Claire too had seen the Shift, had seen Vega, then Deneb and Altair drop down to the southern horizon, only she made a quick estimate of the change in right ascension and declination then worked through the math – in her head. Judging from the positional change in just these three stars, the earth’s relative position in the galaxy had either moved ahead forty thousand years or retreated more than seventy thousand years. That meant, she deducted, that the sphere was a “cloud” created from one electron, but then what? By varying the charge rate the sphere could be made smaller or larger? But how could anyone do that? And what if, as many were beginning to more fully understand, there were particles smaller than electrons, protons, and neutrons. How would that change the calculus of the phenomenon?
‘There’s still so much we don’t know,’ she whispered, her inner voice tinged with frustration, then she thought about Oppenheimer’s warning, his ‘paradox of time.’ If time was a river, a constantly flowing river, and if the flow was disrupted by a traveler venturing into the past, and if the course was thereby altered, then everything that had happened after the alteration would be altered, too. The future would be altered…
“So if,” Oppenheimer continued, “one was to go back far enough and teach cavemen to make fire millennia before the original event, presumably mankind would be that much further along the curve.”
But then she had said something to the effect that: “But what if one went back and prevented man from learning how to make fire, or how to make a wheel? Couldn’t an unscrupulous agent move through time to completely undermine human progress?”
“But why,” Oppenheimer sighed condescendingly, “would anyone do something like that?”
“Why is it, Robert,” Albert Einstein said to the assembled group, “that you assume human actions will always be rational, or even benevolent, when all human history is full of direct contradictions of that notion?”
“Because destruction is creative, Albert. It always has been.”
“Yet what if, and one day soon, we take our destructive impulses too far? What then, Robert? What will we have created?”
“Renewal, I should think, Albert.”
“Renewal?” Einstein sighed. “Whose renewal, Robert? Perhaps those Hindu gods of yours? Chamunda, I dare say?”
And what had Benjamin said? We have to stop, now, or else. What did ‘or else’ mean, though? He was implying direct consequences, wasn’t he? So ‘or else’ meant there was someone, somewhere, who would take great offense at the Los Alamos groups tinkering with the fabric of time…
And she thought, just then, that ‘someone…somewhere’ was exactly the wrong way of looking at the problem. The real issue would most likely turn around the idea of someone, sometime. The idea that the river of time might be diverted in such a way that people in the future would be somehow negated, and so, perhaps, simply cease to be, had never occurred to her.
So what if Trevor and Benjamin had truly come from New London, Connecticut; if that was true, could Trevor indeed be her father? The idea washed over her for a while: Yes – but only if her father had been a time traveler. If he still was a time traveler. Yet they were trying to stop the Los Alamos group from studying the phenomenon. Why?
The only plausible explanation would be to keep their present intact, and to do that they couldn’t overtly intervene. To repair that kind of damage would require that they move backwards in time again and erase the damage done…but how could they – if their present could be, potentially, negated?
Then it hit her. Trevor had said he’d been born in the nineteenth century, and what if that was the truth?
But what about his eyes. And Benjamin’s, too. She’d never seen anything quite like them before, and they were identical. And both their heads were a little “off,” weren’t they. Not shaped quite right.
She shook her head, refused to think through the consequences of these little observations, the cause and effect of their presence, any further. She didn’t like where this path was leading.
Oh no, not at all.
Levy stood on the bridge, looked out over the stormy seas, at the scudding clouds whipped along by the storm. The Iowa plowed through these towering waves, throwing great white walls of blue water over the foredeck, but the escorting destroyers weren’t having so easy a time. He watched as one of them, one of the newer Buckley class DEs, struggled up and over a forty foot wave, the little ship’s helmsman obviously fighting to keep the hull from turning sideways to the wind and the waves – and broaching – in effect, being rolled over. The Iowa could take these seas head-on, and for days if necessary, but these five little “tin cans” could be seriously damaged, or lost, in a storm like this one.
But that wasn’t all Levy was thinking about.
No, and that was because, in the accounts he’d read about the Iowa’s role in the Tehran mission, she had never once diverted towards Portland, Maine. Roosevelt’s convoy had traveled, unmolested, directly to Norfolk, Virginia…so why had he decided to divert north? An extra measure of caution, perhaps? A sense that something wasn’t quite right?
He had known about the German Condors flying out of northern Spain, the Wolf-packs operating in the south- and mid-Atlantic, as well as the raiders patrolling south of Bermuda, but what didn’t they know about? The weather, for one, but then there were all the other ships and submarines, ships whose activities had never been recorded by history. Each was suddenly a great unknown, and now he wondered if, by altering the Iowa’s course two days before, he had begun to alter the flow of time. If that was true, the assumed outcome of this trip – Roosevelt’s safe return to Washington, D.C., was now in jeopardy.
Großadmiral Karl Dönitz read through the latest dispatches then looked over the assembled nautical charts; most showed the approaches to the Straits of Gibraltar, while two represented waters around the Azores. Next, he looked at the assumed track of the convoy on a chart that encompassed the entire North Atlantic, then he plotted last nights report that a Condor flying out of Spain had developed a positive track on the Iowa. The convoy had deployed some kind of new electro-magnetic weapon, and the ships had simply disappeared; when news of this development landed on Hitler’s desk that morning, an invective storm of terrifying proportion had enveloped the entire command hierarchy in Berlin. “One of our maritime patrol aircraft had Roosevelt in it’s sights, then the ship simply disappeared?! Find this convoy! Find Roosevelt, and kill him!”
Dönitz looked over the dispatch one more time, and once again he plotted the coordinates on the relevant charts, then he looked over his fleet readiness report. The Iowa was headed to New England, not Virginia, and his eye went to Norway.
Unencumbered by escorting destroyers, Scharnhorst could, conceivably, make a dash into the North Atlantic and intercept the convoy at the Georges Banks. The weather would be treacherous, but that might work to their benefit, too. The Condor’s pilot had remarked that the convoy was only making 15-16 knots, a fuel conserving rate, meaning the Iowa’s escorts wouldn’t need to refuel at Bermuda. So, the convoy would be approaching Halifax in bad weather, but in a perilously low fuel state. And air cover would be unavailable in such a storm, wouldn’t it…?
He picked up the phone on his desk. “I need to speak with Konteradmiral Eric Bey immediately.”
Three hours later, the Scharnhorst left Narvik and slipped quietly through the Vestfjorden – bound for the not-so-calm waters of the Georges Bank.
20 December 1943
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this bad out here,” the X-O said, and just as the Iowa’s bow disappeared inside yet another forty foot wave. The windshield wipers were working overtime now, having been set at maximum power for more than thirty hours, but this storm wasn’t abating – not in the least.
Captain McCrea looked at the Indiana, now about a quarter mile off their port quarter, through the ever-present binoculars that hung from his neck, and he held his breath as he watched the ship disappear briefly under a fresh sixty-foot wave. He resumed breathing only when he saw her forward guns break free of all that blue water.
“Signal Indiana to reduce speed to ten knots,” the McCrea said as he eyed a train of sixty footers bearing down on his ship. “Come left to two-six-zero; let’s take these waves head-on for a while, stop the rolling as best we can, and would someone see if Mr. Levy can make it back up to the bridge now.”
He heard men moving and instantly regretted the order. Most everyone below was strapped into bunks, though out of sheer desperation some tried to use a head from time to time. Only the truly insane aboard made their way to one of the ship’s dining rooms, but no matter what was eaten, the half-digested muck soon came right back up. Sending someone to fetch Levy meant a seaman would have to navigate three passageways and two stairways; almost a suicide mission under these conditions. He hoped Levy had his sea legs now…
“Indiana acknowledges ten knots and two-six-zero, Captain.”
“Very well,” McCrea said, glad he’d sent the lighter DEs south to Bermuda; they’d have had a truly evil time in these seas. Now, with less than five hundred miles to go he wanted to breathe easy. He wanted to believe the worst was over, but he knew, just knew, that wasn’t the case.
Because something was bothering him. Something important. But what was he missing?
“X-O, let’s fire up the radar, see if we have any company.”
The latest radar arrays were enclosed in small domes, small, stout structures perhaps 15 feet in diameter. The first convoys to make the Murmansk run lost radar when freezing spray and snow rendered radomes inoperable; now almost all naval vessels were operating with enclosed sets, yet, even so, the latest arrays were hardly any better when operating in a sea-state like this. Waves and rain conspired to make all but the largest targets hard to acquire, and the ship’s violent motion didn’t much help matters, too.
“Bridge, radar, I have a large target bearing zero-seven-two degrees, two-zero miles. Standby for a speed.”
McCrea and the X-O looked at one another. There was no allied shipped this far north, not in this storm, so it could only be one thing.
“The Brits got Tirpitz, right?” McCrea asked.
“Yessir, but the Scharnhorst is operational, and last I heard the Prinz Eugen was in the Baltic but ready for duty again.”
“Bridge, radar. Confirmed vessel track, speed two-five knots, positive radar emissions.”
McCrea shook his head. “Signal Indiana, let ‘em know the situation and tell them to come right to two-eight-zero, increase speed to flank. Helm, steady on two-six-zero, increase speed, all ahead full.”
“She has eleven-inch guns, right, sir?”
“Yup, but they’re not radar-controlled. In these seas she’d need all the luck in the world to even get close. Tell Indiana to run parallel when she’s five miles off our beam. If Scharnhorst manages to close we’ll converge and give her a broadside at ten thousand yards.”
“Is it Scharnhorst, Captain?” McCrea heard Levy ask.
“My, my, as I live and breathe…it’s Mr. Levy. And what a surprise, he knows the tactical situation, too.”
Levy ignored the sarcasm. “What’s his range, Captain McCrea?”
“About twenty miles.”
“Bridge, radar, now picking up a second target, same range, same bearing, two nine knots.”
“That will be the Prinz Eugen, Captain.”
“What speed can we make?”
“In these seas…twenty-seven? Those ships won’t be seaworthy after this beating, and the Prinz Eugen only has eight inch guns.”
“Both have 12 torpedo tubes, Captain,” Levy added.
“Won’t do them any good…not in these seas.”
Levy walked over to a barometer. “Rising?”
“That’s right, and this storm will clear from the southwest.”
McCrea shook his head.
“I see,” Levy sighed – as he left the bridge.
Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine
“Mauler 7-0-4, clear to taxi runway one-niner left, altimeter two-niner niner one, wind one eight seven at twelve.”
“7-0-4 to one-niner left,” Lieutenant Noel Stevens replied, then he turned to his co-pilot, a nugget named Lieutenant-j.g. Dan Cox, fresh out of his S-3 course at Jax. “Got the TACAN freqs entered?”
“Gimme flaps 10.”
“Weps? How y’all doin’ back there?”
“Kewl beans, skipper. All checklists complete.”
“7-0-4,” Brunswick tower said, “taxi short of the runway and hold for the P-3 on final.”
“Four, holding short.” Stevens looked at the mottled gray Orion on short final, and he followed it with his eyes all the way to touchdown while he worked his controls and pumped the brakes a few times. “Arm spoilers,” he told Cox. “Set yaw-dampers to stand-by.”
“7-0-4, clear for take-off. Contact departure 123.3, and good day.”
“Four rolling, departure on one-two-three – three,” Stevens said as he advanced the throttles to the Viking’s pre-set takeoff power.” The Lockheed accelerated smoothly down the runway and he listened to Cox call out their speeds; he pulled back on the stick at one forty and at three degrees nose up the S-3B climbed gently, quickly gaining speed.
“Portland departure, Mauler 7-0-4 out of Brunswick. We’re en route to check out a contact south of Halifax. We’ll maintain 500 AGL out of the zone, request 3-3-0 knots.”
“7-0-4, roger. No civilian traffic at this time, clear to depart your discretion.”
Mauler 704 was a Lockheed S-3B “Sea Control” variant of the S-3 Viking family, armed with two AGM-84 Harpoon anti-shipping missiles. An unidentified hostile surface contact, most likely a Russian trawler, had been picked up by an Ohio class SSBN transiting the Georges Bank, and as 7-0-4 was the closest aircraft armed with Harpoons Stephens and Cox got the call. Flying over the Gulf of Maine at 350 miles per was, generally speaking, great fun, but not when a potential hostile was lurking out there somewhere.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky this morning, and the seas were mirror-calm as the Viking skimmed along a few hundred feet above the surface, and within forty minutes they were in the reported area…
“Nothing, skipper. Just some X-band stuff going into Gloucester. Fishing boats, a couple of stinkpots. No vodka burners.”
“Well, fuck,” Stephens said, cutting the power and trimming the aircraft into a gentle climb. “Go ahead and light off the -137. Let’s see what we’re missing…”
Mauler 7-0-4 quickly reached fifteen thousand feet, but that was as high as he dared go out here. They were under the track of all trans-Atlantic traffic flying into and out of New York and Boston now, and he didn’t want to get tangled up in that mess.
“Skip? What if that Boomer picked up an Akula?”
“Wrong plant noise.”
“I read something a few weeks ago…the Akula apparently sounds pretty rough running on the surface.”
“Taylor? You shittin’ me? A nuc sounding like a diesel trawler? What are you smoking back there?”
“Hey, I’m just thinkin’ out loud, ya know?”
“And we haven’t got MAD gear on this crate either, let alone any torps,” Stephens added as he reefed the Viking into a tight climbing right turn. He scanned his instruments, then looked up into the sky…
“What the fuck is that?” he said, leveling out the wings, then turning hard to the left.
“What?” Cox said.
Stephens pointed across Cox’s chest, straight up towards space. “That!”
“Looks like a blue sphere,” Cox said. “It’s descending.”
Stephens leveled the Viking, checked his ECM panel. “Weps? Got anything airborne, maybe flight level five zero, descending?”
“Radar’s clear, skipper.”
“Ah, Portland, Mauler 704, you have any traffic overhead, say an extreme flight level, like five-zero?”
“7-0-4, only traffic we get up there is Concorde, and none are in the area right now.”
“Okay Portland, we’ve got a large blue sphere descending this location, and nothing showing up on radar, either. Doesn’t appear to be a conventional aircraft – and it looks too slow to be some sort of re-entry vehicle.”
“7-0-4, still negative radar contact.”
“Uh, skipper, that thing’s comin’ down real fast,” Cox said. “Maybe we should give it some room, ya know?”
“I want to get closer, be right by it when it passes.”
“It’s gonna be close alright…”
“Jesus,” Stephens cried, “look at the size of that thing…”
And in the next instant Mauler 4-0-7 disappeared from air traffic control radars in Halifax, Portland, and Boston.
And in the next instant Stephens fought to regain control of his aircraft…
The Viking had suddenly and without any warning entered a violent thunderstorm – he chopped the throttles and trimmed for level flight, fighting to keep his eyes on the panel in the violent motion.
“Where the fuck did THAT come from!” he shouted, trying to make his voice heard over the sudden roar of hail battering his windshield, flipping his radar display to WTX, ranging in on the nearest red cell.
“Skipper, outside air temp just dropped from 55 to 22,” Cox cried, “and we got blowin’ snow out there!”
“Get some bleed air goin’ on the leading edge, pitot and AOA anti-ice set to MAX,” Stephens said, cutting the power even more. “Uh, Portland, 4-0-7, do you read?”
Nothing…not even static.
“Check the breakers, maybe we took some lightning.”
“Checked. Nothin’ tripped.”
“Set COMM1 to scan then set COMM2 to Halifax, and better get the transponder to 7700 and squawk ident.”
“Skipper?” Weps said, his voice wary now, “I got four contacts. 0-3-4, and sixty miles.”
“Anything else out here?”
“Okay,” Stephens sighed, “let’s get out of this crud and see what’s happenin’ down there by all them fishies,” he said, cutting power yet again and trimming for a steeper dive.
Then, over the radio: “Iowa, Iowa, we’re taking fire, repeat, we’re taking fire.”
“Roger, Indiana, come left to 2-0-5 magnetic. We’ll cross behind you, you target the first ship, we’ll fire at the second after we pass.”
“What the fuck?” Stephens said, looking at Cox. “Weps, start calling out range and speed to the first contact…”
“Roger…now 0-2-0 degrees and one-nine miles.”
“You got the frequency?”
“242.2,” Cox said. “Locked in.”
“Iowa, this is Mauler 7-0-4, what’s your sit-rep, over.”
“Mauler 7-0-4, identify.”
“Uh, 7-0-4, we’re an S-3 out of Brunswick, VS-32, and we got two Harpoons if you need ‘em.”
Captain McCrea looked at his X-O and shrugged. “Do you know what an S-3 is?”
His X-O shook his head as the Captain walked to the radio room.
“Okay, 7-0-4, this is BB-61 and we’ve got two bad guys on our ass. They’re about four miles behind us, and they’ve bracketed the Indiana twice with surface fire, and they’ve got torpedoes in the water.”
“61, 7-0-4, say again? You are engaged in surface combat?”
“Affirmative, 7-0-4. Two hostiles firing at us.”
Stephens looked at Cox and shrugged. “Light off the wing cameras. Weps, target vessel three.”
“Targeting. Target acquired.”
“Lock on target.”
“Locked on. Getting some radar bleed now, skipper.”
“ECM to active. No indication of radar locked on us.”
Stephens had his Viking 300 feet above the waves now, heading right for Contact One, whoever this BB61 really was…and then he saw the first ship dead ahead…
Then he saw three shells land in the sea on either side of the Iowa – just as his aircraft screamed overhead…
“And just what the devil was that!” Captain McCrea screamed. “You ever seen anything like that before?”
“Get Mr. Levy back up here, on the double!”
“Was that the Iowa?” Cox screamed.
“Yup. Weps, ready on one.”
The first Harpoon, the missile hanging outboard of the Viking’s left engine, leapt off the rail in a searing white roar…
Rear Admiral Eric Bey saw the launch from the Scharnhorst’s bridge, but he had no idea what it was beyond a brilliant white light. Alarms starting sounding when lookouts spotted an aircraft on the horizon dead ahead, yet Bey couldn’t believe his ears. No aircraft could possibly be up in this weather, let alone engage in combat operations…
Then he saw the missile streak by, perhaps two hundred meters off his port beam and just above the wave-tops, and he ran out on the bridge-deck and watched it home-in on the Prinz Eugen. His hands on the ice covered rail, he saw the impact…indeed, he could feel the heat moments later…and despite the snow and the wind it took minutes for the his first view of the burning wreckage to emerge from the flames and billowing smoke.
“Radar! Where is that aircraft!” Bey called out, frantic now.
He saw the two battleships still ahead and shook his head…
“Hard right rudder, make your course zero two zero, make smoke and all ahead full!”
“Skipper?” the Viking’s weapons control officer said calmly. “Aspect change on the remaining target. He’s breaking off, sir.”
“Okay, I see him now,” Stephens said as he flew over the flaming hulk of the Prinz Eugen. “See the flag?” he asked Cox as 7-0-4 flew past the sinking battle-wagon.
“NAZI German, as a matter of fact. Weps, safe your weapon.”
“Roger. Harpoon two to safe.”
“Make sure the camera is getting all this,” Stephens said to Cox.
“It’s recording, getting a good image.”
He cut power and trimmed his nose up a little, let more speed bleed off until he knew he needed to drop some flaps. Using the joystick, Cox centered the camera on the Scharnhorst’s stern, the vessel’s name and hailing port clear in the display.
“Scharnhorst?” Cox asked.
“Uh-huh. She went down in ‘44, I think.”
“What? You mean, in 1944? That we just engaged – and sunk – a German battlewagon that hasn’t existed in fifty years?”
“Yup, that’s what it looks like,” Stephens said, grinning. Let’s get some Mark I eyeballs on those two Navy ships…”
As Stephens reefed the little jet into a tight turn, and now on a reciprocal heading to the US ships, he barely felt the presence of the sphere again – then seconds later Mauler 7-0-4 burst out into radiantly clear skies. He checked the condition of his aircraft, knowing instinctively that the Iowa was gone now, then he checked-in with Brunswick as he changed course back to the base, not quite knowing what waited for him in the days ahead, and not at all sure what they had just experienced. Whatever had happened, he thought, it was more exciting than chasing phantom Russian trawlers…
(C) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, all of it…