Chapter 6: The Faceless Mount

“So it's true,” says Forty-two, peering through a porthole. “They covered up the faces.”

They're in a dirigible, drifting like a cloud over the South Dakotan wilds. “Shove over,” says Forty-three. “I wanna take a gander.”

At first glance, nothing's amiss. It looks like mountain. Then a flash of recognition, as the shapes of those four heads find their place in your memories. Then you notice how the faces have been smoothed over. The longer you look, the less natural it seems. If you get closer, or look at the rock face through binoculars, it soon becomes apparent that the faces haven't been torn down or blown to rubble. They were simply covered up, buried under tons of poured concrete.

“I bet I can still name 'em,” says Forty-three.

“Bad luck to say their names,” says Forty-two. “One, Three, Sixteen and Twenty-six.”

“I would've known that,” says Forty-three.

“I know,” says Forty-two.

“The rebel base isn't really inside the mountain,” says Sam. “That would be too obvious, although they don't dissuade people from thinking that's where it is. It's not far from here, though. Captain Cam and I have friends there. We'll get you in. Boy, they'll be happy to see you two.”

Captain Cam sets the dirigible down in a small field and the four of them walk the rest of the way. The base itself is housed in the remains of a big box store, long since bankrupt and shuttered. The rebels have let the outside of the building fade and crumble, the better to blend in. Inside, they've reinforced the walls and roof and built a labyrinthine complex of barracks, offices, information centers, storerooms. A town unto itself.

The asphalt parking lot has been torn apart and used for building material by feral suburbanites. The forest has encroached, blending trees and undergrowth with abandoned cars and other garbage from the Olden Days. The four men approach with caution, eyes peeled for traps. There's not a soul in sight.

“Halt,” says a voice from a guard tower hidden in the trees. Sam, Cam, and the two presidents stop and raise their hands. Half a dozen guards appear around them as if from nowhere, cloaked and camouflaged in the surrounding detritus. “State your name and business.”

“Name's Sam,” says Sam. “I've got business with General Applegate.”

Another voice comes from behind them. “Do you have an appointment?”

Sam spins around. The person who spoke is wearing some kind of invisibility garment. He fades into reality like a Romulan Warbird. “Johnny Applegate,” says Sam with a grin of recognition. “Or should I say, 'General?'”

The General doesn't smile back. “You made a mistake coming here, Sam,” he says. “Guards. Arrest these men.”