In this installment, Wyatt Escher finds himself on another Earth, trapped behind enemy lines, and facing death… This story is part 2. Here is part 1. Angstrom looked sane again as he
In this installment, Wyatt Escher finds himself on another Earth, trapped behind enemy lines, and facing death…
This story is part 2. Here is part 1.
Angstrom looked sane again as he pulled a container from a vest pocket. He passed it to one of his lab-coated retinue. “Explain it to them.” Then he turned to look at the wormhole.
The scientist held up the container. “This is Unbihexium-310, a super-heavy element that exists in the predicted ‘island of stability’ on the periodic table. Its atomic shell is like nothing else in nature, which gives it unique properties. It’s a room temperature superconductor. It can survive at pressures where metallic hydrogen forms. It can withstand temperatures hotter than the core of our sun. If used as a fusion fuel, it’s thirty times more efficient than Helium-3. And that’s only what we’ve discovered so far.”
Angstrom turned back to address the audience of open-mouthed mutes. “Hundreds of metric tons of this element exist on the other side of this wormhole, in their Chicxulub crater, where the asteroid that killed the Dinosaurs impacted. In that universe, mankind doesn’t have the science to utilize this element—has no use for it—but they’re willing to trade. Who wants a share?”
There was an uproar, but one question was repeated. “Have you’ve been through!?”
Angstrom raised his hands in a gesture like a benediction. “Yes, and I’ve been in contact with the government on the other side. They’re waiting for us. Who will come?”
That left the crowd silent again. For a long moment, no one moved. Then one man stepped forward, and then another. Half the VIPs, and most of their bodyguards, joined the surprise expedition.
Donovan stood frozen for a long moment, then fell in with those going. Ms. Refaeli followed his lead. Zhang and I shared a look. I nodded. You take the money, you do the job.
It was nearly as quick as stepping through a door, but not half so pleasant. It felt like I was stretched and squeezed flat at the same time. I hit the ground, tumbled, and came up in a crouch with weapon drawn. My skin prickled and I had the smell of burning metal in my nose.
Zhang was beside me with his bead rifle unslung and shouldered as he scanned the treeline. In a clearing among the trees was a building, one of those neoclassical jobs, all pillars and marble with a copper-clad dome, green with age. Flanking it was a granite sign that read…
Les États-Unis d’Amérique
District Fédéral de Lafayette
Tombe Sacrée du Soldat Inconnu
At the foot of the monument’s steps was a roundabout, with a fountain at the center, that unfurled into a wide lane that disappeared into the trees.
With the VIPs and their security teams came a party of Angstrom’s own armed guards and scientists. Almost as one, we looked back and the wormhole was gone. The crowd was taut with unease.
Donovan cut through the mob, with us at his heels, and stood in front of Angstrom. He looked ready to punch him. “How the hell are we supposed to get back!?” I was wondering if we would have to shoot our way out.
Angstrom pulled a small device from his pocket. “The wormhole is not gone, only constricted to a very small point. It emits exotic particles that can be detected and their superpositions manipulated. When we’re ready, we can open the wormhole again.”
Donovan seethed in silence. We heard and then saw a convoy of vehicles, many in military drab, coming up the road. Those with guns fanned out in knots and took cover behind trees.
The convoy of utilitarian trucks, something like antique jeeps, and sleek chrome-finished executive cars halted at the steps of the monument. Clouds of steam billowed up from every vehicle. Troops in three different-colored uniforms—prussian blue, royal blue, and hunter green—poured out of the trucks and jeeps. They all wore kepis, which were mostly white, with a smattering of other colors. I couldn’t tell them apart with all the piping, braiding, epaulets, and shoulder boards on their uniforms, but the ones shouting orders were the NCOs, the ones they saluted the junior officers, and the ones standing around looking important must be senior and flag ranks. They might’ve been all spit and polish, but they moved like professionals.
I turned to Refaeli. “Have anything?”
She nodded, with a surprised look on her face. “All analogue, but lots of radio traffic and some really strong signals—scratch that, there’s activity on the high-frequency bands using a computerized cypher.”
“Can you break it?”
She gave me a long look. “Doing it in real-time. Primitive stuff, but I’m surprised they have it.”
“What are they saying?”
“Language is odd…The underlying syntactic structure is Francophone, but the phonemes are shifted.”
“Pretend I don’t know what you just said.”
She sighed. “Really weird-sounding French.” She tapped her head. “Haven’t you got a neuralink?”
I kept watching the new arrivals. “Basic mil-spec, bone conduction and retinal taps only. Nothing in the gray matter. I stick good old wetware.”
I shrugged. “A few.”
“So you’re old school, but you risked gene edits?”
I eyed her sidelong. “You ever see what happens when an implant goes ‘boom’?”
She was quiet after that.
A pavilion, collapsible table, and camp chairs went up quickly. An elderly gentleman in coattails sat in the center chair on one side of the table, flanked by very senior flag officers—you could tell by all the metals on their chests. Encircling them were men with rifles at ready, bayonets affixed.
Angstrom led his men from cover and everyone scrambled to follow him. Zhang and I kept our bodies between Donovan and these bizarro-Frenchmen. There were a lot of tightly-held weapons that weren’t quite aimed at targets as the VIPs went through the motions of ceremony and speeches no one really listened to.
Once Angstrom sat down across from what I guessed was their ambassador, one of the labcoats stepped forward and interpreted. He spoke smoothly, but paused every so often with that abstracted look that told me he was running things through his implant. The conversation was polite, but the men with guns eyed each other.
Then Refaeli’s eyes widened and her voice came out in a choked squeak. “Attack…”
Men in drab coveralls and balaclavas rushed from the treeline as another convoy barreled up the lane. This one had even more trucks and vehicle-mounted machine guns.
I drew my sidearm and zig-zagged to make for cover behind the fountain. Zhang rushed Donovan there and threw him down to lie prone behind it. Refaeli looked like she would faint, but she had a needler drawn and kept pace with me.
The shots had already started as security teams and troops went into motion. Just as we made it behind the fountain, the new convoy came to a stop and more masked men disgorged.
Then everything went to hell.
Gouts of dirt erupted around us and joined the cloud of stone and concrete chips as bullets buzzed and ricocheted on all sides. Zhang stitched his bead rifle along lines of attackers and cut them down. I switched to antipersonnel rounds and dropped them as I trained my sights. Even Refaeli’s needler found a couple of ripe targets, but she kept her attention on signal traffic.
I dropped behind the fountain and crawled over to Zhang. “Let’s get inside the monument.”
“Chokepoints,” he barked.
I could see his brief moment of thought. Then he gave one short, sharp nod before he pulled Donovan into a crouch and continued to fire.
I tapped Refaeli on the shoulder and she nearly jabbed the needler in my face. I pushed it away and pointed to Zhang and Donovan. She got up and ran. I covered our retreat.
Move and shoot. That’s what it always comes down to. I kept low and angled to keep upright bodies in front of me. Meat shields aren’t bulletproof, but you can’t shoot what you can’t see.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t invisible. One of the martinets in royal blue tried to run steel through my guts. I dropped him with a right hook. Right behind him was one of the balaclava brigade, who brought up a submachine gun. A toe kick to the gonads laid him flat. But while I was busy doing that, someone took a bead on me and a bullet carved a bloody trench on the outside of my arm. With my blood up, the pain was distant. With sight better than baseline, I spotted the shooter and put a slug between his eyes. All that was in two dozen steps.
I shot and shot again and killed with each shot. A couple of slugs hit the mesh armor under my pressure suit and it felt like someone trying to drive spikes through my ribcage. Even with my sharp senses, I didn’t know where they came from. I just leveled the targets in front of me and kept moving.
I was within a half-dozen steps of the monument entrance when I took a spray of buckshot. The mesh armor took most of it, but a lash of fire was laid across my neck as pellets peppered my naked skin. The force of it spun me around.
At that moment, I saw three things. In the chaos, a VIP and his bodyguards were running with the attackers. Ahead of them, Angstrom and one of his labcoats were being dragged along. And fifty feet away, death was bearing down on me.
To be continued…