The traveler can feel it in his bones as the weight releases itself. This is going to be a bad landing. The world outside the cage shudders violently like a dying television. The cage discharges against something, and it goes skipping along the boundary of solidity, shaking like a dry leaf in a hurricane. There's the sound of stressed metal. Then, suddenly, after no more than half a second, the cage comes to rest, at a jaunty angle in the ice some distance from the henge. The traveler blinks, and checks to make sure that he's still in one piece. Surprisingly, after an unfocused landing, all of his limbs are still attached, and nearly all of his fluids are still inside his skin.
He glances around, hoping against hope that they all died. Nope. They look a bit shaken, but basically intact. One of them starts to stand up. There's a creaking noise, and the edge of the cage rises out of the ice. The cage topples back upright with a loud clang, shaking everyone. Slowly, they stand up. The traveler slumps in the cage. His arms are bare, and the wind sinks into his exposed skin like ice water. There's snow coming down, now. In the distance, he can see men with electric lights coming across the snow towards them. The snow cuts the lights into serrated yellow blobs in the dark.
He hangs from the stockade. The Nazi is shouting. He's pulled his radiation mask off, and a silver lighter is lit up in his hand, throwing flickering shadows across the iceberg. Off to the side, the traveler can see the pool of light abruptly vanishing into pure black. The edge of the iceberg is less than an inch away from the edge of the cage. He exhales slowly, then turns back to the Nazi. His face is a pale half-moon of pure happiness. He practically glows, head lit up in a flickering halo of illuminated snow. Every line of his face stands out in sharp black and white, an expression of something more than joy - ecstasy.
He turns, and steps out of the cage, marching through the gathering snow to meet the party of men with lanterns. The traveler can't make out what they're saying over the noise of the wind. The Nazi shouts something back, distractedly, and then one of the soldiers comes and unlocks the cuffs. They lower the traveler down, and march him back across the iceberg. As they move, the traveler gets a sense of something massive looming in the dark to his right. He looks up, and can barely make out the silhouette of the battleship. There's a red light faintly visible in the dark somewhere well above the deck, and something is wrong with the silhouette.
He pulls his sleeves down absently. His gloves are gone, he can't remember when that happened. Cold air pools in his sleeves, and his fingers ache with cold. His bare face burns. They reach the edge of the iceberg, and he climbs the steps, feet slipping in the fresh drifts of snow. He gets to the deck, slips on a patch of ice, lands on his hands. The cold burns intensely, and he can feel his skin starting to freeze. Painfully, he peels his palms off the ice and metal and gets back on his feet. They cross the deck, silent except for the distant, flat screaming of the wind.
One of the soldiers, still wearing his radiation mask, beats ice off the hatch with the butt of his rifle. He tries to crank the door open, finds it stuck, strikes it several more times. Finally, the door comes open, and they enter the hatch. The traveler emerges into the light and warmth of the kitchen. The cook is standing there. She glances at him when he walks in, then busies herself with something and doesn't look up. It smells like pork fat and hot bread.
The traveler allows himself to be led past her. He looks down at his arms, and realizes that they're covered with tiny, frozen pinpricks of blood. He brushes one arm clumsily against the other, and the frozen droplets fall to the ground, landing on the hardwood floor with a noise like sand. He stares at them for a long moment, and then allows himself to be propelled through the ship, down the long corridors to his cell. He lies down on the bed, muscles aching.
The French girl sits on her bed.
He doesn't look at her. His voice is entirely flat.
"Ils l'ont fait."
His next words are barely a whisper.
She stares for a long moment. He turns to look at her. Her lips are a fine white line.
"Enclenchez la baise dehors de celui-ci et me dire ce qui s'est passé."
He sighs, and sits up slowly.
"They've made a vehicle. They're expanding my jump field using some kind of machine, and they're using stable field projection from the Bell to define to destination parameters, and it actually works, this time. They must be using some red mercury mix-"
A pillow hits the wall next to his head. The French girl glowers at him.
"Right. Sorry. They've made a vehicle. I think something very bad is going to happen, and don't ask me to clarify because I don't know any more than that."
"No need to snap. We can still get out."
He rubs his head. His hair is getting long, and it's starting to annoy his ears.
"I think it resets every time I jump. We've just got to hope that they don't impliment their plan for another twelve hours or so."
The traveler rolls over, and looks down the hallway: empty. On impulse, he rolls over, picks up the syringe from its hiding place, and grabs a glass of water from the table. He fills the syringe with a centimeter of water, tips it over,and taps it against the table. A few air bubble climb to the top. He squirts most of the water out, then finds a vein in his arm. He taps it with his fingers, raising the vein. The French girl watches him silently.
He pushes the needle into his arm, avoiding the swollen circle of needle marks around his biceps from the cuffs. Drops off red fluid that isn't blood are still dripping out of them. He briefly wonders about the radioactive index of red mercury, then stops himself. He can worry about cancer later. He winces at the sting of the needle, and then bites the syringe to hold it in place, and pulls the plunger out with his free end. Blood rushes up into it, swirling and mixing with the water. He fills the syringe, and hands it to the French girl.
"Juste au cas où."
She hesitates, and then comprehension dawns in her eyes. She tucks it into the lining of her loose shirt, impaling a small fold of fabric with the needle, to hold the syringe in place. She runs her hands down, smoothing the wrinkles. It's barely noticeable. The traveler rubs the needle marks on his arms, then lies down to sleep. He blinks, and it's morning. It's subtle, since there are no windows, but noticeable. The ship is warmer, and the lighting, in the hall, reflected from some far-off window, has changed in color and intensity. He rolls over. The French girl is sitting surreptitiously on her bed. A pile or broken glass sits on the ground. The water glass is missing.
The traveler sits up. The French girl wraps the bottom of her shirt around a long, sharp piece of glass, and then sets to work on her sheet, slicing long strips out of it. She picks up the glass and the strips, and begins tying them around the blunter end of the fragment of glass. She gets through about half the strips, before winding up with something like a comfortable handle. She climbs out of bed, picks up a shoe, and pulls the sole out. She puts the knife down into it, then puts the sole back, and pushes her foot in on top. She re-makes her bed, then sweeps the broken glass under the bed. She notices the traveler watching her, and gives him a brief smile.
They lie there, waiting. The traveler sleeps for a while. He wakes up when, by his math, dinner ought to be arriving. It doesn't. They sleep in shifts, watching the hallway. The night passes. Dawn comes, then it's time for breakfast. No food arrives. The traveler is hungry, and thirsty, and growing antsy. Not much time left. He can feel it starting to happen. A tension in the air. Maybe no-one will come.
They do, of course. A soldier appears in the hallway. He's got the dog under one arm, and a box under the other. A stack of the traveler's equipment is in it. As he gets closer, the traveler notices that the dog is growling intensely and trying to chew through the thick glove the soldier is wearing. He also notes, with some approval, that the soldier has several fresh bites on his wrist in face, including one that goes all the way through his nose and has caused it to swell up like a painful red plum. The soldier opens the door, and kicks the box toward the traveler.
"Put it on."
The traveler shrugs, and puts it up, doing some quick checks as he goes. They've taken all the obvious weapons. He runs his fingers over the coat. Lockpicks, too. Damn. They even tore the lining open and took the knives. There were bullets in the corners: gone. They pulled the razorblades from under tape on the bottom of his canteen. Even the roll of coins in his shoe - gone. He pulls the boots, coat, and stripped pack on over the clothes they'd given him. The weight feels strangely good. It feels like he's back.
He turns to the soldier.
"What's the point of this, exactly?"
"Halt die Klappe und beweg' Dich."
The traveler sighs. The French girl remains behind, at a motion from the soldier. The soldier turns, gives the dog to the traveler, and steps back with a noticeable expression of relief. The traveler checks the dog, which appears to be in fairly good health. He allows himself to be propelled down the hallway. He hopes the French girl escapes okay. With the blood, she has a chance. Maybe not much of a chance, but he'll take what he can get. Now it's just him and the dog, and a bunch of people who want to kill them. Just like old times.
He smiles, and pulls the dog closer. They meet up with more soldiers and the doctor, who escort them past the lab area, through the empty kitchen, and . The traveler is given a heavy hat and a pair of gloves, but no radiation gear this time. They walk out. The sun's out, and there's no wind. It's almost warm outside - well, no, it's not. It is, however, only slightly below freezing, and it's a dry cold. Balmy conditions, for the arctic circle.
They skip the henge, entirely. It's in the process of being dismantled. The tents are down, the cement blocks are being demolished by men with sledgehammers. The antennae are gone, too. They leave the ship, and walk across the iceberg around it, towards the dark mass of the battleship. Smaller boats are moving around it, dropping buoys into the water. Each orange float is topped with an antennae. Long cables run through the water in between, and from there onto the iceberg.
They reach the battleship. Large wooden ladders are propped up against the side of the ship. The doctor goes up first. He sleeps the dog into his coat and climbs the ladder after a couple of shoves, leaving the soldier to figure out how to climb a narrow, icy wooden ladder while carrying a box of equipment. The traveler holds on to the ladder and climbs as quickly as he can without falling. When he gets to the top, he surveys the deck. Nobody close but him and the doctor. He turns, and hits the doctor in the face as hard as he can.
With a muffled yelp, the doctor drops to his hands and knees. The traveler turns, picks him up by his torso, runs to the nearest edge of the ship out of sight of the ladder, and hurls him, from the deck. The doctor falls three stories and vanishes soundlessly into the dark blue, sub-zero water. He runs back across the deck. A hand appears over the edge. The traveler grabs the edge of the ladder, wrenches it loose from it's puddle of ice, and drags it sideways. The ladder begins to slide sideways. The hand gropes feverishly, clutching fiercely at the edge of the ship.
The traveler peers briefly over the edge, and sees a soldier, strung out like a starfish drying in the sun. One hand is white-knuckled on the edge of the deck, the other wrapped around the ladder, supporting it on creaking tendons and joints extended to capacity. Two other soldiers cling to the ladder at varying heights. The traveler withdraws his head before it occurs to either of them to shoot at him, then puts his foot on the soldier's hand, steps all of his weight onto it, and twists. There's the crunching sound of breaking bones, a short, harsh scream, and the traveler lifts his foot. The ladder scrapes the deck and falls, down, down, down, onto the hard ice and lethal water. The traveler turns, scanning the deck again. He needs a weapon.
He notices a hatch some distance across the deck. No weapons in sight. He sighs. Well, at the least, he can hide. He jogs to the hatch, kicks the ice off the handle, and opens the door. The Nazi smiles up at him, gun in hand. Without even a trace of hesitation, before his brain even comprehends what he's seeing, his hand reverses direction, even as the Nazi rushes forward. The heavy metal door swings forward, with as much force as he can muster, right into the face of the Nazi. It connects with his face with a flat, hard noise. His body crumples backwards onto the stairs. The traveler goes to grab his gun, then sees a shadow approaching the stairs. No. He slams the hatch, cranks the wheel shut, and turns to run. Soldiers are already running down from the higher platforms and guns. He looks around. No other hatches, nowhere to run. Only one choice. He runs to the edge of the ship, and spots one of the other ships, making a last revolution around. It seems a long way down. He shifts the dog into another pocket, behind his back, and takes a step back and a deep breath. The hatch cranks open behind him.
He runs. He hits the edge of the deck, and casts himself out into space, limbs extended like Superman. He hits the air, spreading his arms and legs to slow himself, plunging incredibly quickly towards the deck, arms flailing now. The dog whines in freefall in the pocket. It doesn't matter, though. He's so, so very close. A shadow passes over him. He starts to look over his shoulder, and then he hits the ship.
His shoulder slams into the man on the deck, sending him staggering into the water. He's wrapped his arms around his head, and they hit the deck. His shoulders wrench as the force spreads up his arms. His head slams into his arms like a bowling ball on the end of a spring. His knees crack into the deck, sending yet more pain bouncing around his body. Something heavy lands and rolls by his shoulder. He blinks back stars and rolls over, tries to swing one knee under himself. His whole body hurts.
The dog rolls over in his pouch, and growls disapproval. The traveler swings unsteadily to his feet. On the ground, a figure is trying to stand up. He squints at it. One eye is swelling up, and the other is blurry. He blinks, and looks closer. It's the Nazi. He's got a syringe in one hand.
The traveler lets loose a disbelieving moan, and begins kicking the Nazi in the ribs. They aren't very good kicks, but the Nazi grunts with each one. After the third or fourth, the Nazi's hand reaches out, and grabs the traveler's ankle. The traveler tries to jerk free, and falls over. The Nazi tries to stand up, reaches out to grab the deck with his missing hand, and falls back down. The traveler gets back up and kicks him in the head. His leg feels like a weight at the end of a rope. He hears a noise. He turns around, and sees the man who was on the small boat, half dead of hypothermia, dragging himself back up onto the boat. The traveler kicks him in the face as hard as he can. The man slides back into the water, and the traveler nearly falls over again.
He turns around. The Nazi is up, and he brings the syringe down into the traveler's chest. It doesn't hurt as much as you'd think. The traveler takes a wild swing at him, which grazes his nose. Still, it makes him let go of the syringe and take a step back. The traveler starts trying to pull the syringe out of of his body. He'd probably be bleeding internally, except that his body is starting to flicker in and out of existence, and his personal laws of physics haven't started acknowledging the existence of the needle yet. The Nazi regains his balance against the far wall, then rushes at the traveler with an inhuman gurgle of rage. He hits him, and they both go toppling backwards onto the deck. The traveler strikes his head on the deck. The Nazi lands on the plunger. The traveler feels a rush of fluid into his body, and then, slowly, his skin begins to glow. The tension in the air fades. The traveler punches the Nazi in the face, and then blacks out.
There's a moment of being carried through halls filled with soldiers, loading weapons, cleaning systems. A one-armed figure limps ahead. Then black.
The traveler wakes up. Eyes still closed, he performs a brief inventory. A dozen deep, meat bruises twinge at him. There's the sharp, tearing twinge of needles in his arms. His neck is restrained. The traveler opens his eyes.
He's in the stockade, of course. The Nazi is sitting in a chair, a few feet away from him. He sits uncomfortably, and has a nasty egg on his forehead and a black eye. Despite this, he's smiling at something behind the traveler. Someone else is laughing out of sight. He has the dog in his lap. The dog is growling slowly.
Without opening his eyes all the way, the traveler examines the room. They're somewhere inside the ship. The aesthetic of this ship is different. There's no wood panneling and wallpaper here, just pipes and bare metal wallls and the distant hum of powerful machinery.
The room is curved weirdly. The two walls in front of the traveler come to a point. He opens his eyes fractionally more, and realizes that they're at the very front of the ship. Large round portholes three feet across have been mounted in the walls. The traveler can see the iceberg and the other ships out it, distorted by the thickness of the glass. He hears a fluid noise behind him, and tenses. So this is where they put the Bell.
He glances around the room again. There's something wrong. There are tesium lamps arranged on the walls are floors, and red fluid cables run between them. He glances out the window again, and notices a greenish, ionized quality to the air. The Bell makes another fluid noise.
The Nazi notices him shifting his head.
"Unser Freund ist munter!"
He walks over to the traveler. There's something in his hand.
"I just thought you should know that you have caused me more trouble and pain than any other human being that I have ever met. Because of you, my skull is fractured, my arm is amputated, and now my leg is broken. And I just want you to know, my friend, that what I'm about to do will make what you've done to me seem like nothing."
He pats the traveler on the chest, and then reaches up and pins something on his chest. The traveler cranes his neck to see what it is. He realizes suddenly that he's still wearing his coat.
"Jetzt sieht er so aus wie er ist! Seht wie der Soldat sein Land zerstört!"
There's some slightly strained laughter. Somebody coughs.
The traveler looks around the ship, trying to takee in as much as he can. There are some kind of cables on the floor, leading from the Bell and the stockade into holes in the floor and ceiling. Others feed into the walls. He shakes his head. There's no way. No fucking way. Jumping a cage is one thing, but they're not going to try - not this fast. The ship must weigh a thousand tons, for god's sakes! They'll never jump it, and if they do, they'll certainly never land the thing.
After a while, a phone on the wall rings. The Nazi stands up, and answers it. There's a brief, muttered conversation that the traveler doesn't catch. The Nazi turns around.
"Drunten sind sie bereit. Startet die Maschine. Versucht die Abweichung innerhalb komma eins neun Prozent zu halten, wir wollen nicht gleichzeitig an mehreren Stellen ankommen."
He walks back to the phone, and hits a button. He speaks into it, and his words comes grinding out over the PA system.
"Achtung Mannschaft: wir werden in weniger als einer Minute springen. Nehmen Sie bitte Ihre Plätze ein, wenn Sie nicht mit einem Schott verschmelzen wollen. Bitte strecken Sie keine Körperteile aus der Käfigstruktur, außer Sie brauchen sie nicht mehr."
He hits the button again, and the PA switches off with a crackling noise.
There's a humming noise as the Bell's chambers begin to rotate behind him. He feels something cold flooding into his arms.
"Wir haben flüssigen Kontakt."
"Schalte Feldverdoppler zu."
The traveler's skin bulges and twists. He wrenches, trying to get lose, clawing for something to get hold of, anything. The weight is starting to build. His skin is flickering, and the flickers are crawling out of his body and into the walls like lightning climbing a Jacob's ladder. The walls flicker into transparency, then back again. The air inside the ship glows green and stinks like scorched hair. Then, suddenly, the Bell makes a tremendous noise. The traveler feels a thousand tons tearing him apart. The ship glows, and begins to strobe. The people in the room freeze. Their skins fluoresce, and begin to strobe as well. The traveler gets flashes of organs, bone, and muscle through snapping, flickering skin.
"Wir haben Versatz."
The words are weirdly flat, and muted, as though they come from an immense distance, on a quiet night. The weight omcreases dramatically. The traveler feels something pop inside him disturbingly. Blood begins to run out of his skin, dribbling down onto the deck and boiling away. It gets in his eyes, he tastes in his mouth, it drips from his hands.
The traveler comes back to awareness slowly. There's a feeling of weightlessness, and then an earthshaking grinding noise, and a clang. The room tilts a full ten degrees before striking something and coming to a halt. He opens his eyes, slowly. His arms are covered in blood. He's having a lot of trouble breathing. The people in the ship are all slumped on the floor. Slowly, the Nazi stands up. The dog runs and hides under a bench. He staggers to the window and looks out, breath fogging on the glass. The traveler cranes his neck to look. Outside, he can see tall columns of gray, revolving slowly. He blinks blood out of his eyes, and looks again. It's a city. The ship strikes something, hard, and the city stops revolving. At the very limits of his hearing, he thinks he can hear car horns and screaming. He looks harder, and in the distance, he sees a building. There isn't even a second of hesitation, or incomprehension. The silhouette has been burned into his brain from childhood on. He sees it, and without even the process of conscious recognition, he knows.
The traveler looks out over New York city, from the window of the battleship, at the silhouette of the Empire State building. Overhead, the main gun starts to fire.
BACK *** NEXT
This is absurdly late, and I apologize. This one just would not quite work out properly. I rewrote it twice, and I'm still not completely happy with it.
On the up side, it's a double update this week, and it's the last update of this story. This is officially done, until I finish compiling it for publication. It's been a fun ride you guys, I hope you enjoy the conclusion to my little story.