Goldberg’s “brother” was indeed a precocious, lovable bundle of contradictions, and yes, every woman at the closing ceremonial dinner – held in the British Embassy – was enthralled by him.
His name was Benjamin Levy, and he was not, as it happened, related to Trevor Goldberg. They were not brothers, Trevor said, they were instead more like friends.
“I see,” Claire had said. “And let me guess…he was born on the twelfth of April, 1877 as well?”
“Yes, of course.”
“In New London, I take it?”
“And he grew up near Cambridge?”
Trevor had turned and looked at her then: “My, we’re on a roll tonight.”
“He does seem to be a ladies man.”
“Oh, he is that. Ready to meet him?”
“I’m not sure. Does he know who I am?”
“Oh yes. He’s been looking forward to this evening for a long time, too.”
“Well then, I suppose we ought to get on with it.”
“Yes, tally-ho and all that. Into the fire, and into the fight.”
She looked at Benjamin as she and Trevor walked across the room; he was the same height as Trevor, the same general build, too, and more curious still, he had the same general raptor-like head – a little too large for his frame and the same odd shape. When she closed the distance she saw Benjamin had the same eyes, as well…not quite amber, not quite blue…like a color that phased between the two…
And Benjamin was talking with Cordell Hull just now, and she wasn’t quite sure why, but that troubled her.
“Ah, here she is now,” the Secretary of State said. “Dr. Aubuchon, may I introduce you to Dr. Ben Levy. He’s been working on a few of the same problems you have, only up at Cambridge.”
She held out her and Levy took it. “A pleasure,” she said.
“The pleasure is mine, dear lady,” and they smiled at one another for a moment, then she turned to Trevor – and saw Charles standing behind them both, casting a wary eye at Levy.
“Ah, Charles,” Hull said, “are you and Dean finished for the evening?”
“Yessir. We’ve established the framework for the monetary conference, and Mr. Acheson floated the idea of Bretton Woods again.”
“I see. And our Russian friends are still resisting that idea?”
“I think they’re pushing for one of the Black Sea resorts, sir.”
“No doubt. Well, stormy waters ahead. Charles? Have you met Dr. Benjamin Levy?”
“No sir, I’ve not had that pleasure.”
“He’s with the underground balloon corps, as luck would have it?”
“Ah,” Charles said, one eyebrow arching. “Well, it is indeed nice to meet you. I’m sure you have some interesting stories to share.”
“Well, well,” Hull added hastily, “perhaps some other time.”
Now both the Secretary of State and Trevor Goldberg cornered Charles, and they then led him away, to a far corner of the room, leaving Benjamin and Claire alone…suddenly and completely alone.
Claire looked at Levy, perplexed: “The underground balloon corps? What’s that all about?”
“You’ve not heard about us,” Levy said, now turning his predator’s gaze on her.
“No. Sorry. Should I have?”
“Well, no, as a matter of fact. I’m rather glad you haven’t. We’ve been charged with identifying top scientists working on the German heavy water project…”
“The bomb, you mean…?”
“Yes. And, well, we’re charged with either extracting them or, well, removing them from the equation.”
“So, you’ve penetrated their operations?”
And Levy only smiled, though he blinked rapidly a few times, and the reaction only served to heighten her perception of him. He was indeed a predator, and a dangerous one, at that.
“Your brother as much as told me that we’re to be married. Is that about the size of it?”
And again, only the blinking eyes gave any indication at all that he had even heard her, though now his face grew thoughtful, if a little puzzled. “Did he, now?” Levy said a moment later.
“Yes, he did.”
“Trevor has a…”
“A what? A warped sense of humor?”
“Questionable timing, I think I was going to say.”
“Yes. I’d have rather liked the whole courtship ritual to unfold with few such expectations, if you know what I mean.”
And this time it was she who smiled, gently, and she who remained silent.
“But yes, I think that’s the general idea.”
“My, but you really do know how to sweep a girl off her feet…”
And Levy laughed this time, a boisterous, fun-loving laugh. “Ah, indeed I do.”
“And if you don’t mind me asking, just how long will we be married for? A week? A month or two?”
His eyes turned more serious then: “1984, I believe. Forty-one years, then I’ll die, but I’ll leave you with two beautiful daughters.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you? I mean…”
“Oh yes. Quite.”
“How could you possibly know…” she began, then the implications of his words slammed into her – and she fell silent – yet she was aware he was studying her reactions, so she turned to face his penetrating stare head-on. “May I ask why? For what purpose have you chosen me?”
“Why, to save the universe, of course,” Levy said, but he began laughing again, then he took her hand and led her to a table. A table for two, and the only such table in the lavish room. She was being used, she knew then, but by who, or whom, and to what purpose?
Was that why Roosevelt had insisted she attend the conference? Certainly there was no other reason she could fathom, no real reason for her to attend a conference on the structures of post-war Europe. And why arrange this liaison here and now? She looked across the room, saw Charles looking at Roosevelt – and Roosevelt looking directly at her, grinning that sly grin of his.
“Why me?” she whispered, the sound more a plaintive sigh of despair.
“You don’t know?” Levy said, almost as quietly.
She shook her head slowly, suddenly unsure of herself, unsure like a girl she once knew. “No. No, I really don’t.”
“Ah, well, you will soon enough.”
“And…when are we to be married?”
“In New Mexico, I should think, though I don’t suppose we should rush things.”
“I beg your pardon? You’re telling me I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you, but that there’s no need to rush into this thing?”
“I see. You do know, don’t you, that this is rather like a bad dream? A very bad dream?”
“And what if I told you it was? What would you say to that?”
“That I had gone mad. Stark, raving mad.”
“Ah, well, there you have it…”
“What? What are you saying? Are you telling me this is all some sort of wild, paranoid delusion?”
“Is it? Tell me, and I mean right now! Is this, or is this not, real? Am I in a ballroom, in Tehran, in 1943?”
“Oh, yes. This is as real as it gets, Claire; of that you can be most sure.”
Levy was on the same aircraft with Claire when Roosevelt’s group left Tehran, and the entire group flew on to Cairo, then, after a brief stay in Algiers, on to Morocco. The Iowa and her escorts arrived then, and were waiting just offshore as the group’s aircraft landed, but Roosevelt wanted to linger and visit Casablanca and Marrakech. Hull wouldn’t countenance any more delays, so gigs and launches ferried the group out to the Iowa, and within hours the ships set sail, steaming for Norfolk. Aircraft and submarines ranged ahead, looking for any signs of U-boat activity or other surface threats, but the first two days passed, generally speaking, with little anxiety. Then a lookout spotted a periscope on the second evening, and all hell literally broke loose. The escorting destroyers criss-crossed all around the Iowa, dropping dozens of depth-charges as they passed, but when nothing showed up on sonar the convoy resumed steaming straight for Virginia, only now at the greatest possible speed.
And then, Ben Levy asked to speak with the Iowa’s skipper, Captain John McCrea.
“There is a German surface raider working in the vicinity of Bermuda just now, Captain. I’d recommend heading a bit north, for Boston or Portland.”
“And where did you hear this, sir, if you don’t mind me asking?” the captain asked.
“I’m not sure I’m allowed to say, Captain, but I think either the President or Secretary Hull will vouch for me.”
“The Secretary already has. Any particular course you’d like me to steer?”
“Come right to two nine nine degrees and reduce your speed to sixteen knots. You’ll not need to refuel with this reduction, sir.”
“I see,” the captain said, more than a little incredulous now. “Perhaps you’d like to set a new watch-keeping schedule now, too,” McCrea added, not a little sarcastically.
Levy looked at the captain, understood the position he’d just put the man in and nodded his head. “Sir, a Focke-Wulf 200 C-4 is scheduled to depart San Sebastian at approximately 0430 tomorrow morning. This particular aircraft is equipped with the new FuG 200 Hohentwiel search radar, as well as one Hs-293 anti-shipping missile. There is a strong cold front approaching the area and visibility will be limited. I doubt they’ll fire based on radar returns alone.”
“I assume you work with the OSS?”
“Yessir, something like that.”
“So, what time will this aircraft intercept us on our current track?”
“It should be in the area sometime between 0830 and 0845. We’ll be out of range, by that point, for any allied aircraft to provide cover.”
“Well, why the devil don’t we head for Brazil, or even Argentina?”
“There are at least three large Wolf-packs operating in the area between Bermuda and Barbados, and I can assure you the German High Command is making a maximum effort to get to this ship.”
“You’re full of all kinds of good news, aren’t you, sir,” Captain McCrea said, but the man’s earlier sarcasm was gone now, replaced with something approaching genuine respect.
“Captain, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to meet me on the bridge this evening, call it 2100 hours. I’d recommend you get some sleep now…we may be in for a busy night.”
“And why would that be?”
“There may be additional air patrols.”
And with that, Levy walked from the bridge back through officer’s country towards his cabin, but he stopped outside Claire’s cabin and knocked gently on her door.
“Come on in,” he heard her say, and he smiled at the light, carefree sound of her voice, the genuine warmth her words conveyed.
“How’re you doing?” he asked when he saw her red eyes, not to mention the swollen, boggy cheeks under them. Her lips were reddish-blue, her nail-beds, too.
“Something about ships and the sea,” she said. “We just don’t get along.”
“The carbon-monoxide concentration in this room is too high. You need to come with me right now, get some fresh air.”
She nodded her head, started to stand but toppled over; he caught her and held her close for a long moment, let her pressures catch up for a moment before he led her through the confined walkways to a hatch that opened to the foredeck. When her face hit the fresh sea air she revived almost instantly, and just then a seaman came by.
“Is she alright, sir,” the young man asked.
“We’ve got some noxious fumes working their way into her cabin. You’d better round up the X-O, and tell the captain he’d better check on the president’s cabin, too.”
The kid ran off and half a dozen men, both officers and ratings, showed up within minutes. Levy told them his concerns and the men took off, and sure enough, Roosevelt was feeling ill too. Soon, most of the working group was gathered on deck, huffing sea air in great gulps, and soon enough more men carried out chairs and a small table; sandwiches appeared moments later, and pitchers of iced-tea, too.
“This your doing, Mr. Levy,” Claire heard, and she turned to see Captain McCrea walking their way.
“Yessir, ‘fraid so.”
“Well, we found some corrosion in a few pipes in that area, and a few shoddy floor welds, too. Quite possible we’d have had a few fatalities tonight without your intervention.”
The captain spun around and walked off, looking like he was about to go chew on some undercooked executive officer for lunch. Work details sprang into action all over the ship, while Claire looked at Benjamin with newfound respect in her eyes, suddenly quite sure she was falling in love with this kind-hearted stranger.
She turned and leaned into his shoulder just then, and when he put his arm around her she felt weak in the knees for a moment – until she remembered she really had no idea who – let alone what – this stranger really was.
It seemed most every one of the people in Roosevelt’s working group had surreptitiously found their way to the bridge just before nine that evening, and both Captain McCrea and the X-O were hunched over the chart table when Roosevelt was wheeled onto the bridge. All the servicemen snapped to attention and Claire could tell the President relished this little bit of pomp; nevertheless, he told them all to get back to their duties while Roy wheeled him over to windows that overlooked the foredeck.
“Why can’t I go out, Captain McCrea?” the President asked.
McCrea looked up, shook his head. “Thirty-eight degrees out, Mr President. Sea temp is fifty two, and sea state is, well sir, it’s going to be a rough night.”
“I see, John. Carry-on.”
Levy looked at a bulkhead mounted clock and walked over to the captain. “Any time now, sir.”
“X-O, bring the ship to general quarters, signal all ships: go dark now.”
“Aye, sir.” Moments later klaxons rang and men scrambled to their stations all over the ship, and forty seconds later the X-O announced “All stations manned and ready, Captain. Water-tight doors are all in the red, and the ship is ready for an air engagement…”
“Very well,” McCrea said.
Levy walked off the bridge to the radar operators compartment, and he looked at the screen for a moment…
“There he is,” Levy said, and the radar operator snapped to, began firming up the plot. Levy walked back out to the bridge.
“Captain, aircraft bearing zero two two degrees, fifty miles. Best guess is his altitude is ten thousand, possibly in a slight descent.”
“Alright. Keep your reports coming.”
“Aye, sir. Single aircraft is turning in our direction now, still in a shallow dive, now about four-six miles out, speed now one seven zero knots.”
“You think that’s another Focke-Wulf?” McCrea asked Levy.
“Right profile, Captain. There were, are four of them in the area right now.”
“You think he’s got us?” McCrea asked, trying to ignore the slip.
“What kind of range does that missile of his have?”
“It’s altitude dependent, sir. Anywhere from two to five kilometers.”
“Any idea how big his warhead is?”
“Roughly 300 kilos of high explosives. Signal your escorts to move in close now, sir. As close as they possibly can – without risking a collision. And lets you and I go out on the bridge-deck, sir.”
McCrea led the way, and he looked out into the night sky, saw a line of thunderstorms along the far horizon, the distant clouds silhouetted by flickering lightning.
“How far away?” Levy asked.
“Fifty, maybe seventy miles. Won’t do us a bit of good.”
They watched the cruiser and four destroyers sliding in closer and closer, the cruiser taking up station perhaps fifty yards off their starboard beam, the phosphorescence kicked up in its wake almost magnificent…
“Remind me, Mr. Levy, just why the hell did I let you talk me into this?” McCrea said, turning to look at the civilian – but Levy was staring straight up into the night sky now…
At something bright blue.
“What the devil is that?” McCrea hissed, suddenly feeling betrayed.
“A friend, sir.”
Whatever IT was, the thing was resolving into a sphere now – yet it was impossible to gauge any idea of its size, let alone how far away it was…
“What is that, Benjamin?”
He turned, saw Roosevelt and Hull looking up at the blue sphere – and Claire, too, looking at him, a million questions in her eyes.
He turned back to the sphere, saw it’s descent was slowing rapidly now, and its motion was apparent to everyone looking at it.
Then the X-O stuck his head out the hatch…
“Captain, radar reports zero bearing change, range now thirty-five miles and closing.”
“Got it,” McCrea hissed. “Mr. Levy?”
“Steady as she goes, Captain.”
McCrea shook his head. “Just how big is that thing, Mr. Levy?”
“Now about a mile in diameter. Its altitude is one hundred and ten thousand feet.”
“Jesus,” Hull sighed, “it’s huge. What did you say this thing is made of?”
“Pure energy, Mr Secretary,” Benjamin said, but he was looking into Claire’s eyes just then, trying to take the measure of her mood. She did not look happy, and he guessed because she had seen into the nature of his lie.
McCrea was looking up at the sphere now, and out of habit he checked his navigational stars: Vega was hovering just at the zenith, while Deneb and Altair were down a bit, now to the southeast, but soon enough the sphere commanded all his attention. He held out his clenched fist, tried to measure the sphere’s relative size against a known object, and just then the sphere was half the size of his extended fist. Thirty seconds later the object was as big as his fist…
Then the X-O stuck his head out the hatch again: “Sir, the Dawson is requesting weapons free; they want to engage the object overhead…”
“X-O, under no circumstances is anyone to open fire on that object. Make that clear to the C-O of each vessel in the group, and I mean NOW!”
“And where is that goddamn airplane!”
“Constant bearing now, Captain, and two-two miles out.”
“Mr. Levy?” McCrea said, “I’m getting a little nervous. Why is that?”
Levy smiled, though it was too dark out for McCrea to see. “Me too, Captain.”
“Ben?” He heard Claire say his name and he opened his arm to her, felt her slip in by his side. He furled his arm around her and pulled her tight.
“It won’t be long now,” Levy sighed, staring at the sphere.
McCrea guessed the object was only a few hundred feet above the gunnery mast now, and he saw the surface of the sphere did indeed look like pure energy…it’s surface was covered with hairy blue lightning, for want of a better word – and it was still closing. “Is this going to hurt when it hits?” he asked.
“No sir,” Levy answered, “though some power systems may be temporarily affected.”
And seconds later the Iowa and her escorts were literally encased within the sphere; instantly all seven ships went dark. The ever-present vibration of the ship’s power plant faded away, and in the same instant all power to every system on the ship simply tripped.
McCrea looked up, tried to make out the contours of the sphere – but it was gone now, and no trace of it remained. Then… “What’s with the goddamn stars?”
“What about them?” Roosevelt said.
“Vega was on the zenith less than ten minutes ago; now it’s low on the southern horizon, while Altair and Deneb are higher in ascension. And I’m sorry, but that just can’t be.”
Levy hadn’t counted on this happening, hadn’t thought anyone would notice the changes in stellar positions, and he nodded his head. “Spherical aberration of being within the sphere,” he lied. “It ought to change when we re-emerge.”
“X-O? Where’s that aircraft?”
“Sir, all systems are dark now.”
“Well hallelujah and no fucking shit! Any of the ship’s lookouts still at their posts, Commander?”
“Yessir, and no reported sightings.”
“How about helm? We got any rudder authority?”
“Yessir, the auxiliary kicked-in.”
McCrea looked at the escorts and noted that all the other ships were still – more or less – safely abeam and not closing in. “Mr Levy, any idea how long this is gonna last?”
“Thirty, maybe forty minutes.”
“Somebody bring me a sextant,” McCrea grumbled, and within moments a seaman carried over the Plath almost reverentially and handed it to his captain. “Thanks, son.”
McCrea grumbled while he walked the transit in the moonless night, trying to zero-in the horizon, and when he was sure he had it on the line he dialed the vernier until the two horizon lines met; when he was sure he had what he needed he walked into the chartroom and pulled out his tables, started reducing the angles.
He soon realized none of the figures he had worked so hard to take worked, so he walked back out onto the bridge-deck and shot almost-as-bright Altair, knowing that with this one higher in the night sky he had to be more careful with his horizons. Again he grumbled and growled, again he thought he got exactly what he needed, and again he walked to the chart-table, working through the tables and the math by candlelight.
The problem, he soon realized, was simple: neither Vega nor Altair were anywhere close to where they ought to be, and then he felt Levy by his side.
“Problem?” Levy said.
“You could say that, yes. Vega and Altair aren’t where they’re supposed to be, and I can’t account for it.”
“No sir, because your sight reduction tables don’t go back that far.”
McCrea felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. “What do you mean – that far?”
“They haven’t been at these stellar coordinates in roughly eighty thousand years.”
McCrea didn’t know what to say, so he said – nothing.
“We find it far easier to move through time, Captain. I’m sorry…I should have warned you, but I didn’t count on your familiarity with the stars.”
“Is that sphere…your ship?”
“That…? No, it’s more like a tool. Once inside the sphere we slip through time.”
“Uh-huh. And where did the sphere come from?”
“And where, Mr Levy, is that?”
And when Benjamin Levy pointed up at the sky, Captain John McCrea shook his head. “And if you don’t mind me asking son, just where the hell are you from?”
“New London, sir.”
Levy chuckled. “Can’t say I blame you, sir. I wouldn’t believe me either.”
“How much longer?”
“Maybe ten minutes.”
“Well, let’s get back out there.”
“Yessir, but…could we keep this just between you and me?”
“Not on your fuckin’ life, Mr. Levy.”
And Levy laughed, laughed until he couldn’t stop. He laughed as he walked out on the bridge-deck, laughed while Roosevelt looked to McCrea, but the Captain simply shrugged and looked away,
A few minutes later the sphere seemed to spontaneously reappear, then, as it shot up into the night sky, the Iowa’s systems came back to life. The boilers had to be re-ignited, pressure had to come up again, but diesel generators restored vital systems before that happened and everyone breathed a long sigh of relief.
“Bridge, radar. We’re clear across the board here. Repeat, no radar contacts.”
McCrea shook his head again, then looked up again. Vega was back where she was supposed to be; Altair and Deneb were as well. He brought the sextant back out and shot Vega, then Altair, taking his time to double check all his angles. He shot them again, just to make sure, then he retired to the chartroom.
An hour later he had reduced all his new shots, and when he crossed the arcs he looked up and smiled. In the last hour and a half the Iowa had moved perhaps a quarter mile. And what…? Eighty thousand years?
He looked up, saw Levy watching him as he worked.
‘No,’ Captain John McCrea thought, ‘on second thought, I think for once in my life I’ll just keep my mouth shut.’
The X-O walked over to the chart table and looked at this seasoned navigator’s work, then up at his captain. “Orders, Captain?”
“Resume heading of two-nine-nine, speed sixteen knots, and you have the con, X-O. Mr Levy and I are going for a little walk.”
(C) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw