Silversmith lasted for two hours before saying that he’d seen as much as he needed, by which he meant that his stomach was heaving. He pulled his way to the octagon and sighed with relief when there was nobody else there. He tried to bathe his mind in the azure Pacific below, but the images whirled around in his head. Men and women kept in freefall for months or years and then returned to the Congo and flogged into running until they died of heart failure. People decompressed at different rates to see if they could acclimatise. People pushed into the unshielded part of the pod during solar flares to compare the effects of high doses of radiation with long-term exposure.
Silversmith’s pressed his head against the cold glass and closed his eyes. What the hell was he going to do about it?
The images faded as the question dominated his mind. What could he do about it? This information was the reason Carlton had wanted him on the Penguin in the first place, but Henkel would never let him copy the films. The best he could do, if he ever managed to re-establish contact with Argus, was make a verbal report to an organization dedicated to concealing its own existence.
Destroy the Penguin? He wasn’t an expert on its vulnerabilities, but most of his flight training had been concerned with how not to cause a catastrophe. He surprised himself by how little he cared that he had no way off the Penguin, but he couldn’t stop the Reich putting up another station and resuming where they left off in a couple of years.
He closed his eyes. Think! What was the point of the Penguin? To prepare for a Mars mission. What was the point of a Mars mission? He’d put that to Carlton once. He’d never believed it was a matter of pure exploration, as the Ministry of Public Enlightenment claimed.
“Why do you think Enlightenment’s involved at all?” Carlton asked him in reply.
“You don’t mean the whole thing’s a publicity stunt?”
“Yes, effectively. They need a great cause for people to get behind. Have done ever since the Soviets surrendered in forty-two.”
It had made a certain amount of sense. “And the only wars they have to fight now are with the partisans in Russia and Arabia, and you can’t have a historic victory in a guerrilla war.”
Carlton had nodded. “The Führer is only great if the Reich is great, and the Reich is only great if it does great things. Provided Enlightenment tells people about them of course.”
Silversmith opened his eyes and saw the atolls of the South Pacific in sharp focus, as though they had crystallised out of the whirl of his thoughts. He heard his breathing quicken with excitement. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, he wished there was just one drop of decent Irish whiskey on this thing.
Next week: Chloroform
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Cover by Manda Benson