Chapter no 105 – Volkheimer‌

All the Light We Cannot See

The engineer is a taciturn, pungent man named Walter Bernd whose pupils are misaligned. The driver is a gap-toothed thirty-year-old they call Neumann One. Werner knows that Volkheimer, their sergeant, cannot be older than twenty, but in the hard pewter-colored light of dawn, he looks twice that. “Partisans are hitting the trains,” he explains. “They’re organized, and the captain believes they’re coordinating their attacks with radios.”

“The last technician,” says Neumann One, “didn’t find anything.” “It’s good equipment,” says Werner. “I should have them both

functioning in an hour.”

A gentleness flows into Volkheimer’s eyes and hangs there a moment. “Pfennig,” he says, looking at Werner, “is nothing like our last technician.”

They begin. The Opel bounces down roads that are hardly more than cattle trails. Every few miles they stop and set up a transceiver on some hump or ridge. They leave Bernd and skinny, leering Neumann Two— one with a rifle and the other wearing headphones. Then they drive a few hundred yards, enough to build the base of a triangle, calculating distance all the way, and Werner switches on the primary receiver. He raises the truck’s aerial, puts on the headset, and scans the spectra, trying to find anything that is not sanctioned. Any voice that is not allowed.

Along the flat, immense horizon, multiple fires seem always to be burning. Most of the time Werner rides facing backward, looking at land they are leaving, back toward Poland, back into the Reich.

No one shoots at them. Few voices come shearing out of the static, and the ones he does hear are German. At night Neumann One pulls tins of little sausages out of ammunition boxes, and Neumann Two makes tired jokes about whores he remembers or invents, and in nightmares Werner watches the shapes of boys close over Frederick, though when he draws closer, Frederick transforms into Jutta, and she stares at Werner with accusation while the boys carry off her limbs one by one.

Every hour Volkheimer pokes his head into the back of the Opel and meets Werner’s eyes. “Nothing?”

Werner shakes his head. He fiddles with the batteries, reconsiders the antennas, triple-checks fuses. At Schulpforta, with Dr. Hauptmann, it was a game. He could guess Volkheimer’s frequency; he always knew whether Volkheimer’s transmitter was transmitting. Out here he doesn’t know how or when or where or even if transmissions are being broadcast; out here he chases ghosts. All they do is expend fuel driving past smoldering cottages and chewed-up artillery pieces and unmarked graves, while Volkheimer passes his giant hand over his close-cropped head, growing more uneasy by the day. From miles away comes the thunder of big guns, and still the German transport trains are being hit, bending tracks and flipping cattle cars and maiming the führer’s soldiers and filling his officers with fury.

Is that a partisan there, that old man with the saw cutting trees? That one leaning over the engine of that car? What about those three women collecting water at the creek?

Frosts show up at night, throwing a silver sheet across the landscape, and Werner wakes in the back of the truck with his fingers mashed in his armpits and his breath showing and the tubes of the transceiver glowing a faint blue. How deep will the snow be? Six feet, ten? A hundred?

Miles deep, thinks Werner. We will drive over everything that once was.

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