Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 2

corcovado 2 im

II

His eyes were red, his mouth tasted like old fish and bug-juice, and now this. Someone, somewhere in Washington, had gotten a bug up his ass and wanted a bunch of Iraqi Migs hit before they could, conceivably, get airborne – and thereby be instantly shot down by some U.S. Air Force pukes loitering above Ali Air Base. There remained an outside chance, however small, that these Migs could break out and go after one of the carriers in the Gulf, and that just would not do.

The problem, as he saw it, was that his squadron had just bombed the living daylights out of just that airfield, including bombs that had cratered the runway beyond any further possible use. The other problem? Someone in the NRO had just gone over the latest satellite imagery and one runway was, somehow and against all odds, operational. And then, under cover of darkness and against all odds, the Migs had arrived.

No, that would just not do…not one little bit.

Ali Air Base was the closest operational base to Kuwait City, and, therefore, to the Gulf, and had been, literally, plastered two days before, when Operation Desert Shield rolled over into Desert Storm. And, he had flown at least six sorties there over the last two days. His Intruder had taken several hits from small arms fire this morning, driving home the point that, as hapless as the Iraqis seemed to be, a ‘Gomer’ with a flintlock could always get off a lucky shot off – and thereby ruin your whole day.

The squad XO had rousted him from a nice, warm dream less than a half hour ago, given him enough time to grab a shower and drop by the air wing’s dining room for a bologna sandwich and some bug-juice, otherwise known as Kool-Aid, as he walked to the briefing room; he began to regret the sandwich as soon as he finished it – and wished he’d tossed down two more Dixie-cups of the red stuff – on top of the four he’d tossed down – but already his bladder was aching…and that just wouldn’t do…

The Wing’s intel weenies had set up an overhead projector in the little compartment, but as only three Intruders were being detailed to this strike the room had kind of an intimate, less formal feel going down just then, until the CO walked in and that vibe disappeared – in an instant. Commander Dan Green walked up the lectern and looked at his team, then shook his head.

“No use going over the how or the why,” Green began, “but Gomer has moved some assets on the ground at Ali that weren’t there four hours ago, and that can only mean one thing. Somehow, someway, we didn’t get the runways as good as we thought. Also, there are eight Mig-23s on the ground there, and ten Frogfoots just landed, maybe an hour ago. They’re loaded with ordnance, or so I’m told, and we got Marines on the beach, if you get my drift…

“Jim, you’re taking 5-0-9.”

“5-0-9, sir?”

“We’ve apparently got two of those new AGM-84E missiles onboard, and 5-0-9 is the only bird we’ve got that can handle them. You’re also the only man in the squad with any training on the dash-84, and someone on the E-ring wants it used – tonight. Here’s your attack profile,” Green added, handing over a hastily mimeographed piece of paper – full of charts and graphs. “You’ll launch and arc in from the west. The missiles’ tracks are programmed to hit the fuel bladders, again, and the OPS building, which we, somehow, missed today. Satellite imagery has their pilots in-barracks right now, but they’re fueling the Migs as we speak, so odds are they’ll try to take-off before the sun comes up. With that many aircraft up, the thinking is one or two might get through, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“So, I launch, shoot and boogie back?” he asked.

“Not quite. Your load-out includes two cluster bombs. Look on page three. You launch, impact should be within two minutes. The XO and I will come in from the south and east a minute later, then you come in from the west about a minute after that, drop on anything that moves.”

“Okay.”

“One other thing. See the note page five…you’ll meet up with a Raven at those coordinates. He’ll lead the strike, jamming for the most part, but he’ll be carrying anti-radiation heads, too. He launches first, then you. Got it?”

He looked over the attack profile and shook his head. “Why so low over the border?” he asked. “I thought their radar were down across the board?”

“A Saudi E-3 is picking up emissions in the area.”

“Oh, swell.”

“Yeah. Good news all over. Word is someone picked up Buk transmissions late last night, and some Air Force A-10s picked up some SA-7 fire when they tried to hit a road about ten clicks north of there…”

“You’re full of good news, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, well, if it was easy…”

“Yeah, yeah…I hear you, skipper.”

“5-0-9 is gonna shoot from cat one, and she’s on the elevator right now, ready to go. Cartwright ought to have the coordinates loaded by now, all but the rendezvous with that EF-111. Try not to bust 300 AGL inbound, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Seeya.”

“Yup. Good hunting, skip.”

“You too. Better get a move on.”

He picked up the rest of his gear and made it to the flight deck as the Roosevelt turned into the wind, and he did a quick walk-around the Intruder as an S-3 applied full power next to his catapult, checking his ordnance was racked correctly and all pins removed. He climbed up into his cockpit just as the Viking launched, and the cockpit filled with JP-9 fumes.

His BN, Jerry Cartwright, was still entering waypoints into DIANe when he clambered into the left seat, then his crew chief helped hook up an O2 line to his face-mask; they both straightened out his harness before the chief pulled the safeties on the ejection seat, showing him the pins before he disappeared into the darkness below. He took a deep breath and looked around – but all he saw outside the Intruder was pure black…not even a flicker of moonlight on the sea…

He applied power and taxied from the elevator, watched the deck come alive as he lined up on the rail, then he closed the canopy and ran up power, waiting for the wand. A minor swarm walked away from the Intruder a moment later, all the last minute checks complete, and he then ‘Pri-fly’ came over the net right on cue.

“Tiger 5-0-9, clear.”

“5-0-9.”

“You got her spun up? We ready to roll?” he asked Cartwright as he checked power and rechecked the wing.

“I’m nominal.”

“Okay. Let’s go do this shit.” He turned to the wands down in the dark and adjusted his head a little, pushing his body back in the seat a little more, then he turned his head a little and saluted into the night…

…And the Intruder roared down the deck…slamming him into the seat…

In the enveloping darkness the transition to flight was subtle…just the slightest dip as 5-0-9’s wings bit into the thick air as she cleared the deck…and, as was his habit, he shook his head and worked his jaw as he raised the gear and cleaned the wing, keeping one eye on the altimeter, the other on his airspeed, scanning the engine tapes until he was at 1500AGL and everything was still working the way it was supposed to.

“Come left to three one zero,” Cartwright said. “You got the Raven’s coordinates?”

“Entered.”

“Okay…why don’t you do some of that pilot shit and wake me when we get back.”

“Yup, you take a nap. Just remember to wake me somewhere over Kansas, okay?”

“Yup.”

“Tiger 5-0-9, Big Stick.”

“Five by five, Stick.”

“Tiger Lead is airborne. Start your hack in five, four, three, two, one – mark.”

“Got it,” he said as he reset the chronometer and punched the go button.

“509, contact Turnout on 244.3, and good hunting.”

“Forty-four three, and thanks.”

He trimmed the Intruder into a shallow dive and slipped the HUD into terrain mode, looked at the sea’s surface one more time before he turned all his attention to his cockpit instruments. He would for the rest of this first segment, anyway.

“5-0-9, Turnout,” he heard a few minutes later.

“5-0-9, go.”

“Come to 3-2-0, get down in the weeds now.”

“3-2-0.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, we’re picking up emissions inside Al-Wafrah, profile looks like SA-11.”

“Got it.”

“Turnout, Weasel 3-0-9, expedite.”

“3-0-9.”

“Uh, 5-0-9, make that 3-3-0. Someone just went active.”

“Jerry?”

“I’m looking…” his BN said as the Intruder’s threat receivers started warbling…then…“I gotta launch! One airborne. Now two…! High-PRM, headed south! Get down in the weeds, man!”

He sighed, felt his sphincters relax a little as he pulled up on the stick a little. Five twenty knots and one ten over the waves meant one wrong twitch and Tiger 5-0-9 would become a smeary patch of oil in the waters off Kuwait…then he saw the beach a mile ahead, and a few campfires down on the sand as they roared over seconds later.

“5-0-9, feet dry.”

“5-0-9, come left to 3-1-0 and climb to at least 200 AGL, buddy, or I just can’t see you.”

“Three ten and two.”

“How long?” Cartwright asked.

“To?”

“The Raven.”

“Call it ten minutes. Maybe nine minutes forty seconds.”

“Wish there was some moon.”

“Not me. Too many b-b-guns down there.”

“Hear anything from Barbara?”

“Nope. She went back home, I think. To her parents for a while.”

“5-0-9, got an outbound strike headed to the Stick, two miles north, 300AGL.”

“Okay.”

“5-0-9, come left to 2-2-0 NOW!”

He hit the stick hard, reefed the Intruder into a steep left turn, his eyes focused on the altimeter as he came off the power a little, then the threat receiver came on again.

“What the fuck!”

“Looks like heat-seekers. SA-7s, my guess,” Cartwright croaked, the G-forces making it hard to talk now.

“Every Gomer with a flintlock,” he groaned – as he straightened out on 2-2-0.

“5-0-9, you guys still with me?”

“Roger that. Looked like SA-7s.”

“5-0-9, concur, your traffic is now two zero miles, come right to 3-4-0.”

“Got it.”

“Okay, come up to 7000AGL, then start your attack profile after you hook up.”

“Seven, yeah, got it.”

Moments later the EF-111 appeared high and to their left, coming out of Saudi Arabia, and he reefed the Intruder into a gently arcing turn and slipped into the Raven’s four o’clock.

“Magpie, 5-0-9. You ready?”

“Affirmative.”

“Follow me.”

He looked around once, finally realized the night was clear and it looked like there were a billion stars out, then he focused on the -111 and followed this Magpie into a steep dive, letting his speed build up to almost five hundred and ninety knots – as fast as the Intruder dared go at this density altitude, and with this payload.

“Magpie, 5-0-9, I’ve got two transmitters targeted, launching in three-two-one…”

He had his visor down in an instant, and he squinted ahead just enough to see his instruments – yet even so the intense bloom from the Raven’s anti-radiation missiles almost blinded him.

“Fuck!” Cartwright shouted. “God damn, I’m fuckin’ blind!”

“Magpie, 5-0-9, launching in three-two-one…”

He clinched his eyes tightly this time, and still he saw the bloom – only it was deep red this time – leaving the jangled impression of blood vessels on his retinae. He shook his head, looked at the attack cue on his HUD and armed both his missiles.

“Launch in fifteen seconds,” Cartwright sighed, flipping the final safeties to OFF. “Ten seconds. Magpie, launching ONE in five, four, three, two and one…launching TWO in five, four, three, two, one…”

His eyes almost wilted under the sustained fire that burst forth from his wings.

“Magpie, Turnout, two impacts, high probability detonations on target. Come left to zero-two-zero, start jamming off axis.”

“Magpie, 0-2-0.”

“509, SLAM ONE has detonated. I’ve lost your second…no…wait one. SLAM TWO detonation, both appear to be on target. Tiger 500 and 5-0-2 are starting their runs. Come to zero-eight-two degrees and 500AGL, 300 K-T-S.”

“509, 500 and three.”

“509, start your run your discretion.”

He looked at the chronometer on the panel…call it fifteen seconds…as he trimmed out of his dive and went to full power. “Going now,” he said to the controller in the E-2C, then, to Cartwright: “Pickle’s hot?”

“Your bombs,” his BN added, unnecessarily.

Even from thirty miles out the fires were visible, yet he couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was like down there. At least ten thousand pounds of high explosives had just hit the Iraqi airfield – everything from fuel storage bladders to the control tower had taken hits, and now he was coming in to literally drop bombs on anything, or anyone, left standing.

Then…the threat receiver screamed at him…

…As five SAMs lit off and arced off into the night – chasing the skipper and the XO…

“Turnout? Got a vector to the launcher?”

“500, 509, negative. Hit the airfield again, got that! Repeat, stay on target!”

“509, roger.”

“509, Turnout, radar contact, we got three aircraft taxiing for the runway, looks like the Sukhoi-25s.”

“Vector?”

“Call it zero-eight-one.”

“Show me four-zero seconds out. Gotta drop from at least eight hundred.”

“509, no active emissions from the SAMs…looks like they shut down…probably putting more on the rails.”

“Yup. Runway in sight…confirm…looks like three Frogfoots and a Flogger…”

The threat receiver began howling again…just as he pickled his bombs on the Sukhois…and seconds later he saw the SAM arcing in from the left. Flares and chaff, push the stick down, turn into the missiles flight path, try to confuse their radar seekers, more chaff, stick up, jink right and push down…

One missile exploded harmlessly in his wake…

The second missed, but only by a few meters, then it exploded a hundred meters behind his Intruder…

And fire alarms went off, then hydraulic pressure alarms. Electric buses went next, then he looked over, saw Cartwright’s head was – gone – low geysers of raw arterial blood pumping from the stump…then he felt the pain in his right leg. Shooting up from his ankle all the way to his thigh…

“Uh, 509, I’m going down – fast.”

“509, say again?”

“509, I’m hit, my BN is gone, engines out, losing pressures…uh…okay, fire on the wing…punching out now…”

He didn’t hang around for a reply, and the next thing he knew he was hanging from his parachute harness, drifting down towards a black hole in the desert…

+++++

He was sitting on the swim platform, Altair still just visible – low on the southwest horizon. He could hear Ted describing Altair’s systems to Tracy, trying his best to impress the girl, and no doubt failing miserably despite his reassuringly authoritative choice of words. In his experience girls just didn’t give a damn about electronics and all such ‘stuff,’ though they often tried to appear interested. If they were, well, interested in the boy talking, that is. Only he wasn’t sure who or what this girl was interested in – yet – and that bothered him.

The whole license thing bothered him, too.

Like she didn’t appreciate the gravity of his passport explanation and so had decided to play him. To call him on it, in other words…and in his world eighteen-year-old girls just didn’t do that. No, he wondered who she really was, and what her angle was.

And just then he wished Ted had checked his testosterone back in Boston, but that was a done deal now. He’d have to deal with it as best he could.

He sighed, took a deep breath as he rubbed the scar on his right shin, the he looked aft and saw he could still see Vancouver’s lights in their wake, and while the sun was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky it was still quite dark out.

“Just like me,” he said softly. “Groping around in the dark again. Trying to make sense of the senseless…”

+++++

He could see Tiger 509 cartwheeling after it slammed into the earth, spraying jet fuel in wide arcs as it tumbled – and suddenly vast swathes of grass lit off. Following the prevailing wind, the flames marched to the north, but then the thought struck him…

The flames were bright, and he looked up, saw his olive colored parachute as plain as day – which meant any Gomer within ten miles could see him, too.

And now, hanging up here in the sky, he noticed his leg really hurt.

At least, he said to no one in particular, he felt somewhat intact. Not like…

No, I’m not going there, he thought. I’m alive, he isn’t and I’m sorry, but I’ll worry about all that later. He reached for his SART radio and turned it on, but left it attached to his harness…

“509, how do you read, over?”

He fumbled for the transmit button and pressed it. “509, still in my chute.”

“Confirm, you are down?”

“I will be, in about thirty seconds. The aircraft is about a half mile east of my position.”

“Are you injured?”

“Affirmative. Some metal sticking out of my legs, but that’s about all I can see from here.”

“Call when you get set.”

“Yup,” he said, but the ground was rushing up now, and he knew what was coming next…

He tumbled for what felt like forever, his chute full of the southerly breeze and dragging his body through what had to be acres of marshy reed and prickly grass…then the silk got tangled in some sort of stunted tree and he rolled to a stop. He lay still for a moment, listening to his heart beat in his temples, then he tried to slow his breathing down but realized he was just too disoriented for that. He felt pain all over now and pulled out his K-Bar, cut parachute cords, cutting himself free of the fluttering parachute.

He rolled over, tried to see the wound but it was still too dark and he didn’t dare use his flashlight out here in the open so he leaned up and took a look around. He was in the coastal marsh, he could hear the sea beyond – and a small city perhaps ten miles away…probably Abādān…and he knew troops were there…that’s where the SAMs had come from…

He turned again and he hurt all over, felt light-headed for a moment and he steadied himself on a rock…until he heard movement in the marshy grass a few meters away…

Then he remembered…there were supposedly crocodiles in these marshlands and he pushed himself up, gathered the remains of the parachute and walked directly away from the marsh as quietly as he could…

He came upon a low escarpment of rocky scree and he strung up the remains of the parachute between a few stumpy trees, making a shelter of sorts as he knew the sun would be brutal in just a few hours, and only then did he unclip the light from his harness and look at his leg…

He saw one piece of metal jutting from the top of his left thigh, and it looked thin – and sharp – then he shined the light on his right shin and saw a much more ragged piece – of something – had gone all the way through this leg, and this wound was bleeding – badly. He felt for the little first aid kit in his right breast pocket and pulled it out, felt for the powder he was supposed to pour on wounds like this to control the bleeding and found it. He gently opened the pack and poured a little on both wounds, then leaned back and took a deep breath…

‘The radio!’ he thought… ‘Got to get on the radio, turn on the beacon…’

He found the beacon and flipped it on, then turned on the radio and called in: “509, on the air.”

He paused, heard nothing, then called again.

“509, checking in, how do you read?”

“509, we have your beacon, some bad guys in the area looking for you right now, so keep your head down. Call in at 0500 hours, earlier if compromised.”

“Got it.” He turned the radio to standby – to conserve power – then he bunched up some extra parachute material into a pillow and leaned back – and the light-headedness returned…this time with a vengeance. He reached out to steady himself but he was falling again, falling through cool clouds, falling to the earth, and into the night…

+++++

They dropped anchor that afternoon, a mile off the main channel in a protected harbor on the south side of Musket Island. He inflated the Zodiac and put the little Honda outboard on the thin wooden stern, then held her off with one hand while he pulled the little inflatable to Altair’s bow. Ted was on the  foredeck, getting the second anchor ready on the foredeck as he pulled up, and he took the anchor from him, put it on the Zodiac’s hard floor, then turned to the motor and pulled the crank…

“Ready to pay out the chain?” he asked as the little outboard sputtered to life.

“I’ve got 200 feet ready. Is that enough?”

“Should be.”

“I think we should tie the stern off to those trees,” Ted added, pointing to shore. “Maybe keep us from swinging too much…”

“Not with these tides, unless you want to stay up all night paying out line,” he said as he puttered slowly away from Altair. When he was fifty yards away from their first anchor he let this second one, a 44 pound Rocna, go; when it hit bottom he moved off a few yards then dropped the remaining chain overboard.

“Okay, back it down a little, rudder to port.”

“Okay!” Ted called out, but by that time he was paying attention to Tracy again. Arms crossed over her chest, the same petulant expression on her face she’d worn all day. ‘Not quite bored yet,’ he sighed inwardly. ‘But give it a few more hours…then the hurting will begin.’

The first thing he’d noticed as the day warmed and sweatshirts came off were the tell-tale tracks on her arm, and that had set off all his internal alarms. This was his ship and he was responsible for any drugs found on board, and that meant if they were boarded and drugs were found – anywhere – he’d conceivably lose the boat. His home. And that meant he had to proceed carefully, and quickly, to get to the bottom of this.

“So,” he said aloud, “tell Ted and let him handle it, or do it myself?”

Do it yourself, the little voice in the back of his head said. Don’t put this on Ted.

He nodded as he set a trip-line for the anchor, then he motored over to the rocky shore, to the crumbling remnants of an old granite quarry. He waved at an older couple anchored as he passed, noting their little sailboat had come all the way from Southhampton, England, and he shook his head, wondering what it would be like to be cooped up on a thirty foot boat in the middle of the Atlantic…for weeks?

The water was clear near the rocky shore as he slowed – then beached the Zodiac, and he hopped out, walked the rocks for a few minutes, looking at Altair as he walked, at Ted and Tracy talking on the foredeck. He was not looking forward to this…no, not at all…

He looked-over the old quarry for a while, climbed among the rusted detritus wondering where these slabs of time had ended up. Some courthouse in Vancouver, probably, he sighed. He turned, looked at the sun…maybe an hour before twilight, so it was time to head back and get to it.

By the time he was motoring back he noted Ted and Tracy had gone below, and he groaned. ‘God, not already,’ he said inwardly…

He circled Altair once before he approached the swim-platform and tied off, and by the time he reached for the rail Ted was standing there, waiting, looking at him.

With a couple of baggies in hand.

And with what looked like a handful of insulin-type syringes in the other.

“What’s all this?” he asked.

“Heroin,” Ted said.

“Did you get all of it?”

“Unless it’s stashed up her ass, yeah.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve checked already,” his son added. “We can drop her at Powell River on the way up, in the morning.”

“Is that what she wants?”

“No. She wants to stay.”

“Nowhere to go?”

“Nope.”

“No money?”

“A few bucks.”

“What’s with the McGill story?”

“Bullshit, for the most part. She came over a few years ago, dropped out after her second year. Been drifting ever since.”

He nodded as he looked at his son. No, no longer a boy, that much was certain…but what kind of man was he going to be?”

“And what do you want to do?” he asked his son.

“Get rid of this shit.”

“Take the Zodiac, get some rocks from the beach and put them in the baggies, take them off a-ways and dump ‘em. Next, what do you want to do about her?”

His son looked down, shook his head… “I don’t know, Dad. I just don’t know.”

“Well, whatever you decide to do is fine by me. I’m proud of you, by the way.”

Ted looked up, smiled. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say something like that, Dad.”

“Oh?”

“You’re not the most demonstrative dude in the world, ya know.”

The words hit him, hard, and he felt old and hollow inside for a moment, then he looked at his son again and nodded his head. “I am my father’s son, Ted. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize, Pops. I guess it just makes it all the more meaningful, ya know?”

He nodded again. “I’m going to put on some water for spaghetti. Is she in her bunk?”

“Yup.”

“Is she hurting yet?”

“Yup.”

“Goddamn it all to Hell,” he muttered. “This isn’t exactly what we had in mind, was it?”

“This is the world we live in, Dad.”

“I must’ve missed something along the way.”

“Somehow I doubt that, but it’s a not the eighties anymore.”

He smiled again, and nodded, then smiled as he said: “Maybe you should be a cop, Ted.”

“Why not a pilot?”

“Because if you have a family you’ll miss all the fun.”

“And a cop wouldn’t?”

“You got a point there, Bucko. Well, you’d better get to it.”

“Right.”

“Should I just ignore her?”

“No, I think she’s expecting you. She saw you looking at her arms; that’s when she came to me.”

“Okay.”

Ted pushed off and motored away, then he turned and stepped into the canvas enclosure on his way down below. Once in the galley he pulled-out a large pot and filled it with water, added some salt and olive oil then set it to boil while he pulled out a skillet and chopped onions and peppers, then set them on a burner in some more olive oil. Add a little garlic and cilantro, he thought, then a few cans of diced tomatoes and some basil to kick things off.

“That smells good,” he heard the girl say, and when he turned he saw she was sitting in the saloon, her feet tucked-in under her legs – and his heart went out to her sitting there. She looked like a used up waif, her life not beginning now, but in tatters.

“Next – my secret ingredient, a good shot of Merlot…”

“In spaghetti sauce?”

“It’s classy spaghetti sauce, kiddo.”

“Like you, huh?”

“Me? I kind of doubt that…”

“I don’t.”

He turned and looked at her again. “How you feeling?”

“Strung out, burned out.”

“Lost, and maybe a little alone?”

She turned away, started to cry…

“Knock it off, will you?” he sighed. “We’re supposed to grown-ups around here…okay?”

“Sorry…I’m not feeling very grown-up right now.”

“How are you feeling? Besides strung out?”

“Like I’ve been found out…by my parents, my father.”

“And what would your father have done?”

“Beat me half to death, I suppose.”

“And then…?”

“Him? He’d have gone down to the pub, I reckon. Had a few pints…”

“And your mother?”

“She wasn’t around much, if you know what I mean?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“She worked nights, mostly.”

“Nights?”

“On the street.”

“So, let me see if I’ve got this straight…? Dad was a drunk and mom was a hooker?”

She nodded her head, looked away. “We were poor, lived in…”

“Pardon me, but I really don’t believe a word you’re saying?”

“What?”

“I don’t believe you, Tracy.”

She stared at him now, unsure of herself – and angry.

“You told Ted you spent two years at McGill, but somehow I don’t see a heroin addict raised in that kind of home ending up at a school like that. It just doesn’t, you know, add up,” he said as he turned back to his sauce.

“You think you know me…?”

“Who – me? No, not at all. Point of fact, I don’t know you at all. Second point? I don’t think you know yourself very well.”

“Oh, and what do you think I am?”

“In my limited experience, people lie like you are when they’re trying to conceal something.”

“Oh, and just what am I trying to conceal?”

“Beats me, kid. And even if you knew, which I kind of doubt, I don’t think you’d tell me anything that even remotely resembles the truth. You want some wine?”

“Yes, please.”

He poured her a glass of Merlot and walked it over to her, looking her in the eye as he handed it to her. “The thing is, if you want to talk, I’ll listen, but I think I’ve already got the contours outlined in my mind.”

“Oh, really?”

He walked back to the stove and stirred his sauce a little, sighing… “Yeah. Daddy was a rich man, Mommy was the drunk and she didn’t get involved much, did she?”

“Involved? What do you mean?”

“He abused you, didn’t he?”

“Abused? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. You tell me…?”

She looked away, took a big pull from her glass then looked at him again. “It wasn’t like that, not really. I think he wanted to, but I don’t think he had the courage.”

“Now that’s an odd choice of word, don’t you think, Tracy? Courage?”

“Well, he always told me I was cute…too cute…”

“Ah, so it all comes down to restraint on his part? That’s what you mean by courage?”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“Because you’re so, what, so irresistible?”

“Yes. I guess.”

He looked at her again, careful not to say a word.

“God, that sounds awful, doesn’t it?” she added.

He stirred the tomatoes and nodded his head. “Kind of, yes. What does your father do?”

“Imports mainly. Foodstuffs, from South America for the most part, I think.”

“And he’s wealthy?”

“Yes. Very.”

“And mother?”

“She plays cards.”

“And drinks a fair bit, I take it?”

She nodded her head again. “Yup.”

“You want a salad?”

“Can I help?”

“Sure…I can always use a fresh galley slave…”

She laughed at that, and was still smiling when Ted came down – and saw them both smiling and chattering away.

‘God…I’ll bet she never knew what hit her,’ he thought, smiling a little at thoughts of other nights, and other interrogations.

+++++

‘Yes…there it is again,’ he thought. ‘Something in the grass, moving this way…”

The pain in his right leg was almost overwhelming now, but the blood flowing from the wound had slowed a little after he put the coagulant around the penetrating metal shard, and though he’d wanted to shoot an ampule of morphine he knew he couldn’t relax yet. Not now.

Then he’d heard something in the grass and curled up behind a large rock.

But then…nothing. Like as soon as he moved, the movement in the grass stopped…

He pulled some of the ragged parachute fabric over his body, trying to hide as best he could without disturbing the little structure he’d built, and then he’d lain still for minutes, trying not to move anything. Then he’d looked at his watch…

And cursed. Almost five now, almost time to check in with the E2 orbiting somewhere out there in the night, somewhere out over the Gulf.

He flipped the SART radio to active and pushed the transmit button: “509, 509, 509,” he whispered, as per protocol. “509, in the clear on 243.”

“509, sitrep.”

“Something moving in on my position, being very quiet about it, too.”

“Okay. Seal Team airborne at this time, be at your position less than two zero minutes. Jolly Green will be coming in behind them.”

“509, got it.”

“Hang tight, fella. The cavalry’s comin’…”

He flipped the power to standby, turned his attention back to the marsh, looking for a shift in the shadows…when a new, sharper spasm of pain broke over him. He looked down at his leg, saw a snake of some kind coiled up beside his right foot and he knew, just knew, he was going to die just then.

He heard more noise in the grass then and looked up, saw a small leopard walk out of the waist-high reeds – looking right into his eyes.

He was reaching down for his 45ACP – slowly – when the snake struck again.

this chapter (c) 2017 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 14

Deep END 14

Chapter 14

The road was rough, and, of course, there were thunderstorms just ahead. Albuquerque lay beyond this latest line of storms, somewhere beyond the lightning, and Claire was smoldering inside.

Stopped by Los Alamos security near the entrance to the highway to Santa Fe, she had finally been stuffed into the back seat of a gray Ford sedan – only to find Levy already in the car. Handcuffed, as it turned out.

Then she was handcuffed, and for the first time in her life she’d wanted to cry. She also didn’t want Ben to see her crying, to afford him the opportunity to see so deeply into her fear, so she turned away, looked at her reflection in the glass…

Amanda…gone. How was that even possible? How did the best train in the country derail, without apparent cause, in the middle of nowhere?

When the FBI agent had asked where she was going she’d told him, and after he apologized he told her he hadn’t heard any details about the accident yet. “If you don’t mind me askin’, Ma’am, how do you know your sister’s dead?” the agent asked as they passed through Santa Fe.

“He told me,” Claire replied without evasion, pointing at Ben.

“And, sir, how did you hear this information?”

And he couldn’t very well answer – ‘Gee, I learned of this a thousand years from now,” so he thought for a moment before answering: “On the radio.”

“I didn’t think they did that,” the agent said. “But then again, I don’t think you’re telling me the truth.”

Then Ben looked at Claire’s reflection in the glass – and their eyes met for a moment, yet she turned away. Just like Amanda turned away.

“You’ll have to ask the people at the station,” Ben added.

“I will,” the agent said, looking at Ben in the rearview mirror.

“Where are we going?” Claire asked the agent, still looking at her reflection.

“To take a ride in an airplane, I guess you might say.”

“I see,” she added, thinking about the people who would want to talk to her after the sphere had been reported over her house. That meant Oak Ridge or Washington. She thought about the sphere seen here, then the one off the coast of Spain. That one had been clearly observed – and by everyone – including the president.

Yes, she was going to be taken to Washington – to see Roosevelt. Because…she had to be under suspicion now. Well, she’d just to have to let Levy talk to them, let him figure out what to do next – because one way or another she was pretty sure Ben wasn’t going to let anything happen to her.

Slate-colored clouds loomed ahead, and she saw lightning in the clouds, too, then fat drops of water hit the windshield. Heavier drops began to beat the Ford’s roof and she closed her eyes, listened to the mysterious rhythm… Why, she wondered, did humans see patterns everywhere? Why? And what pattern did Amanda’s death fit into?

Then the thought hit her: he had chosen not to protect Amanda? Why? Had she been so peripheral to the future? Or had her death – now, today, this afternoon – preserved some pre-established order?

Then yet another thought slammed into her: what if Amanda’s trip to the ship had severely altered a timeline? What if her immediate death had become the only way to realign a presumed natural order of time?

Then, another leap of insight. What if…when she’d uprooted Amanda, brought her west from Philadelphia, what if she had altered…but wait…how could she ever know anything like that was true? She couldn’t, not with any certainty. If time was a river, how many tributaries could be generated by just one person? By just one person in the course of a single day? How many ‘what ifs’ could there be?

‘For all intents and purposes, an infinite number.’

Because if just one person confronted an almost infinite number of momentous choices in the course of a lifetime, the permutations would literally be very nearly infinite. One would never know – unless they could somehow see into the future, or somehow measure the results of one choice against another.

What crushed her in that moment, what made her feel completely insignificant was the thought that Ben and Trevor – and all the people like them she assumed were already working here – had just that ability. If so, there’s was an Olympian vantage, one not so different than what the ancients thought characterized the gods.

She opened her eyes, looked out the window, saw the outskirts of Albuquerque as they emerged from the thunderstorm. The rain-soaked two-lane blacktop was nearly deserted now, and she had seen only a few trucks headed to Santa Fe so far, while up ahead Albuquerque’s lights were winking on as the sun licked the far horizon. They drove through the city in silence, Ben apparently looking at pedestrians out the Ford’s window, yet now with his arms crossed over his chest, somehow looking very bored while also projecting an image of pure vulnerability.

‘He doesn’t belong here, does he?’ she asked herself. What must that feel like? To not belong in such a profound way?

They drove out onto the tarmac at the Albuquerque Army Air Force Base, right up to a waiting DC-3, and as soon as they were aboard the aircraft the pilots throttled-up and taxied to the runway. It felt to Claire like only minutes passed before they were airborne, headed east over the Sandia Mountains – and into an infinite night.

+++++

More FBI agents met their aircraft at the airport, and the small convoy made the short drive across the Potomac in silence. Even more agents were waiting at the White House, where both she and Ben were searched before being escorted to Harry Hopkins’ office. She recognized Dean Acheson as they walked into the cramped office, and she saw smoldering malice in the diplomat’s peregrine eyes, then she saw Hopkins was in the room too. And he did not look in the least happy.

“The blue spheres,” Acheson said, pointing at Levy without preamble. “What are they?”

Ben stared at both Hopkins and Acheson for a moment, then shrugged. “In essence, while each mimics a plasma, what you’ve witnessed is but a small electromagnetic field that resides around a single sub-atomic particle. Power is applied to the field and that regulates the size of the sphere.”

“And why would you do that, Mr Levy?”

“Because the resulting sphere can be manipulated.”

“You mean Time, don’t you, sir? You can manipulate time?”

“No, sir. Not me, personally.”

“Your people, then.”

“That is a true statement, Mr. Acheson.”

“Are you human?”

“Human enough.”

“Where are you from?”

“Kent, sir.”

“Don’t lie to me, you son of a bitch.”

“I am not, sir. Of that, you may be sure.”

“Alright…one more time. Where did you come from?”

“Where did I come from? You mean…”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Acheson snarled.

“‘Where’ isn’t the correct question, sir. ‘When’ is more appropriate. Or – more to the point.”

“When? And just what do you mean by that?”

“My first iteration was created in 1866, sir. This body, the one you’re interacting with just now, was created in the year 3037. That is from when I come – this time.”

“You expect me to believe…?”

“I’ve told you the truth. Every time you’ve asked me a question, I’ve told you the absolute truth.”

“Well, the president seems to take great stock in you,” Acheson sighed, “though for the life of me I have no idea why.”

Levy only smiled, though he steepled his fingers just then, as if measuring the passage of time to a metronome only he heard.

“You’re a time traveler, is that it?” Hopkins said, speaking now for the first time, stepping tentatively into the flow.

“Not true, Mr. Hopkins. I am – we are – engineers.”

“What kind of engineers?” Acheson snarled, suddenly perturbed again.

“Time, sir,” Levy said – looking from Hopkins to Acheson. “We engineer Time. We try to do so in such a manner that we disrupt certain unwanted imbalances. That we ensure more acceptable outcomes, without disrupting our own existence.”

“And,” Acheson growled, “if I may be permitted to ask, acceptable – to whom? To you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“You know…I think I’ll have you shot.”

“That’s quite understandable,” Levy said, smiling again. “I’m sure the Russians would allow you to, though I feel quite certain Mr. Churchill may take offense.”

“What have they got to do with all this?” Acheson said, his eyes narrowing.

“Everything. Absolutely everything.”

“What did you mean when you said you were human enough?” Hopkins asked. “Human enough for what? To fool us?”

Claire looked at Ben now, her eyes full of questions. “You say you were born in 1866? The original iteration of you – whatever that means?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Ben said, grinning.

“What was your name? Back in 1866?”

Levy smiled broadly now. “Herbert.”

“Herbert?” Acheson said, his voice unbelieving. “Herbert…what?”

“Herbert George Wells.”

And it was Claire who burst out laughing this time. “You should pick your doppelgänger with more care, next time – Herbert.”

“Oh, I am not he.”

“Iteration?” Hopkins said. “What did you mean when you said that?”

“I am a copy.”

“A copy?” Acheson added. “Of H. G. Wells? Named Ben Levy?”

“Yes. Just so.”

“And you are not completely human?”

“Not the type of human you would recognize.”

Claire turned inward now, afraid of the next question she had to ask. “Who created you, Ben?”

“Our granddaughter, Claire. Though her father helped.”

She nodded before she turned away, then closed her eyes – to stop the flow of tears.

 

(C) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, all of it…

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 13

Deep end 13

Chapter 13

Roosevelt was in the Oval Office, looking over the FBI’s final report on the latest matter out in New Mexico, reading through it for the third time. The blue sphere had been seen twice over Los Alamos, the report stated plainly enough, yet Aubuchon had denied any knowledge of its (re)appearance, and that troubled him. It troubled Harry Hopkins too, and Cordell Hull. They had all caught a brief glimpse of the sphere over the Atlantic, twice on the Iowa’s return voyage; the first when the Condor approached off Spain, the second when that strange Navy aircraft appeared over the Georges Banks and attacked the German battleships.

And now, another sphere – allegedly over Aubuchon’s house in Los Alamos? He just didn’t know her well enough to understand what this meant.

So he picked up the telephone on his desk and spoke to the switchboard operator. “Get Harry, would you?”

A few minutes later Hopkins entered the Oval Office. “We have the latest German rail car dispositions you asked for, Mr President. Attacking fuel transport lines seems to be working.”

“Harry? I need to speak with Claire…Dr Aubuchon. And I need to see her eyes when I speak to her.”

Hopkins nodded. “Yessir. I understand.”

“Handled discreetly, of course.”

“Yessir. She’s just arrived in Los Alamos. There are no records she took her sister to a hospital in Santa Fe, by the by.”

Roosevelt looked down at his hands, coughed once. “There are days I truly hate this job, Harry.”

“What do you think…”

“She’s lying, for one thing, Harry. That means she’s hiding something. And if a person in her position is hiding something, then we’re all in trouble. The entire project could be compromised.”

Hopkins pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “Do you want to remove her now, or wait until we can finish a full security review?”

Roosevelt leaned back in his wheelchair and sighed, then shook his head. “We can’t afford a breakdown in security now. Especially not now. Chop her off, bring her in, and anyone else in that house. We need to know who she’s consorting with.”

“Her sister Amanda is on the approved list, as is that Levy character. Those are the only two in the house. At least, as of last night.”

“Have the FBI handle it, but I want it handled discreetly. And I want to talk to her as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Mr President.” Hopkins turned and left the Old Man with his thoughts. He knew that look, after all, well enough – didn’t he? He went to his office and called the director…

+++++

Amanda looked odd the next morning. Clear-eyed and suddenly looking almost emaciated, Claire guessed her sister had lost no less than twenty pounds in the last three days; an impossibility, true enough, but the evidence was right before her eyes. But…how?

“Well, hi there, sleepyhead. And how are you feeling this morning,” she asked Amanda as her bare-footed sister padded into the kitchen.

“Excellent. You?”

“Tired. I was in the lab well into the night.”

“I know. I heard you come in. Around two, wasn’t it?”

“That sounds right. When I start on something I often lose track of time.”

Amanda nodded. “Father was like that,” she sighed, still coming to terms with the passage of so much time, and her absence from the flow. “Charles was too, back in high school, anyway.”

“He still is.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Who? Father?”

Amanda nodded her head carefully, slowly, hesitation clear in the hesitant movement.

“I didn’t know him the same way you did, Amanda, but my memories of him are of a warm, caring person.”

Amanda smiled, a tenuous, wounded smile – her eyes full groping hands in dark shadows. “I’ve seen Ben before, you know?”

“Ben? Before? What…? Where was that?”

“In Sweden. He was the physician who took my baby?”

“What?” Claire felt inrushing pressure when the words registered.

“I couldn’t place him at first, I think, because he hasn’t aged. But it’s him. I remember his voice most of all, but oh yes, Claire, it’s him. Of that I’m sure.”

Claire stared at the stovetop, lost in breaking waves of suddenly inexplicable implications. Ben…Trevor…and who else? Had they been following her all her life? But, to what purpose? Why watch her so closely? And why would anyone take a fetus?

“You must be mistaken, Amanda. That’s clearly not possible.”

“Clearly, yes, I agree. Yet he was there. Ask him.”

“Have you?”

“No. I think I’m a little afraid to, and I guess I wanted you with me if I do.”

Claire shook her head, tried to laugh a little. “This must all be a coincidence of some sort, dear sister. That such a thing could be? Well, it’s simply just not possible.”

“Impossible. Yes. I dreamed last night that you were on a ship of some sort, a ship near a strange planet, and that people were talking to you about something called the shift. It was all very real feeling, like we were really there.”

“A shift? Really?”

“I’m thinking your work here has something to do with it. What does it mean, do you think? This shift?”

Claire shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“I wonder who he is?”

“Who? Benjamin?”

“Yes. Is it true? You’re going to marry him?”

Claire looked away, suddenly embarrassed. “What makes you say that, Amanda?”

“I’ve heard you two talking, but it’s not like I was snooping around. Well, is it true?”

“I think, yes, maybe.”

“But why? You don’t love him, do you?”

And Claire shrugged. “I don’t know that it’s as simple as that, Amanda. There are other things I’m considering.”

“Other things? Such as…?”

But just Claire turned to Amanda, looked her in the eye. “We’ll talk to him tonight, I promise. About Sweden, about your dream – all of it.”

Amanda took the evasion in stride, met her sister’s gaze on terms at once familiar – yet full of loneliness. Claire’s words felt like a betrayal, and that was not a feeling she remembered coming from her. They looked at one another for a moment longer, then she made up her mind. “I think I should return to Philadelphia, Claire. I’ll only be in your way here, and you have more important things to take care of.”

“Nonsense. There’s nothing more important than you.”

“Could you get me on the next train?”

“Really? You want to go home now? You haven’t seen or done anything here yet, and there’s so much…”

“Yes, I feel homesick, as silly as that must sound. Really, I’d like to go home, back to Pennsylvania.”

“Alright,” Claire said, feeling dejected – and a little relieved. “I’ll call.” She turned and walked inside, leaving Amanda on the patio staring at the Blood of Christ mountains.

+++++

“Where’s Amanda?” Ben asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“On her way home. I got her on the one-thirty Chief.”

“Home? You mean, Philadelphia?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“How…unexpected.”

“Really? I thought you knew everything?”

“Her trip to the ship was not expected.”

“So, the future has been altered once again.”

Be nodded his head. “Yes.”

“Yet, you’re still here?”

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“When are we to marry? Is tomorrow too soon?”

“After the war concludes. If we married sooner it would appear suspicious.”

“Is it – suspicious?”

“What do you mean?”

“Amanda mentioned that you were the physician in Sweden, the man who removed her baby.”

“Indeed?”

“She said there was no mistaking you, or your voice.”

“I see.”

“Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ben sighed, “it’s true. You’ll understand, in time. There’s no frame of reference yet Claire, or I could tell you.”

“Frame of reference? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The reasons why we had to, not to mention the technology involved, but I promise, I’ll tell you someday. Before I die, anyway.”

“And what about Amanda? What about her feelings?”

Ben shrugged. “Turn on the radio.”

“What?”

“Turn on the radio. Now.”

She moved to the living room and turned on the set, then, waiting for the tubes to warm, she asked if he needed anything to eat or drink.

“No. I’m fine.”

As she tuned-in the station in Santa Fe she recoiled in horror. The Chief had derailed near Walsenburg, Colorado, and rescue operations were just now getting underway. The scene of the accident was remote, the announcer said, noting it was miles from the nearest roadway.

“We should go,” Claire said. “I’ll need to be there when they bring her to the hospital.”

“There’s no rush,” Ben said, his face a mask of barely concealed pain.

“Why? What do you mean?”

“She’s gone, Claire.”

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“She did not survive.”

She stumbled to her chair and fell into it, hands covering her face. “Gone,” she sobbed. “Amanda? Gone?”

“I’m sorry.”

“You bastard!” Claire screamed. “You did this!”

Ben looked away, then walked over to the little fireplace and started putting piñon on the grate, and soon he had a fire going. When he turned Claire was looking at him, pure malice in her eyes.

“We had no part in what happened, Claire. Amanda simply arrived at her moment in time, the end of a chain. It was her time, and there was nothing we could do to alter that.”

“Oh, yes there is.”

“Yes, but to alter that timeline once again could prove disastrous.”

“Once again?”

“Come. Stand with me by the fire.”

“I’m not cold.”

“Nonsense. I’ve never known anyone so cold.”

Her stare turned to icy stone at that, and then she left the house. He heard her driving off into the night so he walked out onto the patio in time to see her speeding down the canyon towards the highway that led to Santa Fe – and Walsenburg. He sighed again, then returned to his little bedroom off the kitchen.

He was smiling just then, for a million little reasons, when someone knocked on the door. He walked over, opened it, saw two policemen and another man in a dark suit, and he tried not to smile – at time.

“Come in, gentlemen. Dr. Aubuchon just left, but is there anything I can help you with?”

 

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 12

Deep end 11.1

Chapter 12

The house was odd, he thought. Odd, and tiny. And the walls seemed to be made of mud.

How had Claire made the adjustment? From that house in Philadelphia – to this?

The entire house – all three bedrooms of it – was quite literally smaller than the library. The walls were bare; not a single picture adorned the walls. There was no paneling on the walls, no library, and one bathroom little larger than a telephone booth.

And while Claire had returned to her own bedroom, and put Amanda in a large bedroom near her own, she had put him in a tiny space off the kitchen he assumed had been provided for some sort of domestic help.

And here he had thought she was developing real feelings for him…

He lay in his bed that night thinking about this sudden uncomfortable turn of events, wondering if he should simply abort the mission and return to the ship, try to reconcile events that had already been altered with potentially more agreeable outcomes. Still, he knew what they’d say…

‘It’s a good plan…stick with it a little longer…’

Planting dreams…molding the shape of her intellect to help create the best possible outcome…and then she’d stumbled upon the Shift – the worst possible outcome imaginable. All it would take to sunder the current order was one simple ripple in the fabric of time caused by the shift – and then they would come. The people living on earth now thought they knew what true evil was, but no one here had ever met one of them. The silent ones, the mind readers. Keepers…that’s what they called themselves. No one knew what they kept, unless it was a certain order to the universe.

He thought about that for a moment…

What if someone went back to the very beginning of time, to the moment when the universe came into being? To the moment of inception? What if someone went back and took that cosmic thimble full of matter and put it in a suitcase, then made the suitcase disappear? What if all the matter of the universe simply vanished? What then?

The theory said if the Shift began it would send the universe back to the zero point. Was that what the Keepers sought to prevent? What if the Shift was unstoppable once it started, if the arrow of time was to become corrupted?

The shift was fundamentally different than the time-shadows. The spheres could be controlled, and easily, and travel could take place without distorting the flow of time. Not so the Shift. The Shift was a one-way ticket back to the very beginning, and conceivably whatever lurked before the beginning.

Before the beginning?

Is that what the Keepers were guarding?

He sat up in bed and walked out the door to the kitchen, then he stumbled to another door and walked out onto the stone patio. He took a deep breath of the crisp air, then looked up at the stars. Was there something beyond, he wondered? Something on the other side of all that blackness? Was that the secret?

He heard someone coming out of the house, walking up behind him – and he stood perfectly still, looking at the pole star, imagining the earth spinning round and round.

Silence enveloped him. Only the sound of someone’s breathing disturbed the perfect silence.

He turned, saw Amanda standing there, a large knife in her hand, a slash-wound across her belly.

His eyes went wide, he began to feel panic for the first time in his life. “What have you done!” he cried…then she lunged at him, the knife aiming right at his heart.

+++++

Claire heard Amanda walk from her room, heard the door that led to the backyard open. She shook her head and slipped on her jeans and hiking boots, walked through the living room until she saw Amanda in the yard, the knife drawing back. She saw Benjamin standing there with his back to them both, looking, as he seemed to do often, at the stars – and she knew what was going to happen. She started running and was through the door when Ben started to turn around. She came up from behind Amanda, her eyes fixed on the knife, and as she lunged she hooked her arm around Amanda’s neck and knocked her to the ground; she then saw the belly wound and thought it must have happened in the fall.

Ben was kneeling now, applying pressure to the wound, but the flow of blood was simply catastrophic. Without thinking he pressed his left temple and waited…

+++++

The scientist’s compound at Los Alamos was, in early 1944, one of the most heavily guarded facilities in the United States. Guards in Jeeps patrolled constantly – both the paved streets and the rugged arroyos that surrounded the compound. Several guards saw the blue sphere that settled over the small house on Sycamore Street, and they raced to investigate.

When they arrived they found blood in the backyard, the back door to the house standing open – and no one inside the house.

And no blue sphere.

Thirty four minutes later Harry Hopkins walked into the president’s bedroom and gently shook him.

+++++

The room was impossibly small, the walls bright red – and Claire shook her head as the dream…but no, this wasn’t a dream, was it? Amanda was on an operating table and two machines hovered over her body. Retractors had pulled open and revealed an enormous cavity; the robots were moving so fast she could neither see nor understand what they were doing. Screens flashed as readouts changed, one of the machines moved to what looked like a storage device and opened it, then plugged a bag of red fluid – was it blood? – into the IV that coursed into Amanda’s arm.

She saw that Ben was beside her, and that they were in a small clean room off the operating room, and that Been was talking on an intercom of some sort.

“She’s lost too much blood,” she heard him say, and she began to fear the worst. Then she heard him say: “Are you sure?”

He listened for a moment, then keyed codes on some kind of electronic typewriter. One of the machines stopped what it was doing and went back to the storage unit, pulled out another bag and added that to the IV.

Ben turned to her. “She’ll be alright now,” he said.

“But…she’s dying…”

“She was, yes.”

“What do you mean, she was?”

“She is not dying now. She will be better in about five hours. We can return to the house then.”

“Are you kidding? Look at her!”

But when Claire turned and looked at her sister the fourteen-inch long gash was gone, and her color was improving – right before her eyes.

“What have you done to her?”

“She’ll be better now. In every way.”

“In every way? What do you mean?”

“You will see.”

“Where are we?”

“A hospital.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

“You won’t tell me?”

“No. I cannot.”

She turned and looked at Amanda. “Why did she do this?”

“I do not know.”

“What’s wrong with you, Ben? You don’t…you’re not speaking right.”

“I am tired. I must rest.”

And with that he turned and walked from the little room, but the door slid shut behind him as he left, leaving her locked in the cabin. She looked at Amanda, at the machines working on her, then she too felt tired. A small bed slid out of the wall and she just made it before she passed out.

+++++

She woke and looked around, rubbed her eyes and sat up in bed. Her bed, in her bedroom. In Los Alamos. The hard sunshine pouring in through the window left sharp shadows on the walls, and the sky over the spine of the Sangre de Cristo was the deepest blue she had ever seen…then she remembered the blood.

Amanda!

Then, knocking on the door. Frantic knocking, then men at the window, looking in. One saw her and tapped on the glass…

“Dr. Aubuchon?”

“Yes, just a minute. Let me get dressed, please.”

The man seemed to visibly relax, then he disappeared around the side of the house. She slipped into her jeans and put on a flannel shirt, then walked to Amanda’s room. Her sister was sleeping fitfully so she let her be, then walked to the kitchen, and into Ben’s room.

Gone. The room was empty, and there was no trace of him at all.

She walked to the front door and opened it, saw a half-dozen uniformed and plain-clothes policemen standing there, all looking very agitated.

“Dr. Aubuchon?”

“Yes?”

“We’ve been searching for you for hours now!” one of them, apparently an FBI agent, said. “We found blood all over the backyard…”

“I’m so sorry,” Claire began. “My sister fell and cut herself last night. I ran her down to Santa Fe.”

“Officers saw some sort of sphere descend on the house. Do you know anything about that? Some sort of experiment, perhaps?”

She looked at the agent and shrugged. “I wasn’t conducting any experiments.”

“So…everything’s okay here?”

“Yes, and thank you for your concern.”

“Is your sister here, or at the hospital?”

“Here. Back in her bedroom now, sound asleep.”

“There was a lot of blood…what happened to her?”

Claire looked down. “I’m sorry, but she has emotional issues. Hallucinations.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” the agent said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“It’s no intrusion, officer. Would you like to check on her, see for yourself?”

“That’s alright, Ma’am. Doctor Oppenheimer would like you to check in with his office as soon as you can.”

She nodded. “Thanks, I will.”

“Well, good day, doctor.”

“And you,” she said, closing the door, then she retreated to the kitchen, to Ben’s room. There was no sign he’d ever been there and she felt gut-punched, almost bereft – because she knew he wouldn’t be back. She walked, head down, into the kitchen – wondering if, after last night, life would ever be the same.

Those machines! Performing surgery! And the red walls…? It had to be that ship…

She put her hands out and steadied herself on the counter, took a few deep breaths, then she saw another agent in the backyard, just standing there, looking up at the sun.

Then she saw the shape of the man’s head, and she just knew.

She went back out to the patio. “Ben?” she asked, and the man turned around.

“No,” the man said.

“Do you know where he is?”

“He failed. He will not be returning.”

“Failed? What did he fail to do?”

“To protect you, and your family.”

“He didn’t fail…”

“That was not your decision to make.”

“Was? May I see him?”

“No. That is no longer possible.”

“I see. And, what happens next?”

“My name is Andrew. I am to be your husband.”

“Well, Andrew, nothing personal, but Ben was going to be my husband. I’d rather like it if that came to pass.”

“I see.”

“Would you mind going back to wherever you just came from and see if you can make that happen?”

“That may no longer be possible.”

“Goodbye, Andrew.”

“Goodbye.”

She watched the man, if that was indeed what it was, walk off into the arroyo, then she returned to the kitchen and made coffee, then scrambled some eggs. When she had cleaned up after, she showered and put on fresh clothes, then went to Amanda’s bedroom again and sat on the edge of the bed.

There was something different about her this morning. She couldn’t put a finger on it, but Amanda definitely looked different. She pulled back the sheets and looked at the wound – and found nothing but smooth, white skin – and no trace of any sort of wound.

“The robots,” she sighed.

“The what?” Amanda groaned.

Claire looked at Amanda, saw the illness in her eyes was gone, replaced by a less malignant confusion. “My, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t know.”

“Any pain anywhere?”

“Pain? No…not really,” but Amanda seemed to look at Claire for a long time, then: “Claire? Is that you?”

“Yes, of course it’s me. Who did you think…”

“Where am I?”

“What?” Claire sighed, now confused too. “Where do you think you are?”

“I have no idea…” Amanda quailed, soon on the verge of tears.

“You’re at my house, Amanda, in New Mexico…”

“New Mexico? Since when did you have a house out there?”

“For two years now. I work here.”

Amanda sat upright in bed, her eyes searching for something recognizable – but after a moment she gave up, hugged her knees to her chest and started crying. Claire came close and enfolded her sister in her arms.

“Sh-h-h,” Claire whispered in a soothing, maternal way, “it’s alright. I’m here. It’s alright now.”

But Amanda was shaking her head…her confusion abnormally oppressive.

“What’s the last thing you remember,” Claire asked.

“I’m not sure.” Then: “Father, running to a fire. At the Navy Yard.”

And Claire gasped. “Amanda, that was almost twenty years ago. Do you remember nothing since?”

“What? Twenty…?” she said, trying to stand just now – her knees almost buckling.

“Here, let me help you?” Claire steadied her sister and helped her to the bathroom, but when Amanda saw her reflection in the mirror over the sink she screamed, terrified.

“That’s not me!” she cried. “Oh, please God! Tell me that’s not me! Oh, please…who is that?”

“You should shower now,” Claire said. “Then we’ll get you dressed.” She turned on the water and adjusted the temperature, yet Amanda stood – transfixed – looking into the mirror at the stranger staring back…

Claire led her into the shower and let the spray beat on the back of her sister’s neck, and soon the water brought her back to the present. “Oh my, that feels so good.”

“Just stand there. Relax. I’ve got a new toothbrush for you, too.”

“Could I have it, please. My teeth feel like they’re coated in saw-dust.”

“Sure. I’ll be right back.” She went out to the hall closet and found the brush, then she saw a man standing on the patio. “Benjamin?” she whispered.

He nodded his head and she ran to the door, let him in then flew into his arms.

Yet he seemed almost inert, spent, and she stepped back, looked into his eyes. “Ben?”

“Yes?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m very tired.”

“Why don’t you take a rest. Amanda’s just now up, and I’ve got her in the shower.”

He nodded. “That should help, but Claire? She’s very fragile now.”

She nodded her head too. “Go rest. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”

“Where?”

“Your room?”

“Show me?”

“Show you? You don’t remember?”

“I told you, I’m very tired.”

She helped him to his room off the kitchen, then thought better of it and took him to her room. “Just lay down and rest your eyes. I’ll be right back…”

When she took a new toothbrush to the shower, she found Amanda staring into the steam-covered mirror, wiping rivulets of moisture from the silvered glass. “I recognize my eyes,” she said, “but nothing else makes sense. When did this happen to me?”

“What, my dear?”

“How did this happen to me?”

Claire saw the confusion in her sister’s eye, but the source wasn’t quite clear, yet. “Amanda, tell me…what do you remember? How old are you?”

“Twenty-three, I think – I’m twenty-three, and I’m going to finish college next year, because after spending the year in Sweden…” Amanda began, then her voice trailed off into the dissolution that had held her in it’s grip all these years.

“What happened in Sweden, Amanda?”

Claire watched as her sister looked inside the glass, and wondered what she saw in those silvery echoes. But, apparently – nothing, as Amanda turned to her and shook her head. “Isn’t that odd? I can’t recall a thing about the trip. Where’s father?”

“He’s not here just now,” Claire whispered, afraid now.

“And Charles? Where is her?”

“Charles is in Washington just now, Amanda, but he’ll be out to see you soon enough.”

“And mother? Where is she?”

“She’s with father now, dearest.”

“And Elizabeth?”

“At home. At home in Philadelphia.”

“I want to go to Bookbinder’s, for soup. Will you take me – but, oh, you say we’re in New Mexico? How silly of me!”

“How about I fix some eggs and coffee? Would that do?”

“Oh, yes please. I do feel hungry.”

“How many eggs?”

“Oh, you know me…just one, over easy.”

Claire nodded – as she did indeed remember, then, not quite sure what had happened to Amanda over the course of the night, she walked back to the kitchen and lit the stove. A while later Amanda walked out, and Claire was astonished to see that the dress she’d worn the day before hung loosely on her sister’s suddenly diminished frame.

“One egg, over easy,” Claire said, putting the plate with the egg on a little table in the kitchen. Amanda ate half, then declared she was full before she had her coffee, black.

“I’ll need to go into work for a little bit,” Claire said, looking at  her sister. “You’re looking tired…would you like to take a nap?”

“Ooh, yes please. I’ve never felt so tired.”

When she returned a few hours later Amanda was on the patio out back, laughing gayly as a harried looking Ben Levy tried to keep up with her fractured conversation.

+++++

There was a small kiva in the corner of Claire’s bedroom, and a few pieces of piñon burned and popped away there, lending the room a smokey hue that was pleasant in the extreme – or so Ben remembered. He had never expected to feel the way he did just now, laying on Claire’s bed with her head resting on his lap. He had never known love, not even a mother’s love, but as he ran his fingers through her hair he knew, sitting in the amber light, that the feelings coursing through his veins could only be one thing.

He wondered about miracles for a moment, and if this is what people meant when they spoke of such things. And the oddest thing of all? They hadn’t said a word in what felt like hours.

Because, he understood, there seemed to be no need.

“We’ll need more wood for the fire,” she said. “I’ll go get some.”

“Show me how?” Ben asked.

“What?”

“How to make the fire work?”

“You’ve never made a fire?”

“No. There has not been much need where I live.”

“And where is that? The ship?”

“Connecticut.”

“Connecticut? Really? I always thought winters there were somewhat brutal.”

“Not where I lived.”

“And where was that?”

“New London.”

“And when did you move to London?”

“We were older then.”

“You went to school there?”

“Yes.”

“What did you study?”

“Science. Chemistry and physics.”

“Quantum mechanics?”

“Of course.”

“And metallurgy?”

“Yes.”

“Boeing is working on your titanium process; they should have results in a few weeks.”

“If necessary, I can go to Seattle with you.”

Claire looked away then, lost in a sudden thought. “Can you tell me about Amanda? What you treated her with?”

“Treated? You misunderstand. She treated herself.”

“What do you mean?”

“There were errors in replication…”

“Replication?”

“In DNA.”

“And that is?”

Ben blinked, shook his head. “The bacteria in her gut were out of balance. This caused a cascading series of failures in other relevant areas of her internal biome. This sequence has been reversed. She will feel better soon.”

“I see,” Claire lied, not having the slightest idea about what he was talking about. “What about these errors in replication?”

“I’m sorry. I misspoke.”

“Ah. So, the emotional problems she’s experienced?”

“There will be consequences, but with counseling they should be manageable.”

“Will she loose weight?”

“Yes. She has lost four kilos already, and her basal metabolic rate…”

“Her – what?”

“The rate at which she burns energy?”

“How did you determine that, Ben?”

“It is not important.”

“Tell me, what is important, Ben?”

“These feelings. The feelings we are experiencing.”

“Oh? Tell me how you feel?”

“How? I think I understand what, not how.”

“What do you feel now.”

“I think it is love.”

“Ah. Have you ever been in love before?”

“I have read about love, I have seen love, but no, I have never personally felt love.”

“How is that possible?”

“That was quite normal where I grew up?”

“Do you think you could love a child, Ben?”

“A child?”

“You said we would have two children. Don’t you know that children need love most of all?”

“Children need love?”

“Affection. Feelings of trust and understanding.”

“How so?”

“Children need to develop in an atmosphere of trust and understanding, tempered with affection. Without these things, children grow to become emotionally distrustful, even mean.”

The words washed over Ben Levy and he struggled to understand the meaning behind her words. Had she just told him he was mean, and not trustworthy? Surely that was not love?

She watched his reactions, the reactions of a child, of someone who had not the slightest idea of what it meant to be human, and that only made her more curious. It was no longer a question of who he was; it was more now that she didn’t know what he was?

Human? Yes, of course, but he hadn’t been born in the 1800s –

That just couldn’t be. Could it?

“Come with me,” she said. “Let’s get some more wood.”

The only thing she knew just then was that she had to keep him talking. The more tired he became, the more he talked… The more he talked, the less she understood, but that wasn’t important now.

She remembered everything, every word he said. When he went to sleep she would go to the lab, because there was much to do now.

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 11

deep end 11

Chapter 11

Roosevelt was, apparently, taken to a train waiting for him in Portland, and from there he rode to Boston, then on to the White House, while Claire and Ben Levy accompanied Charles back to the Wilkinson home in Philadelphia for a few days rest. They arrived on Christmas Eve, just in time for dinner, and the house was decorated just as Claire remembered. A little over the top, as always, but festive and gay.

For there were children roaming the halls once again, and the stairs and hallways echoed with laughter.

Charles had two now, both boisterous boys, while Liz had three – two boys and a very little girl – while poor, barren Amanda had finally given in to her various depressions and learned to eat. When Claire first saw Amanda that evening she could hardly believe her eyes, for the glorious blond-headed dream-boat of Mainline Society had blossomed into something quite unrecognizable. Sullen didn’t begin to describe the look on poor Amanda’s face; no, her’s was a lassitude of broken dreams…too many nighttime visits by Rupert had simply cut the girl loose from mundane things – like reality. She muttered to her demons no matter where she was, no matter who was around to listen.

And as these things so often do, her latest series of outbreaks was attended by Benjamin Levy.

+++++

She was sitting at the piano in the library, staring at sheet music when he walked into the vast, high-ceilinged room. He did not see her sitting there as he walked to one of the shelves and pulled a book down, for she had neither moved nor spoken a single word.

Then he heard a child’s forlorn cry and turned to see Amanda in animated discussion with – no one. She was fully engaged in an argument, the contours of which remained a mystery to him, as he listened, though he heard references to unwanted advances and pleas to a doctor…

He watched her for some time, fascinated. He’d heard of schizophrenia, of course, but had never seen evidence of it’s existence before, and watching this woman rattle on as if fully engaged in a life or death struggle was at once as interesting as it was troubling.

He moved closer to the piano yet the woman didn’t respond to his presence, and he realized he simply didn’t exist right now, not in the world this woman inhabited. Wherever this woman was, she simply was not in the same place he was.

Then Claire walked into the room, looking first at Ben, then at her sister.

She walked over to the piano and looked at Amanda, then to Benjamin. And at the book in Benjamin’s hand.

Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Now…why had he taken that book from the shelves?

And she could almost remember when books like that one had consumed all her interest – until they didn’t – couldn’t – anymore. Until the overt primacy of the physical world became self-apparent, most fulfilling, and how, after that epiphany she had turned away from literature and music.

Then, hearing Amanda’s words, she fell inside the distant conversation and the pleas to their demons…

And so Claire moved to her sister’s side, sat beside her on the piano bench and put her arms around Amanda’s shoulders.

“Oh, my poor dear,” Claire said, startled at the change she found now, “what’s bothering you this fine Christmas Eve?”

And those words seemed to pull Amanda back into the present – for a moment. “Claire? You’re home?”

“Yes, precious, I am.”

“Play for me, would you?”

Claire shook her head as if she hadn’t quite understood the words. “Play?”

“Yes. Debussy. Remember how you used to sit and play for father?”

“Yes.”

“When you played, he left me alone. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I loved it when you played Debussy most of all. He left me alone for days.”

“I’m sorry, my love. I didn’t know.”

“Did you love me, Claire?”

“Yes, of course. I always have.”

“That’s so sweet of you to say. I wished I was younger when you came to us. That we could have played together. As it was, I was most afraid of you…”

“Afraid? Why?”

“Why? Because you were so much larger than life. Seven years old and reading books even my mother hadn’t, playing Debussy for us all, showing us the way forward, away from all the nightmares in this house.”

“I don’t understand, Amanda.”

“Really? I was so jealous of you…”

“Jealous? But really, it was I who was jealous…of you! You were always so gorgeous, so charming and full of poise, and I knew I’d never be as beautiful as you…”

And Amanda leaned over, let her head rest on Claire’s shoulder. “And look at me now,” she whispered. “Look at me now, dear sister.”

“I am, dearest. And do you know what? I think you need to come with me, out to New Mexico, and live with me for a while.”

“New Mexico?”

“Yes. Did you know I have a horse there, and mountain trails to ride? Streams to fish, pools to swim in? You’d love it, Amanda. Won’t you think about it? We could have so much fun…”

“Play something for me, Claire.”

“But…I haven’t, not in years.”

“Debussy? Please?”

“The Clair de lune? I might remember…”

“Yes, please. That was always father’s favorite.”

Claire turned and faced the piano, and though it had been twenty years she played as if it had been only days. She played and played and Amanda wept, gently at first, then openly – as her nightmares for her in their ancient room…their knives drawn, patiently waiting for just the right moment as they circled the room.

+++++

While Claire played Ben Levy looked at these two creatures and wondered about the things they had shared. About the things that had pushed them apart once upon a time, and about the tragic, unseen bond that held them close even now. He thought about what it meant to be human, to be part of a family. About the things you can never forgive, and the moments that held these two people fast together. He thought about music, human music – and the music of the spheres. Yet all the blood in the universe couldn’t explain what he had just seen…the tears on Amanda’s face the echoes of a little girls betrayal, the solace she took from lost chords, notes played by echoes of another little girl – one blissfully unaware of all the other little betrayals that had lain waiting in this kaleidoscope of shadows.

All her hidden emotions were right there, on two faces hiding in one.

And if he’d ever wondered what it would be like to be betrayed by a father, here was all the evidence one would ever need – in this amber shadowland, lives hiding just out of sight until the fault lines became too hard to ignore. Until the other voices spilled out into the light of day, no longer content to wait.

When Claire finished walking through these conjoined memories she stood abruptly and walked out of the library, while Amanda resumed her dialogue with the dead. Benjamin opened Tolstoy to a bookmark and looked at the words on the page for a moment, then he followed Claire out into the shadows.

He walked to a vast parlor, what was being called a living room these days, and he stared at the Christmas tree set up before a huge expanse of windows. The house, he saw, was some sort of approximation of a Tudor mansion, with reddish brick augmented by blackish-brown timbers and sharply arced doors separating one room from another, all set-off by a huge stone fireplace in the far wall. The Christmas tree was a good ten feet tall, and he saw an infinite number of amber reflections set amongst the green needles, reflections of other light long gone, reflections of memories patiently waiting.

There were even stockings set on the mantle, he saw, and he remembered a time when such things had meant something to him. A life he’d never known, of course, yet attractive in the way borrowed memories often are.

Presents under the tree, countless expectations wrapped in endless anticipation. So much happiness, so many memories waiting to be made, wanting to be made.

What if it all disappeared tomorrow, he asked himself? What if I make another mistake? I very nearly cost Roosevelt his life, and Claire’s. What if McCrea hadn’t turned on the radar? What if Scharnhorst had crept up on them unawares? What if the Iowa had perished in those cold, storm-tossed seas? And Claire, too? If she had been lost, then what?

He had to admit now he was starting to feel something for her. Nothing like attraction, not yet, but something more like admiration, even a grudging respect. Hers was a towering intellect, beyond anything these people had ever encountered, yet she seemed, if not unaware then perhaps simply careless about the implications. So few minds reached her state of development, anywhere, yet when such power arose the universe took note. There were a handful of such minds on earth now, and that might soon become a problem. If they succeeded in detonating their device the universe would take note, and then he’d have to decide what to do.

If they came he’d have to go back once again, go back to that night of drifting icebergs and frantic pleading. Outcomes would have to be altered once again, destinies sent in new directions. He’d have to kill her this time, before she started changing outcomes again, before he fell in love with her – again. And most of all, before their daughter rose from the ashes and destroyed them all.

+++++

He sat across from Claire – and Amanda – his eyes trained on the gently passing landscape on the far side of the glass. They were on the Southwest Chief, now about halfway between Chicago and Lamy, New Mexico, and Claire was reading a report from Boeing engineers detailing reinforcements made to the outboard engine nacelles on three B-29s that had just come off the line; simulated blasts had rendered catastrophic damage to all three test aircraft and she was vexed now – because they had ignored her suggestion that they use either a heavier gauge steel, or consider an even stronger, though experimental, laminated metal…

Amanda was staring at her reflection in the window, talking to a man who looked suspiciously like her father – and who was holding a knife to her belly, apparently getting ready to slice her open and remove the unborn child from her womb…

Levy saw Amanda tense as she spoke and shook his head, then he turned away in embarrassed despair in search of silence, wondering not only how, but why Claire thought she would be able to take care of this wounded creature. Or why she should? There were hospitals, after all, and Claire would never be able to dedicate the necessary time for the level of care Amanda would require. And…she wasn’t even biologically related! Why wouldn’t Charles or Elizabeth step forward and take over…?

‘Does she expect me to care for this poor creature?” Ben sighed inwardly. “If so, she will be very disappointed…” No, he would begin work at 3M after the war. ‘His’ family would move to Minneapolis, Claire would commence teaching and stop all work on the Shift. She had to. He had explained that to her more than once now, and she’d said she understood the implications of continuing, the repercussions such a course of action guaranteed.

He turned and looked at Claire again, still lost in that latest engineering report.

“Anything new?” he asked.

“They used aluminum again. Three aircraft lost.”

“Titanium would be better.”

“Titanium? How so?”

“Have the their metallurgists and engineers look at this formula,” he said, scribbling on the back of an envelope:

2Mg(l) + TiCl4(g) → 2MgCl2(l) + Ti(s) [T = 800–850 °C]

“What is it?”

“Just pass it along, Claire.”

“I had no idea you were a misogynist, Mr. Levy,” Claire sighed.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because,” Amanda interjected, “you’re speaking to her like a misogynist asshole, asshole.”

Claire’s left eyebrow arced sharply, then she tried to stifle the laugh she knew was coming.

“That was a little paternalistic of me, wasn’t it?” Ben sighed.

“A little?” Amanda asked.

“I’m sorry,” he added, taking the envelope again and writing on the back at an incomprehensible speed. “So, essentially, if one takes refined rutile from raw titanium ore, you reduce it further with a petroleum-derived coke in a fluidized bed reactor at 1000 degrees centigrade. Next, the resulting mixture should be treated with chlorine gas, giving you titanium tetrachloride, as well as a few other nasty chlorides,” Levy said, grinning manically. “Next, these should be separated by further continuous fractional distillation, then, in a separate reactor, the titanium tetrachloride should be further reduced by liquid magnesium, at, say, 800–850 degrees centigrade, and this will ensure complete reduction. The resulting alloy will meet your requirements.”

“Oh? How strong is it?”

“Several orders of magnitude, I should think, than what they’re currently using, and not nearly so heavy.”

She took the envelope and studied it – while Amanda looked at Levy.

“Who are you,” she said at long last.

“Me? Just your average industrial chemist.”

“You’re an asshole,” Amanda said, looking him in the eye, daring him to challenge her.

“Am I?”

“Yes. And I’m not at all sure I trust you.”

“And why would you? You hardly know me?”

“Claire hardly knows you. Why does she trust you?”

“Because she knows me better than you think, or think possible.”

“You speak in circles a lot, don’t you?”

“Occupational hazard, I suppose.”

“Never a straight answer,” Amanda sighed, then she returned to staring at the myriad reflections in the window…waiting…

(C) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, all of it…

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 10

DeepEnd 9

Chapter 10

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.”

“Aye, sir.”

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.”

“Aye, sir.”

“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.”

“No kidding.”

“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.”

“Air cover?”

McCrea shook his head.

“I see,” Levy sighed – as he left the bridge.

+++++

December, 1988

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?”

“Yessir.”

“Gimme flaps 10.”

“Ten, aye.”

“Weps? How y’all doin’ back there?”

“Kewl beans, skipper. All checklists complete.”

“Okeedoke.”

“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.”

“Got it.”

“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…

“Weps? Anything?”

“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?”

“Nada, skipper.”

“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.”

“Jam him.”

“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?”

“No, sir,”

“Get Mr. Levy back up here, on the double!”

+++++

“Was that the Iowa?” Cox screamed.

“Yup. Weps, ready on one.”

“One ready.”

“Fox one.”

“Firing 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.

“German?”

“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…

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch. 09

Deep End 9.1

Chapter Nine

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?”

“Certainly.”

“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.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes. Indeed.”

“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.”

“You mean…?”

“I do.”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“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?”

“Precisely.”

“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?”

“Why not?”

“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.”

“Yessir.”

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.

“Yup.”

“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.”

“Alright…”

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!”

“Aye-aye, Captain.”

“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.”

“Oh, swell.”

“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.”

“Yessir.”

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.”

“We?”

“My group.”

“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?”

“Our ship.”

“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.”

“Connecticut?”

“Yessir.”

“Uh-huh. Right.”

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