30 November 2012

"The Old Switcheroo"

By Curtis C. Chen

On the fourth day of my captivity aboard U-216, it finally occurred to me to ask Sato something that I should have thought of much earlier.

"What do the Americans think happened to their teleport?"

He paused his work and wiped his hands with a rag. "They believe you are dead."

Maybe he expected me to be satisfied with that, but I needed to know exactly how they were working this con. "Why would they think that, if they received nothing on their end of the teleport?"

Sato shook his head. "They did not receive nothing. They received ashes."

I wasn't sure I had heard him right. "Did you say 'ashes'?"

He reached underneath his work bench and pulled out a small locker. When I saw what was inside it, I felt sick.

Sato opened the locker and took out a bundle wrapped in what looked like cheesecloth. He unwrapped it to reveal a glass container filled with a thick gray powder, speckled with shards of white.

"Ashes," Sato said quietly. "Human remains."

I sat very still, determined not to vomit. I didn't need to ask Sato where the Nazis were getting human remains; I knew about their concentration camps, and I knew most of their prisoners didn't make it out alive.

I had heard stories about teleports going wrong. It was supposed to be exceedingly rare; usually, a teleport was an all-or-nothing proposition—either it worked or it didn't. But every once in a blue moon, a teleport damaged or killed the person being transported.

It didn't make any sense, given what we knew of teleportation, but then again, we didn't actually know how teleportation worked in the first place. We just knew that these symbols and these incantations combined would cause this effect. Sato's work was the first methodical experimentation I'd seen in this area of sorcery.

It did seem a bit appalling that people had been using this magic for centuries without understanding how it actually worked, but then again, we'd been setting things on fire since prehistoric times without knowing how combustion worked. Sometimes it didn't matter, as long as you got the result you wanted.

So it would have been shocking, but perhaps not too surprising, for my compatriots back at OSS to have received a pile of ashes instead of my living self. We had known that there were Nazi sorcerers in Rome. There would be nothing conclusive, of course, so my death wouldn't dissuade OSS from continuing to teleport when they needed to. Losing one person once in a very great while was nothing compared to the convenience and security of being able to place a spy anywhere you wanted in the blink of an eye.

"So they believe I am dead," I said. "They will not try to find me."

"Yes," Sato said, putting away the jar. "This means you are safe. You are free."

No, I thought, this means nobody's coming to rescue me. I'm on my own.

I was going to escape. The only questions were how, and when.


Image: To Ashes by Julian Kliner, April, 2012