Chapter no 128 – Voice‌

All the Light We Cannot See

On the morning of his fourth day trapped beneath whatever is left of the Hotel of Bees, Werner is listening to the repaired transceiver, feathering the tuning knob back and forth, when a girl’s voice says directly into his good ear: At three in the morning I was awakened by a violent blow. He thinks: It’s hunger, the fever, I’m imagining things, my mind is forcing the static to coalesce . . .

She says, I sat up in bed and tried to hear what was going on, but suddenly I was hurled out into the middle of the room.

She speaks quiet, perfectly enunciated French; her accent is crisper than Frau Elena’s. He grinds the headphones into his ear . . . Obviously, she says, the Nautilus had collided with something and then heeled over at a sharp angle . . .

She rolls her ‘s, draws out her ‘s. With each syllable, the voice seems to burrow a bit deeper into his brain. Young, high, hardly more than a whisper. If it is a hallucination, let it be.

One of these icebergs turned and struck the Nautilus as it was cruising underwater. The iceberg then slipped under its hull and lifted it with an irresistible force into shallower water . . .

He can hear her wet the top of her mouth with her tongue. But who was to say that at that moment we wouldn’t collide against the underside of the barrier, and thus be horribly squashed between two surfaces of ice? The static emerges again, threatening to wash her out, and he tries desperately to fight it off; he is a child in his attic dormer, clinging to a dream he does not want to leave, but Jutta has laid a hand on his shoulder and is whispering him awake.

We were suspended in the water, but ten meters on each side of the Nautilus rose a shining wall of ice. Above and below there was the same wall.

She stops reading abruptly and the static roars. When she speaks again, her voice has become an urgent hiss: He is here. He is right below me.

Then the broadcast cuts out. He feathers the tuner, switches bands: nothing. He takes off the headset and moves in the total blackness toward where Volkheimer sits and grabs what he thinks is his arm. “I heard something. Please . . .”

Volkheimer does not move; he seems made of wood. Werner yanks with all his strength, but he is too little, too weak; the strength deserts him almost as soon as it came.

“Enough,” comes Volkheimer’s voice from the blackness. “It won’t do any good.” Werner sits on the floor. Somewhere in the ruins above them, cats are howling. Starving. As is he. As is Volkheimer.

A boy at Schulpforta once described for Werner a rally at Nuremberg: an ocean of banners and flags, he said, masses of boys teeming in the lights, and the führer himself on an altar a half mile away, spotlights illuminating pillars behind him, the atmosphere oversaturated with meaning and anger and righteousness, Hans Schilzer crazy for it, Herribert Pomsel crazy for it, every boy at Schulpforta crazy for it, and the only person in Werner’s life who could see through all that stagecraft was his younger sister. How? How did Jutta understand so much more about how the world worked? While he knew so little?

But who was to say that at that moment we wouldn’t collide against the underside of the barrier, and thus be horribly squashed between two surfaces of ice?

He is here. He is right below me. Do something. Save her.

But God is only a white cold eye, a quarter-moon poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking, as the city is gradually pounded to dust.

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