The Barents Sea, 1964
A glint of light on glass, signaling across the pre-dawn sea.
The many-masted frigate resembled some form of exotic grey insect in comparison to the sleek, narrow backed hull and black conning tower of the submarine which was just visible in the pale light a half mile away. Captain Yevgeny Gorbunov lowered his binoculars and listened for a moment to the faint slapping of the seas gentle swell against the ships flanks. He then turned and addressed the elderly man to his right, ignoring the younger man standing to the others left.
"They are ready?"
The small figure merely nodded.
"Then let's begin", he gestured towards the waiting craft.
The captain turned and signaled to the officer, and the answering message was sent.
Captain (First class) Alexei Kashistyn watched his First Officers lips move silently as he read and decoded the stuttering flashes of the small blinker light just visible on the frigates prow.
"Well?" he asked already knowing what the answer would be.
"They are signaling that we are to start our maneuvers."
"Very well, prepare the men." He gestured to the hatch and the enclosed space of the submarine. "I will be down momentarily."
He knew it would be a mistake to personally supervise the final preparations, the ships crew, even the junior ratings and conscripts, had their orders and all knew their allotted tasks, it would signal a lack of confidence in his men and he trusted them all. He returned his gaze to the distant red-streaked horizon, seemingly oblivious to the chill biting air.
First Officer Nikolai Perov saluted sharply then turned and quickly slid down the access ladder and into the submarines interior, glad to be out of the sub-arctic conditions of the surface. He had sailed with Captain Kashitsyn before and knew that he liked to be alone with his thoughts before the start of a mission. He considered the Captain a good man and an effective leader, if rather unimaginative, a true and committed Communist and Party member, who believed without question anything that, that ersatz establishment had to say. Perov grimaced inwardly, he was rather more cynical, though, in his own way, no less committed to the service of the motherland.
He quickly reached the control room, where the running of the ship was centered and coordinated from, it was, like most of the ships interior, surprisingly small and cramped. He ducked through the open access hatch.
"Systems ready, Mr Bienv?"
The Quartermaster saluted sharply, "Yes Sir, status green Sir"
Perov nodded, and inwardly relaxed, they were ready. Now he just had to wait on his commander.
Captain Kashistyn stared unseeing across the rapidly lightening pre-dawn sea, hands gripping the guard rail against the ships gentle roll, his thoughts were far away, centered on the experiment that was to come, for an experiment it was, although it was never described as such.
He felt a certain pride, at the fact that he had been chosen to command the first seaborne trials of the Paradox Device, he smiled at the name. That wasn't, of course, its official designation, it was known only as a sequence of letters and numbers, but the name had been given early in the projects development and, as these things had a habit of doing, it had stuck.
He remembered his earlier conversation with the projects leader, an elderly civilian scientist, by the name of Mishkin, and his young deputy, Savine, who seldom seemed to leave the old mans side. They had tried to explain the principles underlying the device's operation. He had been told that it was necessary for him to understand, in case something went wrong during its operation, specifically, the scientists had stressed, it had to be started and shut off in a certain sequence, or the results could be, at best, unpredictable.
He had not fully understood the principles behind the device, something to do with powerful magnetic fields, and electromagnetic vibrations at certain frequencies, but what he did understand, he smiled inwardly at the remembered realization, what the device was capable of, what it had been designed to do.
He shook his head to clear it, startled from his thoughts by flashing signal coming from the prow of the frigate. He squinted, decoding the irregular interruptions of the beam of light.
GOOD LUCK, DONT LET THE FISHES EAT YOU!
He turned and headed for the access ladder shaking his head slightly, it was a good omen.
On the enclosed bridge of the frigate Deputy Scientist Pavel Savine watched as the small figure of Captain Kashistyn disappeared from sight. He felt a growing excitement. It was almost time, his long years of work, of study, of bitter disappointments, was about to come to a conclusion. The Paradox Device was his, the theories behind it, his, the entire concept, his, he owned it... Except of course, he didn't. It should work he found himself thinking, the basis is sound, it would work, the equations, the theory behind it, were flawless. All the earlier experiments, albeit conducted on a much smaller scale, had been successful. Still there was a gnawing seed of doubt, the trials had been pushed forward, corners cut, tests rushed, because of this man, he glanced to his right.
Chief Scientist Mishkin, Project Leader, and his immediate superior. He owed his current position to him of course, he was still much to young at twenty-three, to be taken seriously be the establishment, still only a student. But Mishkin had spotted his talent, his genius, had seen his potential and encouraged his ideas, had given him the chance to prove himself.
He reflected, it was a Faustian bargain at best. To the establishment, those in power, the people who mattered, the Paradox Device and Project Moebius was Mishkin's and his alone, he, Savine was merely a helper though acknowledged as an important one.
Savine, wasn't entirely unhappy with this arrangement, he could foresee certain advantages. True, if the device worked as expected and the project was successful most of the glory and respect would be Mishkins but conversely if it failed, then the blame, subsequent disgrace and certain punishment would be the Project Leaders and his alone, he was merely a helper therefore not truly to blame.
He smiled grimly, yes; this arrangement wasn't without its advantages.
A light touch on his arm startled him from his reverie; and he followed the old man's gaze.
The submarine was descending, slowly vanishing from view beneath the dark choppy sea, until only a faint disturbance on the water suggested its position.
"Blow Tanks!, descend to 30 meters" The submarine pitched forward then several seconds later gradually settled at the required depth.
"Forward 3/4 power" the orders rang out over the subs intercom.
"All non-essential personal to their quarters!"
Dmitri Tupolev looked up from his perch on the edge of his narrow bunk and into the grinning, nervous face of his friend, and fellow conscript, Boris Rudych. They had known each other, or so it felt, all their lives, since they had both been transferred to the same orphanage after the Plague had claimed their families. He mirrored his friends expression, then glanced round quickly as the tell tale throb of the subs engine and single screw vibrated through the ships length. It was the only indication of movement.
"Here we go!" He leaned over conspiratorially and looked sideways along the narrow corridor separating the two rows of bunks, towards the mysterious device, which was just visible in the next compartment through the bulkhead door.
On the outside the Paradox Device was a non-descript piece of machinery. A dark burnished gunmetal grey sphere roughly six feet across, with a multitude of multicoloured cables and tubes leading into it.
Several engineers were visible working at the indecipherable banks of monitors and equipment on either side of the device.
Performing last minute checks, Dmitri supposed. One of the scientists glanced around and noticing him, closed the bulkhead door.
"I wonder what it does?" he asked in a fascinated tone.
"What I want to know is why we have to be so damn close to it!" complained a disembodied voice from a higher bunk.
"It has to be at the ships center of mass, you were told that"
"I heard its a nuclear bomb and we're on a suicide mission!" the interrupter was wide-eyed and pale, his statement was meant with howls of laughter and derision.
"Well, it could be a new type of nuclear reactor?" said Dmitri reasonably, quickly placing his hand on the metal bars of the opposite bunk to steady himself as the sub went into the first of its turns, sharply banking to a 30 degree angle, to follow the outside curve of its track. A figure of 8, half a mile on each straight, which it would follow during the experiment.
There was a sudden sinister pulse of sound ringing through the boats hull, and after an interval of several seconds it repeated, and again.
"The frigates sonar, to track us, it cannot be long now" said Boris's calm face from the depths of his bunk.
The cabin fell silent, expectant.
"Ahh, the frigate, they are watching us...very well it is time" announced Captain Kashistyn.
"Helm, our course and speed?"
"As ordered, sir!, 70 seconds till next turn"
"Very well" He breathed slowly, deeply in an effort to calm himself, he looked around, saw the tense, expectant faces bathed in the pale red glow of the ships lighting, mandatory when the ship was at battle stations, as they were now.
He waited, listened, the pulse of sonar energy rang through the hull. He felt calm, in control, ready.
"Engage the device"
The quartermaster leaned towards the small vertical control console and rapidly, with well practiced ease, flicked the main control switches, their status lights blinked form an intense red to a reassuring, steady green.
With his thumb he flicked open the safety cover over the master arm button and without a pause, even for self drama, he pressed the button.
It was 7.30 AM.
The heart of the Paradox device was a perfect hollow sphere of mirror polished titanium alloy, 30 cm in diameter, surrounded by a complex of hugely powerful electromagnets. As the power began to flow through them they directed energy inwards towards the waiting sphere where it became trapped. Unable to escape it rebounded off itself like light caught between two mirror's, rapidly increasing in power, spiraling towards infinity. A small percentage was directed and channeled out of the device and converted into vibrations through the hull of the ship and its contents. These vibrations, when they reached specific, astronomical frequencies were what were expected to render the ship invisible. Any directed energy, such as radar waves would be absorbed or channeled around the object, effectively causing it to disappear.
That was the theory, Project Moebius was the attempt to put it into practice.
For the ships crew the first indication that the device was functioning was a low penetrating moan, building into an ear piercing shriek. A deep metallic shudder and groan, as if of metal in pain ran through the vessel. Like a waking beast, thought the Captain. The noise disappeared to be replaced by a scarcely felt vibration that rapidly escalated beyond human discernment. Captain Kashistyn wasn't concerned, he had been briefed on the expected effects.
On the frigates helm a small knot of men were crowded around the ships sonar display following the subs track as it powered it's way around it's course. Savine glanced at his watch. The device had been running for over two minutes, they should begin to see the effects shortly. As if on cue, the ships track began to fade from the screen and the sonar operator declared excitedly.
"Captain! The Tanin, he is disappearing, I am losing the trace!"
Chief Scientist Mishkin glanced round at Savine. He did not bother to conceal a look of triumph. He can already see the medals, thought Savine disgustedly. For his own part he kept his features carefully neutral, the experiment wasn't over yet, he reminded himself. The devices power and reach would be allowed to increase unchecked for several minutes more. 'Another example of Comrade Mishkins corner cutting methods' he thought sourly. He was unable to resist the temptation to sneak another look at his watch. 190 seconds...the device had been running freely for almost a full minute longer than any of the previous trials.
Dmitri glanced around, as if he could penetrate the subs thick hull. "Do you hear that Boris?" he asked.
Boris, paused and listened before answering carefully, "I hear nothing"
"Exactly!" Dmitri exclaimed, "the frigates sonar it is fading!"
Boris, raised himself from his bunk and turned his head as if to listen more carefully.
A slow smile crept across his face, "You are... correct" he laughed lightly in disbelief, "He is correct! Listen, Comrades!"
The crews quarters fell silent as thirty sets of ears listened as one.
"They are right, comrades!" another voice shouted from the back.
A great cheer of self congratulation and relief filled the quarters.
In the control room the distant sounds of celebration could just be heard. Captain Kashistyn shook his heard as if in disapproval, but suppressed a grin, the experiment was progressing perfectly, it was working.
"How long?" he asked abruptly.
"Four minutes, Captain, all lights are green" replied the quartermaster, referring to the cluster of status lights before him.
Kashistyn did not reply.
First Officer Perov turned to him and they shared a glance of pleasure and congratulation.
It was working.
Just then came a muffled scream from the direction of the engine room, their smiles faded. Kashistyn glanced at Perov and he, understanding immediately, ducked out of the control room and made for the source of the disturbance.
Inside the Paradox Device forces more powerful than the core of a star were being held in check. A maelstrom churned and battered against its confinement, and at its center, forced by its electromagnetic bonds into a thin twisting strip was a piece of pure energy. It raged in its confines as if a living thing, seeking escape but finding none, doubling and redoubling in its fury. And still more energy was directed inwards.
Dmitri sat up, his blood running cold at the noise, he glanced towards the door, the scream had gone to be replaced by desperate scrabbling sounds from within the experimental chamber, the door swung upon and a figure stumbled into view. It was one of the Scientists, the one who had closed the door on him earlier. But his appearance was that of an old man, and getting more elderly by the second. The scientist stumbled forward, his gaze sweeping the cabin; "Help... me" he croaked his voice dying in his throat. His legs seemed to give way under him and he fell to his knees, he threw his head back and Dmitri gasped as the full extent of the ravages being worked on him became clear. He was being unknit it seemed, rotting from the inside out. His hair bleached itself white and fell to the deck in clumps, his teeth turned yellow, blackened, then fell from their roots, his skin cracked and peeled exposing the bone beneath. His eyes rolled into his sockets and with a last pitiful groan he fell backwards, merciful death finally claiming him. The smell of putrefication filled the cabin mixed with the rank stench of vomit.
Dmitri cursed and recoiled in shock, he glanced towards his friends bunk;
"Boris, did you..." But he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing, his friend appeared deep in his bunk, deeper than should have been possible, almost hidden by shadows. "Boris?" He leant over and his eyes widened in disbelief.
Impossible as it was Rudych seemed to be being drawn outwards through the back wall of the bunk, into the ships hull. His arms, chest and lower half were still visible, the rest seemed to merging with the metallic backing and disappearing further by the moment.
His face was just visible and his eyes begged.
His lips moved but no sound came forth.
Dmitri recoiled in shock then reached forward again catching his friends wildly flailing arm.
"Boris! Boris! I'm here! I'll help!" he could hear his own desperate breathing in his ears and more shouts and screams around him, he ignored them, knowing he was close to panic himself. He felt that he was losing his mind.
He braced himself and pulled, but it was no use, the suction was too strong, he watched in horror as his friends face then upper body disappeared. His own arm was dragged closer and closer to the wall, and he tried to let go, realizing his own danger, but his friends desperate grasp was too strong.
His eyes widened and his own struggles to be free became frenzied as his fingers, then hand, became enclosed in the cold metal.
His own scream joined the others.
First Officer Perov, raced down the narrow corridors, ignoring the pale, frightened faces of the personnel pressing themselves against the wall to let him pass. As he got closer to the engine room his pace slowed, he began to struggle for forward movement, it felt as if he was attempting to push through warm treacle. He ducked under the last bulkhead door and as quickly as possible went to the solid steel door leading into the test chamber. He seemed to be moving in slow motion. He tried the handle but it was locked so pressing his face, hands on either side, against the small glass window he looked into the space beyond.
He squinted, the compartment appeared to be empty, apart from, he noticed an untidy pile of, apparently empty clothes just visible at the other side, almost hidden behind the Paradox Device. He tried focusing on the uniform but it appeared indistinct, fuzzy as if he was staring at it through a heat haze.
The Paradox Device...his gaze seemed to be pulled towards it almost involuntarily, and as he looked at it he began to frown. There was something wrong, he couldn't say exactly what, but he was sure of it. Unlike the rest of the small room, the Paradox Device was clearly visible, cleanly cut against the watery background. It appeared almost too solid, too real. His head hurt just looking at it.
He became aware of other sensations too, his skin appeared to be crawling, the feeling was almost unnoticeable but it was definitely there. It seemed to be centered on his hands and it was getting stronger.
He moved his head back and watched them closely. Just as he was about to dismiss the feeling he saw what was happening. They were changing, almost imperceptibly at first but becoming more pronounced as the seconds passed. He watched in fascination as his tough wrinkled skin became smoother, more supple. He saw and felt a small scar on the back of his hand, which he had received in an accident in his early thirties, become less noticeable, then vanish entirely. He felt the changes move from his hands, up his arms and into the rest of his body.
And he realized he wasn't frightened. Now he came to think of it felt good, really good. Some small part of his mind, warned him that he was in danger, that he should remove his hands, he had a job to do, but he ignored it, concentrating instead on the sensations he was experiencing.
On the bridge Captain Kashistyn listened to the mounting cacophony and made his decision, he turned to the quartermaster.
"Turn it off"
The quartermaster, a young thin man, nodded and reached for the Throw-Switch that would cut power to the Paradox Device.
His hand passed through it.
He frowned and tried again.
With the same result.
He sat back with a look of surprise as he held his hand up to examine it. He realized he could see the control room through it, it was becoming pale and insubstantial, he glanced down. So was the rest of his body.
His expression changed, becoming a grin, he began to laugh.
Captain Kashistyn watched in shock, as the quartermaster faded, became transparent then disappeared completely, his insane laughter, the last to go.
'Like the Cheshire Cat' the Captain thought, he felt his own grip on reality sliding, becoming threatened, he ignored the increasingly desperate plea's of his staff.
Perov was by now pressed up against the door, he moaned with pleasure as his body was reworked. But still there was that small but insistent voice: Danger, Danger, danger!
He started, and his eyes came into focus.
"What the fuck am I doing?!!"
His Captain needed him!
Step away from the door he felt his mind command him, but to his surprise he couldn't. It felt good, far, far too good to leave. He concentrated focusing on that small part of himself that he knew was right and tried again ,nothing, he closed his eyes, reaching far down into himself and with reserves of strength he'd never guessed he possessed, he forced himself from the door.
And stumbled banging his head off the deck. Waves of pain burst through him.
Just then the sounds of laughter and panic from the control room reached him and a single thought ran through his mind: Switch it off
He got to his feet and began to move.
In the heart of the Paradox Device the circular strip of energy thrust against its bonds, almost touching the polished surface of the machinery's interior. It was like a living thing, trapped but knowing that freedom was close.
Perov moved quickly back the way he had came, the resistance he had felt on his first journey was still there but its hold on him seemed somehow to have been lessened, he felt stronger, more alive than he had in years.
Terrors seemed to reach for him, here a man buried up to his waist in the metal grid of the deck, fingers clutching desperately at his uniform as he passed, there another, seemingly two figures joined together, both heads howling like the damned.
He ignored them all, he knew what he had to do.
He burst through the low door into the control room, eyes searching frantically before fixing on his target.
The Emergency Switch.
He crossed quickly to the low console and with no further hesitation, threw it.
With that simple action, The Tanin and everybody on her, stepped outside the bounds of the known universe...
And into legend.
If an observer could have been placed outside the Tanin and if they could somehow have seen through the murky water of the Baltic Sea, they would have seen a delicate blue sphere of energy expand in moments to encompass the submarine, hold, flickering there for a few breathless seconds before collapsing with terrifying speed and ferocity into a single blinding point. Taking the ship and several thousand gallons of seawater with it, before being obliterated from sight by the cascading sea.
On the bridge of the Tanin, Captain Kashistyn, looked up to see someone he didn't recognize bursting into the room, and making for the Emergency Control Board.
"Wait! What are you do..." he never finished the sentence.
As he raised his arm time seemed to distort, to slow, to stop, then he was hit by a hammer blow to the back and was pitched forward into what felt like boiling oil, the scene around him snapped to darkness.
He felt everyone inch of his body being compressed, every atom pounded flat, sucked to a single dimensionless point, falling forever inwards, inwards, inwards...
Bridge of the Frigate
"Look!" As one the small knot of people gathered around the sonar turned. They followed the sailors outstretched hand which was pointing at the surface of the water. The sea seemed to collapse in a hundred meter wide circle, falling downwards, before where it met a foaming waterspout leapt, climbing several hundred feet into the air before drifting back to the surface which was returning to its former pristine appearance. Its exploded Savine thought, God! The bridge fell into an ominous silence. Captain Gorbanuv spoke first, his voice low.
"Your experiment it seems...has been a failure..." Chief Scientist Mishkin never spoke, even when he was led, not ungently, of the bridge by the two KGB officers. Savine turned from the frantic efforts to contact the Tanin, he knew they were doomed to failure, and returned his gaze to the slowly expanding circle of foam on the choppy water.
"Ahhh!" he screamed, sucking air into his lungs.
He felt strong arms shaking him, and somebody addressing him.
"Captain! Its OK can you hear me?"
He opened his eyes and looked into the face of one of the conscripts, at least that was who he assumed it was, he shook his head clearing it from the vestiges the horrible dream he'd just had. He sat up.
He was in his bunk, in his cabin.
"Who are you? Where is Perov?"
The youthful face just smiled.
Kashistyn could feel himself becoming angry. "I said..."
"I know Captain it is me, it's Nikolai."
Kashistyn was shocked, but he knew he recognized him. "But your...?"
"Yes, late teens I would guess" the smile became even wider.
The Captain felt as if reality was once again slipping away from him. "How?" he managed to ask.
The smile faded, he indicated outside the cabin with a nod of his head. "Our old friend the Paradox device, it appears to have had some... unforeseen effects."
Kashistyn sat forward, once again placing his head in his hands, he sat in that position for a few moments, before drawing a deep breath, and stood up, seemingly in control once again.
"How long was I out for?"
"About twenty minutes"
"Have you contacted the frigate yet?"
Perov's lips seemed to twitch and a strange look stole across his face, it was a look Alexei didn't much like.
"Before we deal with that there is something you should see... on the observation tower."
The short walk to the tower was filled with horrors for Kashistyn, he learned that of the original crew of 47, at least half were dead or missing. Missing he thought, on a submarine! Several were 'incapacitated'. A truly sickening side effect of the Devices operation was that some crew members had become 'merged' with the superstructure of the submarine. He passed one man whose arms were embedded up to the elbow in a dividing wall. He was still alive, and begging for help, Alexei turned away from the pitiful sight. Most of the other 'merged' had already died, their sufferings mercifully cut short, but they were left where they had died, like some grotesque pieces of art. Others had gone mad, their minds snapping at what they had witnessed.
In all there were only 9 uninjured personnel, like himself. He and Perov were the only officers.
As they neared the access hatch, one of the young conscripts rounded the door and almost crashed into him.
He jumped back and saluted sharply. Ignoring Nikolai, Kashistyn noticed amusedly. The boy had been crying, and his tears were still wet on his cheek, his left arm was heavily bandaged, and blood was seeping through it.
"Are you injured!" the Captain snapped.
"Uhh...no Sir! Nothing serious Sir!"
"Then you can help us with this access hatch....get to it!"
Activity would take his mind off what had just happened, thought the captain, now if only someone would so the same for me.
Despite his injuries, Dmitri quickly got the access hatch opened and the three of them climbed into the second airlock, the hatch to the outside followed, and as it was opened outwards Dmitri was forced back in by a sudden burst of rain.
Kashishtyn looked at Perov surprised, but he just motioned him outside. They climbed the access ladder and stepped onto the surface.
Into a storm.
Hail stung the captains cheeks and white tipped waves battered against the subs hull.
'This is impossible!' he thought, there was no storm earlier! And one this powerful was extremely unlikely to have blown in, in the short time they were below.
He looked around, there was no sign of the frigate.
He looked for explanation at Perov, but the thin figure just shrugged.
He glanced at the boiling sea again.
When they returned below decks Kashistyn ordered that contact should be made with Soviet Command for help and further orders, but there was no response on any of the high security military channels. The Tanin set sail for the nearest port. Over the next few hours, what was left of the crew, did what little they could to help the injured and coped with the running of the ship.
It was took nine hours of slow surface sailing, with the Tanin at a pronounced starboard list, before the port was in view and then another few anxious hours of waiting until the storm died down enough to enable them to lunch a lifeboat towards the shore. One man remained to guard the ship, the rest left thankfully in the small boat.
As they approached the shore Nikolai could see that something was wrong, the port they had left only the night before seemed different somehow. When they got closer they saw what it was, the port was a run down shanty town, with a few decrepit fishing boats, tied up at the rotting harbor.
As the neared the pier, they saw a small boy who appeared to be fishing. They drew closer, and the boy seemed to notice them, he got up and ran quickly along the pier, shouting for his father and gesturing excitedly at the sailors.
They drew up and tied the small boat securely before climbing onto the slippery pier. A figure was walking towards them, cleaning his hands on a rag, with the small boy at his side. As he drew closer Perov could see that something wasn't quite right about the man, he appeared deformed somehow.
He started towards the pair and called out a greeting, which died in his throat, he could see clearly what was wrong, the man had the head of a dog. Perov could feel a pounding in his skull, Is this what madness feels like he wondered. The dog-headed man drew level with him, he was just a little shorter than himself.
"Can I help you?"
It can speak, thought Perov.
Before he answered, Captain Kashishtyn broke in, Perov could hear the unstable note in his voice. "We demand to speak to the authorities, right now!"
"And who, exactly are you?" The dog headed man was unfazed.
Captain Kashisityn was stunned, he had never been spoken to by a civilian like this before!
"I am Captain Alexei Kashistyn, of the Soviet Navy!"
To his disbelief the man just laughed. "Very good my friend! The Soviet Navy!"
Kashistyn, felt his mouth hanging open, he quickly shut it.
"What do you mean?"
The dog-headed man looked unsure, he seemed to realize something was seriously wrong.
"I... there is no Soviet Navy, there is no Soviet Union...it was dissolved years ago..."
"Liar!" The Captain screamed drawing his pistol, the boy ran back up the pier crying for help, he leveled the barrel of the gun at the man.
Perov knocked it from his grasp, he was having a terrible insight.
"What year is it?" he asked
The dog-man turned to him "What?"
Perov grabbed him by the neck of his filthy jacket and yelled into his face.
"I... said... what.... year... is... it!"
"Uhh...its 2004...its 2004, don't hurt me!"
But Perov wasn't listening, he let the man go and stared unseeing at the pier.
It was 2004, they had been gone for forty years.