Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DBTL 72B: The Six Million Złoty Man, Act II

This is the latest installment in the Drowned Baby Timeline, an alternate history where Adolf Hitler drowned at birth and where the Holocaust and World War II never took place. In the absence of our timeline's Manhattan Project, nuclear weapons have been developed independently in Italy, France, Great Britain, and the Polish Commonwealth. To avoid a European nuclear arms race, the four nations join together in September 1946 to create the Atomic Control Commission, tasked with maintaining a global monopoly on nuclear weapons. Twenty years later, that mission continues . . .

"Lublin, I can't hold her, she's breaking up, she's breaking --"


Enoch Powell.


A man barely alive.

"We can rebuild him," Dr. Mengele assured Director-General Clarke. "We can make him better than he was. Better . . . stronger . . . faster . . . "

The Running Man

Pretoria, South Africa
16 September 1966

The trouble with running after a car going thirty miles an hour was that it tended to draw attention. Powell had learned to reduce his visibility by switching from road to sidewalk and back again, running beneath lorries, and cutting across open land wherever possible. He managed to do this until they left the built-up areas of Pretoria and entered the empty veldt, at which point he left the road completely and shadowed Schwietzke from a point two hundred feet to his left.

Powell knew that he would be able to maintain his pace for at least six hours if necessary, since the mechanical analogues to muscles within his bionic legs did not tire the way flesh and blood would. Eventually, though, the rest of his body, especially his still-organic left arm, would build up enough fatigue toxins to require him to stop and rest.

Fortunately for the sake of his mission, Schwietzke's car turned off the paved road fifty miles north of Pretoria and began negotiating a rutted dirt road at a much lower rate of speed. Powell continued to shadow him from two hundred feet away until they came to a compound fenced in by a fifteen-foot chain-link fence topped with an impressive amount of barbed wire. As Schwietzke stopped to confer with two uniformed men at a guard post, Powell jumped the fence.

Powell knew that he was in one of fifteen similar compounds scattered throughout South Africa. The Atomic Control Commission knew that one of them concealed South Africa's secret atomic research facility, but not which one. That left the ACC with the choice of either finding out which was the real base, or trying to seize all fifteen. Powell couldn't be absolutely certain that Schwietzke had led him to the correct base unless he inspected the facility personally.

Atomic research facilities tended to be spacious, with the various buildings scattered far from each other. This was meant as a safety precaution in case of an accidental release of radiation or (in the case of illegal facilities) a pre-emptive attack by the ACC. The nearest building to Powell was a concrete monolith near the entrance that most likely served as the base's administrative center. Powell decided to save it for last, since it was likely to be the most heavily guarded on the base. Instead, he struck out west to have a look at a more ramshackle ediface built from corrugated metal and plywood.

He avoided the building's doors, and effected an entrance by rapidly punching several holes in one of the plywood walls. A final punch sent a rough plywood circle into the building, and Powell dove in after it.

He found himself in a bare room with sheet metal walls. The room held a black man, a privy pot, the plywood circle, and himself.

"How did you do that?" the black man asked him in English.

"Vitamins," said Powell shortly, before diving out through the wall again. The black man followed him, and soon the two of them were a hundred yards away from the building.

"Who are you?" the black man asked.

"Group Captain Enoch Powell, Atomic Control Commission. What is this place?"

"A prison," the black man answered. Once Powell got a good look at the man, he found that he recognized him.

"You're Nelson Mandela," Powell stated. Mandela had been arrested by the South African government for subversive activities and membership in a terrorist organization called the African National Congress. It required only a moment's thought for Powell to realize the situation. Only one of the fifteen compounds was the real atomic research base, so the South African government must be using the other fourteen compounds to house prisoners, of which the country had a large and growing number. He had hoped that Schwietzke would lead him to the real research center, but the scientist had led him on a wild goose chase.

Powell heard gunshots, and he was instantly up and running at top speed. A zigzag path brought him back to the fence, and he was over it and into the veldt within seconds.

When he was sure he had shaken off his pursuers, Powell paused to take stock. He could safely eliminate this particular base, which left the ACC with fourteen other possibilities for the true research center. Powell could theoretically visit each of the other bases in turn until he found the research center, but he thought he knew a better way.

A quick run through the veldt brought him to the intersection of the dirt road with the paved highway back to Pretoria. The sun had already set and night was closing in when Powell saw the Ford Enterprise approach. Schwietzke paused at the highway to look for oncoming traffic, as Powell knew he would, and in that moment Powell was able to run up to the car, wrench open the passenger side door, and join Schwietzke. Clamping his right hand around Schwietzke's windpipe, Powell said, "Now, Herr Doktor, it is time for us to pay a call on your colleagues at the real research base."

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