I hadn’t said anything for some time. Burroughs had just told me that human remains found in a current-model Prius were about three millennia old. That Prius, in turn, had been found fused to the interior hull of the USS Eldridge in 1943 after its ill-fated scientific mission. Burroughs tapped around on his tablet, presumably giving me time to digest the information. I considered it for a while, but soon became aware that I was still sitting on an uncomfortable metal chair on the wrong side of a desk in an interrogation room that stank heavily of sweat. My earlier anger began to resurface. The digital recorder in my pocket had turned itself off and, consequently, missed the beginning of my second conversation with Burroughs.
Jefferson: -elling me all this? Do you think I’m going to drive back to ASD and pretend I never heard it?
Burroughs: No, I don’t think that. First off, Doctor Jefferson, Northcott told only a portion of this story to some people on the Waterfront and they called the police on a deranged hobo. Do you think your coworkers would swallow the cock and bull you’d try to feed them? Second, to get off this base you’ll have to sign a nondisclosure agreement and, if you breach it, the Navy will seize your assets, including that nice little sports car you drove here. Third… third is a bit different. I need your help with something.
J: The Navy needs my help? Don’t you have psychiatrists on your payroll? Or are you trying to get some off the books meds?
B: Jefferson, look; I’m not your enemy! You came here looking for answers. I think I’m beginning to understand why you’re single; you complain more than my wife.
J: Alright. I still don’t understand what I can help you with, but I’m listening.
B: Good. Let’s get out of this room, shall we?
Burroughs opened the door and held it for me. As we walked out of the building, one of the myriad blue American-made sedans pulled up to us. Commander King sat in the driver’s seat, his face a darker shade of red than I remembered it from the interrogation room. Burroughs and I slid into the back and King said absolutely nothing, for which I was infinitely grateful. Just thinking about his ugly pug face made my fist tighten. Too bad he could take me in a fraction of a second.
We rode in silence until King turned onto a one-way street the led to a gray, medium-sized warehouse. When he spoke, Burroughs was much more subdued than the flippant, almost carefree Captain he was in the room. He sounded disappointed, or possibly sad.
Burroughs: I mentioned a dying man’s wish earlier. I didn’t mean you.
Jefferson: That’s a relief. I assumed it was a threat.
B: No. Remember the tests on the creature from Sunday’s attacks? It came from a highly irradiated environment. Many of the crew of the USS Eldridge reported feeling sick to their stomachs, headaches, dizziness… Some fainted, others started bleeding from their eyes and mouth. All of these are signs of acute radiation syndrome. We’re not sure about the outbreak of violence. That may have stemmed from the disorientation that is common with radiation exposure, but we’re not sure.
J: You need a pretty high dosage for some of those symptoms, right?
B: Yes. That’s another strange thing. One member of the bridge crew experienced almost instantaneous liquefaction of his internal organs. He died within twelve hours of the Eldridge returning to port. Another man, standing right next to him, experienced only mild symptoms. That man’s exposure was most severe on his arms where he caught his dying crewmate as he fell, so the exposure may have come entirely from personal contact. We can’t explain that. Radiation isn’t…selective.
J: Look, if you need someone to deal with radiation sickness, I’m not sure I’m your guy. I went to med school, but I specialized in psychopharmacology. I’m not even qualified for grief counseling, even though Philly PD thinks I am.
B: No. That’s not where I’m going. Ensign Northcott was on the Eldridge. He didn’t escape the radiation, though he wasn’t exposed to as much as some.
J: Is it fatal?
B: Everyone on the deck was exposed in some way. Some died in days, others in weeks, others developed fast-moving cancers in their 40s. Northcott is the only living member of the deck crew. The rest have been dead since the 70s. Northcott has roughly a week to live if he remains in a physician’s care. He’s been insisting that we call you. His family has been dead for years and his fiancée is 98, has been married twice, and is currently living in a retirement community in Florida. Willard Scott has actually wished her a happy birthday… Anyway, since you were the only person without top secret clearance who believed him about the Eldridge, he felt a connection to you. He wanted to see you before he died. And he wanted to tell you the truth about the mission.
King stopped the car near an open bay door. Burroughs and I stepped out of the car and walked down a long loading area in silence. The Captain checked us in and led me through a twisting hallway to a bright, white medical room. Northcott sat in a plush armchair reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Plastic sheeting separated him from us and reminded me of pictures I had seen of a plague outbreak in Bakersfield, California.
Jefferson: Is this for the radiation?
Burroughs: No, it’s actually for Ensign Northcott’s protection. Radiation poisoning compromises the immune system. We’re trying to keep foreign contaminants out.
Northcott: Not to mention that germs have changed a lot since my day. I’d be at risk even if I had an immune system on the up and up. How are you, sir?
J: So-so. I’ve been trying to find out where they took you.
N: Look no further.
I spent some time shooting the breeze with Northcott. He expressed his utter amazement about the internet and told me he had been reading about human history between 1943 and the present. He couldn’t understand the Cold War. It was heartbreaking to watch someone so young (he’s 22, even though he was born before my grandfather) discover a rich, new world knowing he only has days left to live. Eventually, our discussion turned to the Eldridge and Northcott’s desire to fill me in on the truth.
Northcott: No one on the Eldridge was just a sailor, sir. We had all seen some action. I served in the Atlantic in 1940. I was recalled to New York harbor in 1942 and transferred to the Office of Naval Intelligence. I trained in shooting and fist fighting with a bunch of other fellows who had similar records. Even the scientists were taught how to shoot pretty well. The first time we went out – well, the only time we went out – it was just a test of the invisibility system. If it worked, we were going to lay low for a week, activate the system in the harbor, and ship off to Norway where the Germans were building the same sort of thing.
Burroughs: The Bell.
N: Yes, sir. That’s what Command called it.
B: The Nazis had a secret facility hidden in a fjord near Hammerfest. British intelligence named it, creatively, Fjord 592. The Norwegians called it Nordefjorden, but I guess arbitrary numbers were easier for the Brits. A lot of the former Nazi bases are museums or holocaust memorials, but structures in Fjord 592 are still locked down by order of NATO. My unit is actually one of three working there to uncover the technology scuttled by the Nazis at the end of the War. Sorry for the interruption, Northcott. Go ahead.
N: No problem, sir. You’re better with the logistics than I am. They briefed us on all this, but I was more than a little nervous. Anyhow, the Germans had a super bomb that they were going to move secretly with the Bell and detonate it in a large Allied city. We were supposed to attack them before they were ready and, if we could, steal the bomb.
Jefferson: A nuclear bomb?
B: Yeah. Sort of… It’s not at all like the ones we had at the end of the War. More like what we have now. Thermonuclear instead of fission. Do you follow?
J: Um… not so much. Sorry. It’s bigger?
B: Basically, yes. Bigger bang, smaller package. More advanced.
J: Got it. But the Eldridge test didn’t work. Did we attack the Bell conventionally?
N: I just got off the Eldridge a few days ago, sir, so it’s nothing I know firsthand. Captain Burroughs tells me we didn’t.
B: We couldn’t. They moved too fast. A cloaked ship could have passed through their defenses undetected, but any conventional maritime attack would have led to a full-scale battle. The entire area was too heavily defended with anti-air guns to launch a successful aerial strike.
J: There was never a nuclear bombing in an Allied city, though.
B: Not yet. The Bell failed. Just like the Eldridge. They were built from the same design. We stole their plans, they stole ours.
N: The scientists think the Germans went through the same ringer we all did on the Eldridge.
B: Except you boys ended up back in Philadelphia. The Nazis didn’t make it back to where they started. At least, not yet. We do think we know where they’re going to end up, though. One other thing the ONI was experimenting with in 1943 was radar, specifically very low frequencies to be able to communicate with our submarines when they were under water. A few ELF band dishes on the Atlantic coast picked up very strange images in the ocean near three places: Philadelphia, Norfolk, and New York.
J: Places the Eldridge visited. Except New York, right?
B: Ehhh…sort of. We’re pretty sure, from showing Ensign Northcott photographs of our major coastal cities, that the last place they visited was New York. In the year 5000, or thereabouts.
(The room remains silent for a while. Burroughs picks up the conversation at a more hurried pace, presumably to move past the awkwardness.)
B: After the unsuccessful test, we contacted the Brits who were testing a few ELF band dishes for us. They picked up similar readings in Hammerfest, Norway and a narrow mountain pass in Gora Otorten, Russia. The readings in those five places have resurfaced countless times over the last 70 years. Technicians have been trying to figure out why the anomalies crop up at completely random times long before I took over lead of this unit. Hell, they were working on it before I was born. The answer they have is a little hard to follow, even for me, and I work with this kind of dense, scientific shit day in, day out. Anyway, the Eldridge is in a secure drydock on this base, but it’s also out in the Atlantic in three different places simultaneously. It should only exist in each place at the specific time Northcott and the rest of the crew experienced it being in each place, but it doesn’t. The Bell has the same thing going on between Hammerfest and Gora Otorten. Because they were built with the exact same technology, using the same generators and superconductors, the electromagnetic fields of each device are resonating with each other and keeping them locked together.
J: That…wow. That’s hard to follow. But I think I got it.
N: You’re a smarter man than me, sir. Captain Burroughs had one of the scientists with him when they explained it to me. The only thing I remember is that they said “probability wave”. I was hoping I’d understand it on account of I’m a sailor, but no such luck.
B: Doctor Jefferson, when I asked you why you’re pursuing this, you said you wanted to know where those creatures were coming from and if the public is in danger.
(Northcott is visibly shaken at the mention of the creatures)
B: It has to do with the electromagnetic resonance. A type of gateway is open between all five locations. The creatures from New York tried to attack the Eldridge and are making their way through. Philadelphia isn’t the only place; the guards at Fjord 592 have put down two of them. We haven’t heard anything from Virginia, but the Eldridge was further off shore there, so perhaps they’re drowning before they can make it to land. And the place in Russia… Have you ever heard of Dyatlov Pass, Doctor?
J: I can’t say I have.
B: It’s in Gora Otorten. In the late 50s a group of nine skiers went missing. When the area was searched, it was obvious the group had escaped from their own weatherproof tent into the freezing wilderness without bothering to dress. Some of the bodies were mutilated and battered, others had the exact same signs of acute radiation syndrome as the Eldridge deck crew. A creature was never found or, at least, we haven’t been able to confirm that a creature was found from Russian documents we’ve obtained. Maybe there was a creature, maybe not; regardless, the radiation leaked through. If you think the creatures are bad, imagine an invisible killer seeping into your city with no way to stop it.
J: Burroughs, you don’t need to convince me that radiation poisoning is bad.
B: No, but I wanted to make you think of the consequences if we don’t stop the resonating energy because I don’t think you’re going to be fully on board with our plan. We need to overload the generators in the Eldridge and the Bell and… Look, I don’t like it, myself. It’s the only thing we could come up with. We nee-
N: I’m doing it. They built a machine to short out the electronics and I’m going to take it to Gora Otorten. I’m a dead man, anyhow.
B: Dyatlov Pass is the perfect place. It’s accessible, remote, and seems to be the most easy-to-pass-through zone out of the five.
J: That’s ridiculous! It’s not 1943 anymore. Couldn’t you trigger it remotely? Like an RC car?
B: There’s too much interference. We considered using a bomb disposal robot, but the electronics don’t stand up to the interference, either. We were designing a sort of Faraday cage enclosure for the robot, but Northcott volunteered. It makes sense. He can get the device in quickest. No research and development required. Plus, I trust him more than a robot. And there is the issue of his…situation.
I really had no say in the matter even though I thought it was a waste of Northcott’s last days. The long discussion had tired Northcott, so we left him for the afternoon. Burroughs officially hired me as a civilian consultant to the ONI. My first assignment was to hang out with Northcott from the time he woke up that night until he got off a cargo jet in Vtoroy Severnyy, a Russian ghost town near Gora Otorten. I taught him a few card games, but mostly we just talked about the past and what, to him, seemed like the future. I introduced him to some of my favorite music. Surprisingly, he enjoyed the Ramones a great deal.
Immediately after Northcott radioed that he had reached Dyatlov Pass, Burroughs got an urgent call from Fjord 592. The Bell had reappeared in the shallow water due north of the abandoned Nazi installation. The vessel, more a bell-shaped boat than anything else, had remained under observation for a full day and did nothing but float lazily in the fjord. A SEAL team breached the locked main hatch and found the entire crew dead. Their symptoms were consistent with acute radiation syndrome. The nuclear device they planned to detonate on Allied soil was recovered unharmed.
Before I posted the second update about the USS Eldridge on here, I talked to Burroughs about the version of New York that Northcott saw during the failed Eldridge test. I’ve watched some science fiction movies and I’m up on some of the current quantum and multiverse theories – at least in layperson’s language. I wondered if the USS Eldridge had traveled to a future where the Bell traveled successfully into the future and the Nazi crew detonated their thermonuclear device. I don’t remember Burroughs’ words exactly, so I won’t quote him. He said something to effect that he assumed that was the case, but he’s privy to enough information as Captain in the ONI that he’s not sure. Right now North Korea and Iran are desperately trying to become nuclear and Israel (who has the bomb) escalates their violence against Syria each week. The danger of New York being wiped out in such a way that the remaining populace devolves into either sad, tumored subhumans living in constant fear or ravenous cannibals from a terrifying fever dream is real enough that Burroughs sanctioned me to post this account of events. It’s entirely possible that the future Northcott traveled to was one in which he stopped the Nazi Bell and the destruction of New York was an unrelated nuclear event.
Most likely none of you will believe this and it will soon be buried by hundreds of other posts, but our hope is that it’s frightening enough to hang around in the back of your mind and push the world further from a nuclear holocaust.