Chapter Five: Hunting The Snark - The Counterfactual War (The Multiverse War – Book Two)
Chapter Five: Hunting The Snark
England, United Kingdom (TimeLine A)
“It’s a great pleasure to have you here, Mr Rogers,” Doctor Thande said. The British scientist was as fascinated as Rogers himself was with the strange energy readings. “I’m the local expert from the High Energy Research Lab, University of Cambridge.”
Rogers, who’d been brought up to believe that only the best and brightest went to Cambridge, was astonished at all of the students flocking around the universities. The massive buildings were as busy as any back in the States; there were thousands of students, of all races and colours.
“So you’re not responsible for it?” Rogers asked. He scowled. “It would have been so nice to have been able to solve everything at once.”
Thande shook his head. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “I did a full check around, with every university, and once I managed to convince them that it wasn’t some elaborate attempt to steal their research, they were quite cooperative.”
Rogers blinked. “That happen a lot round here?”
Thande snorted. “You’d be amazed. Publication is the holy grail of scientists here; to be beaten by someone who had no connection with the research team is rather galling.” He laughed. “If I publish anything along these lines within the next decade, everyone will say that I stole it from someone.”
Rogers laughed. “Why not just ask the Joint Chiefs or whoever you have to step in and ask?” He asked. “Can’t your government enforce any disclosure regulations?”
“What, the States are good at that?” Thande asked. He smiled. “Quite frankly, even if whoever is doing the experiments is doing them for commercial research, they can get quite uncooperative if you try to force them to tell anyone. And then, if it was a MOD project – and I think that’s what you meant, by the way – there would be secrecy laws in place; they could lose all of their funding if they breathed a word to me.
“However, we checked with the MOD, and they’re not involved,” he concluded. “So, whoever is behind it, it’s not official.”
Rogers sighed. All this bonhomie got on his nerves. “And no one can run an experiment without someone in authority knowing about it?” He asked. “In the States, we have problems with idiots doing that all the time. I keep expecting to wake up and discover that some fool has actually made antimatter in a university.”
Thande hesitated. “It’s a possibility, I admit,” he said. “However, the energy requirements to do something like that would be awesome.”
“Well beyond even a single dedicated reactor,” Rogers said. That was one of the more worrying aspects of the whole crisis; he’d run the maths and didn’t like even the most optimistic solution. “So, we have an unknown group running something in the region, and we can’t locate them.”
Thande smiled. “I understand that it’s going to be hard,” he said, “but why can’t we simply triangulate the source?”
Rogers sighed. “It’s either moving around or its bloody peculiar,” he said. “We don’t even begin to understand how the source, whatever it is, works.”
“A non-localised phenomena,” Thande said. He thought for a long moment. “But it does remain in the same general area, does it not?” Rogers nodded. “Then if we search that area, we might find something.”
Rogers shook his head. “I don’t even pretend to understand how it works,” he said. “The problem is that the energy covers” – he unfurled a map – “pretty much the entire region.”
Thande strolled over to the window and peered out. “I don’t see any flying saucer out here,” he said. “I don’t even see a crashed Aircraft Carrier. Do you?”
Rogers glared at him malevolently. “You know what I mean,” he snapped. “This energy, I’m convinced, is a by-product – I assume you know what that means – of whatever process stole the fleet. There are thousands of lives at stake, Doctor Thande; we don’t have time for jokes.”
Thande smiled, refusing to be abashed. “I quite understand,” he said. “What we need is to localise the source. If we set up monitoring stations, very close around the location, we can triangulate and close in.”
Rogers considered. “If we’re monitoring the eddies and flows, we might not be able to locate a source,” he said. “It’s non-localised.”
Thande leered at him. “Perhaps you’ve been approaching it from the wrong angle,” he said. “You were talking about formations made out of gravity, right?” Rogers nodded. “Simple logic suggests that the energy releases you’ve been tracking aren’t the process – whatever it is – itself, but the by-effects.”
“I said that,” Rogers said.
“Not quite,” Thande said. “The by-effects are clearly not released intentionally; I would go so far as to suggest that what we have is the gravitational equivalent of a hose that’s somehow broken free of its owner, spraying water everywhere. Got me so far?” Rogers nodded. “All we have to do is monitor for a few days…and then we’ll know what they’re doing, or at least where they’re doing it. Speaking of which…do you have any idea of who they are?”
Rogers sighed. “Only the answer I didn’t dare tell the President,” he said. “Extraterrestrials.”
Thande, much to his private relief, didn’t laugh. “That was my conclusion as well,” he said. “There was a television show, some time ago, about aliens coming to Earth that way. It’s quite possible that they’re actually doing that, using gravity to bend two locations until they’re touching. In which case, they wouldn’t need starships or FTL drive, just cross from one point to the other.”
Rogers smiled. “I think I’m going to enjoy working with you,” he said. “Any other important points?”
“Just one,” Thande said. “How much of this whole crazy scenario do you think I should tell the Dean, let alone my Lords and Masters from Ten Downing Street?”
Rogers hesitated. “I thought that they had cleared you for this,” he said. “Don’t they already know?”
Thande shook his head. “They know that you picked up strange energies,” he said. “They don’t know anything about aliens, and – if I know my lords and masters – they won’t want to know. Do we tell them?” He paused dramatically. “And, at the same time, do we ask for a CP Detail?”
Rogers blinked. “Corporal punishment?”
Thande gave him a dry look. “Close-protection,” he said. “If we’re driving around the country with multimillion pounds worth of equipment, then we might need someone to help look after it, such as the SAS.”
Rogers had heard of them. “Yes, if they’ll come,” he said. “We could use them.”
It had actually taken several days before the grand experiment could begin. A problem that occurred to neither of them was that Cambridge simply lacked the required equipment to watch for the specific energy particles – until they started looking for equipment. One portable system was being built at Oxford – a coincidence that made Thande very paranoid until they found out that it was for something totally unrelated – but there were no others within Britain itself. The negotiations to borrow one from the Japanese and Harvard University took several days, which Rogers spent getting to know Cambridge better.
“There have been a lot of kidnaps around here recently,” he commented, one night in the small house. Professor Thande had kindly offered to put him up for the time he was spending in Cambridge. “Is that normal?”
“I’ve wondered about that,” Thande said. “Are the UFOs kidnapping people as well as ships?”
Rogers frowned. The news of the missing ships had finally broken upon a world that had been inclined to regard it as an elaborate April Fool’s joke. There was a great deal of panic everywhere, from America – where gun-purchasing had skyrocketed – to China, where they were worried about the unknown event kidnapping their ships as well. In later years, Rogers suspected, everyone would be talking about a South China Seas Triangle, but for the moment there was panic. The military remain on alert, but against what?
He scowled. “Do you think that that’s likely?”
“I don’t know,” Thande admitted. “Unfortunately, many of the students who come here have the reputation of being very rich indeed, and kidnappings have been known to happen. They always increase during the start of term; we get all the weirdo people coming here just for amusement, or even for serious studies. The police, sooner or later, manage to catch the perpetrators.”
Rogers considered. “And have any of the ones since the ships disappeared been solved?”
Thande shrugged. “Such information is rarely made public,” he said. “Unless it was one of my students who disappeared, I wouldn’t know about it.”
“It stands to reason that the unknowns must have human agents,” Rogers said. “Are there any unusual people around here?”
Thande chuckled. “Which people would you class as ‘unusual?’ He asked. “The men who walk around wearing bell-toppers? The black man who walks around in a Leopold skin and has three times been stopped by the police for indecent exposure? The girls who walk around in bra and panties and nothing else? The women who wear things that make Burkas look revealing?”
“All right, all right,” Rogers said. “I take your point.”
“It’s a bloody Mardi Gras here,” Thande said. “If we want to catch people out of place…we’ll have to look for the sober people.”
Rogers scowled, thinking fast. “You don’t have any security architecture around here,” he commented. “Anyone could be coming in and you’d never know about it.”
Thande nodded. “This is still based on theory,” he said. “Still, it will add some importance to the request for a close-protection detail.”
“I suppose,” Rogers said. “Can you ask the local police for any information they might have?”
“I’m going to have to,” Thande said. “If I can talk my supervisor into asking them, then they’ll cooperate.”
Sofia Nixon was bored, something that happened, on average, three times a week. Her classes didn’t start until next week, so she had nothing to do. Cambridge was supposed to be a great party town, but everyone – everyone she was interested in, at any rate – was too busy getting ready for their own classes to spend time with her.
“All right, I’m off for a run,” she shouted to her flatmate, an outrageously gay man from Manchester. When they’d met, she hadn’t been sure if she should have been insulted by his lack of interest in her long blonde hair and shapely body, but she’d learnt to accept him very quickly. Unlike many men, he didn’t even try to eye her in the shower.
“Piss off,” he shouted, still working through his course assignments. Sofia laughed and headed out of the flat, checking that she had her keys and portable GPS system. Her father had insisted on her keeping that with her; it was easy to get lost in a strange town and it wasn’t always wise to reveal that you were lost. She’d run outside the town before, heading along one of the nature walks that she’d seen long ago.
“Time to beat my personal best,” she muttered to herself, looking up towards the end of the track. There was no one else around, no one to slow her down. She laughed and threw herself forward, running up the track with her heart pounding, so glad that she was alive…and then a rope came up around her feet and she tripped over, hitting the ground hard enough to stun her.
A voice barked an instruction in a language she couldn’t understand. Before she could scream or scramble to her feet, she felt a prick behind her ear and her body went limp. My God, I’m going to be raped, she thought, feeling strangely unable to panic. The man – she hadn’t even gotten a look at either of them – picked her up with ease, carrying her back into the woods. Her head flopped from side to side, the strange limpness making it impossible to move at all, but she didn’t see anything at all.
Another command. She thought that the language was German. The man carrying her put her down on the ground and she flinched, expecting to feel hands clawing at her breasts and thighs, but instead her captors searched her roughly, but professionally, not even taking the time to cop a feel.
She scowled inwardly, not even able to make a noise, as her mobile phone and the GPS system were confiscated and dropped in a metal box. She cursed mentally; there would be no location signal from there, no way that the police could track her down. Her captors rolled her over onto her front, checking her rear pockets and removing her purse, before snapping a pair of handcuffs on her wrists. They picked her up again, without showing the slightest trace of difficulty, and carried her onwards until they reached a black van.
Her head felt funny; the drug was starting to wear off. Before she could say anything, the men placed her inside the van and handcuffed her to the side of a chair in the van. She almost giggled; how dangerous did they think she was? Unable to move, unable to even talk as they fixed what felt like an iron gag across her mouth, she was helpless.
“Do not move and you will not be harmed,” her captor promised her, in English. He had a strange accent and she tried to remember it, in hopes that she would be able to identify it later. The men got into the front seat and drove off; she tried to keep track of how long the trip was, but she lost track after counting over a thousand seconds. It felt like hours and it felt like minutes.
The van doors opened and she was unlocked from everything, but the handcuffs holding her hands behind her back. She looked around, trying to work out where she was, and saw only a massive warehouse room. Her captors seemed to have an entire operation going on; she saw several men, all armed with large weapons she didn’t recognise.
“There is no possibility of escape,” her captor said, as he pulled her out of the van. “Come with me.”
He held his grip on her arm, forcing her to follow him through the door. She stopped dead as she saw what lay within; a glowing white shimmering square of light in the air. As her captor pulled her towards it, she started to struggle, trying to escape. A single slap across her head prevented her from struggling further and he picked her up and tossed her through the wall of light. She screamed as she…fell into a different room, landing hard on her rump.
For a long moment, her brain refused to grasp what she was seeing. There was a massive room around her, with several men and two women – perfect twins – eyeing her. The entire room was filled with equipment she didn’t recognise, but she recognised the flag on the wall – a Nazi flag from the Second World War.
“Welcome to our timeline,” her captor said, in his rough English. “There is absolutely no chance of escape.” He leered at her as she felt her bowels loosen. “And even if you did escape, where would you go?”
Rogers was immediately impressed with Sergeant Dwynn, SAS. He was less impressed with the concept of a low-key approach, even though he understood the point. The President was demanding answers; Congress was putting the pressure on to supply answers he didn’t have.
“To hear them talk, anyone would think we had dead aliens in the basement,” the President had commented to him, angrily. “We need results, quickly.”
“We don’t want to be noticed,” Thande snapped, waving a hand at the three lorries. “These lorries are not going to be noticed, Mr Rogers; they will blend in with the traffic.”
Rogers considered the lorries and decided that Thande had a point. The lorries wouldn’t be looked at twice by any self-respecting car thief.
“And we will be able to protect you more in unmarked vehicles with forces close by,” Dwynn injected. “Wonderful time for forest drills, you know.”
Rogers scowled. It was decided that Rogers, Thande and Dwynn would take the first vehicle; the other two would be driven by two of Thande’s students and some additional SAS support. Rogers relaxed slightly as they drove off into the countryside, outside the town.
“You have a lovely verdant heritage,” he said.
“So the bleeding-heart environmentalists keep telling me,” Thande commented, as they pulled into a lay-by. “If I hear one more word about how wonderful it was before mankind invented fire, I’m going to scream.”
Rogers nodded as he powered up the device. “I understand what you mean,” he said.
Results came in slowly, even with the triangulation. The energy surges seemed to be strangely random, blinking in and out of existence without any sign of where they came from. Even so, they were picking up a great deal more information from being so close to the source, whatever it was.
Rogers shook his head. It was like trying to locate the origins of the Northern Lights. Only his conviction that the source was somehow artificial keep him trying to collate the data, trying to locate the centre of the disturbance.
“We might have to move closer,” Thande commented. “It’s somewhere within that region there.”
Rogers peered over his shoulder. “That’s a square mile,” he said. “How do we locate it within that?”
Thande smiled. “Well, for a start, its not within the town itself,” he said. “That does rather narrow it down a bit, doesn’t it?”
Rogers nodded, automatically dumping the information back to America and London. “Then we should move closer,” he said. He peered at the map. “If we go to that location, and the others go there and there, then…”
His cell phone rang. Rogers cursed and pulled it out of his pocket, examining it for the number. It was the NRO office in Washington; not something he could afford to ignore. “Rogers,” he said, opening the phone. “What’s up?”
“Sir, there’s been a development with the satellites,” his assistant said. “We’re now tracking two more sources; America and Saudi Arabia.”
Rogers felt his mouth fall open. “Whoever’s doing this has moved to America and Saudi?” He asked. “What the hell are they?”