A shell hits a building, which shatters, chunks of ironwork and masonry colliding into each other, and sliding off into the street. Overhead, the traveler can hear running feet. On the ground, far below, he sees platoons of soldiers marching out into the street.
There's a whining noise. Luftwaffe aircraft fly off the deck, swerving backwards and forwards between skyscrapers. Bombs begin to fall. A concussion wave cuts the bottom of a skyscraper to debris. The building folds into itself - not in slow motion, like in the movies - full speed, impossibly fast. There were people in there. Rubble goes pouring out into the street. Cars get buried or crushed. The traveler shakes his head. The Nazi grabs the technician, and drags him to his feet. The technician is rubbing the frozen, pale side of his face.
"Wir hätten im Ozean landen sollen."
"Wir müssen die Falle verpasst haben. Ich habe Ihnen ja gesagt, wir hätten einen Probestart machen sollen."
"Er hätte einen Probestart nicht überlebt. Ich hab IHNEN gesagt, dass wir sicher gehen müssen beim ersten Mal gleich richtig zu liegen!"
"Passen Sie auf, alleine die Tatsache dass wir uns in der gleichen Stadt befinden ist ein gottverdammtes Wunder. Ein wenig Respekt wäre angebracht. Ich habe gerade sechzig-tausend Tonnen Stahl in Lichtgeschwindigkeit durch die Erdkruste bewegt. Ein Ziel kleiner als zehn Meilen zu treffen ist geradezu unmöglich."
""Ich habe um nichts gebeten. Ich habe befohlen. Egal, mit Ihnen beschäftige ich mich später."
Outside, another building explodes as the main gun hits it. The Nazi walks over to the phone. He picks it up, taps a button, and speaks into it, in a low, clipped monotone.
"Wie schlimm ist es?"
A tinny voice comes back, barely audible.
"Ziemlich schlimm. Das unterste Deck ist zerschmettert, wir haben eine Menge Männer verloren. Wir haben Hüllenbrüche, große. Wenn wir die unteren drei Decks abschotten, könnte sie gerade eben über der Wasseroberfläche bleiben, aber es wird eng."
"Gut. Holt alle raus und kümmert euch um die Lecks so gut es geht. Das ist ein Überraschungsangriff. Wir greifen ihr Heimatland an, töten ein paar Millionen Menschen und sind wieder weg bevor sie merken was
passiert ist. Wir müssen vielleicht jeden Moment springen."
"Verstanden. Melde mich ab."
The Nazi turns around slowly. He walks over to the traveler, pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket, and wipes some of the blood out of his face.
"Are you alive?"
The traveler doesn't respond. The Nazi puts two fingers to his neck.
He turns to the doctor.
"See to him."
He walks back to the window. The doctor gives the traveler an injection of blood. The traveler looks up. When he speaks, his voice is cracked.
"How do you know that won't kill me?"
The Nazi nods at his chest.
"Your card. You're O-negative. Plenty of that around."
He stares out the window.
"We're not evil, you know. You probably think that I am, but we're just doing what we must in service of our country. You'd have done the same to us, I think. I take no pleasure in killing. I'm doing what I have to."
The traveler doesn't respond. Outside, a series of bomb fall, striking the ground and sending clouds of dust up like talcum-powder. Each shock hits like a blow to his core, shaking him. There's no ignoring that sound. No possibility of nonchalance. In front of him, the empire state building crumbles to debris.
He turns to the doctor. His voice is low.
"Wie geht's ihm?"
The doctor shrugs.
"Nicht gut. Ich denke sein Darm könnte geborsten sein. Ohne Operation wird er wahrscheinlich bald sterben."
"Können Sie ihn zusammenflicken?"
"Notdürftig vielleicht, aber ich denke nicht das er einen weiteren Sprung überstehen würde. Seine inneren Organe sind bis an die Grenzen belastet. Er würde innerlich verbluten."
The Nazi's face sours. He pulls a cigarette out of his pocket, and then fumbles with a lighter.
"Verdammt. Nun gut, dann wir werden seinen Leichnam sezieren müssen. Es wäre allerdings besser wenn er am Leben bleiben würde. Wenn wir ihn gleich auf Eis legen wenn wir zurück kommen, glauben Sie dass Sie ihn dann retten können?"
The doctor shrugs.
"Ganz ehrlich? Ich habe keine Ahnung. Es würde helfen wenn ich ihn hier behandeln könnte."
The Nazi walks over to the window, and looks down. Soldiers are mowing down civilians in the streets.
"Gut. Wir haben etwas Zeit."
He nods to two of the soldiers. They pull the traveler down from the stockage, and set him on a table. He flails feebly at them, but he has no strength. He lays there on the table, and the doctor tips something into his mouth, injects his stomach with something, and wipes blood off him. He can hear the main gun firing outside in slow, awful metronome. An airplane buzzes past overhead.
The traveler turns his head slightly, and surveys the room. He's aware of a raw, burning pain in his stomach, but ignores it. The room is dominated by the lumbering bulk of the Bell. It's recessed into the far wall, behind three layers of leaded glass, filled with a yellowish, clear fluid. Tubes run out of it, into the stockade in the middle of the room, and out across the floor into the walls.
The Nazi picks his chair up, and sits down. He shakes his head, and laughs.
"Those bastards are going to be running scared."
The doctor turns and looks at him. The Nazi sighs, and shrugs.
The Nazi walks over to the phone again, and punches a series of buttons.
"Machen Sie Meldung. Irgendwelche Anzeichen von Truppenbewegungen?"
A brief pause. The faint voice returns.
"Schwer zu sagen von hier aus. Ich brauche ein besseres Fernrohr. Da sind ein paar Soldaten, einige bewaffnete Zivilisten. Wir haben ein paar verloren. Keine Probleme bis -"
The voice suddenly cuts out. The Nazi draws his head away and squints at the phone. He taps it.
There's a very quiet thump, on the other end of the phone. There's the sound of faint, unsteady breathing.
The Nazi's voice is, every so slightly, uncertain.
On the other end of the phone, at the very edge of hearing, the traveler can hear a faint, wet tapping sound, the sound of some slightly viscous liquid dripping onto metal. The distant breathing stops. The room is silent for three, four long seconds, nobody daring to breathe, all attention focused on the phone. Then, there's a click and a rustling sound. A soft exhalation, then a new voice speaks. It whispers quietly, but the words are clear in the silence.
It says, "hab Dich."
There's a click, and then a hum as the line goes dead. The Nazi's face contorts, for the briefest flicker, in an expression of simple, honest fear. Then, it closes down, back to hard lines with no room for emotion.
"Irgendwas stimmt nicht. Bringen Sie Ihre Männer im Vorraum in Stellung. Ich will das dieser Raum verteidigt wird. Und schicken Sie jemand, der sich um Jan kümmert. Stellen Sie sicher das er bewaffnet ist."
All but two of the soldiers leave, loading weapons and drawing combat knives. There's ominous silence, nothing but the distant thump of bombs going off. A plane whines by overhead. The Bell gurgles. Somewhere in the distance, a machine hums.
The Nazi walks over to the traveler. He stands over him.
"You little shit. Who's out there?"
The traveler looks up. The pain in his stomach has reached incredibly high levels, but he doesn't quite care anymore. A slow, broad, lazy smile spreads across his face.
The Nazi leans in closer. The traveler leans in closer, face rising beside his ear. His breath blows on the Nazi's ear. He speaks in his kindest, calmest whisper.
"You're going to die."
The Nazi jerks away, and pulls his gun on the traveler. The traveler just laughs. The Nazi glares at him for a long moment, then holsters his gun. He turns away, and walks towards the door. Even the bombing has stopped as the bombers turn around to re-fuel and re-arm. There's just the distant hum of machinery.
Then, two gunshots in the hall, and a short thump, then quiet footsteps, growing closer. The Nazi shouts something, and one soldiers runs to the door. He shoves his rifle into the wheel, locking it shut, and then pulls out a pistol. He starts to take a step back.
A nude human figure comes walking through the metal of the door with calm, measured strides. The metal passes smoothly through her body, which is pulsing. Her skin sizzles like frying quartz. The traveler gets flashes of the wall through the back of her head. She's got a sword in one hand, which she pulls through the wall with some effort and wisps of ozone. The spot where the sword came through glows red hot. The French girl smiles.
Her teeth flicker into and out of existence. She grabs the soldier backing away from the door. Her hands crackle against his shirt. Before he can react, she swings him at the wall. He stumbles backwards into it, dropping the gun. She pushes, and he passes through the metal, vanishing without a trace. There's a brief, fading scream. The traveler images that he can hear the sound of meat impacting on pavement, far below.
The French girl turns. The Nazi shoots her in the head.
Her head snaps back, and the bullet impacts on the wall behind her. There's a crashing noise as the leaded glass behind her shatters. Big shards of glass fall onto the ground, and yellow liquid floods out onto the floor of the boat. It stinks like scraped knees and brown bandaids. Iodine. The traveler doesn't notice. The French girl topples backwards. Except, she doesn't. Her leg catches her. She straightens up and smiles. There's a tiny red mark on her forehead. She shrugs, knocks the gun out of the Nazi's hand, kicks it under the bench, and whips the sword across his knee. He buckes to the ground. The remaining soldier makes a run for it. He gets to the door, and begins to frantically try to get the rifle loose. The French girl calmly walks up behind him, picks him up bodily, and pushes him into the wall. She moves his weight as though he has no mass, like he's nothing but a department store dummy. His head vanishes into the metal, and then she lets go.
There's a hiss, and his body begins to spasm. The legs give out. The body descends, jerking, hands clenching, blood bubbling from the intersection of the wall and neck. A stain appears on the black pants, and an unpleasant smell fills the room.
The French girl turns. Now it's just the Nazi, the doctor, and the technician. She nods to the technician.
"Qui diable êtes-vous?"
He doesn't move.
She steps towards him, and the traveler raises one hand. She hesitates, then jerks her head at the door.
He runs for the door, shakes the rifle loose, and vanishes. The Nazi sits there, hands around his leg. It's bleeding a lot, the traveler notices. She must've severed an artery. He glares up at her.
"Es gibt eine Hölle für Menschen wie Dich. Glaubst Du, dass Du mich töten kannst du Dreckshure?"
He spits, and switches to English.
"Do you think you're the hero? Do you think you're on the side of good?"
The French girl inspects him for a long moment, and then turns and notices the doctor, on the ground, trying to crawl away. She kicks him over, leg briefly vanishing into his torso, and sticks the sword into his guts. He rolls over, clutching the wound, blood running between his fingers.
The traveler raises his head, briefly.
"Tried that. Doesn't work."
He lowers his head, and goes back to focusing on the numb agony in his abdomen.
She shrugs, and cuts his head off. The corpse hits the ground. She turns. Around her feet, the iodine and blood mingle. She contemplates the Nazi. The traveler waves in her general direction. He tries to roll over, and falls off the bench onto the ground.
"You going to kill him or what?"
His words are slurred. She shrugs.
"J'essaie seulement de savoir où il avait fait le plus mal."
The traveler lies there. His breathing is shallow, and his skin is very pale.
"Just... Just do it, okay? Soon."
Everything begins to happen rather fast. The door opens, and the French girl starts to turn around to look. The Nazi lunges. The French girl topples backwards underneath him. She loses the sword. The Nazi scrabbles for the gun under the bench. There's a gunshot.
There's a long, ringing moment of silence. The traveler opens his eyes. The Nazi has an exit wound the size of a tangerine in the side of his head. His eyes stare blankly at the ceiling, and there are specks of brain and skull all over the glass portholes outside. His fingers lie uncurled around the barrel of the gun. The French girl turns around slowly, pulling her body out of the floor.
The cook is standing in the doorway, hands wrapped around the barrel of a Japanese revolver, barrel smoking slightly. She stares blankly at the body on the ground, and then looks up at the traveler and the French girl. She lowers the gun, slowly, and looks down at the floor.
"Es schien richtig."
She turns and walks down the hallway out of sight. The French girl and the traveler make eye contact, and then she starts to laugh. She walks over to the traveler. He looks up at her.
"The blood working alright?"
"Not dead, yet.
"How long do you think we've got before more soldiers turn up?"
"Killed some, other will come."
"Better hurry, then."
"Nous pouvons aller à la troisième plate-forme. On peut grimper dans les gratte-ciel. On peut voler une voiture. Nous pouvons le lancer."
He smiles sadly, reaches up to his shirt, and begins to fumble with the card. After a minute, he gets it loose. He drops it onto the ground. Blood runs over it, and it slides through it to the far end of the deck. He gestures for the dog, who walks across the floor and hops up onto him. He holds it against his body. He looks up at the French girl. He sets one hand on his stomach.
"I don't think we should kid ourselves."
She looks confused.
"There's still time..."
He shakes his head, eyes closed against the pain, one hand curled into the dog's hair.
"We can't just leave this. People are dying because of me. Help me up into the machine."
She blinks at him. After a moment, her eyes widen.
"You won't live."
He laughs, and it turns into a cough. He pulls his hand away, red and sticky.
"Bit of a moot point, don't you think?"
He turns, slowly, planting his feet on the floor.
"Where will we go?"
"Somewhere not here. I don't care. If you stay close to me, I think you should live. Can't speak for the rest of the ship, though. I hope those bastards fry. I need you to operate the machine, I'm sorry."
"Let's do it."
"Take care of the dog, would you?"
She touches him. He feels an odd shudder, and the room begins to flicker. Her hands feel solid against him. She leads him towards the rack, and helps him up into it. She tightens the straps around his body. The cuffs come down over his arms. The needles sink in. She jams the door shut with the rifle, then comes back, and walks over to the control console. She fiddles with the controls, until the traveler suddenly feels cold flooding into his body. He nods. She pulls a lever down, and the Bell begins to warm up. She walks over to the teletype. A twenty-digit alphanumeric string is on the tape. She thinks, and fills it in with a random sequence of digits of the same length. Then she walks back, finds the little red button in the corner of the console.
The French girl picks up the dog. Someone is hammering on the door. The traveler hangs from the stockage, looking out the window. A glint of metal catches his eye. Little jets of distorted light are leaping out of the earth like reverse lightning. Tiny gray dots, pulsing with reddish light are forming in the sky. One materializes a few feet from the window. It's a plane, stars and striped painted on the side, with a huge Tesium lamp mounted at the back. A few seconds later, machine gun fire rips the side of the ship. On the deck overhead, machine gun roars to life, and a plane tumbles out of the sky.
The traveler turns to the French girl. She looks back at him. She picks up the dog. He relaxes back into the stockade. His eyes drift, aimlessly. He's delerious.
"You're an asshole," she says, and hits the button. There's an instant of timeless, infinite weight, and then there isn't anything at all.
This week was a double update, so if you haven't read it, you can read Chapter Eleven here.