The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Thirty-four: The
least this 'world' -- or 'reality' or 'dream' or whatever the
heck it was -- was a bit of an improvement on the plain of
tiles. It had dirt, anyway, and forlorn plants here and there,
scattered about a broken desert landscape of ridges, arroyos and
low rocky hills. The atmosphere and gravity seemed to be
Earth-normal, but there weren't any stars or clouds in the
sky -- if it was night (presuming there would be a day).
darkness wasn't a problem for Sara, but there didn't seem to be
any landmarks or signs or clues around her that could give her a
hint as to where she should go or what she should do. There were
faint sounds from someplace nearby, so she wandered off in that
direction to investigate, making her way slowly through the dark so as
not to startle whoever she might run into.
Rounding a low
mound of piled boulders, she saw, underneath the
shelter of a small stand of trees, a campfire surrounded by a score of
men. It had the appearance of a hastily
thrown-together military encampment, every man with a weapon
close to hand. Scraps of canvas and leafy tree branches had been thrown together to
serve as tents, or at least lean-tos, and blankets were spread
in preparation for a long night in the wilderness. The men were
busily attending to their messkits as she approached them
carefully, hoping they wouldn't be freaked out by her sudden
appearance out of the gloom.
A sentry spotted
her and sang out, "Halt! Who goes there?"
hailed them cheerily, "Hey, guys!
Got room for one more?" she said, waving as she approached.
and be recognized," he demanded in the age-old formula.
her warily as she got closer to the fire and could finally make out
her form and features. The others turned their attention from
the campfire to peer outward in all directions, alert for
said the sentry, "I don't think, uh, she's one
Jeb swiveled his
head toward his companion. "She...? What th' hell ye
talkin' 'bout, Nate?"
nodded, and Jeb squinted to get a better look, his eyes not yet
adjusted to the dark after facing the fire. "Well,
I'll be flummoxed," he finally announced.
worry, fellas," she told them. "I'm alone and I'm
The others in
the group stared at her as she came into their circle, then
slowly stood up, as their etiquette demanded when a female entered their presence.
her discreetly, trying not to be caught staring, and she examined back, both sides unable to decide what to
make of the other. The soldiers -- for that's what they
obviously were -- wore the Yankee blue of Federal troops. Their
muzzle-loading pieces were stacked together in neat pyramids and
they had sheathed bayonets on their belts.
spoke, "I heared they was women soldiers by'n'by,
'specially some o' them Rooshans."
Rooshan, ma'am?" asked Jeb politely. "I don't rightly
know whar they'd be bivouacked, but 'tain't none too close, I'd
Russian? No, I'm from Texas, sorta. My name's Sara Corel,"
she said. "Pleased to meet you. Are you guys making a movie
Rebs be off thataway, mostly," he said, waving his hand
into the dark. "I shore wouldn't-a knowed it from lookin'
atchya. That's th' goldurndest getup I ever did see. Uh,
Jeb," hissed Nate. "Ye ain't got th' manners of a
He smiled and
bowed politely to Sara, "We's honored, Miss Sara. I'm Nathan Boone, at yer service,
an' this here's th' Ninth Kentucky, ma'am -- th' unlucky part
o' it, leastaways."
ma'am," said the chastened Jeb. "Things ain't what
they used t' be, hereabouts. I'm Jebadiah Hicks.
Please accept our hospitality. We'd be honored if ye'd set a
spell. C'n I git ye some grub an' coffee? They's some
spit-roasted chicken an' beans left. 'Sall we got at th' moment, I'm
thanks," she said, always up for a meal. They hustled to
make her as comfortable as possible, introducing each of the
other men to her until they had all humbly paid their respects..
When he'd gone
all around the little circle, Jeb concluded, "Mostly, we
was kilt at Vicksburg, 'ceptin' Dan'l, who got it at Shiloh, an'
Zeke, who was run down by cav'lry outside o' Atlanta."
said Sara. "Excuse me, but I'm a little confused, here. You
guys are talking about the Civil War? What was, like, in the
1860s, wasn't it?"
said Zeke. "If ye don't mind me askin', when was ye kilt?
Seems t' me ye ain't exactly no Reb. From what I'se been told, they wasn't
all thet many womenfolk in combat fer at least a hunnert years
or so after Mr. Lincoln's War."
yeah," she said, "It was a lot later than that. But
I'm still not with you here. I hate to sound completely
ignorant, but could you please tell me what's going on?"
know?" said Jeb. "Whar's yer outfit, ma'am? 'Sfar as I
know, ever'body come out with they old outfits, even tho' they
wasn't kilt together -- like Dan'l an' Zeke, who would-a never
found us if they had to go traipsin' all over creation lookin'.
An' th' last ones come in day b'fo' yestiddy."
said Sara, "I wasn't with any 'outfit', I'm afraid. And
nobody told me anything. I just got here, myself. And I guess if
you all are 'dead', then we're all in the same boat. I was in
some kinda weird place, like Hell or something, and the angel
that got me out told me to go through, like, a door -- which I
did -- and here I am, wherever 'here' is."
looked at each other knowingly.
Nate finally said, "I
was one o' the first ones t' git here, so's I scouted around a bit.
S'far as I know, they ain't nobody here what waren't kilt in battle
somewhars -- an' I don't mean from fever or from runnin' or
accidental-like. Got t' be mostly reg'lar soldiers what got kilt
fightin' other soldiers in a sho' 'nuff war. I reckon ever' soul what
got kilt in combat whilst wearin' some kind o' uniform since Adam is
here now. They's all tricked out jist like they was when they died,
with all o' they gear brand spankin' new an' a full kit bag with extry
"They's Roosians, an' Hessians, an' Redcoats, an' Chinamen,
an' Frogs, an' Swedes, an' Hittites, an' Romans, an' Turks, an'
Israelites, an' Pharoh's army, an' Spanish dons, an' silver
knights, an' a whole passel o' soldiers that wasn't born 'til
after we-all a-been long gone."
got they horses," Dan'l went on, "An' some o' them Indiamen got
elly-fants. They's chariots an' great tinwork contraptions and
flyin' machines. Sailors got they ships-o'-the-line an' galleys
an' whoppin' big ol' ironclads that went down with they crews. Whatever kinda weapon they
perished with come with 'em."
They all looked
expectantly at Sara, obviously curious as to how she might fit
"Well, I guess you could say I was sorta killed in
battle while wearing a uniform. And I suppose you could say I
got my 'weapons' with me. I don't think I was in what you could call
a war, though that could depend on your definition. I dunno --
maybe there's some kind of a mixup."
that for a while. "I s'pose y'kin find out in th' mornin'.
They ain't too many generals, as ye c'n imagine, but they's a
field headquarters over t' the' valley yonder, an' maybe they
c'n help ye."
Sara asked, "What are you here for?"
said Jeb, "th' Last Battle, o' course."
Nate added, "Army-geddon. We oughtta be ready in a week or
so, I reckon."
no doubt 'bout that, neither," said Jeb.
"We all heared th' Last
wonderful," Sara said sarcastically. "Another dream
about fighting and battles. Why can't I imagine shopping or
"I s'pose we all figgered we was a-dreamin', this bein' not
'xactly what we had in mind fer th' Hereafter, an' all. I musta
spent half th' first mornin' pinchin' myself, an' t'other half
tryin' to remember whar I musta got a-holt o' so much moonshine
th' night befo'."
no dream," said Nate. "It's too real an' too
miser'ble, an' too durn long by half."
to that," said Sara. "The last time, I couldn't tell
my dream from reality at all, even though it was pretty
outlandish. Which, this one, after all -- I mean, first there
was this angel, and now you guys. No offense, but you're
basically just figments of my imagination, you know."
Jeb said, "An' yer another. Lemme tell ye what got my
attention 'bout all o' this. I was raised a farm boy an' never
did git much book larnin'. What I seen yestiddy over to th'
valley was what I couldn't never a-thought up m'self. Besides
all them heathen furriners, they's a whole bunch o' United
States Federal troops from th' future over yonder. It
ain't jist 'cause o' all o' them newfangled contraptions they
got -- I reckon all kinda things be gittin' better in a hunnert
years or so. No, them boys is differ'nt from us, th' way
they talk, th' way they act, ever'thing -- even though they's
countrymen -- as much, I s'pose, as George Washington's troops
woulda been from us. I'da never figger'd that. Ye c'n only dream
what ye know."
Nate was more
somber. "Th' thing I remember 'bout is th' way I died. If
I'm a-dreamin' now, then death is a dream -- an' I wisht I had
a better 'un.
"I took a
minnie-ball in m' shoulder. Knocked me down like a mule woulda.
Didn't hurt too much right away, an' I had a thought 'bout
gittin' up an' back in th' line, but couldn't manage it. Took me
a bit afore I realized m' right arm was jist 'bout tore off. So
I laid there a spell, ponderin' what I was a-gonna do, gittin'
weaker all along.
hurtin' commenced, an' it got to be jist awful. I got to bein' powerful' thirsty an' called
out fer help, but by then th' fightin' had moved off a bit an'
th' only others around were as bad off as I was -- or worse.
They was an awful lot o' smoke an' shot in th' air thereabouts,
so there I laid with ev'ry kind o' crawly critter in that
pasture helpin' theyselves to what was left o' me -- which is a
misery, I c'n testify.
it was like ever'thing got further away, an' all th' racket just
faded out. I swooned fer a bit, an' when I came to, it was dark.
All 'round me men was moanin' an' cryin' fo' they mamas, an' I
s'pect I did, too. A couple wagons finally showed up, an' they
commenced t' gatherin' up th' ones what could be saved, but they
took a look at me an' passed on. Jist as well, I reckon. I
didn't have enough blood left in me t' curse 'em, an' took m'
leave o' th' world shortly thereafter.
"My time in
th' grave was peaceful, but awful lonely -- guess I didn't
really 'xpect no Pearly Gates. Now I'm here -- an' 'tain't no
better'n th' day I died. If this be th' Final Muster fo' th'
Last Battle, then it appears likely that I will be obliged t'
die again, an' I am not very pleased at th' prospect. I s'spect
that I would not even want to dream this in Hell, if you'll
pardon my language, ma'am."
around the campfire nodded in sympathy, and some in turn
recounted for her and each other their own stories of their
fates. Sara grieved for them silently. Figments or not, it
certainly seemed as though they experienced their own
self-awareness. And if so, then how were these men different
than what she perceived about any others she ever knew? If she
discounted their existence based on what she thought she knew
about the state of her own existence, then how could she credit
the existence of any entity apart from her? Or the
independence of reality itself?
As Jeb had said,
these relics of a bygone age were different from the
people she knew, not only in their dialect, but in the way they
acted -- treating her, despite their backwoods roughness, in a
genteel and deferential manner that was unknown to her era. And
the stories of their deaths were from a perspective outside of
her experience, something she'd never even wanted to imagine.
This did not seem to be anything she'd read in a book or seen
in a movie that was adapted to her internal virtual reality.
Well, who knows how deep Susan's database was...
The angel had
told her to trust her own imagination. If he was just a product
of her fantasy, too, then Sara -- or Susan -- was trying
to tell herself something important about what was 'happening'
to her. It was very confusing.
dwindled to a few dull embers, and the soldiers succumbed one by
one to sleep, except for two sentries who patrolled the
perimeter for their turn at watch. Sara was wide awake for a while, thinking without
result. She finally got up and silently rose slowly into the air
to look around. The little encampment under the trees was at the
edge of a vast sea of other camps, large and small, the remnants
of their fires still clearly visible in infrared. There were men
and their equipment spread over many square miles, numbering
in the millions, ringing a broad, desert valley in their midst
where other presences were gathered, surrounded by an aura of
power that disturbed her.
All was quiet.
It was a calm before some calamitous storm to come. She sank
slowly back to the campsite of the Ninth Kentucky, made herself
comfortable on a patch of sand, wrapped herself in her cape, and
went to sleep. At least in this dream, there was rest and
food. For now, anyway.
They made her a surprisingly
tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs laced with tinned salt pork
and onions, cornbread, fruit and coffee. Their sheltering
little oasis was nourished by a spring-fed pond of cold water
and consisted of an unlikely combination of date and coconut
palms, fruit-laden pear, apple and orange trees, with wild
herbs, roots and berries scattered through the grassy
undergrowth. There were quite a few chickens wandering around,
but evidently no roosters. As long as their original provisions
of staples held out, the men would be adequately provided for.
The pattern was
repeated over and over across the plain surrounding the valley,
furnishing the gathered multitudes with supplies adequate for at
least a couple of weeks -- long enough to finish the presumed
business at hand, anyway. Armies travel on their stomachs, and
not many baggage trains had fallen in battle, so the agency
responsible for their resurrection had seen to the necessities.
them all for their hospitality and promised to return, then set
out through the maze of camps in the general direction of the
area headquarters. Most of the units nearby were from the Civil
War era, but there were also a few small Mexican and Spanish War
groups. She encountered several large assemblies of
Revolutionary War soldiers and militiamen, and one group of 186
Texians whose presence seemed to indicate that the definition of
'uniform' was very loose. Several of them were busy trading with
the much larger adjacent camp of Mexican soldiers, exchanging
tobacco for cornmeal.
She stopped to
chat briefly with their leader, who gallantly introduced himself
in the manner of the Old South as Colonel William Barrett
Travis, "At your service, Miss. Allow me to present my
staff, Colonel James Bowie and Congressman David Crockett,"
who allowed as they were honored to make her acquaintance.
felt more than a little awed to meet such legends, but tried not
to show it too much. Travis oozed gentlemanly charm, and Bowie
came off as a frontier dandy, part riverboat gambler and part
swaggering cock-o-the-walk. Crockett played the shrewd buffoon,
spitting elaborately and often between pithy backwoods
witticisms. They and all the men in sight studiously avoided
staring obviously at her exposed legs, coming as they were from
an era when a bared ankle was scandalously risque. They seemed
to accept her credentials as an unlikely warrior without
you're getting along famously with your neighbors," she
observed. "This is just a guess, but would those guys over
there be Santa Anna's men?"
miss," said Travis. "That war is behind us and we must
needs face a common foe. We share a powerful bond with all those
here assembled, who are of necessity our brothers in duty. We
have crossed the line-in-the-sand together, having proven our
courage and devotion; therefore we can but feel only respect for
those who are our comrades now, even those whose tongues
befuddle us and whose customs are baffling."
Sara asked them,
"Do you have any idea of just who it is you're supposedly
here to fight, and why?"
"I do not
intend to question devine Providence."
"What if it
isn't devine? I mean, pardon me, but this all seems more
senseless than anything else."
be sense and purpose beyond our ken."
might not be, either. This could just be a spectacle for the
amusement of... Well, I don't know -- maybe Cryptos. Or like
one of those historical re-enactments, where at lot of guys
dress up in old uniforms and refight, like, the Battle of San
Jacinto. I saw that once with Alex, over at the monument."
said Bowie, "All I know is that I am here to fight. That is
the obvious truth of it, and what I am prepared to do."
drawled, "Y'know [spit], when I got whupped fer re-election
back in Tennessee, I tol' m' former constituents that they could
by Gawd go t' Hell [spit]. As fer me, I was a-goin' to Texas
[spit]. I don't know whar they might be now, but I sure
as hell ain't in Texas [spit]. Well, I know fer a fact that I
didn't bring m'self or nobody else t' this here place. 'Tain't
'xactly got all the comforts o' home, but they ain't nowhar else
t' go, an' we'll be outta tobaccy in less'n a fortnight [spit].
But if'n some ornery damn' critter aims to take m' back t' Hell,
I shore will do m' damnedest to take him wif me [spit]. Yep, me
an ol' Betsy here," he said, patting his longrifle.
"Have you seen who it is you're supposed to battle? How do
you know that's the idea?"
"There's been a scuffle or two. I went down in the valley
with a scouting party to reconnoiter the other night, and we met
one of their raids coming back from slitting the throats of a
couple-dozen sleeping Canucks. It was mighty dark, but I've
fought a duel or two thataway. Carved me a chunk off'n some big
scaly devil. He got away, I guess. Whatever passes for blood in
his veins melted my best blade." He held up a discolored
just some kind of misunderstanding," Sara said uncertainly.
said Travis, "I can think of no other purpose to resurrect
in such a place as this every warrior who ever perished
defending his home, country, beliefs and sacred honor, and
opposing them with vile and bloodthirsty creatures, than to
settle some momentous issue."
a-thinkin' [spit]," said Crockett, "Maybe we ain't
altogether dead jist yet [spit]. Befo' we kin pass on, we gots
to pay a price fo' th' violence we done by bein' fightin' men
said Sara, "a lot of these men were drafted, forced into
uniform against their wills. They had to do what they did
and maybe they weren't violent by nature."
what soldiers do, ma'am," said Bowie. "Conscripts or
professionals, all those gathered here died as a result of
engaging in combat, and if you don't run, it's never no
Travis told her,
"There are no cowards present."
Sara protested, "But
there's a lot more people who were soldiers and killed people and
dropped bombs and ordered others to their deaths that never died in
battle, and they're not here."
replied, "I reckon [spit] they got their own Hell,
A little later,
Sara thoughtfully took her leave and resumed her stroll, passing
a co-mingled band of Plains Indians and US Cavalry before coming
to larger assemblies of doughboys and GIs. Nearby were contingents
of Aztec, Mayan and Inca warriors, and others less identifiable
from pre-Colombian civilizations vanished without a trace. There
were Conquistadors and Federales, as well as Fidel's Cubanos,
Simon Bolivar's regulars and bandolier-clad Zapatistas. At the
dangerous edge of the valley was a considerable Canadian
American soldiers whistled and shouted their appreciation as
Sara went by, and she answered them with cheerful waves. They
must have thought she was part of a USO tour or something. The
areas around their camps were crowded with vehicles and
equipment, mostly tanks. There seemed to be an inordinate number
of WWII Shermans, testifying both to their high production
numbers and high casualty rate.
She stopped to
chat with a couple of tank crews (signing autographs they didn't
understand -- "Susan?" -- that she didn't explain).
Evidently, the rule was that if a tank was knocked out with its
whole crew, they arrived with a fully armed and functioning
vehicle with a full tank of gas -- and no prospects for more
fuel, ammo or spare parts (other than what might be scavenged
during the coming battle). Individual crewmembers who had died
fighting were pooled together into whole crews and received
tanks as well -- although there were disproportionately too
many commanders owing to their propensity for sticking their
heads out of the turret to see what was going on. There were not
many rear-area maintenance personnel -- which wasn't that big a
problem for simple vehicles, but was a severe headache for most
of the modern aircraft, as it turned out.
There were a lot
of planes, from wire-and-canvas Jennies to Mustangs to Flying
Fortresses to choppers, with a scattering of B-52's and
Phantoms, and even a few Gulf War casualties. Around the
rim of the valley, she could see Spitfires, Hurricanes, Sopwith
Camels, Fokkers, Me-109s, Stukas, Sturmoviks, Zeros, and a
stately fleet of Zeppelins tied precariously to boulders and
there hadn't been any actual airbases provided. Some of the jets
would have been useless without their ground support equipment
even if there had been usable runways. A few combat
engineers with bulldozers were able to quickly scratch out a
couple of dirt strips (before their diesel ran out) suitable for
launching many of the more robust planes, but there would be no
refueling, rearming or maintenance. One sortie per plane was all
anybody could expect. On the other side of the valley, the
squadrons of Japanese kamikazes were probably unbothered by this
There was also a
fair bit of artillery, ranging from culvereins and bombards to
caisson-mounted field cannon and seige mortars to 88's and
Atlantic Wall coastal-defense ship-killers to Stalin organs and
105-mm SPAs. Some of the ancient units had catapults and
assault towers, and there were even a few completely useless
V-2's and Scuds that couldn't be aimed without retooling their
looked, Sara saw soldiers hard at work, mostly digging in. All
of their attention seemed to be on whatever might soon issue
from the broad, shallow valley in their midst. It was a place of large boulders
and considerable erosion, capable of hiding the movements of
friend and foe alike, and rendering co-ordinated combined-arms
mobile operations next to impossible in many places. A river
flowed sluggishly down the middle of it, bordered by forests and
grasslands. At the very center was a large hill, fringed with
cliffs, crowned by monumental buildings, and surrounded by a
vast, walled city. Parties scrambled as far into the valley as they dared, stringing wires and mapping
every nook and cranny, looking for any possible advantage or
She picked her
way through the confusion and tumult of the camps to the area headquarters, consisting
mostly of hastily prepared dugouts and tranches, covered over
with logs in places to create rooms where intelligence could be
evaluated and plans made.
forces were not top-heavy with brass. Most of the participants
were ordinary combat grunts, with very few high-ranking staff
and operations officers. Since most of those types were devoted
to logistical considerations anyway, the few experienced
generals who had managed to die with their boots on were
probably adequate to the task. At least there was no shortage of
sergeants, and they pretty much knew what to do and how to get
her way up the chain of command until she came to a room with a
bewigged Colonial general, a pair or bewhiskered Union and
Confederate flag officers and a tough-looking US Marine two-star
in khaki shirt sleeves and suspenders. The Marine looked at her
skeptically and addressed her bluntly.
hell are you supposed to be? And why are you wasting my
sir," she began, "I'm Sara Corel and I'm an alien who
was raised on your planet some time in your future. It seems
that I qualify for membership in this affair, and I might be
looked irritated. "Look, there are a few nurses at the
field hospital. Why don't you go..."
He stopped as
Sara floated easily off the dirt floor and circled the low log
ceiling. She landed beside him and snatched his sidearm before
he could react, then fingered the safety, pointed it at her face
and pulled the trigger. The sudden shot filled the small room
with the noise of its report. She caught the bullet with her
teeth and handed it to the general along with his pistol. The
projectile burned his hand, which he scarcely noticed.
The map table in
the center of the room was made from the hood of a jeep,
balanced precariously on a stack of spare deuce-and-a-half truck
wheel rims. Sara propped the hood against a wall, grabbed a
heavy rim with each hand, clapped them together and welded them
to each other with hot eyebeams, did it again with the other two
wheels, then joined the welded pairs together in the same way.
She planted the stack on the floor, casually but deliberately
forcing it six inches into the ground, then repositioned the
hood, spot-welding it to its support.
demonstration only took half-a-minute, leaving smoke and fumes
that had everybody else coughing profusely, eyes watering,
half-blinded from the glare and half-deafened from the shot.
onto the map table an image of the valley as she had seen it
only a few moments before and told them, "I can also speak
a few thousand languages, in case you need an interpreter."
In the course of
just a few short days, Sara had cause to be astonished at the
incredibly swift integration of so many diverse and seemingly
incompatible military cultures into something resembling
cohesiveness. Not that there wasn't a great deal of
misunderstanding of certain specifics, but the essential thrust
of the evident mission was apparent even to to crudest and most
primitive soldiery on the plain. Every dead hero out there
understood that this was an inevitable showdown of some kind,
and that they faced something from their most primal legends and
There were as
many different names and perceptions for what this appeared to
be as there were armies represented, from the Christian
Armageddon to the Nordic Gotterdammerung. Every belief foretold
an end-of-the world battle in some form or another, or the dread
of eventual annihilation that surely must mark the passing of
all things at the end of days. All had experienced death at the
height of their duty, and had been assembled into a host with
weapons ready to hand. They knew what this meant.
They were pure
soldiers -- fighters and warriors who understood the meaning of
loss and sacrifice, who instinctually grasped the meaning and
utility of discipline and order, who could rely on their
comrades through any crisis. They did not understand the whys
and the hows of their situation, but they understood each
And down in the
valley, things stirred -- forces little understood that came in
the night and made plain their enmity without revealing their
were accomplished. Defensive works sprang from the desert, roads
were laid, traps were built, weapons were deployed, working
vehicles were deliberately scavenged for other purposes,
obstacles were leveled or removed, ancient forces were
re-equipped and brought up to speed, communications links were
established, cross-fires were sighted-in, evacuation routes were
designated, aid stations were set-up, supplies were cached,
reserves were emplaced and intelligence was gathered.
There was deep blue
water at the far, far end of the valley, filled with ships of
every description. The entire length and breadth of the theater
of operations was under the guns of ships such as the Bismark and the Hood,
and Japanese, British and American aircraft carriers steamed to
and fro over the horizon. Admiral Horatio Nelson oversaw the
transfer of thousands of naval cannons, powder and ammunition
from the wooden ships of a dozen sailcloth navies to strategic
ashore, aided by legions of sweating sailors from Limeys to galley oarsmen.
Submarines ranged offshore to guard
against unexpected seawards attacks, backing up patrolling
destroyers and torpedo boats. Leathernecked Marines mingled with
Greeks and Persians, Egyptians and Carthaginians, Phoenicians
and Arabs, sending shore parties to what could be the hottest
spots and securing the beacheads.
every command, relaying messages and making sure the generals
and admirals, chiefs and warlords, hetmen and princes understood one another, occasionally helping out
with bottlenecks where she could effectively lend her strength
or other attributes. She automatically intercepted, translated
and relayed radio messages once the scarce sets had been
The Romans had
laid out their usual stockades immediately upon arrival. They
seemed to be among the most disciplined of all the armies,
troopers born hundreds of years apart and representing myriad
ethnicities from Italian to Germanic acting in long-practiced
There were large
numbers of Norsemen -- semi-barbaric Vikings of legendary
stature, who fought in seemingly undisciplined bands with
surprising cunning and beserker ferocity.
Archaic Chinese soldiers
so resembled the buried statuary army of the Chin Emperor that
it was uncanny (Sara had seen a reproduction of the famous tombs
at the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, outside of Houston). They were stoic and steadfast, and coordinated
well with the hordes of Mongol cavalry.
The Samurai army
could be sudden and swift in close quarters where ranged weapons
might be unweildy, backing up the Imperial Japanese who had
established a fearsome reputation as the most tenacious infantry
forces of the Twentieth Century, routinely enduring incredible
hardships with unswerving devotion.
from Apaches to Zulus, adapted to supporting roles, ready to
fall on the unwary or take advantage of an overextended line of
communications. They would function as partisans and guerillas
as the need may arise, avoiding fixed battles until they could
work a situation to their advantage.
armies of Germany, led by Irwin Rommel, may have been the most
formidable practitioners of Blitzkreig, but the Russians were by
far the most numerous, capable of filling the entire valley with
their millions, spearheaded by thousands of tanks and flanked on
the one side by the Germans and on the other by centuries of
British Empire regulars.
All in all, it
was a grand and glorious conglomeration, with no shortage of
colorful standard bearers and military musicians, from drummer
boys by the thousands to wailing battalions of bagpipers.
And then there
She was still
somewhat unsure how to regard all of this. Her natural
inclination was to be helpful, but she didn't understand the
purpose behind this war to end all wars. The others she talked
to all had different opinions and varying forebodings, but had
no problem accepting their essential obligation to participate
in what appeared to be an inevitable conflict. Maybe they had
all heard 'the Last Trump' before she arrived (whatever they may
have called it or however they may have characterized it), but
she had not. But then, she expected to be different from
everybody else, anyway. After all, as far as she knew, they
were all just part of her fantasy.
evening fell nearly a week later, there was a meeting at Supreme
Headquarters of all the most important senior commanders. Sara
served as translator as they went over their plans and
had done so far had been defensive and preparatory, trying to
take care of first things first against an unknown opponent. No
amount of reconnaissance and spying had revealed the face of the
enemy, and the raids from the valley below intensified from night to night, now
claiming serious casualties. Sara's value as a messenger and
translator (not to mention flying bulldozer) had been deemed so important that they refused
to release her from duty in order to patrol the edges of the valley, not
really grasping her full potential. She was, in any event, still
somewhat reluctant to commit herself to taking any kind of
think it's time for me to go down there and have a look
around," she told them
"Out of the
much too valuable to the survival of the command
"You really don't know what you're up against yet."
not risk you trying to find out."
what," said Sara, "do you think is down in the valley
that threatens this huge force of arms?"
out soon enough."
"You can't make plans against the unknown. This is, like,
really basic military theory, isn't it?"
hoping that avoiding direct confrontation or provocation will
allow us enough time to complete our basic preparations."
them, "This is not any kind of stable, long-term situation.
Time is running out as far as being able to survive on this
planet. You saw my orbital recon scans." A quick trip
around their phony world had revealed nothing but utter
barrenness other than in this spot, with its adjacent puddle of
a sterile ocean barely big enough for the carriers to get up to
speed for flight ops. The only celestial body in their pocket
universe was a tiny artificial sun that orbited the planet,
developed plans to stretch our resources as long as
good," she said. "What -- an extra week or so before
everybody starts to starve to death?"
There was an
on, what could possibly be down there that could hurt me?"
Finally, a war-bonneted and painted
aborigine said what they all were thinking.
manifestations that may render all our fancy weapons useless."
be a reason for such a large gathering of forces. If it is to
make such a battle 'even', then the nature of our opponents must
be equivalently counterbalanced."
there is any particular reason why such a contest must be fair
that it makes any difference in the long run, anyway. We are in
a limbo between death and death."
victory is meaningless, for we do not know the terms of it. We
can only fight to forestall defeat and perhaps fulfill some
the chief reiterated. "Demons from Hell."
There was a long
Sara finally replied,
"A good argument could be made that we are the
'demons from Hell'."
told them, "I'm gonna do what I have to do. I think it
would be a good idea to talk to them, or it, or whatever. Could
be that waging war is the one thing that we shouldn't do.
They might be as panicked as the rest of us. Maybe we can work
out something that will help us all go on to the next level. I'm
going down there in the morning."
will prepare for the worst -- a failed diplomatic mission
followed by hostilities."
hope for the best," she said confidently.
© Patrick Hill, 2000