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Fiction Page 7



Lawrence R. Dagstine

     The room was silent except for the sounds of breathing, heavy but controlled, from the three men behind the forum, and a rasping hiss from the man strapped to the metal chair in front of it.  The heat was overpowering.  The only light came from a very powerful bulb which was almost in the center of the room and shone straight on the chair and the man seated in it.
     So bright was the light that the man could see nothing of his interrogators except here and there a silhouette of a face, a hand and a wrist and a clipped cigarette sending smoke upwards.  Padded straps pinned his ankles firmly against the legs of the chair, which were bolted to the floor.  The wrists of the man were secured also by padded straps, and others ran across his waist and chest.  The padding was drenched with sweat.  This may have all seemed very prisonerlike, but it was done carefully for a reason.
     Suddenly the man in the center of the forum broke the silence.  His voice was civilized, coaxing. "You are a brave man, Stengren, but you yourself know they always talk in the end.  Anyone behind the iron curtain always talks.  Psychically you have seen them talk, Stengren.  Or should I say Jobe?" The voice broke into a short laugh. "So why not now? Then back to bed.  And sleep, sleep and sleep you go..."
     The man in the chair raised a battered, grimy face glistening with sweat; the mouth opened and tried to speak.  Then the head sagged again and shook from side to side in answer.  The voice from behind the forum began again. "Jobe, listen.  You’re a hard man.  The KGB knows that, I know that--shit, half the political leaders in asylum and their press aids know that.  But even you can’t go on.  Not even with your abilities.  We can.  The little claws will go on and on....You want to reveal this special power to us, Jobe? Do you still want to deny that your mother was not born of a supernova? Sanity was your mother, was she not? Well, what are you waiting for?"
     Chin buried against a wrinkly smelly chest, the great head continued to shake from side to side.  It was as if the closed eyes were examining first one and then another of the three copper claws whose teeth gripped his nipples and genitals.  The hands of the man who had spoken lay in front of him in a pool of light: large, white, full of patience.  He waited for a few moments.  One of the white hands separated itself from the other--the thumb tucked into the palm, the index finger and forefinger spread wide, and laid itself gently on the table.
     At the far end of the room a man by a set of controls moved a lever from figure one to figure three, then pressed an "on/off" switch.  The metal claws appeared to come alive with a slight shock and a scratching sensation.  In silence the huge form in the chair rose as if by levitation.  The legs and wrists bulged against the straps strenuously until it seemed that even with the padding the leather must cut clean through flesh and bone.  It wasn’t long before the demonic scream came.  And no one could deny the fact that this was one of the most sinister torture techniques ever used.
     Jobe finally started to talk--incoherently, but talk.  His body was worn out and his words a soothing whisper.  The calm voice from the man in the center of the forum cut across the maundering. "Why is the source of energy in that building, Jobe...Sanity’s, Elektra’s, and yours...why were your superiors afraid to enter unannounced...what did they see...tell us, Jobe...what is the source of this strange power you and your mother possess?"
     Then finally the prisoner muttered, "My mother is dead.  Her sister is dead.  I am the only one left.  Their PSI exists only within the mainframe, the databank on the top floor of the art cen--" His head fell downward in a lump, as if drugged by some strong anesthetic.
     The man in charge of interrogation was about to put his fingers down on the table again, ordering perhaps what would be a wake-up call.  His co-worker to his right grabbed his hand before it touched down. "No James, that’s enough for one day," he said, actually feeling sorry for the mass of flesh before him. "We don’t want to kill him before we can prove his information right." This man, who saved Jobe from further torture, was referred to as Hopkins by the other members of British Intelligence.
     James considered this. "Then what do you suggest?"
     "That you go to the building and check the mainframe yourself.  See if he’s telling us the truth.  Get there before the KGB does.  This is our weapon now."
     Jobe was finally silent (perhaps asleep) after five minutes, his small ramblings and utterances being recorded on tape until it became clear that he had gone into relapse.  A copy of the tape was then rushed by limousine to the CIA rendezvous in Moscow, which was the location of the building that the mainframe was in.  A taxi was called around 10:30PM, and picked up James at the front gate to take him there.
     Through the evening the other two men from the forum sat around a tape recorder trying to decipher meaningful words out of Jobe’s answers.  It was nearly midnight when the CIA telephoned them to ask if James had gotten there already and to report that their transcript was completed.  The two members of the forum, one of the interrogators a former Soviet spy, were behind schedule.  Oh, and as for James, he wouldn’t get to Moscow for at least another hour, maybe more.
     The paperwork assigned from the copy of the tape’s confession came with the coffee.  Everyone at the office was falling asleep.  The first time Hopkins, one of the interrogators present at the forum, read the twenty page report quickly, tried to grasp the gist of what the demented scientist--known to colleagues as Arthuro Stengren--had been saying.  Never in a million years would anyone but the U.S. government and KGB suspect he was a child of the PSI.  The second time Hopkins took a permanent marker and drew a thick black line through the passages related to Jobe, Elektra (his aunt), and a couple of other psychic resistances.  But not Sanity.  You see, Sanity was the key.  She gave birth to the power, and in its wake passed it on more than just inherently.  All these names Hopkins knew and understood, but only one interested him.  But why did she pass it on inherently? And did this psychic phenomena have something to do with God or religion?
     Out of the remaining passages he tried to make sense.  The three PSI leaders were Sanity, Elektra, and Jobe.  Well, he knew that.  But why? Just because they were related? This question had to be asked ten times.  Four times by the members of the interrogation forum, four times by the KGB, and two times by the CIA themselves.  And everything was compiled into one report.  By and large the answer had been the same each time.  They did not wish to be contained like Jobe had.  Natural enough, but Elektra and her band of resistances would not run for cover because they were not frightened by the threats man posed.  So they did what they felt was right.  They sacrificed themselves by placing their minds and souls into the mainframe.  There were two words Jobe had mumbled during the interrogation in answering information relevant to this.  The words were "nocturnal guardian".  Elektra and the resistances did not wish to live because of the secret they possessed, and they knew it would be well-guarded.  Sanity too.  
     Hopkins went through the report for the umpteenth time.  Five times the words "nocturnal guardian" cropped up. "I still don‘t understand," he said, scratching his chin in thought. "Nocturnal guardian has nothing to do with anything we’ve discussed.  What could it mean?"
     "Perhaps it’s not meant to mean anything," one of his cohorts said. "Maybe it was said on purpose, to throw us off."
     "There’s no reason to throw us off," Hopkins said. "We already know that half the resistances are dead, along with Elektra and Sanity.  Their abilities are now part of some great computer."
     "And that computer is on the penthouse of some building in central Moscow." That same cohort of Hopkins’ was starting to worry about James. "Do you know what time it is?" He peeked at a friend’s watch.
     "Yes, in the end think of what this will do for the Cold War.  It’s the answer we’ve been looking for." Hopkins looked at the bright side of these so-called PSI abilities.
     "Well, once Reagan has the report, he won’t only be one step ahead of Gor-bachev but he’ll be one happy camper as well.  If he‘s smart, he’ll put it to good use--maybe fix the economy and win himself a third term."
     "I doubt that very highly," Hopkins said, vesting a small laugh. "He’s no FDR."
     "I just wish we could see the look on the old codger’s face when we hand the secrets to this power into him.  Our defense system will be undefeatable."
     "Your defense system, not mine," Hopkins noted. "I’m from Britain.  And let’s stop chit-chatting and get some work done."
     The time passed, and so did innumerable cups of coffee.  There wasn’t much to learn from the tapings.  There was actually more to learn from the report, maybe because the way it was prepared.  Before the thin line of pale gray started to tip the grisly industrial community, Hopkins knew he was on to something.  There were pieces missing.  He began to jot down pieces of the puzzle.  A man called Gruber.  Or was it a town in Russia? He rang the switchboard and asked them to search the telephone directory.  Half-completed, he read on.  There were several encrypted references to the foreigner.  Shortly after midnight Hopkins sent for the other half of the tape, which he thought he wouldn’t need; it was obvious he had been wrong.  He spent the next twenty minutes listening to it.  Everyone in the office had practically fallen asleep.  Their legs were thrown up on their desks, shoes off, neckties greatly loosened.  When Hopkins finally switched off the tape recorder, he made a few secondary alterations to the encrypted parts of the report, something the CIA had overlooked.  And the words expressing Gruber from the torn lips on the tape had eventually been deciphered as: Gruber the guardian, Gruber the nighthawk, and Gruber the mother; which shed light on the "nocturnal guardian" part of the report.
     "Of course!" Hopkins stood up and yelled.  He woke the entire office; some of the people fell off their desks in the worded frenzy. "Gruber is the security guard of the mainframe.  In order to get into the PSI databanks you have to somehow get past him.  How could I be so naive? Even I wouldn’t leave such power unguarded.  He’s also a trained killer if I’m not mistaken.  It wouldn’t be like Sanity to leave someone unprofessional.  But Jobe--I thought he was smart, but not smart enough I guess."
     "But what does all this mean?" his cohort asked him, putting his shoes on and fixing his tie.  It had been a long night. "Gruber the mother? What about that?"
     Hopkins lost attention for a moment.  To think that Jobe had encrypted the entire "Russian" part of the interrogation, and to think that the CIA were dumb enough not to realize it.  He decided to type a final copy of the report himself--his version, and mail it right away to the American Embassy; from there the Central Intelligence Agency would retrieve it.  He sealed it in an envelope with his own personal seal, addressed it and stamped it with the highest security classification.  It was too late for anyone to get it tonight.  He summoned a motorcycle dispatch rider to his office, the kind that delivers telegrams in foreign countries.  It was quickly picked up and on its way.  With that and a smile adorning his face, Hopkins looked at his watch and saw it was almost 1:00AM.  He phoned downstairs to the switchboard and asked them to send up some cheese and crackers to snack on, and a bottle of aspirin.  All this research had given him a splitting headache.   
     "But Hopkins, you haven’t answered me," his cohort fussed. "What about the terminology behind Gruber the mother?"
     The cheese and crackers had arrived at a bad time when Hopkins realized he might have made the biggest mistake in his life....He sent James into Moscow to the PSI computer. "Oh no, it can’t be," he said worriedly.
     "What, what?"
     "Gruber the mother is a nom de plume.  Gruber can only be none other than Sanity herself! The source of power behind the PSI.  You brought it to my attention so my curiosity made me go over the encryption again."
     His cohort had now become greatly concerned. "How can you be sure?"
     "Don’t you see? There was no proof of Sanity’s death, just rumors or word of mouth.  She’s guarding the mainframe and the power within it.  Jobe’s mother has taken the form of a Russian man.  Gruber!"
     "You mean..."
     "Yes! It’s all here in the report!"
     Sanity is the nocturnal guardian!

     At about a quarter to two (Moscow time) in the morning, James was speeding toward the Vlensky Art building in downtown Miran.  Miran was considered one of Moscow‘s never fully-developed communities.  There was an Indonesian idol in the foreground of his destination.  Odd place for an Indonesian deity, he thought.  But nevertheless, he told the taxi driver to pull up by the statue.  He gave the man  a handful of rubles, and the driver in turn thanked him greatly.  He then raced up to the Vlensky Art Center’s doorway soon after two in the morning, removed his immaculate dark overcoat and ordered a cup of coffee from a nearby vendor, who was there trying to earn an honest rupee to feed her entire family.   
     He took a sip of his coffee and asked the woman at the cart, "What is with this building? I had no idea it was a center of attraction here in Moscow." His British accent sounded brusque over the steam of the coffee cup and the biting cold, but as for the woman, she could not understand him.  She spoke a deep Russian dialect.  And as for the Vlensky Art Center, it was one of the only centers of attraction (other than the capital building).
     Entry was only permitted if you had a special pass.  Lucky for James the CIA had made him up a key card for all kinds of locks with high security coders.  He entered and slipped by the Russian guard, who was laid back in his chair fast asleep.  He turned a corner and hurried to the elevator that went to the top floor.  Unbelievable.  Thirty floors in this cultural institution.  Not to mention it was like a great big maze.  It got its name from the great contemporary painter Vlensky, and even work from his private collection was exhibited there.  
     James had entered the elevator considering what steps could be taken to ensure that there wouldn’t be any traps or the mainframe wouldn’t be corrupted.  So far things seemed too easy, that’s why he considered this.  He contemplated the possibilities for the retrieval of the "psychic" data until the bell arrived.  That bell was the signal that he had arrived on the top floor.  The doors opened.  No KGB or security lasers.  How odd.  At the end of the big hall was a giant sphere, a sort of electronic globe encircled by many sepulchers.  How morbid, James thought.  These psychically-made tombs must have belonged to Sanity and her children, and the resistances who inherited their power.  The globe had many different-colored wires streaming out of it and into little holes in each of the vaults.  It was obvious PSI (the power of supreme psychic or telekinetic energy) was flowing in and out of the tombs on the wall.  
     James approached the circle of tombs and stood before the glowing sphere. "So this is the mainframe," he muttered. "Sanity’s soul and the souls of her children are in here.  Elektra as well.  Amazing.  Power like this makes the nuclear age look like the Dark Ages." There were noises, sort of like "clumping" feet, from behind him.  But he was too awestruck by this power to turn around and take notice.  The sounds of the feet came heavy and slow.
     He looked at the wiring and their outlets. "The life-support gear is working, but barely.  It will support about half our number, if that." He was referring to the U.S. and British defense system.
     James saw a slit at the bottom of the sphere.  He slipped a floppy disk into the opening and stepped back.  Information--very powerful information--was being recorded onto it.  He then opened his journal, looking at the names on the wall of those who had sacrificed themselves.  He sat in contemplation for a few moments (while the PSI was being loaded), then looked up with awakening interest. "How odd, there’s only nineteen bodies here but twenty tombs." The tomb marked Gruber was empty.  James was perplexed at first, trying to understand the last few days of Jobe’s cross-examination. That wouldn’t reveal anything about the empty tomb, would it?
     Then, suddenly, as if some power greater than himself were reading his every thought, remarked, "The other nineteen are the ones with faith, James." The power knew his name. "The ones that were not afraid to pray and believe God would deliver them."
     James turned around.  First there was the image of a tall, husky Russian man.  Then the man’s image faded and a woman of intense light appeared, as if she had been born of the sun.  Even her eyes were like bulbs. "Who are you? Who sent you? Are you a KGB operative?" he asked her.
     "I am a revelation, James." Her voice lowered to a whisper, and James found himself in wonderment.
     "It’s also a coincidence," noted James. "You must be Sanity.  Seems your PSI has held a captive audience throughout the world these past few years.  And as for revelations or God--I keep away from that nonsense.  I get paid to do my job, that’s all."
     "That’s not good, James.  You won’t accept divine power as the answer, and do you know why? Because you’re afraid, afraid that your rejection of God has doomed you.  Join us."
     "And why should I join you?"  
     "Because I‘ve been here since the beginning, the Big Bang.  I am someone you can trust." Sanity leaned back, her breath spent.   Her words were like those muttered by some maddened prophet.
     James’ head began to pick up and his eyes turned toward Sanity.  No longer did her light seem to blind him.  A matter of fact, he felt like he was in some kind of trance, but he was well aware of his surroundings.
     Oddly enough, he felt wanted.
     "Your prays have been heard," Sanity said lightly. "You are now a believer." The empty tomb behind James began to open and he stepped inside. "We shall pray together."
     James bowed his head as the door to the tomb started closing.  In halting from trying to escape, he started reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  The tomb sealed itself, and in a series of breathless stanzas James found himself repeating the words to the prayer, each phrase coming like an overwhelmed sob.  Sanity stood outside with a wicked grin, her body shining effervescently.  The other residents of the nineteen tombs came alive and joined in, mumbling uncertainly.  The sphere in the center of the room glowed and glowed.  And the prayer was recited by twenty different mouths constantly.   
     Words which were now hopeless.  The trap had been sprung.
     James, who was crossing over, with a little persuasion by Sanity, wanted to live as a human desperately.  If only Hopkins knew that his friend wouldn’t be coming home.  James had now joined the elite, a group of PSI in eternal rest.