Some secrets belong to the past. Others refuse to stay there . . .
In 1959, in an underground laboratory in a remote region of West Virginia, a secret government experiment went terribly awry. Half a dozen scientists mysteriously disappeared, and all subsequent efforts to rescue them failed. In desperation, President Eisenhower ordered the lab sealed shut and all records of its existence destroyed. Now, fifty-four years later, something from the lab has emerged.
When mysterious events begin occurring along the New River Valley in West Virginia, government agents Mike Califano and Ana Thorne are sent to investigate. What they discover will shake the foundations of science and religion and put both agents in the crosshairs of a deadly, worldwide conspiracy. A powerful and mysterious force has been unleashed, and it’s about to fall into the wrong hands. To prevent a global catastrophe, Califano and Thorne must work together to solve a biblical mystery that has confounded scholars for centuries. And they must do so quickly, before time runs out . . . forever.
Thurmond, West Virginia
October 5, 1959
IT was time. Dr. Franz Holzberg stood at the security desk of the Thurmond National Laboratory and waited patiently for the guard to buzz him through the heavy steel door that provided access to the lab. Funny, he thought as he waited. They don’t even know what they’re guarding. He shook his head and considered that thought for a moment.
If they only knew . . .
A second later, the door opened with a loud buzz, and Holzberg stepped into a steel enclosure about five feet square and seven feet tall. He turned to face the guard and pulled a chain-link safety gate across the opening.
“Ready?” asked the guard.
Holzberg nodded, and the compartment in which he stood suddenly lurched downward and began its long descent toward the laboratory spaces, nine hundred feet below the ground.
Two minutes later, the elevator shuddered to a halt, and Dr. Holzberg exited into a wide, empty passageway, about twenty feet across and two hundred feet long. The cracked, concrete floor was sparsely illuminated by overhead industrial lighting. A pair of rusty trolley rails ran down the middle of the corridor—a remnant of the mining operations that had once taken place there decades earlier.
Holzberg took a deep breath and savored the pungent smell of sulfur and stagnant water. After three long years of working on this project, he actually felt more at home underground than in the charmless cinder-block rambler that the government had provided for him “up top,” in Thurmond.
He started off toward the laboratory at the end of the corridor, his footsteps echoing loudly throughout the vast space. As he walked, the protocol for Experiment TNL-213 streamed through his mind for the thousandth time. Today is the day, he reminded himself, allowing just the faintest of smiles. Today, God would heed his command. Just as God heeded Joshua’s command at Gibeon.
Holzberg passed through the laboratory’s heavy security door and entered a long, rectangular room resembling a tunnel, with unpainted cement walls, ceiling, and floor.
The middle of the room was dominated by a large pool of water, twenty by thirty feet across and thirty feet deep, with a steel catwalk extending across it. A sturdy steel railing circumscribed the edge of the pool. Overhead, four long rows of incandescent bulbs illuminated the entire room with bright, white light. High up on the walls, thick, multicolored bundles of wires and cables snaked like garlands across sturdy brackets, with smaller bundles dropping down at uneven intervals to various lab equipment and workstations around the room.
Holzberg spotted four technicians in white lab coats busily preparing the lab for the upcoming experiment. He acknowledged them with a nod and then quickly made his way to an elevated control room overlooking the pool. He entered without knocking and greeted the room’s sole occupant, a bespectacled man in a white lab coat. “Good morning, Irwin,” said Holzberg in a thick German accent. “How are the modifications coming along?”
Dr. Irwin Michelson swiveled on his stool. He was a wiry man in his midthirties, with disheveled black hair and a two-day- old beard. He pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“They’re done,” he said.
“Done? You’ve tested it?”
“We changed out the power supply, like you suggested, and increased the cooling flow to two hundred gallons per minute. We tested it last night and were able to generate a ninety tesla pulse for twenty-five seconds with no overheating. We probably could go higher if we needed to.”
“Good. And the sensors and transducers?”
Holzberg nodded appreciatively to his tireless assistant.
“Sehr gut. Then let’s proceed.”
It took nearly three hours for Holzberg, Michelson, and their team of four technicians to complete the exhaustive checklist for TNL-213.
This experiment had taken three years to plan and had required millions of dollars in upgrades and modifications to the lab.
Nothing would be left to chance today.
By early afternoon they’d finished their thorough inspection of the equipment. They’d checked, double-checked, and triple-checked each of the hundreds of valves, levers, and switches associated with the lab’s “swimming pool” test rig. Everything was positioned according to a detailed test protocol that Dr. Holzberg carried in a thick binder prominently marked top secret—winter solstice.
Michelson knelt on the steel catwalk that bridged the 160,000-gallon pool of water and carefully inspected a rectangular steel chamber that was suspended above the water by four thick cables. Numerous electrical sensors were welded to the exterior of this chamber, and a rainbow of waterproof wires radiated out from it, coiling upward toward a thick, retractable wiring harness above the catwalk.
“Transducers are secure,” Michelson said over his shoulder.
“Good,” said Holzberg from the railing. He made a checkmark in his notebook and read the next step of the protocol aloud. “Mount the seed.”
Michelson stood and turned slowly to face his mentor.
“So it’s time?”
Michelson dragged a hand over his unshaven face and cracked a smile. “God, this . . . this is incredible.” He was barely able to contain his excitement. “This’ll give us a whole new understanding of the universe.”
“Perhaps,” said Holzberg.
“Right, perhaps. And perhaps the Nobel Prize, too.”
“No,” said Holzberg firmly, his expression suddenly turning dark.
“But . . . if this works, we could publish our findings. By then the government—”
“Irwin, no. We’ve had this discussion before.”
Michelson sighed and looked deflated. “Right, I know. Not until the world is ready.”
Holzberg inched closer to his protégé. “Irwin, this is a responsibility you must accept. Einstein himself was confounded by this material.”
“Einstein was overrated,” Michelson mumbled.
“Perhaps. But that does not change the fact that we have been entrusted with something very special here. We must study and solve it. Until we do, it is simply too dangerous to expose to the world. That is our burden. Do you understand?”
Michelson nodded sheepishly. Holzberg patted his younger colleague’s shoulder.
“Good. Now, let’s get the seed.”
The two men made their way to the far end of the room, where a circular vault was mounted flush with the cement wall. The vault door was protected by a bank-grade, dual-combination lock with twin tumblers. “Ready?” Holzberg asked.
One after the other, the two men turned the pair of dials on the vault door four times each, alternating clockwise and counterclockwise. When the last of the eight numbers had been entered, Michelson pulled down hard on the heavy handle in the center of the door, and the vault opened with a metallic ka-chunk. He swung the door open slowly, and, as he did, the vault’s lights flickered, illuminating the interior with an ethereal blue light.
There was only one object in the vault: a clear glass cylinder about eight inches high and four inches in diameter housing an irregular black clump about the size of a golf ball. “The seed,” Holzberg whispered as he reached inside and retrieved the cylinder, cradling it carefully in both hands. He held it up to the light and peered inside. “Your secrets unfold today.”
Thirty minutes later, with the seed securely mounted in its special test chamber, and the chamber lowered deep into the pool, the two scientists returned to the control room for their final preparations.
“Transducer twenty-one?” said Holzberg, reading aloud from the test protocol.
Michelson pressed a button on the complex control panel and verified that transducer 21 was providing an appropriate signal. “Check.”
Michelson repeated the procedure for transducer 22.
“That’s it then,” said Holzberg, turning to a new page in his notebook. “We’re ready.”
He checked his watch, which indicated 4:15 p.m. Then he picked up a microphone that was attached to the control panel by a long wire. “Gentlemen,” he announced over the lab’s PA system. “We are ready to commence experiment 213. Please take your positions.”
In the lab space below, the four technicians quickly took up positions at their various workstations. One after another, they gave the thumbs-up signal that they were ready.
“Energize the steady-field magnet,” announced Holzberg.
A loud, steady hum suddenly filled the lab, followed by the sound of rotating equipment slowly whirring to life.
Several seconds later, Michelson quietly reported over his shoulder that the steady-field magnet was energized and warming up.
“Remember,” Holzberg said, “bring it up slowly.”
Michelson nodded. “We’re at thirteen teslas and rising,” he said, his attention focused on a circular dial on the control panel.
“And the cooling water outlet temperature?”
Michelson glanced at another gauge. “Sixty-two degrees.”
Eight minutes later, Michelson announced they were at 25 teslas, the peak field for the steady-field magnet.
“Outlet temperature’s creeping up slightly,” he added with a hint of caution.
“What about delta T?”
Michelson pushed a button and read from a gauge on his panel. “Nothing yet. Zero point zero.”
Holzberg pressed the microphone button and announced to the lab, “Prepare to energize the pulse magnet.”
There was a flurry of activity in the lab space below as the technicians quickly went about opening valves, flipping switches, and starting various pumps and other equipment. Eventually, all four gave the thumbs-up signal.
“Ready,” reported Michelson.
Holzberg swallowed hard. This was it. He paused for a moment before giving the final command. “Energize it now.”
Michelson pulled down on an electrical breaker until it clicked loudly into place. A deep buzzing sound immediately permeated the entire laboratory. The overhead lights dimmed momentarily and then slowly returned to their original intensity. “Energized,” he reported nervously.
“Bring it up slowly.”
“Total field is twenty-seven point three teslas.” Michelson was slowly turning a large knob in the center of the control panel.
Michelson continued turning the knob slowly until the magnetic-field strength had reached 70 teslas. There he paused and quickly checked his instruments.
“Outlet temperature is one hundred twenty-two degrees and rising,” he said nervously. “We don’t have much more room.”
“Any delta T?”
Michelson checked again and shook his head. “No. Still zero point zero.”
“Keep going,” said Holzberg.
Michelson nodded and again twisted the dial clockwise. He read out the magnetic-field strengths as he went.
“Seventy-six point four. Seventy-eight point zero. Eighty point two . . .”
Michelson quickly turned his attention to the outlet temperature gauge. “One hundred forty-five degrees and rising.”
“Keep going,” Holzberg said.
“Eighty-one teslas,” said Michelson nervously. “Eighty-two. Eighty-three.”
His voice cracked slightly. “Uh . . . we’re getting close to the outlet limit.”
“Any delta T yet?”
Michelson quickly checked. “No. Zero point zero.”
“We need a higher field.” Holzberg touched Michelson’s shoulder and nodded emphatically for him to continue.
Michelson’s voice grew increasingly nervous as he continued reporting the rising magnetic-flux levels. “Eighty-seven point three. Eighty-eight point four. Eighty-nine point six . . . ninety point one.”
Suddenly, there was a loud beep, and an amber light began flashing on the control panel.
“Outlet temperature alarm,” Michelson reported. “One hundred seventy-five degrees and still rising. Should I bring it back down?”
“No,” said Holzberg firmly. “We need a higher field.”
Michelson started to protest, but Holzberg cut him off.
“Irwin, the flux levels!”
Michelson snapped his attention back to the control panel. “Ninety-three point one . . . ninety-four point four . . .shit.”
Another shrill alarm sounded on the panel.
“Core temperature alarm!” Michelson shouted above the noise. “We’ve got to shut it down!” He began turning the knob counterclockwise.
“No!” Holzberg barked, grabbing his arm. “Check the delta T.”
Michelson wiped his brow and checked. “Delta T is . . . zero point one seconds.”
“My God,” Holzberg whispered. “It’s working!”
“Zero point two seconds,” Michelson reported, still holding down the button. “Zero point three . . . zero point four.”
“Bring it up just a bit more,” said Holzberg over the constant noise of the two alarms.
“Do it!” Holzberg snapped.
Michelson swallowed hard and slowly tweaked the knob clockwise to increase the power to the pulse magnet.
“We’re gonna lift a relief valve.”
“What’s the reading?”
Michelson pushed the delta T button. “Whoa . . .”
“What is it?”
“Ten point five seconds. That’s incredible.” He continued holding the button down. “Fourteen seconds . . . twenty . . . thirty . . . fifty . . .”
“We’ve done it!” Holzberg exclaimed, patting Michelson on the back. “Okay, you can bring it back down now.”
Michelson quickly began twisting the knob counterclockwise. After several seconds, however, he suddenly looked confused.
“What is it?”
“Outlet temperature’s . . . still going up.” Michelson quickly pushed the button for delta T again. “Holy shit.”
Holzberg leaned in close and observed that the dial for delta T was now spinning rapidly clockwise. An odometer-style counter below the dial indicated that the accumulated value was now at 500 seconds . . . 600 seconds . . . 700 seconds.. . . The dial was spinning faster and faster.
“Shut it down!” Holzberg bellowed.
“I am. Look!” Michelson showed that he had already twisted the knob for the pulse magnet all the way to the left.
“Cut the power!”
At that moment, a thunderous scream erupted in the lab space below, and thick plumes of steam instantly billowed up from the pool. The technicians could be heard screaming emphatically to each other.
“Relief valves are lifting!” Michelson yelled over the cacophony.
Holzberg was just about to say something when suddenly there was a blinding flash of white light below. Instinctively, he shielded his eyes.
“My God,” Michelson shouted. “Look at that!”
Holzberg uncovered his eyes and gazed in awe at the spectacle now occurring in the lab below him. A brilliant aura of light was hovering directly above the reactor pool, swirling in undulating patterns of blue, green, red, and yellow. The aura lasted for several seconds before giving way to a violent, blinding column of light that shot suddenly out of the pool, straight to the ceiling.
Holzberg again shielded his eyes.
A split second later, there was a loud whoosh and the entire lab filled with blinding white light. The control room windows shattered instantly, and Dr. Holzberg hit the floor.
The blinding light and whooshing sound subsided after several seconds, leaving in their place a terrifying jumble of alarm sirens and horns and the panicked shouts of the technicians below. Holzberg groped on hands and knees through the broken glass until he found the prone body of Dr. Michelson, who was either unconscious or dead.
“Irwin!” said Dr. Holzberg.
There was no response.
With effort, Holzberg pulled himself to his feet and gazed in utter disbelief at the chaos unfolding below him.
“Mein Gott,” he whispered. “What have we done?”
A second later, a man in a black leather coat suddenly appeared in the lab space below, seemingly from nowhere. Who is that? Holzberg wondered, utterly confused. And why does he look familiar?