Authors: Roderick Gordon,Brian Williams
The freezing fog in mid-November
Downhill all the way, downhill all the way
How I wish the roads were straighter
Let’s panic later, let’s panic later
Let’s Panic Later
Wire (1979 –)
There is a point at which there is no point at which.
The Book of Proliferation
Translated from the original Romanian (15th century)
Apart from the noise and the gut-wrenching fear of physical injury, the most terrifying thing about an explosion is the millisecond in which the whole world fractures. It’s as though the very fabric of time and space has been split asunder, and you’re falling through it with no idea what lies on the other side.
When Colonel Bismarck came to, he was spread-eagled on a marble floor. For a moment he was unable to move, as if his body forbade it. As if it knew better than he did.
Although there was utter silence, the Colonel didn’t question it. He felt no alarm, no urgency. He was staring up at the shattered ceiling, where snowy chunks of plaster rocked gently. He became captivated by their movement — backward and forward, forward and backward — as if they were caught in a breeze. He was even more bewitched by the spectacle as some of the pieces broke loose, falling in slow motion to the floor around him.
His hearing began to return.
He made out a sound that reminded him of woodpeckers. “
,” he said, recalling the hunting trips in the jungle around New Germania with his father. Sometimes they’d be gone for as much as a week, sleeping in a tent and shooting game together.
It was a comforting memory. Lying among the blast debris, the Colonel sighed as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He heard the rattling sound again, still so remote. He didn’t associate it with the rapid fire of automatic weapons.
Then the Royal Mint building was rocked by a second blast. The Colonel shut his eyes at the blinding flash of light, every bit as bright as the sun in his world at the center of the Earth.
The percussive wave swept brutally over him, sucking the air from his lungs.
. . . ?” the Colonel gasped, still on his back as shards of glass flew across the room like driving sleet and tinkled on the polished marble around him.
He knew then that something was wrong. Not only was everything quickly becoming hazed by a choking black smoke, but his mind seemed to be full of it, too.
Wie komme ich hierher?
” he said, groping for comprehension.
How he’d come to be there he had absolutely no idea. The last memory that felt substantial enough to rely on was of being ambushed in New Germania. He remembered being captured by the Styx, but after that — and he found this strange — he could only remember purple light. No, purple
, many of them, burning with such intensity that his memories were dim by comparison.
He vaguely recalled the long journey to the outer crust, and then not much else until he found himself in a truck with a squad of his New Germanian troops. They’d been taken to a large building — a factory. And associated with this factory, and still in the forefront of his mind, was something he’d had to do. A task so vitally important that it overrode all other considerations, even his own survival.
But, right now, he couldn’t put his finger on what this task had been. And he didn’t have time to dwell on it further as a burst of gunfire from close by galvanized him into action. He sat up, wincing from the sharp pain in his head where it had struck the floor. Coughing and choking as the acrid smoke caught in his throat, he knew his first priority was to get himself to cover.
He crawled through a doorway where the smoke was less dense and found that he was in an office with a high ceiling and a desk with a vase of flowers on it. Kicking the door shut, he lay behind it while he checked himself over. His hair was sodden from an injury at the back of his head, but he couldn’t tell how serious it was — the skin around it was numb and he knew from experience that head wounds always bled profusely. He ran his hands over the rest of his body, finding no further injuries. He wasn’t in uniform but wearing a coat and civilian clothes, none of which he recognized. But at least he had his military-issue belt around his waist, and his pistol was still in its holster. He got to his feet and took it out, its weight reassuring in his hand. Something he knew. He waited, listening for sounds on the other side of the door.
He didn’t have to wait for long. After a brief lull, he caught English voices and the sound of boots crunching on debris in the hallway where he’d been. Someone shouldered the door of the room open and stormed in. The man was dressed in black, with police emblazoned across his chest. He wore a gas mask and helmet and was armed with an automatic weapon the likes of which Colonel Bismarck had never seen before.
Catching the policeman by surprise, the Colonel wrapped an arm around his neck and rendered him unconscious. While the man’s radio buzzed, the Colonel quickly removed his uniform and dressed himself in it. As he slipped on the gas mask, he realized that even more blood had seeped from his head injury, but he couldn’t worry about that now.
He familiarized himself with the assault rifle, which he found was pretty straightforward. Then he emerged from the office and took a couple of steps into the black smoke, only to come face-to-face with another policeman dressed in identical siege gear. As their gaze met through the lenses of their masks, the other man gave a hand signal, but the Colonel didn’t know how he was meant to respond. A question formed in the other man’s eyes. Thinking that his disguise had been blown, the Colonel began to raise the HK assault rifle in his hands.
He was saved by another explosion that ripped through the hallway and swiped him off his feet. In a daze, the Colonel picked himself up and staggered through the main entrance, where the doors hung crookedly on broken hinges. Almost losing his balance as he missed the step, he found himself reeling on the pavement outside the building.
He stopped dead.
He was confronted by a cordon of armed men — too many for him to take on. They were all behind discarded vehicles or riot shields, their laser sights clustered on him.
He wasn’t prepared for what happened next. With his head still spinning and his senses dulled, he didn’t react when his rifle was snatched from his grip. At the same time, he was hoisted off his feet by two policemen and carried away in double-quick time.