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57

“Are you planning to go pick up as well the crew of the international lunar base?”

Asked James MacDonald, making Nancy look at him with shock and surprise.

“There are Humans alive on the Moon?”

‘’You didn’t know that a base existed on the Moon, miss? Asked Michael Stone, himself surprised by her ignorance. Nancy shook her head.

‘’As I said, the historical archives that survived to the 34th Century are very fragmentary. We thought that the base had been evacuated in advance of the war, as it was found deserted in the 28th Century.’’

‘’Then, you will have nine more people to save apart of us, miss.’’

That brought a smile on Nancy’s face.

‘’In that case, we certainly will make a side trip to the Moon after this.’’

15:06 (North America Central Time)

Wednesday, September 23, 3384 ‘A’

Landing pad of the New Lake City University campus

Great Lakes area, North America

Global Council

Keiko Miramoto, a small Japanese woman of 34 years of age and a doctor and bio-chemist of renown in 2052, was the third person to get out of the HERMES once the heavy shuttle had landed. Still weak from her long stay in low gravity on the Moon, she was like the eight other members of the lunar base sitting in a wheelchair being pushed by one of their saviors. Still under the shock of having been rescued from a certain death on the Moon base, she looked around her at the crowd of spectators, reporters and dignitaries waiting and watching on one side of the landing pad. Loud-speakers then started playing some kind of national hymn unknown to her as the ones who had rescued her and her comrades led her group towards a group of dignitaries. Nearly everybody in the crowd were bald giants standing over two meters in height. The main dignitary, a handsome bald giant man, said a few words in a language unknown to Keiko, then spoke in English in a solemn tone.

‘’I am Grand Administrator Boran Kern, head of the Global Council. I am happy to be able to greet you, survivors of the 2052 Nuclear Holocaust, to the year 3384 and to our society.’’

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Keiko, having lived through months of despair on the Moon, then broke and started crying. Kern, touched by her distress, stepped quickly to her and gently took her in his arms, whispering words of comfort in her ear.

‘’Do not worry anymore, miss: here, you will now know peace as a new citizen of the Global Council.’’

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CHAPTER 3 – NEW MEMBERS

19:53 (North Atlantic Time)

Sunday, February 28, 2021 ‘A’

Nuclear aircraft carrier USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76)

North Atlantic

Commander Bob Matheson, standing besides the electronic tactical plot display in the Combat Information Center, or C.I.C. in short, knew what Captain Peter Fowler was going to ask him even before he came close to him. The CAG (Commander of the Air Group) would want to know about that inbound F/A-18E SUPER HORNET that was now making him very worried. Matheson saw that Lieutenant Commander Derek Hamilton, the commander of the squadron to which the inbound aircraft belonged, was tagging along with Fowler. Both naval aviators examined the plot in silence for a moment before the CAG turned towards the operations officer.

“What’s

Sanchez’s

status?”

“Still on approach and maintaining a constant altitude of 5,000 feet. Her remaining engine is starting to overheat and she will be barely flying on fumes by the time she gets here, if she makes it.”

Hamilton shot a hard look at him.

“She’s my best pilot. She will make it.”

Matheson sighed quietly. His duty was to present facts, not hopes or assumptions.

“Will all due respect to your pilot’s abilities, mister, she will be about out of fuel and flying through this damn winter storm to try a carrier night landing on one overheating engine, while our deck is pitching wildly up and down. I advise that we get her close to one of our escort ships and have her bail out.”

“Do you know how long she will survive in this freezing water, with thirty foot waves lashing at her?” Replied Hamilton angrily. Fowler suddenly raised his hand, signaling Hamilton to calm down. The CAG then lowered his voice.

“Is Sanchez wearing a survival suit, Commander?”

Matheson shook his head sadly. Between a near-suicidal attempt at landing and a jump in the furious North Atlantic, Sanchez’s fate was nearly sealed in advance. He thought 60

about the last time he had met the young Latino beauty at the officer’s club in Norfolk.

She was a fantastic woman, apart from being a top-notch combat pilot. The CAG’s voice brought him back to reality.

“Commander, prepare for an emergency landing.”

20:08 (North Atlantic Time)

US Navy F/A-18E SUPER HORNET fighter-bomber

North Atlantic

Carmen Sanchez nearly had to gulp down her stomach when a fierce downdraft made her lose over 300 meters in seconds, only to be shaken madly by turbulences.

Fighting the controls of her F/A-18E, she could barely reestablish a roughly straight flight path. This was by far the meanest storm she had encountered in her career. A quick glance at her instruments panel did nothing to reassure her: she had only ten minutes of fuel remaining and her surviving engine was badly overheating and was in danger of catching fire. Looking through her aircraft’s canopy, she could see only a pitch-black night lit at intervals by blinding lightning bolts. Only her heads up display made it possible to avoid total spatial disorientation. She was by now drenched in sweat and more than a little apprehensive. Carmen inhaled deeply, trying to relax a bit, then activated her radio.

“Hen House, this is Blue Fox Five. I have ten minutes of fuel remaining and am at 4,000 feet. My last engine is iffy. I request instructions, over.”

The reception was barely comprehensible, being badly affected by the electrical storm she was flying through.

“…se, we have… on rad… cleared for land…”

“Blue Fox Five to Hen House, I acknowledge that I am cleared for landing.”

A loud horn suddenly erupted in the cockpit, accompanied by an insistent voice from the aircraft audio warning system.

“Warning, fire! Warning, fire! Warning…”

Carmen felt her hair rise on her head. Looking sharply to her left and rear, she saw flames shooting out of her remaining engine.

“Hen House, Hen House, this is Blue Fox Five. I’m on fire! I say again, I’m on fire! Ejecting now!”

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Pulling back her legs close to her seat, she pushed her head against the headrest before grabbing the ejection handle between her legs with both hands and pulling it with desperate strength. Her ejection seat’s rocket motor blasted her through the Plexiglas canopy and into the 400 knots relative speed air stream. That felt to her like being kicked hard in the bum before hitting a brick wall. Lashed both by cutting winds and hail, she felt rather than saw her seat separate from her and her parachute deploy. Only a few seconds later she hit the icy cold water, diving deeply feet first before she could unclip frantically her parachute harness and swim towards the surface. Breaking the surface, Carmen barely had time to gulp quickly two breaths before a huge wave came crashing on top of her.

20:14 (North Atlantic Time)

USS RONALD REAGAN

“Say again, Blue Fox Five. Blue Fox Five, this is Hen House, say again your last transmission.”

The shouts of the air operations chief in his radio microphone were suddenly covered by an alarmed report from the nearby air traffic controller to Commander Matheson.

“Sir, Blue Fox Five just disappeared from my radar screen.”

“Keep looking for it.”

Matheson then turned towards the duty officer of the watch.

“Alert the PORT ROYAL! Have it break formation and dash towards Blue Fox Five’s last known location. Air Ops Chief, scramble the plane guard OSPREY.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

The chief picked up a telephone that connected him directly to the HV-122A OSPREY

aircraft on plane guard alert on the deck. A short set of orders quickly had the big vertical take-off search and rescue aircraft lift off and head towards Sanchez’s suspected crash spot.

20:15 (North Atlantic Time)

North Atlantic

Carmen reemerged again, her energy nearly spent and starting to suffer already from the onset of hypothermia. She realized that she was not going to live for very long.

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Tears of frustration and despair came to her eyes: she wanted so much to live. Another huge wave was gathering above her, ready to send her down to the abyss.

“NOOO!”

Right then, she forgot that she was an elite pilot with a distinguished service and combat record. She was now simply a young woman about to die. Something suddenly grabbed her left leg and pulled her down under the surface. A terrorized Carmen barely had time to think about sharks before something was placed over her mouth.

Recognizing the shape of a scuba air regulator, she avidly sucked in air, nearly suffocating by forgetting not to breathe through the nose at the same time. She was soon pulled inside an airlock of some sort, with its hatch sliding in place immediately afterwards. As pressurized air chased out the seawater, Carmen, shaking like a leaf and very close to passing out, looked at the one who had saved her. Her blurred vision could only make out a tall silhouette in some kind of diving suit. Two more people entered the airlock as soon as the water was evacuated, grabbing gently Carmen and carrying her in some kind of locker room before putting her down on the floor. A third person, a woman, then spoke to the two bearers in English.

“Mike, Sean, could you leave for a while? We will have to strip her of those wet clothes.”

The two big men quickly left, leaving Carmen alone with the woman and her rescuer.

The Puerto-Rican pilot was quickly stripped of her soggy flight suit and underwear before she was dried with towels and wrapped in an electric blanket. The person in the diving suit then presented a small glass full of an amber liquid to Carmen.

“Drink this: it’s a shot of cognac.”

The voice was clearly that of a woman. Carmen thankfully downed the alcohol, the explosion of warmth in her stomach feeling to her like a revival. A steaming cup of coffee was put next in her hands. By now, Carmen’s vision had returned to normal and she could finally look in detail at the two women providing her comfort. The one in the diving suit, her mask now removed, was a tall woman apparently in her early thirties, with medium-length black hair, green eyes and soft Caucasian features. The other woman, dressed in a dark gray uniform covered with large pockets, was a teenager of great beauty with reddish-brown hair and big blue eyes. Carmen felt better just by looking at her: she looked like the type of person you could get to like instantly. The taller woman grabbed Carmen under one arm.

“Let’s move you to a seat. Ingrid, please help me.”

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The tall one had a very slight accent that Carmen could not trace. Once she was installed on a padded bench, Carmen looked up and smiled at the two women, her cup of hot coffee still in her hands.

“Thank you very much for saving me. I was damn close to sinking for good.”

The tall stranger nodded, smiling back at her.

“It was a close call alright, Lieutenant Sanchez.”

Carmen then looked around her with curiosity.

“Which submarine is this? I didn’t know that there were women submariners in the Navy.”

The tall one laughed with good humor.

“Submarines! The last bastion of male chauvinism. Actually, Lieutenant, you are not aboard a submarine. This is the Time Patrol scout ship WALKUREN. My name is Nancy Laplante, Chief of Operations of the Time Patrol, and my friend here is my stepdaughter, Ingrid Weiss.”

A rush of blood to her brain nearly made Carmen pass out.

“The…the Time Patrol?”

“Correct, Lieutenant. You were predestined to disappear at sea today. Learning of your fate from future hindsight, I planned this rescue and jumped to this time. I am afraid that, from now on, you will be reported officially as missing and presumed dead at sea. I can however offer you an exciting second life in the future, as an agent of my organization. I already saved many others who were destined to officially die. In fact, one of those people directly requested that you be saved today, along with another aircraft crew now searching for you.”

“Who are you talking about?”

Instead of answering, Laplante looked towards a nearby steel door and shouted.

“Commander Hamilton, you may come in now.”

“Commander Hamilton?” Said Carmen, stunned, while the door slid open and her squadron leader walked in, wearing the same kind of gray uniform as Ingrid Weiss.

Hamilton, walking slowly and laboriously, went to her and kissed her on the forehead.

Carmen then noticed that his hair had some gray strands.

“Carmen, you can’t know how happy I am to see you safe and sound.”

“But, you are supposed to be on the RONALD REAGAN. What are you doing here? And you look much older than just yesterday.”

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“Another me is presently on our carrier, Carmen. I was saved by Nancy Laplante in the year 2053, while I and eight other astronauts were stranded on the Moon. I then told her about you and she agreed to save you, on the condition that you disappeared from this time period.”

Carmen looked suspiciously at him.

“This is somewhat hard to believe, sir. What happened to you anyway? You look very weak, apart from being older.”

Hamilton smiled down to her.

“A normal consequence of spending over a year in low gravity on the Moon. I and the others have had only two weeks since our rescue to recuperate. In fact, the others are still back in the future, under medical care. I came so that you and the others would know that you are not being captured by hostile persons.”

“Others? What others?”

“The crew of the search and rescue OSPREY that is now searching for you.

They crashed and disappeared tonight, like you.”

20:34 (North Atlantic Time)

HV-122A OSPREY search and rescue VTOL aircraft

North Atlantic

The OSPREY combat search and rescue aircraft slowed down while its two wingtip engines pivoted to near vertical, letting it fly low and slow over the furious sea, its crew frantically searching in the dark for any trace of Sanchez or of her aircraft. The copilot, Sub-Lieutenant Angie Wells, suddenly yelled over the din of the two giant propellers.

“I have something on the FLIR2! Looks like fuel and debris on the water at two O’clock, distance 600 yards.”

“Good work, Angie!” Replied the pilot, Lieutenant Richard Berkowitz. The OSPREY II was soon over the spot designated by Wells, all its lights on and with four pairs of eyes scanning the surface of the water. Berkowitz sent a short message to the RONALD REAGAN to announce their find, then started an area search pattern. After 2 FLIR: Forward Looking Infra-Red

65

five tense minutes, a scream from the loadmaster, Warrant Mack Turner, made their hearts accelerate.

“Parachute on the surface at nine O’clock!”

“I see it!” Replied the pilot on the intercom. “We may yet get Lieutenant Sanchez out of this cold soup. Petty Officer Crawford, be ready to jump in.”

“Aye, sir!” Responded the S.E.A.L. combat diver, who then quickly put on his scuba gear as Berkowitz maneuvered his aircraft over the white parachute floating on the surface of the stormy sea. Mack Turner looked down at the giant waves and shook his head at Jack Crawford.

“The sea is too strong. Jumping in would be nearly suicidal.”

“So? You want us to turn tail and let Sanchez in there? If I have to jump, I’ll go.”

Berkowitz’s voice cut short the argument.

“There is no sign of Sanchez around. She may be trapped under the parachute.

Petty Officer Crawford, I’ll have to ask you to go and check it out.”

“I’m ready, sir. Just get a bit lower, so that I can jump.”

“Alright! By the way, we will soon get some help: the cruiser PORT ROYAL will be here in ten minutes.”

“Super! We certainly can use some backup.”

Crawford, after another look down at the sea, yelled again in his intercom.

“Hold it right there, sir. Warrant, be ready with that hoist. I…”

Concentrating their attention on the parachute in the water, the crew of the OSPREY did not see a monstrous wave rise nearby. It crashed down over the right wing and engine nacelle, pulling down the aircraft and shearing away the propeller blades off the left engine. The blades became deadly missiles, with one cutting through the fuselage and cockpit. Jack Crawford, holding on desperately to a structural frame, saw with horror the blade cut Warrant Turner in half before beheading Lieutenant Berkowitz. The OSPREY

then hit the water hard and started sinking immediately. Jack, half stunned by the crash, rushed towards the cockpit as water started filling the cabin. He found Angie Wells unconscious, collapsed over her controls and with blood coming from a head wound.

Pushing the quick release knob of her seat harness, he dragged her out of the cockpit as quickly as he could. He barely had time to exit the fuselage, still pulling her limp body, before the aircraft sank out of sight. His next move was to inflate her flotation vest, his hands already starting to feel cold despite of his neoprene gloves: Angie was not going to survive more than ten minutes maximum in that icy water. To make matters worse, a 66

wave came crashing on top of them, separating Jack from Angie. Resurfacing quickly, a desperate Jack searched around for the copilot, without success. Another wave sent him down again. Only the combined buoyancy of his diving suit and of his flotation vest made him resurface again. The furious sea was sapping his energy quickly.

“ANGIE!”

The anguished S.E.A.L. then realized that a large, dark shape now floated overhead in the sky, hiding the stars.

20:55 (North Atlantic Time)

TICONDEROGA Class cruiser USS PORT ROYAL

Captain Purnell had to hold tight to the tactical plot table in order not to be thrown on the deck of his bridge. The ride in this stormy sea was bone jarring, with the whole of the 9,466 tons cruiser shaking as it pounded its way through the waves at the maximum speed possible. He could not see how anybody could survive more than a few minutes in this sea. He however had been ordered to the crash site and would do his best to find the lost pilot. Purnell’s executive officer, in constant intercom contact with the ship’s C.I.C., suddenly raised his head from the radar scope he was watching.

“We just lost contact with the OSPREY, sir. It is no longer on the radar screen.”

Before Purnell could get to the radar scope, the operator manning the forward FLIR

sensor yelled in alarm.

“Contact dead ahead! I have a large flying object 4,500 yards away. It is hovering just above the waves, sir.”

“How large is it?” Asked Purnell. The operator hesitated slightly before answering.

“Much larger than our OSPREY, sir. It also has a weird shape to it.”

Running to the FLIR station, Purnell looked at the video screen for a moment, then contacted the C.I.C. via the intercom.

“Ops, this is the captain! We have a large, unidentified aircraft hovering over the crash site. Transmit the picture from our forward FLIR to the RONALD REAGAN via data link and record everything from now on.”

Purnell then turned towards his executive officer.

“Commander Mitchell, sound battle stations. We have lost two aircraft already over that spot. Also, challenge that contact by radio and order him to identify himself.”

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After two nerve-wracking minutes, the signals officer reported via the intercom.

“Nothing, Captain! They either are not listening, which would be very surprising, or they are clamming up.”

“Very well! Advise the RONALD REAGAN that the unknown contact is refusing to identify itself. Radar, how come we don’t see that thing on our radar screens?”

“I don’t know, sir! It must be using highly effective stealth technology, sir.”

Mitchell, having looked at the FLIR screen, approached Purnell.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, Captain. I advise extreme caution.”

“I agree! This customer has no obvious business here and is sitting over the grave of two of our aircraft. Lock all weapons on this contact, but wait for my command to fire.”

The signals officer then reported again.

“Captain, Admiral Curtiss is ordering the task force to go to ‘Weapons Free’

status. We are to fire warning shots to force the contact to identify itself, then shoot it down if we don’t get an answer.”

Purnell jumped on the intercom right away.

“Ops, fire a warning shot on the unknown contact with the forward five inch gun.”

Seconds later, a bright flash and a loud detonation announced the first shot of the encounter. The reaction of the unknown contact was swift.

“Sir, we are being jammed on all radar and radio frequencies. We can’t get through it but it is coming from the contact.”

Purnell digested that report for a few seconds, then nodded his head.

“Alright, they leave us no choice. Link the forward five-inch gun to the FLIR

director and fire at will. Fire two SM-3 missiles from the aft magazine on home-on-jam mode.”

21:06 (North Atlantic Time)

Crash site, North Atlantic

Jack Crawford, his hands and face now numb, was still being trashed around on the surface of the sea when a flash and a loud explosion nearby caught him by surprise.

Similar explosions soon followed every three seconds, telling him that the unknown craft above him was being shot at by a five-inch gun. However, the shells were detonating just short of the craft, as if stopped by an invisible wall. A blinding blue-green beam of 68

light suddenly sizzled from the craft, followed closely by a second beam. Two distant explosions were then heard. Jack gulped down hard as he stared at the massive craft above him.

“Damn, these buggers have high power lasers.”

His attention was suddenly attracted to a light approaching from above. Somebody was coming for him.

“HERE! I’M HERE!”

Someone splashed in the water besides him, then started fitting some kind of harness on him. A female voice came from the now visible shape in a diving suit glued to him.

“Just let yourself go, sailor. I will drag you up to safety as soon as this harness is in place.”

“Who are you? What is that craft above?”

“I’ll explain later. Your female shipmate is already on board of my ship and is being treated. She will make it. We also saved Lieutenant Sanchez.”

Jack felt immense relief at those words.

“Thank you, whoever you are.”

“Don’t thank me yet, sailor.” Was the woman’s curt reply. Jack suddenly felt himself lifting out of the water, his rescuer still glued to his back.

21:08 (North Atlantic Time)

USS PORT ROYAL

“These bastards have high power lasers!” Exclaimed Commander Mitchell.

“They were able to shoot down our missiles.”

Purnell, now very uneasy, turned towards the FLIR operator.

“Is our gunfire having any effect?”

“No, sir! Our shells are exploding short of the target, as if they are hitting an invisible wall.”

“Damn! Are we fighting off the fucking Starship ENTERPRISE or what? Is all of this being recorded?”

“Yes

sir!”

“Keep it on! Commander Mitchell, I want saturation missile fire on that thing.”

“Aye,

sir!”

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More missiles soon erupted from the aft magazine, but at a rate of one missile every three seconds this time. Purnell and the rest of the bridge crew clearly saw straight rods of blue-green light stab repeatedly the night sky, intercepting and detonating the STANDARD SM-3 surface-to-air missiles of the PORT ROYAL. Fired at a dizzying cadence, the laser beams got closer and closer to the cruiser, with the exploding missiles soon rocking the ship. One exploding missile blew up close enough to send fragments that shattered a few bridge viewing ports.

“CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE! We are going to blow ourselves up at this rate.”

Before Purnell could give another order, a blinding beam struck the ship directly above the bridge. The forward FLIR operator jumped out of his seat.

“SIR, THEY JUST SHOT OUT OUR FORWARD FLIR DIRECTOR!”

21:10 (North Atlantic Time)

Time Patrol scoutship WALKUREN

North Atlantic

Jack Crawford and his rescuer finally flew in the craft through a wide rear cargo ramp, ending inside a fairly large cargo bay lit by combat red lights. Jack could see three women busy stripping an inert Angie Wells of her wet clothes, while a fourth one was applying a bandage to her bleeding head. He also saw with a jump of his heart Lieutenant Sanchez, wrapped in a blanket and sitting on one of the jump seats lining the sides of the cargo bay, a man by her side. All the strangers wore dark gray uniforms unfamiliar to Jack. He and his rescuer touched down near the group taking care of Angie Wells. Forgetting about his frozen hands, Jack went to the OSPREY copilot, eyeing her anxiously. One of the women attending her, a young woman with blond hair, looked up at him and smiled reassuringly.

“Don’t worry about your shipmate: she is unconscious but breathing regularly and her head wound is not actually serious. She will be better once warmed up.”

“Thank you, miss.”

Jack couldn’t help stare as Angie was stripped of all her clothes before being dried and wrapped in a blanket: the male pilots on the RONALD REAGAN were tripping over themselves to date the tall, beautiful California blonde. Jack, now reassured about Angie, went to Carmen Sanchez, who got up from her seat. Someone had given her a gray uniform similar to that worn by the man standing beside her. That man immediately 70

caught Jack’s undivided attention: he had a strong family resemblance to him and was also staring back, surprise and wonderment on his face.

“Do I know you, sir?” Asked Jack hesitantly.

“I doubt so. My name is Mike Crawford. And you are?”

“Petty Officer Second Class Jack Crawford, U.S. Navy S.E.A.L.s.”

The big stranger, standing even taller than Jack’s 188 centimeters frame, swallowed hard while still staring.

“Who…who was your paternal grandfather?”

“Er, Patrick. Why?”

“And what was the first name of your paternal great grandfather?”

Totally confused by now, Jack answered without thinking.

“John, I believe. Yeah, his name was John. He died on our family ranch in Havre, Montana, when I was still young.”

To Jack’s and Sanchez’s utter surprise, the stranger in front of them broke down in tears and hugged jack.

“Jack, your great grandfather John was my brother. You are my great grand-nephew.”

Jack’s rescuer, a tall woman with black hair and green eyes, stared at him with her mouth wide open, then smiled at Mike Crawford.

“Well, I’ll be damned! This mission is an even bigger success than I hoped for.”

“What mission?” Exploded Jack. “Who are you anyway?”

Mike Crawford patted his shoulder, grinning from ear to ear.

“It’s a long story, Jack. Once you take off this diving suit, we will have a long talk together.”

07:11 (Eastern Standard Time)

Friday, March 5, 2021 ‘A’

Married Quarters, U.S. Navy base

Norfolk, Virginia

United States

Lynda Crawford picked up the local base newspaper from the mailbox of her small, modest military house and went back inside, the cold March wind making her shiver in her bathrobe. She went back to the kitchen, where three year-old Steve was 71

eating his porridge in his high chair. Her son glanced at her as she sat down in her rocking chair, then went back at playing with his breakfast. Lynda was too depressed to call him to order. Unfolding the newspaper, she scanned quickly the titles. One article was briefly recapitulating what was called officially a tragic accident that had claimed five navy lives. From the embarrassed looks and evasive explanations from Jack’s comrades, whose carrier had returned early to port two days ago, Lynda had guessed that there was a lot more to it than the official story said. For one thing, she had heard a number of gossips at the base hairstyling salon, where she was working, about navy yard workers having to repair some kind of battle damage to the cruiser PORT ROYAL.

Even more troubling was the rumor that over twenty of its anti-aircraft missiles had been fired in anger. Turning the pages of the newspaper, Lynda found the obituary section, where five small pictures were accompanied by brief texts. She couldn’t restraint her tears as she looked at the picture of Jack, taken years ago in his dress uniform, an impressive row of medals on his chest. Putting down the paper, she thought gloomily about what she would do with her life now. The most important thing was to provide as normal a life as possible to little Steve, who was still too young to realize the extent of his loss. One thing was clear to Lynda: she was not going to stay on this base. It would only remind her of Jack’s loss. Besides, while polite and supportive for the moment, Lynda knew that it would take only weeks before the base administration started treating her like a burden and forced her out of her military housing, in order to make place for another Navy family. Her father-in-law, Daniel Crawford, had already called to offer her to move to the Crawford’s family farm near Havre, Montana. The more she thought about it, the more she was tempted to accept that offer.

09:11 (Eastern Standard Time)

Monday, March 8, 2021 ‘A’

Married Quarters, U.S. Navy base

Norfolk, Virginia

“Where are we going, Mommy?” Asked for the tenth time Steve as Lynda strapped him to his car safety seat.

“We are going to visit grandpa’s farm, dear. There are a lot of horses there, along with cows and chickens.”

“Will I be able to play with them, Mommy?”

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“Of course you will. Now, be patient while I talk to our visitor.”

Closing the front right door of her old Pontiac Sunfire, she turned to face the Navy petty officer sent by the base to collect the keys to her house. The man saluted her after accepting the keys.

“Have a good trip, maam. If you have any problems with the moving truck, don’t hesitate to call us. Again, I’m truly sorry for your loss, maam.”

“Thank you! Have a good day.”

Lynda then got in her car and drove off, not bothering to look back at what had been their house for three years.

19:28 (Eastern Standard Time)

Thirty kilometers West of Huntington

West Virginia

Lynda promised herself to find a motel once in Huntington, on the state border with Kentucky: she was dead tired from the long day of driving, it was pitch dark and a cold rain made the driving even more difficult and treacherous. Thankfully, little Steve was sleeping in his safety seat, sparing her more stress. She was approaching a bridge spanning a small river when the headlights illuminated someone standing on the side of the road. Lynda quickly rejected the idea of picking up the hitchhiker: she was alone with an infant at night in a place she didn’t know. Her car was about to pass by the hitchhiker when she applied brutally the brakes, her heart jumping in her chest: the hitchhiker was her husband Jack! The braking woke up Steve, who started whining as the car stopped.

“Mommy, I want to get out.”

Lynda did not answer, looking aft instead. Jack was running towards them and was nearly to the car. She could see that she had not been mistaken. As impossible as it seemed, it was really Jack out there. Opening her door and stepping out, Lynda ran to meet him, throwing herself in his arms and covering him with kisses. He kissed her back while hugging her.

“Jack, how could you be alive? I was told that you went missing at sea.”

“It’s a long story, Lynda. I will tell you everything soon. First, let me see Steve.”

Jack, Lynda behind him, went to their Pontiac Sunfire and opened the front passenger door.

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“DADDY!”

Taking his little son out of his seat, Jack hugged him for long seconds, both ignoring the rain that was still falling. A tall woman wearing a gray uniform and a black helmet then walked out of the woods bordering the road and joined the small family by the side of the car. Lynda tensed up at her sight.

“Jack, who is that woman?”

Her husband smiled reassuringly as he pointed the stranger.

“Lynda, this is Nancy Laplante, the one who saved my life at sea. She also saved two of the four others who officially died with me.”

“Jack, you don’t make much sense. Why didn’t you simply return to the base in Norfolk?”

“Because your husband is officially dead according to history, Misses Crawford.”

Answered the woman. “He would actually be really dead if I had not traveled through time to save him and the others. I offered him a brand new life for your family in the future and Jack accepted. I know that this is the kind of decision best taken as a couple, but dead men normally have little choice in their destiny. It was that or a life of sad solitude for you. Before you ask, the Navy has nothing to do with this.”

“Then, who do you work for?” Said an overwhelmed Lynda.

“I am Chief of Operations of the Time Patrol, which operates from the year 3384.

I also happen to be married to Mike Crawford, Jack’s great grand-uncle. He also works for me. Now, we have to complete the disappearing act of your family. Jack, please take out your wife’s luggage from the car.”

Watched by a confused Lynda, to whom Jack had given back Steve, her husband quickly took out the four suitcases and three boxes filling the trunk and the backseat of the car. A sort of metallic crate then appeared out of nowhere near the car, making Lynda gasp in shock. Nancy Laplante opened it and took out of it a collection of used suitcases, which Jack then put in the trunk. Laplante then put Lynda’s luggage inside the crate and closed it. The crate vanished in a flash of white light a few seconds later.

With the trunk left open, Laplante took place behind the steering wheel of the car and drove off before Lynda could protest. To Lynda’s horror, the car sped towards the bridge but veered off the road just before getting on it and fell down the steep slope of the riverbank, splashing in the river. It then sank in seconds. Lynda didn’t see Laplante come out of it.

“My god! Was she mad? Why did she kill herself?”

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“Don’t worry about me, Misses Crawford. I am fine.”

Laplante’s voice in her back made Lynda turn around abruptly to look with incomprehension at her.

“How…”

“I will explain later, once we are out of this cold rain. Follow me, please.”

Just as Laplante said that, a big craft appeared out of nowhere, twenty meters away on the road. Lynda couldn’t help stop, stunned by this. Jack patted gently her shoulder.

“Don’t be afraid, Lynda. You will love this new life of ours.”

20:36 (Berlin Time)

Monday, June 30, 1941 ‘B’

Room 217, senior prisoners quarters

Colditz Castle, Germany

William Anderson was writing a letter to his wife Kathleen, sitting at the old table of his room with Mark Lindsay, who was reading a book, when someone behind him put a hand on his left shoulder. Taken by surprise, like Lindsay, Anderson nearly jumped out of his chair and looked behind. His eyes popped wide open at the sight of Nancy Laplante, dressed in a sort of gray uniform and wearing a complicated-looking black helmet.

“Hello, Major. I need to speak to you and Squadron Leader Lindsay, if you don’t mind.”

“What are you doing here, Brigadier? You are supposed to be in Berlin.”

“I was…for a few hours. I will explain later. Now, we have an emergency at hand and we must move fast. Colditz is about to be bombed to rubble, with both the prisoners and all the Germans around due to be killed in the incoming raid. I traveled through time to save as many people as possible in the time we have left.”

Anderson glanced at the shoulder patch on Nancy’s uniform, reading the words ‘Time Patrol’ on it before looking back at her and swallowing hard.

“You are serious, are you?”

“Deadly serious. I must start evacuating everybody discreetly and without delay.

Hold on to this firmly.”

She gave him a cylindrical object the size of a grenade, then passed another one to Lindsay.

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“I will see you in a short while, both of you.”

Before either man could speak, they disappeared from where they sat. Nancy started heading for the door of the room, but nearly bumped into Lieutenant Colonel Robertson as he entered the room. Anger and hatred flashed in the eyes of the British on seeing her.

“YOU, HERE? WHAT THE DEVIL…”

He couldn’t finish his sentence, as Nancy grabbed him by the collar and, lifting him clear off the floor, slammed him hard against the wall, holding him up there.

“Listen, you moron! I am here to save lives, not to waste time listening to your stupid accusations. I should leave you here to die for all the wrongs you did to me, but I will save you anyway.”

She then touched his forehead with two fingers of her left hand. Robertson jerked once, then became limp. Putting him down on the floor, Nancy then laid a transit probe on his belly and activated it. The man disappeared after a few seconds. Nancy’s next step was to go to Jim Milner’s room, ignoring the incredulous looks of the three prisoners she met in the hallway. She found Milner absorbed in a poker game with Samuel Goldman, Sven Larsen, Fernand Brunet and Jan Nierman. All five men looked up at her as if she was a witch. She held up an authoritative hand before they could say anything.

“Hold on to your questions, guys. We have an emergency and I must evacuate you as quickly as possible before this place is bombed to rubble in less than half a hour by the RAF.”

Nancy then took five transit probes from the carrying pouch slung across one shoulder and distributed them, activating them as each man got one of the probes.

“Hold on to these: they will transport you to safety.”

“But I want to go with you.” Said Milner sheepishly, making Nancy smile.

“You will, Jim.” She said just before the American disappeared, followed shortly by the others. Next, Nancy went up to the top floor, where Jean Bigras and the other junior rank prisoners were accommodated. She found the Frenchman besides his bunk bed, shining his boots. Silence fell in the room as she approached the young man, who looked at her as if she was an angel.

“You are here to take me with you, Madame?”

“I am, Jean. You are coming with me to the future. Take this.”

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A concert of exclamations from the two dozen other prisoners greeted the disappearance of Bigras. Nancy went to a nearby table and signaled the prisoners to gather around her, then spoke in her helmet microphone.

“Send a box of transit probes to my location. Set them for London.”

Her next words were for the prisoners around her.

“Listen up carefully and please keep quiet. Your lives may depend on it. Colditz is about to be flattened by a fleet of British bombers and I am here to evacuate you to safety. I will soon distribute to each of you a small object that you will have to hang on to until it has transported you out of here, the same way you saw Corporal Bigras go. You will find yourselves in London, England, but two days in the future.”

“Why two days, maam?” Asked a British RAF flight sergeant, as exclamations ran around the large room.

“So as to avoid a time paradox with other events about to unfold. Once you find yourselves in London, step away from your emergence point and let go the probe I will give you, unless you want to experience an electric shock. You will then be free to report back to your respective commands…and your families.”

Big grins and cheers greeted those last words. She repeated her instructions in Dutch, French and Polish for good measure. By the time she was finished, a metallic container had appeared in midair, floating down silently to land on top of the table. Opening the container, Nancy made the prisoners line up in order to distribute the transit probes, making sure that each prisoner stepped away from the others before activating his probe and disappearing. In mere minutes, all the prisoners were gone, leaving Nancy alone with the container and seven leftover probes. Those were quickly distributed to other prisoners on the next floor down. Sending the container back repeatedly to have it refilled with probes, Nancy methodically emptied the building of its occupants in less than fifteen minutes. Her next stop was the castle’s infirmary, where she appeared in front of a few sick prisoners and of one German medic. The German immediately fell on his knees before her, awe on his face.

“You are back, Brigadier! We were hoping that you would.”

“Thank you, Obergefreiter Hirsh. Your faith is touching. I will actually need your help in order to save the lives of your comrades.”

“Ask anything of me, Brigadier”

Smiling down gently to the man, Nancy spent a minute giving him instructions, then handed him a probe.

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“Remember: you must advise and orient the people as they will appear in the open field. They will be disoriented and confused and will need reassurance, especially the old ones and the children.”

“I will do my best, Brigadier.” Said the German softly, getting a nod from Nancy, who spoke this time in her helmet microphone.

“Probe 49 to coordinates Delta. Activate now!”

Once the German medic was gone, Nancy took care of the sick prisoners, sending them on their way to London. The last patient had just disappeared when she received a radio message.

“HERMES to Nancy: the British bombers are approaching. We may have about six more minutes before they are on top of Colditz.”

“Damn! I am far from finished here. How are you doing with the citizens of the town?”

“We have safely transferred over 1,359 persons up to now. Our probe controllers are working as fast as they possibly can, but we would need more time to get everyone out.”

“Keep at it as long as possible. I will take care of the castle’s garrison. Send me a full container of probes.”

“On its way.”

As promised, a container materialized besides her less than a minute later. Grabbing the container’s carrying handle, Nancy lifted it and walked out in the inner courtyard.

Luck was with her, as she saw Colonel Schmidt crossing the lit courtyard, doing his usual pre-curfew inspection with two soldiers. Deciding that she had to take some risk at this point if she wanted to accomplish at least part of her goals, Nancy walked resolutely towards Schmidt, crossing the open space of the courtyard in full view of the roof sentries manning machineguns.

“COLONEL SCHMIDT, I NEED TO SPEAK TO YOU URGENTLY!”

The commandant turned around and stared in utter surprise at Nancy.

“Brigadier Laplante? But, you are supposed to be in Berlin. What…”

Schmidt then noticed the pistols on her belt and the weird shape of her helmet. His hand went for his own pistol, while the two soldiers escorting him started pointing their rifles. Nancy held one hand up while still walking towards them.

“I am here to save your men’s lives, Colonel. Hear me out, please! We have very little time before a fleet of British bombers arrives to flatten Colditz.”

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Hesitating for a moment, Schmidt then ordered his soldiers to lower their rifles.

“Bombers? What are you talking about?”

“I am talking about the bombers the British sent here with the mission to kill me, so that I couldn’t give away their precious secrets. I traveled through time to come here and to save as many lives as I can tonight. I can help save your men, but you will have to show blind confidence in me.”

“What tells me that this is not a trick to help break the prisoners out?”

“I could have sent them away without needing to expose myself like this, Colonel.

In fact, the prisoners have already been evacuated by some friends of mine, along with close to 1,400 of the town’s inhabitants. The evacuation of civilians is continuing as we speak, using remotely-controlled time machines.”

Schmidt’s face hardened when she said that the prisoners were gone.

“And how am I supposed to explain to Berlin that I let all my prisoners escape just on the strength of your story, Brigadier? They will want to know why I didn’t even try to arrest you.”

“You can tell them that any attempt to take me or to kill me would have resulted in your precious Führer finding himself transported instantly to London.”

Nancy then disappeared from where she stood, reappearing a few meters behind Schmidt and the soldiers.

“Just like this, Colonel.”

The three Germans jumped and turned around, staring at her with disbelief.

“How did you do that?” Exclaimed Schmidt.

“The same way I intend to transport your men to safety. Can’t you hear the British bombers now? I assure you that they will leave nothing standing in Colditz by the time they are finished, Colonel.”

Schmidt listened for a moment and effectively heard the faint buzz of hundreds of aircraft piston engines approaching. Looking back at Nancy, he nodded his head once.

“Alright, I believe you. How do you want to proceed?”

“Have one man gather as quickly as possible your garrison in the outer courtyard, from where they will be transported to safety via time transfer probes. They must get out at once, even if they are in the showers, naked: their lives will depend on that.”

Schmidt immediately looked at one of the soldiers standing beside him.

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“Gefreiter Wankel, do as Brigadier Laplante said! I want everybody out in the outer courtyard without delay.”

“Yawol, Herr Colonel!” Replied the soldier, saluting before leaving at a dead run.

Nancy then handed a probe to the remaining soldier.

“Press the red button on top of this object, soldier.”

The German did so and disappeared from where he stood two seconds later. Schmidt, fighting off his bewilderment, called to him the two sentries present in the inner courtyard, so that Nancy could give them transit probes. Once those two men were gone, Nancy and Schmidt ran to the main gate of the courtyard, where the German officer shouted urgently at the outside sentry to open the door. That sentry and another German standing along the parapet were next to disappear. Standing next to the door of the guardhouse flanking the main gate, Nancy handed out transit probes as the German soldiers inside ran out, urged on by Schmidt. Nine more Germans were sent to safety before Nancy, followed by Schmidt, ran towards the gate giving access to the outer courtyard. By that time, the noise of dozens of heavy bombers approaching fast now filled the evening sky. Handing a probe to the sentry standing at the outer gate, Nancy ran inside the outer courtyard, to find about twenty German soldiers milling around in utter confusion, with more soldiers rushing out every second. She saw old Feldwebel Buhlingen, who was trying to put some order in the growing group of soldiers, and ran to him. German anti-aircraft batteries around the castle were now firing away for all their worth. Looking at her first with surprise, then with happiness, Buhlingen saluted Nancy crisply as she braked to a halt in front of him.

“Brigadier, it is nice to see you here again…”

“Thanks, Feldwebel, but we have only seconds left before the British start bombing this place to rubble. Take this and hold on to it until you are transported to safety.”

Nancy pressed herself the activation button of a probe before handing it to Buhlingen.

She was already handing another probe to a young soldier as the feldwebel disappeared. Handing out probes at a feverish pace, she emptied her container in less than half a minute. That left however two soldiers and Colonel Schmidt still standing beside her. Swearing to herself, she called the HERMES via radio.

“HERMES, I am out of probes, with three men still to transport. Send me more probes right away!”

The voice of Mona Zirel, sounding urgent, answered her.

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“We are out of time, Nancy. The first bombs are on their way. Get out, now!”

“I’m not leaving anyone behind.” Replied Nancy before looking at Schmidt and the two soldiers. “Hug me, quickly!”

“What?” Said Schmidt, astonished.

“Hug me, now, all of you!”

The three Germans did so, too surprised to argue further. Not even knowing if her implanted time distorter had the power to transport such a mass, Nancy concentrated while pressing the three men against her. She managed to levitate slowly off the ground before giving the mental order to her implanted computer to jump to coordinates Delta.

The four of them disappeared barely a half second before the first bomb detonated inside the castle’s walls.

03:31 (Berlin Time)

Wednesday, July 2, 1941 ‘B’

Open field, six kiloneters South of Colditz

Germany

They reappeared in the middle of an open field, still in the dark of the night.

Floating down to the ground, Nancy then released her grip on the three Germans.

Schmidt sucked air in while holding his ribs.

“Himmel! You are incredibly strong, Brigadier.”

He then looked around and saw hundreds of other people, mostly civilians, milling around in the dark and talking in German to each other in the middle of what looked like a farmer’s field.

“Where are we, Brigadier?”

“In a field about six kilometers south of Colditz. This is the early morning of Wednesday, July 2, 1941. We jumped ahead in time by thirty hours, to avoid creating a time paradox.”

“And

Colditz?”

Nancy pointed North, where fires were still visible in the distance.

“What little is left of the town is still burning. As for the castle, there is nothing left of it but smoldering rubble. Berlin still thinks that everyone here in this field is dead, cremated in the ruins of Colditz. Dawn will come in about two hours, at which time you 81

will be able to collect the survivors and lead them back to the town. Luftwaffe troops are still fighting off the fires there and will be able to assist you.”

Nancy looked around at the civilians and soldiers in the field and shook her head in sadness.

“We were not able to save even the majority of the population of Colditz.

Thousands died because of me.”

Schmidt patted her shoulder gently.

“Don’t be so rough on yourself, Brigadier: the British are to blame, not you. Any other prisoner but you wouldn’t have given even a second thought about the citizens of Colditz, let alone about my men. I am in your debt, like all the other Germans here now.”

“I only did the decent thing to do, Herr Schmidt. It still wasn’t enough. How about organizing those people before panic sets in?”

“Good idea! Let me do that.”

Nancy, drained by her last rescue, stood and watched as Schmidt started yelling orders, assembling his soldiers and giving directives to the civilians, the great majority of whom were women and children. After five minutes, Schmidt had the lot moved to the side of the secondary road running North-South alongside the field. Nancy approached him then.

“Colonel, I would actually have a favor to ask from you, if you don’t mind.”