Quantum defect, p.1
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       Quantum Defect, p.1

           Ronan Frost
 
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Quantum Defect
Quantum Defect

  By Ronan Frost

  Copyright 2015 Ronan Frost

  Rain wept through the canvas and clung to the sagging roof, a fat drop growing, quivering, then dropping to strike Fisher’s collar at the neck line, startling him from his somnambulant state. The Major leant across the desk, moustache twitching, hands splayed upon the map spread between them.

  “Let’s get straight to the point, Doc. You Bletchley Park boys are neck-deep in national security already, so I don’t need to stress the importance of keeping all you see here under the same blanket of strict confidentially.”

  “Of course,” answered Fisher quickly.

  “National security,” re-iterated the Major, and with such gravity it merited a certain pause of introspection on Fisher’s behalf, despite his fatigue. In the distance, above the tattooing rain, there came three evenly spaced dull thuds of artillery fire.

  “Yes, Sir.”

  The Major nodded. “At approximately oh-two-hundred we received reports of a flash in the sky in this area. On the assumption it was an unexploded Hun rocket we investigated, and what we found is unlike anything we have ever seen. There is a code printed on the top of the device: not German, not Japanese, which is why you have been called in.”

  Fisher looked startled. “Is it a bomb?”

  “Perhaps.”

  “Just how far away…” He swallowed. “Where, exactly, is this bomb?”

  “A few paces from here, the next tent, in fact. This coast is sparsely populated and it was deemed wise to not move it.” The major snapped his sleeve away from his wristwatch. “The others are inbound as we speak.”

  “Others?”

  “A delegation are being flown in by the top brass. It’s going to get crowded in here very quickly, you’re lucky you were in the area. However, I suggest you don’t delay any further.”

  “Look, I really don’t think that –”

  “We don’t know if there is a timed fuse.”

  “Fuse? Major, I think you’re got the wrong guy, there must be some mistake. I’m a code breaker, not a –”

  Fisher felt himself being led by the elbow and through to an adjoining tent. Still mouthing his protests, his head ducked under the flap and he found himself in a space where the air hummed with spotlights focused upon a man bent in study where the canvas tent floor had been cut out in a rectangle, exposing white beach sand beneath.

  “Professor, let me introduce you to Doctor Fisher,” said the Major.

  The man bend over the hole raised his head and, looking distracted, spared Fisher a glance and raised himself upon his knees then crossed the space between them, his eyes hardly leaving the object he had left behind. He gave a cursory limp handshake.

  Fisher saw the object, nose buried in the sand.

  “That’s it?” he asked. “That’s the bomb? It’s smaller than what I imagined.” Already he felt his apprehensions fade as he took a few steps closer to the slender device. It looked like a javelin that had somehow been expanded about the midsection like an inflated balloon. The glazed sand around the impact crater made a crunching noise under Fisher’s feet, slick and hard like the crust of candy on a toffee apple.

  “And just what did you imagine?” asked the Professor with some agitation. He looked at the Major. “What has he been told?”

  The Major shook his head. “The first he heard was ten seconds ago.”

  “Well, you know, for all the fuss,” Fisher cast his arms about, in a gesture meant to encapsulate the tent and the banks of lighting and the buzz of military activity.

  “One thing I learned from the Manhattan Project,” said the Professor, “is not to judge the bang something can make by its size alone.”

  Fisher squatted upon his haunches, mesmerized by the inscriptions. He reached out, and the Professor gave a sudden hiss of warning.

  “Careful, it’s still warm.”

  Fisher snatched back his fingers, then more cautiously reached forward, this time with hand outspread, judging the radiant heat against his palm. Warm, but not too hot. He drew his hands back, waggled his fingers before his eyes as if to prepare them for what he was about to do, then reached forward again, his fingertips fluttering over the surface of the impossibly ancient-looking surface and the indentations of what appeared to be some kind of text. When he drew his hand back he rubbed his forefinger against thumb, feeling a strange tingling sensation.

  “I was just about to open one of these side panels,” said the Professor, putting on a pair of heavy duty asbestos gloves and then picking up a flat-headed screwdriver that lay upon a cloth by his side. He then proceeded to apply no small amount of torque to a side panel on the object.

  “I’ve really got to be going,” said the Major in a strangely high voice, ducking out of the tent with an alacrity belying his size.

  “Wait!” cried Fisher. “Are you sure –”

  There was a sudden flash.

  “– you should be going that?” finished Fisher, lamely.

  The Professor looked up, blinking dumbly for a moment, then shook his head and coughed.

  “Now hold on just a moment,” Fisher said, moving closer while eying the Professor suspiciously. “Let me get a look. These lines, they look like symbols; diagrams, orbits, mathematics.”

  The Professor shook his head. “We have open this baby up if we’re to find out anything.” He had his fingers around the edge of a second panel and again there came a pop and flash like a shorting electric bulb.

  “Empty again,” huffed the professor to himself, tracing his gloved finger through the thin ash residue.

  “These markings, they look like some sort of alphabet…” Fisher reached for a pencil in his breast pocket and snatched a piece of paper from a packing crate. He reversed it to the blank side and began scribbling.

  There was another flash and fizzle, and Fisher could have sworn the imprinted markings on the device had become less distinct, as if the metal had turned into mercury for a moment and had begun to smooth over.

  “Professor, please, would you stop? We need to figure this out.”

  “My directive was to investigate this bomb, and that’s what I shall do!”

  Fisher lay his paper that was rapidly filling to overflowing with his pencil markings against the side of the nearby packing crack and sat back to study it, tapping the pencil against his teeth, then lunged forward and drew connections between groups of symbols.

  “I think I have something,” he said.

  The Professor had moved to a large free-standing toolbox, the type they use to work on cars, and was just returning carrying a large crowbar in his hands. His brows raised as he saw Fisher prodding at different symbols with his forefinger, the hollows of each symbol lighting up under his touch as if they were being filled with some strange fluorescent fluid.

  “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

  Fisher looked up and his gaze narrowed at the sight of the huge and obviously weighty crowbar between the Professors hands. “I might ask you the same.”

  “Time is of the essence!”

  “I think I have it figured out.” With a final push, Fisher illuminated a central circle, and suddenly a low buzzing noise filled the air and the whole outer surface of the device started to vibrate.

  “Are you trying to get us killed?”

  “No, it’s ok, look!” Fisher pointed, and a new set of symbols had illuminated in that strange blue inky glow. He hurriedly transcribed the symbols onto his sheet of paper in the margin where there was a tiny space left. “It’s a message!”

  “Hitler sends his regards. Good job. Now, move out of the way, my boy!”

  “No! Wait!” Fisher threw a leg over the device to try and shield it from the Professor’s advances, then
gave a little dancing jig as the warm metal touched against the flesh of his inner thigh.

  “Now what do you think you’re doing?” asked the Professor, resting the point of the crowbar in the sand and holding it at a jaunty angle to his body as if it were a magician’s staff. “Get off that, right now!”

  “Give me some time, please Professor. This… this could mean something.” Fisher held out his sheet of paper. “This is a message. Let me see if I can decode it. Come on, you don’t honestly believe this is a bomb do you? It’s way beyond today’s technology.”

  “The Japanese – ”

  “Are not this advanced.”

  “I’m not falling for your nonsense.” The Professor narrowed his eyes and hefted his crowbar again. “You’ve heard they’re sending Marshall and his boys? As soon as they get here, we’ll be kicked out.”

  “Marshall?”

  “You don’t know the man?” The Professor shook his head, as if to clear away a thought that had risen. “We have our history together. Suffice to
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