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Interlude: Antarctica and Beyond

She saw all and knew more.

The place of knowledge looked exactly like the waking world in its details, its strangeness revealed only by implication. Looking down at her own body she knew she was dead. And yet the possibilities of her life were not entirely spent. She knew this too. Part of her wanted to simply slip back into her body and let the Charm of Utanghk do its work but she wasn’t ready to do that.

D pulled away from her body and the sub. In the ghostly second sight of the place of knowledge she perceived the submarine had already moved some distance from the dying Delta Omega Base. She watched the sub pass beneath the dark vaults of ice and turned her attention to colossal structure shuddering above.

Standing in front of it in the waking world, the station was simply a structure, impressive but also sterile. From within the place of knowledge she gained an appreciation for the effort that had gone into its creation. To see it brought low was an occasion not for celebration but regret. She lingered by the thoughform of Igori Splendov, offered what sympathy she could. His ideas for the structure unraveled around him like so much cobweb. She felt no connection to the politics or governments bound up in the station, but merely observed that many had died to make it a reality. For a sorceress of the living word, such concerns were far from abstract to her. Even more present in her thoughts were the fates of those not yet dead.

Those left in this place struggled against death. D moved to the scattered groups of survivors and bore witness. Soviet rescue teams came too late to save many from exposure, but others managed to make it to shelter and wait out the cold. The helicopters were able to take away the women and some of the injured, but there were plenty left to watch the final demise of the Delta Omega Base. Belching flame and explosive gas, they could trace the progress of the station’s destruction. Shortly after one p.m. they saw some of the superstructure began slump inwards. The end was not far off.

At 3:13, there was another fiery out-gassing from the C deck, the long strip of observation platforms. The air itself thundered, as though this frozen continent had become a drum. Those with radiation badges or Geiger counters had the earliest premonition of doom, but all felt disaster pressing against them. The Soviets promised more helicopters. They would come too late.

Some fought for snow cats with the idea of escaping the blast radius. Others sat down in the snow, preferring to freeze to death than suffer what was coming next. Others, braver or more ignorant, simply sat in the shelters and waited for the rescue helicopters.

One great arc of the Delta Omega Base rose free of the ice. Fissures and ice quakes flattened the remaining structures surrounding the base. One of the ammo dumps broke in half and detonated.

Slowly, the station tipped upwards, until its outside edge was nearly vertical. It blocked out all view of the neighboring mountains. For the survivors, all that could be seen was the black arch and then the steadily mounting tremors as it began to sink beneath the waves. The more astute observers could see the ragged whole in the bottom of the superstructure where the super-heated core of the reactor had burned through the station. From with the frame of the Place of Knowledge, D could see the radiation streaming from this aperture, alpha and beta particles tearing through the survivors’ bodies.

The returning Soviets saw at once that anyone left on the ice had already received a fatal dose of radiation. The helicopters dropped a few supplies and returned to Volstok.

When the Base finally submerged hours later, there were few left to witness it. The air had been heated to such a degree that a vast lake of melted ice covered the former location of the Delta Omega Base. Amid giant blue icebergs dotted with security fences and pitiful zombie guard dogs howling at the advancing gloom, the casket of Igori Splendov finally broke free of its grave and began to chart its own course to the Southern Ocean.

She watched all of this before speeding on. She rose through the clouds, past the wheeling stars, fueling herself on antediluvian quasars and the dark remains of alien sorcerers. She met her mother and younger brother on a blasted cinder of a world 500 million light-years outside of the solar system. They told her to be patient and dress warmly. Her mother’s tone irritated her and they got into a terrible argument that threw an entire continental plate into subsidence. Three volcanoes erupted around them, splashing their robes with lava and covering their hair in hot pumice. Her brother showered them in frozen singularities until they made their peace.

It was time to go back to work.

When she looked away from the heavens, she saw she was once more in the clearing of Ma’Chachlem. It was the very early morning, and the first silvery brushes of dawn tinted the eastern sky. As always, the old woman had a fire going in her hut. D went to it, not knowing what she would see.

“Welcome,” said the old woman, who bid her sit before her. To her shock and consternation, there were others here, ringed around the fire. All of the faces were equally ancient, each possessed with a singular unity of purpose and focus. To gaze upon these faces, D at once felt very young and nearly without significance. D shook herself free from that delusion and confronted the group as defiantly as she could, by sitting down at her place and staring each boldly in the eye. If this gave any of them the slightest pause or instant of irritation, she could not tell.

“What have you brought me here for?” D said. Her voice sounded like the rustle of grass or the sibilant fall of sand on a great desert. She repeated herself, a little louder, but could make only the barest whisper of sound. Still, she was heard, after a fashion, because the old woman produced a carved object from her person and lay it in D’s hand.

The young sorceress took one look at what she had and threw it into the dirt.

Wiping her hands on her dress, she stammered. “That’s not something we would make.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s demon-wrought.”

“You have seen this man’s work before. Look closer.”

D forced herself to examine the figure in the dust. She didn’t want to. After all that she had seen in the Cryptozoological Labs, this was by far worse. She couldn’t deny the simple truth, however, no demon had made this abomination. And she had seen these fingerprints before. No matter how twisted and essentially wrong the thing was, something human had made this.

“Now you understand where you must go.”

“No, I really don’t.”

“There is a man who makes things such as those,” said the Old Woman. “He was one of us a long time ago, before he left the clearing.”

Another spoke, “You have destroyed his works, now you must kill him.”

D gave one final shuddering look at the thing on the ground. She imagined a world populated by this man’s vision and accepted what had to be done.


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