Remember The Alamo!
This is the final part of Valor. Read Part Three here.
The campfire and the image of the campfire danced together along the limestone walls of the mission while Michaels, Rigsby, and the soldiers huddled around to talk. Tonight they had isolated themselves from the rest of the Texians who were happily sharing a small flask of whisky and watching the San Antonio sun set over the bank of the river. It was the first night in over a week that Santa Anna was not firing cannons into the church. As they spoke together, Francis was dumbfounded, incredulous. Rigsby explained that he and the soldiers had decided not to jump back to the present, but to stay and help the Texians fight off Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces that would siege the mission and leave nothing but a slaughter in their wake. Earlier, Rigsby had even brought Francis to the “grave” in which they buried their bronze pins, the keys back to the present. They had buried them where they knew the Live Oak Tree would be transplanted 76 years later.
“Card is okay with your decision?” Francis asked over the fire.
“Yes,” responded Rigsby, “He’s been with Travis discussing strategy.”
One of the soldiers added, “Burying the keys was his idea.”
“So, the General of the war against an alien invasion threatening to extinct the human species has okayed a plan to stay and fight a battle that was already lost, in a war that has been long since resolved. And he is currently with William Barret Travis, devising a strategy that will have absolutely no effect on history whatsoever, but will most certainly lose the actual war we’re supposed to be fighting?” Francis summarized, agitated.
The soldiers were quiet but met Francis’ gaze with determination and unflinching resolve.
“Michaels, we can’t leave these people to die,” Rigsby said. He was somber and sincere. Francis noted how uncharacteristic of him it was.
“You’re not thinking rationally!” Francis said louder than he expected. It drew attention from the Texians sharing whisky. They murmured, and a man stood among them to make his way towards Micheals.
“Howdy,” the man said to Francis who nodded in response. “I see you’re falling in with this lot. I reckon you hail from somewhere in Europe being that you’re dressed the way you are. Welcome to Texas. My name is David Crockett. You can call me Davy.” He reached out his hand, which Francis took to shake.
“It is an honor to meet you, sir, King of the Wild Frontier,” said Francis. He could not help but laugh to himself at the humor of it all. Reality had become so strange, so ridiculous. “I’m sorry, I need to go,” he said.
Crockett gripped Francis’ hand firmly and said, “You’re not having second thoughts are you, Mr. Michaels?”
“No, it’s not that…”
“You know, these folks, they don’t have anything else,” Crockett insisted. “Most of them came from Tennesse, or the Carolinas, or Kentucky, or some other state. They’re good people, good farmers. But back home, they just couldn’t make enough to support their families. So they looked West, just like we all did. The sunset itself promises fortunes and beauty and freedom. But it comes with a price; the land, beautiful and prosperous as it may be, is wild and vicious. Most of these folks gave up everything to settle this land, only to give more than they had to give when they got here.”
He paused and stared into the campfire. The soldiers around the flames waited earnestly to hear more. He took a small swig from a flask and spat it into the fire.
“Mexico sold the land to them. These folks built farms, and roads, and cities. These folks lost children, and mothers, and fathers to Comanches and rattlesnakes and cholera. But Santa Anna demands more. He wants their language and their religion too. While Santa Anna was deciding if he would kill for Spain, or the Mexican Republic, or the United States of Mexico, these folks were subduing the land. While he was grabbing power, they were taming the vicious country. Santa Anna hasn’t a single loyal bone in his body and he will not honor the sacrifice these folks made to build this country. He will strip away their memory like he is stripping away their values. This is why we have to fight back. We can unite as Texians and preserve our land, our sacrifices, and our freedom.”
Michaels looked to Rigsby and the soldiers, who were enraptured with Crockett’s call. No wonder this man has endured as a Mythic figure, he thought to himself, Crockett had a gift. But this did not matter, the only important thing was getting the soldiers back to the present to fight the actual threat to everyone’s lives. And if not Rigsby and the soldiers, then at least Card. Michaels nodded at Crockett and walked away in search of General Card. Crockett had a power stare of disappointment that pierced Michaels sharply, but he kept walking.
Inside the chapel of the mission, he found Card with Travis huddling over a map lit by candlelight. As he walked up, he heard Travis say, “It may be too late, they may double or triple in number. Our only chance is for reinforcements.” Card agreed and told Travis that he knew what must be done. Then Card saw Michaels approaching and stood straight to greet him.
“Travis, this is Francis Michaels, he is the reason we came,” Card said.
“Hello, Francis,” Travis said admiring. “You getting these boys here surely has given us hope! Perhaps I should send you out to recruit the good men of Texas to fight alongside us.”
“I think a letter would do much better than I could, Lieutenant Colonel,” Francis responded.
He smiled and walked off, leaving Michaels and Card alone.
“Have you lost your mind?”
“Please tell me this is some kind of play? You were supposed to be back in 5 minutes. We waited three hours! I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but it didn’t work. You need to jump back now.”
“We are not going back.” Card said it with a finality to his voice that infuriated Michaels.
“Have you forgotten our war?” Michaels asked accusingly.
“None of us have forgotten.”
“So, what, are you all scared? Are you too cowardly to come back and fight a war that you can actually win?”
“Tell me, Michaels, is it courage or cowardice to flee a war that will most certainly claim your life?”
Michaels began to speak, and then stopped himself. He realized Card’s trap. In a strange way, Card was both fleeing and standing firm in the face of certain defeat. However he answered would give Card a reason to maintain his decision.
“This war is already over, it has already been fought,” Michaels said in response.
“Not to these people. They are looking for hope, and we cannot take it from them. We can only fight this battle one way, and it means victory or death.”
Francis was quiet for a moment. General Card was passionate but steady-handed at once; he had a similar gift as Crockett: to stir people’s hearts with his words.
“My key still works, and It can take you all back with me if you’re close enough,” Francis said.
“I suppose you can, and I really could not stop you,” responded Card. “But before you make a decision, do me a favor. Will you help Travis pen the letter he’s writing? Listen to his cry for help, and then you can decide to jump us back or not.”
Francis knew Card’s strategy and he was not fooled. “I’ll go to Travis, but only if you promise me that you’ll be with the soldiers around the fire when I come back; no spreading out to avoid the jump.”
“You have my word, son.” They shook hands and Card left in one direction and Michaels in the other.
Francis left the chapel in search of Travis. He found himself in the barracks that were full of exhausted men. Francis searched through each room looking for Travis, finally stopping to ask one of the few soldiers still awake. “Over yonder,” the man pointed, “But you should rest some. It’s the first night they ain’t been firin’ their cannon ‘pon us.” Francis thanked the man and hurried in the direction he had indicated. He knew from Dr. Long’s lectures that the Mexican army would invade the mission walls tonight.
Francis found a room that was empty except for a man on a bed. It was unusual to find a room that only had a single bed, so he lingered longer than intended. The man on the bed noticed him in the doorway and called him over.
Francis inched closer hesitantly. The man was sweating profusely and babbling incoherently. Francis realized the man was James Bowie.
“There are children here. Women and children,” Bowie said, forming his words painfully but forcefully. He babbled some more, grabbed Francis’ hand, and placed into it his own knife. It was large and heavy, about half the size of his forearm, and had a black handle.
Bowie began to yell at Francis, sending him out of the room. He could not make out exactly what the sick man was yelling, but he knew he was being sent out to fight, to defend the mission. As Francis turned to leave, Bowie started to yell, “Inhumane! They’re Inhumane!” over and over. It struck Francis. His mind was brought immediately to Card’s impassioned speech about humanity. Could it be that the Alamo defenders had somehow convinced the soldiers that Santa Anna was more inhumane than the aliens?
He did not have time to guess, he needed to find Travis and get back to Card and the soldiers and jump them back to their time. So he ran out, again in search of Travis.
Finally, he found him in his chambers, pacing in candlelight.
“Lieutenant Colonel Travis, Card asked me to assist you in penning your letters,” Francis said as he walked through the door.
“Excellent, Francis, thank you,” Travis said. “I sent a letter not two weeks ago, and we have not yet seen anyone in response. I reckon the messenger was caught? I am trying to remember exactly what I wrote, I was quite smitten with it. Would you write it down as the words come back to me?”
Francis agreed but looked hastily outside. He knew in a matter of hours, maybe minutes, the Mexican army would storm the mission, killing everyone. He needed to get back to Card and jump the soldier before they scattered. He sat down and wrote the words as Travis dictated:
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World:
Fellow Citizens & compatriots,
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna – I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man – The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken – I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat.
Francis’ eyes began to mist, not because Travis was convincing him, but because he had captured Francis’ own frustration. Through Travis’ words, Francis was writing his own anger that he seemed to be the only person who cared about the alien invasion, and his stubbornness not to give up on the actual threat.
Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch – The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days.
Francis thought of the devastation left in the wake of the first invasion, and the dread the world felt when satellites confirmed a fleet five times the size of the first was heading towards earth. Tears began to roll down his face. He resented Card and Rigsby for their forgetfulness.
If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.
Victory or Death.
The last three words sat heavily in the air and on the paper. Travis told Francis that would be all and signed the paper after he stepped aside.
“Do you really mean that?” Francis asked.
“Above all, let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no,” Travis responded, quoting the book of James.
“Even if nobody comes? If I could guarantee that everyone in Texas and America will read this letter, and nobody responds, and the Mexicans invade and will kill every last one of you. If you knew the inevitability of your destruction, would you take your last chance to surrender?”
“My friend, my heart will not allow any other option but victory or death,” Travis responded peacefully.
“Your heart is courageous. How did you teach my men to have this courage in what little time they were here?”
“Well, I’m not entirely sure you can learn courage from a book or a speech. You do courageous actions and then your heart becomes courageous, not the other way around.”
As if to punctuate Travis’ answer, a shot was fired outside which brought yelling and more gunshots.
“Those are coming from inside the mission,” said Travis hastily as he ran out of his chambers.
Francis knew that he was too late, the soldiers would be scattered in some battle arrangement. There would be no way to jump the entire platoon now. His only hope would be to find Card and jump back. He reached for his bronze pin and held it firmly in one hand, Bowie’s knife in the other, and ran out of the chambers towards the fire around which he had last seen Rigsby.
Francis had to run past the barracks where the Alamo Defenders had been sleeping. It was in a panic, he could hear Travis’ voice shout to them, but all he could make out was “Wake up! Wake Up! They are inside the mission!”
He kept low and in the shadows. His attention was set on finding Card, but he could see soldiers with cut throats on their own beds. He had known Santa Anna waited for the Texians to fall asleep before he struck, but the thought of cutting a man’s throat while he was sleeping in his bed seemed so… inhumane.
He crept along but saw a Soldado running directly towards his position, so he quickly ducked into a dark room. There he saw a dozen or so women with another dozen or so children, terrified. Francis looked at them and they looked at him. Some of the women were weeping, most of them held children close to their chests to muffle the children’s loud wailing. Some women were holding a mother back and trying to quiet her, but Francis could hear her clearly: “my son, my son! He’s out there! Oh, God, he’s just a boy.”
She broke loose from the women holding her back and lept towards the door. Francis caught her, preventing her from running into the path of the Soldados. She collapsed in his arms and wept bitterly.
“I will get him and bring him to you,” Francis said as he picked her up and helped her back to the women who were holding her. She only wept in response.
Francis peered outside and slipped away. He began sprinting through the barracks searching for the child. He had lost his sense of care for his own safety, and his purpose of finding General Card. Finding the woman’s child dominated his mind, his body, his soul.
The mission, it seemed, was engulfed in flames. Soldados poured in from every direction, countless as the dirt underneath their feet. Francis looked desperately, yet carefully through the barracks in search of a child. Finally, he heard the screams that were a higher pitch than the screams of the Texians falling around him.
He followed the scream and found the boy pressed against the corner of a room. A woman with black skin covered the boy, shielding him with her body. “You both need to get to the chapel with the other women and children. I can take you there,” Francis shouted. She nodded to him and stood the boy up as they began to walk out of the room. But Francis stopped them when he saw three Soldados marching straight towards them.
Retreating back into the room, Francis looked around and found a small blanket. He told the woman to cover the boy and hide. Francis stood by the door, knife in hand, ready to ambush the Soldado upon their entrance. They arrived, and while Francis surprised the first one with a slash across the collar bone, one of the other knocked him in the cheek with the butt of his rifle. A few other Soldados ran over to assist. Francis was dragged into the open air by two Soldados while another rammed the butt of a rifle into his gut. Both the Bronze pin and Bowie’s knife fell out of his hand and laid before him in the dirt.
The Soldados dropped his arms and left him kneeling. The man who had struck him now lifted his rifle and aimed at Francis’ chest. Francis raised his head to look into the eyes of his executioner. He was dizzy and his vision was blurry, one eye was swollen shut, but his fury stabilized his vision.
Just as the Soldado pulled the trigger, he was tackled by another soldier. The blast of the gun was diverted from Francis’ chest at the last moment but still pierced his bicep. He fell to the ground clutching his arm and shouting to mask the hot pain. In a second he knew he could not move or feel his arm.
Before the pool of blood got too wide, he remembered his rage, and the pain became fuel to roll face up. The first thing he saw was the soldier that had rescued him; it was Admiral Rigsby. One Soldado lay dead on the ground next to him, and another three were wrestling him to his knees. In the struggle, his coat was torn open, revealing his skin. Finally, one Soldado shot Rigsby in the bare chest, which surprised the three wrestling him and they quickly jumped away. Blood was already started to pour out of the wound, and he let out a roar that Francis swore shook the earth. Rigsby started to stand to his feet but the Soldados shot him three more times and he fell back to his knees and then into the dust.
A scream took Francis’ attention back to the room with the woman and the child. She was being carried out of the room, thrashing violently. The Soldado holding her threw her to the ground and drew a pistol from his belt. If Francis could have shouted he would have. He was paralyzed with grief as the Soldado emptied his pistol into the woman. Her body became limp and her eyes found Francis. He watched as the life left her eyes and prayed involuntarily that she had found even the briefest moment of peace before she died.
He continued to look into her lifeless eyes. The pain he felt from the thought that he could not protect her burned much hotter and more intense than the bullet wound in his arm. He wanted to stay there with her forever, praying she did not spend her last moment on earth in despair. But his vision was interrupted by a line of Soldados exiting the room. One of them was holding a blanket with many bullet holes in it. He sharply turned his head to see the young boy being dragged out of the room by the arm, bloodied and dead.
Suddenly, his vision and his thoughts became clear. He remembered Bowie yelling out, “inhumane!” and he finally understood what it meant. He knew in his bones, in his soul, what it meant to be inhumane. His mind went to the Aliens. He had not seen a live one but he had studied their ugly carcasses. He thought back to the destruction that was left in the invasion; he remembered the bodies that were slaughtered, and whole countries demolished. Then he saw the Soldados dragging Admiral Rigsby and the woman off towards a pile of bodies. He watched them drag the little boy there as well.
Then, his eyes were brought to the bronze pin and Bowie’s knife in front of him. His heart ached at the decision before him; he could only reach for one with his unwounded arm. The pin would take him back to fight the inhumane aliens in their second invasion. But the knife sat there reflecting the flames that burned the mission. A group of Soldados was piling bodies only ten yards ahead of him with their backs turned. The men that had killed Rigsby, the man that shot the woman, and the men that killed the little boy.
Francis painfully raised himself, kneeling before his choice. He reached out his arm. To himself, he preached the words he learned from Travis just minutes before the invasion: Victory or Death.