Chapter no 103 – East‌

All the Light We Cannot See

They ride in boxcars through Lodz, Warsaw, Brest. For miles, out the open door, Werner sees no sign of humans save the occasional railcar capsized beside the tracks, twisted and scarred by some kind of explosion. Soldiers clamber on and off, lean, pale, each carrying a pack, rifle, and steel helmet. They sleep despite noise, despite cold, despite hunger, as though desperate to stay removed from the waking world for as long as possible.

Rows of pines divide endless metal-colored plains. The day is sunless. Neumann Two wakes and urinates out the door and takes the pillbox from his coat and swallows two or three more tablets. “Russia,” he says, though how he has marked the transition, Werner cannot guess.

The air smells of steel.

At dusk the train stops and Neumann Two leads Werner on foot through rows of ruined houses, beams and bricks lying in charred heaps. What walls stand are lined with the black crosshatchings of machine-gun fire. It’s nearly dark when Werner is delivered to a musclebound captain dining alone on a sofa that consists of a wooden frame and springs. In a tin bowl, in the captain’s lap, steams a cylinder of boiled gray meat. He studies Werner awhile without saying anything, wearing a look not of disappointment but tired amusement.

“Not making them any bigger, are they?” “No, sir.”

“How old are you?” “Eighteen, sir.”

The captain laughs. “Twelve, more like.” He slices off a circle of meat and chews a long time and finally reaches into his mouth with two fingers and flings away a string of gristle. “You’ll want to acquaint yourself with the equipment. See if you can do better than the last one they sent.”

Neumann Two leads Werner to the open back of an unwashed Opel Blitz, a cross-country three-ton truck with a wooden shell built onto the back. Dented gasoline cans are strapped to one flank. Bullet trails have

left wandering perforations down the other. The leaden dusk drains away. Neumann Two brings Werner a kerosene lantern. “Gadgets are inside.”

Then he vanishes. No explanations. Welcome to war. Tiny moths swirl in the lantern light. Fatigue settles into every part of Werner. Is this Dr. Hauptmann’s idea of a reward or a punishment? He longs to sit on the benches in Children’s House again, to hear Frau Elena’s songs, to feel the heat pumping off the potbelly stove and the high voice of Siegfried Fischer rhapsodizing about U-boats and fighter planes, to see Jutta drawing at the far end of the table, sketching out the thousand windows of her imaginary city.

Inside the truck box lives a smell: clay, spilled diesel mixed with something putrid. Three square windows reflect the lantern light. It’s a radio truck. On a bench along the left wall sit a pair of grimy listening decks the size of bed pillows. A folding RF antenna that can be raised and lowered from inside. Three headsets, a weapon rack, storage lockers. Wax pencils, compasses, maps. And here, in battered cases, wait two of the transceivers he designed with Dr. Hauptmann.

To see them all the way out here soothes him, as though he has turned and found an old friend floating beside him in the middle of the sea. He tugs the first transceiver from its case and unscrews the back plate. Its meter is cracked, several fuses are blown, and the transmitter plug is missing. He fishes for tools, a socket key, copper wire. He looks out the open door across the silent camp to where stars are spun in thousands across the sky.

Do Russian tanks wait out there? Training their guns on the lantern light?

He remembers Herr Siedler’s big walnut Philco. Stare into the wires, concentrate, assess. Eventually a pattern will assert itself.

When he next looks up, a soft glow shows behind a line of distant trees, as if something is burning out there. Dawn. A half mile away, two boys with sticks slouch behind a drove of bony cattle. Werner is opening the second transceiver case when a giant appears in the back of the truck shell.


The man hangs his long arms from the top bar of the truck canopy; he eclipses the ruined village, the fields, the rising sun.


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