“Trevor Goldberg” tried not to watch as she rejoined her group and walked away, but he had been waiting for just this moment, and for a very long time. He rejoined his own group, diplomats from the British legation, and he listened to their talk of agenda items – mainly how to keep Churchill’s being pushed out of the main flow of the conversation between Roosevelt and Stalin – when he felt William Thacker’s eyes boring into his.
“Who was that?” Thacker asked.
“Who? The girl?” Goldberg replied. “Claire Aubuchon. I met her once, in D.C., I think. Rather cute, don’t you think?”
He watched as Thacker looked after the girl for a moment, then Goldberg continued. “I was thinking I’d try to ask her out – again,” he said, grinning conspiratorially.
“Oh, was she so interesting?” Thacker said, now eying Goldberg with renewed interest.
“I’ll never tell,” Trevor said, for indeed, he never would.
“What did she say?”
“I’m going to meet up with her when the afternoon session wraps up, or perhaps in the morning. Say, I’d bet you didn’t know she’s Charles Wilkinson’s sister.”
“Seriously? I hear he’s in the queue for an ambassadorship.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“They’ll probably send him to Oman.”
“Family has too much money for that.”
“Ah,” Thacker sighed. “So that’s where your interest resides, eh, Trevor?”
Goldberg grinned, looked sheepishly away.
“You sly dog,” Thacker joshed before he walked quickly to catch up with the ambassador.
Trevor groaned inwardly, then thought of the time they’d been apart. How many lifetimes ago had that been? A hundred? A thousand? And…that last night…
And just then, watching her disappear into the main conference room, he had to admit he really didn’t know her anymore, and that hurt most of all.
She listened to the introductory remarks, tried to take in Stalin’s ambiguous statement of greeting, his continued insistence that America and Britain open up a second front as soon as possible, then she listened as Roosevelt thanked Stalin for the sacrifices of the great Russian people. She looked at Churchill from time to time, too; at the old man’s chin resting on his chest, his hooded eyes barely concealing the anger seething away inside. Everyone in the room knew he was being pushed aside, that Roosevelt was, in a very real sense, relegating the United Kingdom to the dustbin of History, and Stalin, his wolfish eyes darting here and there, could barely conceal his glee. The sun would, his darting glances confirmed, set on the British Empire, and none too soon. Tehran would forever be remembered as the final changing of the guard; Japanese aircraft had put an end to any just claim that Britain had rights to a global empire now. The sinking of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, on 10 December 1941 off the east coast of Malaya, and just three days into the Pacific war, simply codified for all time Neville Chamberlain’s grotesque appeasements. Those results were cast in stone now, and History’s judgment would be severe, and final.
It was odd, too, Claire thought. Churchill was by far the most astute wartime politician since Napoleon, and yet Napoleon, too, had squandered his empire. Were all empires doomed to rise and fall, she wondered? Was western civilization so doomed, as well? If mankind held firm to its stoking the fires of religious intolerance, could life on this planet survive the atomic age? Was that what she saw in Churchill’s eyes just now? Communist atheism running headlong into the Judeo-Christian impulse – the various crashing atoms smashing each other to bits?
And the Manhattan project was now teeming with scientists from both Britain and Canada, not to mention all the other European emigres that had fled Hitler’s spreading malignancy. The best, the greatest minds in the world, all gathered under the vast New Mexican sky. Her mind drifted to Santa Fe, to Taos, to the spine of mountains that ran between them…the Sangre de Cristos, the Blood of Christ mountains, snow-capped and brilliant. Her little house in Los Alamos, her casita, looked out on those mountains, and when she took walks in the sharp air her mind always drifted to them, and now, sitting in this faraway land, she found herself thinking about that jagged spine of rock once again.
How many civilizations had those mountains borne witness to? The various native tribes that came and went on their nomadic wanderings to and from Mesa Verde, only to give way to the Spaniard? The French, under Napoleon III had tried to push into New Mexico, too. Then the Republic of Texas had laid claim to the valley for a few decades, only to be absorbed by the United States of America. What would come next?
Yes, empires rose to the symphonic strains of a mighty roar, then whispered like a sigh as they faded in the spasms of their varied twilights.
Then the words ‘quantum mechanics’ drifted into her mind’s eye, and she saw the man again, in the same waking dream. She closed her eyes and tried to see him now as he was then, standing on that ship.
It was the same ship, wasn’t it?
Her eyes popped open in that instant and her eyes darted around the room again. Yes, there he was, sitting behind Churchill and Anthony Eden – and he was looking directly at her. Why, she wondered, did that not surprise her? And why did he suddenly seem so familiar? And, oh yes! Why had he said those two vexing words? There were not a hundred people in the world who knew what those two words, quantum mechanics, really meant, and most of those lived within a few blocks of her – under the gaze of those spiny mountains in New Mexico.
She wondered what he knew, too. Wondered if he had heard of the Aubuchon Shift.
Time was like an arrow, or so the saying went. Once loosed, that arrow went on and on, and in one direction only. But what happened before the arrow left the bow? What happened when you tricked time, and made it go backwards?
Her eyes burned and she rubbed them again, rubbed them until she felt the sclera detach like old, dry paper – then she cursed under her breath and stopped.
“When are you ever going to learn?” she heard Charles say, and she looked up at him and grinned sheepishly.
She shrugged, then looked at the note in his hand. “What now?”
“Franklin would like to see you. I think Secretary Hull will be there too.”
“Why him, for God’s sake?”
Charles shrugged. “Hull is always around when the discussion turns to Stalin, or even to Russia generally. Get used to it.”
“He’s too serious,” she sighed. “I don’t like him, Charles.”
He chuckled. “Serious? Cordell? And why wouldn’t he be? He and Acheson have only been charged with creating the post-war political framework of the world.”
“Right. And just what the hell have I got to do with that?”
“Well, there’s been some talk of this shift you discovered…”
“I think that’s the point. There’ve been some very serious discussions about it, I can tell you. The whole paradox thing that Oppenheimer brought up, as I guess you can imagine, shook a lot of people out of their reveries.”
“Myself included,” Claire didn’t have to add.
“Exactly. Now, I’d suggest you not try to conceal a thing. Answer Hull’s questions, but pay attention to Acheson. Dean has a better grasp of scientific matters, so if you see him struggling you’ll need to dumb it down a little.”
“Okay. Is Acheson the one you’ve been working for?”
“Uh-huh. He’s the brains of the outfit, and don’t you forget it. Roosevelt ain’t stupid, and neither is Hull, but Acheson is in another league compared to those guys. He’s smart, and his eyes don’t miss a thing. Don’t even think of lying when he’s in the room.”
“I wasn’t planning on lying, Charles.”
“I know. Now, come on.”
“Do you know a Trevor Goldberg?” she blurted.
“With the Brits, right? I’ve heard the name before. Why?”
“He said he wants to have a talk with me.”
Charles visibly stiffened when he heard that, and Claire noticed. “Don’t meet with him unless Hull gives you the go-ahead.”
“He assured me Eden would vouch for him…”
“Doesn’t matter. They’ll be probing, trying to get information on this Shift you’ve run across. My guess is Churchill is directing this contact, but he’ll keep very-very hands-off to avoid any semblance of impropriety. Anyway, you’d better scoot.”
“Is it still cold out?”
“You’d better take a coat, yes.”
She picked up something and walked out into the early morning air, took a deep breath then wrapped the coat around her shoulders as she walked over to Roosevelt’s quarters, unnerved by all the Russian guards standing around. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘it is their embassy…’
An America Marine stood outside the president’s door, and he came to attention as she approached – yet the door magically opened as she arrived, and Carlton, the Navy captain who acted as Roosevelt’s aide, smiled from just inside the suite.
“Good morning, Dr Aubuchon,” Carlton said.
“And to you, Russ. Anything new overnight?”
“Nothing major. Some new fuel consumption figures from inside Germany; that’s about it.”
She nodded understanding as she walked inside, noted a fire crackling away in the fireplace as she took off her coat, then watched Carlton point at the ceiling. ‘Yes,’ she sighed inwardly, ‘I caught the signal, Russ. The place is bugged, they’re listening. I get that…’
“Secretary Hull will be right out,” Carlton added as he walked into his makeshift office off this ‘living room,’ and she wondered if Roosevelt would come too. He had looked like death warmed over by the end of yesterday’s sessions, and had reportedly gone straight to bed. The burden’s this man carried, she thought, were enough to crush anybody, yet he had carried the weight of the world for years now, and never seemed to flinch under the load. Now it was catching up with him…
Another door opened and Secretary Hull walked into the room – looking more than a little tired – and he came and sat across from her.
“Ah, the fire’s not out yet…good. Franklin slept with the windows open a little last night…it’s too cold for me in there right noe.”
“Yessir,” she said.
“I’ve a request from Churchill that you be allowed some time with this Goldberg fellow. Know anything about him?”
“No sir, not a thing. He approached me yesterday, on the way to the morning session, asked to speak to me then walked back to his legation.”
“Damned odd,” Hull sighed. “Should have put that request in writing. Damned odd. You’re sure you haven’t met before?”
“I’m not completely sure, sir. I might have seen him once before, in passing, but I don’t know him, or anything about his work.”
“I see. Well, I don’t need to mention that talk about this shift you’ve discovered will be off-limits.”
“And the president would like a follow-up ‘contact report’ when you wrap this up. And make sure Captain Carlton gets it as soon as you’ve written it up. Just the basics, but your impressions about why this contact was initiated, what you think they’re fishing for…that kind of thing.”
“Well, you best get at it. I understand he’s waiting for you now,” the Secretary of State added, pointing at the door.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, standing and picking up her coat. Another Marine opened the door now and helped her with her coat, then she stepped out into the courtyard. And there, standing in a swirling sea of autumn leaves, was this Trevor Goldberg. Not very tall, she thought, and almost too thin, his head a little too big for his frame, as well. As she approached she thought his eyes looked almost owl-like; large, predatory eyes, like a raptor’s, and she couldn’t decide whether they were darkest amber or blue-gray.
“So,” she said as she walked up to the man, “quantum mechanics? What’s on your mind?”
“Have you had breakfast?” Goldberg said, smiling.
“No, I haven’t, and I’m starving.”
“I’ve found a decent place, and not at all far away if you think you can stand a walk…?”
“Lead on, kind sir.”
“What do you think of Tehran?”
“It’s cooler than I thought it would be, that much is certain. Have you been to the Grand Bazaar?”
“That’s where we’re headed, as luck would have it. Have you been yet?”
“No, but I wanted to see it before we leave. Is it safe?”
He chuckled. “Don’t bother turning to look, but I think we have about a half dozen of your Marines following us, and God only knows how many Russians.”
“Anyway, I’ve found Tehran quite lovely, and the people wonderful. I shouldn’t mind living here, if it came to that. You’re looking well, by the by. New Mexico agrees with you.”
She was instantly on-guard, now that he’d tipped his hand so obliquely. “You’ve been, I take it?”
“Only to Santa Fe, but that was years ago, before the war. Stayed at the LaFonda. Walking the square in the early morning? Magic.”
“And what were you doing in Santa Fe.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Looking for pottery. For my collection.”
“Ah. Find anything interesting?”
“Quite a bit, actually. Well, here we are…”
He led the way inside a small restaurant just across from a narrow passage that led into one of the Bazaar’s many entrances, and the varied scents coming from the small kitchen were almost intoxicating. Breakfast, teas, fruits and a mist of exotic spice hung in the air, apparent, the heady brew at once compelling and unnerving.
“Do you speak Persian?” he asked.
“You must be joking,” she deadpanned.
“Well then, shall I order for you?” he said, almost laughing.
“No sheep’s eyes, please, but other than that…”
This time he did laugh, openly and for a long time, then he spoke to the proprietress for a moment before leading Claire to a table. “Shouldn’t take long,” he advised, looking out the front door at the gaggle of confused security personnel gathered there, perhaps wondering what to do now.
“So,” Claire said, eyeing Goldberg as he sat, “quantum mechanics?”
“Yes, sorry. Kind of an odd way to introduce myself, I know. How far along are you?”
“What are you calling it? The shift?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I understand. We’d like you to stop all research on this material. Now.”
“On time dilation and contraction.”
She stared at the man for a long time, not sure who or what he was now, then she simply looked down at her hands. “Oh, is that all?”
“And who is ‘we’?”
He shrugged. “People who want you to stop, before you get into serious trouble.”
“Trouble? With whom? The Physics Police?”
His eyes turned deadly serious in the next instant. “Yes, something like that.”
It was the way he spoke, the look in his eyes that convinced Claire Aubuchon that this man, if indeed he was a man, was completely serious and on-the-level.
“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” she asked, her voice conspiratorially quiet. “On that ship?”
He nodded his head only once, an ambiguous gesture that left her feeling even more unsure of the moment.
“Where are you from?”
He grinned, slightly, still looking her in the eye: “Near Cambridge, I should think.”
“Uh-huh, sure. And before that?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yes, very much.”
“New London. I was born in New London, Connecticut.”
“When? You mean, when was a born? The year?”
She nodded her head, knowing what had to come next.
“And let me take a wild guess…on the twelfth of April?”
He smiled broadly now. “Yes, that’s right.”
She felt a sudden shift, like her understanding of the universe had quietly slipped from the room. Her father…her father’s date and place of birth…and now, after these 30 years it felt like some vast cosmic tumblers were finally slipping into place. This “Goldberg” should be seventy six years old, yet he looked, what? Twenty-five? Thirty?
“And you’re my father, is that what you’re telling me?”
He stared at her now, though he said not a single word.
“That’s not fair, and you know it,” she said as she confronted his silence.
“Can you tell me what this is really all about? Please?”
“I already have. Stop all work on the shift. You’re endangering everyone on the planet.”
“Because, again, I might upset some sort of Physics Police? Is that what you’re implying?”
“I’m not implying anything, Claire. It’s a warning. Stop, now. While you still can.”
“And I’m going to introduce you to my brother this evening. You should fall in love with him. I should warn you, everyone does, sooner or later.”
“You’re telling me to fall in love with this man?”
“And if I don’t?”
Goldberg shook his head just as two plates of food arrived, and he looked at her reaction to the food. Some things never change, he thought.
(c) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, and nothing but…