Helen Klein’s tablet dinged, and she glanced down at it. The edges of her mouth curled up.
“DNA results?” Ty asked. “It confirms that I’m your son. But I think you knew that was true before you even saw it.”
Helen stared down the corridor of the primate facility. Nearby, two of the chimps were beginning to chatter.
She motioned to her tablet. “I’ve turned surveillance off here. So let’s talk. What are you asking from me—specifically?”
Ty sensed that he needed to explain more before making his request. Springing the question too soon might spook her. He needed her to believe him, but he also knew that time was running out.
“A few days ago, someone tried to kill me. They sent a bomb to my apartment. I got out. But they didn’t stop. They sent a man to kill me. I was lucky. Someone who cared about me saved me both times.”
Ty paced in the cell, his gaze fixed on the ground. “What I learned after that was that an organization called the Covenant was responsible for those attempts on my life. In my world, the Covenant exists only in the shadows. I had never even heard of them. When I arrived on this world, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Covenant rules entire continents. Why?”
“You believe it’s the same Covenant?” “Occam’s razor.”
“The simplest explanation is usually the right one,” Helen said. “But is that the simplest explanation?”
“The only alternative is coincidence—that there are two separate organizations that just happen to have the same name. I’m a scientist. I don’t like coincidences.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that I believe what’s happening on our worlds is connected somehow. I believe that’s why the Covenant tried to kill me. And I’m asking you to trust me enough to answer a few simple questions.”
Helen inhaled and nodded.
“How did you develop the quantum radio? When?”
“In the twenties, in the ruinous years after the Great War, during the Weimar Republic, a package was delivered to my grandfather. He was a professor at the University of München. Back then, quantum physics was in its infancy, and the university and its alumni played a major role in developing it. Max Planck, the originator of quantum theory and a Nobel laureate in Physics in 1918, was an alumnus of the University of München. Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli, who were practically the founders of quantum mechanics, were also associated with the university.”
Helen reached up and touched the quantum radio medallion hanging around her neck. “The device my grandfather received came with a key that decoded two-letter combinations of the twelve symbols into alphabet letters and numbers. The radio medallion began receiving signals soon after he unwrapped it. Symbols on the dial would light up, and he would transcribe the messages using the key code.”
Helen smiled. “He thought the transmissions were a prank at first. Perhaps some trick from another physics professor who was using magnetics to manipulate the device. What changed his mind was the messages he received: predictions of future events, predictions that were right every time.”
“And then they started making requests, didn’t they?” Ty asked.
“No. They began making suggestions. Those suggestions were ignored— at first. And then a few were undertaken. With those moves, our fallen nation began to rise again.”
“Let me guess: one suggestion was to focus on building rockets in the 1930s.”
“On my world, Germany lost World War II. That’s what we call—” “The Pax War.”
“Regardless of what the war is called, the Covenant changed the course of history on this world,” Ty said. “Why do you think that is?”
“One of my team’s greatest debates is who created the quantum radio medallion—and why it was given to us.”
“They never told you?”
“No. The Covenant said only that it was our benefactor—an organization dedicated to safeguarding our future. And it seemed they were. Indeed, our working theory is that the Covenant is actually a group in our future, sending messages back in time to change the timeline. To correct the past. Or an extraterrestrial species capable of modeling our future.”
“I don’t think they’re either.” “What are they?” Helen asked.
“I don’t know exactly. Not yet. But I think a better question is: what do they want?”
“We don’t know.”
“What have they asked—” Ty caught himself. “What have they
suggested you do?”
“The comparative genomics project, for one.” “What’s the project about?”
Helen ventured over to one of the cages, where two chimpanzees were huddled together, chattering quietly.
“It’s about one of science’s greatest mysteries.” “What makes us different from them,” Ty said. Helen’s head snapped back to stare at him.
“My mother was interested in that too. Did you find it?”
“We did. A very small number of genes control intelligence—human-level intelligence.”
“How does that information help the Covenant?”
Helen turned away from the chimp cage. “Via radio broadcasts, the Covenant suggested that the knowledge could help us end the war. The premise of what they suggested was the same as what we had pursued for the last seventy years: an enemy that is incapable of fighting will never be a threat.”
“What are you telling me? What’s in those rockets?”
“In a strange twist of fate, our weapon is biological too.”
“In your speech, you said you were going to change their minds.”
“Precisely. The A21 missiles don’t contain any incendiary ordnance. They contain a bioweapon that operates at the epigenetic level. It essentially switches off a small number of genes. Genes that control intelligence. The change will not kill anyone in the Pax. But it will render their intelligence level comparable to that of the chimpanzees in these cages.”
Maria’s voice filled the turbine hall, booming like bombs dropping.
And that star asked a price
For the light of everlasting peace Shining all around us
Counting down to the beginning of all things
And we paid it
With blood and time and hearts forever lost Beating all around us
Counting down to the beginning of all things