn and Hunky had done so, through a chain of puzzled diagnosticians who eventually referred her case to the Center for Disease Control. And with Lilith on the table Roland learned a very interesting thing. One could extract a dark fluid from the center of the bone cup with a syringe, inject it into a dog, and the dog will develop the bone cup as well.