A Terrible Thing

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The spook pushes back from the listening post. He looks up resentfully at the labyrinth of resistors and wires and tubes that glow with residual energy. The fraying orange makes his vision swim. He wipes something liquid from his eyes. He cannot bring himself to check the colour.

The message never changes. He hates it for that.

In a puerile outburst he throws the headphones against the floor and listens to the sharp clatter that cuts through the dull thrum and the electric chirping.

He is still alone in a listening post in a small metal shack at the edge of the world.

The spook cannot remember how long he has been there. He lost track, but does not know when.

The spook cannot remember his name. It was taken from him by the librarian's people. They said that it would be a distraction from the mission.

The spook knows that the booklovers know nothing of duty. Taking the names of the four was a coward's choice. The stupid look on the librarian's face as they claimed no one could record names on the compound incensed him further.

He was alone. The freak shrugged, the librarian went along. The jailer said nothing and he could not read her eyes.

But he knows something they do not know.

The message should have changed. He knew it in a way that he had not known things before. It was proof of their duplicity. The only thing left was to find out who.

The spook pulls out a slim black book from his pocket. The interior is lined with thin deliberate black ink. Comings and goings. Schedules and timings. It is the culmination of watchful waiting and patience. The paranoias of a diseased mind.

He knows where each one is. The freak is at the masthead. The librarian is in the concrete room. The jailer is cataloguing. These are their roles and he knows they do not have the courage to break it. Only he serves this higher purpose.

The spook turns from the insistent staccato of the listening post and to the door. The message can wait. It has not changed.

He is headed to find more information on the jailer. She is difficult to read, but she is no match for the spook. It is only a matter of time till he finds something that incriminates her.

The other two are known quantities. The librarian is weak and afraid. The freak is a mindless automaton without his prophet.

It did not take long for the spook to discern this. Only a couple of cycles after he knew that there was a traitor. Before he was confident in that knowledge, he could read them.

He had volunteered for this position. He had heard the rumours among the people that worked with him of a mission. Whispers and rumours. But he pieced it together.

It did not take long for him to convince the higher ups. A single look at his record had sufficed.

But the jailer. She was an unknown quantity. No record, no history. No name.

Tailing her was easy for the spook. She never noticed him following, passing, watching, Recording. She was busy, distracted. Cataloguing. Writing instructions for the librarian. Repairing. Exactly the same, cycle after cycle. He would have caught any discrepancies.

He failed his country once before. In the killing fields of the Dinaric mountains. He was weak. He would not be weak again.

In the hall of the compound, a dull grey light diffracts through frosted crystal. He looks outside. It is instinctual.

In the fog-white snow, a figure huddled against the cold. It moves with precision and determination.

An aberration. An affront to the schedule. A profanity forced into the face of the spook and his book. Proof.

His mind turns quickly. The figure is coming from the generators. He returns to the listening post and waits to enact his new plan. He does not listen to the message screaming for attention.

He knows what he must do. It is good that he has the courage to see it done.


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