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by Thomas Wm. Hamilton


     "Hey, Sarge, why the glum look?"
     Sergeant Leo Bavny shook his head.  "I just got orders signed by Lt. Col. Hall directing me to report for non-com training he claims is missing from my file.  I remember the son of a bitch from when he taught for a couple years at my school.  He stuck everyone for crap like having a fingerprint on the viser of their uniform hat or insufficiently polished shoes or belt buckle.  Now he thinks I'm not trained enough to be a Marine Corps sergeant.  The jackass!"
     "So are you going?"
     "I'm a Marine; I follow orders.  Anyhow, the letter says if I don't go I get reduced to PFC and have to pay back all the differential in pay over that of PFC that I've ever received."
     "Zowie!  You ain't kiddin' about that brass hat being a pain!"
     "Yeah, well, I got 48 hours to report, so out of my way while I pack, fill out paperwork, and the all rest.  The platoon will have to find a new sergeant until I get back."
                                    --00--                                        --00--

     Bavny arrived at the Marine training camp with seventeen hours to spare on his 48 hour deadline.  He figured that allowed for a couple meals and some generous sack time.  At the reception area he handed his papers to a corporal.  She checked his ID, looked over his papers, and said, "Oh, another one.  Take corridor B to the seventh door on your left."  She handed the ID and papers back.
     Even for the Marines that seemed a bit abrupt.  "Have you any idea what this is about?"
     She shrugged.  "I'm sure you'll know before I do."  She looked past him at the next Marine on line.  He shrugged also, hefted his duffle bag, and headed down corridor B for the seventh door on the left.  This led him into a very narrow passage way.  At the end was another door, guarded by a burly MP.
     "Where do you think you're going, sergeant?"
     "Damned if I know."  He presented his ID and papers.  The MP went over the papers a lot more carefully than had the corporal at Reception.  He also carefully studied Bavny's personal ID, then inserted it into a reader.  Finally he waved Bavny to the door. 
     "Take the transportation you find outside."
     "Would you know where it will take me?"
     "I'm sure you'll know before I do."
     "I've heard that before."  Bavny found himself outside, facing a bus with tinted windows and an open door.  Another shrug.  He boarded the bus.  The driver's face was partially concealed by a hood, and a coat covered any rank indications.  The driver looked him over, and waved Bavny in.  A couple seats back he spotted a familiar face.  "Paul, you son of a gun, what the hell are you doing here?"
     "Leo!  Well, that just proves the Marines are really scraping the bottom of the barrel these days."  The two pounded one another in greeting.

     Bavny explained the orders he had received, adding a few thoughts on Col. Hall's ancestry.  Paul Morris said, "I smell a very large rat.  My orders said to report because I needed to re-do some medical tests.  And my orders were signed by the fish also."
     "Hey, you got any idea why we called him 'the fish'?"
     "It's from his middle name, Fissure."
     "Now how the hell did you know the SOB's middle name?"
     "Easy, it's in the Academy yearbook from his graduating year, 2038.  Of course," smugly, "I wouldn't have expected you to have learned how to read."
     A Marine in the seat behind them leaned over and said, "A mental test for the two of you would have been more appropriate."  He laughed, and added, "So how the hell are you two yardbirds these days?"

     "Perez?  You're here, too?  What's your excuse?"
     "Lt. Col. Hall sent me a letter saying I needed to improve my riflery scores, so like a good boy I'm still following his orders, even though I scored expert on all weapons the last time I was tested.  At least the son of a  bitch didn't tell me to have a spit shine, like the last time I saw him at the academy."
     "Speaking of the academy," Bavny said, "it looks to me like everyone on this bus went to NSMA."
      Perez nodded, "Yep, I--"
      Before he could continue, the driver tossed back his hood, and stood up facing the passengers.  Even with his coat still covering his uniform, the entire bus gasped in recognition.  Lt. Col. Hall looked at Perez, and said, "You won't need to worry about a spit shine where you're going, Mr. Perez.  Nor will Mr. Bavny have to polish his belt buckle.  As soon as the last two seats are filled, we will be going to the base airport, for a flight to a more secluded site.  And you are both correct, only Marines who graduated from North Shore Military Academy within the past ten years are involved.  And like Mr. Perez, with quite adequate riflery scores."  He sat back down, while Perez and Bavny both silently wondered how long Hall intended to permit them to live, and what methods he would use for the execution.  Morris briefly considered crawling out a window to escape.
     When the bus was finally full, Hall moved to the last passenger seat, and a corporal drove them to a runway, adjacent to a Marine Corps Transport aircraft.  They all boarded, stowing their duffels.  The airplane took off, and circled several times, leaving all confused as to where they were headed.  Bavny whispered to his two friends, "There are 500,000 marines, with about 50,000 posted off Earth.  Of the ones on Earth, I would guess no more than 2000 are from NSMA.  What the hell is so special that we're the only ones here?"

     Neither could come up with an answer.  The flight took four hours.
     On landing, the entire plane load was ushered into an auditorium.  Other Marines were already there, along with a scattering from the Army.  It was quickly clear to Bavny and his friends that all were NSMA graduates.  Once everyone was settled, Lt. Col. Hall stepped to the podium.  "You have been selected to participate in a special and highly secret operation.  The officer who will command this operation will explain."  He stepped away from the podium as Gen. Mallory came forward.
     Mallory began by nodding to Hall and saying "Thank you, Avery."  She then turned to the auditorium and said, "I will be your commanding officer on this operation.  It will be referred to as Operation XT.  For our guests from the Army who feel uneasy taking orders from a Marine, I outranked all of you at the academy, so you can take my orders that way, if you insist.
     "Your purpose here is to receive accelerated training to eliminate an on-going invasion of Earth.  About six years ago infiltrators from another time line, a very different history, began covert operations to gain control of our world, preferably without a damaging war.  These people have nothing at all to do with either our history or our future.  In fact, they are not aware time travel is possible.  Instead they are able to visit, and conquer, other time lines.  They seem to derive from a history in which Alexander the Great did not die in 331 BC after reaching India.  Instead, he lived until 327 BC and established a short lived Greco-Indian empire in India.  With an infusion of Greek philosophy and science, this led centuries later to a scientific revolution.  About 300 years ago, about the same time our ancestors were getting zapped back in time, they discovered how to build portals to other time lines, and have been expanding ever since.  Thanks to their access to other time lines and their own slight lead, they are scientifically nd technologically ahead of us except for our possession of time travel.
     "Yes, I know you thought time travel was a lost secret.  Lost no.  Secret, yes.   Our plan is to seize one of their portals to their homeworld, ship through a time machine and nuclear tipped cruise missiles, and send them back to a time before the enemy had the ability to travel to alternate time lines.  The nuclear devastation should eliminate any possibility of their being a threat.  This will not only protect our world, but free the time lines they have conquered and restore any they may have destroyed."
     The room sat silent and stunned at Gen. Mallory's revelations. 
     "Your role in this," Mallory continued, "will be to secure both sides of the portal until the time machine can send the missiles back.  We know the portal on their homeworld is guarded, although we don't have full details.  If we fail, not only will you all be dead, but the enemy has the policy of sterilizing any time line they regard as a threat.  If we succeed, there will be no special rewards, medals, or recognition.  In fact, none of us will remember it, and there will be no records.  On the plus side, any casualties will be nullified.  Training will last two weeks, fourteen hours a day every day.  There will be no passes, nor will you communicate with anyone off base."  Mallory gestured.  Two clerks came out and began reading names, directing those they called to various locations.
                                                --00--                                      --00--

     Bavny completed the two weeks of training, and then was treated to intensive efforts to alter his appearance.  He came out looking twenty years older, and, when dressed in assigned civilian garb, fifty pounds heavier.  He boarded a civilian flight to New Zealand, suspecting one or two other passengers might also be part of Operation XT.  On reporting to a command post set up in a tourist hotel, his disguise was stripped away.  Training resumed for five days while the rest of the personnel, also disguised, arrived on various civilian flights.
     For the assault Bavny was dressed in cloaking materials over standard battlefield armor.  Perez was selected to wear something resembling an enemy uniform, and to drive a truck carrying cruise missiles.  Morris was a cloaked guard on one of the dozen trucks.  The time machine had its own, well protected, truck.  On the attack side, the portal was seized in a swift operation, taking out guards before any warning could be sent.   Bavny went through clutching the lead truck, which carried the time machine and some powerful explosives to be used if it looked as though the device might be captured.  He hoped the enemy's purported scientific lead did not extend to seeing through the cloaking, at least for the three minutes seventeen seconds it would take for the entire convoy to pass through the portal. 
     The lead truck headed directly for a reception area designed to inspect incoming loads.  So far, intel seemed accurate.  Thirty yards past the portal was the limit for reported devices beneath the road which might detect suspiciously cloaked things by their weight.  At that point Bavny dropped off the truck, as presumably did two dozen other cloaked Marines.  By that time the first truck carrying two cruise missiles had come through.   As the third truck passed through, a line of heavily armored figures appeared, while a stentorian voice said something in a language he had never heard before.  Probably ordering a halt, he figured.  Almost sixty seconds had passed since the first truck came through.  After running fifty yards from the truck, he took aim at one of the armored figures, ready to fire if they decided to open hostilities before allowing the first truck into the inspection area.
     Perez slowed the lead missile-laden truck and stuck his head out its window, waving.  The loud voice said something, and Perez guided his truck towards the inspection dock behind the one carrying the time machine, followed now by four more trucks each carrying a load of two cruise missiles.  As yet another came through the portal the voice suddenly shouted something, and the armored figures took aim.  Firing began.  One truck was disabled.  Bavny fired.  His rounds were teflon coated depleted uranium, .50 caliber, with a small built in rocket motor that accelerated the shot to 7000 feet per second.  His chosen target fell to the ground, as did several other of the figures.  But they were uninjured, as their armor was good enough to defeat the Marines' firepower.  But the kinetic energy did knock them down, for the moment spoiling their aim.  Incoming artillery began hitting the area.  A cloud of smoke was accompanied by the single word warning "Gas" in his radio.
     A spray of enemy fire traversed his zone, and Bavny discovered some of his cloaking was damaged, but not his armor.  The front of the first truck carrying missiles exploded, and he saw Perez's body flung out, followed by Col. Hall  exiting with a grenade launcher.  Bavny dropped flat.  The grenades had a one kiloton explosion.  The source of the artillery fire demonstrated the effects of a one kiloton explosion from a distance of merely 200 yards.  Bavny hoped the purported nullification effect was true, as he was sure he would otherwise be deaf.  Firing by the armored figures and more artillery fire quickly made that a minor consideration.  His damaged cloaking made him a likely target.  Thud.  A jolt.
     After a moment Bavny realized he was still alive and apparently uninjured.  No further artillery, and the only gunfire from enemies came from the armored figures.  Badly outnumbered, they were soon eliminated, as even advanced armor was defeated by massive firepower.  Bavny now looked around, wondering why the enemy had gone silent, and realized that the scenery had changed drastically.  No longer did he have a reception area ahead of him and a portal to the rear.  Instead, what looked like palm trees were interspersed with small houses of odd design.  A few people could be seen fleeing in the distance.  General Mallory hopped down from the back of the lead truck and said over the radio command frequency, "Commence launch of cruise missiles at your assigned targets."
      So I've just travelled in time!  But only seven trucks with missiles made it.  The disabled truck was burning, and he could see no signs of life.  But the others threw back roofs, exposing the missiles.  As the first one launched, one of the armored figures rose slightly, and fired at it.  The missile spun out of control and crashed about a half mile away.  Glad that didn't set off its warheads.  Four MIRVED 20 megatons!
     He and a couple dozen other Marines fired repeatedly at the enemy figures.  There was no further action from them.  Eleven cruise missiles, of a planned twenty, were successfully launched.  Mallory said, "Our job is done, and we have no way of returning.  Therefore, we have one more nuke, a ten megaton, attached to the time machine.  A total of 890 megatons should be sufficient for our purposes, so we now end this."  Bavny did not even have time to draw a breath.
                                     --00--                                   --00--    

Wednesday, November 3, 2060.  The Headmaster of North Shore Military Academy looked over the election returns with satisfaction.  Academy alumni continued to hold close to a third of seats in Congress, spread across the three major parties.  In fact, only Sophie Franklin-Healey, of all alumni candidates, had lost.  She was so unpleasant a personality that even the Headmaster would have been reluctant to vote for her, but she had aggressively insisted on running for a vacant seat.  Now she would probably fade into obscurity.  President Leibowitz had been easily re-elected, and could be trusted to continue doing a reasonable job without Academy interference.  Life was good.


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