Painter recalled the name. "That's the substance you said you couldn't duplicate."
Anna nodded. "We've tried for decades, trying to reverse engineer the liquid metal. Aspects of its composition defy testing. We know it contains thorium and beryllium peroxides, but that's about it. All we know for sure is that Xerum 525 was a byproduct of Nazi research into zero point energy. It was produced at another lab, one destroyed just after the war."
"And you've not found a way to manufacture more?" Painter asked.
Anna shook her head.
"But what did the Bell actually do?" Lisa asked.
"As I said before, it was purely an experiment. Most likely another attempt to tap into the infinite power of zero point. Though once the Nazi researchers turned it on, strange effects were noted. The Bell emitted a pale glow. Electrical equipment in a huge radius short-circuited. Deaths were reported. During a series of follow-up experiments, they refined the device and built shielding. Experiments were done deep within an abandoned mine. No further deaths occurred, but villagers a kilometer away from the mine reported insomnia, vertigo, and muscle spasms. Something was being radiated by the Bell. Interest grew."
"As a potential weapon?" Painter guessed.
"I can't say. Many of the records were destroyed by the head researcher. But we do know the original team exposed all sorts of biologies to the Bell: ferns, molds, eggs, meat, milk. And an entire spectrum of animal life. Invertebrates and vertebrates. Cockroaches, snails, chameleons, toads, and of course mice and rats."
"And what about the top of the food chain?" Painter asked. "Humans."
Anna nodded. "I'm afraid so. Morality is often the first casualty to progress."
"So what happened during these experiments?" Lisa asked. She had lost all interest in her plate of food. Not in distaste for the subject matter but wide-eyed interest.
Anna seemed to sense a commonality here and turned her attention to Lisa. "Again the effects were inexplicable. The chlorophyll in plants disappeared, turning the plants white. Within hours they would decompose into a greasy sludge. In animals, blood would gel in veins. A crystalline substance would form within tissues, destroying cells from the inside out."
"Let me guess," Painter said. "Only the cockroaches were unaffected."
Lisa frowned at him, then returned to Anna. "Do you have any idea what caused those effects?"
"We can only conjecture. Even now. We believe the Bell, as it spins, creates a strong electromagnetic vortex. The presence of Xerum 525, a byproduct of earlier zero point research, when exposed to this vortex, generates an aura of strange quantum energies."
Painter put it together in his head. "So the Xerum 525 is the fuel source, and the Bell is the engine."
"Turning the Bell into a Mix master," a new voice grumbled.
All eyes turned to Gunther. He had a mouthful of sausage. It was the first time he had shown any interest in the conversation.
"A crude but accurate description," Anna concurred. "Imagine the nature of zero point as a bowl of cake batter. The spinning Bell is like a beater that dips into it and sucks quantum energy outward, into our existence, splattering with all manner of strange subatomic particles. The earliest experiments were attempts to manipulate the speed of this mixer and so control the splatter."
"To make less of a mess."
"And along with it, to lessen the degenerative side effects. And they succeeded. Adverse effects waned, and something remarkable took their place."
Painter knew they were coming to the heart of the matter.
Anna leaned forward. "Rather than degeneration of biologic tissues, the Nazi scientists began noting enhancements. Accelerated growth in molds. Gigantism in ferns. Faster reflexes in mice, and higher intelligence in rats. The consistency of the results could not be attributed to random mutations alone. And it appeared that the higher the order of animal, the more benefit was derived from exposure."
"So human test subjects went next," Painter said.
"Keep a historical perspective, Mr. Crowe. The Nazis were convinced that they would give rise to the next superrace. And here was a tool to do it in a generation. Morality held no benefit. There was a larger imperative."
"To create a master race. To rule the world."
"So the Nazis believed. To that end, they invested much effort in advancing research into the Bell. But before it could be completed, they ran out of time. Germany fell. The Bell was evacuated so the research could be continued in secret. It was the last great hope for the Third Reich. A chance for the Aryan race to be born anew. To arise and rule the world."
"And Himmler chose this place," Painter said. "Deep in the Himalayas. What madness." He shook his head.
"Oftentimes, it is madness more than genius that moves the world forward. Who else but the mad would reach so far, stretching for the impossible? And in so doing, prove the impossible possible."
"And sometimes it merely invents the most efficient means of genocide."
Lisa brought the discussion back in line. "What became of the human studies?" She kept her tone clinical.
Anna recognized a more collegial dining partner. "In adults, the effects were still detrimental. Especially at higher settings. But the research did not stop there. When a fetus was exposed in utero, one in six children born of such exposure showed remarkable improvements. Alterations in the gene for myostatin produced children with more well-developed muscles. Other enhancements arose, too. Keener eyesight, improved hand-eye coordination, and amazing IQ scores."
"Superchildren," Painter said.
"But sadly such children seldom lived past the age of two," Anna said. "Eventually they would begin to degenerate, going pale. Crystals formed in tissues. Fingers and toes necrosed and fell away."
"Interesting," Lisa said. "Sounds like the same side effects as the first series of tests."
Painter glanced at her. Did she just say interesting? Lisa's gaze was fixed on Anna with fascination. How could she remain so clinical? Then he noted Lisa's left knee bobbing up and down under the table. He touched her knee and calmed it. She trembled under his touch. Outwardly, her face continued to remain passive. Painter realized all of Lisa's interest was feigned. She was bottling up her anger and horror, allowing him to play good cop, bad cop. Her cooperative attitude allowed him to pepper their interrogation with a few harder questions, all the better to gain the answers he needed.