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an extract from the novel

by Bill DeSmedt


7 | Mythologies

"The German word for Eagle." Back home again at base camp, Jack Adler was going back over the day's events for an audience of one.Singularity by Bill DeSmedt

"And you are certain Hoffman never told the old shaman the meaning of your name?" Luciano Carbone asked.

"He swore not." Jack shrugged. "Acted insulted I'd even think such a thing. I guess it's some sort of ethnographic Prime Directive: never reinforce the natives' belief system. Or challenge it for that matter."

"And what of your own belief system, Jack? Was it challenged by Jenkoul's tale?"

Jack rose from his borrowed camp stool and looked around. The silhouette of base camp's main lodge showed dark against the sunset sky. Off in the distance, he could hear the muted rattle of his diesel generator, faithfully holding the SQUID's temperature within operating range, reminding him of work still undone.

"Didn't realize I'd been talking so long," he said. "It's getting late."

"Nonsense." Luciano glanced upward to where towering thunderheads shone red and gold in the last rays of the sun. "At home in Bologna, we eat dinner later than this. You do not evade the question so easily. What, if anything, might modern physics have to learn from an Evenki shaman?"

"Well, I'll tell you one thing, if you set aside all the mumbo-jumbo, that old guy's a pretty credible witness for the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis."

"But you just finished telling me his stories did not contain anything new."

Jack nodded. "They didn't, not about the Tunguska Event, anyway. But there's one part I haven't told you: Jenkoul went back."

"What, back to the Epicenter?"

"Sounds crazy, doesn't it? I mean if something'd come within a whisker of killing me, you can bet I'd stay the hell away from then on. But Jenkoul's clan had kind of figured him for their new shaman, even young as he was, on account of what he'd been through and all. And it wasn't like they didn't need one. But better to let Jenkoul tell you why in his own words."

As he'd been doing all along, Jack scanned through his recording of the interview, till he'd found the part he meant to play for Luciano. Once again Jenkoul's quavering tones alternated with Hoffman's accented English:

The ring of fire burned itself out,
The sky purged itself of choking haze,
Yet still the world remained unhealed.
Neither winter's snows nor spring's floods
Had power to leach from the land its lingering malignancy.
Summer's new growth came up warped and scabrous,
All creatures feeding upon it sickened and died.
Strange, oozing lesions afflicted the reindeer,
And those of my own clansmen straying too far into the lands now under Ogdy's curse.

Jack hit the pause button. "It got kind of ritualized in the retelling, I guess. But, to make a long story short, exactly one year after the Event, Jenkoul returned to the heartlands. And built him a sweatlodge in the middle of the Great Swamp, and sat down and waited for this Ogdy to show up."

"Forgive me, Jack," Luciano said, "but all this sounds simply like more of what you have already called 'mumbo-jumbo.'"

"That's because you haven't heard the rest of it yet. Once you do, I think you'll agree it's a dead-on accurate recollection."

"But, Jack, a recollection of what?"

"Of what it'd be like to be standing at the Epicenter when the micro-hole came zooming right straight up underneath you."

The god comes, the god comes.
The earth trembles in fear at the coming of Ogdy.
The earth rises and falls beneath my feet, like waves of water.
My place of purification is overthrown, my lodgepoles topple.
The god comes.

Jack paused the playback again. "I don't know about you, Luciano. But, what with the ground shaking and the sweatlodge collapsing, it sure sounds like an earthquake to me."

"But, but the Epicenter has been surveyed by every seismographic instrument known to science. Nothing of the sort has ever been observed, ever."

"Oh, sure -- now. But, remember, it took twenty years to get anything like a scientific expedition in there. If there was a primordial black hole circling round and round inside the Earth all that time, chances are its orbit would've degraded by then, down to where any seismic effects would have been undetectable -- by 1920s equipment, at least."

"And you are saying that, by the time we arrive here with our vastly superior instrumentation, it has receded even further."

"Uh-huh. Five, ten kilometers down by now, I'd guess. But my point is, Jenkoul went out there a year after the event itself, in the summer of 1909. Back then you'd have measured the thing's closest approach to the surface in inches, not miles. Now, picture a five-billion tonne gravitational point-source plowing up through solid rock at thousands of klicks an hour, up to within a few meters of the surface. This is more your area than mine, Luciano -- what's that going to give you?"

"Mmm. Compression and shear, certainly. And on a massive scale." The little geologist tugged at his goatee. "I understand what you are saying, Jack: this could perhaps account for Jenkoul's earthquake. Even so it hardly constitutes definitive proof of your black-hole hypothesis."

"Hang on." Jack advanced the recording to the next bookmark. "We're not done yet."

The god calls out.
Blinding-bright, his tongue lashes the sky.
His roar echoes off the hills, the heavens ring with it.
Ogdy is calling his avatar from the Lower World.
The earth at my feet burns at the touch of his fiery tongue.
The god calls out.

Jack stopped the recording there. "Hoffman says that's all shaman-speak for a lightning bolt, one that may have just barely missed frying our friend, in fact."

"But, Jack...lightning at midnight? From a cloudless sky?"

"That's a tough one, all right. But, in a way, it's maybe the key to the whole thing."

"How so?"

"Well, these preferential lightning strikes say to me that whatever's coming at Jenkoul is carrying a whole lot of charge, electric or magnetic. I'm betting magnetic, on account of the object's age."

"What would age have to do with it?" Luciano asked.

"Given enough time, an electrically-charged object would neutralize itself by attracting opposite charges. And my hole's had the whole lifetime of the universe to do it in."

"But magnetism is even worse in that regard, no? The force must always cancel itself out, since every magnet possesses two poles of opposite charge, north and south."

"Nowadays, sure." A faraway look glowed in Jack's eyes. "But there was a time, a long, long time ago -- within an eyeblink of the Beginning itself -- when things could've been different. That's when the primal superforce broke down. And, when it did, it tied the fabric of spacetime in knots."


"Uh-huh." Jack nodded. "Very peculiar knots. Particles with an unpaired magnetic charge, a single pole -- what we call monopoles. I think that may be what my hole's made out of."

"So, you believe the Tunguska Cosmic Body to be a black hole with a magnetic charge?"

"Not just any magnetic charge. A single pole without an opposite to offset it: a north, say, with no south."

Luciano whistled. "That would be much more powerful than an ordinary magnet."

"Uh-huh. Powerful enough to call down lightning out of a clear sky. Powerful enough to've trapped the thing here in the first place."

"Yes, yes, now that you say it, I am eager to hear of this -- your solution to the 'exit event' problem. You told Medvedev that your black hole must have remained within the Earth. But you did not explain how this is possible. Should not its speed have carried it out the other side?"

"Should have," Jack conceded, "always assuming nothing slowed it down first."

"But, Jack, what could slow something so small and yet so massive? My understanding is that it should have passed through the atmosphere and the solid earth with no resistance at all."

"The earth, yes. But the atmosphere's a whole different story. One that starts with Hawking radiation."

Luciano's face showed a flicker of recognition, but Jack would've bet that was more due to Stephen Hawking's name than to any familiarity with the weird quantum process the man had discovered. A process by which black holes could give off particles. Radiation, in other words, heat. And the smaller the hole, the more particles it'd give off.

"Just take it from Steve Hawking," Jack went on, "my micro hole'd be plenty hot. Surface temperature into the billions of degrees. Hot enough to strip the electrons off any nearby atoms on its way down...and leave an ionization contrail that'd put an Airbus-II to shame."

"The 'bright blue tube' reported by the eyewitnesses," Luciano said.

"Exactly. But now watch what happens when you add a monopolar magnetic charge in on top of the radiation effects: the hole's magnetic flux-lines are going to be sticking radially outward, like the spines on a Koosh ball. And the ions it's churning out aren't going to want to go crossing those lines of force. They're going to latch onto the hole instead, and hang on for dear life. Get dragged along with it, sped up till they're going faster than the speed of sound. And that means--"

"Sonic booms," Luciano said half to himself. "All along the flight path, as the individual air molecules break the sound barrier." Then he snapped his fingers. "That would explain the cannonades that accompanied the object's descent."

Jack nodded. "Plus, when that trailing column of superheated air slams into the ground, it's going to destroy everything for miles around."

"All the Tunguska phenomena, then."

"Right," Jack said, "but those are all just side effects, compared to the main event."

Luciano stared at him expectantly. "Which is--?"


"Air-braking, Jack?"

"Sure. See, the atmospheric drag just keeps piling up and up. It's like the micro-hole's this humongous broom, sweeping tons of atmosphere along in front of it, and every additional gram just slows it down more. Slows it down maybe to below escape velocity, to where it can't climb back up out of Earth's gravity-well anymore."

Heeding the god's call, the Avatar arises.
Night-walker, Spawn of Darkness, Beast of Evil Heart,
From the Lower World he arises.
Insatiable, All-devouring, he arises.
He seizes me.
His monstrous jaws engulf my head,
His great claws pin my feet,
As wild dogs tear at entrails of their kill, so the Wolf tears me limb from limb...

Jack clicked off the recorder. "Final piece of the puzzle," he said. "I'll admit, that one's not so obvious. But it's got to be the tides."

Luciano raised an eyebrow. "The tides, Jack? As in the oceans?"

"Uh-huh. Tides are just a byproduct of gravity, after all -- more specifically, of how gravity grows stronger the closer you get to its source, and vice versa. Take the moon, for instance: its gravity pulls strongest on the piece of ocean nearest to it, so the waters right underneath the moon get lifted up relative to the Earth as a whole."

"But there is also a tide on the opposite side of the Earth, is there not?"

"Right. The waters there are furthest away from the moon. They feel its gravity the least so they tend to stay in place. But since everything else on Earth is getting pulled at more, it's as if that part of the ocean humps out away from the moon. When all's said and done, you wind up with two standing waves of seawater moving through the oceans at twelve-hour intervals."

"The tides."

"Uh-huh. Now picture that same effect, only generated by a gravitational point-source like my micro-hole. The mass is a whole lot less, but so's the distance. Now, figure Jenkoul stood maybe a meter and a half, two meters tall. And figure back in those days the hole came to within four-five meters of the surface, with him standing right over it. That'd mean--" Jack closed his eyes to do the math. "Um, call it a difference of about one full gravity between the crown of his head and the soles of his feet."

From the look on Luciano's face, he wasn't seeing the implications.

Jack tried again. "Think of it this way: say our friend the shaman weighed eighty kilograms. A one-gravity differential top to toe is going to feel like his head's been clamped in a vise while a hundred and seventy-five pound weight dangles from his ankles."

That came across loud and clear. Luciano gave another of his low whistles. "Poor Jenkoul, no wonder he felt he was being torn apart by monstrous teeth and claws! Lucky for him it was over in an instant."

"Except it wasn't," Jack said. "Not by a long shot. Oh, sure, the hole itself would hit its apogee and be gone in milliseconds. But the aftermath...well, Jenkoul barely made it back out of that swamp alive. In the days to come he nearly died of a raging fever, huge sores all over his body. He showed me the scars. Toothmarks of the Wolf, he called them."

"And this too can be explained, I assume?" Luciano said.

Jack shrugged. "Radiation burns, pure and simple. I told you, that hole is hot. As close as it must've come to the surface back then, it's a wonder it didn't-- What's the matter, Luciano?"

"Nothing, Jack, nothing. It's just that, well, you must admit Jenkoul's version was far more...poetic." The little Italian sighed. "I suppose I am something of a romantic. Some part of me hates to see all the mysteries of the world fade in the light of prosaic scientific explanation."

"Read your Keats; there's beauty in the truth, too. The world's got more than enough mysteries as it is. Me, I'll take all the explanation I can get."

Jack chuckled then at his friend's crestfallen look. "Oh, come on, Luciano. You didn't seriously believe there was a real Wolf out there waiting for me, did you?"

The long subarctic summer day was dying. Through thickening light, Yuri poled his canoe along the Khushmo's densely wooded banks, occasionally checking distance to the target on his handheld's Global Positioning display. Five kilometers still to go, and upstream at that. But drought had shrunk the swollen torrents of spring to a gentle flow. The river in mid-summer could no longer offer much resistance to a determined traveler.

Low as it was, the Khushmo still ran fresh and clear, its waters so limpid that the enormous trout drifting motionless in its deep pools seemed almost to be levitating in midair. Above the river's near-invisible surface, swarms of gnats hovered in clouds dense as evening mist. Beaver paddled through the twilit water, breasting the canoe's wake on the way to their lodges. From either shore choruses of birdsong floated out across the tranquil current, swelling toward one final crescendo against the onset of night.

The peace of the river and the Siberian summer evening was lost on Yuri Vissarionovich Geladze. He had no use for wilderness. Cities were where he needed to be. Cities were the home of the well-off, the comfortable, the human sheep. And, so, the natural hunting ground of the human wolves who preyed on them.

The stray thought prompted him to glance down to where his four-legged passenger -- accomplice, more properly -- lay sedated beneath the concealing tarp, in a steel cage that took up half the canoe. Prompted him to think, as well, of the strange implement he had been given to do the job. Needless complications of a simple business, all in the name of making the death appear an accident.

An accident! Yuri shook his head. Accidents, disappearances without trace -- his employers simply had no appreciation of the uses of violent death. A killing should instill fear, should intimidate the living even as it silenced the dead. All this effort to ensure that the act would not be known for what it was went against Yuri's grain.

Other than that, the plan was sound. Grishin Enterprises had managed the logistics with customary efficiency, even here at the ends of the earth. Rumor had it that Grishin himself had spent time out here some fifteen or twenty years ago. Though what he could have been seeking in this emptiness was beyond Yuri's imagination.

No matter, imagination was hardly an asset in Yuri's line of work. The client's business was his own...until and unless it affected Yuri's.

The pole found bottom again. A flex of muscle propelled the craft soundlessly forward through the hush of evening.

Beneath its canvas shroud, the wolf in the cage dozed fitfully.


8 | Press Gang

This was not the moment Marianna would have chosen for the final recruitment drive. The Archon resource was perched on the edge of the government-issue visitor's chair, voice tight, jaw muscles clenched. None of this seemed to've registered on her boss, though: Pete was plowing ahead regardless.

"Lighten up, Knox, this is no big deal." Pete was trying his best to sound persuasive, give him that much. Too bad his vocal apparatus wasn't built for it. "Hey, you eat some caviar, drink some vodka, talk old times, the government picks up your per diem. Piece of cake."

"Why don't I believe that?"

"You're right, Jon," she put in, before Pete could make things worse, "there's more to it than that. With any luck, Sasha will let something slip that'll point us to Galina."

Those gray eyes probed her a moment. "Look, I'm only saying this one more time: there's no way on earth the Galya I knew would've sold out to your so-called shadow KGB. But, okay, say she did. Say she's in it up to her earlobes. That'd have to mean Sasha is too, right? So, why would he just go and rat her out?"

"It's a long shot," she admitted, "But you do have a personal relationship with both subjects; it would only be natural for you to ask about her. Plus, your dossier's pretty bulletproof. There's nothing to connect you to CROM, and we're the only ones they're worried about. No one else even knows Galina's missing."

Too complicated by half; it sounded like she'd made it up on the spot. It didn't help that she had.

Marianna turned the warmth of her smile up another notch and tried again. "And, there's always the chance your friends don't really know what they've gotten themselves into. Not the whole of it, anyway. I'd like to think not; Sasha seemed like a nice enough guy from his e -- I mean, I think he still has good memories of the old days, back in Moscow."

That struck a chord. The resource -- no, get used to calling him Jon -- was thinking about it at least. Now if her boss would only cool his jets.

No such luck.

"I'll level with you, Knox," Pete said. "There's no way we can move in on GEI with what we've got. The trail's gone cold on Galina, and other than that Grishin's squeaky-clean. No links to the oligarchs, no Mafiya ties, nothing."

"I didn't think anybody made it to the top in Russia these days without the one or the other."

"Tell me about it. Fact remains, except for maybe these low-level proles," --he waved at the bullet list of Russian names still displayed on the screen behind him-- "we haven't got squat on Arkady. And he's too high up the food chain to go in on spec. If we come up empty, his friends on the Appropriations Subcommittee'll skin me alive. Marianna too."

"We don't know that you'll turn up all that much, Jon." Marianna tried to get things back on track. "But anything beats sitting around on our hands."

"But I'm a systems analyst; I've never worked undercover in my life. You've got to have better options you can put in place."

"Not by tonight," Pete said. "And Rusalka sails tomorrow. Tonight's our last shot at inserting an operative."

"'Inserting an operative.' That sounds ominous."

"Just craft-speak for a pleasant evening's conversation," Marianna said quickly. "All we need you to do is get some feel for whether or not our magneto-troika are still Grishin's guests. We'll take it from there."

"If that's all, why not just 'insert an operative' when Rusalka docks in France, or wherever?"

"Too long a lead-time," Pete said. "Lots could happen between now and then."

"Between now and when? What does a vessel like Rusalka do -- twenty knots? She'll be in Europe the end of next week."

"She's rated for twenty-eight knots, tops," Marianna corrected, "but that's irrelevant. Rusalka's not a passenger liner. She's got no schedule to keep. Over the past eleven years, the summer voyages have averaged a month and a half in length, with a max of three in 1997."

Pete tapped a few keys and the datawall backed up these statistics with overlaid charts of Rusalka's North Atlantic peregrinations as far back as 1993.

"That puts us into mid-September, earliest," he said. "If Grishin's planning something, we need to know now."

"But what does Rusalka do out there?"

Pete shrugged. "World's biggest floating tax dodge. She's GEI corporate headquarters, so the longer she stays at sea, the harder it is for the IRS-types to keep tabs on Grishin Enterprises."

"She's also part oceanographic research vessel," Marianna added. "Arkady Grigoriyevich fancies himself something of a patron of the arts and sciences." That elicited a snort from Pete.

"Actually," she went on, "they've done some pretty decent science. Published a detailed seismographic survey of the entire Newfoundland Basin four or five years ago. What she's been doing out there since is anybody's guess. Sometimes she steams in slow circles. Sometimes she just sits on station. And summer isn't the only cruise she makes. Altogether Rusalka spends eight or nine months out of every year sailing the North Atlantic."

"Off topic," Pete cut in again. "Look, Knox, we're getting wind of something big going down. It's looking like September'll be too late. If we're going to move against GEI, now's the time."

"It's really not much we're asking, Jon," Marianna said. "You talk to people for a living. That's all we want you to do here."

"This is certifiable no-risk." Pete and his two cents again. "Hey, when's the last time somebody got whacked in the Kennedy Center?"

"It's for your country, Jon," Marianna said. "And for Galya, too. It's not too late to save her."

"Who knows?" Pete leaned forward. "Work with us on this and we might even cut Sasha a break, if he's not in too deep."

Jon was silent for a bit.

"Let me see if I've got this straight," he said finally. "You want me to sell out an old friend on the off chance that, if I do get him to betray himself, you might go easy on him? Why should I believe that? Based on what? So far, you've purloined my email, press-ganged me personally, put Galina under surveillance, Lord knows what else. I just don't see any basis for trust here, folks, much less a working relationship. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to do your own dirty work -- you seem perfectly capable of it."

He'd been looking at her as he spoke, but now he shifted his gaze to Pete. "As for my participation, the answer is no."

Pete's face was set hard, unmoving. Only his eyes still gave signs of life, as if glaring out from behind a mask. Marianna knew that look only too well.

"Pete," she began, "Maybe if we just--"

"Marianna, would you excuse us please?"

"Pete, are you sure...?" Don't do this.

"Leave us. Now."

Was it Knox's imagination, or did Aristos grow in size as he put on a textbook intimidating stare and leaned across the desktop?

"I don't think you appreciate the situation here," he said.

"I'm sure you'll enlighten me in your own good time, Pete. Mind if I check my voicemail first?" He already had his handheld out and was punching in the speed-dial code Mycroft had given him last night.

"Won't work in here." Aristos waved an arm. "The whole building's shielded. Why'd you think we didn't just confiscate that gizmo at the door?"

"Score one for CROM, then." Knox shrugged and repocketed the little device. "So, okay, go ahead. I'm listening."

Aristos settled back in his seat. "What you've got to realize is, your Russian friends winding up in detention isn't necessarily what you'd call your worst-case scenario."

"Sounds pretty bad-case to me." Especially when those terrorism-related detentions had acquired a nasty habit of stretching on indefinitely. "Why, Pete? How were you planning on making it worse?"

"They could wind up dead." Aristos's eyes didn't move from Knox's face. "Sasha, right away. Galina, soon as we reacquire her. Look, Knox, it's not the way I like to do business, but one phone call and Bondarenko goes home from the Kennedy Center in a body bag."

Could he mean that? Lord knows, the government had grown more than usually cavalier about due process ever since the World Trade Center attack.

Aristos was still looking into Knox's eyes. "Now, you tell me: doesn't playing ball with us on this work out better all around? Better for your friends. Better for you, too, if it comes to that."

Knox repressed an urge to swallow -- no telling what biometric scanners this room came equipped with. "I'm sure I don't need to remind you," he said, "there's a whole office full of witnesses back in New York that saw your little gopher drag me off to D.C."

Aristos grinned unpleasantly. "Oh, there's lots of stuff can happen short of Interdiction. There's tax audits and investigation of actions in restraint of trade and indefinite detention as a material witness and such."

He splayed his hands on the desk and levered himself to a standing position, eyeing Knox like a water buffalo about to charge. "Goddammit, Knox! All we're asking is, you go talk to the man!"

"Okay, that should be about enough." Knox rose and addressed the empty air. "Mycroft? You getting all this?"

"Five-by-five, Jonathan," a voice issued from the desktop speaker.

Aristos jumped as if bitten by a snake. A window popped open on the wall-filling display behind him to reveal a thrice-lifesized image of Mycroft's smiling face.

Mycroft had let his image-enhancing software dress him for the occasion: he was resplendent in black tie and gold-lamé tuxedo jacket against a background of green baize tables and crystal chandeliers. A game of baccarat was in full swing behind him -- very Casino Royale.

"I'm forgetting my manners," Knox said, reseating himself and putting his feet up on a convenient, ottoman-sized stack of printouts. "Euripedes Aristos, meet my associate Finley Laurence -- Mycroft to his friends. "

Aristos stared at his datawall in disbelief. "How the fuck--" He began, then stopped when Knox withdrew his handheld from his jacket pocket again.

"I told you that can't work here," he sputtered. "No fucking way you could've called out!"

"I didn't call out, you did -- or rather your console here. Among my handheld's undocumented features, it can broadcast infrared, using the same protocols as most standard detached keyboards. I had Mycroft preload it last night with a keystroke sequence that instructed your own systems to set up an outside link. We've been online, logged into a NetMeeting session on Archon's server, ever since you and I started this heart-to-heart."

Aristos's face darkened. He looked as if he were trying to choose from among a repertoire of possible retorts. The one that finally came out was: "Shit!"

"Yeah, it's a bitch," Knox commiserated. "Oh, just so we know where we stand: I'm going to forget all about this conversation if you will. It's that, or read the transcript on the front page of tomorrow's Washington Post."

He got to his feet. "Time to be going -- no, don't bother getting up; I can see myself out." He looked Aristos in the eye. "I trust there won't be any unpleasantness if I just leave the way I came in?"

Aristos shook his head sullenly and spoke the permissions into his headset mike.

Knox paused at the door and smiled tightly. "Pete, It's been real."

He closed the door quietly behind him and was gone.

"Okay," Pete said into his headset, then broke the contact. He scowled at Marianna. "That was the front gate. Elvis has left the building."

"I figured as much," she said. "Are you going to tell me what went down in here, or do I have to guess? And why'd you let him walk, for Christ's sake? We've only got till tonight."

Pete wasn't meeting her eyes. He mumbled something inaudible, cleared his throat and tried again. "You were right," he said.

It was like pulling teeth, but Marianna finally pried the whole story out of him. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She'd had a gut feeling that strong-arm tactics were going to backfire with her Archon resource. This surpassed all expectations.

Left to her own devices, she could've talked Jon around, she knew she could, what with the looks he'd been giving her. But no, Pete had to go get into a testosterone tourney.

She sighed and stood up. "Well, okay then, I'll just have to go round him up again."

"Goddammit, Marianna, sit down! You're not going anywhere."

"But, Pete, don't you see? We need him back, now more than ever. He's just proved he's the right guy for the job."

"How do you figure that?"

"Admit it: it took brains and balls, the way he skonked you." She tried hard to keep a straight face as she said that, she really did.

"Skonked us, Marianna. You're the one that waltzed that walking security risk in here."

"All I'm saying is, I'm more convinced than ever: this whole thing could work. I've just got to talk to him again."

"Talk to him? The way he left here, we've seen the last of him. And that's my best-case outcome."

"You put a tail on him, didn't you? Tell me you did that much, Pete."

"Yeah, we're tracking. He phoned for a limo on that damned--" A disgusted look flashed across Pete's face. "He headed into the city," he said finally.

"Where? To do what?"

"Smithsonian. That's where he got out, anyhow." Pete shrugged. "Maybe he's just taking in the sights. Where are you going? I told you to stay put."

"Where do you think?" She was already halfway out the door. "Dulles is just five miles up the road. He could have gone straight there and caught the next flight back to New York. He didn't. So, maybe he's still thinking about it. Still thinking things over. I'm going to find him and see if I can talk him back in."

"Won't happen. Not when you've only got--" Pete glanced at the timestamp in the upper left corner of the datawall. "--nine hours left on the clock."

"I've got to try. There's still time to reacquire him, time to fix this." That sounded good -- calm, confident, competent: the sort of image she always tried to project to CROM's male-dominated hierarchy. Privately, though...

There's still time, she repeated to herself, but Pete was right: it was running out fast. She couldn't help thinking that her boss had just dumped her whole investigation into the shitter. And any chance of stopping Grishin with it.


9 | Ghost

The universe-seed comes into being vested in inconceivable heat and light and beauty. No physics can describe it. Poetry comes closer: "Infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour." Yet it is more than even Blake could know or say. It is all of space and time encapsulated in a nexus of infinite density and infinite power and infinite fecundity. It is the source, the wellspring, the place where everything begins.

To Dr. John C. Adler, to any cosmologist really, it was the Holy of Holies. And now here he was, thirteen billion years hence, sitting on a small blue speck circling a dim ember of that long-ago glory, straining to catch the faintest echo of creation's final chord.

And failing utterly.

Jack tossed on top of his bedroll -- it was too sweltering to climb in -- haunted by the specter of imminent defeat. Tonight even contemplation of the Infinite seemed powerless to quiet his churning thoughts, or break his mind free of their downward spiral.

To make matters worse, every time he was on the brink of dozing off, the generator would cycle on and haul him back to wakefulness.

Finally he sat up, pulled his boots on, and crawled out of his choum.

The endless subarctic twilight had given way to full night. Jack gazed up into darkness lit only by the ancient light of faraway suns. He heaved a sigh, then walked over to the table holding his laptop. Reached up to the sixty-watt bulb he'd strung on a cross-pole and tightened it in its socket. If the generator was going to keep him awake all night, the least it could do was supply the light needed to make the insomnia productive.

With yet another sigh, he sat down to resume his computer-mediated contemplation of the misbehaving SQUID. The laptop was still reporting all systems nominal, no repeats of last night's "hiccup."

Jack glanced over at the breadbox-sized insulated housing that contained the business end of the Superconducting Quantum Interference Device. Please, please, let it not be the SQUID. He'd all but signed his life away to get the highly experimental, half-million-dollar instrument released on loan from IBM's Watson Research Center.

It had to be working!

And no reason it shouldn't be. The device was so sensitive to magnetic anomalies that, until he'd programmed the computer to ignore them, it had been tracking the near-Earth satellites passing overhead in their polar orbits. If the SQUID could do that across a hundred or so miles of empty space, what were a few miles of permafrost and solid rock?

A problem, evidently. The thing had already produced one false reading late last night. Jack hadn't been awake to see the "ghost" go tracking across the display. Coming on top of three days worth of jetlag, the dust-up with Medvedev had completely done him in. It had been all he could do to start the calibration run before dragging himself into the choum and falling into a dreamless sleep.

But the SQUID, unsleeping, claimed it had tracked...something.

A fluke. Had to be. Some glitch still lurking in the initialization routines, maybe, or the detection software itself. Sure, the signature matched his models for an object "orbiting" far down within the Earth. But that was the only thing that did match.

Deep as his quarry must've sunk by now, only the merest whisper, the slightest scintilla of distortion in the background geomagnetic field would mark its passage. His "ghost," on the other hand, was tracking way too big, or way too close.

This had all looked so good on the drawing board back in Austin. What the hell was going haywire out here in the field, where it counted?

Jack pondered a moment more, then got up to retrieve his Stetson from where it lay on the packed-earth floor of the choum. Logic wasn't working, he might as well try magic. He put on his lucky hat and snapped the brim.

The flashing of the GPS told Yuri he had arrived. He found a secluded spot to beach the canoe, got out, and hauled it up on the Khushmo's pebbly bank...slowly, so as to minimize the noise its bottom made scraping along. Then he straightened and stood listening.

At first all he could make out were the night calls of birds or beasts in the depths of the devil-take-it forest. Then he heard it, far off: the faint chug of a diesel generator.

The sound that would guide him the final half-kilometer or so to the killing ground.

A few things to do here first. Puffing and grunting, Yuri rolled the canoe on its side and eased the heavy steel cage out onto the bank. Its rank-smelling occupant uttered a low complaining growl, but continued to doze. No problem; Yuri had just the thing to wake it up.

A shake of the cage, and the sleeping beast shifted around enough to pin the haunch of one hind leg up against the bars. Perfect. Yuri withdrew a hypodermic from its shockproof sheath and administered the shot.

Now, one last thing. He slid the weapon case out from under the canoe's single seat and, by the light of his flash, peered at the strange implement it contained: a set of spring-loaded metallic jaws, not unlike a miniature bear trap. Except that where any normal trap would have a stylized zigzag of teeth, here the metal had been shaped into replicas of real ones -- a gleaming row of incisors bracketed by wickedly-curved canines.

A perfect match for those of the wolf now slowly awakening in its cage.

Yuri's own steely grin made it a threesome.

Jack's lucky Stetson seemed powerless against whatever Siberian voodoo had jinxed his instruments. His vision was beginning to blur from fatigue: he could barely make out the diagnostic readouts on the laptop's display. Still he pushed himself. It was something simple, he was sure of it. Something so obvious he'd laugh out loud once he had it figured out.

He cocked an ear then. Had that been a sound from over in the trees? He sat stock-still, hardly breathing, listening for the snap of a twig, an animal cry, anything.


Jack shook his head to clear it. Darkness, fatigue, and solitude were conspiring to play tricks on his mind. Maybe he should bag this, try to get some rest. Things would make more sense in the morning, after whatever he could salvage of a night's sleep.

Exhausted as he was, he nearly missed it. He was just reaching out to close the laptop's lid when a flicker caught his eye. The Proximity Alert icon was flashing in the upper right corner of the screen. He froze midway through the motion that would have sent the computer into sleep mode.

Proximity Alert?

A glance at the menubar timestamp confirmed it. The exact same time, to the second, as last night's "ghost" event. Jack felt tiny hairs rising on the back of his neck. This was no ghost -- not twice in a row like clockwork.

There was something down there!

A click, and the icon expanded into a window. Columns of figures scrolled by, too fast to read. Jack frantically typed in the key-sequence for graphical display.

And there it was! The little blip tracked across the screen for an instant, then was gone.

He hit replay. Gaped in disbelief. Hit replay again.

It was real!

Jack only realized he'd been holding his breath when his lungs began clamoring for air. Only knew how broadly he was grinning once his face began to hurt. Hoots of laughter echoed off the trunks of the pitch-pines. Real. Real, by God!

Real. But -- so close? Jack reviewed the numbers: judging by the signal strength, the thing was less than three kilometers down. That just didn't seem right.

Jack had expected to find his mini-hole in a relatively stable orbit within the Earth, an orbit tracing a series of looping curves like a pattern on a Spirograph. An orbit that, hopefully, would from time to time crest here far beneath the permafrost of Tunguska, where the whole thing began.

He had not been prepared for the improbable regularity of the orbit, or how little it had degraded in nearly a century. It was almost as if some external force had been at work on his micro-hole, truing up its trajectory, holding it up or even hoisting it, maybe?

No matter. He'd work all that out in time. The important thing was that he'd found it.

And what a find! Jack was suddenly filled to overflowing with a wild elation. He could see himself ascending the stage of Stockholm's Konserthus to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics from the hands of the King of Sweden.

Then he sobered. He'd spent years refining the theory, designing the experiment, sweating the details, pulling together the funding. Years ramping up to this culminating act of discovery.

And, in all that time, he'd treated the whole thing as an intellectual exercise, scarcely giving a moment's thought to what the discovery itself might mean.

For, if it was true -- and the proof was right there on the display in front of him -- if the Tunguska Object was a primordial black hole still trapped within the Earth, then it represented a terrible danger to all life on the planet. To the planet itself.

What would they -- what could they -- do about it?

Distracted by the exhilaration of his discovery, distraught at its implications, Dr. Jack Adler did not even notice as a second figure stepped into the circle of light cast by the naked sixty-watt bulb.


© Bill DeSmedt 2004, 2005.
Singularity is published by Per Aspera (November 2004); ISBN: 0974573442. This extract is included here by permission of Per Aspera Press, and all rights are reserved.
Singularity was published in audiobook form in 2006, read by the author, funny Russian accents and all. The audiobook is available as a free podcast from Podiobooks.

An excerpt of the first part of the novel is available on Bill DeSmedt's website.


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