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The Secret Mathematic
A novel-in-progress from Cheeseburger Brown
The Secret Mathematic, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by Matthew Hemming

CHAPTER 34

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.



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