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"Uh," he turns slackmouth to Närrisch, "what are we ..."

"What are we what?"

"What?"

"You said, 'What are we . . . ,' then you stopped."

"Oh. Gee, that was a funny thing to say."

As for Närrisch, he's too locked in to business. He has never seen this great Ellipse any other way but the way he was meant to. Greta Erdmann, on the contrary, saw the rust-colored eminences here bow, exactly as they did once, in expectancy, faces hooded, smooth cowlings

of Nothing . . . each time Thanatz brought the whip down on her skin, she was taken, off on another penetration toward the Center: each lash, a little farther in ... till someday, she knows, she will have that first glimpse of it, and from then on it will be an absolute need, a ruling target . . . wh-wh-wh-whack the boneblack trestling of water towers above, bent to the great rim, visible above the trees in light that's bleak and bruise-purple as Peenemünde sunsets in the chill slow firing-weather ... a long look from the top of some known Low Country dike into a sky flowing so even and yellowed a brown that the sun could be anywhere behind it, and the crosses of the turning windmills could be spoke-blurs of the terrible Rider himself, Slothrop's Rider, his two explosions up there, his celestial cyclist—

No, but even That only flickers now briefly across a bit of Slo-thropian lobe-terrain, and melts into its surface, vanishing. So here passes for him one more negligence . . . and likewise groweth his Preterition sure.... There is no good reason to hope for any turn, any surprise I-see-it, not from Slothrop. Here he is, scaling the walls of an honest ceremonial plexus, set down on a good enough vision of what's shadowless noon and what isn't. But oh, Egg the flying Rocket hatched from, navel of the 50-meter radio sky, all proper ghosts of place—forgive him his numbness, his glozing neutrality. Forgive the fist that doesn't tighten in his chest, the heart that can't stiffen in any greeting. . . . Forgive him as you forgave Tchitcherine at the Kirghiz Light. . . . Better days are coming.

Slothrop is listening to faraway peripatetic tuba and clarinet being joined in on now by trombone and tenor sax, trying to pick up a tune . . . and to the bursts of laughter from soldiers and girls .. . sounds like a party down there . . . maybe even some stag dames . . . "Say, why don't we, uh . . . what was your—" Närrisch, leather scarecrow, trying to ignore Slothrop's behavior, has decided to dismantle his firebomb: he uncorks the vodka and waves it under his nose before taking a belt. He beams, cynical, salesmanwise, up at Slothrop. "Here." A silence under the white wall.

"Oh, yes I was thinking it was gasoline, but then it's fake, so it's really vodka, right?"

But just over the embankment, down in the arena, what might that have been just now, waiting in this broken moonlight, camouflage paint from fins to point crazed into jigsaw ... is it, then, really never to find you again? Not even in your worst times of night, with pencil words on your page only At from the things they stand for? And inside the victim is twitching, fingering beads, touching wood, avoiding any Operational Word. Will it really never come to take you, now?

Near the water towers, they have started to climb, up toward the rim. Sand leaks into their shoes and hisses away down the slope. At the top, back through the trees, they get a quick look at the lighted runway, the fighter now landed, surrounded by groundcrew shadows fueling, servicing, turning her around. Down the peninsula lights glow in patches, curves, zigzags, but over on this side, from the old Development Works south, it's pitch black.

They push through pine branches and down again, into the Egg, sacked of its German hardware, long converted to a Russian motor pool. The corner of the huge Assembly Building, as they come down, rises to face them across a hundred yards of jeeps and lorries. Down to the right is a three- or four-level test frame with a round, kind of quonset top, and underneath the frame is a long pit shaped like a shallow V. "Cooling duct," according to Närrisch. "They're probably under there. We have to go in through here."

They have come halfway down the slope to a pump house, built into the earthworks, for the cold water that used to carry off the tremendous heat from the test firings. It is stripped now, hollow and dark inside. Slothrop isn't two steps over the doorsill when he walks into somebody.

"Beg your pardon," though it comes out less than calmly.

"Oh, that's all right." Russian accent. "I don't mind at all." He backs Slothrop outside again, oh, a mean looking junior sergeant here about 8 or 9 feet high.

"Well, now—" at which point Närrisch comes walking into them.

"Oh." Närrisch blinks at the sentry. "Sergeant, don't you hear that music? Why aren't you back at the Assembly Building, with your comrades? There are, I understand, a number of eager fräuleins entertaining them," nudge nudge, "in a most enchanting state of deshabille, too."

"I suppose that's all perfectly divine," replies the sentry, "for some people." "Kot. . ." So much for tactics.

"And besides, this is out of bounds, you big sillies."

Sighing, Närrisch raises his bottle aloft, brings it down, or up, thunk on the sentry's nape, dislodging the man's helmet liner, is what happens. "Naughty," the Russian, somewhat nettled, stoops to retrieve his headgear. "Really I ought to put you both under apprehension."

"Enough chit-chat," snarls Slothrop, brandishing his glowing cigar and "Molotov cocktail." "Hand over that gun there, Ivan, or I turn you into a human flare!"

"You're mean," sulks the sentry, unslinging his Degtyarov a little too quickly—Slothrop dodges aside, aims his usual swift kick to the groin, which misses, but does knock loose the weapon, which Närrisch is thoughtful enough to dive for. "Beasts," whimpers the Russian, "oh, nasty, awful..." scampering off in to the night.

"Two minutes," Närrisch already inside the pump house. Slothrop grabs the automatic from him and follows at a run, accelerating down a sloping corridor. Their feet ring faster, sharper, on the concrete, down to a metal door: behind it they can hear Springer singing and babbling like a drunk. Slothrop pushes off his safety and Närrisch goes busting in. A pretty blonde auxiliary in black boots and steel-rimmed glasses is sitting here taking down shorthand notes of everything she hears from Springer, who leans happily grandiose against a cold-water pipe four feet high that runs the length of the room.

"Drop that pencil," orders Slothrop. "All right, where's that Major Zhdaev?"

"He's in conference. If you'd care to leave your name—"

"Dope," Närrisch screams, "they have given him some kind of dope! Gerhardt, Gerhardt, speak to me!"

Slothrop recognizes the symptoms. "It's that Sodium Amytal. It's O.K. Let's go."

"I expect the Major to be back any moment. They're upstairs in the guardroom, smoking. Is there a number where he can reach you?"

Slothrop has slid under one of Springer's arms, Närrisch under the other, when there's this loud hammering on the door.

"Smoking? Smoking what?" "Thisway, Slothrop."

"Oh." They hustle Springer out another door, which Slothrop bolts and wrassles a heavy filing cabinet up against, then they drag Springer up a flight of steps into a long, straight corridor, lit by six or seven bulbs, the spaces between which are very dark. Along either side, floor to ceiling, run thick bundles of measurement cabling.

"We're done for," Närrisch wheezes. It's 150 yards to the measurement bunker, and no cover but the shadows between the bulbs. All these birds gotta do is spray a pattern.

"She baffs at nothing, the heterospeed," cries Gerhardt von Göll.

"Try to walk," Slothrop scared shit, "come on, man, it's our ass!"

Smashing echoes after them down the tunnel. A muffled burst of automatic fire. And another. All at once, two faint pools of light ahead, Zhdaev materializes, on the way back to his office. He has a friend with him, who smiles when he sees Slothrop 40 yards away, a big steel smile. Slothrop lets go of Springer and runs up into the next light, piece at the ready. The Russians are blinking at him in a puzzled way. "Tchitcherine! Hey."

They stand facing, each at his lit circle. Slothrop recalls that he has the drop on them. He smiles in half-apology, tips the muzzle at them, moves closer. Zhdaev and Tchitcherine, after a discussion which seems unnecessarily long, decide they will raise their hands.

"Rocketman!"

"Howdy."

"What are you doing in a Fascist uniform like that?"

"You're right. Think I'll join that Red Army, instead." Närrisch leaves Springer sagging against a row of sleek rubber and silver-mesh cables, and comes up to help disarm the two Russians. Troops back down the tunnel are still busy busting the door down.

"You guys want to undress, here? Say Tchitcherine, how'd you like that hashish, by the way?"

"Well," taking off his trousers, "we were all up there in the budka just now smoking some . . . Rocketman, your timing is fantastic. Zhdaev, isn't he something?"

Slothrop slides out of his tux. "Just see you don't get a hardon here now, fella."

"I'm serious. It's your Schwarzphänomen."

"Quit fooling."

"You don't even know about it. It choreographs you. Mine's always trying to destroy me. We should be exchanging those, instead of uniforms."

The disguise business grows complicated. Zhdaev's jacket with the gold-starred pogoni on the shoulders gets draped around the Springer, who is now humming everyone a Kurt Weill medley. Zhdaev puts on Springer's white suit, and then him and Tchitcherine get tied up with their own belts, a-and neckties. "Now—the idea," Slothrop explains, "being that you, Tchitcherine, will be posing as me, and the major there—" At which point the door back down the tunnel comes blasting open, two figures with wicked Suomi subs, drums on them as big as that Gene Krupa's, come flying through. Slothrop stands in the light in Tchitcherine's uniform, and waves dramatically, pointing at the two hogtied officers. "Make it good," he mutters to Tchitcherine, "I'm

trusting you now, but look out I have a great passive vocabulary, I'll know what you're saying."

It's O.K. with Tchitcherine, but confusing. "I'm supposed to be who, now?"

"Oh, shit. . . look, just tell them to go check out the pump house up there, it's urgent." Slothrop gestures and lip-synchs while Tchitcherine talks. It seems to work. The two actually salute, and go back through the door they just shot down.

"Those apes," Tchitcherine shakes his head. "Those black apes! How did you know, Rocketman? Of course you didn't, but the Schwarzphänomen did. A great touch. Two of them, looking at me through the window. And I thought—well, you know: I thought just about what you thought I'd think. ..."

But by this time Slothrop is way out of earshot. Springer by now is able to stumble at a fast walk. They get as far as the measurement bunker without running into anybody. Out a door of bulletproof glass, behind their own reflections, is the old test frame, windows broken out, camouflage in German Expressionist ripples streaming gray and black all over it. The two soldiers are sure enough up there poking around that pump house, finding nothing. Presently they disappear inside again, and Närrisch opens the door. "Hurry." They edge outside, into the arena.

It takes a while to get back up the slope and into the woods. Otto and Hilde show up. They've finessed Zhdaev's car and driver out of a rotor arm. So there are four of them now to try and lift warbling pay-load Gerhardt von Göll up these few crummy feet of sand embankment here, gotta be the most ill-designed propulsion system this test stand has seen in a while. Otto and Hilde tug at Springer's arms, Närrisch and Slothrop push from the ass end. About halfway up Springer blows a tremendous fart that echoes for minutes across the historic ellipse, like now to do for you folks my anal impression of the A4. . . .

"Oh, fuck you," Slothrop snarls.

"An erect green steed of planetoid and bone," nods the Springer in reply

Music and chatter back by the Assembly Building have all died away now, and an unpleasant calm has replaced them. Up over the top at last and into the woods, where Springer rests his forehead against a tree trunk and commences vomiting violently.

"Närrisch, we're risking our ass for this slob?"

But Närrisch is busy helping squeeze his friend's stomach. "Gerhardt, are you all right? What can I do?"

"Beautiful," chokes Springer, vomit trickling down his chin. "Ahh. Feels great!"

Along come chimps, musicians, dancing girls. Drifting in to rendezvous. Over the last dune and down to the packed cinder triangle of Test Stand X, and the sea. The musicians for a while play a kind of march tune. Past the foreshore, the tide has left them a strip of sand. But Frau Gnahb is nowhere in sight. Haftung is holding hands with an ape. Felix shakes spit out of his tuba. A honey-haired chorus girl, whose name he never does get, puts her arms around Slothrop. "I'm scared."

"Me too." He hugs her.

All hell breaks loose—sirens whoop-whooping, searchlights starting to probe the woods up above, truck motors and shouted commands. The crashout party move off the cinders, and crouch in marsh grass.

"We've collected one automatic and two sidearms," Närrisch whispers. "They'll be coming at us from the south. It'll only take one of us to go back up and hold them." He nods and begins checking his hardware.

"You're crazy," hisses Slothrop, "they'll kill you." Commotion now from over by Test Stand VII. Headlights are appearing, one after another, along the road up there.

Närrisch taps Springer on the chin. It isn't clear if Springer knows who he is. "Lebe wohl," anyway, Springer. . . . Nagants stuck in overcoat pockets, automatic cradled in his arms, Närrisch takes off at a crouching run along the beach, and doesn't look back.

"Where's the boat?" Haftung in a white panic. Ducks, alarmed, are quacking at each other down here. Wind moves in the grass. When searchlights move by, pine trunks uphill flare, deeply shining, terrible . . . and at everyone's back, the Baltic shakes and streams.

Shots from uphill—then, maybe from Närrisch in reply, a burst of automatic fire. Otto is holding his Hilde close. "Anybody read Morse Code?" the girl next to Slothrop wants to know, "because there's been a light going over there, see, at the tip of that little island? for a few minutes now." It's three dots, dot, dot, three more dots. Over and over.

"Hmm, SEES," ponders Felix.

"Maybe they're not dots," sez the tenor-sax player, "maybe they're dashes."

"That's funny," sez Otto, "that would spell OTTO."

"That's your name," sez Hilde.

"Mother!" screams Otto, running out in the water and waving at the blinking light. Felix commences booming tuba notes across the water, and the rest of the band joins in. Reed shadows come stabbing across the sand, as the spotlights swoop down. A boat engine roars into hearing. "Here she comes," Otto jumping up and down in the marsh.

"Hey, Närrisch," Slothrop squinting, trying to find him back there in light that was always too weak, "come on. Fall back." No answer. But more shooting.

Running-lights off, the boat comes barreling in at flank speed, Frau Gnahb has decided to ram Peenemünde? no, now she puts everything full astern—bearings shriek, screw-foam geysers, the boat slews around to a stop.

"Get on board," she bellows.

Slothrop's been hollering for Närrisch. Frau Gnahb leans on her steam-whistle. But no answer. "Shit, I've got to get him—" Felix and Otto grab Slothrop from behind, drag him back to the boat kicking and cursing. "They'll kill him, you assholes, lemme go—" Dark shapes come spilling over the dune between here and Test Stand VII, orange flickers at their midsections, the sound of rifle fire following a second later.

"They will kill us." Otto heaves Slothrop up over the side, and tumbles in after. Spotlights find and skewer them now. The firing is louder—nipples and spatters in the water, slugs hammering into the boat.

"Everybody here?" the Frau's fangs bared in a grin. "Fine, fine!" A last ape reaches up, Haftung catches his hand, and he dangles, feet in the water, for several yards as they light out, all ahead full, till he can finally clamber up and over. Gunfire follows out to sea, out of range, at last out of earshot.

"Hey Felix," sez the tenor sax player, "you think there's any gigs in Swinemünde?"

John Dillinger, at the end, found a few seconds' strange mercy in the movie images that hadn't quite yet faded from his eyeballs—Clark Gable going off unregenerate to fry in the chair, voices gentle out of the deathrow steel so long, Blackie . . . turning down a reprieve from his longtime friend now Governor of New York William Powell, skinny chinless condescending jerk, Gable just wanting to get it over with, "Die like ya live—all of a sudden, don't drag it out—" even as bitchy little Melvin Purvis, staked outside the Biograph Theatre, lit up the fatal cigar and felt already between his lips the penis of official commendation—and federal cowards at the signal took Dillinger with their faggots' precision . . . there was still for the doomed man some shift of personality in effect—the way you've felt for a little while afterward in the real muscles of your face and voice, that you were Gable, the ironic eyebrows, the proud, shining, snakelike head—to help Dillinger through the bushwhacking, and a little easier into death.

Närrisch now, huddled inside a broken few meters of concrete drainage pipe, after doubling back under the wall of Test Stand VII, bracing curled now in the smell of old storm water, trying not to breathe loud enough to smack echoes into any betrayal—Närrisch hasn't been to a movie since Der Müde Tod. That's so long ago he's forgotten its ending, the last Rilke-elegiac shot of weary Death leading the two lovers away hand in hand through the forget-me-nots. No help at all from that quarter. Tonight Närrisch is down to the last tommygun of his career, foreign and overheated . . . and blisters on his hands he won't have to worry about tomorrow. No sources of mercy available beyond the hard weapon, the burning fingers—a cruel way to go out for a good guidance man who always put in fair time for fair wages. . . . He had other offers . . . could've gone east with the Institute Rabe, or west to America and $6 a day—but Gerhardt von Göll promised him glamour, jackpots, a flashy dame on his arm, say, why not on both arms?—after poor linear Peenemünde, who could blame him?

It wasn't ever necessary to see around the entire Plan . . . really that's asking too much of anyone . . . not true? This S-Gerät strategy he's going out of his way to die for tonight, what does he know of the Springer's full intentions in the affair? It is reasonable to Närrisch that he, being smaller, he should be the sacrifice, if it helps Springer survive, even survive another day . . . wartime thinking, ja, ja . . . but too late to change. . . .

Did the S-Gerät program at Nordhausen in its time ever hint that so many individuals, nations, firms, communities of interest would come after the fact? Of course he was flattered then at being chosen to work on the modification to the guidance, minor as it was . . . hardly worth the special treatment. . . still, it was his first high historical moment and he sourly figured it to be his last, up until meeting with Springer's recruiting team, back during the rainier part of June. . . . Conferences in cafes and entrances to churchyards around Braun-

schweig (stucco arches, vines dripping onto thin collars) without an umbrella but with that light, belled hope inside—a field, crowded with lines of force, to expand, to fill, to keep him in good health and spirits . . . Berlin! The Chicago Cabaret! "Cocaine—or cards?" (an old movie line the gunsels loved to use that summer) . . . the Big Time!

But the ringing bright thing inside brought him here, instead: here, down in a pipe, to only a handful more of minutes. . . .

The idea was always to carry along a fixed quantity, A. Sometimes you'd use a Wìen bridge, tuned to a certain frequency A{, whistling, heavy with omen, inside the electric corridors . . . while outside, according to the tradition in these matters, somewhere a quantity B would be gathering, building, as the Rocket gathered speed. So, up till assigned Brennschluss velocity, "v," electric-shocked as any rat into following this very narrow mazeway of clear space—yes, radio signals from the ground would enter the Rocket body, and by reflex—literally by electric signal traveling a reflex arc—the control surfaces twitch, to steer you back on course the instant you'd begin to wander off (how could you've kept from lapsing, up here, into that radiant inattention, so caught up in the wind, the sheer altitude . . . the unimaginable fires at your feet?)... so, for that tightly steered passage, all was carried on in the sharpest, most painful anticipation, with B always growing, as palpably cresting as the assault of a tidal wave that stills every small creature and hones the air down to a cold stir. . . . Your quantity A— shining, constant A, carried as they must have once packed far overland at night the Grail, in their oldtime and military bleakness of humor . . . and one morning a wide upper lip steelwool gray with the one day's growth, the fatal, the terrible sign, he shaved smooth every day, it meant that this was the Last Day—and, too, with only the grim sixth sense, as much faith as clear reception, that the B of Many Subscripts just over the electric horizon was really growing closer, perhaps this time as "Biw," the precession angle of the gyro, moving invisibly but felt, terrifically arousing, over the metal frame toward angle Aiw (which is how they have set you the contacts: to close, you must see, at that exact angle). Or as "BiL," another integrating, not of gyro rate but of the raw current flow itself, bled from the moving coil inside the poles, the "fettered" pendulum . . . they thought this way, Design Group, in terms of captivity, prohibition . . . there was an attitude toward one's hardware more brutal and soldierly than most engineers' got the chance to be. ... They felt quite the roughshod elite, Driwelling, and Schmeíl, with the fluorescent lights shining on his

bared forehead night after night. . . . Inside their brains they shared an old, old electro-decor—variable capacitors of glass, kerosene for a dielectric, brass plates and ebonite covers, Zeiss galvanometers with thousands of fine-threaded adjusting screws, Siemens milliammeters set on slate surfaces, terminals designated by Roman numerals, Standard Ohms of manganese wire in oil, the old Gülcher Thermosäule that operated on heating gas, put out 4 volts, nickel and antimony, asbestos funnels on top, mica tubing. . . .

Wasn't that life more decent than gangstering? A cleaner sort of friendship . . . less devious, anyway. . . . There we saw how we had to fit in ... the machinery itself determined that . . . everything was so clear then, paranoia was all for the enemy, and never for one's own. . . .

—What about the SS?

—Oh, they were the enemy, I'd say. . . . [Laughter.]

No, Klaus, don't drift away, please, not onto dreams of kindly Soviet interrogation that will end in some ermine bed, some vodka-perfumed stupor, you know that's foolish. . . .



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