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Chapter 2

"We've got a big one, guys! Really big!"

Margo Glenn-Lewis leaned over, squinting at the numbers appearing on the monitor screen, a frown gathering on her forehead. "Damn weird one, too."

By then, Richard Morgan-Ash was already leaning over her shoulder. Within three seconds, so were Karen Berg and Malcolm O'Connell. Within ten seconds, Leo Dingley had arrived from the room next door. All five scientists working that night in the laboratory buried half a mile below ground in Minnesota had their attention fixed on the monitor.

" 'Weird' is putting it mildly," Leo said, after a while. "If I'm interpreting these numbers correctly, we're talking about incredible energy here."

Berg was already working the figures on her laptop. She carried it everywhere, even to the point of eliciting jokes about whether she took it into the bathroom—jokes which she laughed at but never answered.

"It's as big as the Grantville event," she said, her tone hushed. "According to this."

Morgan-Ash made a face. "Karen, to this day it has never been established what the figures were for the Grantville event." He gestured with his hands at their surroundings. "That was seven years ago. None of this was operating then, you may recall." The same meticulousness made him add: "Well. Not for that purpose, anyway. I admit some stray detections were made, but hardly enough—"

"Oh, cut it out, Dick," said O'Connell. "We've crunched the numbers a thousand times over the years, and we know what it had to have been. A time transposition involving a sphere of space six miles in diameter and including umpteen jillions tons of matter—we've got that number figured somewhere, too, but 'umpteen jillion' does well enough for the moment—requires . . ."

His own tone had grown hushed. His finger pointed at the screen. "This sort of numbers."

Morgan-Ash didn't pursue the argument. In truth, he didn't really disagree himself. He just found it necessary, as he had many times since he'd joined the project—The Project, was the only name it had—to restrain his colleagues' enthusiasms. In that, if nothing else, they tended to have the bad habit of conspiratorial rebels since time immemorial to be True Believers.

The reason The Project had no formal name was because it had no formal existence. It was, in point of fact, something of a scientific conspiracy, launched less than a year after the Grantville Disaster by a small group of physicists and mathematicians who'd been completely dissatisfied with the official explanation of the event and just as completely disgusted by the scientific establishment's apparent willingness to go along with that official explanation.

All the more so because, damnation, there was evidence. Several of the deep underground experimental facilities located in various places around the world to study such things as neutrinos and nucleon decay and cosmic rays had detected . . . 


But all pleas and requests to pursue the matter had been turned down, by governments and universities alike. And, unfortunately, the kind of equipment and facilities needed to detect the phenomena that they suspected were involved was extremely expensive. Not as expensive as something like CERN or Fermi Lab or the Very Large Array, no. But a lot more expensive than anything that would be financed by any single educational establishment or any single private donor.

Fortunately, the newly elected President of the United States had come to the rescue, in a manner of speaking. Soon enough, his administration had so thoroughly infuriated enough scientists because of its heavy-handed political interference in scientific affairs, that influential figures in academia and even in some upper echelons of various government scientific agencies became more sympathetic to the requests. Not, probably, because they thought they were likely to be successful, but simply because they were antiestablishment. So, eventually, through a complex set of interlocking grant proposals, the conspirators got the funding they needed.

Personally, Richard thought it showed very bad taste for Leo and Margo to refer to their funding as "embezzlement," even if he'd admit that much of the language in the grant proposals had been . . . 

Well. He preferred the terms "ingenious" or "creative," himself. "Vague," certainly. In a pinch, in a sanguine mood, he'd even allow "misdirection."

On the bright side, the sort of nosy political overseers who'd have the inclination to ferret out the truth behind what those grants were actually funding were not the sort of people whose idea of a junket would include traveling half a mile down into an old iron mine in the backwoods of northern Minnesota. And even if they did, so what? How many of them would be able to make head or tails out of the use to which the equipment was being put, these days? It was, after all—for the most part, at least—the very same equipment that had been purchased and installed for its original purposes over twenty years earlier. The investigator would have to be a specialist in the fields involved to be able to sort out the truth from the flummery.

It could be done. Indeed, that was how Richard himself had stumbled across the truth. He'd gotten puzzled by the reports that were occasionally issued from the Minnesota site and had come to see for himself. But, of course, he was hardly a political overseer in the eyes of anyone except his teenage daughter. Who, fortunately, had taken the transition from southern England to northern Minnesota quite well, even if Richard himself was a bit dubious at times of the results.

"The chronographic configuration looks really weird, too," said Malcolm. "Nothing at all like the events we've observed before."

"I can tell that much from the numbers," said Dingley, "but you're our chronolotrist, not me."

The term "chronolotry" was what they'd taken to calling O'Connell's esoteric branch of mathematics, much of which he'd developed himself. Richard understood it only vaguely. For that matter, after his third beer, Malcolm himself would admit he understood it only vaguely.

O'Connell was frowning, now. "It's hard to explain. Leaving aside that half of it is guesswork. But the difference—forget the energy involved, for a moment, which is also different—is the trajectory. For lack of a better term."

Margo sighed. "Malcolm, you're speaking English again. Try it in Greek."

He flashed her a grin. "Attic or modern?" He looked around for a moment, as if searching for something. "If I could find a clay tablet and a scribe, I could show you the math. Not that it would make much sense to you."

"And again with the insults."

"Look, I don't ask you how your Gandalf computer programs work. Don't ask me how my Elrond math works, how's that? The gist of it—we've all agreed on this, at least tentatively—is that the Earth has been subjected for years now to a hitherto unknown form of bombardment from a cosmic source of some kind. Obviously, an accidental phenomenon, since the location and angle of the impacts have been what you'd expect from happenstance. But this—"

He jabbed a finger at the screen. "This is what you'd expect from a marksman taking deliberate aim. It's dead on. Not a single joule is going to be wasted just moving tons of earth or water at random. I estimate the impact area won't be more than half a mile in diameter. If that."

Karen Berg shook her head. "But, Leo, they've all had a diameter smaller than that. Much smaller, we figure. So I don't see why . . . Oh."

"Yeah. 'Oh.' But none of them had anything like this kind of energy, did they? Not since Grantville." He gave Richard a sidewise glance. "Fine. Not since our supposition of the energy levels involved in the Grantville event."

Berg looked back at the screen. "Jeepers. Margo, do you have any idea yet where it's going to hit?"

Hearing no answer, she looked down at Glenn-Lewis. Whose face, pale to begin with, now looked as white as the proverbial ghost.

"Yeah," Glenn-Lewis said. "With this much energy and given the chronoletic readings, the trajectory firmed up much sooner than usual. It's going to hit not far from here. Somewhere around the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers."

"Holy Moses," hissed Malcolm. "St. Louis? That's got a population of . . . jeez, what it is? Two million people?"

Margo shook her head. "It'll miss St. Louis by a comfortable margin. But . . ."

She sprang to her feet. "Who's coming with me?"

The rest of the people in the room stared at her.

"What are you talking about?" asked Karen. "A field expedition? You couldn't possibly get there in time!"

Dingley cleared his throat. "And a good thing, too. Margo, this thing is dangerous, for God's sake. The last time we got a chronoletic impact this powerful, a whole town got destroyed."

"It might still be dangerous after the fact," added Karen, uncertainly. "The energy involved . . . That is the area that has the worst earthquake potential in North America, let's not forget."

Leo looked startled. His eyes got a bit unfocused, as he started calculating.

But this was Richard's area of expertise. "You can at least put that fear to rest. All things are relative. Compared to the energy involved in a major earthquake, this"—he jabbed his own finger at the screen—"is like tossing popcorn."

Dingley's face cleared. "Yeah, Dick's right. And the energy levels aren't directly comparable anyway, since most of the impact happens on the fourth dimension, not the first three." He flashed that same quick grin. "To put it as crudely as I possibly can to you amateurs."

Margo was looking exasperated. "For Pete's sake, don't you understand? They can't cover this one up!"

Everybody went back to staring at her.

"Look," she continued, "the only reason they got away with Grantville was because it was a once-only." She waved her hand. "Yeah, sure—we know there have been dozens since then. Dozens, at least. But why won't almost anyone listen to us? For the good and simple reason that they've been small events and almost all of them happen where you'd expect random impacts to happen. Somewhere in the ocean. Or, if it was on land, somewhere uninhabited or nearly so."

She shrugged. "So, fine. So some fishermen in the north Atlantic Ocean swear they saw a sea monster, and a small village in Borneo found some sort of weird carcasses washed ashore. But nobody checked the fishermen's story because fishermen have been telling sea monster stories for centuries and while a biologist did go to that village in Borneo, by the time he got there the remains had rotted and all he could say was that they had definitely been some sort of very large and peculiar marine invertebrate."

Richard started tugging his beard. "Yes, true. And if a small village in the Sudan disappears, there are unfortunately far too many simpler explanations."

"Well, there was . . ." But Karen didn't pursue the matter. She saw the point also.

Karen was heading for the door. "So it won't hit St. Louis. Big deal. That part of the United States is populated. And not by illiterate villagers or semiliterate fishermen."

Richard had already made up his mind. "I'll come. I think two of us will be sufficient."

The others looked relieved, although they were trying their best not to let it show. They were quite bold people, actually, in their own way. But theirs was not the sort of temperament you find in tornado-chasers.

Neither was Richard's, for that matter. But he did have military experience—the only one of the group who did—and so he felt a certain odd sort of obligation.


There was the advantage, with Margo driving her beat-up SUV through Minnesota back roads, that Richard figured the most dangerous part of the expedition would be over with by the time they got to the airport. If they got to the airport.

But all he said was: "I believe the fishermen were from Boston."

"Yeah, they were. Like I said. Semiliterates."

Richard was tempted to point out that Boston had probably the highest concentration per capita of universities of any city in North America. But, having once fought his way through a heavy Bostonian accent, shortly after his arrival in the United States, he was not inclined to pursue this argument either.


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