Scene change: The warehouse sort of thing we were in had three rooms. The big one out front contained the Device, and the wall behind it had two doors. We went through the one on the right, into a combination office/conference room with a big table and a lot of complicated-looking filing cabinets. If I had to bet, I’d say the mechanisms built into them were for destroying the contents at need.
Crenshaw, the CIA man, was arguing with Professor Kavanagh over whether we should be told any more than we need to know. The professor was sticking to the same story: we needed to know everything, because if we didn’t know something, we couldn’t use it to help our employers. Alex was standing at ease by the door , with an expression of disinterest I didn’t believe for a second.
“Bro,” James whispered to me, leaning from his seat, “do you think this is all real?” He nodded towards the door, in case I’d somehow got the idea he was questioning the authenticity of the plastic tree in the corner.
“Well, this Crenshaw guy isn’t exactly what I’d expect on something important like this, but that machine is definitely complex enough, and the professor’s involved...”
“Hell yeah. I could definitely believe he’d manage it if anyone could. Remember those pigs?”
I just nodded. Of course I remembered. It hadn’t been anything as huge as this, but it had definitely hinted that the professor was willing to break the rules to follow his curiosity, a fact that had only endeared him to us.
“Boys? We’ve agreed that you should know as much as possible. It’s a long story, though, so you should probably make use of the facilities if you need to.” Crenshaw glared at the professor as he told us this; obviously he hadn’t agreed as such, but he wasn’t going to stop it either.
It... was a long story. The professor didn’t help, using long-winded constructions and veering off on tangents. On the other hand, the minifridge in the corner held a variety of cooling drinks and delicious snacks, and we had nothing better to do. Alex sat down after a while, and Crenshaw left to file paperwork or something.
It went a little something like this.
Way back in ’42, the US was more than a little desperate. You know this story. It ends with Hiroshima and Nagasaki reduced to radioactive rubble. But the nuclear program wasn’t the only superweapon effort to come out of the war; it was merely the least deniable. After all, it resulted in huge mushroom clouds, flashes of light... and an awful lot of pathetic, charred corpses. The US simply couldn’t tell everyone it never happened. But there were other things that were a little easier to keep secret. The Philadelphia project, for one; an effort to produce invisibility and teleportation. I got the idea from the way the professor talked about it that that one didn’t turn out too well, but he didn’t give any details. He gave us a lot of details, however, about the project that led to where we were: the Chicago project.
It started, in 1943, as an effort to understand the basis of life in hopes of producing some sort of biological weapon specific to people of Japanese ethnicity, the idea being that it would save a lot of decent, white, American lives. However, it outgrew its roots, and became something almost, and then truly, admirable. By 1944 the US secret research establishment had an idea of the structure of DNA at least as good as the public efforts of Crick, Watson, Wilkins and Franklin a decade later. With the war’s end, the project became a string of Cold War-related experiments which culminated in the mid-80s with the creation of... well, super-soldiers. By that time the professor was involved personally, and he’d led the team that created the first specimens of genetically enhanced fighters in tanks like the one in the next room... and that was when the project nearly collapsed.
For forty years, the secret project had been working towards producing a biological product capable of fighting and winning wars. What they had at that point seemed perfect; built for speed, strength, endurance and adaptability. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t do anything. The bodies were perfect, but there was no volition, no drive. Their brains were exquisite, but dead.
The cavalry arrived in the form of a young, brilliant physicist by the name of Jens Eriksen. He developed a way of scanning brains at any distance, and with amazing accuracy, using an arcane energy field capable of detecting something called Time Independent Transmissions. I freely admit that I completely lost the thread here. Physics isn’t my strong suit. James is better at it, but he kind of drifted off after seeing the acronym. Point was, though, that this technique could, among other capabilities, provide a perfect atomic-level scan of any brain in history. Couple that with a nanoscale manipulator, and those brains could be replicated. You could put together a division of military heroes, Victoria Cross and Medal of Honor and Légion d’Honneur recipients, and have them all led by Napoleon or Alexander, their weapons designed by Kalashnikov and Browning. Such a force would be unstoppable... except by the outbreak of peace. In 1993 the project was downgraded, perhaps six months from finally achieving transference. Eriksen died three months later, the victim of an ordinary drunk driver, and the professor semiretired back to New Zealand to pursue other hobbies.
Apparently, a few months ago, Crenshaw paid him to pick up where he’d left off. With the War on Terror, military research was up again, and the ability to wage war without casualties was something the US government wanted to have. Their own efforts had met with limited success, and so they’d called on the Professor, who could actually read Eriksen’s handwritten notes, and was the one and only world expert on reconstructing the entire contents of the human brain. And when he succeeded, he called on us to look after the product of the process during the one-year observation period. I felt more than a little proud about that. We were being asked to help with a real, functioning effort to cure death.