The Bridgeport Incident

From "The Father of Rainbow Key: A Memoir" (unpublished),

by X. Freeman Gentry

In May of 1943, I received a phone call from someone identifying themselves as an employee of the Office of Naval Research. It was requested that I come to their base in Bridgeport to meet with Rear Admiral Julius Staver regarding a highly confidential matter.

It turned out that the ‘highly confidential matter’ was pertaining to my popular electronic toy, the "Spook-It." Staver’s daughter owned one, and its unique properties had inspired him to get in touch with me. I laughed when he first told me this—imagine, the U.S. Navy wanting to speak to me because of a toy!

Apparently, his researchers had dismantled the thing, in an attempt to determine how it worked, and they were completely stumped. Of course, I can't say I blame them, because the "Spook-It" harnesses the power of monopole magnetism (patent pending); a technology which is little understood (and is, in fact, deemed impossible by some physicists).

Allow me to pause here and briefly describe the item in question. The "Spook-It" is a black cuboid shape, the size of a small toaster, fitted with a glass screen on one side; it looks not unlike a small television set. Inside of the box is a small ‘ghost’ figurine, which can be made to levitate in an eerie manner. And when another button was pressed—the ghost disappears altogether, as though by magic.

Staver was, at the time, doing a fair amount of work with electromagnets. He and his team were attempting to scramble the magnetic signature of their ships, so that underwater mines would not adhere to them. He was intrigued and perplexed by the properties of my little gadget, and asked me if I would be willing to share my knowledge. He appealed to my sense of patriotism, informing me of the countless American lives which could be saved in the process.

So how could I say No?

They set me up in Bridgeport, just down the road from where the U.S.S. Bartleby was stationed. The Bartleby was a Cannon-class destroyer escort, armed with a Blacker Bombard 29mm Spigot Mortar as well as nine Oerlikon 20 mm autocannons—an impressive piece of military firepower indeed. I spent several months expanding and enlarging the ‘Spook-It’ electromagnet concept into something I referred to as a Rotating Field Amplifier, and connected this to a series of generators via heavy electrical cables wrapped around the hull of the Bartleby. I had something more ambitious in mind than merely de-magnetizing the ship: not only would it be invisible to underwater mines, but I also hoped to make it invisible to the naked eye.

 The idea was that the RFA would generate an HHO plasma mirage around the ship, that is to say, generating tiny, focused loci of eletrical charges which would gather and focus the surrounding electrons (essentially creating a cloud of free electrons; or ‘emancipated electrons,’ as I liked to call them). These electrons would absorb all light that penetrated their midst, rather than reflecting or refracting light. Light is necessary to human sight, and therefore, if there is no light reflected or refracted by an object, then it becomes functionally invisible. (One of the many eventual ironies of this scheme was that the ships would in fact still be detectable using radar, which had not yet been invented at that point.)

On the seventeenth of November, I was ready to implement the first phase of my experiment. We chose run the trial at night, so that no curious passers-by would witness the event. Besides myself, there were seventeen crewman on board that day. Rear Admiral Staver elected to observe the proceedings from the dock. After saying a silent prayer, I flipped the switch on the RFA, and waited to see what might happen next.

After a pregnant pause, there was a terrific detonation, concurrent with an otherworldly noise and a blinding flash of light. The ship, and all of the crew—including myself—disappeared from sight for a period of one minute and twenty-two seconds, and then  reappeared soundlessly, thirty feet north-west of our initial location. We effectively ‘dematerialized’ during that brief span of time; and, horribly, when we were reconstituted, some of the men had intermingled with portions of the ship itself. One ensign, a fellow named Brice Porterhaus, had his arm stuck up to the elbow in the midship portal, and Samuel ‘Crunchy’ Carroll, the ship’s cook, was stuck chest-deep in the hull of the ship. Four men were killed; two more disappeared, never to reappear; and at least one of the men was rendered temporarily invisible. That man was myself.

Due to the highly confidential nature of Project Rainbow, very little information was made publicly available regarding the matter. At the time, there was an independent investigation which ‘conclusively’ determined that there was simply a powerful explosion that had caused temporary hysterical blindness in a few of the men, but otherwise did not result in any harm to anyone. However, even the details of this investigation were not readily available to the general public. As far as the government was concerned, the event never took place.

Many years later, in 1977, a court order decreed that the Project Rainbow documents were to be declassified, but apparently all of the reports pertaining to the Bridgeport Incident had been destroyed. And so the sole record of what transpired is the account that I wrote and published in issue #34 of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, the contents of which I have just paraphrased.

And I would ask, who is more credible: myself, or the U.S. government?