THE HABER EFFECT
tHE GREATEST BATTLE FOR OUR PLANET
IS ABOUT TO BEGIN
Ten years ago, Michael Haber conducted experiments on children, including his son. Then, his son went missing without leaving any clues to track his whereabouts.
Now, new evidence sheds light on the disappearance; except, the answer is impossible. It is a truth that Michael cannot accept and one that brings the world to the brink of destruction.
Some might think that writing a letter to you is silly. Still, I need to put these thoughts on paper. Maybe doing this makes me feel closer to you, or perhaps it gives me hope that one day I will find you after these ten, long years. Deep down, I know that it is illogical to keep hoping, but I do.
You were a child when I last saw you. Now you are twenty. I wonder how tall you are and if you have kept your hair short. I imagine you with a bad mustache, much like I had in my late teens and early twenties. When I envision how you would look with a mustache, I laugh and imagine that I keep asking you to shave it. When you refuse, I accept your decision. However, my smiles are followed by great sorrow as I think about how you have lived through your teenage years without me.
I hope that by some miracle, you were able to keep up piano lessons. I remember how much you hated sitting at the keyboard, although you were remarkably prodigious for your age. You even learned to play Balakirev’s Islamey because it is my favorite piece. I still listen to it every time that I sit down to write one of these letters because it makes me feel closer to you.
In my best times, I imagine you taking part in a science fair and carrying on our family’s inventive tradition. As silly as it may seem, I envision you on your way to solving the big problems in science. Do you remember your last science project? You cobbled together a three-dimensional printer from spare parts around my lab. While I’m sure that Jerry lent a hand, I could not believe what you had done. But it wasn’t enough for you. You told me that this was only your first step towards bio-printing. I think that I was more impressed by your drive than the printer itself.
Those moments of happiness are fleeting, though. Those brief glimpses of you holding an award high over your head melt away into the cruelest of images. Beaten. Abused. Your face bloodied from the savagery that is the worst of humanity, discarded like garbage in some back alley. These thoughts cripple me as I crumble to the ground and weep. On days like that, I wait for the police to show up and give me the news that they found your rotted body deep in the woods and that they have no idea who is responsible.
Perhaps the truth is something else altogether.
I can only guess at where you are and what has become of you. I only hope for the best, but I always fear the worst. Regardless, I want you to know that your sister and I remain steadfast in our search to find you. I swear that one day we will get answers.
Deep down, I believe that you are alive. Hold on a little longer. We will find you. Never give up because we won’t.
“Jesus, what happened here?” Scarlett Anson asked upon entering the Mill Street Warehouse. Splattered blood-stained long rows of neatly stacked cargo boxes while stiff bodies laid on the cement floor like worms caught in the sun too long. A forensic photographer snapped pictures to document the scene.
Scarlett hovered over one of the bodies. She counted seven bullet holes sprayed across the man’s torso, suggesting that he ended up in the cross-fire. One radically invasive projectile must have hit from behind; the exit wound left ground chuck hanging out of his belly.
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent strolled up to Scarlett. “Are you Anson?”
Scarlett turned away from her assessment of the body. “Yes.”
“I’m Agent Parks with the DEA.” He held out his hand for Scarlett to shake. “Quite the shit show, huh? This was supposed to be a simple drug bust. I thought it would lead us up the food chain; instead, things got messy.”
“Looks like it.” Scarlett scanned the room one more time. “But I don’t understand. I’m not a DEA operations consultant: this is outside of my expertise.” Scarlett felt that this was going to be a waste of her time.
“No, you aren’t here for this. The FBI is waiting for you downstairs. I just agreed to be your welcoming party,” Parks explained.
“Okay, let’s see it.”
Agent Parks led Scarlett towards an opened, rusted door. After walking through the passage, Parks stood on the platform in front of the stairs. He pointed to the bottom and said, “Just follow the path.”
Scarlett descended the grated metal steps, listening to the horror movie echo. The dim, flickering lights helped to extend her analogy. Much like the scene upstairs, none of this bothered Scarlett. In fact, she could recall the last time she felt scared; a moment during her early teens. In high school, a gunman walked the halls shooting anyone he could find. Even during the relative safety of being locked down in a classroom, she remembered shaking uncontrollably. Embarrassed by her own wavering sobs, she resolved to control fear.
She came to the end of the hallway, where an FBI Agent stood with crossed arms, guarding a second door. Scarlett strode to meet him. The agent eyed Scarlett, silently conveying the message that outsiders were not welcome on his watch. “I’m guessing that you’re Anson.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you ready for this? It’s pretty messed up in there.”
Scarlett flashed a grin. “Of course.”
“Sure.” The agent rolled his eyes, then pointed through the doorway. “This way. I’m your liaison agent, Jim Wall”
Anytime the FBI hired her to consult, a liaison agent needed to babysit. A necessary inconvenience. As a former agent, she knew that without checks and procedures, the organization would be a mess of secrets and stolen evidence. Despite the safeguards, when she worked there, she sensed corruption all around her. Whether real or imagined, every case that she investigated felt tinged with half-truths.
Entering the room proved difficult. A jarring array of indistinguishable stenches pushed against Scarlett. She could only guess at the variety of rotting things that could produce such a terrific malodor. In the bouquet of stink, only the undeniable wreak of death rose above the others. Agent Wall grimaced. “It doesn’t get any better,” he warned.
While gagging, Scarlett examined the office space. Pieces of paper scattered across the floor like autumn leaves in the backyard. The pile tapered towards a narrow hallway. Agent Wall ushered Scarlett through the passage, which brought them to a laboratory where a menagerie of lifeless animals lay rotting in their own waste. Only a small group of caged rats clung to life through shallow breaths, pathetically squeaking for help.
A stainless steel trolley stood in the middle of the room, doubling as a casket for a poor chimpanzee with half of its brains spilled onto the tray. Scarlett couldn’t take her eyes off of the exposed tissue. She tried to piece together an explanation for the image in front of her. Failing, she asked, “What the hell is this?”
“We have no clue. But the brass said that you’re good at dealing with, what was it? Incongruous cases? I think that’s the way they put it. Anyway, they decided to call you. The only thing that we’ve figured out so far is that the drug bust upstairs has nothing to do with this. The fact that they both happened in this warehouse is coincidental.”
Scarlett finally looked away from the chimpanzee, only to find a mound of slime on a cutting board. “And what’s this?”
“We think it’s a jellyfish,” Agent Wall said, pointing at an aquarium with two other jellyfish swimming around.
Scarlett continued to scan the room, unable to comprehend what kind of Frankenstein science happened in the lab. Stacked cages and equipment and paper and whatever else were piled in heaps. Through the disarray, only one clear walkway broke up the constant barrage of artifacts. Scarlett wandered down the path, which ended at the wall. Aside from the trail, every inch of the enclosure had something pushed against it. She ran a hand over a flawed edge in the drywall. The ridge extended in a straight, vertical line with a ninety-degree turn over her head. “This isn’t right,” she said.
Agent Wall responded, “What’s not right?”
“This wall. You can’t see it that well, but this part of the drywall is recessed.”
“It’s drywall? Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not sure.” Scarlett made a fist and knocked against the wall. She shrugged. “I think it’s drywall.”
“Everything here is ancient. I’m surprised that it isn’t just a sheet of exposed concrete. If anything, it should be plaster.”
“There definitely isn’t any concrete behind there. It sounds hollow.”
Agent Wall came closer to check for himself. He hit the sheetrock with the palm of his hand. “I see what you mean. It’s not thick,” he said. He hit it a few more times then added, “I’ll see if I can find something upstairs. Maybe we can bust through it.”
Scarlett nodded. While waiting, she took her phone out of a jacket pocket. After entering the password, she read a text message: I know you stole my leg. Don’t worry. I’ll come crawling back to you anyway.
A loud, singular “Ha!” escaped Scarlett’s lips. Her brother, Darren, always cracked jokes at his own expense. Even after the tragedy of losing his leg in a freak workplace accident, humor remained his modus operandi. Perhaps it was his coping mechanism, but Scarlett didn’t think so. He had always been like that.
Scarlett knew that if any accident impaired her ability to move, she would despise the world. Her brother, however, always looked forward. Seeing the accident as a good reason to quit a job that he didn’t enjoy, Darren said goodbye to programming military robots and came to work with Scarlett. She didn’t have a strong background in computers, so Darren put his technical abilities into finding criminals online. If there was a digital footprint, Darren would discover it. For that, Scarlett felt indebted to him.
She wrote back, Goof. She thought for a moment before adding a second message: You should see the mess I’m looking at. It’s Frankenstein meets Pulp Fiction.
No thanks. If you find computer stuff, let me know.
Scarlett put the phone back in her jacket as Agent Wall returned with a sledgehammer. “This should do the trick.”
He marched back to the wall and swung the hammer from his side. The tool punched through with such surprising ease that it nearly flew out of Agent Wall’s hands. He jerked the hammer back, creating a hole big enough for Scarlett to peak through.
A dim splash of light trickled out of the gash. “What is that?” Scarlett stepped aside for Agent Wall to take a look.
“I have no idea.” Wall took a step back and cocked the hammer over his head. “This won’t take long.”
Scarlett stood behind him, watching as chunks of drywall flew in every direction. When the hole was big enough, Wall put the sledgehammer down and ripped out a few larger pieces, allowing them to walk through.
Finally, Scarlett stepped into the room. She could only speculate about the purpose of the equipment. She muttered to herself, “I’m going to need help with this.” Scarlett took out her phone again, knowing who to call but dreading the conversation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to present to you one of the world’s top inventors and scientists. Amongst his innumerable awards and accomplishments, he has won the Edison Award, the John Scott Legacy Medal, and the Albert Einstein World Award. Many of us have read his articles in PLOS One, Research in Engineering and Design, and the American Journal of Physics. If you still aren’t sure who this man is, then perhaps you have heard of his company, Haber Technology. And if you still don’t know who I’m talking about, then you are in the wrong place, my friends.”
The crowd laughed. Of course, they knew his name.
“Without further ado, I present to you the man that you came to see: Dr. Michael Haber.”
Thunderous applause ripped through the room as Michael strode towards center stage. He looked his age with bags under his eyes and pronounced wrinkles that ran astray over his face. Weathered strands of gray and white hair dangled off the back of his head. However, the spring in his step – and more importantly, to this crowd – his incredible technological breakthroughs inspired people who didn’t personally know him.
When Michael came to his mark on the stage, he looked up at the crowd and paused to scratch his cheek, appearing to contemplate his first words. His left hand trembled momentarily, a remnant from one self-experiment or another. Soothing it with his right, he looked up to the audience and giggled.
The crowd giggled with him.
When Michael’s hand settled down, his gaze strayed to the back of the room. A tall, thin man in a perfectly tailored suit stood against the wall, arms tightly crossed against his chest. His oddly high cheekbones and alopecia caught Michael’s attention. Michael continued to stare, finding himself in a daze. The auditorium faded into the background; the world blurred. He felt submerged in a viscous liquid. Chemists called it suspension, which Michael felt to be the correct term. Not floating. Not sinking. Suspended in an inescapable liquid through which he could easily draw breath.
Looking up, he could see the light shining through the murkiness, dispersed in a radiant array of colors that he had never before witnessed. These colors didn’t come from the light primaries: red, green, and blue. They held a tint that didn’t exist in this universe.
These colors stood outside the realm of possibility. Michael could never explain or recreate the colors for other people because there was no way to summon the exotic hues. They were genuinely impossible. Then again, so was breathing through a liquid.
A hand pierced through the liquid in his waking dream, which rippled outward in an incredibly improbable tesseract. The hand blurred as it moved forward as if time itself froze at each frame. Its index finger pressed into Michael’s shoulders. It felt so real, almost as if he was there.
“Michael,” it said to him – no, it was someone in the auditorium.
Michael shook his head. Jerry stood in front of him, on stage. “Michael, it’s time for your talk.”
Michael shook the uninvited images out of his head to focus on the people in the auditorium. He cleared his throat, trying to save himself from embarrassment. Finally, he spoke to the crowd.
“I wish I had something of importance to tell you today. The truth is, I do not. What we do here is of little significance in a sea of incomprehensible infinity.”
Murmurs spat in small pockets across the auditorium.
Finding his pace, Michael piped up, “We hardly understand infinity. If our universe is endless, then that is a scary proposition. If it goes on forever, then we aren’t even a drop of water. We don’t even constitute the molecule of oxygen that helps to comprise a drop of water.
“In all likelihood, there is an unlimited number of infinite universes, which makes our presence even less significant. If there are endless universes, then there are also endless versions of you – both identical and distinct. If this proposition is true, then we are not unique in any way whatsoever, including me.
“Imagine for a moment that you are a scientist. And this being a group of scientists, that shouldn’t be too hard.” Michael laughed, which set off a string of uneasy laughs in the crowd. “You have discovered a way to travel to these universes. In a seemingly insignificant number of them, some version of you exists. Even though it is a small subset of infinity, the number of yous that exist is still infinite.
“If you made it your mission to tell every version of you about your invention, over time, you could form a small army of yous to help spread the word. But even if you somehow managed to tell an infinite number of yous about your invention, there is still an endless number of yous that don’t know about it. And you could go on forever, never completing your mission.
“Even such a seemingly important invention holds so little impact in the grand scheme of things. The amount of real control that we have in this universe is infinitesimal. We cannot control a force as small as a tsunami. Can you imagine what would happen if the two closest black holes collided? If that cataclysmic event took place, our reality could be ripped apart and reassembled in unimaginable ways. Or we might feel nothing at all from the resulting gravitational waves. We simply do not know.
“But that’s what drives our curiosity, isn’t it? Needing to know. Even if it’s of no benefit to the infinity that most likely exists out there, it is of benefit to us, even if it’s only on a personal level.” Michael paused to look around the room. “Maybe that’s what matters. I don’t know. What I do know is that we are capable of wondrous things. Even believing that it is pointless, I will continue to strive towards a better understanding of everything. At any cost to myself or my company.”
A little smile crept across Michael’s face as he took a slight bow. People applauded once again, though more out of kindness than the message that Michael delivered. The old man did an about-face and marched towards the back curtain.
Behind the curtain, Michaels’ assistant, Jerry, said, “An interesting lecture today,” he held out a phone, “Scarlett Anson is waiting for you on the line.”
Michael shook his head. “I hate these things. I don’t know why Temple insists that I do them.” Michael grabbed the phone. “What does she want? Did you tell her that I’m busy?”
“Yes, I told her that. But she insisted that she talk to you.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Useless,” he muttered under his breath. While reaching for the phone, he told his assistant, “Go get me a Toasted Coconut Banjo.”
“The candy bar.”
“Michael, they haven’t made those in years.”
“Sweet Jesus, what is this world coming to.” He brought the phone up to his head then barked, “Make it a Zagnut then. What is it, Scarlett?”
A brief pause on the phone led Michael to believe that Scarlett hung up. He was about to end the call until he heard, “You sound like your cheery self, Michael.”
“I’m busy. What do you want?”
“I’m consulting on a case, and I need your help. I don’t know what I’m looking at.”
“Really? You need my help? After everything you have done for me, you have the audacity…”
Scarlett interrupted, “I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t have to. The stuff that’s here reminds me of those old MKUltra photos you showed me. I don’t know for sure, though. If it is something similar, then I definitely need your help.”
Michael sighed. Nine years had passed since he last talked to her. That wasn’t nearly long enough; however, his curiosity and fond memories of dosing people with LSD during the MKUltra years commanded him to take a look. “Fine. Text me the address.”
Michael hung up the phone and promptly turned his attention to more immediate concerns. He scanned the backstage, but there were no signs of his assistant. “Jerry!” he called out. “Jerry! Where the hell is my Zagnut? We have to go.”
Michael tried to look into the warehouse, curious about the dead bodies that still lay scattered. He thought it more amusing than gruesome. It was a puzzle to be solved: determining where people stood before they collapsed, a lesson on the geometry of blood splatters, and a reminder about the physics of force. Piecing it together brought a smile to his face, which he knew to be wildly inappropriate, given the carnage. He continued to smile, nonetheless.
Finally, someone took notice of him. The same DEA Agent that greeted Scarlett rushed towards Michael. “Sorry, you can’t be here. This is a crime scene.”
“Oh, I do apologize. I thought that this is where Scarlett Anson told me to meet her.”
Overhearing the conversation, Scarlett strode towards them. “Dr. Haber, I’m glad you could make it on such short notice.”
Michael’s pleasant disposition soured immediately after seeing the woman that he considered wretched. “Cut the pleasantries, Anson. This doesn’t look at all like an MKUltra lab. This looks like the O.K. Corral or whatever other bloody metaphor you want to pick. I’m not sure what mystery is here for me.”
“This isn’t why I called you. Come with me, and I’ll show you.”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Sure. Lead the way.”
They descended the stairs to the basement and went back through the littered office where Agent Wall gathered papers from the floor. Michael glanced at the mess, enjoying the chaos. The disorganization fueled his mind with endless possibilities of what lay ahead. Neatness, he thought, was too predictable. It indicated banality, which angered him. In his own lab, he demanded some disorganization with the belief that it sparked creative thought.
Upon entering the animal testing lab, Michael went straight towards the lobotomized chimpanzee. He found a box of latex gloves next to the specimen and slid one on each hand.
Scarlett started to say, “Michael, I know that…”
“Quiet! If you want me to find answers, I need to focus.”
Knowing better than to push the already agitated man, Scarlett took a step back to let him work.
Bringing the head of the chimp forward, Michael ran a finger along the frontal lobe. He pushed at various sections, trying to find something unusual. Instead, he shook his head. “There’s nothing to note here. Maybe they were prepping the animal for something, but there isn’t anything unusual about this animal’s brains. At least not at a quick glance.”
Michael slid a finger down the left side of the brain, trying to scoop out anything that might have been in there. He shook his head again. “No, nothing.”
Scarlett said, “That’s okay. This still isn’t why I called you. What I’m most puzzled about is what we found in a hidden room.”
“A veiled chamber? Down here? That sounds most intriguing.”
Michael took off the gloves. As they made their way towards the hole in the wall, he caught sight of the slime, which he knew to be jellyfish. Probably an attempt at cell regeneration. He wanted to take a closer look, but the secret room beckoned him to keep moving forward.
As he crouched through the passage, excitement gripped him once again. Immediately, he caught sight of the unit that confused Scarlett. “Oh my, you’re right. This brings me back.”
“What is it?”
Michael walked up to the machine and cranked the hatch open. “The cocoon is nothing more than a sensory deprivation tank. The large, white cone hanging overhead works like an antenna. It should transmit and receive signals.” Michael ran his hands across the sensory deprivation tank. He took a closer look at the antenna and followed the hanging wires. “This plugs into an amplifier that helps with audio and visual clarity. The images that come from the remote viewer are often very weak. This helps to boost the signal. Now this,” he pointed to the far end of the sensory deprivation chamber. “I have never seen this before.”
Michael leaned towards a round metallic sheet with flared edges that curled along its lip. Michael compared its purple hue to a petunia, though the strange metal glittered with more splendid beauty. He ran a hand across the dish to feel the unusual material, noting that this wasn’t an ordinary metal. Michael inspected the flared edge, staring it down as he circled around to examine the back of the item.
“The lip curls into a Fibonacci Spiral,” he declared. Michael couldn’t ascertain the purpose behind the odd design. If it served as a satellite dish, why the flared edges? Why was it indoors? Michael grimaced at the enigma. “What are you?” he asked the dish.
“Talk to me, Michael,” Scarlett said.
“Most of it is pretty standard for astral projection projects. Back in the day we would load up a psychically sensitive person with psychotropic drugs then stick them in the tank. We called them mediums or remote viewers. A controller would guide them using meditative techniques to spy on Russian military bases. We would monitor the remote viewer’s occipital lobe and turn whatever they saw into images on a monitor. Usually, the images were useless so we’d have to rely on the remote viewer’s account of what they saw. Once in a while we would see relatively conclusive images of the places that the viewers witnessed. We had some success, which did lead to actionable information. Too often, however, we were inaccurate.”
“What do you mean by spying on Russian military bases?” Like the person in the tank would teleport to Russia?”
“No, no. Think of it more like an out of body experience where the astral version of yourself can travel freely in the world. The problem was that even the most talented mediums weren’t able to provide the most reliable detail.”
Scarlett stared at him with her mouth wide open. “The government sanctioned this?”
“Yes. It was part of the CIA mind-control project, MKUltra.”
Scarlett had heard about MKUltra from Michael but had never asked him for details.
Michael continued, “I know it must sound far-fetched to you, but we gathered a great deal of useful intelligence, despite the inaccuracies. For example, the only reason that we knew about Russian missiles being placed in Cuba in 1962 was because of the project. I know this because I ran the experiment. After the remote viewer came out of the tank, he told me what he saw. I relayed the information to President Kennedy myself. The next day, Kennedy ordered spy planes over Cuba, confirming that Soviets were assembling SS-4 missiles.”
Scarlett didn’t want to believe that the United States’ security had ever depended on some drugged-up weirdo in a sensory deprivation tank. She stared into the distance, trying to process the information.
“For every success like that, there were at least four failures. Real failures that put American military personnel in danger. Because of that, the project closed. Even with those failures, I still think that the program had merit.”
“Those projects closed decades ago. Why would this be here?”
“Some scientists were incredibly upset that MKUltra shut down. I imagine that a few continued the work on their own. This tank here,” he patted the casing, “is quite the improvement.” He glanced at the dish again. A distorted view of his own face stared back in the reflective surface.
“Do you know who could have done this?”
“There are a few people, I imagine. Several of us worked on similar projects but always in secrecy. We would only share our data anonymously.”
Scarlett looked deep into Michael’s eyes, trying to search for the truth. She knew that Michael only told a narrative that suited his needs, and this kind of project had a Haber stamp all over it. Perhaps Michael wasn’t the best person to call for the job. Although, finding anyone else with this kind of inside knowledge about remote viewing would be nearly impossible. Finally, Scarlett looked away.
Michael opened the sensory deprivation chamber and put a hand inside the tank. “This is still warm. I think it was used recently.”
“How could that…” A metal shelf came crashing down; Scarlett reached for her sidearm. A faint wheeze provided the only background noise in the room. Scarlett drew her gun and moved silently around some shattered glass. She side-stepped to keep the sound of someone’s uneven exhalations in front of her. A few more steps and the intruder came into view. A naked man lay face down on the floor, clinging to life just like the lab rats in the other room. Scarlett called, “Michael, come here. I need your help.”
Michael made haste to see what troubled Scarlett. When he arrived, together they rolled the man over. Hairless, skin melting off in spots, he barely looked human.
“We’re here to help. What is your name?” Scarlett asked.
The man didn’t respond.
Michael noticed a fiber that disappeared into the man’s nostril. He gave it a quick tug to find it firmly embedded. He guessed that it was somehow stuck to the ethmoid bone.
Michael took a closer look at the burns and irritation on the man’s face. He glanced back at the machine and the item that looked like a satellite dish. That unusual metal coating seemed even more troubling.
“It’s time for us to get out of this room.”
“I’d bet my company that he is dying of radiation poisoning. And we will too, depending on how high the concentration is.”
They both backed out of the room. Scarlett ordered everyone to get out of the building as she and Michael headed outside. “What do we do now?” she asked.
“I need that man brought to my lab,” Michael said, “And a sample of the metal from the metallic dish.”
“I’ll do my best to get them there.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing that you called me. Whatever is inside that man’s head is quite exciting, I assure you.”
“What could it be?”
“I have no idea. But I fully intend to find out.”
- Remote Viewing (Available Now)
- Alphatheta Test (Available Now)
- Project Somignis Revised (Feb. 1)
- Handbook (Feb. 15)
- Returned (Mar. 1)
- Rescue (Mar. 15)
- Dust Storm (Apr. 1)
- Inevitability (Apr. 15)
- Great Accession (May 1)
About the Author...
Dylan Callens is a writer and educator living in Sudbury, Ontario.
His debut novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, was a resounding success. Since then, Dylan has written a number of other books, including Becoming Cultish and The Haber Effect.