The Enigma Cube
An alien object with breathtaking capabilities. And a life-and-death struggle for the future of humanity.
Dr. Kelly Connolly is part of a top-secret team studying the most important find in human history, the Enigma Cube, an alien artifact of incomprehensible power. A cube whose technology can catapult civilization to dizzying heights--or destroy it entirely.
After years of failed attempts to unlock the cube's secrets, all hell suddenly breaks loose. Kelly and a black-ops commando, Justin Boyd, are soon fighting against all odds to stay alive, and to keep the cube out of enemy hands.
As the situation quickly goes from bad to worse, Kelly discovers that the cube is far more dangerous than even she had imagined. And that her actions could lead to nightmarish changes to the nature of reality itself.
The Enigma Cube is a masterful thriller. One crammed with breakneck action, unexpected twists, mind-blowing science, and ethical dilemmas readers will be contemplating long after they've read the last page.
"Richards is a worthy successor to Michael Crichton." (SF Book dot com)
NEAR-FUTURE SCIENCE FICTION THRILLERS BY DOUGLAS E. RICHARDS
WIRED (Wired 1)
AMPED (Wired 2)
MIND'S EYE (Nick Hall 1)
BRAINWEB (Nick Hall 2)
MIND WAR (Nick Hall 3)
SPLIT SECOND(Split Second 1)
TIME FRAME (Split Second 2)
THE ENIGMA CUBE (Alien Artifact 1)
A PIVOT IN TIME (Alien Artifact 2)
Kids Science Fiction Thrillers (9 and up, enjoyed by kids and adults alike)
TRAPPED (Prometheus Project 1)
CAPTURED (Prometheus Project 2)
STRANDED (Prometheus Project 3)
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Release date: February 13, 2020
Publisher: Paragon Press
Print pages: 424
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The Enigma Cube
Douglas E. Richards
Berlin, Germany, 1941
Otto Richter scribbled equations into a notebook at a furious pace, as if he were possessed by a berserker demon. He was in hot pursuit of a sudden inspiration—that superfluidity could be used to model exotic matter, which in turn could lead to a mathematical bridge between general relativity and quantum mechanics.
A remarkable insight that might have come from the mind of Albert Einstein on his very best day, but beyond astonishing coming as it did from the mind of a wiry sixteen-year-old boy, still awaiting his growth spurt, who couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred twenty pounds dripping wet.
Otto urged himself to write even faster, annoyed at having to delay his thoughts in order to record them, but was unable to coax any additional speed from his right hand as it flew over the page.
Three sharp raps on the door dislodged Otto’s consciousness from the nearly transcendent plane it had been on, and he returned to the real world with a violent thud. He scowled at the audacity of this abrupt interruption, which had ripped his mind from a Nobel-prize worthy inspiration and had reinserted it into the mundane.
Or perhaps these raps at the door were not so mundane.
They had been sharp, decisive—demanding even. Not the knocks of a friend or colleague, but the knocks of someone who was impatient and used to being obeyed.
A chill ran up Otto’s spine, for no reason he could pinpoint, and he glanced at his parents, who had been reading by the fireplace, to learn if this visit was expected. From the mystified, worried looks on their faces, it was anything but.
Otto pushed his chair back from his desk and rose to answer the door, but his father, Hans, shook his head and strode past him. The elder Richter turned the handle on the door, and it was immediately shoved open from outside, slamming painfully into his body and driving him backward as if he were weightless.
Four men stood before the threshold, three of them with machine guns slung around their necks, and they rushed inside, uninvited, as though they owned the place. As if the Richter family were the trespassers. All four wore impossibly crisp uniforms and bright red armbands containing a white circle with a black swastika inside—essentially a wearable Nazi flag.
Otto had studied the swastika symbol in school, and many others, as the Nazi party seemed to be obsessed with symbolism. One of their only obsessions that wasn’t deadly—at least, not directly. The same couldn’t be said of their obsession with power, conquest, and genocide.
In 1923, Hitler and his Nazi Party had attempted to seize Munich and use this city as a base of operations for a coup against Germany’s Weimar Republic. The attempt had failed, and Hitler had been wounded in the process. Still, this bold action had brought him to the attention of the German nation and the world, as did his three-week trial.
Hitler was found guilty of treason and sentenced to five years in Landsberg Prison, but he only served nine months. And while he was incarcerated, he came to realize that his newfound celebrity gave him the means to obtain power after all—but this time legally. He wasted no time vigorously spreading Nazi propaganda, beginning with the work he had penned in prison, Mein Kampf—My Struggle—which included his description of the symbolism of the Nazi flag.
The hakenkreuz, or hooked cross, had been a popular symbol throughout history, but Hitler preferred the Sanskrit term, swastika, meaning “well-being,” and described this symbol in his book as signifying the “struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind.”
So much for symbolizing well-being.
The four intruders to the Richters’ loving home exuded nothing but menace and cruelty, sneering at the panicked looks on the faces of Otto and his parents. His mother attempted to stifle a gasp, but couldn’t, and his father looked to be paralyzed, as if he had turned a corner and found himself facing a pack of rabid wolves.
Otto knew that his father would have preferred the wolves.
The three men sporting swastika armbands and carrying machine guns could intimidate anyone, but they weren’t nearly as troubling as the man who had led them inside. Based on the insignias on his uniform, this man was exceedingly high in rank, a gruppenfuhrer, the equivalent of a major general, and he wasn’t with the German army. That would have been a blessing.
Instead, the pairs of stylized lightning bolts affixed to his lapels made it clear that he was near the very top of perhaps the cruelest, most ruthless organization mankind had ever known, the Schutzstaffel, which literally translated into The Protection Squadron, an absurd misnomer more generally abbreviated simply as the SS.
The SS was the ultimate paramilitary force, responsible for security, surveillance, terror, and ultimately, genocide. A malevolent collection of psychopaths and bullies who would go on to run all of the Reich’s concentration and extermination camps, and who were responsible for the detection of actual or potential enemies of the Nazi state.
And the man in front of him wasn’t just a member of the psychopathic SS, his rank suggested that he reported to Heinrich Himmler himself, who was rumored to be the personification of pure evil.
Otto suddenly found it hard to breathe. The Richter family had zero Jewish blood, but many years earlier, most of his parents’ closest friends at the university, where Hans Richter taught higher mathematics, had been Jewish. Hans had known enough not to protest too loudly when they had been relieved of their positions, along with all other Jewish professors, and had fled into the diaspora.
Hans Richter knew that his Jewish friends had been lucky to get out of Germany, and he only wished that he could follow. But as much as he wanted to, his wife had too many close relatives in Berlin, and she had persuaded him to remain at his post and do what he could to safely and subtly undermine Nazi propaganda, minimal though this effort might be.
Otto wondered if his father’s attempts to influence key university personnel had been less subtle than the elder Richter had thought, and had been responsible for this nightmarish visit. But he quickly thought better of it. Even if these activities had attracted the notice of the SS, his father would have never attracted the personal attention of a general.
The sick feeling in the pit of Otto’s stomach intensified as he realized that they must be here for him.
All of these thoughts, musings, and analysis flashed across Otto’s unparalleled mind in seconds—his speed of thought just as extraordinary as its quality.
“How can I help you, Herr Gruppenfuhrer?” croaked his father. His mouth had become so parched, and his throat so constricted in fear, the words barely made it past his lips.
“My name is Magnus Becker,” said the general, “and I’m here to collect your son.”
Hans Richter’s eyes widened in alarm and he opened his mouth to protest, or demand clarification, but he bit his tongue. They were at this man’s mercy, which was sure to be exceedingly limited, so discretion was the better part of valor. “Apologies for my ignorance, General Becker,” he began, choosing his words with great care and fighting to keep the outrage from his voice, “but I would be grateful if you could explain.”
“I should think the explanation is obvious,” said Becker in contempt. “Your son has come to the attention of the esteemed leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. I’m told that little Otto was fluent in four languages, speaking them all without accent, by the age of four. That he taught himself calculus by the age of six. That at his current age of sixteen, he has already made several groundbreaking contributions to the field of mathematical physics.”
“That is correct, Herr Gruppenfuhrer,” said Hans. “But experts in the Nazi Party thought it best for him to continue his studies at home, believing him to be too young for the university environment. In short, General, they believe it best not to dislodge the goose that lays the golden eggs from its nest. Not when it’s being so productive.”
“I’m afraid that policy has come to an end,” said Becker. “The Reich needs his services.”
“Is there no way for him to render services from our home?” pleaded Hans.
Once again, the general glared at the elder Richter in contempt. “Your son is the perfect example of the superiority of the Aryan race. It’s high time he was properly deployed. Because of your age, and because you are needed to train the next generation of mathematicians, you’ve been given a pass in the current conflict.” His lip curled up into a sneer. “But surely, Herr Richter, you didn’t think your family could shirk all contributions to the war effort indefinitely?”
“That was never our intent, Herr Gruppenfuhrer,” said Hans Richter quickly. “Our loyalty to the Third Reich is absolute,” he added, a lie that Otto knew to be truly extraordinary in its magnitude.
The general scowled. “I’ve heard rumors to the contrary.”
Otto’s father shrank back, but he was too afraid to even reply.
Otto had been sure that Hitler and his band of irrational psychopaths would quickly lose the war, but their very ferocity, their audacity, had the opposite effect, and it now wasn’t hard to imagine Nazi ideology spreading over much of the globe.
Hitler’s domain already included Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, Greece, Belgium, and France, and at times the German army appeared unstoppable. Germany’s Blitzkrieg, which translated to Lightning War, had proven successful beyond all expectations, as huge concentrations of tanks, planes, and artillery raced ahead at speeds previously unheard of in war. These forces quickly punched holes in enemy defenses, like an irresistible battering ram, allowing tank divisions to penetrate and operate freely behind enemy lines, sowing shock and chaos, while thousands of German bombers kept the slow, entrenched enemy from resupply or redeployment.
Worse, the Nazis turned the blitzkrieg soldiers into an army of supermen, plying them liberally with crystal meth—speed—in pill form, shipping thirty-five million tablets to their three million troops. This drug allowed soldiers to advance for days without sleep, dulled their sense of empathy, made them feel euphoric and invincible, and turned them into aggressive, reckless killing machines.
And now, apparently, it was Otto’s turn to be violated in whatever fashion the Third Reich saw fit, all in furtherance of mindless conquest.
Elsa Richter maintained a strong bearing, but a single tear escaped from her right eye and rolled down her cheek, beyond her control. “How long will you need our son?” she whispered.
“Until we don’t!” barked the general. “My patience is growing thin. I want him packed and ready in five minutes.”
“Wouldn’t he perform better if we went with him?” said his mother, desperately trying to avoid the unavoidable.
The general issued a cruel snort, not even bothering to answer.
“Can you at least tell us where he’ll be going?” she asked as several more tears began running down her face.
Becker shook his head in disgust. “Enough!” he barked. “No more questions. I can’t tell you where he’ll be, or what he’ll be doing. Only that he’ll be part of a team of scientists, working on an important, top-secret project, and will be treated well. You’ll have no further contact with him until he is finished, whenever that might be. He won’t be writing any letters, nor will he be receiving any.”
“What if I refuse to participate?” asked Otto, blinking back tears of his own.
The general stared at him in disbelief, stunned that the boy had the audacity to speak. “You’re obviously not as bright as I’ve been led to believe,” he spat. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. Not only will you participate, you’ll excel. If you don’t live up to expectations, there will be consequences.”
“Even if I try my best,” said Otto, “I can’t guarantee results. No one can.”
An icy smile spread slowly across the general’s face. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “The project you’ll be on will have the full attention of the Fuhrer himself, along with Reichsfuhrer Himmler. If you perform as expected, if you distinguish yourself, great honor will accrue to you and your family, and the rewards will be significant.”
“And if I fail?” asked Otto.
Becker’s disingenuous smile disappeared, to be replaced by a scowl. “Failure will not be tolerated. Even success will not be good enough, unless we judge you to be giving it your all. In short, we expect you to dazzle us. If not, I’ll have no other choice but to explore the rumors I spoke of earlier. The ones suggesting your father is committing crimes against the state, however delicate he thinks he’s being.”
Otto glanced at his father, who shot him a defiant nod, too quickly and subtly for the SS general to see. A sharp nod that spoke volumes. A nod that gave him permission to use far less than his full brilliance on the project. A nod that told him that if the project was designed to help further the Nazis’ cause—which it surely must be—his parents would rather die than see him provide any missing pieces of the puzzle.
Otto turned his gaze back to Becker. “In that case, Herr Gruppenfuhrer,” the boy whispered, “I’ll make sure that you’re dazzled.”
But as he stared further into the eyes of evil, tears began streaming quietly down his cheeks.
“Stop your blubbering this instant!” demanded the general, spittle flying from his mouth. “You’re embarrassing yourself and the Reich,” he continued, enraged, “and it’s a disgusting display! You’re weak, pathetic—soft! Our boys are dying on the battlefield, and you’re here curled into a fetal position because you won’t see your mommy for a while. You make me sick!”
The general stared at Otto Richter in utter contempt, and his tone changed from fire to ice. “If your goal is to dazzle,” he said slowly, biting off each word as if it were acid, “know that you’re off to a very bad start.”
The outskirts of Spokane, Washington, 2027
Dr. Kelly Connolly stood by the entrance to a small, single-story factory building and watched as a civilian SUV arrived at a guard gate and the driver stopped to show credentials. The fence around the facility was laughably benign, unable to deter even a modestly capable ten-year-old. No rolls of wicked razor wire crowning every inch of its perimeter, and no deadly levels of electricity coursing through its metal veins.
The gatehouse was also the very picture of innocence, as was the attendant. There wasn’t a hint of weaponry or military presence, and there were no spikes embedded in the pavement that could be automatically lifted to shred the sturdiest of tires as easily as a pin could pop a child’s balloon.
But, like the faux factory itself, built at the edge of a vast woods, the perimeter was a deception, and far more secure than it seemed. In fact, the site was ringed with enough hidden firepower and other deterrents to ward off a small attacking army. Not that any of it would ever need to be used. Military installations raised eyebrows, piqued curiosity, drew attention. Small factories, appearing to be only minimally secure, on the other hand, drew nothing but yawns.
Kelly sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I can get out of this,” she said to the lanky, balding man beside her.
Dr. Harry Salazar looked amused. “Trust me, Kelly,” he said, “you’ll enjoy this visit more than you think.”
“That would almost have to be true,” she replied wryly.
She and Harry Salazar, vaunted director of Project Uru, had gotten along famously since she had joined his team seven months earlier. Which in this instance was more of a curse than a blessing.
She was a department head, yes, but only one of six. And yet she alone had been assigned the duty to join Salazar as a Walmart greeter, to welcome Major Justin Boyd, a high-ranking black-operations officer, and give him a guided tour.
Kelly knew full well why she was now with her boss playing hostess while the other department heads were allowed to duck this odious duty. The director of Uru liked being around her more than the others. It was as simple as that. Salazar had confided in her that he found her to be the most polished of the departmental heads when it came to both social graces and personality.
She was also female, and while Salazar would never admit it, she suspected he was playing to the major’s more primal instincts, hoping that if he were the typical military hard-ass, he would be less so in her presence. Or better yet, find her attractive. And while she didn’t cause auto accidents when she strolled along streets full of male drivers, this latter hope wasn’t out of the question. Her smooth skin, large emerald eyes, girl-next-door beauty, and athletic body never failed to attract male attention.
“Trust me, Kelly,” repeated Salazar, as the corners of his mouth turned up into a knowing smile. “You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.”
“What don’t I know about this?”
“You have very low expectations for this visit. I get that. You haven’t dealt with anyone in the military before, have you?”
Kelly shook her head. “This would be the first.”
“I figured,” said Salazar. “Scientists tend to think that anyone able to rise through the ranks of the military almost has to be a small-minded, war-mongering hard-ass. But some are very good men and women. Intelligent. Compassionate even. Really.”
Kelly sighed again. “I know I’m stereotyping,” she said. “But while he might not be a bloodthirsty barbarian, there’s no way he’s a pacifist, either. Which is why you don’t see a lot of Amish generals,” she added with a grin.
Salazar laughed. “True, but let me tell you more about the major. You’ve never met his boss, Colonel Tom Osborne, either,” he said, referring to the man in charge of all of America’s black sites. “But he’s also impressive. Not at all the power-hungry hawk you might imagine.”
“You mean other than being responsible for every secret program in America designed to develop the next generation of WMD?”
“Right,” said Salazar, in amusement. “Other than that. But let me get to the punchline. This major we’ll be meeting—Boyd—is a member of a black ops program right out of the comics. Supersoldiers. Enhanced human fighters, souped-up in any way genetic engineering and technology will allow. Captain America wannabees.” He grinned and gestured at Kelly. “Go ahead, say it. I’ll wait.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel more comfortable?” she asked, right on cue.
“In an ironic way, yes. This program is called EHO, for Enhanced Human Operations. And the military took a long, sober look at what they were doing. If you’re determined to enhance a soldier, you’d better be sure the men and women you recruit to be your Frankensteins, your unstoppable killing machines, all have a heart of gold and the morality of a saint. They figured enhancement would amplify a person’s underlying characteristics. Enhance someone with even a hint of villainy at their core, and you get a super villain. Enhance someone with heroism at their core, on the other hand . . .” he added, nodding at Kelly to finish.
“And you get a super-hero,” she said dutifully. “Really, Harry? You do know this is the real world.”
“Lines between what’s real and what’s science fiction are blurring more every year. But the bottom line is that the military put a lot of thought into their EHO recruiting effort. They began with very good people. For this Boyd to have made the cut, he couldn’t have been a typical military grunt. Osborne, himself, is a very good man, and he tells me that Justin Boyd has distinguished himself, even in this rarified group. Apparently, he’s exceedingly bright, moral, decisive, and heroic. He’s only thirty-two, but already seen as someone with limitless potential.”
Kelly was about to ask Salazar a question, but the man in question had made it through the gate, parked his rental SUV, and was rapidly approaching.
Boyd was dressed in casual civilian clothing, and lugging a gray civilian duffel bag, a sizable version that was stuffed to the gills. He was on the handsome side, although physically unimposing, looking to be of average height, weight, and strength. His demeanor was friendly but businesslike, commanding, but not bombastic.
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