Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Thirty-Four


The Secret Mathematic is an original novel told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, your brief but intense host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the thirty-fourth installment.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12|13|14|15|16|17|18|19|20
21|22|23|24|25|26|27|28|29|30|31|32|33|34|...

Multimedia: Listen to the The Secret Mathematic Overture in MP3 format, by Syntax Error.

Related reading: Stubborn Town, Three Face Flip, The Long Man, Plight of the Transformer, The Extra Cars

And now, the story continues:



THIRTY-FOUR


At Manicouagan Resevoir, dozens stand poised: both on Rene-Levasseur Island and around its girdling, ring-shaped lake. They wait. They are silent. Outside, there is nothing to be heard but the thrum of water passing through the dams or the chitter of flocking birds. The green night sky roils.

A stream of vehicles snakes along the narrow highway: white vans with white headlights that are extinguished as they crest the hill and begin their descent toward the massive and ancient crater of Manicouagan, the so-called Eye of Quebec. The front vehicle has infrared lamps wired onto its hood, and they faintly buzz now as they operate.

The convoy passes a squat Inukshuk figurine of rock slabs by the side of the highway. The rude slate shelf of its head pans to follow them, stone grinding against stone.

The trucks rumble across the bridge. The men in the gatehouse salute smartly, then bend back to the task of securing the guards they have just felled. The first van stops on the far side; its side door slides back and a sextet in black jumps out and divides, three running west and three running east. With no exchange of words each team positions itself by the inner fence -- tall, barbed, electrified -- and efficiently unpacks their tools. Clamps are attached to the fence, then watches consulted. The minute turns, and in perfect concert each unit throws their switch.

The humming fence goes silent a split-second before the first van crashes through it, sparks flying from its trailing edges as a ragged section is dragged beneath the undercarriage. An owl hoots in alarm.

The convey proceeds along a series of switchbacks, rising steadily toward the peak of the crater's inner rebound. A faint glow of lighted windows glimmers between the conifers at the Mount Babel Geophysical Survey Station. The ring-shaped lake falls behind and beneath them, reflecting a somber, sickly aura from the guttering sky.

A dog starts barking, then stops after the cough of a silencer.

"Fifteen seconds, Commander."

"Team One, set charges; Team Three, standby."

"Where's your focus?"

"I am clear, Commander. We are all clear. Tech is ready."

"Very good."

"Six seconds now. Deploy in five...four...three..."

The convoy draws into a line along the circular driveway. The doors burst open and action teams pour forth, running in neat formation between the spruces and over the yellowed lawn, boots smacking the pavement in tight lockstep, some now pounding in synchronization up the cracked front steps while others separate and circle around the rear of the installation. Motion detector lamps blaze briefly, then sputter seconds later. Rabbits scamper from the underbrush in terror, pausing only to beat the ground with their feet.

The glass doors shatter. The air whistles as canisters of teargas are lobbed through the new aperture, bouncing and skidding across the shard-covered lobby. In seconds the ground floor is a haze of smoke.

The teams punch through, gas masques in place beneath night-vision goggles, weapons drawn and levelled with infrared torches strapped to their barrels. They kick open doors and drag students and researchers from their beds, barking at them through their air filters to entwine their fingers on top of their heads, to stand up, to shut up, to move along, to cooperate if they want to preserve their lives.

In the atrium they kneel in rows, each row patrolled by a guard, each guard's muzzle roving along the backs of their heads. A fan is set up to cleave a void in the teargas, and within minutes the sounds of coughing and sobbing subside. "Do as you are told and you will not be harmed!"

"I anticipated more resistance, but there's not a move from any of them, sir."

"They're scared silent. They're just a bunch of kids."

"It's unnerving."

"Steady yourself, soldier. Get clear or get out."

"I'm clear, Commander. I'm clear."

The stairwells boom as the second storey teams stomp up to the next level, fanning out to kick open more doors, weapons swivelling. Laboratories are ransacked, file cabinets emptied, computers yanked from their moorings and piled onto wheeled carts. Finally the main conference room is breached, its splintered doors hanging from the hinges. At the far end of the dimly-lit chamber a man in a white labcoat stands facing the dark windows, hands clasped carelessly around the top of a wooden walking stick.

"Freeze, in the name of the Source!"

He does not move an inch. The unit leader toggles his radio. "Commander, we have Dr. Zoran -- I repeat: we are taking Dr. Zoran into custody now."

The commander shifts in his seat in the van outside, licking his lips. He raises the microphone to his mouth. "Stay clear, Lieutenant. Have two yeomen put him into manacles. Keep his eyes while they do it and maintain optimal tech. Search his person thoroughly, then bring him to me."

"Sir yes sir."

The lieutenant motions. Two yeomen from his team advance, guns poised, shuffling cautiously around the conference table. "Resistance will be punished!" barks one of the yeomen, but the man in the white labcoat does not stir.

"Keep your hands where we can see them!"

The yeoman on the left shoulders his weapon and takes out a pair of steel manacles. The yeoman on the right prods the target with the tip of his gun. "Drop the cane! Hands behind your back! Now!"

He doesn't move. The yeoman grabs him roughly by the shoulder and spins him, causing him to tumble limply to the floor. He sags there, a sprinkling of dry, fibrous material knocked loose from his sleeves. The yeomen stand over him and shout, then pause, confused.

The lieutenant calls, "Is he unconscious? Report!"

"He's..." begins one yeoman, kneeling beside the body. "He's a scarecrow, sir."

The lieutenant blinks. "He's what?"

The second yeoman prods the body with his boot, releasing another small flurry of crisp straw. The burlap-sack head lolls off the shoulder, its black wig slipping free and sliding to the floor. The head has been painted with a gay jack-o'lantern face. The yeoman looks up urgently. "It's a dummy, sir! I repeat: it's a dummy," he cries. "This is a set up!"

The lieutenant pales beneath his masque. With a shaking hand he toggles his radio. "Retreat! Retreat! All units retreat!"

They barrel back through the narrow corridors and crash through the doors into the stairwells. "Go, go, go!" yells the lieutenant, shoving at their backs. They come skidding into the atrium where two more units are holding the students and researchers. "What's going on, sir?"

"Get out! It's a trap! Get out now!"

They find the way blocked: the hostages have linked arms and stand as a living wall obscuring every exit. The atrium erupts into overlapping commands. "Disperse or we will shoot! Comply now! Comply now!"

"We will not comply," offers one of the students, his red-rimmed eyes staring directly into the lieutenant's masque. He's Arab. As he lieutenant looks back and he notices something for the first time: all of the hostages are Arab.

The hostage grins. Running through his interlocked arms are wires, connected in series to his neighbours on either side. The wires are plugged directly into the flesh of their torsos. In concert the hostages mash their hands together, putting leads in their palms into contact with one another. A cry goes up: "For Anwar!"

The lieutenant jams down the contact on his radio. "Commander Cruise, brace yourse --"

The Mount Babel Geophysical Survey Station explodes.

Bricks, girders, glass, tires and the twisted remains of the white trucks come crashing back down to Earth trailing plumes of greasy smoke and red embers, the debris backlit by the still rising cloud of orange and black fire that has engulfed the mountain top. Trees snap and fall, the bushes surging backward and then forward with the blow and suck of hot wind. A colossal boom spreads downhill, bowing the grass kilometers away. The surface of the lake quivers.

Little sizzling bits of Hubbardians and hostages alike drop through the pine needles to smoulder on the forest floor. The shadows sway as an inferno ignites at the epicentre of the site, bark popping and branches splitting. Small objects continue to fall in a steady hail of burning flotsam: a melted stapler, half a boot, a length of twisted plumbing, a gear-shift, somebody's ear...

Feebly, the commander claws his way out of the flattened ruin of his van, a satellite telephone pressed into his soot-covered face. "Commander to Sea Org, Commander to Sea: the elite platoons have been destroyed. I repeat: all elite platoons are down. They knew we were coming. Somehow, they knew..."

He stumbles away from a burning truck and then disappears into the forest, activating the transponder beacon on his belt moments before collapsing in a ditch.

The owl hoots again. The Inukshuk figure remains still.

Down in the town, sirens wail.


40 comments:

Mark said...

All action, all the time. Great short chapter here. I feel a convergence of commanders coming on. Cheeseburger's bringing together the various big cheeses for the standoff that will send shockwaves throughout the Burgerverse.

Or at least scatter their minions all over Quebec.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Sorry -- just a short chapter this week. The climax is coming along well, however, and will be in front of your collective eyes soon.

In parallel, I'm working on this year's Christmas story, which won't be written toward a children's reading level but also will not feature any language or situations terribly unsuitable for children (no profanity, no graphic violence, no hot hot sex) so, if your young ones are of a sci-fi bend, it could still be experienced as a "read to" story with perhaps only minor on-the-fly editing by the reading parent to tweak to your particular child's vocabulary.

I can say this: there will be robots. Lots of 'em.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

P.S. Also sorry about this pop-up comment thingy...Google is making some adjustments on their end, and the bloggers are just clinging on for dear life until the code calms down.

Anonymous said...

Loved it. Also very excited for the Christmas story!

mandrill said...

Short and sweet, soo sweet. Can't wait for the climax, but will, with baited breath.

Simon said...

"Brief but intense host" indeed.

Just one spelling error popped out at me:

"The convey proceeds along a series of switchbacks..."

I think you really had me at the bit with the dog barking. It was "...the cough of a silencer" that drove that bit of laconic exposition home for me.

Very happy to see that the "action teams" were expected. But did Drago himself expect them, or was it purely the work of the spy network of the Shah? Hmmm...

Hooray for charred Hubbardians in any case. Looking forward to the climax. As I've mentioned before, this whole story is going to read a lot differently once published (presumably) in a single Lulu edition that can be read relatively uninterrupted.

Simon said...

PS -- hooray for Christmas robots!

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Yay for Christmas robots indeed.

CBB, this was a nice, short, snappy chapter. I didn't expect anything yet so it was doubly delicious! The twist on Arab suicide bombing was, as usual, unique Cheeseburgerness.

Hopefully Anwar doesn't spend itself too completely on the Hubbardians, in light of the larger looming threat.

Anonymous said...

Commander Cruise? :)

Great action in this short chapter. The suicide bomber part seems a bit ... unnecessary.

Looking forward to the Christmas story as well.

- Orick of Toronto

EMHMark3 said...

Agreed: if you're expecting people to show up, why would you need suicide bombers to deal with them? I'm sure a few concealed claymores would be more effective and less expensive.

gl. said...

sometimes it's nice to have a a brief but intense break, especially after all that talking in the last mount babel (nice!) chapter.

the arab suicide bombers made me a little uncomfortable, too.

Big t said...

I was into it until the Arab suicide bombers. Sorry CBB, but drunk Native Americans, Drug Dealing Latinos, and Suicide Bombing Arabs are out this year. War Mongering White Men, and Black Men with change are what's in.

pso said...

The beginning was a bit hard to follow. In "The men in the gatehouse salute smartly, then bend back to the task of securing the guards they have just felled" - it's not clear who felled whom, and when. Also, it's not clear initially that the "commander" and the people in the vans are part of the same group.

The Arab suicide bombers were a bit jarring as well. It's ok for them to be suicide bombers, but stressing the fact that they are Arab was unnecessary. Also, wouldn't a building full of Arabs tip off the attacking party immediately?

Anonymous said...

The suicide bomber aspect was fine. Simply rigging the facility to explode would probably not have taken out nearly as many of the enemy since they would have been tipped off by the lack of people inside. And after seeing the lengths that the Shaw and his people are willing to go, it seems realistic that they might solve a problem in this way.

Suicide bombing, and a lot worse happen all the time in the world. WTC/911 was a terrible tragedy, yes... But how long is the appropriate amount of time to wait before it can be mentioned in a science fiction story without certain people getting all itchy? Are certain topics to be censored until the media moves on and you forget about it? An airplane crashes and noone can write a story that includes a plane crash because Billy might get upset? Fuck Billy.

Sorry for the rant, but it really bothered me when everyone complained about the mentioning of the WTC back in chapter (?), and seeing all of this whining after a great chapter today just brought it all back.

Anonymous said...

I love that the Hubbardians made the same mistake in this chapter that I did after the last chapter when trying to figure out which lake(s) event zero were at. I laughed quite a bit when I saw that.

Great chapter, all in all. I think the suicide bombers didn't bother me any, though it did crack me up that they all put their hands together...I'm sick.

-Tomas

Teddy said...

I was a little put off by the Suicide Bombers, but then again I subscribe to the mercenary code - Rule 1, get paid, Rule 2, survive to spend your pay. It seems a foolish ideology and extremely vindictive of the leaders.

At the same time though, the Shah (and VERY MUCH Bahram) are bad guys of a sort here. It does seem that there would be a better way of defending the place from invasion than surgically placing bombs in them and taking the time to actually break them down to the point where they are willing to kill themselves for so little.

TRH

Anonymous said...

I don't remember anyone complaining about the WTC in the earlier chapter. That was a good touch I thought.

The suicide bomber in this chapter, on the other hand, doesn't make that much sense to me and a few others here, it looks like. No point in avoiding talking about it if the story calls for it, but no point in doing it for the sake of doing it or shock value either.

- Orick of Toronto

Anonymous said...

resevoir->reservoir

Sheik Yerbouti said...

"So little" is a relative term since they took out every single elite Hubbardian soldier. Also, we don't know what defensive measures the crazy people have that might have alerted them to the presence of a wired-up building.

I had no trouble seeing that the men in the gatehouse took down the guards. Who else would have done it -- the gatehouse?

Anonymous, I believe the official wait time is 23 years.

Anonymous said...

I love the whole interactive storytelling thing, and how we the audience can help shape the final product. I feel, however, that this should only go so far. Noting that something was unclear, or that a story element felt a bit sloppy is one thing. But complaining because something that happened in the story was a bit too shocking for you is pretty weak. Obviously CBB decided that it *was* neccessary, and included it. CBB is the story teller here. Commenters are not.

SaintPeter said...

anonymous -
I don't agree. CBB has repeatedly stated his desire for our honest feedback. If we were shocked or thought it was unnecessary, he needs to know that. If he really thinks that's what the story needs, he won't change it, if he sees his audience's reaction is not what he wanted, he will.

I didn't see anyone saying "Take it out, it ruined the story" - they're just giving their impression.

For what it's worth, I think it fit with what we know of the Shah. It's totally over the top and probably not needed, but it's the way he works. All of the Long are a bit larger than life and don't react the way you and I would. They have their own standards of behavior and some of them are just bat-shit insane. You try living for a couple thousand years and let's see how sane you are.

Anonymous said...

"The lieutenant jams down the contact on his radio. "Commander Cruise, brace yourse --""

Just noticed this on the re-read. I loled.

Teddy said...

SP: I'll have you know I'm just fine, thank you very much!

Umm...I mean...I'm...SURE that I'd be fine...

TRH

Bridget said...

One typo: "As he lieutenant looks back and he notices something for the first time:"
Should be "As the lieutenant"?

Also a typo in the previous chapter (33), at the very end:
"But don't on't worry, Mr. Miss," she says.

The suicide bombers didn't weird me out - they tipped me off that it was The Shah before their cry of "For Anwar!", more because of the wires plugged directly into their skin than because they were Arab.

To put it better: when I read "all of the hostages are Arab", I went "Huh?" When I read "the wires are plugged directly into the flesh of their torsos", I went, "Ah. The Shah sent in a suicide team. Crazy fucker, breeding people to die for him." But then, as I recall, he did have a huge excess of heirs who didn't quite measure up to becoming his next "Prince" - I guess in his mind, this is as good a use for them as any.

I LOLd at Commander Cruise, too. Mission Impossible, indeed.

You had me at the Inukshuk surveillance camera.

Eric said...

I thought the suicide bomber aspect was perfectly in line with the shah's methods.

We know he doesn't value human life too terribly much. He's more of an "ends justify the means" type of guy. We also know that he's extremely thorough. Given those two things, using the bombers was a very good way of making sure that the bombs went off at exactly the right moment.

I've always thought that the action packed chapters were typically CBB's best work. This was no exception.

I did get a little confused about which lake everybody was standing around at the beginning, but I gather that was intentional.

Anonymous said...

Whenever a geographic location is given in a CDD story, I always hit google maps.

John said...

I thought of the suicide bombers not as arab suicide bombers, but as bastard long offspring suicide bombers. Twisted, sheltered, brainwashed tools of the Shah.

Mark said...

eric's point about the timing of the bombing, I suspect, is spot-on. Had it merely been attached to a timer, or set off by someone watching from a distant hillside, the risk of missing some of the Hubbardians' elite force would have gone up.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

I seriously doubt that these human bombs were the Shah's children. More than likely, they were just fanatical devotees to his cause.

Teddy said...

Ahem...

From all of us down here in the US of A...

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!! Wahoo!

TRH

Teddy said...

Also, there is a copycat out there:

http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1267

TRH

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Teddy: what are we wahooing? Did the US get some kind of special Cheeseburger Brown publishing deal?

Anonymous said...

Wow.

Teddy said...

Yesterday was our election and I'm happy with the result?

TRH

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Hey, whatever floats your boat.

fooburger said...

... down the river... to a destination.. in a handbasket....

John said...

like Moses to pharaoh, right? I love when I get allusions!

Sheik Yerbouti said...

John, I don't know if a handbasket would have done the job. Then again, maybe it was an African handbasket.

Big t said...

CBB and others,

I hope that I didn't offend you with my comments. I was giving my true personal opinion. I work with several groups that try and change the perception of Latinos and Native Americans in Media. Being Latino and Native American I deal with these issues everyday, and see negative portrayals in Film and TV. I reread chapter 34, and may have jumped the gun a bit, I think that the suicide bombers are a product of Fiction and not meant to be a racial stereo type. Although Radical Middle Eastern extremists touched a nerve, the chapter with the Twin Towers didn't. This will not stop me in any way from enjoying your stories.

Big t said...

Oh yeah- Teddy, Si Se puede!

John said...

Well of course, a european handbasket could never carry a coconut across the mediterranean.