Eighteen years ago I sold a book that wasn’t written because the house passed on the book that was almost finished. The reason given for no interest in the book nearer completion was that and I quote “The Red Baron is bad. He fought Snoopy. Also, he was a Nazi.” which explains the arguments on politics I’ve been having with people in my field ever since. It also reminds me I need to dial down my vocabulary. And get a way to look into parallel worlds.
Later, when I understood NY publishing I realized I was trying to sell a mil sf novel to the wrong house. (Yeah, they bought some, but the slant was different. Hence not from me.)
I’ll be danged if I have the SLIGHTEST idea where the rest of this novel is (I had trouble finding this) though my guess is in one of the boxes filled with diskettes. Don’t know if it would be worth looking for.
To my eyes, though I’d do it differently today, there’s still SOMETHING here. Is the something worth going into the unpacked boxes and spending a couple of Sundays searching through diskettes? And then spending a couple of weeks fixing the fact I had clue zero how to foreshadow? Or is it just something to nod at and say “it might have been.” Maybe.
The rest of the story, btw, could be encapsulated (though not PRECISELY of course as the personalities are different, and… anyway but it’s the feel of it and there are aliens) Prince Roger against the Good Men. I no longer remember if I sent Richthofen back in the end. I remember DEBATING it with myself. But not what I actually did. (Not sending him back meant sequels. Again, think Prince Roger.)
Anyway, I know some of you don’t like snippets. This isn’t so much a snippet. I’d like ya’ll’s opinion on the advisability of doing an all out search for the rest of this. And I KNOW ya’ll have opinions (a few.)
The Years Undone
Sarah A. Hoyt
Over The Valley Of The Somme, the 21st of April, 1918.
The wind bit Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen’s exposed face, whipped his white silk scarf into a frenzy.
He didn’t notice.
Hunched forward, Manfred, the Red Baron, held the levers of his airplane in his right hand, his square-tipped fingers simultaneously controlling the flight of his plane and firing both of his front-mounted machine guns in a well-practiced way at the fleeing enemy plane.
Far beneath Manfred’s plane, a persistent fog obscured the trenches and the men in them.
Manfred had done his time in the trenches and he would prefer death in the cold, clean air above the clouds to life in the damp mustiness, the sluggish boredom, of the trench.
Despite the cold and the wind that, intensified by the speed of his flight, made the red-painted plywood frame of his plane crackle and groan, Manfred felt warm.
His heart beat fast and his pumping blood made his pale-skinned face glow. His right hand managed the levers, his left thumb squeezed the trigger that fired both machine guns at once.
Tracer bullets flew to the right and left of the enemy plane, leaving glimmering white trails behind.
Right where Manfred wanted them.
Suddenly shots from behind Manfred startled him. He had a tail.
No matter. He took a deep breath. He couldn’t turn and run. Not now. Not when he was so close to bringing the enemy down.
Manfred concentrated on the plane ahead, not the one behind. He thought of what he wanted to happen. What must happen.
The enemy pilot would land. He would be forced to land. And Manfred would claim the credit of having made yet another prisoner for the fatherland.
His sweaty fingers played on the controls, taking his airplane lower and lower, in pursuit of the zigzagging airplane ahead of him.
He savored the inevitable joy of his soon-to-come triumph. It would be his eighty-first.
The fog had cleared. Yet, if Manfred glimpsed the mud and trees beneath him — if he saw the hulls of bombed out buildings, destroyed in the years of World War I — it was as an animal sees things, without comprehension or understanding. He certainly didn’t know where over the valley of the Somme he flew, or when he crossed the lines to the enemy side.
The focus of his icy blue eyes had narrowed to the plane he was pursuing. Only his prey mattered.
He cared for nothing else
He lost altitude without noticing it, sinking in pursuit of the sinking enemy. The pounding of blood in his veins, his dry mouth, the excitement before the kill, all of it kept him narrowly aware of the chase. Only the chase. He noticed a green hedge ahead of him and jumped it with a tug of his lever, gaining altitude for a moment.
Suddenly, bullets came at him from the front, joining the bullets of his pursuer. Ground battery bullets. Futilely, he thought he needed to escape. Turn tail. Make for home.
He had time to think that he was over enemy lines; that he had been an idiot; that he had violated his own rules, pursuing an enemy into the mouth of danger. He always told new men in his squadron not to fly too low; not to pursue enemy behind their lines; not to–
Bullets tore into his flesh.
Hot pain ripped his skin and muscles and nerves. Bullets hit his legs; one shattered his knee. The convulsion of his pain was cut short by a volley of shots drilling into the soft flesh of his stomach.
A fiery hot bullet pierced his chest. Unbearable pain blurred his vision as his rib broke under the impact. His heart trembled, fibrillated, as — stricken — it sought to pump blood to veins it could no longer reach.
He was dead.
He knew he was dead, and yet his head remained clear. His lungs filled with blood and he felt as though he were being pulled under water — drowned. His fingers, of their own accord, turned off the engine of the plane.
He didn’t want to go down in flames. A fiery death had filled all his nightmares for months. Death, yes. But not in flames.
His body shook uncontrollably, and the mouth he desperately opened couldn’t gather breath into his flooded lungs.
The sharp, salty taste of his own blood, mingled with the lingering sweet traces of the biscuits and marmalade he’d eaten for breakfast.
He thought of his mother and his sister Ilse. When Germany lost the war — and Manfred had known for some time that Germany would lose — his mother and his sister would be defenseless, at the mercy of the enemy. If only Lothar— But his younger brother could not be counted on to take responsibility for his family. Or for himself.
Manfred had known that for some time, too.
He felt cold. Much too cold. His body twitched and wrenched spasmodically, in a final, senseless dance.
Why did death take so long? He couldn’t breathe. Why did he remain alive?
His plane spiraled towards the ground.
He pulled his goggles off, threw them from him, irrationally trying to remove the red haze that obscured his sight.
His heavy leather flight jacket, his leather coveralls, his fur flight boots, all of those were no obstacle to the cold wind that whipped around and around him as he went down, down. Blood bubbled out of his mouth.
Lights flashed through his blurred vision and he heard odd voices speaking a language he couldn’t understand. He caught English words amid the gibberish, “transport” and “time” and “now, now, now, now.”
Hands grabbed him and pulled him. Celestial beings were unduly rough. Who would have known the angels spoke English? Manfred tried to remember a prayer, but couldn’t. And he’d never been taught to pray in English.
Light expanded around him, and yet he fell into darkness.
As far as the world of 1918 was concerned, Manfred, Freiherr von Richthofen, the Red Baron, World War One’s most famous aviation ace, was dead.
Manfred woke up feeling drowsy and drunk.
He stared at the ceiling a long while, trying to remember where and with whom he might have gone drinking.
As a rule, he didn’t drink to excess and lately he’d hardly drunk at all. He’d been too afraid that if he drank too much he might see the ghosts of all the comrades he’d lost in this war; the ghosts of all the enemies he’d killed in combat.
He lay in a bed and he felt— Tired? No. Not tired, just oddly confused — detached — as though he watched himself from a long distance off and none of it mattered very much.
The bed, the heavy dresser, the wardrobe, the small round table, all were familiar, all well known from his childhood.
He must be in his room in Schweidnitz, his ancestral home, in Silesia.
The light fixture on the ceiling was made from the rotor of a plane he had downed. Around the room were his other trophies: pieces of canvas with the numbers of airplanes he had shot down; and there, on the southeastern wall, near the window, was his very first trophy: three duck feathers stuck to a piece of cardboard.
He smiled at it and at the memory.
As a brash young boy of seven, he’d shot three of his grandmother’s pet ducks with his airgun. And though the adults hadn’t entirely approved of his exploit, he couldn’t help but still feel proud of it.
On another wall was the head of the boar he had killed while still in the cavalry, when he had wiled away long nights of boredom by escaping the trenches for the nearby game preserve of a fellow nobleman.
To the right of that was the little shelf that held the silver cups he’d ordered for himself, to commemorate each of his victories.
He stared at that shelf a long time.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong with that shelf, though he couldn’t immediately say what. He stared at it till his mind started counting the trophies. Sixty-four. Sixty-five. Sixty six. His hair stood on end.
He pulled himself up on his elbows. He counted with growing terror from sixty six to eighty. Eighty trophy cups.
Though he had eighty victories to his credit, Manfred had stopped ordering the trophies after the sixty-fourth. And no one else would continue such a private ritual for him. Not even his mother.
Cold sweat sprang from his every pore, soaking his short, pale blond hair.
He forced himself to sit up. The room spun around him. His chest hurt with a dull ache, like much-bruised flesh, and breath wheezed in and out of him, as if he had a bad cold.
The room smelled funny. He’d obviously been sick, yet he couldn’t smell the sickroom odors of illness, sweat and disinfectant. In their place, there was an odd chemical smell, barely masked by floral scent.
His bed felt different. The mattress moved beneath him, as a living thing, and the sheets and blanket felt lighter and softer than anything he’d ever touched.
Suddenly, with startling clarity, he remembered he had been shot down. He remembered the bullets entering his body. His chest. Memory of the pain made him start and draw breath.
He’d been shot through the heart.
His hands flew to leg, and stomach, and chest, everywhere he’d felt the bullets penetrate. There were no wounds. His hands met only his own soft, unbroken skin.
He was sleeping naked. He never slept naked. His heart beat fast; his head spun.
He should have been dead, but he was alive. He should have pajamas on, but he was naked. Of the two, the latter puzzled him the most. He might, by a miracle, have survived those wounds. But he never slept without at least a shirt on.
Who would put him to bed naked? Under what circumstances would he, himself, go to bed naked?
His familiar room in the ancestral mansion at Schweidnitz looked different in minute ways. Who would have altered his room? Why? How long had he been unconscious?
Was he truly in Schweidnitz, or in an English prison camp? And if he was a prisoner, why would they play with him? Why make this room look just like Schweidnitz? Why give him this mattress—
It twitched under him, as his weight shifted.
He managed to haul himself out of bed. Standing on the wooden floor he held holding onto the mattress with his left hand, while he shook with the effort of being upright. His legs hurt, as if he’d been lying down for so long that his muscles had forgotten their accustomed purpose.
With his right hand, Manfred pulled the sheet off the mattress. The material beneath was soft and looked like pig’s skin. It felt warm where his hand touched it, and moved to accommodate his fingers, cuddling against them like a cat.
He pulled his hand away. Holding onto furniture and walls in the crowded room, he managed to make it to the window.
If only he could look out and see the familiar terraces of his home— If he could, perhaps, see his sister, Ilse, or his youngest brother, Bolko, out in the gardens, then he would know he was home. That, despite all the odd details, he had nothing to worry about. He would know everything was fine and that all his feeling of danger was a remainder of his illness.
But the curtains — though they looked like his familiar, heavy velvet curtains — didn’t open. No matter how or where he pulled, the material resisted him.
A mad dream. This had to be a mad dream. Curtains didn’t resist being pulled. But then mattresses did not nuzzle you.
He stumbled to the massive dresser beside the bed. He would put on some clothes and then he’d go in search of someone who could help him understand this madness.
The drawers of his dresser wouldn’t open. He tugged and pulled; pulled and tugged until he was panting, breathing hard, his chest aching. Until the whole dresser should have tipped over on him. The drawers didn’t budge.
He rushed to the door. He was going mad. The bullet he’d received in the head in July 1917, almost a year ago, had finally driven him insane. The bone splinters, that the doctors had never succeeded in removing fully, must have worked their way into his brain.
If only he could get out of his room, find his mother. She would know what to do. She would calm him and comfort him. She would—
To his surprise, the door knob to the entrance door turned under his shove.
He’d half expected to be a prisoner in his room.
Outside was a corridor that looked like nothing in Schweidnitz, like nothing Manfred had ever seen.
The walls and the floor glistened like glass — deep grey glass. They met at not-quite-straight angles, as if they’d been poured while liquid and had hardened into shape afterwards. Soft lights shone from within the ceiling, their glow halfway between the gentle light of candles and the brash intrusion of electrical light.
Manfred took a deep breath, steadying himself with a hand against the slick, cold wall.
Naked, in a strange environment, he felt helpless and lost. Mad. He must have gone mad. He had suffered a head wound. Since then, he had felt reluctant to go up. He hadn’t wanted to kill again. Yes, he must have suffered a breakdown. But what kind of strange asylum was this?
His bare feet slapped the cold, smooth floor, as he crept down the hallway.
From somewhere, nearby, came the sound of voices. They didn’t sound German.
As he struggled along the smooth, glassy hallway, closer and closer to the voices, he tried to identify the words he heard. Most of them were gibberish, but some sounded like ill-pronounced English. From his meager store of English, he identified, or thought he did, the word “transfer” and the words “back” and “time.”
In the middle of it all, a German word struck his ear: doppleganger.
Manfred frowned as he inched around a corner in the hallway and saw an open door, with bright white light spilling out of it. The voices came from there.
A doppleganger was a double, someone who looked just like you. What an odd word to pronounce, amid the gibberish and the English.
Perhaps he had misheard. Perhaps he’d just misinterpreted a collection of foreign sounds.
Keeping knit to the wall, sliding his back against it, he approached the well-lit room.
His heart beat faster. What would he find? What people were these? Was he in their power? What did they intend with him? He mustered all his strength to keep walking, though his legs felt tired and powerless and his whole body ached with the strain of standing up.
He must reach that room. He must find someone who could tell him where he was. He must find out whether he was mad.
He edged into the door and stood there, his bare back against the slick, cold door frame.
People clustered around a high, narrow bed. The people were all young — some male, some female. Their skin colors ranged from as pale as Manfred’s own to as dark as midnight. They all wore orange pants and shirts.
As they moved away from the bed, Manfred looked past them. And froze. On the bed lay—
Standing there, his feet against the cool floor at the entrance to the room, Manfred saw himself laying on that portable bed. Himself, Manfred von Richthofen, in the flight suit he’d worn the last time he remembered climbing into his airplane.
He blinked again.
The press of people around the bed, men and women — all dressed in look-alike orange suits — stepped away. One of them stepped back, almost as far back as Manfred stood. She held a gun in her hands.
They were so intent on their work, they didn’t see Manfred.
She lowered the gun, aimed it. A shot rang out; two; three; four; five shots.
The pale-skinned man on the portable bed shook with the impact, arched his back, convulsed. Blood ran out of his chest and mouth, stained his flight jacket, the top of his pants.
Manfred remembered the taste of blood in his own mouth, the pain of the bullet tearing through his chest, ripping through his heart.
These people had killed him — or were killing him. The same wounds, the same… He shook. Unsteady on his feet, he lurched forward.
The crowd noticed him at last.
A woman shrieked and men and women exclaimed in the language Manfred couldn’t understand.
He forced his way through the disoriented group, up to the bed, his hands in fists, his heart hammering in his chest, his mind clouded by a rage he only half understood.
The body on the table still looked like Manfred. It glared at him with his own pale-blue eyes. It wore his flight suit.
It was dead.
And yet Manfred lived. Or was he a ghost? But no. Hands grabbed him.
“Calm, calm, calm,” someone said, in badly pronounced German.
He looked at the group now clustered around him.
Men and women — young, healthy, well fed, their features more exotic than any he’d ever seen — they all stared at him, their eyes wide open; suspicious, shocked.
No words were needed. They’d captured him. They were the enemy, and he their prisoner.
Two men grabbed his arms. Manfred tore away from their hands, but other hands grabbed him, brought his arms behind his back, held his hands together. Other hands held him in place.
His mind whirled with confusion. His head pounded. He struggled to free himself, but he was too weak and there were too many of them holding im too firmly.
They would kill him now. They would shoot him as they had shot— The man on that table— Who was— Himself? How could he be Manfred? Who was Manfred?
His lips formed the words “Wie?” and “Warum?” How and why.
The only answer he got was that same, oddly-pronounced, “Calm, calm, calm.”
A slim, dark girl held something green and round in front of his face and squeezed it. A fine, cool mist surrounded him.
He smelled flowers, then lost control of his legs, lost control of his body.
With his eyes still open, his mind still spinning, trying to find an answer, Manfred fell.
The crowd of strangers broke his fall, held him up. Many hands lifted him, and placed him on a bed like the one where his look-alike had died.
He wanted to fight then, to fight his way free of these people who were going to shoot him, to execute him when he couldn’t even stand up. They weren’t… honorable. Who knew what they might do?
He heard himself make a high, keening sound of protest, but couldn’t control his mouth to either speech or silence.
The people around him pushed the bed. It slid forward smoothly, floating on air.
Near the door, for just a moment, Manfred caught a glimpse of a girl with green hair and the face of an angel.
She had oriental eyes, a broad chin and gently curving lips and the type of body men in the trenches dreamed of but rarely got to see. Her skin was a deep, shining gold.
Manfred wanted to call for help, and managed to open his lips and shape, “please, please, please.”
But she only smiled at him, as he passed.
Her smile was the benediction of a mad angel.
Magda Pilates, a.k.a. Mag-pi, pulled back a strand of her outrageously colored hair and walked past the open door to the med-room, ostensibly not even glancing inside.
But she saw.
She saw everything well enough, though she didn’t allow even a pause in her rolling walk to betray it. Her feet, in their accustomed heavy boots, hit the floor rhythmically.
Seemingly, she stared straight ahead, her hands deep in the pockets of her dark-blue suit.
She missed nothing of the room or its occupants.
Though most of the med-techs had left with the blond guy on the carrier, three of them remained behind with the strangely dressed corpse that resembled the blond.
So, another substitution was under way. And a new flier had joined the ranks. From the looks of him, and the fact that they’d had to tranq him to get him under control, a psychotic flier.
Mag-pi smiled. This was going to be fun.
No one had explained the mechanics of time-transfer to Mag-pi. No one had told her that each of the transferees were fighter pilots brought forward in time; nor that they could only be brought forward after their death had become a certainty in their own time; nor that after bringing them forward they created a double of each of them and killed it in the manner each of them was supposed to have died and then tunneled back through time and put a corpse where a corpse would be expected.
No one had told her, but Mag-pi had an habit of finding out things. It had kept her alive for her twenty two years of life.
A twenty-third century pilot, who’d helped Earth’s land states win the war against the artificial sea cities, Mag-pi had been amid the first transported to the twenty fifth century.
Confined to this compound for over two months now, she had talked to other transferees.
And she knew about the death thing. That you had to be as good as dead in your own time to be transported.
Mag-pi remembered her own death all too well. She remembered the wine her superiors had served to her and her squadron, to celebrate their final victory.
She remembered her throat closing and the spasm that had bent her spine backward. Even now, at the memory, her mouth filled with the bitter aftertaste of the poison.
Damn. They’d killed her — they’d killed them. And now in this future age, having talked to people of all times and places, Mag-pi knew why: because Mag-pi and her boys were bioengineered human artifacts. Improvements on the human model — their genes tailored for better speed, coordination, reasoning.
Those same improvements that had made them such good pilots and helped the old, land-bound nations of Earth win the war had been their death sentences. Because the old countries could not afford to have the enemy find out that they owed their victory to bios. The landstates couldn’t admit they had broken international law against tampering with the human genome.
Exit Mag-pi and her boys: Falcon, Sparrow, Eagle, Phoenix, Owl, Condor and Macaw.
Mag-pi’s fists bunched in her pockets.
Well, now the rulers of Earth needed heros again. And this time she’d make damn sure their reward wasn’t death. She’d make damn, damn sure.
Deep in her own thoughts, she jumped, in surprise, when a man stepped out of a side door, in front of her.
He had very short dark hair and wore the orange uniform of a Peace Keeper — some sort of policemen who did the maintenance and crowd control work around the compound. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “This area is restricted.”
The non-challance Mag-pi had exuded while walking down the hallway fell from her shoulders like a loose coat. She ducked her head and managed to push her cleavage just slightly forward, making it even more prominent. Looking down, she said, “I’m sorry. I got lost. The rec hall?” Peeking upward, just slightly, between the green strands of her hair, she saw the man glower at her, and kept her submissive posture, her bent shoulders.
The man made a derisive sound in the back of his throat. “The rec hall is on the other side of the compound,” he said. “As you know.”
He nudged her shoulder to get her walking, and escorted her down the narrow, grey-walled corridor. The grey corridors were the ones where people were brought in, where interesting things happened. The ones Mag-pi gravitated to, to figure out what those in power were planning.
It wasn’t the first time that Mag-pi got caught, but somehow these people never checked with each other. Or didn’t care. Why wouldn’t they care? Perhaps because they were planning to kill her.
Frowning towards the ground, she saw her boot clad feet hit the shiny floor in the same rhythm as her guard’s slippered feet.
They reached a door and the guard allowed the eye-level camera to scan his retina. He pressed a green button. The door slid open.
Mag-pi walked through it, feeling the weight of the guard’s suspicious glance on her back. She waited until she heard the door slide shut behind her, before lifting her head and resuming her rolling walk.
It never occurred to these guards to ask how she got into the restricted part of the compound. She certainly wasn’t about to tell them that she’d got in through a ventilation window set fifteen feet up a smooth wall, where no normal human could climb.
No normal human. Mag-pi smiled to herself. She walked down a green-walled corridor, made of the same dimatough as the grey corridors, but open to all.
The rec hall announced itself form a distance by the sound of rapid fire speech in many languages, by occasional laughter and by the smell of food, alcohol and tobacco, the latter a substance Mag had discovered only here – having been so tightly controlled as to be non existent in her time. Though other, more serious drugs, had been abundant and free-flowing.
Entering the rec hall, Mag-pi instinctively looked around for her boys, glancing over the heads of a hundred or so fliers – mostly men — hunched over tables, talking, eating, drinking. Most of them spent their whole time talking about their situation, trying to understand it. And none had even figured that this must be the twenty fifth century because they had people who came from times up to the twenty fourth. Fools all. And the half dozen women among them were no better.
Of course only Mag-pi was a bio-improved female. The only one of her kind. And only she had figured that someone had been gathering combat fliers from all eras, which meant they were preparing for some big battle.
Mag and her boys would be fighting again. And this time she would protect herself. And them. By all means available.
“Mag.” A familiar large hand grabbed onto Mag’s arm. “Where have you been? We were worried.”
Without looking, she shook away the grasping hand. Rudolph Sven, aka Raven, was getting above himself. The tall blond had been sharing Mag’s bed for the last month and clearly he’d forgotten that – as the only woman in the group – she made the decisions as to whom she would favor. And none of them kept tabs on her.
But she had time for no more than frowning at Raven, because the rest of the boys pressed in. All in their twenties and all different, from raven’s pale hair and bright green eyes to Falcon’s towering ebony frame. Race meant nothing when you came out of a test tube.
But they all looked as concerned as Raven. All except Macaw, who did justice to his nickname by dyeing his hair a deep red, with an abstract overlay in bright colors that made it look like an old tapestry.
He looked amused and gave her a fleeting mad smile. “What shiny treasure have you gathered, Mag-pi?”
She shrugged. Maybe she’d give Macaw a turn next. He was as mad in bed as out of it. Exhausting, but fun. “There’s a new flier arrived,” she said. Exciting news, because it had been over a week. And that meant that they had researched to bring up someone historically important. “Pale blond. Short. Totally psycho. They had to tranq him.”
They all surged forward. All of them could have found things the way Mag-pi did, but they never even tried. Instead, they relied on her.
“What kind of clothes was he wearing?” One of them asked. Mag-pi grinned. “The flier? None.” Mag-pi grinned. “But his replacement…” She demurred.
“You saw the–” “What did the–” “How did they–”
“He,” she said. “Was wearing a leather flight suit. Early twentieth century, I think. Red boots.” A short silence.
And then Sparrow, short, dark haired, with dark, dark eyes peering attentively from beneath a slick-smooth mass of hair, asked, “Did he speak? What language?”
“Like English.” In her months here, she’d got quite good at figuring out the cadences of ancient languages. “But harsher.”
Sparrow’s face lit up. “I’ve been wondering when he would arrive.”
“The Red Baron. German. They were bound to get him, since they’re getting the best.”
The Red Baron. Fragments of his legend flitted through Mag-pi’s mind. His courage, coolness and daring. His ability to unerringly fly the wooden crates that passed for planes in those days. His accuracy at shooting and air combat. All of it had been talked about even in Mag-pi’s training.
She bit her lip. Whatever battle was ahead, their handlers had clearly picked the best of each time. Which meant they needed great fliers. Not just good ones. So though they were all at the mercy of their strange captors, the best ones were bound to be safe.
And Mag-pi was determined to be the best and keep herself and her boys safe. She squared her shoulders.
Let Manfred of Richthofen be a legend. She was sure she could fly better than he. And kill better. He was only a natural human.