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They’ve counted twelve bodies so far. The neater ones merely blew their own heads off.

“There’s nothing here but death,” says Tach. “If we find the generator, we can unshield it, and a magnet that strong should kill the drive–”

“All that will do is kick the number into our heads and you know it,” says Ashlock. “Fuck and damn it. Kirrily. Why would Kirrily have come here?”

“Something secret,” says Tach, who’s trying to ignore the hexadecimal edging at his vision.

“And where do you put a secret in Antarctica?”

They find the ragged tunnel entrance in the loading bay.


The prevailing theory around numbers from Nameless dreams goes that they are indeterminate, resolving only upon observation by a sapient. That’s usually Tach, or someone like him, in deep trance. The trance keeps your mind intact. Probably.

The people at the French Polar Institute, upon hiring the people Tach and Ashlock are impersonating, had a theory: that some of the Dumont d’Urville staff survived. This theory is hemorrhaging credence. Tach’s theory is that they should get the hell out of here.

Ashlock’s theory is that they must deliver their little number, like Tolkien’s ring, to the burning heart of the world.


Doors down here seal but do not lock.

Inside everything’s cranberry, lit by single stripes of emergency diode three links down the failsafe chain.  It’s warm enough, by the grace of the geothermal, but nothing controlled by a bitwise system still has a switch intact.

“This is worse than I thought,” says Ashlock, shivering for several reasons.  She pops the topmost drive from the RAID, and its surface goes from warm to uncomfortably hot.  “Let’s get to the generator.”

Tach sees it first:  the awful mark of desperation, a wall-spray flecked with bone.  In red light, the blood barely glitters.


Tach catches Ashlock looking at his temples and pulls up the hood of his parka.

The captain of the Matthew Henson is tall and rightly suspicious. “You’re the investigators, you investigate,” he says. “Any supplies you need, we’ll run them down the plank and that’s that. None of my crew are setting foot on that ice.”

That’s fine by Ashlock: their cover would fold under scrutiny anyway. They hoist packs and drag the RAID-sled down to the broken road, and Dumont d’Urville rises cyclopean before them. The lights are still on, but no one’s waving. Katabatic wind burns Ashlock’s nose.


It wasn’t ideal, but this is the last trip the icebreakers can make before the sea goes solid for winter.  They steam through the groaning water toward d’Urville, and muttering perturbs their Tasmanian crew.

Ashlock climbs down into the hold every few hours to check the trembling RAID and its car battery, lashed to a frame of PVC pipe.  Its lifespan diminishes.  Tach’s taken to whalespotting, and is no help.

The station ruins hove into view just as the sun begins to dip toward the twenty-hour night. Ashlock hoists the rig, and quells fears too old for the Greeks to name.


Kirrily’s money laundromat has no physical location, but her penthouse does.  They case it for hours before deciding it’s empty.  Tach does unspeakable things to the lock.

Inside it’s messily well-appointed, with a distinct shortage of blueprints marked “Screw Over Tach and Ashlock, Start Here.”  Tach peels a banana and starts gingerly sorting her trash; Ashlock looks for the office.

There’s a desktop PC in there, retro relic, a beautiful beige box with a bulbous VGA monitor.  Ashlock strokes it admiringly, then tries the keyboard.  One of its little legs collapses.  She flips it over.

“Adélie,” says the note stickied underneath.


Ashlock clutches a vast mug of black coffee; Tach, a shot of very potent tea. Together they stare at the iPod, throbbing with nearly-visible menace.

“We could,” Ashlock begins.

“No,” says Tach.

“No one’s buying, we can’t throw it away–”

“I’m not putting that number in my head,” says Tach.

“Fine,” says Ashlock. “But somebody rigged that trap. It’s a curse, and it’s onto us but good.”

“So what? You want to return it?”

“That’s exactly what I want to do.”

“It’ll burn through our backups. We’ve got maybe two days.”

“This,” says Ashlock, “is why I always keep receipts.”


Tach started out as a scryptkiddie, pulling packaged cants off the flood for pranks and petty larceny. Before long he was tinkering with his own dead linguistics; vintage parchment isn’t cheap, so he took jobs off a slist of indeterminate legality.  That was where he met Ashlock.

Their shared spark wasn’t attraction:  it was ambition.  Two days later they’d burned their employer for fifty bills and walked away to scrounge copper for a hacking den.

Tach has no regrets, because dealing with the unspeakable screws with your memory.  Considering the circumstances, he’s wondering if it gives you a death wish too.


Phosporescent hexadecimal scrolls through Ashlock’s dreams.

When she wakes, the chronometer pulses 3:44. Cold water on her face, her boots, her jacket. She’s out pacing the mist-wreathed docks by a sliver of moon.

Nobody nice is out at this hour, but they don’t hassle Ashlock (she does kung fu). Down a wharf, she kicks splinters into jetsam.

This was an easy job: they should have come out with cash, not data. They’re lazy sometimes, arrogant, but not stupid.

Somebody dumbed it up for them.

Styrofoam hunks bob around the pylon, striped with broken barcodes. Hexadecimal teases Ashlock, just out of reach.


Tach’s iPod is smoking.

“It looks,” says their fence Celesque dryly, “a little too hot for me to move.”

“Hey, nobody’s coming after this one,” says Ashlock, which is technically true. “Just put out some feelers or whatever.”

“There are practically feelers coming out of that thing already,” says Celesque.

“It’s good math. Powerful. It’ll sell.”

“Then sell it yourself, sweetie.” Celesque shrugs. “I’m not touching it. If that’s what I think it is, do yourself a favor. Hit it with a hammer, toss it in a lake.”

But information, Ashlock knows to her dismay, can be neither created nor destroyed.