Chapter no 75 – Nadel im Heuhaufen‌

All the Light We Cannot See

Midnight. Dr. Hauptmann’s hounds bound through frozen fields beside the school, drops of quicksilver skittering through the white. Behind them comes Hauptmann in his fur cap, walking with short strides as though counting paces over some great distance. In the rear comes Werner, carrying the pair of transceivers he and Hauptmann have been testing for months.

Hauptmann turns, his face bright. “Nice spot here, good sight lines, set it down, Pfennig. I’ve sent our friend Volkheimer ahead. He’s somewhere on the hill.” Werner sees no tracks, only a humped swale of glitter in the moonlight, and the white forest beyond.

“He has the KX transmitter in an ammunition box,” Hauptmann says. “He is to conceal himself and broadcast steadily until we find him or his battery dies. Even I do not know where he is.” He smacks his gloved hands together, and the dogs swirl around him, their breath smoking. “Ten square kilometers. Locate the transmitter, locate our friend.”

Werner looks out at the ten thousand snow-mantled trees. “Out there, sir?”

“Out there.” Hauptmann draws a flask from his pocket and unscrews it without looking at it. “This is the fun part, Pfennig.”

Hauptmann stamps a clearing in the snow, and Werner sets up the first transceiver, uses measuring tape to pace off two hundred meters, and sets up the second. He uncoils the grounding wires, raises the aerials, and switches them on. Already his fingers are numb.

“Try eighty meters, Pfennig. Typically teams won’t know what band to search. But for tonight, our first field test, we’ll cheat a bit.”

Werner puts on the headset and fills his ears with static. He dials up the RF gain, adjusts the filter. Before long, he has tuned in both receivers to Volkheimer’s transmitter pinging along. “I have him, sir.”

Hauptmann starts smiling in earnest. The dogs caper and sneeze with excitement. From his coat he produces a grease pencil. “Just do it on the radio. Teams won’t always have paper, not in the field.”

Werner sketches out the equation on the metal casing of the transceiver and starts plugging in numbers. Hauptmann hands him a slide rule. In two minutes Werner has a vector and a distance: two and a half kilometers.

“And the map?” Hauptmann’s little aristocratic face gleams with pleasure.

Werner uses a protractor and compass to draw the lines. “Lead on, Pfennig.”

Werner folds the map into his coat pocket, packs up the transceivers, and carries one in each hand like matching suitcases. Tiny snow crystals sift down through the moonlight. Soon the school and its outbuildings look like toys on the white plain below. The moon slips lower, a half-lidded eye, and the dogs stick close to their master, mouths steaming, and Werner sweats.

They drop into a ravine and climb out. One kilometer. Two. “Sublimity,” Hauptmann says, panting, “you know what that is,

Pfennig?” He is tipsy, animated, almost prattling. Never has Werner seen him like this. “It’s the instant when one thing is about to become something else. Day to night, caterpillar to butterfly. Fawn to doe. Experiment to result. Boy to man.”

Far up a third climb, Werner unfolds the map and double-checks his bearings with a compass. Everywhere the silent trees gleam. No tracks save their own. The school lost behind them. “Shall I set out the transceivers again, sir?”

Hauptmann puts his fingers to his lips.

Werner triangulates again and sees how close they are to his original reading—under half a kilometer. He repacks the transceivers and picks up his pace, hunting now, on the scent, all three dogs sensing it too, and Werner thinks: I have found a way in, I am solving it, the numbers are becoming real. And the trees unload siftings of snow and the dogs freeze and twitch their noses, locked on a scent, pointing as if at a pheasant, and Hauptmann holds up a palm, and finally Werner, coming up through a gap between trees, laboring as he carries the big cases, sees the form of a man lying faceup in the snow, transmitter at his feet, antenna rising into the low branches.

The Giant.

The dogs tremble in their stances. Hauptmann keeps his palm up. With his other hand, he unholsters his pistol. “This close, Pfennig, you

cannot hesitate.”

Volkheimer’s left side faces them. Werner can see the vapor of his breath rise and disperse. Hauptmann aims his Walther right at Volkheimer, and for a long and startling moment, Werner is certain that his teacher is about to shoot the boy, that they are in grave danger, every single cadet, and he cannot help but hear Jutta as she stood beside the canal: Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it? Something in Werner’s soul shuts its scaly eyes, and the little professor raises his pistol and fires it into the sky.

Volkheimer leaps immediately into a squat, his head coming around as the hounds release toward him, and Werner’s heart feels as if it has been blown to pieces in his chest.

Volkheimer’s arms come up as the dogs charge him, but they know him; they are leaping on him in play, barking and scampering, and Werner watches the huge boy throw off the dogs as if they were housecats. Dr. Hauptmann laughs. His pistol smokes, and he takes a long drink from his flask and passes it to Werner, and Werner puts it to his lips. He has pleased his professor after all; the transceivers work; he is out in the luminous, starlit night feeling the stinging glow of brandy flow into his gut—

“This,” says Hauptmann, “is what we’re doing with the triangles.”

The dogs circle and duck and romp. Hauptmann relieves himself beneath the trees. Volkheimer trudges toward Werner lugging the big KX transmitter; he grows ever larger; he rests a huge mittened hand on Werner’s cap.

“It’s only numbers,” he says, quietly enough that Hauptmann cannot hear.

“Pure math, cadet,” adds Werner, mimicking Hauptmann’s clipped accent. He presses his gloved fingertips together, all five to five. “You have to accustom yourself to thinking that way.”

It is the first time Werner has heard Volkheimer laugh, and his countenance changes; he becomes less menacing and more like a benevolent, humongous child. More like the person he becomes when he listens to music.

All the next day the pleasure of his success lingers in Werner’s blood, the memory of how it seemed almost holy to him to walk beside big Volkheimer back to the castle, down through the frozen trees, past the rooms of sleeping boys ranked like gold bars in strongrooms—Werner

felt an almost fatherly protectiveness for the others as he undressed beside his bunk, as lumbering Volkheimer continued on toward the dormitories of the upperclassmen, an ogre among angels, a keeper crossing a field of gravestones at night.

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