THE FUTURE IS WHAT THEY MAKE IT
When two enemy soldiers cease fighting in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge during WW2 to aid an injured alien, the American is snatched into the future where he meets up with his German counterpart. Together they vow to help the comatose alien return home. Thus begins an adventure that will span centuries, galaxies, and universes as they bring together a motley crew to carry out their worthy cause.
The Ardennes, France, January 1945
The soldier skittered into the double-wide foxhole as a deafening, concussive 88 round exploded in the treetops, splintering the massive pines into a hail of fragmented burning branches. Pine oil, burnt powder, and a blood haze swirled together, drifting over the ground, coating the men of the 117th Infantry Regiment, cramped low in their protective furrows, with a stench they would never be able to clear from their memories.
The soldier nudged the man whose foxhole he’d just invited himself into and held up a cigarette. “Hey, bud. Got a light?”
The foxhole’s owner raised his head, bringing his face from the shadows below the protection of his helmet.
“That would be Sergeant Bud to you, corporal. Just hold your hand up. Something burning will pass by quick enough.”
Another volley of 88s shook the ground and filled the air with calamitous starbursts, putrid smoke, and the agonizing shrieks of men rushing to death. The torrent of cannon fire continued at such a cadence, it seemed to be one long uproarious tone. Earth tremors took on a pacifying vibration. The cacophony of light and sound overrode conscious thought, inducing a compelling desire to sleep.
The sergeant’s eyes fluttered closed and the hellacious world surrounding him faded away into a harmonious pattern of colorful lights wavering by, accented in the changing mood by sudden jolts of pointed musical notes. Then, as if the paper score in a player piano had run out, silence became the void, a peculiar silence filled with a high pitched whine. The battlefield smell was the first to register. The sergeant opened his eyes.
The corporal’s helmet butted up against his, the man’s open eyes staring directly at him, but not seeing. The sergeant shifted enough to bring up a hand and push the soldier back. His helmet rolled off and fell into his lap. A jagged tear sagged in at the top. The sergeant looked up past the man’s serene face to his arm, still reaching up for a light to his cigarette. His hand was gone.
Wriggling himself free of the corpse, the sergeant stood up. The entire shaded woods of thick pine were open to the threatening snow-gray sky. A few errant rays of morning sun somehow pierced the thick, contiguous clouds. The floor of the forest, once white with six inches of fresh snow, was now covered with an equally thick layer of pine needles and shattered branches. Small fires burned in independent patches, giving the desolate landscape a surreal animated texture. Rivulets of melted snow ran beneath the new ground covering and poured into the foxhole.
The sergeant looked down at the water about to creep over the tops of his boots.
With some effort, he pulled his pack from beneath the dead corporal, slung it and his M1 Thompson over the rim of the foxhole, and scrambled out of his home of the last week. He stood alongside his flooded pit and looked around. Every man still alive had done the same as he. All stood erect in the buzzing silence, looking around like ground hogs coming up to predict an early spring. It seemed to him that only about half the ground hogs had surfaced.
As if searching for stations from his dad’s old crystal radio set, muffled voices came in and out of clarity. They coincided with arms waving in the air and people inexplicably running in all directions. The air itself seemed to be full of bees zipping past his ears. Pieces of bark flew off the trunks of the pines still left standing. Men fell this way and that, screams caught in their throats.
The sergeant hit the ground alongside his Thompson, pulling it to his chest like a lover. The bullets were flying everywhere at random, which meant to him that soldiers were firing while running. In a scurry, he slithered behind a decimated tree trunk and peered around the side. Silhouettes of the enemy were backlit against the smoke of their own weapons. They made good targets.
With his weapon set to semi-auto, he took down several silhouettes before it became obvious his position was about to be overrun. This knowledge seemed to have occurred to every GI along the line at the same time. Retreating was an option long since denied to them, for their position was surrounded. As if on cue, everyone sprang from their limited cover, their heralded screams mingling with their carbine and machine gun fire, as they charged straight for the oncoming enemy troops.
The sergeant clicked his Thompson to full auto. He ran in a zigzag pattern, cutting between the strings of white-clad German infantry saturating his woods. They were all around him now as he swiveled and spun, letting out quick bursts of lead at the ghostly shapes moving through the fog of smoke. Bodies crumpled or twisted away, shouts of surprise or pain following. Tendrils of red hung in the air momentarily, then faded away.
Bullets zinged all around him like angry hornets. Running through the ruined forest became a horrid dance as the sergeant flung himself in circles, firing at the ever-tightening noose of men around him. He twirled and twirled, his index finger pumping away at a lifeless trigger. The world seemed to suck in on itself as if the forest unexpectedly contracted, then in one explosive moment, expanded into a blinding white light.
He was lifted into the air and thrown back as if by a mighty wind, colliding with several German infantrymen, all of them flipping over to be scattered amongst the fallen debris of the trees. The sergeant didn’t pass out, but his own breath in his ears was the first thing he noticed. No other sounds. It reminded him of hearing his voice through his head when he had a cold.
From the white, his vision returned. He was staring straight up into the trees tops. This part of the forest wasn’t as depleted of life, for green branches still brushed against the sky. He struggled up onto his elbows. No movement came from in front of him. With some pain, he managed to swivel his neck to glance left and right. All the soldiers who had been descending upon him were in the same state as he, all scattered throughout the woods, flat on their backs.
The sergeant reached for his Thompson several feet away. He looked around again. Then up. He wasn’t the only one looking up. The German sitting not ten feet away brought his eyes down and looked directly at him. He was looking for confirmation. The sergeant and the German soldier gazed back up into the boughs of the trees.
Not for a second did he think the contraption he stared at was a downed plane of any sort. Its amorphous shape was a tangle of graceful curves that seemed to wrap around themselves, interleaving at various levels. Maybe it was about twenty yards long and half again as wide, but it was hard to tell because a radiant white light pulsed from its exterior.
As strange as the object appeared to be, what made it frighteningly unique was that it hung about halfway down the height of the trees, stuck within three massive pines that pierced its hull. It was as if the trees and the object had combined, molded in place, for the trunks went clear through the body of the thing. Even the branches and pine needles sticking out from the glowing skin were unaffected.
Hesitantly, men from both sides pulled themselves up. The nearby German lowered his weapon and made a hand signal for the sergeant to do the same, then turned back to the sight before them. Soldiers from both sides made a cautious advance, gazing up in wonder at this marvel hanging in their midst like a supernatural Christmas ornament. Fifty to sixty men, mostly German infantry, circled the base of the trees as if waiting in silent prayer.
The pulsing light grew dimmer, then stopped. Though the object was close, maybe thirty feet up, it was impossible to focus on, for the surface was hazy, like a thick fog.
The German standing by the sergeant pointed up and spoke.
“Was ist das?”
Like an ink stain spreading across a pocket on a white shirt, a dark shape appeared on the underside of the object. Every man squinted, trying in vain to focus. It formed into a globule of sorts, then broke away. Everyone jumped back a few feet as the blob landed in the snow with a dull thud.
The sergeant and German soldier glanced at one another and seemed to form an unspoken communion. Together they started forward, their weapons raised just enough to aim at the foreign shape. At close inspection, it seemed jelly-like, about five feet long, and translucent. The sergeant pointed with the barrel of his Thompson.
“Looks like somebody’s inside that thing.”
The German nodded. “Yah.”
The thing moved. Both explorers took a step back. The gelatinous surface suddenly turned to liquid and flowed into the snow, leaving the shape of a person huddled in the fetal position and covered entirely in a seamless light blue suit. It seemed adult size with an overly huge head. Its extremities were unusually long and thin. No features appeared upon its face.
The circle of soldiers began to move in for a closer look. The figure stirred and everyone stopped. It made an effort to sit up, but couldn’t accomplish the task. Compelled by something beyond reason, the sergeant took cautious steps to the being and knelt beside it, laying his gun in the snow. He glanced back at the German, who nodded, and came up beside him. Turning back to the figure, the sergeant leaned in and slipped his arm under its back, helping it to a sitting position.
When he pulled his arm away, his sleeve was soaked in blood. Red blood. The body began to go limp again and the sergeant embraced it, cradling it in his arms. Like a photograph coming to life in a darkroom, the face materialized through the suit.
The eyes were large, angelic-like, with irises of multicolored, radiating hues. The skin had a satin texture and held a similar blue tinge to that of the suit. The nose was small, but well-formed and the faint pink lips wide and thin. The lips moved in an effort to speak, but no sound came. Slender fingers from one hand reached across to the opposite forearm and made some gestures. The suit lit up wherever it touched. The soldiers closest, who could see, took an extra step back.
Again, the lips formed to speak, but this time a soft, musical sound emitted. “Water.”
The creature looked past the sergeant to the German soldier. “Wasser.”
The soldier pulled out his canteen and handed it to the sergeant. Gingerly, the sergeant brought the canteen to the creature’s lips. The face covering was gone. Attempted to help, the creature’s own hands covered that of the sergeant. After a few sips, it pulled the canteen away and smiled at its two helpers.
The musical voice came again. “Thank you. Danke schön.”
Another musical tone, gratingly harsh, wafted through the forest, clanking and clanging with intermittent growls of a diesel engine. Roaring into view, a German Tiger tank parted the ring of men and clattered to a halt some twenty yards from the rescuers and their charge. A ten-man squad trotted up behind them. The soldier in the turret turned his mounted machine gun on the sergeant. In an effort to subdue the situation, the helpful German raised his hands and spoke in German to his comrades.
An officer sitting on the back deck of the tank jumped to the ground, stared up at the object in the trees, then briskly strutted up to the sergeant and fallen creature. He leaned over, peering down on them as if inspecting an unappetizing meal.
“What is it?” he said in nasally English.
“Don’t know,” the sergeant replied, “But he’s not from our neighborhood.”
The officer glanced around at all the men from both sides of the conflict. He straightened his stature, took a few steps and called out in harsh, accented English.
“The German forces make secured this zone. All American fighters will put down their weapons at once and gather in a group by my Tiger.”
No one moved.
“Excuse me, major Sturmbannführer, sir,” the sergeant said, “But this fellow, or whatever, is wounded and could do with some medical care.”
The major spun around and stared at the sergeant in disbelief. He pulled his Luger sidearm as he stomped back to the belligerent American.
“You, stand up and tell your men put down their arms or I will make every one of them shot, starting with you!”
The helpful German stepped between the major and the sergeant, hands up in acquiescence, speaking in his native tongue.
“Major, please. There’s no need for such conduct. The fighting has stopped. Can’t you see what we have here?”
“What? You dare to talk to an SS officer in such a way? Stand aside or I will shoot you.”
The major turned back to his tank and barked an order. The ten-man squad rushed around the tank and encircled the tiny confrontational group. With the wave of his Luger, the major initiated his order.
“Arrest this schütze, and take these two on the ground to the regimental command post immediately.”
Two soldiers turned their weapons on the helpful German, while three more advanced on the sergeant and the wounded creature.
The sergeant shook his head, and with sorrowful eyes looked down on the defenseless being.
“Sorry, old buddy.”
The creature raised its arms: instantly a white flash radiated from them, buffeting through the woods, staggering everyone on their feet. The advancing soldiers who were in the midst of reaching down to grab their prey, shrieked and leapt back. The major jerked around from tongue-lashing the private. Even he needed no explanation now. Two of his three soldiers writhed on the ground screaming, blood spraying across the undisturbed snow, both their hands gone up to mid-forearms.
As if a giant ice cream scoop had gouged out a section of earth and part of the adjacent tree, a perfectly smooth concave hole was all that remained of where the American and creature used to be.
Research terra-station, Mars, 2078
White flashes against his eyelids were equally as aggravating as any obtrusive sound used to wake a person up. Clearly, this alert system in his soundproof bed chamber would need to be rethought, especially after all the thought that went into designing the station in the first place. The bed chambers were a hit with all the employees, since they could design each room precisely as they wanted. His was modeled after a farm house he lived in as a boy, but not a boy’s room, mind you, for he was a teenager when he’d moved into that house. Though the walls throughout the rest of the station were elegantly curved and seamless metallic-resin alloy, the walls in his chamber were at right angles and resembled old fashion painted sheetrock. There were proper wooden tables and chairs, and bookcases with real books. The room was livable.
He let out a sigh for he knew that as soon as he sat up, the audible world would rush right in. Rubbing his eyes, he wondered why, after all these years, he’d had that dream again. Surely, he didn’t need to be reminded of his debt. He’d followed it unswervingly since that day; that day which had lasted more than a century for him. And he knew he’d follow it until the end of time, for if anything at all could be said about Scott Jonas McIntyre, it was that he was a man of his word. Even if he never exactly gave his word. So, in effect, he was a man of principle, and there was just no getting around that.
The moment he swung his legs over the side of the grav-mat, the incessant, bleeping alarm echoed through his bed chamber and into his skull. The blasted shrieking was almost loud enough to disable anyone who might be trying to remedy whatever the problem was at hand. In moments, he was pounding down the terra-station corridor, slamming each step against the ergo-soft thread flooring with purpose, fully annoyed that lately he had to see to every little thing himself.
The first thing he was going to do after fixing whatever the presently annoying little thing was, was to eliminate all the incessant alarms seemingly going off throughout the day and night by making sure everyone was issued the personal indicator thingy that Tik had been working on forever. He’d promised that anyone could wear, embed, or otherwise affix the device to just about any appropriate, or otherwise, location on the body. All messages, orders, and alarms would register silently to each person and not pollute the general atmosphere with shrieking yelps and wavering sirens.
Scott continued on, heading toward his purpose. If he were back on Earth, he would have smashed through the doors of the sci-lab like they did in the old west movies he loved, when the hero entered a saloon ready to annihilate his opponent. But that would be quite impossible since almost every door off-earth was a phased-entry portal. They phased away instantly to one of the infinitesimal universes we barely knew anything about, until you had cleared the entry, then phased back. But not a damn one of them swung.
There’s something unnatural about not being able to interact with your environment, like touching a door as you push it open. It subconsciously acclimates you to the place you’re about to enter, preparing you for what lies ahead, something tangible. But these phased-entries, as techno speak likes to refer to them, eradicated the barriers between here and there. Everything was one continuous connection.
Scott had forgotten that the human mind needed its compartments, places to store its experiences in the physical world. Many times he wished he’d never invented the phased-entry.
Upon entering the sci-lab, Scott stopped abruptly. Everything was still. All the walls on the thirty-meter-long compartment were unbreached. The air was still breathable. All the lights on the consoles still twinkled. The only immediate abnormality was Chōnlata Wattanapun standing before him, clad in a skintight environmental undersuit, hip cocked to the side, one hand angled upon it, the other jutting straight out. Her hazel Thai eyes held mischief, but the cupcake with one tiny lit candle imbedded into the pink frosty icing sitting on her open palm negated that tempting look.
With eyes in a squint, Scott glanced around the room at the now overly obvious, fifty-plus people staring at him. Cricket-critters! The whole damn station’s in here. He did a quick pass through his memory just to be certain he wasn’t off half a year.
“I’m pretty sure it’s not my birthday, Chōn, and would someone please shut off that damn alarm?”
In a second, the alarm cut off, leaving several echoey reverbs. Now the silence was painful.
“I’m also fairly certain,” Scott said with a bit of authoritative knowledge, “that in order for a joke to be funny, the jokee has to have an inkling of what’s going on.” He brushed his scowl across all the staring faces. “Unless I’m the butt of your amusement, in which case, you’re all fired. And since you’re all here in the sci-lab, you can just exit through the airlock. Never mind the minus 270 degrees Celsius, anoxia will pretty much eliminate that agony.”
The eyes gaping back at him all shifted to Chōn.
“I can see not sleeping with you for a night has put you in a particularly grumpy mood.”
One thing Scott McIntyre knew for certain was never to argue with any woman, especially Chōn, about anything remotely related to sex. He offered her a slit-eye glower which immediately made her laugh.
“Okay, sourpuss.” Chōn again projected the cupcake toward his chest. “Would you mind taking this? You can eat it later if it’s too much for you.”
Scott snatched the cupcake off her palm with just enough momentum to topple the candle into the frosting, where the flame sizzled, filling the immediate area with the smell of burnt sugar. Chōn turned around and arced her arm in front of her. The entire room filled with a universe of holographic stars. The speed in which they traveled through the starfield was many thousands of times faster than possible, since no one had achieved anything past the cusp of light velocity.
Scott went pale. Maybe for the first time in his life, he had no words. His mouth hung open. His brain stalled. Without looking away from the magical scene, two of his fingers gouged the cupcake from its paper wrapping and stuffed the confection into his mouth, candle and all.
Chōn turned back to him beaming. She bowed while spreading her arms in a ta-da gesture. Scott swallowed half the cupcake and spoke with muffled voice through the rest.
“You did it! You found a universe stretching faster than our own.”
He looked away from the miraculous site to gaze into Chōn’s eyes.
“Well, only relative to our universe, I’d say about a million light years squared. That’s why this simulation can zip past stars in our galaxy as if they were parked aerocars.”
Scott gulped the last of the cupcake so he could question a bit more seriously, as well as articulately.
“What about getting back?”
Chōn laughed, her natural tone throaty and sensual.
“Isn’t that just like a man? Never satisfied. Well, tee-rak, we’ve found a companion universe, that relative to ours is contracting at the same rate as the one stretching. In effect, we can go anywhere in our galaxy instantly and return the same way. And in theory, as long as we stay within your artificial galactic bubble, time will have no effect on us because we won’t actually be moving at all.”
Scott looked around at all the smiling faces surrounding him. His eyes began to water.
“I-I don’t know what to say.”
Chōn stepped forward and pressed herself against him, going on tiptoes to hang her arms around his neck.
“A simple thank you would suffice for now. Later you can thank me properly.”
Scott went to return the embrace, but Chōn shouted, “Don’t you dare touch me with those cupcake-sticky fingers!”
With taboo hands held aloft, he leaned down and kissed her lips.
“Thank you, sweet pea.”
Then with an air of professionalism, he backed away, breaking her hold, and turned to the rest of the crew.
“Listen. I know I can’t really thank you all enough for having faith that this whole whacky adventure was actually going to work. I don’t know if I would have followed someone for three years based upon a hope and a prayer, not to mention living on Mars in a construction site away from your friends and families. But you all did, and you have my gratitude.”
Scott paused for a dramatic breath. “And more tangibly, each of you also have doubled salary starting from the first day you signed up.”
The uproar of cheers erupted like a sudden sneezing fit. The first twenty seconds were unintelligible animal shouts, followed by repeated rock concert cheering of “Scott’s the man!”
An ego-gratifying warmth spread through him. He was exhilaratingly happy. The preliminary tasks were now complete. Now it was time to take it to the next level.
Scott raised his arms to bring down the adulation level.
“Listen up now, for I’m about to tell you what many have suspected for some time. As everyone knows, I was going to be the first to test this concept out.”
He waved a hand in the direction of an egg-shaped apparatus parked at the far end of the lab. Though it had the appearance of a small four-man inter-planet runabout, a dozen spindly, arm-like appendages protruded from its surface, giving it the appearance of a spider with broken limbs.
“You’ve all seen the vehicle I designed for such an operation…Well, that’s not what that particular contraption is for. That’s an emergency repair pod.”
Heads turned, catching eyes with one another, then came back to him.
“This facility that you all suffered to live in during the rampage of initial construction, and have called home for the last three years, is in fact not a terra-station at all. It’s the ship I intend to traverse universes in.”
Every mouth fell open. Glances switched back and forth with their neighbors’. Chōn stepped up alongside Scott and slid her arm around his waist. She beamed her smile at her co-workers.
“Take a breath, people. We’re not finished. Obviously, we believe in the integrity of this excursion and are willing to suffer the consequences should it be a dismal failure. However…we feel that we’ve all become one big integral family, and we’re offering all of you a bonus, beyond what Scott has so generously committed to, as your severance pay, which you’ll receive when earthside.”
Discordant muttering began to fill the room. Chōn raised her hand, cutting off the mounting uproar.
“However, for those exceptional few who would like to join us, we offer the adventure of a lifetime.” Chon took a quick breath and finished in a flurry. “Or complete annihilation.”
Before the last words had left her lips, every hand, without hesitation, thrust into the air. Chōn smiled up at Scott, both with wet eyes.
“You did it, Scott. You made fifty-four people’s dreams become reality.”
“You know what you said about men never being satisfied? That’s the one thing I’ve never been sure about…whether insatiable curiosity is an admirable quality or a disastrous inequity.”
“Well, since half your crew is women, I’d say it’s an admirable human quality.”
Chōn turned back to the waiting team, still with their arms in the air, and waved them all down.
“I can think of only one proper way to thank all of you for your hard work and loyalty.” She winked at Scott. “Part-y! Part-y! Part-y!”
The Ardennes, France
The white flash blinked out as fast as it had come. In a sudden jolt, the sergeant, the creature, and the ground they sat upon, along with the side of the tree and four severed hands, thumped several feet to the ground. The sergeant blinked, and blinked some more, certain that the next blink would deliver him back to where he had previously been.
“What the holy hell?”
His heart pounded and his breath came in gasps. After a dozen more serious but futile attempts to blink away this new reality, he stopped, for his muddled mind had concluded that wherever he was, was better than where he’d been. He glanced around, now almost too afraid to move his head, least he be whisked back to his former location. He was certain that he was dreaming. And wherever his whacky dream had taken him was most probably better than what was really happening to him at this very second.
In every direction lay open fields, freshly tilled. Pines like he’d formerly been in the midst of now skirted the fields in narrow rows about a quarter mile away. A farm house sat adjacent with more trees leading up to it. The sergeant humphed, disappointed in his own ability to produce a better fantasy than sitting in a plowed-over field.
The movement in his lap brought his memory, if not his body, back to his former predicament. He looked down at the thing cradled in his arms and stifled a sudden urge to cry out. The creature looked up at him and smiled through obvious pain. The sergeant was surprised by his own first question, but after all, it was only a dream.
“How ya doing, little buddy?”
The being blinked long sensuous lashes and answered in musical notes.
“Body injured. Need repair.”
“What can I do?”
The sergeant surveyed the empty fields around him, closed his eyes, and tried to conjure up the thing he saw caught in the trees. The same empty fields greeted his eyes when he reopened them. He gazed again upon the creature.
“Sorry, but your transporter’s gone. Everything’s gone. I don’t know where in hell we are. This dream’s certifiable, that’s for damn sure.”
“Not dream…same place, another time…I sorry.”
Of course a dream is going to say it isn’t a dream, the sergeant thought, so he carried on in the spirit of the bizarre adventure.
“Sorry, you say? You saved both our asses, that’s for damn sure…only I’m not so sure about you.”
“I get that really, I do, but I’ve no idea where we are or where it is.”
The creature ran its fingers over its forearm, as it did before. A small image of Earth appeared to float above its arm, rotating. Longitude and latitude lines laced the globe as it spun, with indecipherable symbols flicking by like a slot machine tumbler. The image zoomed in over the United States and dropped down through clouds as if flying in a plane. No demarcations delineated the individual states, but the sergeant was fairly certain the area they plunged toward was in Nevada.
The flight path of the invisible plane skimmed along the desert and touched down on a runway. Everything was speeded up many times normal. The POV seemed to hang in space, as if a camera could see in every direction at once. In a blur of movements, people scurried around like upset ants, moving inside a hanger and down an elevator to some place many levels below ground, where the view was left to a dark, empty room.
The incredible image sucked back into the creature’s forearm. It looked up to the sergeant, eyes drooping.
“Sure guy, I want to, but how?”
In a quick but delicate motion, the creature grasped the sergeant’s wrist and pushed up his coat sleeve. With nimble fingers, it peeled off an area of the suit where it had been tapping, and laid the thin film across the sergeant’s bare forearm. The sergeant yelled and tried to pull his arm away, but it was locked in an iron grip. The film glowed an iridescent red for a few seconds, then disappeared entirely as if it had soaked into his skin.
“What the hell have you done to me,” the sergeant shouted.
The creature released its grip.
“Touch. Help you help me.”
Reluctantly, but curiously, the sergeant felt the skin of his forearm where the film had been laid. Nothing was there he could see or feel.
“Touch,” the creature said again, and demonstrated tapping its forearm.
The sergeant made a quick tap with one finger as if a snake might strike it. The globe popped up as before, only this time the symbols were recognizable as English letters and numbers. Two blue beacons pulsed: one over the western U.S., and one presumably over France, where they were.
“Well, ain’t that some shit.” He pulled his gaze from the mesmerizing image. “Now what, guy?”
The creature’s eyes were closed. It was trying to talk. The sergeant leaned forward to hear the faint words.
As the sergeant sat cuddling the peculiar entity, deciding what to make of its last remark and why it would even be in his dream, the suit began to puff out. In spontaneous reaction, he jerked away, dropping his companion into the fresh dirt. He scrambled to his feet, backing away, both frightened and ashamed. Within seconds, the body unfolded and was completely cocooned within a dull gray seamless shell. It looked very much like an Egyptian mummy case but for the lack of painted designs.
The sergeant found himself panting. And sweating. He was wearing full-on military issue cold weather gear and his dream had deposited him somewhere in the middle of a baking hot summer. He stripped down to his T-shirt, all the while keeping an eye on the mummy.
He watched it for a while and it didn’t move. With a mighty degree of caution, he went onto all fours, leaned in, and touched the shell with one finger. Blue illumination glowed beneath his fingertip but dissipated when he withdrew it. No matter where he touched, he achieved the same result. He gazed at the cocoon some more, then laid the flat of his hand on it. A halo of blue outlined his hand, but he felt nothing other than that the surface was somewhat soft, yet hard at the same time.
The sergeant sat back in the dirt and peered at the farmhouse across the field.
“Damn. Dream or not, a promise is a promise.”
He snatched up his shirt and tied it around his waist, then gently laid his Melton wool overcoat over the six foot long cocoon. It covered just enough for him to get a handhold around the middle. Only now, staring at this new possession, did he remember his backpack still sitting beside his flooded foxhole.
Feeling sorry for himself was a fleeting affair. He took a breath, picked up his Thompson, slung it over his shoulder, and positioned himself in a squat to heft the ungainly cocoon off the ground. Gaining what he thought might be a pretty good hold, he counted down…
The power he put into hoisting the thing sent it rocketing into the air, sailing about twenty yards across the field to land in a bounce and a skid.
“Jiminy Cricket’s Critters!”
The sergeant ran to the downed mummy and checked it for any damage. Not a mark.
“Jesus, fella, er, whatever you are, I hope you’re still with us.”
Wrapping his overcoat around it once again, he lifted a bit more gingerly, for the cocoon seemed to weigh almost nothing at all. Though awkward, the diminished weight made walking with it less cumbersome. The sergeant couldn’t help commenting though.
“Damn, if this isn’t the most whacked dream I’ve ever had.”
He abruptly stopped in his tracks.
“Could I be dead?…Naw. Probably just in some Kraut hospital on some serious morphine.”
The sergeant continued his tramp through the tilled dirt. As the farmhouse neared, a sizable barn came into view. He made for it. He kept as low as possible while skirting the house, and then entered the barn from the far side. The door was unlocked and he slipped inside…and stopped short.
“Aahhh, sakes alive! Have I found the mate to your transporter?”
There was no mistaking this object, though its lines were sleeker than anything seen on this planet before the sergeant laid eyes on the transporter. In awe, he moved around what he was certain was some type of experimental automobile the Germans had come up with, for everything coming out of America was reminiscent of sunbaked cow paddies.
The sergeant scanned the rest of the barn, and having no knowledge of farming or the implements used for its operation, assumed all was well. He settled his gaze back on the robin’s egg blue vehicle. However, his immediate duty played havoc with his curiosity. He glanced around again.
Seemingly, as a prerequisite for all barns, there was a loft full of hay bales. His first inclination was to toss the cocoon up, but he figured that if he were inside such a device, he’d appreciate a little more care. Other than being awkward, tugging it up the wooded ladder was no great chore. It was much more difficult rearranging those eighty-pound bales into a hiding place for his mummy.
The sergeant stood back and looked over his handiwork. At least to his untrained eye, everything looked the same as before. Without adieu, he scurried down the ladder for a closer look at this marvelous vehicle his mind had conjured up. Things were taking on a positive bent.
Slipping his hands into his back pockets—subconsciously adhering to a saying that someone, maybe his mother, told him about: idle fingers and loose lips sink ships—he took a leisurely stroll around the automobile. The lines were long and sleek. A huge chrome bumper and grill with four headlamps adorned the front of the car, while the sides were smooth, divided by an extremely narrow sliver of chrome running the length of the vehicle. Curved fins like an angel’s wing swept up at the back on either side, tapering to two bullet-like protrusions of red glass. The insignia read, Cadillac.
This revelation hardly had time to sink in when the barn doors swung open and two men stood in the bright open doorway, aiming shotguns at him. Their French was rapid and alternated from one man to the other. The sergeant didn’t understand a word, nor why any Frenchman would point a weapon at an American G.I. What he did understand though, when the men lunged toward him with their double-barrels, was to reach for the sky.
“Look, chums, don’t snap your cap! We’re on the same side here. I was just admiring your Kraut trophy, here, and—”
“You American?” the younger of the two said, as he moved closer, secure behind the safety of his gun.
“You’d think my G.I.s would be a dead giveaway, bub.”
The two men traded looks. “Dément,” they both said at the same time.
Frustrated, the sergeant dropped his arms and pulled his shirt from around his waist. The younger man stepped up quickly and shoved the double-barrels under the sergeant’s chin.
“Look, dipstick,” the sergeant shrilled as the barrels raised him on tiptoes, “I’m a US-frickin-sergeant here liberating your goddamn asses, for Christ’s sake!”
Speaking rapidly in French, the older man came from behind his partner and pulled him back by the shoulder. He stepped forward and took the shirt from the sergeant’s hands, ruffled through it until he came to a regimental patch on the sleeve, and stared at it. He alternated his gaze from the sergeant’s face to the patch.
Muttering to himself, he relieved the Thompson from the sergeant’s shoulder and looked it over. He opened the breach and smelled it, jerking his head back from the pungent odor of recently fired cartridges. Speaking softly to the sergeant, he hesitantly reached in and swung the dog tags out for inspection.
With pursed lips, he handed back the shirt, turned back to the other man, and said something as he headed for the barn doors. The younger man spoke as he prodded the sergeant with the shotgun.
“My father say you to come inside house. He want something to show you.”
“Shits and giggles, bud. Lead on.”
In thirty seconds they were in the farmhouse kitchen. An older woman, the man’s wife, stood with her back to what looked like a stove, staring down the sergeant as if he might explode at any second. A peculiar kettle was placed on a burner that had no flame, but glowed red hot under the bright, orange vessel. A cabinet with glass doors hung above the burners.
A curved box of sorts sat on the adjacent counter, displaying a movie of French people yakking away to each other. The father held an odd-looking, smooth telephone receiver to his ear, jabbering with particular emphasis.
The son motioned the sergeant toward equally strange metal chairs placed around a metal table. The sergeant wasn’t too keen on how his dream was turning out. The father hung up and took a seat next to the sergeant, slid a small box in front of him and tipped it over. A pile of old, yellowing black and white photos slid out across the tabletop. The sergeant reached into the memories without hesitation.
One after another, men like him peered from the withered photos. They huddled in snow, marched on congested country lanes, stood on Sherman tanks while smiling, and laid out in rows, dead in the mud. One picture drew his hand to it, and his fingers wavered before picking it up. The farmhouse he sat in filled the foreground with a section of the barn to the side, but behind, for as far as could be seen, towered the forest of the Ardennes.
A cold sweat surfaced on the sergeant’s face. He looked up at the father who held a photo and was pointing to a young man standing by a jeep full of American brass.
“Moi,” he said, jabbing the image with his index finger. He turned to his son standing behind the sergeant and rattled off some French.
“My father want know why you wear uniform G.I. who help liberate our farm and all France. Why you are disrespect?”
The sergeant glanced around the small kitchen at the faces of the father and the boy, and the mother who still held her post at the odd-looking stove. The kettle began to scream and the steam jetted up in a cloud dissipating in front of a calendar of a pastoral scene. The date was August 10, 1965.
 Sturmbannführer: SS and Waffen-SS comparable to rank of Major in the German Army.
 Schütze: rank of private
 grav-mat: Anti gravity bed mattress
 sci-lab: science laboratory
 Tee-rak: darling in Thai language