System Failure

Read Part Two of Valor here.

Rigsby was in a rage. “That’s it, we have wasted enough of our time and energy- I know those jumps aren’t cheap, I know it has to require an insane amount of energy. And not to mention we lost an entire platoon of SEALs. This fantasy is over, I’m shutting this down before we distract ourselves any further from the actual threat we’re fighting,” he yelled.  

“General Rigsby, I understand your frustration, but this was not a technological issue. Everything went according to plan on our end,” Francis responded. 

“Then why do I have 16 of the world’s most skilled soldiers stuck in France, 86 years in the past?” 

“I don’t know. But you saw what I did, they sent their keys back in the capsule. They rejected their extraction.” 

“Or, your plan failed royally, and my men were mangled and captured by Nazis. That capsule is the Nazis taunting us. Those men probably died in a concentration camp.” 

“You seem to be forgetting, Scott,” began General Card, “that they are my men as well. Special Analyst Michaels says it was not an issue on his end, it must be human error. That, or there is something we just aren’t considering.”

“Besides,” added Dr. Long, “Nazis had POW camps separate from their concentration camp. And it’s unlikely these men were taken prisoner at all.” 

The comment was not helpful and an aggravated silence infected the air. Finally, Dr. Smith broke the silence as she took a break fidgeting with the wires. “I’m assuming these men fought in the first invasion? Do you know if anyone them froze in battle?”

Rigsby huffed and walked away, but not out of earshot. Card dropped his head, as if in shame and said, “yes, all but two of them. The two that did not freeze singlehandedly fought off an alien aircraft to save the rest of the platoon’s lives.” 

Francis had not considered asking for this information before, and his head was running through its implications. “Okay,” responded Dr. White, “is it possible they froze again?” 

From across the warehouse, Rigsby answered irritated, “they were sent back to fight Nazis, not space aliens.” 

“No, that’s not what I was implying,” Dr. White stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts. “I know we don’t know what is causing the fear that paralyzes them in battle. I’m guessing we haven’t found any lasting effects of the fear one way or another. Is it possible that there is a mental, or physiological, or even a spiritual disposition that has laid dormant in the men that froze? Is it possible that whatever made them freeze during the first invasion has, on an evolutionary or subconscious level, compelled them to avoid fighting the aliens again? And they took the opportunity to stay in history.” 

“I suppose it is possible,” responded Francis. “There just isn’t any evidence to support that hypothesis yet. We simply cannot come to any conclusions about why the SEALs did not come back.” 

“So, we’re back to square one.” Card said. 

“Mel, how long do we need for another jump?” Francis asked.

“No, this is over,” demanded Rigsby. 

“It is not up to you, Admiral Rigsby,” General Card responded coldly. “We’re going to try this again. We need two SEAL platoons. The first will go back, and the second will be for potential extraction. Dr. Long, let’s change the target, maybe something in more recent history?” 

“The most recent incident on the original list is the Battle of Kamdesh, in 2009,” he answered. 

“Okay,” said General Card. “I am going to call the President and update him on the plan. Rigsby, get me two more SEAL teams and put the Rangers on standby. When this next jump works, I want to send all of our Special Forces back, then we’ll start sending everyone else. Dr. Smith, do what you need to do to get back up as soon as possible; we’re running out of time.” 

*    *    *

“Michaels, we have a problem,” Dr. Smith announced entering Francis’ bunk. She knew that he would not be sleeping and he wasn’t. She had expected him to be pouring over some data or incident report, but when she saw him sitting on his bunk reading a book, it surprised her. “What is that?” she could not vail her surprise. 

Francis smirked a bit, “Aristotle. This whole operation has so little to do with science, the operation is so transcendental. I mean, we’re trying to artificially instill courage en masse. I thought I’d brush up on someone who deals with the transcendental. Anyway, what is the problem?”

“Well, we found the reason the processor was overheating during the jumps, which we fixed, but in the process of doing so, we may have disrupted the code that adjusts the speed of light constant.” 

“You may have?” 

“We definitely disrupted the code. That’s the problem.” 

“Can you revert it to the original input? We could get a stronger coolant to counteract the heat?” 

“No it’s…” Smith sighed. “Look, we’ve worked every angle and I think we only have a few options; we can patch it up with a coolant and cross our fingers that it works out. Obviously, the risks of that option are the entire thing explodes and we can’t bring the team back, and the entire mission is lost. Or, we found a workaround in the code that will eliminate the processing error, we could upgrade that and it would be live for the jump in two days but it will only support a jump to a specific period of history.” 

“What period?” 

“Anywhere between 1828 and 1873.” 

Francis looked at her tired and vexed. 

“And,” Smith added, careful not to crush Francis completely, “it would be very helpful to keep it in the Continental United States.”

“I suppose there are no other options,” Francis admitted. “I’ll go tell the General.”

Francis found General Card and Dr. Long together in a room discussing the schematic of a blueprint flattened out on the table. He told them the situation. Card responded stoically but Francis could tell that he was not pleased. Long, by contrast, was almost giddy.

“Gentlemen, what is the issue?” He started. “One of the most courageous instances in American history falls in the middle of our allowable dates! This whole time we have been toying with fate- it seems as if fate is responding. The Moirai want these SEALs at the Alamo.” 

“That is a lot further back than Kamdesh. It’s much further than Normandy too,” Card said. 

“Ah, but that was an arbitrary guess, wasn’t it? We didn’t know if culture played any role at Normandy,” he retorted, digging out his tablet from his satchel. “It hardly matters, again like I said, our fate is sealed, the Alamo it is. I lectured on this several years ago, back when I still lectured. I have my notes somewhere. The soldiers will love it, I’m sure of it.” 

*    *    *

The SEAL team was assembled and dressed like Texians, of course with modern armor woven into the fabric of their uniforms. Francis had not expected the soldiers to have received Dr. Long’s lecture on the Alamo as well as they did. Long was lecturing about Texians for several hours until Rigsby ordered them to sleep as their mission was the next morning. The soldiers asked questions of Dr. Long at breakfast and while suiting up. He only stopped answering questions and going into meticulous details when Card entered the room to begin the mission brief. 

Card provided general details about the mission and the mechanics of the jump and concluded by saying, “now we’re messing with time, and there is a whole lot we don’t know. But we do know that those reactors are programmed to bring you back at a precise time. So it may be a day for you; it could be a decade for you out there. But if you are not in that warehouse exactly 5 minutes after your jump, we’ll know you have not jumped back at all.” Francis handed out the bronze pins that would initiate their jump back to the present. 

“This is it, men; this is our only plan,” Card stopped as if to catch his breath. His cadence changed. For the moment he was not a stoic General, but a broken man stubbornly clinging to hope. “You’ve seen these creatures- most of you have seen them face to face. They are disgusting, murderous, hateful insects. They don’t want to coexist, they don’t want to communicate. They want to take our planet, and our histories and destroy them in their spite- until there is nothing left in the universe that even resembles a human. But we are more. We are stronger. We are better than them. And you know how I know this to be true? Because the only way they can beat us is to take away what makes us human. They use our fear and paralyze us, and we become nothing- and that is the only way they can beat us. So that is our course of action. We have all the weapons we’re going to get, we have all the men we have left to give; the only thing left is for us to be as human as possible. We do not fight for ourselves, we fight for each other. We don’t stop fighting, even when we are completely surrounded and all hope is lost, we keep throwing our fists until the enemy ties us up and cuts our throats. But the blood of valor is sewn into the fabric of time and its fruit is courage which begets more courage which leads to victory: uncontested and total victory. And that, men, is how we will win this war and all of the other wars that follow. And we will destroy these damned aliens so definitively that every living organism in the entire universe will know that this planet- this solar system was given to us, humans, and if they want to take it from us they will have to kill God himself, and then after that every last one of us, man woman and child, and pry it from our dead hands. So I do not care what you see when you make your jump. I do not care who you meet; your best friend, your soul mate, or even Jesus Christ himself. You will fight with those Texians until you are the last ones alive in that mission and you are staring down the barrel of one of de Santa Anna’s rifles, then you will press that button and you will jump back here. And you will weep, and you will hate, and you will understand what it is to be human. Then you will fight these damn aliens, and they will never even glance at our sun ever again!” 

A resounding “Hooyah!” rose from the SEALs, Dr. Long joined in while tears streamed down his face. Even Rigsby joined in with the soldiers. Francis felt his heart thud in his chest, and a sob rising in his throat. He felt like he was holding a newborn daughter, so much joy and so much fear coalescing together and he didn’t know whether to jump and dance or to fall prostrate on the group and sob. He watched the soldiers yell and grab each other while he felt this sensation, he was only sobered when Dr. White notified him that the battery was fully charged and they were ready for the jump. 

The SEAL team stood on the platform. Nothing more needed to be said. The only sound was the generators and the high pitch charge of Dr. White’s machines. Just as before, a bright light flashed and the men were gone. 

The seconds passed heavily as everyone counted to five minutes, and a deafening silence settled as the time passed. Five minutes. Ten Minutes. Thirty Minutes. Nothing. 

“Commander,” Card said soft but stern, “your men are up, bring them back.” 

Dr. White confirmed the battery was fully charged. The high-pitched squeal, the brilliant flash of light, a platoon of men disappeared. Again, the count began. Five minutes. Ten minutes. 

Card roared in terrifying frustration and dropped his fists on an empty table, which buckled and collapsed at the strike. “Michaels, give me a key, I’m going back.” 

“General, are you insane?” Rigsby said.  

Card did not answer, but stripped of his uniform and put on a leftover coat. “The jumps are genetically encoded,” Francis reminded him, “if you really want to go back we’ll need to take a blood sample and write your DNA into the code.” 

“Actually,” chimed in Dr. White dispassionately, “I have already encoded everyone’s DNA who has clearance to know about this operation. So, everyone in the room is able to jump.” 

Card snagged the key from Francis’ hand and walked up to the platform. “Well if that’s the case, I’m coming with you, Card,” Rigsby said grabbing the last of the Texian coats. 

The jump happened so quickly. Francis was still processing the events he had just seen. All he could do now was wait for Card and Rigsby to return with the SEALs. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Three hours. Once again, nothing. 

“What is going on, Mel?” Francis finally spoke, defeated. 

There was a very long pause. They both had hoped for a return jump to answer his question. But still, nothing. 

“It’s not the science, Francis,” she said. “Everything is working exactly how it should. None of the keys were ever pressed. 

Francis held the bronze button between his fingers. It was the very last key that was not currently in nineteenth-century Texas. “Send me back, Mel.” 

“Francis,” she started. 

“What other choice do we have,” he cut her off walking on the platform. 

“Your wearing khakis,” she said 

“I’ll see you in five minutes.” 

Smith knew she would not convince him, so she initiated the jump. Francis was confused and angry. He had a pit in his stomach, and as he saw the small spark of light, he instantly realized that he hadn’t thought his plan through and he wanted to run off of the platform. It was too late, the flash was sudden and violent, and the next thing he knew he could smell horses, and he felt the brutality of the southern sun radiate on his skin. He stood up and examined the limestone walls surrounding him, the distant but persistent sound of ammunition being moved and organized into efficient piles. One man stood in the middle of the courtyard directing other men where to place the load they were carrying. 

“Rigsby?” Francis said. 

The man turned around and recognized Francis; a smile of relief and an almost giddy smile interrupted his command. “Michaels!” he shouted. “Soldiers, Michaels is here, we have another one!” 

A unified “Hooyah” from the men moving ammunition responded to Rigsby’s announcement. He quickly approached Francis and gave him a tight hug, then said to him, “Thank God you’re here! We need as many men as we can get!” 

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