The Jupiter C missile stands on the launch pad at Complex 26, Cape Canaveral. For secrecy, it is draped in vast canvas shrouds that hide everything but its tail, which is that of the Army's familiar Redstone rocket. But the rest of it, under the concealing cloak, is quite unique.
He woke up scared.
Worse than that: he was terrified. His heart was pounding, his breath came in gasps, and his body was taut. It was like a nightmare, except that waking brought no sense of relief. He felt that something dreadful had happened, but he did not know what it was.
He opened his eyes. A faint light from another room dimly illuminated his surroundings, and he made out vague shapes, familiar but sinister. Somewhere nearby, water ran in a cistern.
He tried to make himself calm. He swallowed, took regular breaths, and attempted to think straight. He was lying on a hard floor. He was cold, he hurt everywhere, and he had some kind of hangover, with a headache and a dry mouth and a feeling of nausea.
He sat upright, shaking with fear. There was an unpleasant smell of damp floors washed with strong disinfectant. He recognized the outline of a row of washbasins.
He was in a public toilet.
He felt disgusted. He had been sleeping on the floor of a men's room. What the hell had happened to him? He concentrated. He was fully dressed, wearing some kind of topcoat and heavy boots, though he had a feeling that these were not his clothes. His panic was subsiding, but in its place came a deeper fear, less hysterical but more rational. What had happened to him was very bad.
He needed light.
He got to his feet. He looked around, peering into the gloom, and guessed where the door might be. Holding his arms out in front of him in case of invisible obstacles, he made his way to a wall. Then he walked crabwise, his hands exploring. He found a cold glassy surface he guessed was a mirror, then there was a towel roller, then a metal box that might be a slot machine. At last his fingertips touched a switch, and he turned it on.
Bright light flooded white-tiled walls, a concrete floor, and a line of toilets with open doors. In a corner was what looked like a bundle of old clothes. He asked himself how he got here. He concentrated hard. What had happened last night? He could not remember.
The hysterical fear began to return as he realized he could not remember anything at all.
He clenched his teeth to stop himself crying out. Yesterday ... the day before ... nothing. What was his name? He did not know.
He turned toward the row of basins, Above them was a long mirror. In the glass he saw a filthy hobo, dressed in rags, with matted hair, a dirty face, and a crazy, pop-eyed stare. He looked at the hobo for a second, then he was hit by a terrible revelation. He started back, with a cry of shock, and the man in the mirror did the same. The hobo was himself.
He could no longer hold back the tide of panic. He opened his mouth and, in a voice that shook with terror, he shouted, "Who am I?"
The bundle of old clothes moved. It rolled over, a face appeared, and a voice mumbled, "You're a bum, Luke, pipe down."
His name was Luke.
He was pathetically grateful for the knowledge. A name was not much, but it gave him a focus. He stared at his companion. The man wore a ripped tweed coat with a length of string around the waist for a belt. The grimy young face had a crafty look. The man rubbed his eyes and muttered, "My head hurts."
Luke said, "Who are you?"
"I'm Pete, you retard, can't you see?"
"I can't" Luke swallowed, holding down the panic. "I've lost my memory!"
"I ain't surprised. You drank most of a bottle of liquor yesterday. It's a miracle you didn't lose your entire mind." He licked his lips. "I didn't get hardly any of that goddamn bourbon."
Reprinted from Code Zero by Ken Follett by permission of E. P. Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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