A Soldier in Time. Adult. Sci. Fi. 3,400 Time travel as used in wartime.
In the near future, Corporal Vince Jackson is injured while on a critical mission.
“All right … you assholes fall out and get plenty of sleep tonight. You go to war tomorrow. Bright and early.” Master Sergeant Gonzales dismisses our evening formation.
I head for a room I share with Sergeant Pedro Perez. Perez is a new man, brought in especially for the mission. He seems to know more than he’ll say — which isn’t much. A large rough-looking guy who keeps to himself but seems expert enough.
It’s been a tiring day. Starting at 0500 hrs, we were issued fifty-year-old rifles, sighting them in and practicing until sunup. It’s one hell of a time for such a decision, forcing us to use unfamiliar weapons on our first really dangerous mission. I, Corporal Vince Jackson, can’t understand why the change. They’re heavier and less powerful than our standard laser weapons. That lack of firepower might make a difference in any coming battle … a bad one.
Since we’ve been training in the dense jungle of Costa Rico, I can only assume we’re going to another jungle, somewhere around the world.
“Where do you think, Vince?” Corporal Johnny Sampson asks as we enter the barracks.
“Haven’t the slightest,” I answer, “since we’re not at war with anyone.”
Last month we’d had the first election for the New America. New in that it includes the entirety of both American Continents, finally coming under one united government. With New America by far the largest and most powerful country on the planet, we might just scare the rest of the world into compliance. If that happens, the army should be a nice easy occupation.
Our mission is top secret. Why we were picked, none of us know. The trouble with such a large government is that the right hand never knows what the left is up to. The new capital is in Mexico City and my unit under the command of a general from the former Nicaragua.
I only stay in because it’s all I know except factory work — and I don’t have the courage to get out. At least, in the army, you’re taken care of in an ever-changing world. Changing too damned fast to suit me.
With the dissolution of national borders, civilian life is in a state of flux. Also, the shakeup of police forces — with some dissolved and others being reorganized — has brought on a confusion of crime out there in civilian life. Nobody seems to know just what is legal anymore, and what isn’t. Not even judges. Maybe things will settle down in a few more years and I can get out?
“Let’s go down to Rosie’s, Vince?” Johnny suggests. “We might die tomorrow. This could be our last chance to get laid.”
“I dunno. I’d like to sleep tonight. Don’t know how much of that we’ll get later. Captain Darren Conner will be in charge tomorrow, and I hear he doesn’t believe in sleep or smoke breaks.”
Conner is also an unknown quantity, brought in to lead tomorrow’s mission. We’re told we were handpicked, but weren’t told by who or for what. Only that fighting WOULD be involved.
“Hell, screw him. I can sleep in my suit. I put it on ‘auto’ and doze off. March in my sleep.” He laughs.
I know some of the guys do it but, for myself, I prefer to stay alert. It’s my life if the suit malfunctions. I’ve personally seen men march into walls and even fall over, legs still pumping. But, I have to admit, I’m pretty well caught up on my rest and a quickie is tempting.
“Well, maybe just for a little while? An hour or so, maybe?”
Foregoing supper — we can eat downtown — I continue on to my quarters and ‘unsuit.’ We’ve been training in combat suits — looking somewhat like old-time spacesuits but much less bulky and more flexible. You can, and do, fight in them. They are able, as Johnny mentioned, to march on their own, sensing and avoiding obstacles while homed in on the suit in front of them. I hear it’s not really that unusual for dead men to make it back to camp, the suit dragging their torsos above still-marching boots.
In any case, I change to an informal plastic-cloth uniform and meet Johnny at the main gate.
The village of El Guardo was built to service the post and contains, in most part, the type of businesses servicemen require and request. Those are bars, whorehouses, churches and restaurants. There are also pawn shops, small hotels, and a strong presence of Military Police to keep order.
In such a frontier town, justice is swift and certain. Much illegal activity is condoned though actually cheating a GI is verboten. The MPs have little to do except stop fights in the bars. Civilian authorities take care of the rest. Conscious of their precarious state, violence to a customer or outright stealing often results in a native body decaying in some out-of-the-way jungle location.
“Hi, Johnny.” Girls crowd around us as we enter a clapboard structure known as Rosie’s. Nobody seems to know how it got its name with no Rosie in residence or even remembered — it simply is.
According to custom, we’re left alone while at the bar. Sit at one of the mismatched booths or tables and you’re almost trampled by women cadging a drink or horizontal dancing on one of the army cots upstairs.
When drinks come, we sit making small-talk while looking over the merchandise.
“I see Janice sitting with the other girls. Think I’ll start with her. See you back at the base.” He finishes his drink and rises.
“What the hell did you drag me down here for,” I say, pretending to be angry, “if you’re not even going to talk, only get laid?”
“Not just get laid, ‘start’ getting laid. She’s only the first of many,” he says, and he’s gone.
Shrugging, I look around and finally choose a girl sitting alone in a corner. I like the quiet types. Life in the army gives you little time for privacy, or quiet. I’d rather sit, holding a girl tightly in my arms, than have long conversations.
This one appears to be shorter than most, which is saying something in that country. Except for that, she sports the standard black hair and — as much as I can see with her breasts almost touching the tabletop — a slim build.
I go over and, smiling a greeting, sit down next to her in the booth. Instead of throwing her arms around me as is normal, she moves away a foot or so. Hey, maybe a new one? I think. New girls are often more interesting. Not yet bored by endless customers, they show more enthusiasm and willingness to please.
“Hi, I’m Vince. I haven’t seen you around here. You new?”
She nods, looking around nervously. We sit quietly, staring at each other until holding my smile seems ridiculous.
“You want a drink?” I ask. Guess it’s up to me to get things started. She won’t last long here with that attitude.
“Yes. Thank you … Vince.” She gives a tentative smile, waving at a bartender who has been watching. “How you like this country? I come back from the United States before. That is your country?”
“Okay, I guess, but this is not like the US. How did you like my country?”
“Busy, too busy. Too many people, too. We have new big country now, everybody go fast to the United States and Canada for work. Same time, big US and Canada companies hurry here to save money. So does the jobs. Now, if you be South American in US, the whites — who are also out of work, kill you if they can. A lot of trouble there, so I come back home.”
Uh oh, I think. Now that I have her talking, the last thing I want is a political discussion.
“That’s why I stay in the army,” I tell her. “It’s steady work and I don’t have to worry about being fired or laid off. But why a bar, and one like this?” I want to change the subject back to sex.
“The only thing I bring back from United States is two kids. A new factory gonna come here, and I been promised a job. But not now … after it’s built. A long time, and we have to eat.”
A dainty hand comes over the edge of the table as she takes a drink. I can see her force a swallow. “Ugh, they gived me real whiskey, and I don’ drink.” She makes a face. Seeing mine, she laughs. “Enough me troubles, my name is Annise.” She sticks out her hand. We shake, formally.
“These places like to have the girls look happy, Annise. The bartender probably saw you moping around and thought you needed a real drink,” I tell her, looking her over. “Maybe you should drink it. Uh … I have to be back at base before long. You do … you know … upstairs too?”
I can see a normally dark face flush as she gets my meaning. But I have to know. I don’t have much time left and do want sex before going back.
She nods, gulps the rest of her drink, smiles nervously, and stands up. Yes, she is pretty, slim — and very short. I follow swaying hips on a well-remembered path to the stairs.
At the top of the staircase, the girl leads me into the third cubicle on the right. I can’t really think of them as rooms. Oh, they obviously started out life as that but are now partitioned off with plywood partitions. Each of them holds an army cot, complete with sheets, and a small dresser. There’s no window in this one, though there is a large rotating table-fan on the dresser. That and a bare twenty-watt red bulb hanging from the ceiling. I sit on the cot, removing my boots.
Nervous, Annise hugs me, arm around my neck, and gives me a tender kiss on the lips.
“Please, would you turn away?” she asks, dark eyes swinging to the side, avoiding mine.
I don’t know what to say, both kissing my lips and modesty being unusual with a whore. Silently, I release her, and turn around.
I hear rustling behind me, then the squeak of rusty cot-springs.
I turn, seeing her lying between sheets, smiling up at me with legs spread wide beneath the thin cotton, taking up the entire width of the cot with bare feet extending over both edges.
She looks so lovely, like an animated doll, in that dull light that I hurry to undress. I gently push one of her legs aside so I can crawl in. Then, I pull the sheet aside. I almost laugh as she playfully holds on to the cloth, feigning modesty.
“Scoot over, woman,” I whisper, needing space to lie down.
“You not want on top?”
“Well, yeah. But not right now. You in that big a hurry?” I ask. “You’re very pretty, but I have to take a couple of minutes to get ready, you know?” I laugh. “I’m not a bunny rabbit.”
“Okay. You get ready, I wait.”
“You can help, you know?”
“Uh … okay.”
I turn on my side, reaching around to grab and pull her against me. Both her hands flatten on my chest, as though she doesn’t want to get too close. Nuzzling her neck, I move my lips lower, down near small but perky breasts, feeling her stiffen slightly as my mouth reaches a hardening nipple. I can’t help but think of eating an ice cream cone, one that softens as you lick its frozen surface. As I progress downward in an impromptu meal, I feel more and more heat, culminating in a sloppy-warm feast at the furry bottom of the cone.
As I rise up for air, she melts against me. I feel probing fingers on my stomach, as in a spider stalking a fly. As it reaches the forest where its prey lies hidden, the spider hesitates, as though unsure of itself. Tentative digits feel their way carefully to an eagerly waiting fleshy staff. I can feel Annise’s heart beat faster — before the spider pounces.
After performing the beast with two backs, that hunger assuaged, we lie in bed. The sheet, moistened by heat, sweat, and sex, lies discarded. I enjoy an alternation of tropical heat and cool breeze as the fan rotates on and off our bodies, drying the sweet-tasting sweat of passion.
“You in the US army before?” she finally asks softly, head lying on my arm.
“No. But when the new country formed I didn’t know what else to do. Like with you, things changed so much. I’ve always preferred steady work with other people making the hard decisions.
“I’d been working in a factory, an assembly line where a whistle was blown for everything, telling me what to do, and when,” I tell her, nuzzling her right ear with my tongue. “When the factory moved south, I followed it. Then, while waiting until they were set up and operating, they cut my pay in half, down to local standards — so I quit.”
“But now you’re a soldier, huh?”
“Uh, huh. It’s as good a job as any, and it certainly is steady.”
“You like soldier?”
“Yes. Yes … I suppose I do. How else can I meet girls like you?” I joke.
“You must go … back tonight?”
That takes some thought. After all, it’s not as though I have to go — right now. I don’t have to be back to base until morning. And I do have the money. And I’m a stupid bastard. And I might be killed tomorrow. And I’m a stupid bastard. I know I should get some sleep before that important mission. But I’m a stupid bastard. And, I did think that before? That I’m a stupid bastard? Yes. I’m a stupid bastard.
“Uh, not really. How much to stay here all night?” I ask. “But you must promise to let me get some sleep.”
She names a price which, still unsure of my decision, I reach down to my trousers and pay.
Getting out of bed and quickly dressing, in full view this time with shapely brown ass cheeks shifting up and down, she goes out to tell and pay the floor manager. I saw him when coming up, sitting at a small table at the head of the stairs, reading a magazine by lantern light.
While waiting, I sit up and light a cigarette, finding an ashtray on the dresser.
Glancing back to the now-dampened bottom sheet, I see several large spots — dark spots. Rubbing my finger across one, I sniff it. Blood?
Blood! She was lying about the two kids. She must have been a virgin? Will wonders never cease?
Annise comes back and, undressing, hops back into the bed. This time she’s on top as we again make like a creature with two backs. The difference is that this time she’s not nervous — not in the least.
Tired, we lie together after the exercise. Faces within inches and with an occasional kiss, we talk.
“What you do on base? You fight, maybe cook or sit at desk?”
“Oh, I fight. At least I’m supposed to. So far only practice, though. Tomorrow I’ll really have to do it. We’re going someplace to fight for real.”
“Oh. I don’t like fight. I hope nobody hurts you? Where you go? Here, in Costa Rico?”
“I don’t think so, but somewhere. The officers don’t tell us corporals.”
“Good. You corepoorel. You tell private ‘go fight’, while you sit back.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” I tell her. “Corporals have to fight. It’s the officers that sit back and watch, like our new captain.”
“Which captain? I know many captains?”
“Sure, and I’ll bet you do.” I laugh. No captain is likely to set foot in this cheap bar, is my thought.
“Captain Conner. You know him?”
She lies back, as though thinking.
“I know John Conner, from when I was in US. Is that the one?”
“No. Gotcha,” I tell her, laughing. “This one is a Darren.”
She takes time to think about it, then rolls against me for another lesson in love. Of course, who is teaching who is a moot point.
“Nope. Don’t know,” she whispers while unsheathing her spider.
Three am, 0300 hrs, comes pretty quickly. Getting back to my bed a little before 0330, I barely have time to lower my head to the pillow before someone, banging on a garbage can lid, wakes me.
I jump up, dress, slide into a combat suit, grab the rest of my gear, and run to my position in the formation. I’m among the first half-dozen to arrive and stand at ease as men form around me; many busily adjusting straps and closing buckles.
Finally some action, I think, after all the months of training. I imagine I have a new friend after last night but with those girls you never know. Annise seemed like a virgin but I can’t be certain. She could be a seasoned professional, for all I really know about her. That blood could have been from a prior occupant of the room.
Uh, Oh. I straighten to attention. Here comes Sergeant Gonzales and Captain Conner. I vaguely remember telling the girl about them, but not anything about our mission. Hell, I know little myself.
While the sergeant calls names to make certain we’re all present, the captain files past us, row by row, checking our gear, shaking a strap or inspecting a rifle at random. Satisfied, he strides to the front and marches us out of the company area to a remote corner of the base.
There are sixty of us, now crowded in front of some kind of large canvas-covered structure. Three men — in full battle armor and looking like massive man-shaped tanks — are guarding the structure.
“All right, listen up. Before we get moving, I want Johnson, Alvarez and Peterson to guard the perimeter. Don’t let anyone in, not even the commanding general. Shoot to kill if you feel you have to.
“If you’re ill, cowardly, or otherwise unable to leave with us, I’ll give you ten minutes to decide. From that moment on, this is to be a serious project. Nobody, but nobody, backs out after this break,” he tells us. “At ease.”
He motions the human tanks to leave and they do his bidding, heavy tracks tearing up soft ground.
I light up and smoke a cancer stick, noting no troopers taking advantage of the break to leave. It’s not all a matter of courage, since the fact would no doubt go onto their records, there to weigh against them at promotion time.
Captain Conner orders three more men to uncover the object, which turns out to be a dull-colored metal archway with room for three men abreast to march through. He fiddles with a set of controls. Abruptly, there’s a slight change in the looks of the jungle on the other side. The trees and shrubbery seem darker than on this side of the arch. The elephant grass is higher and thicker than that on the right or left of the opening — something like a slight magnification.
“This is it, men. A few of you have been in combat before and most or all of you will see some today,” the captain tells us. “Where we’re going, there IS a war.
“This,” he says, motioning to the arch, “is a new type of transportation. You don’t have to know where the other side leads, but it’s a long way from here. If you get lost, remember that the arch will only remain on and in existence for the next thirty-hours.
“After that, there is no way in hell for you to get back here. It will be up to you, individually, to make it back in time … or not.” He stops to clear his throat, sipping from a canteen.
While he’s so occupied, most of us also sip on ours, trying to digest his speech. I notice what looks like a drizzle of rain through the opening, with bright sunlight on this side. The captain continues.
“We’ll have no backup, no air support or tanks, not even full battle armor. Everyone you see who is not dressed like you, you shoot — and shoot to kill. Even women and children. Everyone, period! I know it’s almost impossible, but we want no witnesses that we were there, so don’t hesitate. Kill them all and make damned certain they ARE dead. It’s up to God to sort the evil from the righteous.
“Our mission is to kill a certain man. One of the most evil persons on this planet.” He stops to hand out a bundle of photos to the men in front, who take one and pass the others back until I get mine.
The photo is blurred and of a small dark middle-aged man. He’s either Hispanic or Asian, I can’t tell from the photo. Nondescript, in any case. No name is given but I guess that, if we kill everyone we see, identification isn’t really an issue.
I notice Sergeant Perez, my roommate, open a large box sitting next to the arch. He takes out a belt and buckles it around his waist, then presses a button on it. With a nod from the captain, he begins passing the belts out.
“Put on the device the sergeant is giving you and make certain you press the red button on it. That belt contains a GPS to help keep track of you during the mission, so that we leave no one behind. It’s for your own safety,” the captain tells us. Perez gives me and Johnny, both corporals, a handful of belts and we help pass them out, also making certain all the buttons are pressed — which turn on a minute green light near the buckle.
The captain then forms us up into three teams, one under him and the others under sergeants Perez and Gonzales. There are about twenty men in each team. I’m with Perez.
“Just do as your team leader tells you,” the captain orders. “They’ll brief you on your part of the operation. Stay close to them. Each team has a separate function. We won’t meet as a unit until everyone is back through this gate on the completion of the mission.”
“Vince, take a couple of men and retrieve those green bags at the right side of the Transporter,” Perez orders.
I motion to Ortiz and Buckner and we bring the bags back. They’re heavy and seem to contain weapons, indicated by long slim shapes inside, along with what feels like bundles of cloth.
“Don’t open that yet.” Perez stops a curious Private Peterson. “I’ll tell you when.”
“What are we up to, Pedro?” I ask Sergeant Perez. “All this to kill one man, and what war? We’re not at war anywhere that I know of.”
“I guess I can tell you, Vince. If anything happens to me, it’ll be up to you to complete our part of the job.”
He pulls me aside as the others mill around a few yards away, smoking and eating extra rations. We have food for four days, and will have to be back in a day and a half. Like all soldiers, they don’t want to carry extra weight with them, even with augmented exoskeletons. Better to eat it up than to leave it behind.
“It has something to do with politics. I wasn’t told just what. Some kind of a favor to the new President or something. The order came down from on high. That’s what the army has become,” Perez tells me, bitterly, “hired assassins. Not only that, but this thing,” Perez nods toward the arch, “is also a time machine. We’re going into the past to do it.”
He looks around carefully, then leans down and whispers, “Make damned sure you get rid of that belt before we start back. I’ve seen them before. They contain global positioning systems — and a shaped charge built in. Conners can explode them if and when he wants. It gets rid of evidence if we’re killed. Exploding them will leave no evidence behind. It can also be used to eliminate witnesses, and I don’t trust Conner.”
The last kind of throws me, although I can see his point. “And the bundles?” I ask.
“Old-time uniforms and weapons for our squad, in order to leave misleading evidence behind. The others will circle the area, killing civilian witnesses and keeping others out of the target area while OUR team goes in to kill that specific individual — our target.
“We know there are bound to be survivors — there always are — and we want them to see their current enemy’s uniforms and to blame our killing on them. Me and you will make sure there are at least a couple of survivors.”
“When … I mean where, when, and what army are we going to impersonate?”
“I wasn’t told. We’ll find out when we get there. You just make certain our bundles are brought along,” he ordered me, sighing. “Let’s get back. I see Conner getting antsy.”
By the time we get back to our men and check their gear, forming them into a column of twos and ready to go, the captain is nervously checking his watch.
Seeing we’re organized and in formation, he calls in our guards. As they come in, they’re given belts and checked out.
The human tanks also come back and stand a little ways away, ready to take over guarding the arch when we leave. They probably know very little about what’s going on. No doubt it’s only normal guard duty to them. I briefly wonder why there aren’t any ambulances around. From what we’ve been told, we might have wounded coming back through at any time. Well, not for me to wonder why, I think, marching through with the rest.
It’s drizzling rain and quite a bit warmer and darker on this side of the arch. I’ve been stationed in Canada, the former US, Panama and, of course, Costa Rico — but this place is different. Oh, most of the plants are the same, just look a little different. There are banyan trees, which makes me think of the Far East. The whole ambiance is different, though. It just feels different than the Americas.
Without a word — except maybe over a commo pack I don’t have — we split off from the other two units.
Sergeant Perez stays in front and I bring up the rear. We march for several hours — no problem in our mechanized suits. The heavy bags don’t slow us down any. When I offer to switch them off to other troops to carry, the bearers only shrug. With augmenting exo-skeletons, the weight makes no difference to them.
Since we can eat, drink, smoke, and do everything but defecate in the suits, distance is no problem. We do take toilet breaks and give the men time to relax and sit for a while before continuing.
So far we haven’t met anyone. If we had, I would have heard gunshots up ahead in the column. We’re lucky so far, with no suits malfunctioning. It’s our greatest worry, outside of being shot, of course.
Finally, the inevitable. I see lights flash up ahead and my suit radio sputters into action.
“Vince. Hurry up here, I need you.” It’s Sergeant Perez.
I rush ahead, pushing my way through the others, who heard and also want to see what’s going on.
“Stay back and don’t bunch up,” I order as I scramble through them. “One grenade would get all of you. You’ll get your chance soon enough.”
I hope they’re following orders but I have to do the same and get to the front.
Private Alvarez, at the head of the line, points ahead. I see the soles of a pair of large boots sticking out of a stand of bushes. A roasted soldier in old-type battle gear — I think US but am not certain — is lying a little ways away. Our first victim.
Crawling up beside Perez, I find the sergeant studying a small encampment of soldiers. They’re relaxing in a clearing ahead of and below us. The others are wearing what must be outmoded United States Army uniforms. Seeing them together, with old-style combat gear, convinces me. The sight makes me shiver involuntarily. I haven’t given any real thought to what I was told about the past and a war going on. I don’t know if I can kill other American troops, looking like photos from WWI.
“You know the men a lot better than I do, Vince. How many are like you, from the former US?”
“About half, maybe a dozen,” I answer, understanding what he’s getting at. It puts me in a quandary. Can I kill them, or should I somehow stop the operation? Although I don’t consider myself a life-long soldier, I am a professional and have been taught to follow orders. Is the mission important enough to kill them? I simply don’t know. It might be.
Although not straight in my mind, I know that overriding force and violence is inevitable. It’s the life I’ve chosen and I have to follow orders — no matter what. The responsibility is on God and the commanding general.
“Listen, I’ll take them on, Vince. You go back and send up all the non-US guys. Stay back with the others,” he tells me. “It looks like these soldiers will roost for awhile. You better pass out the clothing and weapons in those bags.
“The bags, themselves, contain imploding charges. Leave those with your present uniforms. Hopefully, we’ll pick them up on the way back. I hope so.”
In a haze, I do as he orders. I have no real choice.
To my surprise, the uniforms in the bags are also old-style American. They contain ancient M16 projectile rifles and .45cal pistols. Common fragmentation grenades round out the contents, enough for all of us.
“From now on, remember to use the older rifles — no lasers,” I tell them, according to my instructions. That’s why we trained on those weapons yesterday.
When the brief battle is over, the others return and we continue our march, starting off by taking a tangent to one side of the clearing, avoiding the dead bodies of American troops. I’m immeasurably glad for that. I don’t want to see the carnage, even in my mind. I notice the soldiers involved are silent, not looking us “Americans” in the eyes.
An hour later, we begin finding trails. Along with them are occasional civilians who have no chance at all against our weapons. The few shots they get off are easily turned away by light armor under our ancient uniforms. Hell, most of the victims aren’t even armed.
“Vince, grab a couple of men and take out that farmhouse on the right,” the sergeant orders.
I take Peterson and Thompson with me and we hurry over to a hut sitting in a small clearing. I don’t see any electric lines, only a shack made of wooden planks, bundles of grass making up the roof.
“Peterson. You circle around to the back. If you see anyone, shoot to kill. Me and Thompson will go in,” I order, cocking my unfamiliar weapon. He angles off to the right to get behind the shack. Thompson and myself wait a few minutes before striding for a makeshift wooden door in front. It doesn’t even have a knob, only a hole cut into the door to reach a finger through to open it.
Jerking the door open, I duck inside and to the right, Thompson doing the same on the left of the opening. We immediately begin firing on automatic. I see my tracers hit a small child playing with some sort of toy animal on the dusty dirt floor, tearing it apart in a burst of flesh and blood, continuing on to thrust a young woman backwards as my bullets puncture her chest in a jagged line. As she falls, I look over to see a white-faced Peterson. He has chopped down two males, one young and the other much older.
It’s over in seconds. Back outside, I hear firing and look over to see Peterson hosing down a small building off to the side.
“What a way to die,” Peterson says, coming up to us and shaking his head, “with your panties down.” Another young daughter had been in the privy.
I see Thompson spewing his rations into the dry sand of the front yard. The sight and racing thoughts make even me feel like retching.
Peterson gives me a funny look, saying, “What’s the matter with him?”
“Let’s get back to the others,” I order. “And wipe your face,” to Thompson.
Sergeant Perez scolds me for not inspecting the exchange. Some of the men had ignored orders and kept pieces of armor and modern weapons until now. I’m ordered to search each of them to make certain they comply.
“Don’t forget where we put the modern gear,” I tell the others about the forbidden stash. “See that stream with a large reddish rock, there on the shore? We have to be able to find that shit later, to take back with us.”
We aren’t — supposedly — allowed to have anything on us from our time period. I’m reminded that we might not all make it back home. That a lot of belts will be exploded before this is over. Even if there is no double-cross.
The village ahead of us is somewhat like in Costa Rico. Alike in many ways — small wooden buildings scattered among both bamboo huts and a few more modern concrete block structures. The latter are two or three stories high. People walking up and down a single dirt street are small with dark skins and dressed in civilized clothing. In most part that is, a few wearing brightly-colored robes.
I’m still not certain. It could be in South America, in a country I still haven’t seen, or in Asia. I’m not really a world traveler and have never been interested in travel magazines. We gather on a small hill overlooking the town, taking time to watch local activity.
It pays off when a military truck, looking like an old military five-ton, comes into sight. The back’s full of soldiers wearing unusual, to me, uniforms and carrying projectile rifles. They seem to be at ease, whooping and waving at the local women.
It truck stops in front of a building and the soldiers jump out. Some go inside and others drift away in both directions.
Perez calls me over and shows me a map. Our target is in one of the three-story concrete buildings, the one marked with a black “X”. A handwritten notation on the map tells us to try before eight pm, which does us no good since we haven’t any idea of local time — something Captain Conner forgot to mention.
“If we attack before full dark, we should be alright,” the sergeant reminds me. “Maybe we should wait a while? The soldiers might leave.” He looks me in the eye and continues, “It’d make it a lot easier for us.”
I go back and tell the others.
“You four should have plenty of time to circle around to the other side of the village and pick out good firing points,” I tell some of them. “Wait until you hear shooting then kill anyone you see.” I tell the same to eight others, four for each end of the street. “Hide and make sure nobody gets behind you. Quietly. Watch both sides, too. Once the firing starts, nobody, but nobody, gets out alive.”
I go back up front with Perez and we wait. Wait for the others to get into position and hope these troops will leave soon.
The enemy seems intent on staying. Some of them come up with bottles and a party starts, complete with local maidens. A radio is turned on and my location is narrowed down. The radio’s speaking in Spanish. Not loud enough to understand all the words, only the language.
As the sun begins to set, the merry tableau in front of us starts to wind down. Eventually, empty bottles are collected and the soldiers begin returning to the back of the truck to wait. Some of them seem pretty drunk. I wish I had one of those bottles.
“Get the men ready,” Sergeant Perez orders. “Me and you go for the target, the others are to wipe out the town. Tell them, ‘everybody’. In case they don’t happen to be missing anyone, we’ll each try to let one civilian live. They’ll see our uniforms and we want a few witnesses to say that the North Americans did it.
“Tell them to try to bring back any of our people who get wounded. I think they will anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to remind them.”
As I leave, I see the truck jerk forward, driving out of the village as the women go back inside.
“All right, this is it,” I tell the few men remaining with us, “let’s go. Kill everyone, but bring back our wounded — without fail. You’d want them to do the same for you.
“And watch out. Most of the people are probably armed. Don’t forget, for them this is already a war zone. Don’t fire until you have a target, and then kill it.”
Together, we scramble over the edge of the hill and slide down a stone incline into the back of one row of backyards. I hook up with Perez and the two of us run toward our target building.
Just as we rush between buildings and reach the road, we hear gunfire from the direction the truck had been headed.
Not good. Either my four men decided to engage the truck, like idiots, or the troops saw them. Either way, we’ll have to contend with at least some of those soldiers returning. Perez and I run into the correct building, just as gunfire erupts all over town.
I find a woman standing next to a side window, looking out at the action. Two shots to her back fell her. According to plan, Perez runs for the stairs as I search the first floor. One man is hiding under a desk. A few shots through the furniture and he slumps onto his face.
Another fires a shot, barely missing my head. I give him a few rounds in the stomach. Reaching an open doorway at the rear, I rush out back in time to see one of my men behind the buildings shoot two running women. A quick wave to him, and I return inside.
Shots erupt upstairs. At least two weapons. One with sharp cracks has to be a pistol. I run up the stairs three at a time, a fresh magazine in my rifle, to find Perez lying in a pool of blood. A man that looks like a slightly older version of our target is trying to force open a back window.
I level my rifle and reach for the trigger. Before it fires, I feel a blow to the back of my head. I’m lost to sudden darkness and don’t even feel myself fall….
I wake to a familiar face. At first, it’s dim, as if coming out of a deep dark fog. The features seem to come close, then fade back — several times — as my mind attempts to comprehend the sight. That face is impossible, impossible to be there. As in a dream, it drifts in and out of sight, finally fading completely as I pass out again.
The next time I wake, it’s in a hospital. The odor of disinfectant makes that obvious. It must be a modern one, with a plenitude of strange machinery. I see flashing lights and hear a synchronized beeping in the background.
I’m in a bed with green sheets, in fact everything around me seems to be either green or shiny metal. The walls, sheets, rug and ceiling are shades of that color. When I try to examine my body, I find my hand can go completely under my buttocks. My body is raised several inches from any surface — hanging in mid-air. I know I’m not still in the past. Maybe not even in my present.
I feel no splints and can move without pain. Even my head, where I was shot or hit with something, seems normal. Trying to sit up brings sudden dizziness and I feel like I’m about to slide out of the bed. Quickly lying back down, I grab the headboard to steady myself. Since I can’t get up, I might as well just lie here, I figure.
An alarm must have gone off, since a nurse, also dressed in green, comes hurrying in.
“You have to be quiet Mr. Jackson. You’ve had a traumatic experience. Your poor head was busted up pretty badly when she brought you in. You were delirious, mumbling about some war or other.”
“I was? I mean, who? Who brought me in?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t on duty,” the nurse admits, shining a penlight in my eye, “If you want, I can check the records. We have a number to call when you woke up. I’ll call it and get back to you.”
“Can I sit up, and maybe wait in a chair or something. I feel weak but think I can walk.”
“I’ll be back in a minute.” She turns and quickly goes back out, before I can question her.
I lie there for awhile, maybe a half-hour, before the nurse returns with a smile and a wheelchair. She does something to a control panel and the bed seems to deflate, dropping me to its surface. It then contorts until I’m standing, the bed also on end behind me.
As I start to fall — I’m not as strong as I think — she deftly catches and steers my fall into the chair. I’m wheeled to a waiting-room and parked next to a table of magazines. While I’m looking around, the nurse brings me a cup of some kind of hot liquid and leaves.
I try the liquid and find it tasty, but have no idea what it is. Seeing a picture of a soldier on a magazine, I pick it up. The magazine’s dirty and well-read, pages loose. The cover story is something about “The Last War” which causes me to look at the date on the front cover.
I can’t believe it. Trying to clear my head, I look back at the date. It still reads the same, about a hundred years ahead of my time. I’m in the future, at least my future. Hell, I’m still trying to adjust to that trip to the past.
Seeing a shadow in the doorway, I look up and see Annise, the girl from the whorehouse in Costa Rico, standing there, grinning.
“Damn, and I wanted to tell you personally.” She laughs, a sound like tinkling bells. “Aren’t you going to thank me for saving you?”
I’m speechless for what must be minutes. It’s a lot to take in so suddenly.
“Th … Thanks,” I finally manage to get out. “What happened? You were there in the village, weren’t you?”
She nods, a sad look on an otherwise pretty face.
“What were you doing there?”
“It’s kinda complex, Vince. Politics has always been a dirty game. And it’s even dirtier now, with a One World government. I’m with the Presidential Guard, a police force who’s only mandate is to guard the President. With the advent of time travel, my organization has to protect not only the current World President, but the previous ones as well as all their ancestors. All the way down the line, almost to the stone age.
“The problem is that some of the old records are incorrect or false. One of the other political parties found that their adversary had a great grandfather who was illegitimate. Although his ancestors of record were protected, his real great grandfather wasn’t. They went back to your time to gather a force of assassins to kill his real ancestor. You were one of those assassins.”
“Which one was it?” I ask, scratching my nose. “From my country?”
“We found out a few things about it and tried to cover all the bases. We didn’t know who the target was or when the act was to take place. I was only one of thousands of agents sent out throughout history — to likely times and places.
“I thought that working in one of the ancient girlie houses would be both a unique experience and let me talk to servicemen.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “It wasn’t like I read about in those glamorized romance novels. I didn’t realize what it would feel like to be forced to sleep with strangers. The novels skipped that part.
“Luckily, I found you on my first night — and you had the information I needed. Otherwise I shudder at the thought of actually having to do that work, having sex with all those men.”
She blushed. “Actually you were my first man — period. And only because I didn’t know any way to refuse. After I cadged the information from you, I walked out the back door and went home.”
“But I didn’t know any information. How did you learn anything from me?” I asked. “All I told you was that I was going on a mission the next day.”
“But you mentioned Darren Conner, a known assassin in my time period,” she tells me. “He’s too egotistical to use a false name. Once I knew that he was there and involved, I called it in and a team of experts was sent down. We found the Gateway, got rid of your useless behemoths guarding it, and went through.
“We were in time to save your target as well as corral the other groups before they did too much damage. We lost time though, figuring that Conner’s team would be the one after our man. We had no idea it was to be you and your sergeant.”
“What about me? Why bring me here?” I ask.
“Why not? I did injure you myself … and you’re nice in bed….
“And you’re my first lover — so why not?” She walks behind my chair, putting her arms around my neck and bending over me. “We don’t have wars anymore, but we still need men of violence. These days, they’re largely a thing of the past. Like you.”
“So, that’s how I got into this job with your mother,” I tell our children, the few who ask.