PART ONE: MUSHROOM BAY
PART TWO: QUMRAN
PART THREE: DESERT DAZE
PART ONE - MUSHROOM BAY
Just a wave, from which the particle erupts. Instantaneously
my journey unfolds. Leaving the Sea of Death, I fly over the Wadi Arabah,
Gaea's great barren gash. Looking to the west I am the dry, brown hills
of the Negev, to the east I am the rose red mountains of Edom, following
the ancient trade route of Darb-es-Sultan, the King's Highway. Down
I go, past the sandstone of Petra 'n Wadi Rumm, over the azure gulf
of the Red Sea. Now, 'n to the west, I am the wastes 'n mountains of
Sinai, to the east the desert sands of Arabia. South I fly, flowing
through the waves, westwards spying the dark, breathing mountain of
Musa, then, looking down from on high, wave-like at first, I see a collection
of buildings spread over a plateau above a bay. Mushroom Bay.
'N now it condenses into the centre of the world, expanding 'n contracting,
rising 'n sinking, travelling back 'n forth in spacetime, reaching out
to all points in the universe while the desert looks on 'n a group of
people emerge from wave to particle 'n life histories unfold from moment
to moment. The army base fighting for peace condenses, the beach of
grains of sand takes shape, the sea sets in motion, the sun burns down
hard 'n the night chills bonecold. So now there's life real 'n actual
as the waves below form particles of flesh, while Khepri illuminates
the individual fragments of thought, speech 'n action.
Hal looked around him. To the west stretched a black,
volcanic desert, bounded by a dark mountain range, while to the east
lay a small island not far off the cobalt, coral reef coast, beyond,
the shimmering horizon of russet Arabia. Below him was the base itself,
a collection of white huts upon whose flat rooves slanting solar panels
flashed brilliantly in the sun, dazzling him. Surrounded by a high steel
fence punctuated by a series of watchtowers, the base stood on a brown,
rocky plateau that led down to a cove, where people on a sandy beach
were playing volleyball, working out on exercise bars, swimming in the
sea, or just lying in the sun. Yet despite this innocent vision, the
desertscape unnerved him.
With a bump the chopper landed on the helipad, its blades throwing up
clouds of desert dust. A bent, blue uniformed figure in silver-coated
shades ran up to it and slid open the passenger door.
"Private Burns?" he shouted.
Hal nodded, slung his dufflebag over his shoulder and jumped to the
ground, following the man until they were both safely outside the range
of the blades.
"Christ it's hot!" gasped Hal.
The man grinned, his skin dry and burnt. "This is the desert, Private
Burns. And I can tell you, it'll make things easier if you forget all
about wherever you came from."
"I'll remember that."
"Now, if you'll follow me," he said, the chopper's blades coming to
a stop, allowing the dust to settle once more upon the hard, sunbaked
"And who are you?" asked Hal.
"Lieutenant Happelburger. Colonel Silver's adjutant."
As they passed the white, fibreboard huts, the distinctive solar panels
sparkling under the sun, Hal's eye swept across the deserted compound.
"By the way, where is everyone?"
Happelburger shrugged. "Eating, sleeping, lying on the beach."
"You mean they're soldiers on the beach?"
"Affirmative. At this time of day it's too hot to be keeping the peace.
Now, here we are," he said.
Hal stepped into a cool, air-conditioned office, his shirt already clinging
to his perspiring back. It was cramped inside, with a desk for Happelburger
and another one on the far side, looking out over the Bay.
"You can go right in. Colonel Silver's expecting you," said Happelburger.
Hal nodded, wiped the sweat from his forehead and went inside.
After receiving the e-mail from Jim Steinman a couple
of days ago, Colonel Silver had not been as stunned as the rest of the
world by today's edition of the WGC Times. Nevertheless, it had brought
back to him the problems he had faced ever since arriving on the base
two weeks ago. In some ways, he wished the world would forget about
Mushroom Bay, but with Steinman, the head of Corporation Intelligence,
and one of its top agents now gathered in his office, he accepted that
the world was in no mood to do so.
"Welcome to Mushroom Bay, Burns," he said, standing up to shake his
Hal advanced towards him. "Thanks Colonel."
"How was your flight?"
"Oh fine, considering I was on leave in London a few hours ago 'n now
I'm in the middle of nowhere sweating my bollocks off."
"Alright Hal, you've got me to blame for that, not the Colonel," said
Steinman. "I'm sorry, but everyone else is tied up at the moment. By
the way, I hope you don't mind being a 'Private' for a while."
"Not so long as you don't mind telling me what's going on?"
Steinman switched on his laptop. "Been keepin' up with the news lately?"
"As little as possible."
"Alright then. But you musta heard of Colonel Rockson?"
"Rings a bell."
Steinman grunted. "Well, he's been in the news over the last few weeks.
You see, he was the previous commander here until his...eh...attack.
He was shipped back to New York last month. Been in a coma ever since.
Hal shrugged. "So what?"
Steinman clicked on 'video' so that the frozen image of a man's face
appeared on the screen. "So this."
"This report has been prepared by the Psychic Studies
Unit. What follows is an interview between Doctor Ronald Banks of NY
WGC AMERICA Hospital and Colonel Stanley T Rockson, former commander
of WGC ASIA Peacekeeping Base, Mushroom Bay, Sinai."
The image on the screen became animated.
"BANKS: I'm in the psychiatric ward of the village
hospital for the first interview with Colonel Rockson. Physically he's
fine, if weary, and we've got him on anti-psychotics and the usual anti-dopamine
reducer. I'm now going over to his bedside.
SOUND OF LEATHER SOLES CROSSING FLOOR
BANKS: Good morning Colonel, how are you feeling today?
ROCKSON: Today I saw the great golden electron in the sky, as fruity
as an orange.
BANKS: Very well. Now, I'd like to ask you a few simple questions.
ROCKSON: Questions? But I have the answers.
BANKS: Colonel, why do you refuse to return to your position in the
ROCKSON: Can't work now. Got no time or space. Must be speaking with
Parti. Eat myself 'n get into those particles. Anyway, they control,
BANKS: 'They', Colonel? Who is 'they'?
ROCKSON: Oh come on, you can't fool me. We all know who they are, just
as they all know who we are. Oh yes, they know. The trees, the bees,
the cees, reaching for Psi which was only to be expected after everything
I told 'em. But really is only seemy. My, what a pity about the cloud
and the raindrops. Such a waste.
BANKS: Colonel, did you say 'psi'?
ROCKSON: Doctor, did you say 'psi'?
BANKS: No, you did.
ROCKSON: Liar, I just heard you.
BANKS: But I was quoting you, Colonel.
ROCKSON: Oh yes, that's it, blame me, just like I blame them.
BANKS: Colonel, you really must try to get a grip.
ROCKSON: Grip, drip, like the raindrops, like the waves of Isis, it's
all in the good book. How I loved to drink from it.
BANKS: Colonel, what book is that?
ROCKSON: That's a pssssecret.
BANKS: Oh come on Stanley, you can tell me. What's the secret?
ROCKSON CLIMBS OUT OF BED AND ADVANCES TOWARDS BANKS
ROCKSON: You'll all be sorry when Pandora comes to get you! Oh yes,
then you'll wish you'd listened to Parti, he knows!"
With Rockson's crazed face still staring out at them,
"So where's the fire? The poor bastard's off his tree."
"That may be," said Steinman, "but are you aware that Rockson is only
the latest in a series of similar cases in the last few months?"
"Well, every one of them begins with the victim fucking up at work.
And we're not talking lowlife clerical schmucks, we're talking the big
boys from the top. Commercial. Military. Administration. It's happening
everywhere. We've had eight cases already."
"So how exactly do they 'fuck up'?" asked Hal.
"They can't give orders. They try, but they can't do it. Seems their
minds start going. Then, a few weeks after that, most of 'em pass out
and slip into a coma. When they do regain consciousness they've lost
all ability to function for the Corporation. Totally non-profitable.
I mean, they couldn't even sweep the floor. All they can do is babble.
But in this babbling certain things keep cropping up."
"Well, for a start, they all talk about leaving their bodies and going
"Then there's this unlocated desert island where their brains get fried."
Hal nodded. "Uh-huh. Anything else I should know?"
"Yeah. Weirdest of all is this one word they keep on mentioning."
"What's that then?"
"'Psi.' You know, like the twenty third letter of the Greek alphabet."
"Oh yeah, I know," he snorted, "like the twenty third letter of the
Greek alphabet. What the fuck are you on about?"
Steinman sighed and mumbled to himself. "Alright Hal, you asked for
it. What would you say if I told you there was some kind of terrorist
group trying to bring down the World Government Corporation by psychic
"I'd say you were full of shit."
"And what if I told you that this group was able to replicate the bodies
of its victims in another place?"
"I'd say you'd had one too many tabs."
"Yep, that's exactly what I'd say too."
Steinman switched off the laptop. "If you ask me, the whole thing's
a bunch of bullshit. But in my official capacity I gotta tell ya' that
we believe there's some group we're calling the 'Psi Gang', somewhere
out there trying to subvert the Corporation by psychically infecting
our people with an insanity virus called 'psi fever'. The Security Council's
shitting itself. It wants action and results right now. That's why I'm
briefing you here. That's why they've ordered me to set up the PDA."
"The PDA. Officially it's the Psi Detection Agency, unofficially, it's
the idea of the boys in PSU, and even more unofficially I think the
whole thing makes Alice in Wonderland look like the most sensible story
I've ever heard."
"That's good to know."
Steinman shrugged. "You see, PSU's logic goes something like this. Back
in the fifties when the Yanks and the Russkies started spookin' each
other, some psychic games were played. The Yanks thought it was Alien
Invasions for a while, until they realised it was just the Russkies
foolin' about. Well, nowadays the Russkies ain't doin' shit, so PSU
reckons it can only be one thing."
"Don't tell me..."
"I'm afraid so, Burns. Anyway, welcome aboard, you're one of us. Your
assignment is quite simple: find the Psi Gang, then kill 'em."
"Yeah, cheers." Hal shook his head and looked out at the desert, its
burning emptiness disturbing him. "Just let me get this straight," he
said. "You've dragged me all the way over here to look for a group you've
heard nothing from?"
"But you've given it a name?"
"Although you've no idea what its aims are?"
"Nor its background?"
"And you haven't seen one of its members yet?"
"And you don't even know if it has any members?"
Hal turned back to him and sniggered. "Sounds like we're chasing fucking
Steinman shrugged. "Hal, I've told you everything I know."
"So what am I supposed to do? Talk to the bloody camels?"
Steinman picked up a newspaper and handed it to him. "By the way, here's
"THE PSI GANG! - COULD THIS BE THE CONSPIRACY?"
"Jesus Christ," sighed Hal, "what the fuck are those jerks in PSU on
about? Leaking this kind of crap when all they've got to go on are the
ramblings of certified headcases!"
Steinman stood up and patted him on the shoulder. "Believe me, I'm with
you. Still, orders are orders, right?"
"Atta boy. Now, I'm headin' back to Jerusalem. I'll expect your first
report in seventy two hours."
As Steinman left the office Hal's eyes looked back to the desert, his
mind feeling as withered as the land outside. Finally he turned to Silver.
"Have you spoken to anyone about Rockson?"
Silver looked down at the newspaper. "Only in sympathy. I'm afraid most
of them probably won't be of much use to you. You can imagine how it
shook them. The one closest to him was Lieutenant Happelburger. He worked
with him for a couple of years. He's a fine man, but rather sensitive.
When he saw that headline this morning he just broke down at his desk."
Hal nodded. "I'm not surprised."
Silver stood up and for some time watched a solitary camel loping along
the far side of the perimeter fence. "Tell me something. How do they
expect you to catch anything when they're not even sure there's anything
Hal shrugged. "I've been asking myself the same question."
"Crazy. Absolutely crazy," said Silver, turning to him. "Anyway, I'm
going to allocate you to 'B' barracks. You'll be in Room Seven. One
of the boys has been sent home. Couldn't take the heat. Oh, you can
take the heat, can't you Burns?"
"I think so, Colonel. Why do you ask?"
"I've decided to hold an exercise in a few days. Out in the desert.
It's just what the boys need. Should take their minds off everything
that's happened here." Again he lapsed into silence, looking down at
"I'm sure I'll be fine."
"Good, good. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, so I'll put you in Room Seven
with three other guys. Apart from that, there's nothing else I can do.
Well, that'll be all, Private Burns."
"Yes Colonel." Returning to the main office, Hal found Happelburger
staring at the front page of The WGC Times. He coughed. "Lieutenant?"
Happelburger looked up. "What? What do you want?"
"If you don't mind, I'd like to go to my room."
Silently he rose from his desk, and after dropping the paper in the
bin, led Hal outside, the glare so strong that Hal found it difficult
to keep his eyes open.
"Here, take these," said Happelburger, handing him his shades.
"What about you?"
"Oh, I've got plenty more."
Hal put them on and noticed the Lieutenant was grinning. "What's up?"
"Well, it's all explained now, isn't it?"
Happelburger stopped and turned to him. "Well it's obvious, isn't it?
It's the Psi Gang, of course. Just your friendly neighbourhood Psi Gang
happily destroying the Corporation."
"You know? The Psi Gang. You must have read about it this morning. Oh
yes, what a relief it is to have a reason. Makes it all so logical and
clear cut. Well, here we are, 'B' barracks. Have a nice day, Private
As Hal watched him march back to the admin office, already he knew he
needed to talk with him.
'B' barracks was silent inside, and like the admin
office, air-conditioned. Walking along a linoleum corridor, its fluorescent
lights creating a continuous white line along the middle of the ceiling,
Hal arrived outside his room. The door was open, so he stepped inside
to find it cramped and cluttered, with clothes strewn over three of
the beds, socks, boots and fag ends lying on the floor, and several
posters of nude women stuck on the lockers and the walls. Only the bed
to his immediate left was clear, and after dropping his bag on it he
crossed to the window and looked down on the Bay. A game of volleyball
was still going on, and save for the surreal meeting with Steinman,
he felt as if he'd checked into a beach resort rather than an army base.
Hal jumped. A door had slammed, followed by shouting voices coming along
"Well, if it ain't the new man himself!" cried a voice from behind.
He turned round to see a soldier standing in the doorway, his large
frame too tight for the uniform he was wearing.
"What the hell you talkin' 'bout, boy?" demanded a second, unseen voice.
Then they both entered the room, followed by a third man, and while
the first two stood and stared at him, it was the latter who walked
up to him and held out his hand.
"Welcome to Mushroom Bay Private..."
Hal shook his hand. "Just call me Hal," he said, observing his red hair
and freckled face. He was of roughly the same height and build as himself,
six foot and slim, and even if he'd not noticed the two stripes on his
sleeve, he would already have taken him to be the senior of the three.
"I'm Corporal Newman, but you can call me Ben. And these are Privates
Richards and James," he said.
"The name's Gus, Washington DC," said Private Richards, the man who
had first entered the room.
"So you're the replacement?"
Before Hal could reply, the other private stepped forward, brought his
heels together with a click, and held out his hand. He couldn't have
been much younger than Colonel Silver, though his skin was browner,
almost baked, and his grey-black hair was slicked back like a surfer's.
His eyes seemed glazed, and when Hal offered his hand he gripped it
with unexpected strength.
"Sam. Kuwait '91. Road to Basra, remember? Welcome aboard, Private!"
"Thanks Sam," said Hal.
All three men went to their beds and started taking off their boots,
spilling sand onto the floor.
"Where you from?" asked Ben.
"Brixton. Know it?"
"'Fraid not. I was never out of the States before this."
"You know Washington, Hal?" asked Gus.
He shook his head. "This is my first time out of England."
"Well, believe me, you ain't missing nothin'," he laughed.
Sam growled. "I'll say this. None o' you greenhorns ever seen Eyerak,
that's for sure."
"You can ignore him, he's full of shit," said Gus, throwing a sock at
"You just watch your words, boy!"
"Don't give me that 'boy' bullshit, asshole."
"All I know is that if you ain't been in a desert before, you better
watch out," he said, staring at Hal.
"Why's that then?" he asked.
"Coz you're gonna be spending a lot o' time out there soon. Colonel
Silver says you gotta take a break."
"So I hear."
"Reckons a nice, ass-fryin' exercise in the desert is gonna help everyone
forget," he said, producing a copy of the WGC Times from under his pillow.
"Here boy, take a look at this," he said, throwing it at Hal.
Hal picked it up and threw it back. "I've read it already."
"Christ Sam, did you have to show him that bullshit first thing?" said
"It's OK," said Hal, "it doesn't bother me. Personally I think it's
a load of bollocks."
"There, you see? At least there's someone else round here who's sane!"
said Gus. "Who the fuck do they think they are sayin' Rockson was attacked
by some goddamn Psi Gang?"
Hal laughed. "It's unbelievable. Just some fuckin' journo' looking for
"Now you listen to me, boy," said Sam, shaking the paper at Hal, "you
weren't here. You didn't see anything, so you can't say a thing."
"Yeah, but I was, 'n I didn't see nothin', 'n I can say what the fuck
I like," said Gus.
Sam turned to him. "Let me tell you, boy..."
"Don't call me 'boy'!"
"Let me tell you, boy, you get out onto the road 'n you see all those
bodies 'n then, 'n then..."
"'N then what?"
"Let's just say you don't know what's what anymore."
"I sure know one thing. You're the craziest son of a bitch I've ever
known." Gus began to snigger.
"You just don't get it, do ya'? They were here. I felt them."
"Who the fuck was here?"
"The Psi Gang. I saw 'em."
"Jesus Christ! You read one fucking article in that dumb paper 'n you
start talkin' A1 bullshit!"
Sam ignored him and turned to Ben, who all the while had been quietly
changing, now standing before them dressed only in a pair of green shorts
and a blue t-shirt, a towel draped across his shoulders.
"What do you say?"
The young corporal looked out the window to the sun-sparkling sea. "I
say we take Hal down to the beach..."
"You mean Sam's beach!"
"Yeah, Sam's beach. Go 'n cool off. Cook ourselves some steaks."
"Smart idea," said Gus, rising from his bed. "Waddya say Hal?"
"Sounds good to me."
After changing they left the barracks and made for the southeast watchtower,
a sentry snoozing above them, oblivious to their passing through the
steel gate. With a slippery dirt track leading them down to Mushroom
Bay and "SAM'S BEACH", as the peeling white sign declared at the top,
Hal noticed that the tawny sand of the beach merged into the black earth
of the desert, creating a fifty metre rift in the plateau. On the base
side of the beach stood a small white wooden hut, in the middle the
volleyball net as well as different kinds of exercise bars and weights
on which a group of tanned, muscular men were training, while the far
end was bounded by a rocky outcrop, the island he had seen from the
chopper now just a jagged hump floating on the horizon.
"So how come this is Sam's beach?" he asked, as they walked over the
Ben shrugged. "I don't know the whole story. Sam won't talk about it.
But from what I've heard, he's been here as long as the base. I think
he had a bad time in the Gulf War, and they just decided to leave him
here. That hut is where he keeps all the sports and cooking equipment.
Sometimes he doesn't come to barracks. I guess he stays down here, or
maybe he just goes wandering in the desert."
"You fellas all for steaks?" called Sam, stepping up onto the landing
of the hut.
"You bet, boy!" called Gus, heading over to the weights, and while Sam
went inside to cook, Hal unrolled his towel and sat down next to Ben.
"So what do you make of the newspaper report?"
Ben shrugged. "Who knows? I guess I'd have to go along with Gus."
"Did you know Rockson well?"
"Not really. Hardly ever saw him apart from parade. But I have to say,
those last few weeks before he went..." He paused and looked out to
the tranquil sea. "He seemed to be really edgy. Poor Happelburger didn't
know what to do. He'd carry out an order, and then be told he shouldn't
have. The day Rockson collapsed I was as shocked as everyone else. But
I really can't believe that article. How about you? Any ideas?"
"You must be kidding! North London's a mystery to me. Nah, I'm afraid
all that stuff just goes over my head."
Ben nodded, and as they sat in silence he lit a joint, taking a few
drags before passing it to Hal.
"Here, try this."
"Cheers," said Hal. "Where'd it come from?"
"Yeah? What else can they supply us with?"
Hal considered. Maybe one of them might know something. Maybe not. Whatever,
it was worth a try, because as he lay on the sand, he admitted to himself
he had nothing to go on. Alright, so Happelburger had been distressed
by Rockson's collapse, but that was only to be expected; after all,
he'd known him a long time. And Sam claimed to have seen the enemy;
but he'd already decided that anything Sam said could not be taken entirely
seriously. Maybe the beduin would know something. But that was it. Were
it not for the PSU, he would have no more reason to believe in the Psi
Gang than he would in angels or ghosts. Despite that, out here in the
desert it seemed anything was possible, and if there was something there,
watching, waiting to strike, he was prepared. Of course, perhaps there
was nothing to it. Psychic terrorism? Body replication? Out of body
experiences? He'd never heard anything like it, but at least the case
was a novelty, something he felt he needed more and more these days.
He was bored. With his job, with his partner back in London, with his
life. Being an Intelligence agent for the Corporation had diverted him
for a while, but no longer. Being with his partner, Rachel, had been
fun for a year or so, but in the last few months he'd started to lose
interest. What else could he do? Drugs had never been his thing. Nor
money, and when he looked ahead all he could see was nothing. He couldn't
recall the last time he'd felt really alive. Maybe when those recalcitrant
Commies in Central Asia had tried to kill him on a mission last year.
He'd been inches from having a bullet blow his brains out, but in those
moments he'd felt so exhilarated that the buzz had lasted for a week
or so. But that was last year. And now, nothing. Zero. Yeah, perhaps
this case was just what he needed, he thought, drifting into a stoned
doze to the slithering sound of the waves on the beach, under the searing
light of the solar Sinai sky.
After two days and the best part of a third, Hal had
nothing to report. True, he had felt fairly spaced out that first afternoon
on the beach, but then, he'd been stoned. Just as he had been every
other afternoon. In fact, life on the base seemed to consist of nothing
but drill in the morning, a couple of hours of sentry duty in the middle
of the day, followed by steaks on the beach in the afternoon, the evenings
usually being rounded off by a few Buds in the bar. He'd not had the
chance to speak with Happelburger or Sam, nor had he seen a single bedu,
and more than anything else he was worried by Gus's description of the
desert exercise they were soon to embark upon. Sitting on the beach
alone, with Gus working on the weights, Sam cooking steaks, and Ben
swimming in the sea, he was beginning to feel as if he'd merely resumed
the leave he thought had ended in London. A shadow fell over him.
"Private Burns, Colonel Silver wants to see you now."
Hal looked up. It was Happelburger, but the Lieutenant was already on
his way back up the path.
"Yeah right." Clad only in a pair of swimming trunks, trying to improve
his tan, he put on his blue t-shirt, threw his towel over his shoulder
and ran after Happelburger.
"Hey Hal! Where ya' goin'?" called Gus, pulling his muscular body up
and down on the horizontal bar.
"Forgot my Walkman!"
"You make sure you bring back some sweet sounds!"
Hal waved at him, and after passing through the gate at the top of the
hill, caught up with Happelburger.
"Any idea what I'm supposed to have done wrong?"
"None whatsoever," he said, looking straight ahead. They passed the
barracks, Hal wondering if he should dump his towel in the room. Sod
it, it was just too bloody hot to worry about rules and regulations.
"Those shades you gave me are very good," he said, as they entered the
"I'm pleased to hear it. I hope you're able to see things more clearly
now," smiled Happelburger.
Hal said nothing, entering Silver's office to find him standing by the
window, staring out into the dark brown mountains of the Sinai.
"Eh, Colonel?" he said, closing the door behind him.
Silver jumped and turned round. "Burns. Yes, I called for you, didn't
I? Sit down, please." As they took their seats Silver passed him a small
brown package. "Here's a present from Jim Steinman."
"Well then. Any progress?"
Hal sighed. "Fuck all."
"I thought as much. Goddamn waste of time and money sending good men
like you out here. Looking for something that probably doesn't exist
except in the imagination of those loons in the PSU."
Hal smiled. "I couldn't have put it better myself."
Silver stood up and returned to the window. "I don't suppose you've
ever been out in the desert before, have you Burns?"
"No Colonel, you don't get much of it in England."
"But you do understand that it wouldn't look right if you stayed here
while the rest of the men went out on exercise?"
"Who knows? Maybe you'll find The Psi Gang out there!"
"You never know."
Silver shuddered. "You know Burns, just looking into that...that nothing
scares the shit out of me."
"It has to be said Colonel, it doesn't look very inviting."
Silver turned to him. "So how are your roommates?"
Hal grinned. "Fine. Though I'm not sure about old Sam."
"Private James? Yes. Usually he would have been demobbed years ago,
but so long as he looks after the store on the beach and the store on
the beach looks after him, then we're happy for him to be here. Still,
I can't think of many men who'd willingly stay in this void for as long
"Perhaps the void is what he wants."
"Yes, perhaps. Anyway, remember, if there's anything I can do to help,
just come and see me."
"Thanks Colonel." Hal left the office and after being ignored by Happelburger,
returned to 'B' barracks. Sitting down on his bed, he opened the envelope
and took out a slip of paper and a tape. The paper said:
For security reasons our contact from now on is gonna
be by snailmail. No more electronic communication. You never know who's
watching. For that reason, I'm sending you this tape. I've just heard
it myself, and I'll say one thing: those boys in PSU must be creaming
themselves over this one. See what you can make of it. Happy Psi hunting.
P.S. A report would be appreciated."
Sure, Steinman could have a report. He'd do it right
now. Hal turned the paper over and considered. He could have told him
about his interest in Happelburger, but there was nothing significant
to say; he might have referred to Sam's remarks on the first day, when
he'd said he'd 'felt' them; instead, he picked up a pen and wrote:
Sun, sand and steak.
Looking down over the Bay he remembered that Gus might
well be wondering where he'd got to, and after taking his Walkman and
a couple of tapes from his bag he returned to the beach.
Gus was still working out on the bars, Sam was sleeping outside his
hut, while Ben was still swimming out in the Bay. After lying down on
his towel and inserting the tape into his Walkman, he closed his eyes
and waited for the report to begin.
"This has been prepared by the Psychic Studies Unit,
now operating with the Psi Detection Agency.
What follows is the second interview between Doctor Ronald Banks, and
Colonel Stanley T Rockson.
BANKS: So Colonel...
ROCKSON: Stanley, please, call me Stanley. All my friends call me Stanley.
BANKS: Well, Stanley, tell me, do you think we could go back a bit,
so we can try to find out where and when you first suffered from psi
ROCKSON: Psi fever? So that's what you're calling it. Believe me sonny
boy, this isn't just some goddamn fever we're talking about here, it's
something much bigger than that! Don't you talk about me as if I'm just
another burnt out, fucked up Corporation guy...
BANKS: I've said nothing of the sort.
ROCKSON: No, but I can see it's what you're thinking.
BANKS: Please Stanley, I'm just trying to help you get well. And if
you want to do that then you must trust me. Now try to remember when
it first started.
ROCKSON: Yes, I remember. It was the first time she came to see me...
BANKS: Who is 'she', Stanley?
BANKS: And who is Baryon?
ROCKSON: One of the Psi children.
BANKS: And where did you meet her Stanley?
ROCKSON: Promise not to laugh?
BANKS: Cross my heart and hope to die.
ROCKSON: In my head.
BANKS: I see. Anywhere else?
ROCKSON: On the island.
BANKS: What island, Stanley?
ROCKSON: Out there.
BANKS: Out where?
ROCKSON: Out of my body. Double Door. Double body.
BANKS: But where Stanley, where? Can you be more specific?
ROCKSON: Not the Pacific. The desert. The pacific island in the specific
BANKS: An island in the desert? Very well. Now tell me, what did this
Baryon look like?
ROCKSON: Tall. Cropped, corn coloured hair. Black all over. Silver moon
on her forehead.
BANKS: And what did she say to you?
ROCKSON: She asked me if I wanted to come on a little trip with her.
See some sights. I want to go back to see Pandora and Parti I just want
back please take me back I don't like it here no-one knows me...
BANKS: There there Stanley, you rest now, and I'll be back later."
Despite the patient's incomplete mental recovery, the interview only
strengthens our conviction that there is a conspiracy to bring down
the WGC, and that this is being perpetrated by what could be called
the Psi Gang. Their motives, however, are still unclear. Please destroy
Hal was about to eject it when a familiar voice came on.
"Hey, Burns! Jim Steinman here. Well, I told you it was a bunch of bullshit!"
The tape ended to the sound of Steinman's laughter. Thanks Jim, thanks
a million, thought Hal. As he reached for the EJECT button he felt drops
of water splashing on his stomach. He opened his eyes. "Gus! What the
fuck are you doing?!"
Gus was standing over him, dripping with perspiration, his chest still
heaving from the exercise he had only just finished.
"Waitin' for you to let me hear some music, that's what."
"Believe me, you won't like what I've got."
"You let me be the judge of that, man," he said, reaching down and snatching
the Walkman from him.
"For fuck's sake!" Hal sprang up and grabbed it back, taking out the
tape and flinging it into the Bay.
"What the hell you doin', man?! You're acting like crazy Sam! I think
you had too much sun today. Been on the beach too long."
Hal laughed and handed back the Walkman. "Here, try this," he said,
passing him another tape.
Gus slotted it in and put in the earpieces. "Hmmm, The Beach Boys. Shit
man, I can't believe the other tape was worse than this!"
"Gus, if you must know, it was from my mother."
"My mother. She always sends me them wherever I get posted."
"Is that so?"
"'N do you always throw your ma's tapes away?"
"When they piss me off, yeah."
Gus laughed and handed back the Walkman. "Well, two things are for sure.
I don' wanna hear your ma's voice, 'n I sure as hell don' wanna hear
the goddamn Beach Boys! You need some shade man, fast!"
Still laughing, Gus walked off up to the hut where Sam was preparing
some steaks, leaving Hal alone again. He was livid with himself. Never
in all his career had he behaved so stupidly. He'd been a fool to have
brought the tape down. And would Gus really believe that crap about
his mother? But then, could he really believe what he'd just heard on
"'Sun, sand and steak'?" What the fuck you talkin'
'bout man?" said Gus, who had been the first to enter the room after
they'd returned from the beach.
Somehow Hal didn't panic. "It's for my Uncle Jim. He likes his letters
short," he said, gently taking the slip of paper from Gus's hand and
putting it in his pocket.
Gus shook his head. "Christ man, you sure got a weird family."
"I know, it keeps me sane."
"You're right there, boy," said Sam, "nothing like madness to keep a
"Well, I don't know about any of that, but I'm heading for the bar,"
said Ben, changing into trousers and a long shirt.
"That sounds cool," said Gus, "you comin', Hal? Or maybe you got more
tapes from your fairy godmother? Or maybe some three word letters to
write to dumb uncles?"
"Yeah, I'm coming. But don't wait, I'll see you in there."
After hearing the door to the barracks close, Hal lay down on his bed.
"Fucking get a grip!" he shouted. He couldn't remember ever having been
as careless as now. His concentration had always been total. Taking
out his letter to 'Uncle' Jim he scribbled an address on the front,
and after changing into trousers and a shirt, he set off for the admin
It was cold outside, a desert chill having descended over the base,
the mountains beyond now indistinct black masses. He shivered, and after
entering the office and depositing the envelope in Silver's out-tray,
he ran across the hard desert ground towards the small portakabin that
was the bar. It was full, with soldiers sitting at the tables spread
across the floor, others standing at the bar, watching CNN. Some women
were also there, sitting and dancing with the soldiers. The jukebox
was playing fifties rock 'n roll, and after what Silver had told him
about the morale of the base since the Rockson affair, Hal had not expected
it to be so cheerful.
"Hal!" called a voice to his left. He looked across to see his roommates
sitting at a table in the corner, Gus already nursing one of the women
on his lap.
"Have a beer," said Ben, passing him a bottle.
"So this is where the action is," he said.
Ben nodded. "The girls are from Sharm el Sheik. They're not supposed
to be here, but every man from the Colonel to the clerk makes use of
their services. It's either that or the desert for your kicks."
"N you'll be gettin' your kicks in the desert soon enough," chortled
"Thanks, that's just what I wanted to hear."
"Say Hal, if you don't mind me asking," said Ben, "what made you throw
that tape into the sea this afternoon?"
Gus began to snigger.
"You mean you haven't told them?" said Hal, turning to him.
"Well, it's not the kind of thing I thought you'd want me to tell."
"It's not the kind of thing you need to tell," said Sam. "Hal, you don't
have to explain yourself to no man. You wanna throw a tape into the
sea, you throw a tape into the sea. It's no-one else's goddamn business."
"Look, if you'd rather not say..." began Ben.
Hal took a sip of beer and lit a cigarette. "I don't mind, but Gus seems
to be getting such a laugh from it, I think he should be the one to
Gus grinned and leaned over the shoulder of the woman. "It's his mother.
She sends him tapes. This one really got him pissed, so he chucked it
away. Right, Hal?"
Hal was about to reply when he noticed Happelburger sitting on his own
over by the jukebox. He had a glass of beer, but he wasn't drinking,
just smoking a cigarette and staring at the flashing lights on the music
machine, ignoring the entreaties of a woman standing over him. "Guys,
I'll see you round," he said, getting up from the table.
"Hey man, don't take it like that. I didn't mean nothin'," said Gus.
But Hal didn't hear him, already making for the jukebox. "Mind if I
join you?" he asked.
Happelburger kept his eyes fixed on the lights. "No," he said, stubbing
out one cigarette and lighting another.
Hal studied his face as the sad Lieutenant finally looked away from
the lights and examined him with his red eyes. "Any luck yet?"
"Come on Burns, you don't have to pretend with me. I know why you're
Hal shrugged. "Alright then. No. No luck at all as it happens. I'm not
even sure I should be expecting any luck."
Happelburger grinned. "Well don't worry, apart from Silver no-one knows
why you're here, least of all those geeks you're sharing with."
Hal took a swig of beer. "OK Mister Smart Man, you got something to
Happelburger took a drag on his cigarette and blew into the face of
the woman standing over him.
"Let's say we start with Rockson."
Happelburger glared at him. "What's there to say? He's gone." A tear
rolled down his cheek and dropped into his glass.
Hal leaned over the table and grabbed him by the wrist. "You've got
to talk. You keep it inside much longer and you'll end up just like
Staring into the lights again, Happelburger sighed. "Alright, Private.
You win." After putting out a half smoked cigarette and lighting another,
he began. "It must have started a few weeks before the collapse. I'll
never forget the morning I walked into his office to receive the day's
briefing. Rockson opened his mouth to speak and almost choked. He just
couldn't get the words out. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, him
or me. We said nothing about it, just pretended it had never happened.
Anyway, the next few days were fine, he was giving orders and issuing
instructions just like he always had. And then the words came." He paused
and sipped on his beer, his eyes not leaving the lights.
"What words?" said Hal.
The Lieutenant took a long drag on his cigarette. "It was about a week
after that first incident with the briefing. It was in the afternoon
and I was tidying my desk, preparing to go back to my room, when he
came out his office and asked me if I'd seen them."
"I'd rather not say." His trembling hand picked up the lighter and relit
the cigarette he had allowed to go out.
"Happelburger, you must tell me. What did he say?"
He inhaled deeply before expelling a large cloud of smoke. "The Psi
"Well, what did you say?"
Happelburger turned to him. "Say? What could I say? What would you
say if someone asked you?" Another tear ran down his cheek and joined
its companion in the glass. "I just looked at him and waited for him
to say 'one of my bad jokes' or 'I just wanted to see how you'd react'.
But he didn't! He didn't!" He picked up his glass, but his trembling
hand forced him to put it down
"What else did he say?" said Hal.
"Nothing. I stared at him, he stared at me, waiting for an answer. Then,
after about five minutes, he just walked back into his office. After
that, it got worse. By the last week I was running the base by myself.
He was a wreck, barely able to speak, let alone give orders. And all
the time I couldn't help thinking back to that moment in my office.
I sometimes wanted to ask him what he'd meant by it, but just couldn't.
It might have ruined him. What am I talking about? It did ruin him!"
Happelburger sniffed and wiped his eyes. "Seems like only yesterday
since I walked into his office that morning and found him slumped over
his desk. I tell you, if I ever discover the bastards who did that to
him, I'll..." He dropped the cigarette on the floor and extinguished
it with the sole of his boot.
Hal placed his hand on the Lieutenant's shoulder. "Who do you think
did it to him?"
Happelburger turned to him and grinned. "Well, it can only be them,
can't it, Private Burns?"
The Lieutenant stood up, grabbed the woman by the wrist and left the
table. "Good luck, Private. You're gonna need it!"
"Happelburger, wait!" called Hal, running out after him.
"Keep away now!" he hissed, "I've said enough. The rest is up to you.
This conversation never happened. Good night, Private Burns!" In seconds
Happelburger had disappeared with the woman into his room by the admin
Hal didn't try to stop him. The Lieutenant was right. It was up to him
now. He looked out across the sea, detecting lights shining in the watery
darkness. Ships, of course, heading up the Gulf to Aqaba and Eilat.
Just ships. Shivering in the cold wind blowing in from the desert, all
his doubts about the PSU reports seemed groundless, and after returning
to barracks he lay awake on his bed until dawn, not hearing the sounds
of his roommates farting, snoring and turning during the night, but
the broken voices of Rockson and Happelburger instead, haunting him
with the same phrase again and again and again: 'psi children, psi children,
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