Tom Davenport, the young Hemispheres agent formerly known as “Hero,” is at this moment sitting in a surveillance van. The van is parked across from an apartment building in Diamondland. As part of his employment for The Shadow Farm, he is keeping tabs on a Turkish diplomat. Across the street from Tom’s van is a second van. Inside this van sits agent S. S watches Tom as he watches the apartment building. A block away a third van is parked. J sits inside this van. J watches S watching Tom watching the apartment building. Inside the apartment building, the Turkish diplomat (who isn’t really a Turkish diplomat) looks out the window of the penthouse, through a pair of plastic toy binoculars. He is watching J watching S watching Tom watching him. This is how it works in Diamondland, where everyone is watching everyone else, joined in an infinite arrangement of Möbius strips, each interlocking with the next, forming links in a great circular chain.
The “diplomat” is visiting his mistress. He will be in the apartment for hours. Tom is very bored. To help with the boredom, he imagines films in which he’d like to star. He writes his ideas in a notebook. He never finishes these screenplays. They are only doodles. There are drawings and pictures pasted in the notebook. The notebook looks like a graphic novel written by a child. Tonight, Tom works on a film treatment entitled “Opera #45”:
“Opera # 45”
There is a contemporary German opera entitled “H”.
“H” is about Hamlet as an Old Man.
This Hamlet decided not to avenge his father’s death.
He was more interested in forgiveness than revenge.
We see evidence of the opera, playing in a present-day European city, but we never actually see
We see posters, newspaper stories and hear people talking about it at cafés.
It’s all the rage.
At the opera house: We see the props. We see the costumes. We see backstage.
But we never see the opera itself.
What we learn about the opera is this:
The opera “H” is set in a city not unlike Wroclaw.
The city is ruled by Hamlet, at 60, who is a kind and pious king.
One day King Hamlet decides to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands.
He knows that his absence will cause great instability.
So, before he leaves, he divides power among his 3 most trusted friends.
He leaves his son, Claudius, in charge of the banks.
Horatio, his best friend, he leaves in charge of the army.
His wife, Ophelia, he leaves in charge of the throne.
We never see the resolution to the opera.
We don’t know if Hamlet is betrayed by his friends.
He might be killed by the Turks.
He might die of natural causes.
He might not die at all.
The opera might be a comedy or a tragedy.
We don’t know.
All we get is backstory.
We never see the opera itself.
We do see evidence of what has taken place in the opera.
A bloody sword wiped clean by the stagehand after the show.
A Turkish head on a pike.
The rigging of a special “ghost effect”.
An interview on the radio with the director.
The radio is on in a bar.
The bartender flips the channel to a soccer game.
(Just when the director is about to get into the plot)
A man in a café is about to tell his friend what happens in the opera.
The friend says, “don’t tell me!” and storms out of the restaurant.
While crossing the street, the man is killed by a bus.
In another part of the city, a man steals one of the “H” posters.
He hangs it in his apartment, above his stove.
At night, the poster catches fire and the house burns.
It seems that “H” is cursed.
The opera’s memorabilia causes bad things to happen.
Finally we get to see the opera.
We take our seats in the audience.
The curtain rises.
But, at that precise moment, one of the extras has a heart attack and the show is stopped.
A detective starts to piece together the fragments of coincidence.
He believes the deaths are the work of a serial killer.
This serial killer, he discovers, is not human.
The serial killer is a ghost.
The detective hires a medium to communicate to the ghost.
The medium —
At the moment that Tom is about to write down what will happen next in the film, the “diplomat” leaves the apartment. A black Mercedes limo pulls up to the curb. A driver gets out of the car and opens the door for the diplomat. The driver closes the door, gets back in the car, and then drives off.
Tom knows he must follow them. He realizes that S is watching him and that if he doesn’t continue with his own surveillance of the Turkish diplomat he will be reported to the Diamondland Gestapo, the group known as The Soul Harvest. The Soul Harvest will come at night, as they have done before when Tom has run afoul of the rules, and suck another piece of his peace of mind out of him, with their rusty machines and siphons. Tom looks in the rearview mirror at the reflection of his face. He doesn’t recognize the man staring back at him. He is a shadow of his former self.
Tom Davenport sets the notebook on the seat beside him and starts the van. He pulls away from the curb and follows the diplomat’s black Mercedes. These are his instructions from J: Just follow the diplomat. Don’t do anything rash. We’ll take care of the wet work, if it comes to that. Tom keeps his distance from the limo, as per his Hemispheres training. He trails the other car by three or four city blocks. Tom knows that S is following him and that J is following S. (Or, S might be slightly in front of Tom, with J in the rear—or another one of any of a dozen standard tracking formations, which can be found in every agency’s basic field intelligence manual.)
Tom is about to follow the Mercedes limo into a hotel parking garage when he notices an anomaly on the seat beside him—an item that shouldn’t be there. It’s a brown paper bag. How did that get there? Tom remembers nodding off for a few minutes during his long stakeout. Somebody must have opened a window and tossed it in—but how? Tom stops his van. He opens the bag and looks inside. There he sees a ham and cheese sandwich, wrapped in the familiar “to go” packaging that they used in “Babylon,” the Hemispheres cafeteria. There is also an apple, a bag of chips and a small juice box—as well as a packet containing a miniature fork, spoon, and salt, pepper and mustard packets.
He inches the van towards the parking garage. S and J are nowhere in sight—but he does see the black limo making its way up the circular ramp of the large cement structure. There is no other exit from the garage so Tom decides to sit tight and wait.
Tom notices a vagrant walking on the sidewalk. She is one of the many destitute who lives in the shantytown. Tom opens the glove compartment and takes out a large knife that Control had given him before he left on his journey. Control claimed that he had taken it off a German Major while fighting the Nazis with the Romanian resistance. (This must have been after Romania changed sides during the war.) The knife is perfectly balanced in Tom’s hand, like a throwing knife from a circus. There are initials carved into the handle: “O.S.”
The bag lady stops at the van and knocks on the passenger’s side window. Tom ignores her. The bag lady continues to knock on the glass, motioning for Tom to open the door. Finally, Tom rolls down the window instead, pointing the business end of the knife at the vagrant.
Suddenly, the black Mercedes tears out of the parking garage. The limo speeds down the street and crashes into J’s parked van. The “diplomat” flies out of the back of the limo, climbs onto the hood of the van and jumps feet first through the windshield. The safety glass breaks and the “diplomat” crashes though to the van’s front seat. J is slumped over the wheel, in shock from the impact of the collision with the limo. The “diplomat”, who is bent over J’s slumped figure and is holding her head now, snaps her neck with his bare hands. Tom gets out of the van, intending to confront the “diplomat”, but is suddenly nauseous. He goes to his knees and vomits on the sidewalk.
Afterwards, Tom has nothing but dry heaves left. He wipes his mouth and looks up. S is on one of the upper levels of the parking garage. He is racing down the stairs to the sidewalk, but halfheartedly, like he realizes he is too late to help his partner. The “diplomat” runs over to Tom. Tom jumps up to protect himself. His only weapon is the knife. He swings it a few times in front of him. The “diplomat” glances at the parking garage. S has almost reached the ground level. He fires a shot from the stairwell. Tom can hear the shot whizz past him and into the bushes that line the sidewalk.
“We have to get out of here,” the “diplomat” says, grabbing Tom’s arm. Tom doesn’t resist, knowing he is outmatched and any resistance might put him in mortal danger. The “diplomat” takes the knife and jams it into J’s chest, according to protocol, to be absolutely certain of the kill. He then pushes Tom into the limo, which has pulled up next to them. As they speed off, Tom looks out the rear window. S has made it to street level and is firing a few aimless shots at—