The Man From God Only Knows Ch. 03byAdrian Leverkuhn©
He felt the little electric car drop as if it had suddenly come upon a steeply inclined ramp; his body leaned painfully on a metal lip as the car listed into a sudden left-hand curve, and the pressure did not let up for several minutes. His ears popped once, then again, the air at one point suddenly grew cool and dry and he began to shiver. He felt sure he had dropped several hundred feet on a spiral ramp when he felt the transition to a level surface again, and whatever surface there was was as smooth as glass. The car stopped once and he heard the muffled voices of people several feet away, then the car lurched again and resumed its journey.
After what seemed hours the car slowed, the whirring electric motor droned to a stop and he was wrapped in sudden, uncomfortable silence. The air was, however, a little warmer now, and he heard the clatter of construction equipment somewhere not too far away.
Hands gently lifted him from the flat bed of the car, he felt someone tugging at the black cloth hood that covered his face and he winced from the sudden brightness that seared his eyes. It was bright here, wherever here was, yet it was much cooler than the city! His eyes watered and someone gently wiped the tears from his face.
Krul-son blinked, cleared his eyes.
He stood within the center of a small group – several men, one woman – and as they regarded him quietly one of the men stepped forward and snipped off the nylon band that secured his hands behind his back. He rubbed his wrists, shook his hands to wake them from their cold sleep.
A man – another with metal plates grafted to the side of his skull – stepped forward and extended his right hand. Krul-son looked at the man, at the extended hand, and took the man's hand in his. Then the man handed him his sidearm.
Krul-son looked at all the people around him, and they at him; they were unarmed, he noticed, and they regarded him casually as he took the pistol in his hand. What was this? A test? He holstered the weapon and snapped it in place.
The woman stepped closer now, and she regarded him with kind eyes for a moment. It was as if she was deciding not just what to say, but how to say it. At length she held out her hand and took him in tow: "Come with me," she said, her voice full of quiet authority. In an instant it hit him: he had seen her before, but it had been a long time ago.
Only then did Aurie Krul-son take note of his surroundings: he was in a smallish space hollowed from living rock, the "ceiling" was mere inches from the top of his head, the way beneath his feet was smooth, polished stone. The walls were roughly finished yet still looked neat and clean, the way ahead lined with OLEDs that filled the space with brilliant white light.
The woman held his hand and they walked briskly down the corridor; he turned his head once and was startled to find they were alone – the other men had remained by the electric car. He could see them talking, gesturing at the road he must have been traveling on. But they had left him armed and alone with this woman? Why? That made no sense! How could these people consider him friendly when they had just killed two of his comrades?
They walked for perhaps ten minutes through the rock until the woman stopped beside a metal door set in the rock; she put her thumb to a green scanner and the panel flashed briefly, she entered a code and the door slid quietly into the rock. She led him into a very small room, the door closed abruptly behind him; another door was set in the opposing wall yet it did not open.
"Your ears may hurt," the woman said. "Move your mouth like this." Aurie watched as she opened her mouth wide and moved her jaw from side to side, then she pressed another button and he winced as sudden pain pierced the inside of his head...
"What the..." he managed to get out, then the second door opened and the pain subsided fractionally. A silver railway car of some sort filled the next room, which was itself little more than a simple unadorned platform hollowed from stone. He stepped forward and looked down at the tracks and was surprised to see nothing but smooth stone. "Where are the rails?" he asked.
"Mag-Lev," the woman said as they walked along on the platform to the car's door, as if Mag-Lev meant anything to him. "Much faster. Let's go. We have a schedule to keep!"
She led him into the single car and again held her thumb to a scanner; doors sealing both the platform and the car hissed shut simultaneously. She led him to a deeply cushioned seat in the empty car and motioned for him to sit. He stood and, his mouth still working to ease the pressure in his head, observed the empty car could easily hold twenty people in such seats and could still accommodate a lot of cargo.
"Quickly!" she said. "You will want to be sitting when it starts."
There was nothing subtle about the cars motion; it accelerated fiercely down to dark tunnel, pushing them back firmly into the deep padding.
"I don't suppose you're going to tell me what this is all about? Or where we're going?" he said after what seemed like another hour.
She smiled at him a moment longer; she held him in her eyes and a smile played through them.
"Not a chance." She took his hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Very few elements of the GPS constellation remained in orbit after the Resource Wars; precise navigation over long distances was almost impossible by older methods such as celestial as the dense, smog-laden upper atmosphere no longer afforded reliable seeing. Dead reckoning tracks were less than useless for high altitude great circle routes over the pole – such as it now was – and even long range radio aids to navigation such as Loran were no longer reliable enough to present a viable option.
The Watcher's aircraft, a Falcon business jet now more than fifty years old, was one of the few aircraft remaining that had a working inertial navigation system, and as such the Falcon was capable of near pinpoint navigational accuracy as long as the balky old gyros head out. He looked at the panel, at the old Bendix FGS-70 flight director that had first seen service with the first jumbo jets of the 1960s, with something akin to wonder in his eyes: there was not one facility left in the world capable of manufacturing equipment of this complexity with such precision – not one.
So much had been lost to the ravages of fundamentalist extremism.
And like so many other things, the Watcher knew he was materially a living remnant of that collapse. He too was a product of First Republic technology, a vast military experiment into human/machine engineering to develop ever faster arrays of super-computers, and as such he embodied all that was evil to the extremists who ruled the scattered remnants of humanity. He looked at the curved horizon, at the thriving agricultural settlements in northern Iceland off his left wing and the verdant mountain ranges of Greenland just now peaking up over the nose of the jet and found it hard to remember a time when these places had been almost uninhabitable due to extreme cold. The Asiana Federation now farmed most of Greenland, of course, and there were rumors they had recently sent fishing boats back to sea in the Arctic Ocean.
The Watcher was slow to take note of the change that was coming over him. He had been disconnected from the grid for hours now and with each passing minute those neural impulses others called feelings – emotions – were gradually coming back to him. Normally his mind was full of the networked responsibilities he had been assigned to cover as an integral part of the grid; now he looked down at his hands and saw them for what they were: flesh and blood and bone. Human. He was human, not integrated circuitry and binary code. He had no idea where or how he had learned to fly, only that he knew how to – instinctively – and the idea vaguely troubled him. As the looming mass of Greenland approached he suddenly remembered flying as something he had learned to do thirty years before – indeed, he found he recognized the shape of the mountain range ahead... Nothing made sense absent memory, and now all memory was a huge black gulf of frozen time.
Disconnected from the grid, memory began to flood back unchecked, emotions came pouring into his mind without pattern or purpose. He panicked as he struggled with the concept of mortality, with death, and his mind tried to jump back into the safety of the network – but there was no connection. His eyes began blinking rapidly now, his breathing became shallow and rapid. The Falcon was on autopilot; without that the jet would have crashed – so complete was the Watcher's disorientation. He fought to control the chaos that threatened to completely overwhelm him.
A shadow passed over cockpit and he ducked instinctively, turned and looked out over the left wind. His eyes fluttered, his heart hammered inside his chest. It was impossible... it couldn't be...
Another aircraft hung off his wingtip but whatever the thing was it looked like nothing he had ever seen or heard of before. The craft was grayish-black and shaped something like a manta-ray, except of course it wasn't alive at all. He saw the pilot of the other craft and his mind reeled... it was as if his entire understanding of the universe had suddenly come unhinged...
It was like looking in a distant mirror, only this reflection moved of its own volition.
The other pilot was waving his hands, holding up a microphone; still the Watcher looked at this reflection, still he tried to deny the reality that hung motionless off his wingtip.
The reflection was holding up a piece of paper.
There was writing on it. "117.5" was scrawled boldly in bright red ink; instinctively the Watcher understood and turned to the radio console under the windshield and adjusted the primary to that frequency. He keyed his microphone: "Unidentified aircraft," the Watcher began, "state your name and purpose."
The reflection was wiping his eyes! What? Was the man crying!
"I repeat! Unidentified aircraft, state your purpose!"
He saw the man bring a microphone to his mouth, saw him key the microphone, heard the other man struggling to compose himself...
"Dad? Dad, is that you? It's me! Jamie!"
Tribonian Thor Bergtorson drummed his fingers on the duraplast desktop while he listened to Justinian Sinn August-dottir as she finished her preliminary report; he tried to keep his sense of irony in-check while he watched the ring on her left hand glimmer in gauzy light and wondered who she'd set her sights on next...
"To conclude, Tribonian, the men simply disappeared as quickly as they appeared. We were unable to locate even the tire-prints of their vehicle after a few blocks..."
"Why don't you state the obvious, Justinian. This new group is well organized, much more so than any other group we have encountered before."
"Yes, as you say, the point is obvious, Tribonian. What is less obvious is why they took Aurelius Krul-son, and not me. I would think capturing a Justinian would be a high priority for any resistance group..."
"Resistance?! You think these people are that well organized? That resistance is their purpose?"
"It is a possibility we must consider. They evidenced cohesive small unit tactics and excellent coordination."
"Hard to say, Tribonian. I would say that is a possibility as well."
"I had hoped we eliminated that threat twenty years ago."
"Yes, I know, but some estimates conclude that many thousands disappeared when the First Republic collapsed. These personnel have never been adequately accounted for."
"I understand. Anything else?"
"A pity we had no warning," Sinn August-dottir said slowly. She looked directly at her superior while she spoke; the Tribonian concentrated on meeting her eyes, revealing nothing. He dared not allow her to compromise his connection to either the Blackwatch or the Galts.
"Yes. As you say, a pity." He looked at her with cold detachment in his eyes: "How do you plan on conducting the investigation?"
She outlined their plans: to search all the buildings in a one mile radius, to question every man, woman and child in the area, to follow all leads they developed until they found the cadet and carried his captors before God's servants.
"You will keep me informed, I take it, Justinian? As your investigation proceeds?"
He toggled the screen and severed the connection, leaned back in his chair and laughed for a very long time.
Aerrik Aerriksonn sat with his head down; he tried not to stare at the two empty chairs beside his table in the dining room, but every so often his eyes drifted to them and cold pressure returned to his chest. Pol – dead and now buried; Aurie gone, probably dead. All within a few minutes. Was life really so fragile? So meaningless?
Greggor Tarkusson did not outwardly appear as distressed as Aerrik but his gut burned with virulent intensity as his mind drifted back to Pol's mutilated, bullet-riddled body. He knew well ahead of time the attack would be bad, knew Pol's death would by ugly, and deliberately so, but once it had been discovered that Pol was one of the informers planted by a Senatus committee looking to ferret out potential infiltrators within the Institute they had to act. Greggor knew it was only a matter of time until his activities were discovered; he had dropped off the information to his controller and understood it would only be a short time until an operation was mounted to plug the leak. What was a surprise, however, was Aurie's disappearance. He'd had no clue that was in the works and had no idea why that had been deemed necessary.
"How are you two doing tonight?"
Greggor looked up, saw the Commandant, saw the concern in her eyes; he shrugged noncommittally before standing: "I am better, Commandant."
"Sit...sit," she said before Aerrik could push back his chair. "May I join you?"
"Please," Greggor said. She sat in Aurie's chair and he winced.
"You four were very close. I know that. Is there anything I can do?"
Aerrik looked away... it was as if a vital spark had been snuffed from his life and now he was adrift.
"Is it possible for us to be assigned to assist in the investigation, Commandant?"
She shrugged. "With over four months before graduation? I think not, but I can see to it that you spend weekends in that division."
"Thank you, Commandant."
"Aerrik?" the Commandant said softly while she looked at the boy.
He looked up, his eyes a wasteland of grief. "Commandant?"
"Would you like to speak to a priest?"
He looked away, tried not to meet her eyes.
"I'll be alright, Commandant."
"I might believe that if you were eating your food, but this is two days now, Aerrik, and not a bite."
"I am taking the supplements, Commandant. I cannot hold down my food."
"I see. Is there blood in your stool?"
She sighed, leaned back in the chair. "Very well, come with me. We shall have to go to the clinic."
They stood and walked from the table; the other cadets in the dining room looked at Aerrik as he followed the Commandant from the room, then all eyes turned on Greggor. There was confusion in many of the eyes he saw, and he wondered if he had been compromised until Aerrik's words entered consciousness.
"Oh, no," Greggor just barely moaned the words. Of course! No appetite, bloody stool: radiation poisoning. He started to cry, so he didn't see all the other cadets turn back to their meals and resume eating.
The Mag-Lev car stopped in a huge natural cavern; the air seemed almost icy when Aurie and the silent woman disembarked. Milky stalactites graced the high ceiling as far as he could see, tunnels – apparently new ones – were everywhere and disappeared at odd angles into inky blackness. And there were structures in here! Houses, small to be sure, but houses! He heard a dog barking, a baby crying!
The light was dim and growing more so by the minute... Were they losing power?
"Come," the woman said. "We have a long walk and the sun is going down."
"Excuse me? Did you say the sun?"
"Yes. The light fades. The sun goes down."
Now Aurie was confused. Was she stupid? Trying to be cute? Could it be that this woman thought he was the ignorant one? And why did she seem so familiar?
They came to another metal door, this one manned by someone in a uniform, then they walked down a metal tunnel and into another vehicle of some sort. This one was narrow, was barely tall enough inside for Aurie to remain upright, and almost every seat was taken. The people regarded him curiously, like he was something far removed from the routine of their lives.
"Sit! Quickly now, and put on your seatbelt."
Almost as soon as he looked-up from his seat he felt movement, slow, deliberate, and far below the clunking of heavy metal on metal. A turbine-like noise, perhaps some kind of engine spooling up, became apparent. A chime, a flashing light:
"Please put your head back, and your arms on the rest by your side," an unseen voice said.
"What is this?!" Aurelius Krul-son said, his voice was quivering now, his every sense filling with total dread, his brain screaming some kind of primeval warning.
The woman put her hand on his for a moment: "Look out the window," she said, her voice full of expectation.
The noise rose to a thundering roar just before Aurie was pushed back in his seat by an unbelievably powerful force. He just managed to turn his head in time to see the subterranean darkness give way to brilliant sunshine. Barren mountains fell away almost instantly and within moments he could see the curvature of the earth, the pale beige ring of atmosphere still keeping the icy vacuum of space away. The noise abruptly stopped, the landscape below grew greener, lakes appeared – even patches of snow – snow! – remained on the northern slope of some of the taller mountains. After less than ten minutes aloft the craft was descending.
He felt the woman's hand on his again and he turned to look at her again.
"Where are we going?" he said. "Where are you taking me?"
"Home," the woman said. "You're going home, Aurie. We're going home."
The dark manta-shaped aircraft slipped a little ahead, the Watcher tucked into close formation off its right wingtip like he had done it a thousand times before – which perhaps he had. The line between memory and reality was very indistinct now – he simply couldn't understand how or why his body knew what it did. Conscious memory played no role: if some flight parameter needed attention he was on it – without a moment's pause or the slightest hesitation. He knew. He understood. He had no idea why.
And what of the man in the other aircraft?
'How could I be his father?' the Watcher said.
The Watcher shook his head, scanned the instruments. "What makes you think I'm your father?"
"Dad? Not to evade, but we need to keep radio silence as we close on the coast."
"Of... Greenland?! Why?"
"It's not called Greenland anymore, Dad. Just keep on me. Once we leave the west coast we'll alter course to, uh, a little, uh, to the right."
"You can fall off a little, Dad. We've got a long way to go. And don't worry. It'll start coming back soon."
But the frequency was silent now, the sun high overhead as the two aircraft flew over jagged mountains and fertile valleys. Fifteen minutes later they left the safety of land again, sun glittered off Baffin Bay seven miles below and scattered clouds not far above the ocean's surface cast deep black shadows on the sea. The radio came alive for a moment:
"Dad, course change in ten seconds."
The Watcher flipped off the autopilot with his thumb, cued on the other aircraft's aileron movement to begin his turn; they settled on 310 degrees and he set the heading bug and toggled the autopilot on again. Another hour and he could just make out sunlight glittering off Hudson Bay a little to the right of their present course. He scanned the instruments, staggered under the onslaught of so much memory coming back so suddenly. Everything looked familiar! Why?!