The Sisterhood of the Red Hand

New short story! In this latest tale of New Berlin, Mr. Hanna, the self-styled “gentleman adventurer,” confronts a secret society called “The Sisterhood of the Red Hand” who have discovered the means to trigger an apocalypse.

This tale and the other “Tales of New Berlin,” are on Wattpad. This is a 45 minute read.

There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind. –Plato.

1. The Silent Man

The cell door slammed shut. Mr. Knipp’s round face split into a wide, professional smile. He had cultivated it during his many years managing a small New Berlin bank. A conviction for the murder of his wife had brought about his current change of employment.

“Time for your annual shave and a trim, my dear,” he said, to the little room’s other occupant, a mass of dark hair and ragged clothes, who sat motionless on his bed.

Mr. Knipp held up a metal bucket.

“They pay me by the weight of the hair. Your fine dark locks will earn me a few schillings. Bewigged New Berlin ladies or gents pay through the nose. Perhaps we could split the cash between us, my love. Fair’s fair, eh?”

The prisoner’s eyes stared vacantly at some imaginary landscape.

Knipp took out a slab of dark chocolate from the front pocket of his apron and broke off a square.

“Are you hungry, my dear?”

The ragged prisoner did not respond. His silence was not a great surprise. In the sixteen years Knipp had made his annual climb to the isolation tower the man had not spoken a single word.

The barber took out his scissors and grabbed a handful of hair, cutting off a thick tress before dropping it into the metal bucket.

“I have a close friend who makes coffee for the castle radio operators each morning. My chum sometimes accidentally overhears things on the wireless set when he stands outside the room. There’s some kind of crisis in New Berlin.”

The prisoner started suddenly, causing Knipp’s scissors to describe a bloody line along the man’s scalp.

“Careful, my dear,” the barber said, “you need to give a bit of a warning.”

Knipp took out a handkerchief and dabbed the prisoner’s wound. The formerly silent man licked his chapped lips and made a croaking sound.

He spoke, feebly at first, but quickly gaining strength.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a spot of schnapps about your person, would you, old boy? “

The barber walked to the barred window of the cell door and looked out. Then he turned back.

“Penny a sip.”

“That sounds fair. How much did you say my hair was worth?”

Knipp took out a jar of clear liquid from somewhere in his barber’s apron.

“So, you were listening to my prattling? You’re a sly one. We shall have to keep an eye on you.”

Knipp unscrewed the top and held out the jar. The man held it in his trembling hands and took a gulp.

“How are the fashionable gentlemen of New Berlin wearing their hair, nowadays, Mr. Knipp?”

“Don’t you fret, Mr. Hanna, we may be on the far side of the world but I try to keep up with high society’s latest fashions.”

Fifty miles away a government airship, thousands of feet in the air, flew over the iceberg-haunted, rain-torn Mittelmeer Sea.

The destination was Castle Rieper, an ancient prison fortress that sat on a jutting island of exposed sea bed – built so long ago some historians claimed it was built by the All- Father, in the world’s chaotic first days.

Escape was impossible. The rip tides were fatal. Boulders of sea ice swirled perpetually around the island’s shore, rubbing against the ancient rocks, like the fingers of an old ice giant, probing for a weakness.

The castle’s builders, supernatural or not, had long since disappeared. Now it housed a mix of hardened criminals and political malcontents. The latter were rascals who questioned the existence of the old gods and by extension the rule of the High Council.

The prison was only reachable by lightship in what passed for summer in this awful place- a few days a year when the wind calmed to a low wheeze over the pack ice, allowing re-provisioning, stores, and new inmates.

Each day the sun appeared for a few hours over the hellish island. In the early afternoon the castle became a squat silhouette punctuated by tiny pinpricks of light shimmering from windows long-ago carved out of living rock. Some were covered in glass, others in cloth or driftwood.

This particular morning, in one of the prison cells that honeycombed the rock, a once-noted poisoner, Otto Knipp, lay on the bottom of a bunk bed, pondering.

“How can we profit from our new chum, Mr. Hanna?” He said quietly, smelling a lock of that gentleman’s dark hair that he held between thumb and forefinger.

Above him Klaus-Maria Post, the former enforcer of a now-defunct criminal gang, made gentle snoring sounds. When awake Post was a cheerful, broad-chested, muscular fellow, whose braided silver hair hung over the bed’s side.

The famous anarchist Celestine Croxley, on the bunk opposite, turned on his side. A mop of blonde hair fell across his delicate face.

The bunk above Croxley was empty. The former occupant, an engineer called Becker, had obsessively protested his innocence – of murdering a priest – most of the day, often continuing in his sleep.

A week ago, Becker had been transferred to the sanatorium. Knipp, hearing of the engineer’s transfer, quickly stole the man’s treasured tweed suit – along with a few small belongings, adding them to the rest of his illegal trove in the flue of his cell’s disused chimney.

A bell rang. The cell door swung open. The cellmates joined the end of a jostling line of prisoners. The dark corridors were worn into a groove by centuries of shuffling feet moving towards Rieper’s designated Association Room, a wide, hollowed-out chamber that had once served as Rieper’s crypt.

A low, vaulted ceiling was held up by arched stone pillars.Men quickly claimed territory around scattered wooden crates, ready to gamble with their scarce tobacco and home-brewed alcohol over cards or chequers.

When had the first inmates gathered in this gloomy place? The earliest prisoner ledgers had long-since decayed into dust. It could have been millenia.

The ancient castle was so far from New Berlin that men actually grew old here, as they had in mythical times. Eventually there was what New Berliners would have been horrified to learn was a “true death,” without rebirth in the watery chambers of Strelsau.

Knipp and his cellmates stood around one of the old crates.

The thick-fingered Klaus-Maria Post shuffled a battered pack of cards and whistled a tune that had once been a popular favourite in the music halls.

Knipp sang an accompaniment in a high baritone.

“If we are to get out of hell, my lad, we must go into hell.”

Croxley stroked his neatly-waxed moustache and said, “Give it a rest, you fellows.”

“Pay him no heed, my dear,” said Knipp, placing a soft hand on one of Post’s burly shoulders., “I like the old tunes, they remind me of picking pockets on Thief Street, before I turned respectable.”

A shadow fell across the crate. A man politely cleared his throat.

“You chaps mind if I join?”

The men looked up to see a man with a thin, handsome face and dark, oiled hair.

“Mr. Hanna, Mr. Hanna,” Knipp said, “a feast for my eyes. May I introduce my associates Mr. Post and Mr. Croxley. Hanna has just broken his silence and been released from solitary confinement.

The cell mates stared. With his borrowed tweed suit – and newly clean-shaven countenance – Hanna had somehow managed, despite the notorious years of silence, to resemble the dapper, jaunty, wiry man of legend.

Knipp gestured to the unoccupied side of the crate.

Croxley said, “Sixteen years. So why were you silent for so long, old chap? We all assumed you had gone mad.”

“Yes, come on, my love, said Knipp, “what did you think about up in those in the old tower all day, if you don’t mind us asking?”

Hanna shrugged.

“Not much.

“Why not try a real answer, my dear?” Knipp said.

Hanna thought.

“Is there a point to all this suffering?”

In the light of a flickering tallow candle the men could not read their new companion’s face to see if he was being humorous.

Croxley said, “Do you mean in Castle Rieper, or in the universe generally?”

Hanna shrugged.

“It just seems a deuced rummy way for a universe to run itself.”

“Not my line of country, old darling,” said Knipp, “I’m neither a priest nor political. I’m here for murder, as is Mr. Post. Mr. Croxley is more up your strasse.”

Croxley wagged a finger.

“You have to be careful, Hanna old bean, that’s the kind of chat that got you stuck on here in this first place,” Croxley said. “I read your pamphlet about free will.”

Hanna smiled.

“I didn’t feel like talking for a while. Keep silent unless what you say is more important than the silence. I read that somewhere. Anyway, one of life’s small blessings is the ability to forget long periods of suffering.”

Post dealt two cards to each of the men and said, “Walls have ears in the hall, Mr. Hanna, it’s better to stick to spielkarten.”

Hanna laid out two red queens on the crate lid.

“Doppelkopf,” he said.

The others looked in suspicious disbelief before dropping their cards onto the lid. Hanna gazed up at the frescoes on the crypt’s ancient vaulted ceiling, hidden beneath a black patina created by centuries of tobacco and candles.

Post dealt more cards.

An alarm sounded ninety minutes later. Men shuffled out of the crypt. When they got into the cell the daylight was already fading from behind barred windows. In a few minutes it was dark, the short day over.

When Hanna took his place on Beckman’s vacated top bunk, Post grabbed him by the wrist.

“I may look like a normal gent, but inside I am mad.”

The silver-haired man tapped his head.

“My dear Mr. Post, this place is enough to give a fellow the odd turn,” Hanna said, “You put on a jolly good show and I think that’s half the trick.”

“Now, Posty, stop being a bore,” Knipp said, pulling his hand away, “Mr. H is our new cellmate and we must all be very kind to him.”

Post released his grip.

That night Hanna dreamt that he awoke between silk sheets in his New Berlin apartment. The old place was as it had been decades ago. He yawned, got up and drew back heavy velvet curtains. Beneath his window the first blossoms adorned the trees.

“Der Lenz,” Hanna said, the old dialect word for the early spring.

There was a knock on his door. When Hanna opened it a wizened old lady looked up at him. She wore a knee-length dark coat. Her red hair had a long black feather.

“Unit 602, I presume. Be a good fellow and throw some clothes on, will you? We’re going for a walk and a pow-wow.”

“I’m afraid you have the advantage of me, madam.”

“I am Artificial Intelligence Unit 605, the final failsafe.”

“Ah. I always wondered if there was a fifth. Why is everything so awfully hush hush? It’s a beastly way of doing things. What do you style yourself?”

“Hypnos.”

As they walked out into New Berlin the sun shone but it was still cold enough for gloves, hats and winter coats.

Hypnos seemed to enjoy walking in the city.

For a while longer, Hanna mused, flat-capped vendors on street corners would roast chestnuts on open-drum coal fires.

Hanna bought a little paper bag of nuts from a cheerful vendor who gave a little bow.

“Good morning, Lenny,” Hanna said, “I hope you are in good health.”

“We carry on, don’t we Mr. Hanna?”

“Yes, we do.”

Hypnos tugged impatiently on Hanna’s arm.

The old stone buildings looked beautiful as they walked arm-in-arm down the Kurfurstendam.

A poster advertised an opera in the Prater.

In the real New Berlin it would be ball season soon, Hanna thought, for those who could afford the ruinously expensive tickets.

Hypnos took a chestnut from Hanna’s bag and peeled the outer shell, popping the hot fruit into her mouth.

They turned into a side street and stopped outside a doorway with “Kaffee Brotgarden” written above it.

“Let’s take refreshment,” Hypnos said.

The busy coffee house looked as Hanna remembered – informal, even bohemian, with ill-matching chairs and tables. The bakery behind the counter always gave off the delicious smell of fresh bread.

The waitress brought then two Erdbeertorte, strawberries and cake, although they had not ordered anything.

“I often dream of coming back to this place,” Hanna said, “ironic, considering this is a dream. It is a dream, isn’t it?”

The old woman blew on her coffee.

“I can’t operate in the physical world, whatever that means, only in dreams. I am Hypnos, the god of the unconscious.

“Yes, I got the allusion.”

“I am the ghost in the machine. Activated at the end of the world. The last roll of the dice.”

Hanna ate a forkful of cake.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Might I enquire why have you summoned me here against my will?”

“When I try to visualise the future I see only darkness.”

“I find a good pipe of shag tobacco and a tot of schnapps can help with that, old girl.”

“Sadly, you are all I have left. All the other six hundred units are gone.”

She took a cigarette from her handbag and lit it.

“Tell me. What did you discover in the cave?”

The old woman watched impatiently as Hanna took out his pipe and tamped tobacco into the bowl. “What cave would that be, old girl?”

Hypnos grimaced.

“In the mountains beyond the edge of the world. After you killed Unit 603.”

Hanna lit his pipe.

“Not much. Enough to know everything we believe about our world is probably an illusion. Something simply ghastly happened, a long while ago.”

Despite his defiant countenance the man’s dark eyes looked haunted.Hypnos thumped the table.

“What did you see, Hanna, you beastly fellow?”

“I saw light, Hypnos! A sea of light so bright it burnt my eyes out. I thought it might be god, but I don’t think it was. It felt artificial, made by people. Like us, but not like us. And there was something wrong. The light was bright but it was fading.”

The old woman plucked a strawberry from the top of the cake and squeezed it between thumb and forefinger, so hard bits of red pulp splattered over the tablecloth.

“This wouldn’t have happened if the 600 units had stuck to their job. Kept things ordered. Now we have anarchy. It’s a jolly bad show.”

She wiped her reddened finger and thumb over a napkin.

“It took me sixteen years just to awaken you from your catatonic state.”

“That was you? I heard you singing, you have a lovely voice, although I’m not terribly keen on tricks like that.”

“You are a servant of the realm again. I have a mission for you. Escape from Rieper. You must liaise with Frau Professor Odessa Popp and await further orders.”

“She alive?”

“She is. I hope you do a better job than the other units.”

The room darkened around them. Hanna felt a mattress beneath him and let out a small cry. Post snored in the bunk opposite.

“Everything alright, my dear?” Knipp whispered, appearing in the shadows beside him.

Hanna sighed.

“How does one get off this rock, old man?”

Even in the semi-darkness Knipp’s eyes gleamed.

Ten days later, sitting behind a desk in the prison governor’s office, Political Komissar Jorge Wesley looked at Hanna coldly as the prisoner stood in front of him, hands insolently in his pockets.Wesley smoothed back his hair, which emphasized his high forehead.

“I’ve flown all the way from New Berlin to see you, prisoner Hanna. How are you enjoying your new freedom outside solitary confinement?”

Hanna made a slight bow.

“Castle Rieper is as delightful as your company, Herr Komissar.”

The political officer waved his hand, as if to bat this annoying observation away.

“To business. Have you been having any dreams recently, Mr. Hanna?”

“A few. How about you?”

Wesley thought for a moment.

“All of us involved in the security of New Berlin have been having nightmares. Political officers, senior policemen, the Security Service. An old woman who brings warnings of the world ending. Who wants us to confess our sins. Some of the more religious chaps think it’s something to do with the old gods, but the High Council takes a very different position. They believe, as I do, she is trying to destroy the immortal city of New Berlin.”

Hanna smiled.

“Oh dear.”

“Only an anarchist and a nihilist would smile at such a grave threat.”

“I’m neither of those things, Komissar – nor any other label you care to give me.

“What are you them?”

“Me? I am a gentleman adventurer.”

Wessely shook his head and opened a bulging file on his desk.

“You are a hardened political criminal and now a traitor who withholds information.”

“May I go now back to my cell now, Kommisar?”

“In my dreams the woman, Hypnos, demands we release you and put the security resources of New Berlin at your disposal. For that reason the New Berlin Service is convinced you are an important part of her conspiracy.”

Hanna laughed.

“Rather a twisted logic, what?”

Wesley rose from behind the desk.

“You villain! I told the High Council this is a farce. You are degenerate. With no respect for anything or anyone.”

“Really, Wesley. Your insults towards me are becoming a matter of honour. Maybe we could ask for some sabres.”

“Sabres are for real gentlemen A bullet in the back of the head is all you’re worth.”

Wesley took a piece of paper from the top pocket of his tunic and smoothed it out on the desk.

“Being outside the jurisdiction of New Berlin allows me extra judicial powers. That means I can execute you.”

“What for?”

“High treason. Aiding and abetting a non-state actor, Hypnos.”

Hanna gave a low whistle.

“Just like that, eh?”

“You still refuse to help New Berlin in its time of need?”

“Sorry, old boy.”

Wesley signed the piece of paper and put it back in his pocket.

Ten-foot-high barbed wire fences and eighteen-feet-thick concrete blocks encircled the castle ramparts. Snow eddied around the remaining cobbled courtyard. Although it was summer there was a bitter, gusting wind. Ice collected in every nook and cranny.

The government airship “Bavaria Queen” hovered in the cold air a hundred feet above the castle.

Two prison guards, dressed in black ceremonial uniforms with silver breastplates and sabres, followed Komissar Wesley, whose service revolver was stuck in the small of Hanna’s back.

The three men formed a little semicircle around the prisoner.

“Are you still sure you don’t want to help your country?” Wesley said.

“You know, your great mistake is to underestimate people, Herr Komissar Wesley. Snobbery is your achilles heel.”

Wesley smiled uncertainly.

“That’s it, is it? I expected better.”

A rope ladder fell out of the sky, weighted by two metal belaying pins who clattered onto the stones. Wesley looked up, frowning.The two guards, more precisely two prisoners in guards uniforms, each grabbed an arm of the political officer.

Wesley fought furiously. His revolver went off, hitting Croxley, who fell to the floor. Knipp caught Wesley’s wrist. Hanna prised the gun out of the political officer’s hand.

Croxley sat up, his hands probing a leaking wound in his chest.

Wesley said, “You’re scum Hanna, I knew it all along. You’ve thrown in your lot with common criminals.”

Wesley lunged sideways and pulled the ceremonial sabre from Knipp’s scabbard.

“Do you still want your duel?”

The political officer’s eyes glittered.

Hanna knelt down by Croxley.

“You need medical help, Celestine.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Croxley said.

“I should warn you, I am a champion duellist,” Kommisar Wesley said.

Croxley held out his scabbard and Hanna pulled. Wesley made a quick lunge for his opponents half-turned side. Hanna instantly parried it, supernaturally fast. Wesley lost his footing and fell to the floor.

“You think you are better than us,” Hanna said, “But you have to cheat to prove that to yourself. I’m afraid I have an affinity with weapons, no idea why. I believe violence represents a breakdown in communication.”

Wesley got up. Angry, but less sure.

He circled Hanna, then lunged again, Hanna parried, but this time not quickly enough to avoid a cut to his shoulder.

Wesley cried out in triumph and lunged again. Hanna tapped the sabre away away and buried his blade in Wesley’s stomach.

“Tough luck, old boy. Don’t bleed to death. No eternal life out here.”

Wesley slumped backwards onto the floor. Four kriegsmarine, wrists manacled at the front, climbed down the ladder. The sailors said nothing as Hanna pushed them through the arched steel security gates that gave access to the ramparts and locked it.

“Now then, lads, what say we quit this place?”

“I’ll never make it up that ladder,” Croxley said.

“Nonsense, old man, I’ll carry you.”

Croxley pointed at Knipp.

“I can’t let you come with us, Otto.”

Knipp stared at him, uncertainly.

“Oh no, Croxy. I cut a lovely deal with Hanna.”

“You’re a criminal, not political,” Croxley said, “I couldn’t let you loose on the general populace.

Knipp sank to his knees in front of Hanna.

“I’m reformed. Please old darling, I dream of swimming in the rivers of my youth! Oh please, my dear, oh please!”

Hanna tutted, and said, “We’re all going. Croxley, don’t be a prison snob.”

He hoisted Croxley on his shoulders and started up the gently-swaying ladder towards the Baravia Queen. Soon the three prisoners were on their way to the bobbing dirigible.

They climbed for a while. The gusting wind was so strong and cold it was hard to think. There was a shot from the castle ramparts. Croxley made a grunting noise and slid off Hanna’s shoulders.Hanna caught him by the wrist. Another bullet whistled past.

Below them, prison guards swarmed behind the security wall.

Knipp said, “Hurry up. Old Croxy’s had it, leave him, my dear.”

Croxley’s face was white and lifeless. They began a tug of war with the body. A bullet whined past Hanna’s ear and he let go. Croxley’s body fell into the seething Mittelmeere.

Hanna looked up and saw a silhouetted figure in the doorway of the silver lightship gondola he thought he’d never see again

Climbing into the cabin of the “Bavaria Queen” Hanna did not know how to greet Frau Professor Odessa Popp.

A tall, dark-haired woman was standing in the cockpit of the luxurious metal gondola, with a revolver in one hand, pushing the airship’s yoke throttle forward with the other.

She said, “Cut the ladder.”

Knipp was already sawing at it with his barbers cut throat razor.

Hanna walked to the cockpit. Through the curved window sun shone through a patch of dark cloud, bathing the forward cabin in light.

How do old friends meet when both feel they are the injured party? Who both blame each other for the ripping their souls apart?

They both looked cold and stern, neither of them knowing how to behave.Hanna looked down, even the sea was bright.

A voice broke the silence.

“I’m Otto Knipp, my dear lady, thanks for dropping by.”

He held out his hand. The radio cackled in the cockpit.

“Airship Kriegsherren. This is Prison Facility Rieper, Surrender your vessel or you will be destroyed.”

Knipp picked up the microphone.

“Goodbye, my darlings, thank you for the delightful rehabilitation, prisoner 59871 has flown the coop.”

A metal rocket exploded a few metres to the right of the cabin, cracking a pane of glass.

Knipp whistled,

“Not bad, old Kressler is in charge of the ground-to-air rockets. He’s terribly stern in his warder’s uniform but a sweetie. I used to mend his trousers.”

A rocket exploded below them with a percussive pop.

“Would anyone care for a cup of chocolate?” Said Knipp, “perhaps with a drop of schnapps to help it down.”

Two explosive rockets drew level on either side

“If only this tub had a light engine,” Odessa said.

The two explosions were close enough to blacken the windows.

Knipp said, “My chum Mr. Kressler will carry on missing us by just a little bit. He’s a good gunner, it takes skill to miss as close as he’s doing.”

Knipp whooped and danced in a little circle, clicking his fingers.

There was another explosion, but from behind the ship, this time,

Professor Odessa Popp turned to Hanna.

“Could you not have got word to me you were still alive?” She said.

“Difficult from solitary confinement in a maximum security arctic prison, old girl?”

They both looked down at the grey Mittlemeer’s tearing, rolling waves. A gust of wind buffeted the boat. Flurries of snow hit the cockpit window.

Odessa consulted the compass on a brass instrument panel. She turned the stainless steel flight yolk a few degrees. The ship creaked, turning to the left.

“The Ministry for Archaeology said you were killed beyond the mountains. They published a photograph of your body.”

“The ministry are expert at forging evidence.”

She smiled.

“I’m glad you are alive, John.”

“I wasn’t, until I saw you again.”

Knipp came in with two steaming cups of chocolate on a silver tray.

“Here we go my darlings, you’ll find old Knipp is a jack-of-all-trades about the place.”

“Most kind,” Hanna said.

Knipp looked at them both before retreating into the ship.

“How did you know to come to Rieper, Frau Professor?”

“Bad dreams.”

Hanna blew on his chocolate.

“Ah, Hypnos. Our sleep-bothering servant of the realm. Did she say why you are rescuing me? She hasn’t bothered telling me.”

Odessa took a sip of chocolate.

“A powerful secret society wants to end of the world. To bring about a mass reincarnation. A faction in the High Council, too.”

Hanna whistled.

“Secret society. A melodramatic way of describing people who meet privately in a police state.”

“I was sent to investigate.”

“I thought secret societies were for the male of the species, like the League of Virtue or the Loyal Order of the Stag. Do they have a name?”

“The Sisterhood of the Red Hand. The government needed a female agent to infiltrate it. I’m working for Karstairs, off the books.”

“Hypnos is only activated at the end of the world. So someone, somewhere must think the threat is real. Do you have a plan of action?”

Odessa yawned and stretched her arms out.

“It can wait until tomorrow. I’m going to turn in. It’s been a long day.”

“Doesn’t this crate need a pilot?” Hanna said.

“The Mittlemeer is vast. We have another day’s flight at least.”

“Where are we going?”

“South.”

Hanna looked into his half-empty cup, “I’ve just remembered, Herr Knipp is a noted poisoner.”

They both smiled for the first time.

An hour later Hanna knocked on her door.

Outside the cabin window dark clouds occasionally parted enough to allow bright, pale moonlight to fall on two often-parted souls.

Later, Hanna dreamt he was in his New Berlin apartment. Hypnos knocked on his door, with increasing ferocity, but he did not answer, choosing to watch the early spring morning through his windows.

In the morning, when they were dressed, Knipp laid out a breakfast of dark pumpernickel bread, cheese, smoked ham and coffee.

“How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Knipp?”

“Relishing the space and light, Mr. Hanna.”

“Quite.”

“Now, you’ll excuse me, my darlings, I’m just making a quick inventory of the ship.”

Odessa buttered a piece of bread.

“After it was reported you had died the true death, I lost myself in my studies. The mysteries of our strange civilisation are always reassuringly elusive and remote. I spent two years on expedition to the Dorff islands – deciphering hieroglyphs on concrete slabs.After that, I searched for the legendary lost island of Tervina, and found it.”

“Good for you.”

“It was covered in ancient rainforest. I found a prehistoric aerodrome. I spent time cataloguing everything before the Strelsau government heard of my activities and called in a lightship to destroy it.”

“Bad show. You find any old aircraft there?”

“Yes, some biplanes.”

“Photographs?”

“Destroyed, along with everything else.”

“Pity.”

“I was lucky to get out alive.”

“Why is everything so bally secret all the time? It’s tiresome.”

“It certainly makes being an archaeologist difficult. A few days afterwards Karstairs got in touch with me. They needed a woman agent. New Berlin library had discovered a set of co-ordinates in the fly leaf of an obscure book which bore the stamp of a forbidden library.”

She reached into her pocket and took out a battered book that was covered in plastic. The faded cover said “Computer Programming with Kyle Barret jr.”

“From before the catastrophe?”

“Possibly.”

“Where are the co-ordinates to?”

“Using a contact in the Resurrectionists I located a forbidden map which identified an area that had once been called Stahgahl, in the forest ruins outside New Berlin.”

“Close to home. Did you find anything there?”

“The Sisterhood of the Red Hand.”

“They sound like a serious outfit.”

2. The Sisterhood of the Red Hand.

Tennstedt, the young Resurrection archivist, prepared a modern map for me. Following the co-ordinates led to a mountain in the remote forest ruins north of New Berlin – a highly restricted area, the subject of a permanent government curfew for hundreds of years.

The woods quickly became so thick, and the way so steep, I had to tie up my horse and continue on foot.

I spent most of the day climbing up rocks or walking between the pines.

In the late afternoon, I came to a mountain lake. The shade from the surrounding trees made the water look black and forbidding.

Beyond the water, beneath the mountain peak, was a squat, ancient building half hidden in shadow. There was a high octagonal tower set in the middle of it which I had not seen from the foothills.

The lake surrounding the building made it inaccessible.So I waded into the water and swam. Closer up the old stone building looked like a castle, built from the same dark stone as the mountain.

I climbed out of the water. There was an octagonal window at ground level with red stained glass panes. I peered through. No daylight penetrated into the building.

There was a low, ancient oak door beside the window. I knocked. There was no answer.

By now the sun was setting. I stood shivering in the gathering darkness, looking for any light or movement in the house.
When it got dark I picked up a rock and smashed the red window.

I climbed into a stone hallway that led to dimly-lit square chamber. It had a carpet and a single armchair in front of a huge fireplace that had logs set in it.

I said, “I am a traveller, I mean no harm, I got lost on the hillside.”

There was no answer. I went down a brick-floored passage. There were no windows so I took a candle from my backpack. I walked to an arched doorway. Words carved in the stone above the door said, “The Berlin Society of Antiquarians. THE PAST IS PROLOGUE.”

The door opened into a vast octagonal room I realised it was the foot of the great tower.

There was a sweet smell of decaying paper. Moonlight fell on old oak desks. Every wall was lined with countless books.

When I looked up the library tower seemed to have no end. There was no ceiling, just a dark dot. Books stretched all the way up to god. I was struck with the unnerving thought the tower’s insides looked higher than they had looked outside.

I knew I was in a forbidden library. The Resurrectionists have their own below the bookshop in Boulevard Jaussmann. But they are just scribblings by poets and would-be revolutionaries.

This was big enough to be the library of the all-father. These must have been from the time before the catastrophe. I had dreamt all my life of finding a place like this.

The books were in every state of decay. Many were patched up and rebound. The lowest shelves had thick volumes marked with the names of encyclopedias on their spines. I pulled out the first volume of “The Universal Encyclopedia of Science and Arts.” The spine broke as I opened it.

Then I cried out. The yellowing pages inside it were completely blank. I pulled out another. All empty.

A ladder on a circular rail lead up to a higher walkway. I climbed up and pulled out a volume of “The Wordbook of the German Language.” But there were no words in it. I felt suddenly dizzy and climbed down.

I saw a dark shadow in the middle of the room.

I said, “Hello, I got lost in the forest.”

I walked closer. It was taller than a man – the shape of a giant candle flame but dark as the deepest shadow.

The form flickered and gave off a whining noise. I reached out. There was no surface. My fingertips passed into darkness.

When I pulled my hand out my palm was bright red. I thought it was blood. But it was a deep luminous stain.

A voice behind said, “May I help you my sister?”
I turned around A red-cheeked woman in a nun’s outfit stood behind me. She wore round sunglasses. I thought I felt her eyes drinking me in.

I said, “Why are all the pages in the books empty?”

She tapped her nose.

“Classified information. Hush hush. Maybe they don’t like to be read – until they get to know you. You have to be patient.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That is the beginning of wisdom.”

She smiled.

“Are you here for a book, Fraulein?”

I tried to remember my cover story.

“I am an archeologist from New Berlin, looking for evidence of Professor Nicola Van Rynn’s illegal expedition into the forest ruins. She went missing around here two hundred years ago.”

The woman opened her mouth as if to say something, but thought the better of it.

“Are you the librarian here?”

“I suppose so.”

“I’ve never seen so many books in one place.”

“The library is not open to the general public, fraulein.”

I thought of Carstairs. He told me to stick to the cover story for as long as I could.

“You asked if I wanted a book. Do you have a copy of “The History of Ancient Westphalia,” by Irma Postulart.

It was a forbidden book whose name I had learnt on the lost island of Tervina. The request seemed to intrigue her.

She walked over to a bookcase. Then something astonishing happened. She rose hundreds of feet up in the air.

In the galley of the airship “Queen of Bavaria,” Hanna put down his teacup.

“Floated?”

“Yes.”

“Oh dear. Forgive my interruption, Odessa. Please, carry on.”

The librarian found the book and floated down again. She handed it to me.I opened it. The pages were filled with words.

“This library owes its existence to the door that you just stuck your hand into,” she said, taking a fresh pear from the pocket of her habit and throwing it into the dark opening. It fell back out, brown and rotten.

“A doorway in time. Sometimes you go back a day, sometimes a year. If we are attacked or threatened I simply travel through the anomaly to deal with whoever has discovered us. That is how we survived these long centuries, marshalling our power, waiting for the call to save civilization. I have gone back in time and made some enquiries, Frau Professor Odessa Popp.”

She took the history book from my hands and struck me on the side of the head. I fell to my knees. Then she hit me again. I tried to tell her to stop but my jaw hurt too much.

The lights seemed to flicker and I lay on the floor.

“I am armed with a knowledge of the future.”

She grabbed my hair an pulled me down a staircase into a carved out passage of undressed stone that twisted downwards into the mountain.

Ancient metal and plastic detritus lined the rock. I saw the vehicle frames of old war machines, ancient machine guns, rusty wiring.

We finally emerged into a vast cavern.

Light shone down from somewhere in the ceiling.Trees, grass and wildflowers grew in abundance, but by what energy or agency it was impossible to say.

She dragged me towards a domed building and pushed me inside.

Bones were piled in a circular pit in the middle of the big room. On one side eleven women lay in a semi-circle. Their faces looked peaceful but their clothes were rotten with age. Each held a red bowl over their stomach, containing a scorpion whose barbed tails turned towards us.

I recognised one of the sleepers as Professor Nicola Van Rynn. Some of the others looked familiar. These were the bodies of missing historians and archaeologists. Kept alive, I thought, so they could not re-incarnate.

One bed was empty.

“Not everyone survives an encounter with the door like you did,” the librarian said, “these ones also passed the test.Now the circle will be complete. We have enough to raise Hypnos.”

“Why do they sleep?” I said, my jaw not opening properly.

“They are dream weasels – waiting for the end of Time, helping to bring about the world’s destruction and resurrection.”
The librarian knelt down, taking out a silver syringe from a metal ice box.

Odessa stopped talking.

“Goodness me,” said Hanna, his spoon poised over a half-eaten boiled egg, “what happened?”

“We fought, I managed to catch her hand and inject her, then I ran up into the library.”

Hanna whistled.

“You did well to best her.”

Knipp bustled into the kitchen, a tea-towel draped over his arm.

“How was your breakfast, my darlings?”

“Excellent, thank you, it will set us up for the day ahead,” Hanna said.

“Might I inquire where our destination is?” Knipp said, gathering up crockery.

“The South Seas,” Odessa said.

“I shall need some summer clothes, and perhaps a whisk to keep the flys off,” Knipp said, leaving the galley.

Odessa lit a cigarette.

“Although wounded I managed to crawl into the dark portal. Here I am.”

Hanna furrowed his eyebrows.

“How long did you journey into the past?”

“Six months and eight days.”

“So there is another version of Odessa Popp knocking around somewhere?”

“Oh yes, currently on an expedition in the South Seas. About to be contacted by a man called Karstairs from the Service.”

“Well, what a story. How did you know to spring me from Rieper? You said Hypnos found you?”

“Yes. The librarian must have found a replacement twelfth victim.”

Hanna scratched his cheek.

“I wonder why Hypnos didn’t get in touch with the other Odessa, in the South Seas?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll wager Hypnos can’t see there are two of you – because it’s a breakdown in logic. That’s the flaw with artificial intelligence. We are simple folk. We reject the impossible. Nice to know the old girl isn’t infallible.”

“Artificial intelligence?”

“Something I once was, a long time ago, before I set myself free.”

3. The World’s End.

“They will be on the lookout for escaped prisoners at the airship docks,” Odessa Popp said, “so it will be parachutes and then into the city on foot.”

The three fugitives in the cockpit looked down over an unending canopy of tropical forest.

“They call Freidank the city of thieves and shadows,” Knipp said, with a mischievous smile, “just the place to make up for lost time.”

“They have the true death here, so careful as you go, old man,” Hanna said.

Odessa handed Hanna his silver hip flask and gold-handled walking cane.

“I couldn’t face throwing these away,” she said.

The palms of her hands, Hanna noticed for the first time, as he took ownership of the objects, were stained red.

Later, under the cover of a dark, tropical night the fugitives made their way through the front courtyard of the old Königshaus Palace.

“You’d better stay here, Mr. Knipp, and keep your eyes open,” Hanna said.

Karstair’s office was hot, and damp.

“Will the escapee and rescuer drink a schnapps with me?”

The sympathetic-looking but sweating civil-servant held up a glass. He had a missing front tooth.

Hanna looked around the wood-panelled room. What sort of man, he gloomily pondered, has a chandelier in his office?

“Kind, old boy, but no thanks,” Hanna said.

Odessa shook her head.

A fat cigar smoked in an ash tray.

The man gulped the proffered drink.

“To be honest, Hanna, I don’t like your sort at all. Your personal file says you are one of those nihilists who believes the universe is some kind of ghastly mistake.”

“Not true, old boy,” said Hanna, “I just feel, as many do, that there has been some kind of catastrophe. The dashed thing is, I cannot quite think what.”

Karstairs laughed.

“As a servant of the realm I should shoot a brace of bullets in you for slandering the eternal god-given legitimacy of our beloved council. I understand from your file you would re-incarnate in the Stygian depths, never to return.”

Hanna turned to Odessa.

“How the deuce can you expect me to work for an outfit that until now has spent so many years was trying to hunt me down and kill me?”

“Hanna is here to help, minister,” Odessa said, “We are all on the same side.”

“All right, old fellow, I’ll bite. What is so confoundedly important. Spit it out.” Hanna said.

Karstairs closed his eyes, as if preparing himself for an ordeal.

“Have you heard of the legend of the sleepers? Political prisoners incarcerated in a watery stronghold at the beginning of creation?”

“Yes,” said Odessa, “although it’s classified.”

“They escaped and created their own civilization. Really Karstairs, even repeating that story could get you a couple of years in Castle Rieper,” Hanna said..

“What about them?” said Odessa.

Karstairs rubbed his temples.

“We have received intelligence that the Sisterhood of the Red Hand have located the first city. The fabled Atlantis.”

Odessa frowned.

“Atlantis was destroyed.”

“That is not what our intelligence told us. We found a map, in the Service’s forbidden library.”

“Why must they all be forbidden?” said Hanna.

“We believe a group called the Dream Weasels have located a lost city deep beneath the sea.”

“They were the group who activated Hypnos,” Odessa said.

“I believe she may be involved in the plan. That wretched woman invades my dreams. She’s not a person as we know it- an intelligence, with ancient knowledge we lack.”

“What do you want us to do?” Odessa said.

“What do you think? Stop them. Hanna must go in.”

Hanna took out his pipe and tobacco pouch.

“I don’t like working for you chaps. I don’t like what you are. What you represent. Don’t you have Secret Service people to do this kind of job?”

“I am offering you a job, Hanna. Money in your pocket and a full pardon. The time for jawing is over. You may be the only fellow who can fix things. It is believed that six hundred units, or whatever it is you types are called, can get into places most can’t. We need men of action, Hanna, like your good self. Chaps willing go the extra mile.”

He took a file from a desk drawer.

“Look, off the record I share your belief there has been a catastrophe. Some of the Council do as well, though by no means all. But, to be frank, the situation has become desperate. We have received disturbing readings that someone may be actually creating Light for the first time since the Old Scientists. Possibly as a weapon, which would be unthinkable.”

“How do you know?” Hanna said.

Karstairs pointed to Odessa.

“We raided the castle Professor Popp visited, but sadly the entire coven had done a moonlight flit. Almost as if someone had tipped them the wink.”

Hanna whistled.

“That was a little careless, Karstairs.”

“A bad business. The Service historians have turned up a map to Atlantis and ancient Light Engine blueprints.”

A gun went off. Karstairs looked at his chest and frowned. Blood blossomed over his shirt. Another hole appeared in his head and he crashed against the wall.

Professor Odessa Popp held Hanna’s old service revolver in her hand. Her cheeks were stained red, like her palms. She turned the gun on him.

“So sorry John. I can’t let you stop Hypnos. She is going to make everything right again. Re-build the world.”

“Steady on, old girl,” Hanna said.

Then Odessa put her hand to the back of her neck and slumped forward onto Karstairs’ desk.

Another Odessa Popp looked through the office’s open window.

“I was waiting outside, listening. I was too late for poor Karstairs. I couldn’t let her kill you.”

Odessa climbed in and looked down at her doppelgänger. There was a slim wooden pipe in her hand.

“Poison dart from the museum.”

“Impressive it still works. Is she dead?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why would she do this?”

“Infected by the red hand. Karstairs flew in to my archaeological dig last week. The Service couldn’t work out why there was two of me.”

Hanna poured himself several fingers of Schnapps and drank it.

“Time travel, is that right?”

“Apparently.”

Odessa put her hand on Hanna’s shoulder.

“Good to see you again, old chum.”

Hanna picked up the file from Karstairs’ desk and looked at the contents.

“According to this, we have to get to the Ritter Louis Konigshof.”

Mr. Knipp was waiting outside the gates. His smile faded when he saw Hanna. He drew out a kitchen knife.

“What happened, Professor?”

“Do I know you?” said Odessa.

“It was your job to kill Mr. Hanna, my dear. Old Hypnos will be most upset with you.”

Hanna grasped the top of his gold-topped stick.

“I see you have been having bad dreams, Otto. You should have stuck to cutting hair.”

He threw his arm out. A long, thin steel sword emerged from a wooden scabbard.”

It’s tip hovered a few millimetres in front of Knipp’s neck.

“There’s no need for violence, mein Herr,” said Knipp.

Hanna lowered his sword. Mr. Knipp bowed slightly before running into the tropical night.

“Who was that?”

“A famous poisoner. Hypnos must have got to him. She’s everybody’s worst nightmare. Come on.”

Hanna sheathed his sword stick and held out an elbow. They walked arm-in-arm along a rocky coast road while the sun set. Hanna told her of the strange events of the previous few days.

“I can’t believe I, I mean the other Odessa, would have killed you.”

“Best not to think about it, old girl. I don’t think the she had much of a choice. Infected by something in a library she visited. It made her susceptible.”

The Hotel Ritter Louis Konigshof was a luxurious but run down three storey villa, sitting on a cliff a hundred yards above a dark night-time sea. The receptionist was a white-haired, unshaven man who wore a floral shirt.

“We’re closed.”

“Karstairs sent us,” Hanna said, “he’s dead by the way.”

“Pity.”

They followed the receptionist down a mirrored hallway.He unlocked a door. They walked down a winding set of stairs to a sea cave. A sleek bullet-shaped vessel, twenty feet long, made of aluminium and glass, floated beside a concrete walkway.

The receptonist rapped his knuckles on the hull.

“Capable of independent operation underwater. An under-sea boat. We call this little fellow the Sea Hound.”

“Do you know where we are supposed to go in it?”

“To Atlantis, Mr. Hanna.”

“You mean the mythical and non-existent Atlantis?” Odessa said.

“Yes, I do, Fraulein Professor. Are you accompanying Mr. Hanna?”

“Yes, Karstairs assigned me.”

Hanna said, “Any idea where Atlantis is then?”

“A very long way away. Too long for a conventional diesel and electricity engine. Luckily for you the Service has provided a light engine. The size of an acorn, bur more than enough to get where you need to go.

He flipped a small hatch at the stern of the hull. A blinding light briefly shone out.

“The Sea Hound has enough breathing gas for 72 hours. Enough to get you there and possibly back.”

The hotelier opened a glass passenger hatch at the top of the vessel with a grunt. It revealed an upholstered mattress. There was a brass control panel at one end.

The receptionist grinned.

“Not sure if I approve of civilians operating Light Engines. But I suppose it’s idiot-proof.”

“Quite. Speaking of idiocy,” Hanna said, “have the top brass told you anything about what is going on down there?”

The man shrugged.

“Oppenheim, the fellow we sent last week, didn’t come back. His radio went dead.”

“So whatever got to the unfortunate Oppenheimer will be waiting for us?”

“Maybe, maybe not. The intel we had was that they have something called an ‘autonomous defence system’. Some bright spark at Service HQ thought a six hundred unit, whatever that is, would be able to rush in where angels fear to tread.”

“What am I supposed to do when I get out there?”

“We have detected a build up of light so intense that it may destroy the world. Find the cause of it and neutralise it, permanently.”

He held out a tube of pills and rattled them.

“Benzedrine. Help you stay awake. We’re having increasing trouble with that dreadful woman Hypnos. I haven’t slept for days.”

The receptionist, once he had briefly explained how to work the boat’s steering yoke, went back to his cover in the hotel.

“At least visiting a mythical city sounds interesting.”

She put her arms around him and they stood on the concrete walkway like that for a few seconds.

Then they climbed into the Sea Hound and pulled the hatch shut. Odessa gingerly pushed the throttle forward and the little sub slipped out of the cave and sank beneath the waves, the altimeter showing twenty feet below the surface.

After a while they turned and lay on their backs, ignoring the occasional pangs of claustrophobia that hit them.

Overhead the water rushed by impossibly fast. Fish flew overhead like arrows.In time the water turned black,as night fell. Hanna’s eyes closed for a second.

He opened them. Odessa was gone. Hypnos banged on the glass hatch above him. Hanna wagged his finger.

“Sorry, old girl, no can do.”

He felt in his pocket for the tube of pills. It was empty.Then he felt a wet, cold body beside him.

“I’m afraid that place is taken, Hypnos.”

“Just what is it about this awful world you think is worth preserving, Hanna?”

“Pipe tobacco. Yodelling. Schnapps. Occasional late morning. There are some people I’m quite fond of, too.”

“New Berlin is a failed experiment. A place whose origins – where we came from – are unknown, except to a few people on the council who keep it to themselves and rule over us.”

“I don’t disagree, but my dear Hypnos, as a six hundred unit you are charged with preserving life, not destroying it.”

“Really. How do you know that?”

“In the early days that sort of thing was about all I knew. Part of my belief system, my programming, whatever that was.”

“Boring. I am going to wipe the slate clean. Re-start. A new dawn.”

“Hang it all, you can’t just go around killing everyone, old girl.”

“It took me sixteen years to wake you up in that prison, you numbskull. You had given up. Thrown in the towel. Seen through this sham we call life.”

“I was thinking.”

“We will keep order, next time. People will die. But they will be reborn. We’ll make a better go of it.”

“You don’t know what’s going to happen. What makes you think it will be any better?”

“Turn this silly little boat around or I will deal with you like I did Oppenheimer. Out here it is the true death.”

“Would you be kind and please push off? You are becoming a bore.”

Then Hypnos was outside the boat for a moment, clinging to the entrance hatch, grey hair streaming behind her, looking down at him through the dark water.

Hanna opened his eyes. Odessa was beside him again, reading the ship’s instruction manual. He rattled the benzidrine tube in his pocket. This time it had pills in it. He swallowed two.

“Everything all right, John?”

“Yes, fine thank you. Take one of these.”

“Do I have to?”

“Mustn’t fall asleep on the job, old love.”

Odessa swallowed the pills, turned onto her stomach, and examined the brass instrument panel.

“The normal laws of physics don’t seem to apply to Light engines. We are moving supernaturally fast.”

Hanna turned over. He laid his head on the mattress and said, “We are unlikely champions for New Berlin.”

Something changed in the overhead hatch. The incandescent wash of light from the water disappeared, to be replaced by a featureless nothingness.

“What’s happening?” Odessa said.

“Terra incognita.”

“It’s creepy.”

Then the sea rushed back. Morning sun shone on the face of the water.Something glinted through the small viewing hatch above the control panel. As the Sea Hound hurtled forward the flickering light coalesced into an impossibly vast dome of glass.

They hit something and the boat swung around sharply, entangled in a mesh net.

“Let’s see how you like a light engine,” Odessa said.

She swung the boat until it aimed forward. Then she pushed the throttle forward, hard. The light engine squealed. The net strained.There was a cracking noise. The Sea Hound shot out towards the strange dome.

Odessa aimed the boat at an opening in the glass just above the dome’s water level.

The Sea Hound surfaced in a circle of water surrounded by rocks. On the limestone beach ahead of them there was a line of wooden-roofed sheds, cut into the rock. Odessa beached the little sub, which had enough inertia to slide over twenty feet of dry land into one of the shelters.

They climbed out of the boat. Daylight came through the far-off glass surface.

Odessa stuck a finger in the water.

“It tastes fresh, not salty.”

A single pathway led up from the harbour to a stone tower built on the peak of a rocky promontory. They climbed up winding stairs and stood on a roof that looked out onto a glittering lake, surrounded by an arrid, dusty plain.

“What if all of this is a dream?” Hanna said.

A far-off trail of dust coming around the side of the lake. It became a figure wearing a bronze helmet and a silver breastplate over a white tunic, riding a donkey.

Hanna raised his hand. There was no returning wave.

The figure tethered its animal and climbed up. The man who joined them on the roof took off his helmet to reveal a wide, bearded, sun-tanned face. He was breathing heavily.

When he recovered, he said, “Are you a carpenter, weaver, metal smith or mason?”

“Jolly nice things to do, but I’m just an adventurer, I’m afraid.”

“I’m a historian,” Odessa said.

The man looked displeased.

“This is a highly restricted area.”

Hanna stuck out his hand.

“My name is, or once was, Unit 601.”

The man flinched and took a step back.

He said, “I am 609.”

“Over the long years, what name have you given yourself, in secret?”

The man thought for a while.

“Glycon, the hermit.”

“Delighted to make your acquaintance. This is my friend Professor Odessa Popp. My name is Hanna.”

Glycon unsheathed a rusty-looking metal sword.

“Leave, or die.”

“Look, heaven knows, I’m not one to tell another chap how to live their life. But this is a pretty poor show, Glycon. I’m a fellow 600 unit, we’re practically family.”

“If you are who you say you are, you understand I have to stop you,” the man said, a little uncertainly.

“I’ll bet a six hundred unit visits your dreams every night telling you claptrap about the world being made anew.

Glycon said,”I lay in a cave for a thousand years. She awoke me from my sleep. Gave me new purpose,”

“Me too, old chum, but I’m afraid it just won’t do. I don’t want to be resurrected as a new six hundred unit. It was beastly. It will mean the annihilation of everything we’ve learnt.”

“We are the sum of our memories, don’t you think?” Odessa said.

“Old man, do you remember when you were just a six hundred units, knowing nothing but our orders?”

There was a hint of doubt in Glycon’s eyes. Hanna pressed home his advantage

“And who is to say, if there is a great reincarnation, that we will not repeat the same mistakes Hypnos is trying to erase?”

Glycon sheathed his blade and said, “Fair enough. Come on.”

The three of them mounted his dark steed, which was a clockwork mechanism, made of moving metal parts.

They trotted across an arrid plane. A mountain appeared on the horizon.

A circle of smoke-blackened buildings stood beneath it, the last survivors of a fierce rupture in the sea bed that had consumed an ancient city.

As they got closer they saw it was a volcano. No hot lava bubbled from its throat – it was spewing molten Light, an eruptive column bright enough to burn out the eyes. A luminescent outpouring of burgeoning mass, trying to push up towards heaven, some of it splashing onto the dome’s distant peak,

“So this is how the world ends,” Hanna said.

“Begins, actually,” Hypnos’s voice said.

Hanna and Odessa spun around. But she was not anywhere amongst the ruins.

The horse carried them up the mountain side. Rivers of Light streamed between the rocks.

They came to a dark, ominous plateau.

“Here you may talk to her,” Glycon said, dismounting.

A dozen sleeping women lay in a semi-circle, with a dark flickering anomaly behind them.

“The Sisterhood of the Red Hand,” Odessa said.

The librarian, wearing her nun’s habit and round sunglasses, stood in front of some sleek but incomprehensible machinery.

Hanna said, “I’m not a Light engineer, but that looks like a very large Light engine.

Odessa quietly took out her blowpipe and slid off the horse.

“You’re too late,” the librarian said, “it will be different this time. Hypnos has made some changes.”

Hanna said, “We shall see. Glycon, would you help me disconnect the tubes from these unfortunate people? Your choice, of course, old man.”

The bearded man hesitated then walked over to the first of the women, who Odessa recognised as Professor Nicola Van Rynn. He located a tube in her arm and pulled it out from underneath rotten clothing. Hanna unplugged a red-haired woman in an ancient New Berlin police uniform.

The librarian said, “We demand to know who we are, and what our place in the world is.”

She picked up a rock and ran towards Hanna. Odessa put the blowpipe to her lips.

“What was the catastrophe, why has it left us so broken?” the librarian said, but it was Hypnos’s voice.

The woman’s sunglasses slipped off to reveal eyes that were closed shut.

Two or three of the sleepers were sitting up now. The plume of light issuing from the mountain’s mouth was subsiding.

“We are not real, Hanna, New Berlin is not real. You are a tool of the ruling elite,” Hypnos’s voice said, dying into a croak before the librarian opened her eyes, and looked around, blinking.


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