Ahead the passage finally ended. A pair of giant ironwood doors stood open at the end. Beyond the threshold, a crude staircase spiraled down into the mountain. It was cut from the rock, but the staircase circled around a center pillar of steel as thick as a tree's trunk. They wound down around it.
Painter stared up. The pillar pierced the top of the roof and continued higher…possibly all the way out the shoulder of the mountain. Lightning rod, he thought. He also's me I led a hint of ozone in the air, stronger now than the smoke.
Anna noted his attention. "We use the shaft to vent excess energies out of the mountain." She pointed up.
Painter craned. He pictured the ghost lights reported in the area. Was this their source? Both of the lights and perhaps the illness?
Biting back his anger, Painter concentrated on the stairs. As his head pounded, the winding aggravated a growing vertigo. Seeking distraction, he continued their dialogue. "Back to the story of the Bell. What did it do?"
Anna broke out of her reverie. "At first no one knew. It came out of research into a new energy source. Some thought it might even be a crude time machine. That was why it was code-named Chronos."
"Time travel?" Painter said.
"You have to remember," Anna said, "the Nazis were light-years ahead of other nations in certain technologies. That was why there was such fervent scientific piracy after the war. But let me backtrack. During the early part of the century, two theoretical systems were in competition: the theory of relativity and quantum theory. And while they didn't necessarily contradict each other, even Einstein, the father of relativity, spoke of the two theories as incompatible. The theories split the scientific community into two camps. And we know very well on which side most of the Western world concentrated."
Anna nodded. "Which led to splitting the atom, bombs, and nuclear energy. The entire world became the Manhattan Project. All based on Einstein's work. The Nazis went a different route, but with no less fervor. They had their own equivalent of the Manhattan Project, but one based on the other theoretical camp. Quantum theory."
"Why go that route?" Lisa asked.
"For a simple reason." Anna turned to her. "Because Einstein was a Jew."
"Remember the context of the time. Einstein was a Jew. In the Nazis' eyes, that assigned lesser value to his discoveries. Instead, the Nazis took to heart the physical discoveries of pure German scientists, considering their works more valid and important. The Nazis based their Manhattan Project on the work of scientists like Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger, and most importantly Max Planck, the father of quantum theory. All had solid roots in the Fatherland. So the Nazis proceeded on a course of practical applications based on quantum mechanics, work that even today is considered groundbreaking. The Nazi scientists believed a power source could be tapped based on experiments with quantum models. Something that is only being realized today. Modern science calls this power zero point energy."
"Zero point?" Lisa glanced to Painter.
He nodded, well familiar with the scientific concept. "When something is chilled to absolute zero—almost three hundred degrees below zero Centigrade—all atomic motion stops. A complete standstill. The zero point of nature. Yet even then, energy persists. A background radiation that shouldn't be there. The energy's presence could not be adequately explained by traditional theories."
"But quantum theory does," Anna said firmly. "It allows for movement even when matter is frozen to an absolute standstill."
"How is that possible?" Lisa asked.
"At absolute zero, particles might not move up, down, right, or left, but according to quantum mechanics, they could flash into and out of existence, producing energy. What is called zero point energy."
"Into and out of existence?" Lisa seemed little convinced.
Painter took the reins. "Quantum physics gets a bit weird. But while the concept seems crazy, the energy is real. Recorded in labs. Around the world, scientists are seeking ways to tap into this energy at the core of all existence. It offers a source of infinite, limitless power."
Anna nodded. "And the Nazis were experimenting with this energy with all the fervor of your Manhattan Project."
Lisa's eyes grew wide. "An unlimited source of power. If they had discovered it, it would have changed the course of the war."
Anna lifted one hand, correcting her. "Who is to say they didn't discover it? It is documented that in the last months of the war, the Nazis had achieved remarkable breakthroughs. Projects with the name Feuerball and Kugelblitz. Details of which can be found among the unclassified records of the British T-Force. But the discoveries came too late. Facilities were bombed, scientists killed, research stolen. Whatever was left disappeared into the deep black projects of various nations."
"But not the Bell," Painter said, drawing the discussion back to its original point. His nausea would not let the conversation stray too far afield.
"Not the Bell," Anna agreed. "My grandfather managed to escape with the heart of the Chronos Project, born of research into zero point energy. The project was given a new name by my grandfather. Schwarze Sonne"
"Black Sun," Painter translated.
"But what about this Bell?" Painter said. "What did it do?"
"It was what made you sick," Anna said. "Damaged you at the quantum level, where no pill or remedy can reach."
Painter almost tripped a step. He needed a moment to digest the information. Damaged at the quantum level. What did that mean?
The last stairs appeared ahead, blocked by a cordon of crossed wood beams, guarded by another pair of men with rifles. Though stunned, Painter noted the scorched rock along the roof of the last turn of the spiral.
Beyond opened a cavernous vault. Painter could not see far into it, but he could still feel the heat. Every surface was blackened. A row of humped shapes lay under tarps. Dead bodies.
Here was the blast zone from the explosions they had heard earlier.
Out of the ruin, a figure appeared, blackened with ash, but his features were still recognizable. It was Gunther, the massive guardsman who had burned down the monastery. It seemed those here had reaped what they had sown.
Fire for fire.
Gunther crossed to the cordon. Anna and Klaus joined him. With Klaus and Gunther side by side, Painter recognized a similarity between the two giants—not physical features, but in some hardness and foreignness that was hard to pin down.