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

The Deep End of Your Dreams, Chapter 8

Deep End Tehran

Chapter Eight

“Trevor Goldberg” tried not to watch as she rejoined her group and walked away, but he had been waiting for just this moment, and for a very long time. He rejoined his own group, diplomats from the British legation, and he listened to their talk of agenda items – mainly how to keep Churchill’s being pushed out of the main flow of the conversation between Roosevelt and Stalin – when he felt William Thacker’s eyes boring into his.

“Who was that?” Thacker asked.

“Who? The girl?” Goldberg replied. “Claire Aubuchon. I met her once, in D.C., I think. Rather cute, don’t you think?”

He watched as Thacker looked after the girl for a moment, then Goldberg continued. “I was thinking I’d try to ask her out – again,” he said, grinning conspiratorially.

“Oh, was she so interesting?” Thacker said, now eying Goldberg with renewed interest.

“I’ll never tell,” Trevor said, for indeed, he never would.

“What did she say?”

“I’m going to meet up with her when the afternoon session wraps up, or perhaps in the morning. Say, I’d bet you didn’t know she’s Charles Wilkinson’s sister.”

“Seriously? I hear he’s in the queue for an ambassadorship.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“They’ll probably send him to Oman.”

“Family has too much money for that.”

“Ah,” Thacker sighed. “So that’s where your interest resides, eh, Trevor?”

Goldberg grinned, looked sheepishly away.

“You sly dog,” Thacker joshed before he walked quickly to catch up with the ambassador.

Trevor groaned inwardly, then thought of the time they’d been apart. How many lifetimes ago had that been? A hundred? A thousand? And…that last night…

And just then, watching her disappear into the main conference room, he had to admit he really didn’t know her anymore, and that hurt most of all.

+++++

She listened to the introductory remarks, tried to take in Stalin’s ambiguous statement of greeting, his continued insistence that America and Britain open up a second front as soon as possible, then she listened as Roosevelt thanked Stalin for the sacrifices of the great Russian people. She looked at Churchill from time to time, too; at the old man’s chin resting on his chest, his hooded eyes barely concealing the anger seething away inside. Everyone in the room knew he was being pushed aside, that Roosevelt was, in a very real sense, relegating the United Kingdom to the dustbin of History, and Stalin, his wolfish eyes darting here and there, could barely conceal his glee. The sun would, his darting glances confirmed, set on the British Empire, and none too soon. Tehran would forever be remembered as the final changing of the guard; Japanese aircraft had put an end to any just claim that Britain had rights to a global empire now. The sinking of the battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, on 10 December 1941 off the east coast of Malaya, and just three days into the Pacific war, simply codified for all time Neville Chamberlain’s grotesque appeasements. Those results were cast in stone now, and History’s judgment would be severe, and final.

It was odd, too, Claire thought. Churchill was by far the most astute wartime politician since Napoleon, and yet Napoleon, too, had squandered his empire. Were all empires doomed to rise and fall, she wondered? Was western civilization so doomed, as well? If mankind held firm to its stoking the fires of religious intolerance, could life on this planet survive the atomic age? Was that what she saw in Churchill’s eyes just now? Communist atheism running headlong into the Judeo-Christian impulse – the various crashing atoms smashing each other to bits?

And the Manhattan project was now teeming with scientists from both Britain and Canada, not to mention all the other European emigres that had fled Hitler’s spreading malignancy. The best, the greatest minds in the world, all gathered under the vast New Mexican sky. Her mind drifted to Santa Fe, to Taos, to the spine of mountains that ran between them…the Sangre de Cristos, the Blood of Christ mountains, snow-capped and brilliant. Her little house in Los Alamos, her casita, looked out on those mountains, and when she took walks in the sharp air her mind always drifted to them, and now, sitting in this faraway land, she found herself thinking about that jagged spine of rock once again.

How many civilizations had those mountains borne witness to? The various native tribes that came and went on their nomadic wanderings to and from Mesa Verde, only to give way to the Spaniard? The French, under Napoleon III had tried to push into New Mexico, too. Then the Republic of Texas had laid claim to the valley for a few decades, only to be absorbed by the United States of America. What would come next?

Yes, empires rose to the symphonic strains of a mighty roar, then whispered like a sigh as they faded in the spasms of their varied twilights.

Then the words ‘quantum mechanics’ drifted into her mind’s eye, and she saw the man again, in the same waking dream. She closed her eyes and tried to see him now as he was then, standing on that ship.

It was the same ship, wasn’t it?

Her eyes popped open in that instant and her eyes darted around the room again. Yes, there he was, sitting behind Churchill and Anthony Eden – and he was looking directly at her. Why, she wondered, did that not surprise her? And why did he suddenly seem so familiar? And, oh yes! Why had he said those two vexing words? There were not a hundred people in the world who knew what those two words, quantum mechanics, really meant, and most of those lived within a few blocks of her – under the gaze of those spiny mountains in New Mexico.

She wondered what he knew, too. Wondered if he had heard of the Aubuchon Shift.

Time was like an arrow, or so the saying went. Once loosed, that arrow went on and on, and in one direction only. But what happened before the arrow left the bow? What happened when you tricked time, and made it go backwards?

+++++

Her eyes burned and she rubbed them again, rubbed them until she felt the sclera detach  like old, dry paper – then she cursed under her breath and stopped.

“When are you ever going to learn?” she heard Charles say, and she looked up at him and grinned sheepishly.

She shrugged, then looked at the note in his hand. “What now?”

“Franklin would like to see you. I think Secretary Hull will be there too.”

“Why him, for God’s sake?”

Charles shrugged. “Hull is always around when the discussion turns to Stalin, or even to Russia generally. Get used to it.”

“He’s too serious,” she sighed. “I don’t like him, Charles.”

He chuckled. “Serious? Cordell? And why wouldn’t he be? He and Acheson have only been charged with creating the post-war political framework of the world.”

“Right. And just what the hell have I got to do with that?”

“Well, there’s been some talk of this shift you discovered…”

“Talk? How…”

“I think that’s the point. There’ve been some very serious discussions about it, I can tell you. The whole paradox thing that Oppenheimer brought up, as I guess you can imagine, shook a lot of people out of their reveries.”

“Myself included,” Claire didn’t have to add.

“Exactly. Now, I’d suggest you not try to conceal a thing. Answer Hull’s questions, but pay attention to Acheson. Dean has a better grasp of scientific matters, so if you see him struggling you’ll need to dumb it down a little.”

“Okay. Is Acheson the one you’ve been working for?”

“Uh-huh. He’s the brains of the outfit, and don’t you forget it. Roosevelt ain’t stupid, and neither is Hull, but Acheson is in another league compared to those guys. He’s smart, and his eyes don’t miss a thing. Don’t even think of lying when he’s in the room.”

“I wasn’t planning on lying, Charles.”

“I know. Now, come on.”

“Do you know a Trevor Goldberg?” she blurted.

“With the Brits, right? I’ve heard the name before. Why?”

“He said he wants to have a talk with me.”

Charles visibly stiffened when he heard that, and Claire noticed. “Don’t meet with him unless Hull gives you the go-ahead.”

“He assured me Eden would vouch for him…”

“Doesn’t matter. They’ll be probing, trying to get information on this Shift you’ve run across. My guess is Churchill is directing this contact, but he’ll keep very-very hands-off to avoid any semblance of impropriety. Anyway, you’d better scoot.”

“Is it still cold out?”

“You’d better take a coat, yes.”

She picked up something and walked out into the early morning air, took a deep breath then wrapped the coat around her shoulders as she walked over to Roosevelt’s quarters, unnerved by all the Russian guards standing around. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘it is their embassy…’

An America Marine stood outside the president’s door, and he came to attention as she approached – yet the door magically opened as she arrived, and Carlton, the Navy captain who acted as Roosevelt’s aide, smiled from just inside the suite.

“Good morning, Dr Aubuchon,” Carlton said.

“And to you, Russ. Anything new overnight?”

“Nothing major. Some new fuel consumption figures from inside Germany; that’s about it.”

She nodded understanding as she walked inside, noted a fire crackling away in the fireplace as she took off her coat, then watched Carlton point at the ceiling. ‘Yes,’ she sighed inwardly, ‘I caught the signal, Russ. The place is bugged, they’re listening. I get that…’

“Secretary Hull will be right out,” Carlton added as he walked into his makeshift office off this ‘living room,’ and she wondered if Roosevelt would come too. He had looked like death warmed over by the end of yesterday’s sessions, and had reportedly gone straight to bed. The burden’s this man carried, she thought, were enough to crush anybody, yet he had carried the weight of the world for years now, and never seemed to flinch under the load. Now it was catching up with him…

Another door opened and Secretary Hull walked into the room – looking more than a little tired – and he came and sat across from her.

“Ah, the fire’s not out yet…good. Franklin slept with the windows open a little last night…it’s too cold for me in there right noe.”

“Yessir,” she said.

“I’ve a request from Churchill that you be allowed some time with this Goldberg fellow. Know anything about him?”

“No sir, not a thing. He approached me yesterday, on the way to the morning session, asked to speak to me then walked back to his legation.”

“Damned odd,” Hull sighed. “Should have put that request in writing. Damned odd. You’re sure you haven’t met before?”

“I’m not completely sure, sir. I might have seen him once before, in passing, but I don’t know him, or anything about his work.”

“I see. Well, I don’t need to mention that talk about this shift you’ve discovered will be off-limits.”

“Understood, sir.”

“And the president would like a follow-up ‘contact report’ when you wrap this up. And make sure Captain Carlton gets it as soon as you’ve written it up. Just the basics, but your impressions about why this contact was initiated, what you think they’re fishing for…that kind of thing.”

“Yessir.”

“Well, you best get at it. I understand he’s waiting for you now,” the Secretary of State added, pointing at the door.

“Thank you, sir,” she said, standing and picking up her coat. Another Marine opened the door now and helped her with her coat, then she stepped out into the courtyard. And there, standing in a swirling sea of autumn leaves, was this Trevor Goldberg. Not very tall, she thought, and almost too thin, his head a little too big for his frame, as well. As she approached she thought his eyes looked almost owl-like; large, predatory eyes, like a raptor’s, and she couldn’t decide whether they were darkest amber or blue-gray.

“So,” she said as she walked up to the man, “quantum mechanics? What’s on your mind?”

“Have you had breakfast?” Goldberg said, smiling.

“No, I haven’t, and I’m starving.”

“I’ve found a decent place, and not at all far away if you think you can stand a walk…?”

“Lead on, kind sir.”

“What do you think of Tehran?”

“It’s cooler than I thought it would be, that much is certain. Have you been to the Grand Bazaar?”

“That’s where we’re headed, as luck would have it. Have you been yet?”

“No, but I wanted to see it before we leave. Is it safe?”

He chuckled. “Don’t bother turning to look, but I think we have about a half dozen of your Marines following us, and God only knows how many Russians.”

“Ah.”

“Anyway, I’ve found Tehran quite lovely, and the people wonderful. I shouldn’t mind living here, if it came to that. You’re looking well, by the by. New Mexico agrees with you.”

She was instantly on-guard, now that he’d tipped his hand so obliquely. “You’ve been, I take it?”

“Only to Santa Fe, but that was years ago, before the war. Stayed at the LaFonda. Walking the square in the early morning? Magic.”

“And what were you doing in Santa Fe.”

“Pottery.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Looking for pottery. For my collection.”

“Ah. Find anything interesting?”

“Quite a bit, actually. Well, here we are…”

He led the way inside a small restaurant just across from a narrow passage that led into one of the Bazaar’s many entrances, and the varied scents coming from the small kitchen were almost intoxicating. Breakfast, teas, fruits and a mist of exotic spice hung in the air, apparent, the heady brew at once compelling and unnerving.

“Do you speak Persian?” he asked.

“You must be joking,” she deadpanned.

“Well then, shall I order for you?” he said, almost laughing.

“No sheep’s eyes, please, but other than that…”

This time he did laugh, openly and for a long time, then he spoke to the proprietress for a moment before leading Claire to a table. “Shouldn’t take long,” he advised, looking out the front door at the gaggle of confused security personnel gathered there, perhaps wondering what to do now.

“So,” Claire said, eyeing Goldberg as he sat, “quantum mechanics?”

“Yes, sorry. Kind of an odd way to introduce myself, I know. How far along are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“What are you calling it? The shift?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I understand. We’d like you to stop all research on this material. Now.”

“What research?”

“On time dilation and contraction.”

She stared at the man for a long time, not sure who or what he was now, then she simply looked down at her hands. “Oh, is that all?”

“Yes.”

“And who is ‘we’?”

He shrugged. “People who want you to stop, before you get into serious trouble.”

“Trouble? With whom? The Physics Police?”

His eyes turned deadly serious in the next instant. “Yes, something like that.”

It was the way he spoke, the look in his eyes that convinced Claire Aubuchon that this man, if indeed he was a man, was completely serious and on-the-level.

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” she asked, her voice conspiratorially quiet. “On that ship?”

He nodded his head only once, an ambiguous gesture that left her feeling even more unsure of the moment.

“Where are you from?”

He grinned, slightly, still looking her in the eye: “Near Cambridge, I should think.”

“Uh-huh, sure. And before that?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, very much.”

“New London. I was born in New London, Connecticut.”

“When?”

“When? You mean, when was a born? The year?”

She nodded her head, knowing what had to come next.

“1877.”

“And let me take a wild guess…on the twelfth of April?”

He smiled broadly now. “Yes, that’s right.”

She felt a sudden shift, like her understanding of the universe had quietly slipped from the room. Her father…her father’s date and place of birth…and now, after these 30 years it felt like some vast cosmic tumblers were finally slipping into place. This “Goldberg” should be seventy six years old, yet he looked, what? Twenty-five? Thirty?

“And you’re my father, is that what you’re telling me?”

He stared at her now, though he said not a single word.

“That’s not fair, and you know it,” she said as she confronted his silence.

“I know.”

“Can you tell me what this is really all about? Please?”

“I already have. Stop all work on the shift. You’re endangering everyone on the planet.”

“Because, again, I might upset some sort of Physics Police? Is that what you’re implying?”

“I’m not implying anything, Claire. It’s a warning. Stop, now. While you still can.”

“And?”

“And I’m going to introduce you to my brother this evening. You should fall in love with him. I should warn you, everyone does, sooner or later.”

“You’re telling me to fall in love with this man?”

“I am.”

“And if I don’t?”

Goldberg shook his head just as two plates of food arrived, and he looked at her reaction to the food. Some things never change, he thought.

 

(c) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, and nothing but…

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch 07

Iowa dreams

Chapter Seven

14 November 1943

The air was shedding its veneer of autumn as easily as a winter’s coat, and she stood at the rail looking out over the Atlantic as the great ship steamed to the southeast. Even from this modest height – and she guessed she was about thirty feet or so above the water’s surface – the sense of speed as the Iowa knifed through the sea was palpable. And it looked as though the destroyers and the nearby cruiser were working hard to keep up with the immense battleship, for indeed they were. Now, on their second day at sea, the small convoy was carrying the president to Morocco; from there the gathering of diplomats and soldiers would fly with him on to Tehran, where a meeting between the all the president’s men and both Churchill and Stalin was scheduled to take place.

“Why am I here?” she asked the wind. “What possible use could I be to him?”

She turned and saw him in his chair near the rail, perhaps fifty feet away, just under the huge sixteen-inch guns of the number two turret. The teak decks were mottled by random hits of spray, the three barrels cast giant, oblate shadows over Roosevelt and the deck under his chair, so that one moment he was alive in early morning sunlight, the next a wraith sheathed in shadow.

“That’s what we are,” she sighed, “the two of us. Sun and shadow, light and dark. Good and evil.”

Once the theoretical nature of their work had borne fruit, she had begun to see the real contours of darkness inside Roosevelt’s Pandora’s Box. And she had begun to see her role uncovering this darkness; indeed, until recently she’d not known exactly what would be released. And now that she did she understood she wasn’t simply a passive receptacle standing idly by while others did the work of unraveling the darkest fire man had ever kindled, and yes, she understood she was more than just an active participant, too. She had grown into one of the most important members of the group designing the charge that would induce fission, and she was helping Sealy and his team work with Boeing on the B-29’s modifications. She would help bring the ultimate irony to humankind: she would help usher in a new era, the atomic era, and the world would never be the same again. There might be peace…peace out of madness.

As she watched Roosevelt, she wondered what he would do with this immense power. Let the world know what he alone possessed, let the Germans and the Japanese understand the consequences of prolonging the war? Or, keep the power a secret? Unleash it on an unsuspecting world without any warning at all?

And she watched Roosevelt more closely now that she understood him better. She had never once considered how much his personal struggle with polio had redefined his character, how much the wounded man’s experience in Warm Springs had altered his patrician’s frame of reference. The entitled Assistant Secretary of the Navy would eventually become the Governor of New York, but only after defeating his own very personal demons. She’d never really known these things about the man, not until the night before, anyway. When they’d sat and talked on this very deck, under the stars.

And he seemed to know each and every star in the night sky, from the origins of their names to their uses as aids to navigation. He loved ships too, she soon discovered, everything about big ships. He’d championed the development of naval aviation – in the First World War of all things – and even submarines. She’d known so little about him when he was first elected, but now – after working with him off and on for four years, she thought of him almost as a father.

Fathers had been in short supply all her life, after all, and though she hardly ever thought about it she knew she had missed out on something important. Charles was Charles, a brother and never anything more, yet Charles had assumed the role of father when she was still quite young. And, as it turned out, he had never really had understood her very basic need. He became a friend, then a sort of career advisor, yet he never expressed any sort of familial love for her – and that was a scar that had never really healed. He cared, true enough, but he had never once expressed anything at all like love for her – never even a brother’s love. Because he wasn’t her brother…not really…and that was an unspoken truth between them.

And yet, Roosevelt had seen through her hastily erected veneers, had seen her need, and he had done so in an instant. After their first meeting in the White House he had begun writing letters to her, silly, half-affectionate fatherly missives she first at first dismissed as the ramblings of a lonely old man – then she had found something else in his words. A need to connect personally with the reality of her work, not only to understand her better, but to better come to terms with what they were building out there in the high New Mexican desert. And so she wrote to him, too. Long letters about the problems the team faced, little notes about how odd it was being one of the few women out there under the high stars. She was impressed a man with so many responsibilities took the time to correspond with her, then, as she wrote to him she would lapse back into the dream, see him standing by that window, looking at Saturn’s rings…

‘Why don’t you find a man, get married,’ he wrote once, and she thought about the answer to that question for a long time before she set out to craft a reply.

‘I thought I had, once,’ she wrote to the president. ‘Your physician, Ben Goodman. We spent a few days together in 1939, and I thought we had created something. Something real and lasting, only then he drifted away. I have no need to be hurt again…’

His next letter rocked her world.

‘He speaks of you often,’ Roosevelt wrote, ‘yet I was given to believe you had spurned his advances. Is that not the case?’

And so, when she had boarded the Potomac with Roosevelt a few days before, she was instantly on guard when she saw Goodman walk aboard just ahead of the president. Neither had looked her way; indeed, neither had acknowledged her presence in any way. And as the only female on a US Navy battleship steaming across an ocean full of U-boats, she had been locked away in the executive officer’s stateroom, apparently for the duration of the crossing, lest she distract the men, or so she was told…

Then, last night.

Roosevelt had asked that she come to his cabin after dinner. He wanted, the hand delivered note plainly stated, to talk with her about an idea or two.

When she was escorted to his cabin the door opened and she found him tucked into bed, sipping some sort of amber liqueur. “Could I pour you a snort?” Roosevelt asked, grinning.

“What is it?” she remembered asking.

“Drambuie.”

She shrugged, a blank look on her face.

“It’s a liqueur, made from scotch whiskey,” another voice said, and she turned to see Goodman at a writing desk across the captain’s ceremonial in-port cabin.

“I see,” she said, though of course she didn’t. She couldn’t, not just now, because her vision had grown confined and dark, and her thoughts muddied as the currents of time slowed. She had watched Goodman pour her a glass, then turned to the president sitting in his bed. He was smiling, she saw, and looking not at all unlike another grinning Cheshire cat of some ill repute.

She had taken the glass and carried it too her nose, closed her eyes as the honied scent found her, then she took some of the liquid on her tongue and let it settle there. When she opened her eyes Goodman was sitting across from her, his eyes still full of a quiet, smoldering empathy.

“Like it?” Goodman asked.

“I do. Yes, very much, as a matter of fact.”

“Well then,” Roosevelt crooned, holding up his glass. “A toast! Here’s to swimmin’ – with bow-legged wimin’…”

Goodman grinned and shook his head, then took a sip, his eyes never leaving her’s, not for a single instant.

“I hope you’re not asking me to swim with a bunch of bow-legged women, Mr. President,” she laughed, almost under her breath.

“No, no, not at all, Claire. We were going over some production figures this afternoon when someone asked about the work on blast dynamics on the airframe. It’s been weeks since I read an update on that work, and I wanted to get your take on the problem.”

“Now, Mr. President?”

“Yes, yes…now.”

“Well, sir, as you know, the basic question is altitude versus the aerodynamic properties of the bomb itself. How long it will take the warhead to reach the target…”

“Are we still talking about that fused air-burst thing, or a ground impactor?”

“For all intents and purposes, Mr President, there won’t be much difference on delta-T. Our current working hypothesis has the aircraft dropping on the target from thirty-one thousand feet. We need to retard the bomb’s velocity in order to allow egress of the aircraft, as even if we can achieve a wing loading in the eighty pounds per square inch range it’s not likely the aircraft will survive.”

“What would an optimal range from detonation look like?”

“Twenty miles, Mr President. A minimum of twenty miles.”

“Parachute?”

“We discarded the idea, sir, after it was demonstrated that anti-aircraft fire might hit the bomb and disable it.”

“And…?”

“We’re looking at an enhanced climb profile that gets the aircraft to thirty-four thousand feet, then the crew would start a shallow dive at full power, make the drop at thirty and continue diving to around twenty-five thousand.”

“And their speed at that point would be?”

“We’re looking at roughly 320.”

“Will that get you to twenty miles?”

“No sir. Not quite.”

“So…what’s next?”

“Drag, Mr President. We’re designing the weapon to be as aerodynamically inefficient as possible.”

“Can the wings be further reinforced?”

“Boeing engineers have done about all they can…short of a complete redesign of the nacelles.”

“They’re still the problem?”

“Yessir. My modeling shows that the blast wave will start a series of oscillations on the outboard nacelles, eventually leading to failure of the wings near the main-spar-box. If they’re less than fifteen miles from detonation you might as well advise the crew it will be a one-way mission…”

“And as I mentioned earlier,” Goodman added, “the amount of exposure to the aircrew of this amount and kind of radiation poses unknown risks. The further away they are, the better.”

“So, it looks like we’ve got the means to make this weapon, but it also looks like we may sacrifice the crew if we use it? Is that about the size of it, Dr Aubuchon?”

“No, sir. I still feel quite confident we’ll solve the problem. Probably through a combination of methods, and I think the engineers have a few tricks yet up their sleeve. By the way, that wing is a work of art, Mr President. Wing loading, as it stands now, is in the seventy pounds per square inch range, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they can modify the aircraft to get to a hundred. If they can, and if the aircraft can hit 340 knots in a limited duration dive, then we aren’t going to have a problem.”

“Robert doesn’t share your optimism, Dr Aubuchon. Perhaps you could tell me why?”

“This isn’t his area of expertise, Mr President, and as he hasn’t spent as much time out in Seattle as I have, so he’s not up to speed on the specific range of options available to us.”

“It’s not your area of expertise either, is it, Claire?”

“No, it isn’t, Mr President. But Boeing’s engineers have to work with the numbers I give them, so I’ve learned a lot about this aircraft’s strengths and limitations working with them. The math is simple and straight-forward, I might add.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that, Claire,” Roosevelt said, grinning again. “Well, Ben? Think I could take some sea air this time of night?”

“Yessir, I think that might do us all some good, just remember what the captain said. No smoking out on deck, sir.”

“Bosh! Damn U-boats!”

“I’ll go get Roy, sir. Claire? Would you come with me, please?”

She followed Goodman out into the passageway while Roosevelt’s valet went in the cabin to help dress the president, and they waited for Roosevelt’s naval escort, this time a colonel from the Marines, before heading topsides.

A few chairs had been hastily placed on the main deck, just ahead of the number two turret, and the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon hung above the horizon off to their left. Roosevelt used his shoulders to move from his wheelchair to the deck chair, then huffed and puffed for a moment – getting his wind back as he looked out over the infinite sea.

“By Golly, Claire, there’s nothing like the sea at night. Surrounded by stars, as we were in the beginning. And look at that! Even the moon is cooperating tonight…and just look at Orion, would you!”

Both she and Goodman turned and looked up at The Hunter, his bow drawn through the millennia. “I was out earlier, Mr President,” the Marine said, “and I do believe after your vision settles you’ll see the pink smudge in the scabbard.”

“Really? It’s been years and years since I’ve seen that. Too many years, I think.”

“It’s nice to feel summer air again,” Goodman added. “I’m already dreading winter.”

“Are you indeed?” Roosevelt said. “Maybe it’s time you moved out west. Berkeley, perhaps?”

Goodman looked at the president, not sure what to say.

“Maybe it’s time you settled down, tried to have a family?” Roosevelt added. “Family saved me, of course, though I had very nearly destroyed mine. Losing the use of my legs, finding my way to Georgia, getting involved with those kids…”

“Sir?” Claire said, sounding puzzled.

“Warm Springs. I went down there for the waters. Hot, ninety degree water, waters full of magnesium. It was this ramshackle place, almost beyond repair, the people who came to take the water were as afraid of us polio patients and lepers in the middle ages. I came to understand discrimination for the first time in my life, as well as despair. I suppose it goes without saying, but I don’t think one can experience hope without first experiencing deep despair, but then again I may not have been the first person to think that.”

“What happened down there,” she asked, “to change your mind?”

“I felt so sorry for myself. For the loss of my future, I suppose you could say.” Roosevelt looked away for a moment. “Yet it was the children down there taught me how to live again, to see beyond my legs. Eleanor helped me buy the place, and we’ve turned it into a facility for treating children with polio.”

“I had no idea,” Claire said.

“Ben’s been down to help out a time or two, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. President. And it’s been an honor.”

“Indeed. There’s a humility in suffering, isn’t there. Especially when children suffer. Humanity’s burden, I think it is, too. Every suffering child we let pass into the night is an unconscionable burden on our souls.”

“Yes it is, sir,” Goodman added.

“Anyway, that’s what I was getting at, Ben. You’ll miss out on one of life’s greatest joys if you miss out having children of your own.”

“Perhaps when this all over, Mr President,” Goodman sighed heavily.

“Ben, this will never be over. Don’t you understasnd that yet?”

“Sir?”

“This war will never be over, Ben. It can’t ever be over. Once the music stops playing, industry will collapse again. We learned that after the First War, if you’ll recall. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy I was charged with demobilizing the Atlantic Fleet, and we scrapped almost half those vessels in a matter of months. I fought to preserve our submarine fleet, and to increase research on aircraft carriers, and whatever else I could, but both Wilson and Harding were adamant…we didn’t need a peacetime navy. Short-sighted bastards! Of course, mobilizing for war in 1916, and again in 1940, pulled us out of the economic doldrums, yet that may be the one vital lesson lost on most people both in and outside of Washington. Military spending props up the rest of the economy, simple as that.”

“But with these new weapons,” Claire began, “haven’t we made war obsolete?”

“Obsolete? You mean, no one would dare attack us now?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And how long before another country has these weapons? A country, perhaps, not quite so friendly to our interests. Remember, today’s friend might not always be so friendly…”

“You mean, Russia?”

“It doesn’t really matter who, Claire. It will happen, and the how or the why won’t really matter then. It will happen, and the sword will be poised above all our necks, then.” Roosevelt’s eyes swept the horizon, then he turned to Claire. “What about you, Claire? Ready for a life of domestic tranquility?”

“I don’t know that I could let go just now, Mr President. I want to see this through.”

“Yes…there’s nothing so vital as having a purpose in life, yet there’s also nothing as important as having your own little sliver of immortality. Children are still our best shot at that, I guess you know?” Roosevelt added, turning to look at Goodman again.

“You’re correct, of course, Mr President.”

“Look at them,” Roosevelt sighed, the word drifting away in the slipstream as he pointed at the night sky. “Not even the stars will last forever. I know you two feel something for one another, and it would do me a world of good to see something nice and decent come from all this uranium nonsense. All I ask is that you think about it, alright? Just think about it, before it’s too late.”

Goodman stood and walked forward, past the number one turret and on to the foredeck, and two ratings walked along behind him – just in case – then Roosevelt turned to Claire. “No time like the present, I always say,” the president whispered. “Roy, I feel I’ve had enough of this air for now. You’d better get me inside.”

She turned away as Roosevelt struggled back into his wheelchair, but she watched his men wrestle his chair inside before turning to look at Goodman. He was leaning on a rail up forward, still looking up at the stars, and she looked at him for the longest while, then she turned and walked aft, back to her cabin.

+++++

She had expected Tehran to be unbearably hot, yet the city was pleasantly cool, almost cold at night. She was with Roosevelt’s party, staying at the Soviet embassy, and while Goodman’s room was next to her’s she did not see him once after they settled-in at the embassy. Roosevelt’s intrusion had rattled her, and she neither needed or wanted some sort of presidential imprimatur attached to any relationship she might have – even if that’s what she called this nascent thing between them.

They’d seen each other, from a distance, anyway, while still on the Iowa, even after one of the escorting destroyers accidentally launched a torpedo at the battleship, but Roosevelt didn’t summon her again. Perhaps Goodman had relayed what had happened, perhaps not, but the evening had unsettled her. Had it him, too?

And why had she gone back to her cabin? Why had she left him alone up there? What had she felt for him before? Friendship? Or had there been something more? Something beyond gratitude, that he had taken care of her at Georgetown when her “walking pneumonia” very nearly took her out? What of those long walks in the piñon out on the west side of Los Alamos? When they’d talked about California versus Maryland, of perhaps getting married and starting a family.

Yet she’d never once seen the slightest hint of love in his eyes. Empathy? Yes. Compassion? Again, yes. But love for her? Not in the slightest. Yet the first time she saw him around young men, good looking young men, his eyes sparkled – with pure, unbridled lust – and that had settled the matter. Still, she had to admit that lust had never been a powerful draw for her. She’d never had sex, not once, and she’d told herself more than once that if she went through life without experiencing lust that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

And she almost believed that, too.

On one of their last walks together in New Mexico she’d asked him about that. About what he felt when he saw attractive young men. “I don’t know,” he’d replied hesitantly, his eyes looking away, his shame apparent. “Why do you ask?”

“Because you seem so full of desire.”

“I do?”

“What do you mean, ‘I do?’ Are you telling me you aren’t homosexual?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I might be…”

“You mean you’ve never…?”

“Good God, no!”

“But you’re attracted to men, right?”

“I don’t know,” he’d said with a sigh. “I suppose it’s possible.”

Yet as hard as she tried to believe him, she knew he was lying. She knew this was so because she could see deceit in his eyes when he spoke just then, something she’d never expected to see from him. So, when he’d walked away from Roosevelt that night on deck, he’d walked away from her too. From any idea of a future together.

Yet there was something about him that attracted her still. His empathic soul, perhaps. His ability to see into people, to understand them. Yes, it was simply ironic that he couldn’t see into his own soul, or that he was willing to walk away from what he saw about himself, but that only made his tragic flaw that much more intriguing.

So, she’d thought about him that first night in Tehran. She wondered if he might indeed be a good father, a good partner for the rest of their lives. Could she ignore his lustful impulses, contain them enough to keep him from destroying their lives? Would it be worthwhile to even live like that? Would she want the central equation of their lives reduced to an ongoing series of evasions?

Yet the very next day, while walking to the British embassy, she’d felt a young man fall in beside her…

“Dr. Aubuchon?” the man asked.

“Yes?”

“My name is Trevor. Trevor Goldberg. I’m with the British delegation.”

“Ah.”

“If you have some time after the next session, I’d like to talk with you, if I could.”

“About?”

“Your work.”

“Indeed. And why would I do that?”

“I’ve asked my minister to have a word with Secretary Hull; he’ll vouch for my status.”

“Alright, Mr Goldberg.”

“It’s doctor, if you don’t mind.”

“Ah. Your field, Dr. Goldberg?”

“Quantum mechanics.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later,” the man said, but he veered off and joined another group, and she watched him as they walked away, lost inside a peculiar thought.

She’d seen him before.

On that ship. On that ship, the ship looking out on Saturn’s rings.

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch06

UP2

I’m churning along with this one now, but I’ll still post small chapters for a while until I’ve finished, then I’ll post a long, consolidated version of this story. Again, obvious tie-ins to NightSide/Asynchronous Mud abound. You’ll have to dig deeper to see the tie-ins with TimeShadow.

Chapter Six

Ten years later

She sat in the stuffy compartment, rubbing the burning circles under her eyes while looking out the window at a vast, snow-covered prairie rolling by in the darkness. Her eyes felt like molten pools deep within the frozen earth, and she felt a new line of perspiration beading on her forehead.

‘Oh, God no,’ she thought, ‘I can’t get sick. Not now…’

She shook her head, leaned back and palpated the glands in her neck – but they felt soft and small so she relaxed and picked up the sheaf of papers and found her place – again – then dove back into the text, rereading an exploration of transuranic radiochemical fractionation presented only a few months ago in Naturwissenschaften, a journal of physics and chemistry published in Germany. It hadn’t taken Oppenheimer’s team at Berkeley more than a few days to grasp the importance of Hahn and Meitner’s breakthrough, yet it turned out that several groups of physicists around the United States and Canada had made the same observation – and in roughly the same time-frame. Now, varied groups of engineers, chemists and physicists were en route to Washington to meet with the president.

She almost didn’t hear the soft knock on her compartment’s door, but she looked up and shook her head, then rubbed her eyes again before speaking: “Yes?” she said to the darkness.

And then a kindly faced old porter stuck his head in past the door. “Doctor Aubuchon? Doctor Oppenheimer would like to speak with you now, down in his compartment. He says, if you don’t mind.”

“What time is it?” Claire asked.

“Not quite six, Ma’am.”

“Morning? Or afternoon?”

“It’s five-forty-three in the morning, Ma’am.”

“Right,” she sighed, adding: “I need a glass of water” – then she fished for a bottle of aspirin from her purse as the porter slipped from away. She picked up the monograph, and her notes, after she downed the tablets when the water came, then she walked down the swaying corridor to Robert’s compartment.

The door was standing wide open, and her brother Charles stood anxiously when he saw her eyes. He helped her into the chair then closed the door on his way out, never saying a word to her. No words were needed, after all.

“I think you look worse than I feel,” Oppenheimer sighed. “I’d kill for an aspirin right now.”

She nodded, pulled the bottle from her purse and passed it over, wanting more than anything else in the world to pour ice water into her burning eyes.

“You’re rubbing your eyes too much,” Robert chided. “You’ll get episcleritis. Knock it off, and I mean right now. I can’t have you going blind right…”

“I hear you.”

“So? Any new conclusions?”

“We may have underestimated the forces involved. The energy release will be cataclysmic.”

Oppenheimer nodded his head slowly. “That’s my take, too.”

“Have you heard from Werner?”

“Heisenberg? No. And I don’t expect the Reich will let this kind of free exchange of ideas continue. The implications of this work are creating shockwaves throughout the community.”

“What did Bohr have to say about it?”

“I think he’s terrified, Claire.”

“So, he confirmed?”

Oppenheimer nodded his head.

“What are you reading now?” she asked, looking at the colorful book on the little table under the window.

“This? Oh, the Bhagavad Gita,” he said, passing the book over to her.

She opened the heavy tome and looked over a page or two, then passed it back. “You read Sanskrit?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head as she looked him in the eye: “Why?”

“I get the impression, reading this now, that these events have been foretold.”

She smiled, then looked out the window again and noted the prairie was shading from gray to purple, then his words registered and she wondered what he meant. “Foretold?”

“Eternal recurrence…something like that. Have you read Jung?”

She shook her head, then looked at him again. “Something about archetypes once.”

“Precisely,” he said. “You should try to get some sleep. We’ll be in Chicago around noon.”

“Straight to D.C. from there?”

“We should arrive tomorrow morning.”

“Have you met him before?”

“Who? Roosevelt?”

“Yes.”

“Only in passing. Why?”

“Oh, something that happened years ago.”

“Something? Like what?”

“I’m not sure, but I recall seeing him on a ship – and he seemed to know me.”

He looked at her for a long while, then opened the book on his lap and began reading aloud; moments later she felt herself falling…

+++++

He looked younger…of that much she was certain. He had looked pale and used up when she’d seen him on the strange ship, but now he seemed stronger – and very sharply focused. When she walked into the conference room he looked up at her briefly, but she saw no recognition in his eyes, nothing at all to indicate they’d ever met before, and his attention had soon shifted to something Harry Hopkins was whispering in his ear.

But it was him. It was Roosevelt she’d seen on the ship, and yet now – here he was. And here she was. In the same room, looking right at him, and everything about him seemed so familiar – again. She watched the way his hands moved – soft yet decisive – and the way his eyes seemed to suck up every detail in the room…like as soon as someone entered he made an inventory of their characteristics. A Navy captain stood behind him, a man named Carlton, talking with Hopkins just now – but the captain was looking at her much more frequently, like he knew something she didn’t.

Then her brother Charles walked up to the officer and the two shook hands – and that seemed to answer that question – for the moment, anyway, then Oppenheimer walked into the room. She watched Roosevelt look up – nothing dismissive in his eyes now – and she watched Oppenheimer work his way around the room to his place at the table – by her right side. Directly across from Roosevelt, she thought. Eye-to-eye. Man-to man.

So, she thought, the president wants to look him in the eye. Wants to see beyond the truth of the moment.

Then three more men walked into the room – three men she recognized from newspaper articles, and she watched them as they walked up to her brother and the Navy captain, then as they shook hands with the president – before moving off to the shadows where Hopkins waited.

Presently the naval officer, Carlton, called the room to order, and everyone’s attention focused on Roosevelt – who coughed once, his eyes bright and wet, before he looked up from a stack of papers on the table in front of him.

“Good morning,” the president said, and there arose a chorus of good wishes from those around the huge table. “I’ve read and reread the various synopses given me by the Navy, and I’ve called this meeting to see what the scientific consensus is about the threat posed by these findings. Dr. Oppenheimer? Care to get this show on the road?”

Robert laughed, then looked over at Claire. “If you don’t mind, Mr. President, I’d prefer that my associate, Dr. Aubuchon, run through our initial observations.”

“Very well.”

Claire cleared her throat and was about to speak when Roosevelt coughed again, this time a ragged, rheumy fit, and she watched as his face turned at first red, then faintly blue. A steward poured ice water and Hopkins was by the president’s side in an instant, helping him take the glass in hand. Looks were exchanged around the table as a bottle of cough medicine was produced.

“Damn bugs!” Roosevelt grumbled between spoonfuls of medicine. He put his hands out on the edge of the table – as if steadying himself against a storm-tossed sea – then he looked at Claire and smiled. “Tell me, Doctor Aubuchon, as succinctly as you can…can a bomb be made using the theories and techniques posited in this paper?”

“That remains to be seen, Mr. President. The techniques presented, those to stream off and produce isotopes from raw ores, simply do not exist at this time. Not in the industrial quanriries needed. These are issues related to electrical and mechanical engineering, not simply matters of theoretical physics, and one of the first items that springs to mind is the vast scale needed to produce even measurable quantities. for experimentation. To produce a fission bomb of the sort being characterized would require an industrial operation that simply exists nowhere in the world.”

“Explain.”

“Well, sir, imagine a trainload of ore, uranium ore. Perhaps fifty hopper cars worth of raw ore. With optimal efficiencies, and by that I mean utilizing efficiencies of extraction that simply do not exist anywhere on earth today, we might be able to prepare a sample size of, well, sir, a thimble full of the necessary isotope to conduct preliminary experiments on.”

“Alright. Say we lick that problem. How much ore would be needed to produce a bomb?”

Oppenheimer broke in just then. “Mr President, we simply won’t know the answer to that question until we can produce enough of the necessary isotope.”

“And?” the president sighed, “just how much do you think you’d need to get to that point?”

“Perhaps a hundred thousand metric tons, Mr President,” one of the naval officers standing in the shadows said.

“Oh. Is THAT all?” Roosevelt said, his face splitting into that famously broad grin of his. “Where can we lay our hands on that much ore, Captain Henry?”

“Canada, sir.”

The President turned and looked at the captain, then at another man standing by Hopkins. “Dr Kirby, is it your belief that the machinery to accomplish this is feasible? On the necessary scale?”

“Sir, we’ve never tried to regulate currents with this degree of precision, but yes, it’s possible. Assuming we can deliver a prototype for testing within a few months, get our testing done, then ramp up production…well…yes sir. We can do it.”

Roosevelt leaned back and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then daubed his eyes with a handkerchief. “What are we talking about here, Dr Aubuchon? What kind of bomb?”

“Mr President, I don’t think we have a frame of reference here. There’s never been anything like this, not in all human history. We are talking about a vast, elemental power, sir. The power that fuels the universe.”

“Theoretically, Dr Aubuchon. How big?”

“Mr President,” Oppenheimer broke in once again, “once again, we simply don’t know, but initial projections are staggering. Certainly one such device would be enough to destroy a large city.”

“Alright, Robert. Now, one last question. How long will it take the Germans to get there?”

Oppenheimer looked down, shook his head slowly. “There are few sources available to the Germans outside of Africa, but they’ll need to overcome an even more important barrier, sir.”

“And that is?”

“Werner Heisenberg.”

“Meaning?”

“There isn’t a more ethical scientist in Germany, Mr President. Perhaps in the world.”

“I see. And what if Mr Hitler decides to kill this ethical scientist, Dr Oppenheimer? What then?”

“In that case, Mr. President, we’d better be much further along than the Germans.”

+++++

She went from the meeting to her brother’s house in Chevy Chase and rested, but only for a few hours. She and her brother, as well as Dr. Oppenheimer, were to dine with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt that evening, and her brother groused it would be necessary for her to ‘look presentable’ for the occasion…

“No, you may not wear that nasty old cardigan tonight!” he’d almost shouted at her. “It’s covered in chalk, let alone smells like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1919!”

“No doubt it hasn’t,” Claire sighed. “It doesn’t – ‘smell,’ so why should I?”

“Because it smells like a goat.”

She’s just left it at that. “Does Anne have something I can borrow?” she asked. Charles’ wife had impeccable taste, and oodles of time to go shopping.

“You two are hardly the same size, you know, but I’ll ask. Have you considered that she’s not at all happy about not being invited to dinner tonight?”

“No, not really. I’d assume most of the things under discussion will be somewhat classified. Does she have the necessary clearance?”

Charles turned and stormed out of her room, grumbling as he thundered down the stairs – leaving Claire to wonder about her brother’s moods one more time. She took off her sweater and dropped onto the bed, and was soon fast asleep – again. She felt urgent hands shaking her awake sometime later, saw the sun was now close to the horizon and that a heavy snow was falling. She rolled over and saw Charles standing by the bed, looking at her with concern in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes…why?”

“I’ve been shaking you for ages. I wasn’t even sure you were breathing.”

She sat up slowly, yawning as she did. “How long was I out?”

“About three hours.”

“Do I have time to shower?”

“Well, you won’t be allowed in the White House smelling the way you do right now, so I’d hop to it.”

“I do not smell, Charles.”

“Oh. I see. Perhaps you can explain that to the Golden Retriever outside your door. You know, the one who’s been trying to burrow under the door for the past half hour.” She stood and promptly passed out, falling to the floor like a sack of rocks. She felt Charles’ hands lifting her, helping her to the side of the bed. “You’re burning up, Claire. How long have you felt bad?”

“Night before last, I think. If you have a couple of aspirin handy, I’ll be alright.”

“Can you handle some orange juice?”

“Yes, that’d be nice.”

“Alright, I’ll get that going – if you think you can handle getting to the shower.”

“Help me up, would you?”

He helped her to the bathroom, and when he was sure she was steady on her feet he left her to it; when she came out a few minutes later she found some of Anne’s things laid out on her bed and she dressed, then, looking out the window at the heavy snow falling, dried her hair with a second fresh towel. Charles knocked on the door a few minutes after that, asked if she was ready to go, and he took her arm when she walked out to him.

“Thanks, big brother,” she sighed.

“You’re welcome, little sister,” he said, taking her hand in his.

The Navy had sent a courier to take them to the White House, and as they arrived at the portico she saw Oppenheimer and a turtle-faced man get out of a sedan together, and the two naval officers who’d spoken at the conference earlier were with them, too. “Who’s that with Robert?”

“Leo Szilard.”

“The Hungarian?”

“Yes. He’s at Columbia now, I think. Einstein’s shadow, I think you could say.”

“So I’ve heard. We’re not the only ones invited tonight, I see.”

“I think the guest list has expanded somewhat since we left this afternoon. Einstein will be here, and I heard Thomas Mann may be, as well.”

“The writer? Why him?”

“He’s been helping get academics out of Germany, and is coming to be seen as kind of the father figure to the exile community.”

“But with…”

“He has clearance, Claire. He hates Hitler, and he has the president’s ear.”

She shook her head as Marines came to open their door, and she took Charles’ arm and walked with him into the White House.

After so many years in California, walking from a minor blizzard into the stuffy heat of the old building’s radiator heat was a shock, and almost instantly she broke out in a sweat. Charles, of course, noticed immediately.

“Your face is the color of a plum…what’s going on with you?”

“It’s the heat, I think. As soon as we hit this air I felt like I was going to melt – from the inside out.”

“You’re starting to perspire again.”

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

A steward helped her to the nearest restroom, then a physician was summoned – and she soon found herself in one of the upstairs bedrooms, laid out like a fish on a monger’s scale. Panting now, she tried to close her eyes again – but as soon as she did she was back on the ship.

And Roosevelt was with her again, looking out the thick glass port-light by her side. Looking out at Saturn’s rings, quailing before the implications of this place. The walls were bright red, and somewhat distorted – like the floors sloped up. Regardless of whether she turned to the left or the right, she saw she was inside some sort of vast, toroidal structure.

Then she felt an eyelid being forced apart between two soft fingers, a bright light shining in the middle of her skull, making her turn away – or trying to, at least.

“Ah, good. You’re still with us,” a man’s soothing voice said…then she felt a thermometer sliding between her lips. “Under the tongue, please, if you can,” the voice said.

She sat just in silence, her eyes darting around the bedroom, echoes of red fighting for supremacy. Fingers on her wrist found her pulse, then she saw the physician counting as he watched the motion of her breath. When he was finished, he pulled out the glass thermometer and looked at the scale.

“That can’t be right,” he murmured.

“What is it?”

“Ninety five-two.”

“Wouldn’t that account for the heat I feel?”

“It might, but then again, you’d probably feel rotten. More than you can imagine.”

“What makes you think I don’t?”

The physician was shaking the thermometer down again, then he placed it in a vial of alcohol for a moment before he wiped it down. “Let’s try this again,” he sighed, slipping it under her tongue a second time.

She listened to a clock ticking in the distance, then the gurgling of hot water flowing through the radiator across the room – and she could almost imagine blood flowing through her veins as another wave of heat washed across the room. In an instant, she was standing beside Roosevelt on the toroidal floor.

“I’ll never tire of looking at this place,” he sighed – then she noticed he was standing now. No wheelchair. No hint of disability – at all.

Then an overwhelming wave of ammonia caught her unawares, her eyes parting again, that noxious light shining inside her skull.

“You passed out again,” the physician said, “and now your temperature is ninety four-three.”

“What do you think’s wrong with me?”

“I’m not quite sure, but the rather annoying thing is that you and the president are experiencing the exact same symptoms. He has – all afternoon, too.”

“I need to speak with him, right away…”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, Doctor Aubuchon.”

“It’s important. I need to ask him something.”

But the door to the room opened, and she saw Roosevelt in his chair out in the hallway, looking on with concern in his eyes; then he was wheeling himself into the room, right up to her bedside.

“Leave us, doctor,” Roosevelt said, and the physician put his things away in his little black bag and left the room, closing the door as he went.

“You were there again,” Roosevelt said, reaching out now – and taking her hand.

His skin felt so familiar, so shockingly intimate and familiar. “What were we doing there?”

The president shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know, but whatever else it may be, it’s real. Your presence here, now, confirms that.”

“This morning, when I walked in the conference room, did you recognize me?”

“No, not right away. When you spoke I began to feel…something like an echo of meeting you. Something far away, something washing over me like a memory of tomorrow. Like something that hasn’t happened yet – but has somewhere else.”

“Some other time, you mean? Something that hasn’t happened yet, but how could that be?”

“Something, or someone, related to this morning’s conference? Something being manipulated?”

“Time?” she said. “But…how?”

“How isn’t as important as why right this moment, Doctor. If we’d simply shared a delusion, the how of this might be interesting – from a psychiatrist’s point of view – but understanding the why of things will be vital going forward. From a politician’s standpoint, I should say.”

“The why of things? Is that important?”

Roosevelt tried not to laugh, but failed – though he caught himself before he started coughing again. “The why is always the most important point to consider, young lady. Why do we need to consider making bombs of uranium? Why do we need to go to war with Germany? How is a question for engineers and economists; why is my purview right now, and with events in Asia and Eastern Europe spiraling out of control right now, the answer to ‘why’ you and I are sharing this vision is suddenly the most crucial thing I can think of.”

“The first time I saw you…well, it was almost ten years ago.”

“What?” Roosevelt said, suddenly exasperated. “When was this?”

“My brother and I were headed west. I was on my way to Berkeley, to begin graduate school, and I felt myself phasing in and out of time, experiencing different outcomes to events that had happened long before. My father’s death, the sinking of the Titanic…”

“The Titanic? Why, of all…”

“I was onboard, sir, the night she went down.”

“Good God. Why didn’t I read that in your dossier?”

She shrugged. “The night of our first encounter, she missed the iceberg. And I learned my father had passed away some two weeks before, not on that night…”

“So…time had been altered, and in more ways that one?”

“Yes.”

“And you met me, for the first time?”

She nodded her head slowly. “By that window…looking…”

“At those rings?”

“Yessir.”

“The walls inside that ship…what color are they?”

“Red, sir.”

Roosevelt looked at her, trying to come to terms with these revelations, then a sudden thought came to him: “I say, you’re looking much better now. Do you feel up to going downstairs?”

She nodded her head again. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Let’s give it a try, shall we?”

+++++

Sitting on the train, heading back to California a few days later, she thought about that encounter, and the evening that followed, for hour after hour. About the various discussions around the table, the palpable excitement surrounding the road ahead. Entire new industries would have to be created almost overnight…precision electromagnets capable of streaming off isotopes in electron streams. Vast new transport infrastructure to carry ores from Canada and Brazil, in wartime.

Yes, war. Roosevelt had made it abundantly clear that war with both Germany and Japan, and possibly Russia, now appeared inevitable. The United States would have to fight two well-armed adversaries on opposite sides of the earth, or risk being swallowed by an imploding wall of totalitarianism. It was as simple as that.

The last resort, Roosevelt said, might very well be the fission bomb under discussion – but then he’d asked: “What then?”

“If we win this war, how in God’s name do we win the unstable peace that must surely follow? What happens after we finally open Pandora’s box?”

When they made it down to the room, a large ballroom where both cocktails and heated conversations were being consumed in unhealthy quantities, people were just shuffling off to a dining room, and Roosevelt had mysteriously disappeared. Charles and Oppenheimer saw her coming through a doorway and both rushed to her side.

“Ah,” Oppenheimer said casually, “you didn’t die, I take it?”

Charles shook his head as he walked up to her, rolling his eyes. “You look better, the color of a tangerine now. Better than that plum-red you were sporting…”

“And I feel better, too. Thanks for asking.”

“We’ve taken the liberty of putting you next to Ben Goodman…”

“Benny Goodman? The…musician?”

“No, dear,” Oppenheimer sighed, as if he was talking to a child. “Ben Goodman, the physician. The physician who held your wrist and took your temperature when you were upstairs. He seems to think you need to go to the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yes. Oddly enough, he thinks both you and Franklin have pneumonia.”

“Bosh. I have no such thing. I’ve not coughed in days.”

“Indeed. You must remind me…where did you take your medical diploma?”

Ignoring Robert, she turned to Charles. “Now, where am I sitting?”

“Follow me,” her brother said, and when they gained the table a dapper looking man stood and held out her chair.

“Well, you’re looking better,” Goodman said. “How’re you feeling? Still flushed?”

She smiled and sat, and Charles sat between her and Oppenheimer. “Aspirin seems to do the trick for me,” she said, “whatever it is I’ve gotten hold of.”

“Well, drink plenty of water tonight. They tend to over-salt the food here,” Goodman said, frowning.

“You come here often, I take it?”

“I seem to have taken up residence here – rather against my will, I should add.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, it seems I’ve become the President’s Personal Physician, or some such blather. That’s what’s on the door to my office, anyway. Are you Charles’ wife?”

“Sister.”

“Indeed? Splendid!”

She looked at Goodman and smiled. “Splendid? Truly?”

“Yes indeed. Take a look around, would you? There are three females in attendance, one is serving food this evening, and one of them is Mrs. Roosevelt. You’re the third, and I’m sitting next to you. So, yes. I think that’s very splendid indeed!”

“I see. You’re not married, I take it?”

“No, but the night is young.”

Claire grinned while she tried not to shake her head.

“So, why did Charles bring you along?”

“I’m Robert Oppenheimer’s assistant.”

“Indeed,” Goodman said, frowning. “A physicist, then?”

She nodded her head, smiled a little smile, not at all triumphant. “Yes. Isn’t that the bee’s knees?”

“Are you working on all this uranium stuff?”

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course. It’s just that I am, so I naturally assumed…”

“You are?”

“Yes. Well, you see, I’d been working on establishing new protocols for radiation exposure, primarily for use with or during diagnostic imaging, when Szilard tapped me to help out. When I’m not working here, I’m stationed at the Navy Yard.”

“Oh? You’re in the Navy?”

“Yes, and sorry…no uniform tonight. I was off duty when Harry called me in to check out the President.”

“Harry?”

“Ah, you’re not into politics, I take it? Harry Hopkins. He’s been with Franklin since day one. The New Deal is his baby, if you didn’t know. Harry is one of those Progressive Optimists you read about in the Times.”

She shrugged again. “If you say so.”

“Not interested, I take it?”

She shook her head gently, though she smiled at Goodman.

“Oh dear,” he sighed, “I may fall in love with you before we get to our salads. Where are you working?”

“Berkeley.”

“Yes, of course. How stupid of me. You did say you were working with Robert.”

“Where did you go to school, Doctor?”

“Annapolis, then Georgetown. I began working with x-ray imaging devices when I did my internship, and I’ve been fascinated by the things ever since.”

“And how did you get roped into being the President’s physician?”

“Harry was out at the Yard and he had a bad cold. I ended up seeing him and that was that.”

“Chance, then?”

“Yes. Bad luck.”

She smiled when he grinned again, and she looked at his eyes a little longer this time. Kind, gentle, and deeply inquisitive. A scientist’s eyes, in other words. “So, radiological dosing? You’ll be working on this so-called uranium project, I take it?”

“Yes. So I’d imagine we’ll see each other from time to time?”

“Would you like that?”

“Yes, you know, I think I would.”

She felt her face flushing again, felt a few beads forming on her forehead, then she felt a glass of ice-water being thrust into her hand. “Drink it down, and take some ice into your mouth, roll it around…”

And without asking she did so, then she felt him grasp her wrist, begin counting-off her pulse while he watched her face and neck. “You know, even as sick as you are, you have the most enchanted eyes I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Enchanting, I think perhaps you meant to say?”

“No, enchanted. Like you’ve seen wild, magic things already. Like there’s little that makes you afraid.”

She could feel Charles looking at her, listening to this conversation, and she tried her best to ignore his eyes burning into the back of her skull, then she took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair. “You know, I’ve felt better.”

“I’d like to run you over to Georgetown, that is if you don’t mind.”

“Perhaps after dinner, Dr. Goodman,” she heard her brother saying – then she was wrapped in warm blankets of deep sleep, adrift on a sunless sea – and everywhere around her, she felt the deep vibrations of huge machinery…

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw

The Deep End of Your Dreams, Ch. 05

This really should be considered the second half of Chapter 4, as the chapter presented here is a really, really short one, a snippet that is nothing more than a minor continuation of the earlier. It’s also a prelude, of sorts. Confused? If you haven’t seen where this story is headed yet, you will soon enough. Kinda. If you recall the NightSide series (NightSide and Asynchronous Mud), you might have felt that those two are parts of a larger whole. Still, I’m not giving away much here, am I? Enjoy…

Deep end 763

Chapter Five

Her hands hurt; of that much she was sure. She looked at her fingers, and the joints in her hands now came to her as the roots of a gnarled oak might – if pushing up through the dry grass of late summer.

“Can this be me,” she gulped, the sight tearing at her mastery of the moment. “These can’t be my hands…can they?”

Yet, when she moved her fingers she felt overwhelming pain, and that searing sense of immediacy pushed aside all other awareness of the moment. She had been on the ship one moment, yet seconds later she had been with Charles in a train – but now…this? She was in a small compartment, at least it looked somewhat like a sleeping compartment, yet she was certain this was no train, and certainly not the ship she’d been on with her father. She sensed no movement here, nothing at all save for a distant humming, and the vaguest impression that air was being pumped into this small space.

Then, she felt more than heard a faint hissing sound – and as she watched a doorway slid open.

A man. She saw a man – in a wheelchair. He seemed familiar too, yet not quite – then she saw a naval officer was pushing the wheelchair, and, oddly enough, he looked familiar to her as well. She remembered the patch on his shoulder…

“Doctor Aubuchon?” the old man in the wheelchair said, his voice rheumy, tired and full of deep sorrow. “Claire? Is that you?”

“Do I…do we know one another?” she asked, now completely taken aback by the man in the chair, and then the naval officer coughed gently before he looked away – as if she had said something embarrassingly untoward.

“Claire? It’s me…Franklin?”

“Franklin?”

“Roosevelt? You don’t recall anything?”

“You were the president, weren’t you? I seem to remember something about that now.” She paused and looked around the room again. “Where are we?”

The old man wheeled himself over to a porthole of some sort, but there were no dogs on this port to keep a raging sea from pouring in, just a smooth oval of glass perhaps a foot wide, at most nine inches tall. She followed the old man to the window and looked out…

…and fell away when she saw the planet below. The surface she saw spread out beneath this ship was a mottled mass of flowing tans and mauves, and there was a vast ring encircling the orb, the sandy ring casting an immense, oblate shadow on the world below.

“What is this?” she gasped, “Saturn?”

“Yes, that’s right – or so they tell me – but I’m still not sure I believe them.”

“Them?”

Then she felt an inrushing, almost overwhelming pressure gripping her, the unexpected force pushing in from every direction – yet in the pressure she felt entombed in pure silence.

Then she saw the mountain. A vast horn, dark gray in swirling streaks of lighter mist, and she saw an old man watching her – seemingly from within the mist. His eyes glowing with anger, the old man was looking right at her now.

“Where have you been?” the old man asked. “I was expecting you hours ago…”

Yet she didn’t recognize the man, and before she knew what was happening she felt the pressure return, then she was standing beside the lookouts above the deck as the iceberg loomed “dead ahead, Mister Lightoller…”

But this time the rudder bit into the water and the great ship leaned perilously to starboard, and then it was immediately clear to her that the ship was going to miss the iceberg entirely this time. She leaned with the ship and looked down into the sea, and she could see the great white spur beneath them as they passed– and again, she could tell they’d escaped this time – that somehow the Titanic had escaped her fate, that History had come undone…

She was breathing deeply now, and one of the men standing watch heard her and turned to face the sound of her breath.

“‘Ere now, what be the likes of you standing up ‘ere, and in your night clothes and all…”

She looked down at her hands and bare feet – and she recognized her seven year old self, felt the biting cold air nipping at her legs and arms…

“Did we miss it?” she asked, not really sure what to make of the night now.

“Looks like it, Missy. Now, it’s best we get you back to your stateroom…”

One of the men called out and an officer from the wheelhouse came for her, then a steward walked her back to her father’s stateroom…

The kind-faced man knocked on the stateroom door and she heard her father rousing, then coming to the door – yet when the door opened she saw someone else. Someone she’d never seen before, yet this other man smiled when he saw her.

“Claire, have you been out exploring again? And…look at you – with no shoes on?”

“She was up with the lookouts, sir,” the steward said. “Don’t quite know how she got there, but the Captain asked that you try to keep her with you after hours.”

“Of course,” the man said sternly, looking down at her with scarcely concealed scorn in his eyes. “I’ll see to that.”

And she wondered who he was, and why he was here. And – where was her father?

The man held out his hand and without knowing why she took it, and she let him guide her into the room. When the door closed she turned to the man and stared – then: “Where’s my father?”

“Your father? Claire? Don’t you remember?”

“Remember? Remember what?”

“Your father passed three weeks ago.”

She felt the words more than she understood their meaning, but she fought to accept what little she understood of this new place –  even as she struggled to find her breath in the moment.

“Who are you?” she said after a long moment studying the man’s oddly recognizable features.

“I’m your grandfather, Claire. I came for you – and for the funeral. You don’t remember?”

She shook her head slowly… “No-o-o,” she sighed, then she thought about all she’d seen in the last few minutes and she intuitively understood she needed to keep these things to herself – lest people think there was something wrong with her. “I think I should go to bed now, Grandfather.”

“Right. Well, yes, but I think you need a hot bath first,” he said as he went to ring a bell for the maid. “Don’t you think so, too?”

“Yes, you’re correct, Grandfather.”

He turned and looked at her again – but shook his head after a moment – as if he had been confused by something. “Are you sure you’re alright,” he asked.

She nodded her head. “Yes, Grandfather,” but in the next instant she was standing in a vast mist – only now the air smelled strange. Like oil…burning oil – only sharper – and her eyes started to burn, then water. A moment later she heard an immense whining roar building in the near distance, and suddenly bright lights split the night so she turned from her quivering shadow and faced the glare, recoiled from the sight of a great winged machine hurtling down a concrete road of some sort, then she fell away when the machine leapt into the sky. Acrid smoke fell on her and she watched in horror as the thing disappeared into the deepening gloom.

“I’ve lost my mind,” she sighed. “I’m crazy. This is what it means to be mad…to see things that have never existed…”

She closed her eyes and shook her head, tried to squeeze these twisted images from her mind…then she felt the swaying motion, the clickety-clack – clickety-clack of the rails below and she opened her eyes again…

Charles was staring at her now, sniffing at the stuffy air in the compartment.

“What is that smell?” he asked. “Like something burning…?”

She shook her head as echoes of a man named Franklin Roosevelt danced in her mind’s eye, then she remembered the naval officer standing behind the president. A patch on his shoulder? She could see it now, more clearly than she imagined possible.

Something called Operation TimeShadow?

Why did that sound so familiar?

(C) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, of course. Oh, the image above is of a 767-300 in the X-Plane flight simulator. It’s fun to keep those IFR skills sharp, don’t you know…