The explosion shook the ground, throwing dirt onto soldiers crouching nearby. Machine gun and rifle fire followed; erupting between a Nazi machine gun nest and American soldiers. The Americans were pinned down on a cobblestone road, a short distance from a bridge leading to a small French village. The enemy machine gun had protection, positioned inside the bridge tenders building situated at the foot of the bridge. The seven American soldiers found cover behind an abandoned horse cart laying on its side, and a damaged jeep. Despite the stone building that protected the machine gun, the Americans believed they could succeed in eliminating this threat. However, that belief became dampened due to the explosion.
“Stewart, can you get a grenade into that bridge tenders building?” The request came from the sergeant in charge of the American patrol.
“I can give it a try” replied Private Stewart.
Stewart peered around the cart. His position placed him closest to the building. Taking a grenade from his jacket, he positioned himself for the throw, while remaining behind cover. He pulled the pin. Once he releases the spoon the grenade becomes committed to detonation in about five seconds. Stepping out from cover he drew back his right arm to throw.
Releasing the spoon, he started to swing his arm forward when a bullet from a Nazi rifle struck Stewart in the right shoulder. He swung wildly, and then fell to the ground. The grenade dropped short, directly in front of the American soldiers.
“Cover!” yelled the sergeant. A resounding KAPOW followed his warning. The sergeant looked over at Stewart, who laid gripping his shoulder and winching in pain.
“Doc” yelled the sergeant, motioning with his head in the direction of Stewart.
“Hey Sarge,” called another private, “They’ve stopped shooting.”
“Everybody, hold your position” the sergeant answered back.
The American soldiers then heard a sound that gave them a gut wrenching fear. They recognized the familiar sound of a tank! As they watched, the muzzle and barrel became visible from the far side of the bridge. Then, as it fully emerged on top of the bridge, their fear became both confirmed and intensified as a Nazi Tiger tank came into view. This heavy tank emerged in 1942 and now, a year later, is well known for destroying a target on the first shot.
It stopped on the downslope of the bridge, swinging its mighty turret in the direction of the American soldiers; the muzzle still smoking from the last time it fired. The explosion had been from the tank, which received incorrect coordinates from the Nazi ground forces. However it now positioned the barrel for a prime shot. With the machine gun silent, the air fell thick with anticipation. The Americans swallowed hard in the bitter silence. They glanced at each other with wrinkled brows covered in dirt and sweat. They pictured in their mind the tank gunner with his hand on the trigger of the cannon.
Suddenly, the soldiers saw a blue object streak from a building in the village, to the tank. The object crossed the distance in a fraction of a second. For a brief moment nothing happened, however a brilliant blue flash then followed, causing the men to divert their eyes away. Then, a great sound; like a giant boulder striking the ground, penetrated their ears. Yet the ground did not shake. As the sound echoed, each echo growing dim, the bright light dissipated with it revealing the tank, and the machine gun nest, had been obliterated.
The astonished men looked at their sergeant, who cautiously stood. Not only was the tank gone, but so was the bridge tenders building. He motioned for the men to follow him. They walked slowly to the spot where the tank had been, weapons ready. There were no obvious signs the Nazi’s had even been there. Glancing around the sergeant saw small pieces of melted metal. In addition some of the stones that made up the bridge tenders building had also melted. The soldiers seemed dazed by the sight and stood motionless.
“Alright” the sergeant snapped, “you guy still have a job to do. Let’s clear this town. Andre, you and Kowalski take the south side of the street. West, you and Miller take the north.” As the soldiers started to make their way down the street, checking each building for any Nazi holdouts, Doc and Stewart approached the sergeant. Stewart had his arm in a sling.
“Hey Doc, how’s Stewart doin’?”
“He’s patched up for now, but he’s going need to get checked out at an aid station.”
“Alright, we’ll get him to one as soon as we can.”
Doc looked around at the place where the Nazi soldiers had been positioned.
“One thing puzzles me.”
“What’s that, Doc?”
“What happened to the bodies?”
The sergeant glanced at him with narrow eyes, and then walked away without speaking.
As the sergeant headed down the street he looked for West, who carried the radio. He wanted to call in to his lieutenant and fill him in what happened, although he wasn’t sure what he would tell him.
As he walked down the street, he could see Miller coming up the street towards him. With him he could see a young girl. Getting closer, he started to notice more of the girl. She appeared to be about 17, with dark hair and eyes. She had on what appeared to some type of uniform or battle fatigues, although the clothing appeared rather make shift. The pants and jacket were of a combat green; however the shades of green mismatched as if from two different uniforms. More noticeable, she wore a sidearm, and carried a very odd looking rifle on a sling.
“What’s this?” the sergeant asked.
“I don’t know” answered Miller. “She was hiding in one of the buildings.”
“Where’d she get the rifle; that is a rifle, right?”
“Yeah, but she won’t let me near it.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
“Yeah, but she only speaks French.”
The sergeant looked at the rifle. It appeared unlike anything he had ever seen before.
“Leave her here with me and go get Andre.”
Miller motioned for her to stay by putting his hand out, palm up.
“You, stay, stay.”
“She’s not a dog” said the sergeant in an annoyed tone, “just go get Andre.”
The sergeant stood so he could look down the street and watch the girl at the same time. The girl pulled her long black hair behind her ear, only occasionally glancing at the sergeant. Once, when he didn’t appear to be looking her way, she looked more closely at his uniform and his Thompson machine gun.
Soon Miller and Andre returned.
“Yeah Sarge?” asked Andre. “Miller filled me in on the girl.”
“Ask her who she is and where’s she is from.”
Andre was raised in America by French parents and knew French fluently. He turned to face the girl, whose eyes met his.
“Bonjour. Comment tu t’appelles?” Andre asked the girl.
“Bonjour. Je m’appelle Rayn.” Her reply contained hesitation.
“D’où venez vous ?” Andre asked in French, to which she responded back. He then turned back to the sergeant.
“She says her name is Rayn. She would only say she is from a place far from here.”
“Ask her about the rifle. See if you can get her to let us look at it.”
Andre turned back to the girl to question her. As he spoke the girl turned moving the gun away from their view and placed her hand on her pistol, answering Andre in French.
“She refuses to let us see it” Andre advised the sergeant. Miller, who stood behind her, took hold of the rifle barrel.
“Why don’t we just take it” he said.
Instantly he found himself on the ground with a pistol pointed directly between his eyes.
“Cette arme est le mien, vous avez pas droit, comprendre?” Rayn said in a very angry tone. Miller lay on his back, hands up by his head, looking over at Andre waiting for the translation.
“She said the gun belongs to her, and keep your hands off” Andre repeated each word deliberately and with a half-smile on his face. Miller is often somewhat arrogant, and Andre enjoyed seeing a small French girl take him down so easily.
“Alright, that’s enough. Let her keep the rifle” said the sergeant. His attention then turned back to the radio. Holstering her pistol, Rayn started talking to Andre again in French.
“What’s she saying?” asked Miller.
“Somethhin’ about wanting us to take her to Renage.”
“Renage? What are we, some kind of escort service?” said Miller.
Rayn lowered her head; however the sergeant had been listening to the conversation as well.
“Actually, that’s exactly where we are going” he said.
“What” exclaimed Miller, “that’s behind enemy lines!”
“That’s right! We’re to recon that area and advise command. And, since we are going that way, Rayn will be coming with us.”
As the sergeant walked down the road to brief the others, Miller watched him with a look of astonishment. Rayn followed him and as she passed Miller she gave him a look as if to say “I told you so”.
“Hey, you know it’s as if she knew what we were talking about” said Miller.
“Some people are very perceptive. But then, with you Miller, it doesn’t take a lot” replied Andre still smiling. “Come on, we need to catch up to the Sarge.”
They left the village on a road that led into the foothills of the French mountain region. The sergeant sent Doc and Stewart back to the aid station. Kowalski covered point position ahead of the group. The rest walked in pairs. Rayn walked next to the sergeant.
They were quiet for quite some time, the soldiers keeping a constant vigilance for any signs of Nazi activity. The sergeant glanced over at Rayn for a moment, and then turned back to the road.
“So, exactly what will we find in Renage?” the sergeant asked Rayn, while still looking ahead. He then looked at Rayn, making sure she knew he was talking to her. She returned his look with wide eyes and an open mouth of astonishment.
“I know that you know English” he said to her. Her look of astonishment slowly changed to a smile.
“How did you know?” Rayn asked, now speaking in English.
“There were slight indications I picked up.”
They walked a little farther in silence.
“So, what’s in Renage?” the sergeant repeated.
“What is so special about this church?”
“It is my way home.”
Clearly Rayn was being evasive. Rather than press her more, he elected to dispense with any more questions, at least for the time being. The walked a bit farther. The air became brisk. The last village is situated in the valley; however they are now heading to a higher elevation where the November winds reminded them it is the beginning of winter.
“Alright, let’s take ten” the sergeant called out. “Break out your winter gear.” The soldiers all moved to the side of the road. Some took out their canteens for a drink, while others pulled a snack from their jackets. Rayn sat near the sergeant, who reached into his jacket for some chocolate. He looked over at Rayn, and held out the chocolate bar.
“Want some?” he asked her. She looked at it for a moment and then shook he head no.
“Go ahead, take it. I have more.”
“She looked at it again, and then lifted her eyes to his. Seeing the sincerity in his eyes, she scooted closer and took the bar, quickly scooting back to her spot on the ground. She unwrapped the bar and started to eat.
“How long has it been since you last had a meal?” he asked. She paused from chewing and tilted her head to one side in thought,
“I’m not sure. I had some eggs about two days ago.”
“Two days.” The fact that French appears to be only a second language caused him curiosity. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Rayn took a bite, chewed and swallowed. She then turned her head only slightly, and moved her eyes towards the sergeant, looking up at him.
“Sergeant, I can only say I am here to observe this conflict. I am at the end of my mission, and I need to go home. Certainly you can understand that.”
The sergeant stood up and positioned his pack. Rayn stood as well. The sergeant picked up his machine gun. As he lifted the weapon, Rayn’s eyes were on the gun. The sergeant noticed her.
“You’re interested in my weapon; I would be glad to share information about it if you like.”
Rayn knew the direction of this comment. He wanted to know about her rifle. However, she could not allow him to examine it, nor could she explain its features.
“It’s an M1A1 Thompson submachine gun” she said, “45 caliber, with the box magazine that holds 30 rounds, it weighs 11.75 pounds and has a rate of fire at 700 rounds per minute;” she hesitated looking up at the sergeant. He stood silently for a moment.
“Uh, yes” he replied, looking at his own weapon. He then looked back at her. She kept her rifle slung behind her. He thought that a direct approach would be better.
“Well, you know a lot about my weapon, but I’m afraid I don’t know anything about yours.”
“It belonged to my father” she said. There existed silence between them. She had a strong determination not to talk about the rifle.
“Alright, let’s mount up!”
The soldiers rose to their feet, grabbing their packs and guns. As they stepped into the road, they heard a shot!
“Sniper!” shouted the sergeant, “Everyone hit the dirt!”
The sergeant first scanned for the safety of his men. He immediately saw that West, the radio operator, lying in the road, motionless. Next, he started to scan the trees for the sniper.
Another shot rang out; then another. They were clearly pinned down.
“Hey Sarge,” yelled Kowalski, “Rayn’s in a bad way!”
The sergeant looked over in her direction. In diving for cover, Rayn landed in a roll of barbed wire. This left her fully exposed. Apparently the sniper hadn’t noticed her yet.
“Give me some cover!” he shouted.
All the soldiers began firing into the trees, keeping the sniper from the ability to return fire. The sergeant crawled to Rayn. The wire entangled her legs. He reached into his pack for the wire cutters that each soldier carried, and started to cut her free. Suddenly a bullet sliced through her sleeve at the wrist. Then a second one barely creased the sergeant’s helmet, striking Rayn in the head, cutting her flesh. Blood began flowing from the head wound; however the cut didn’t appear too deep.
“Can anybody see him?” he shouted. Everyone looked, but gave no reply. Rayn clearly saw that her life and the life of the sergeant were in jeopardy.
She reached around and took the rifle from the sling. She also removed a face shield from a pocket of the sling. She slipped the face shield on over her eyes, and then raised the rifle to fire!
“Got him!” Rayn said, using the tactical heads up display in the face shield. “He’s in the large tree on the right side of the road, 24 yards out, 4.2 yards from the ground.”
She squeezed the grip which seemed to start a humming sound. Her thumb turned a dial on the side of the rifle. She squeezed off a shot. A bolt of blue light appeared for a moment, and then everyone could see the sniper outlined in blue; then he disappeared!
Everyone moved from cover. There could possibly be others, so they constantly scanned the surrounding trees. The sergeant finished cutting Rayn free. Rayn removed the visor and replaced it into the sling with the rifle. The sergeant looked at Rayn, his eyes narrow in disgust. They stood, and he went to checked West, finding him dead.
He took the radio off and stood looking at the body. Rayn walked up to them. She had seen death before, and she had caused the death of a human being before, but this death seemed different. This was someone she had come to know. The sergeant turned to look at her. His brow wrinkled, his eyes narrow, she sensed his anger.
“Why did you wait so long to fire? We were pinned down but you didn’t shoot! Is that rifle just a toy to you? Are we not important to you?”
Rayn became angry. She did save her life, however she also saved them all. They seemed so ungrateful.
“I am bound to the laws of the Alliance, and those laws prohibit me from firing my weapon unless MY life is in danger, or the lives of OTHERS who are DEFENSELESS are in danger. You were not defenseless this time!”
Rayn stopped talking. She realized she had already said too much. She stood silently. Her stomach felt tight and tears started to form. She wiped them away, hoping no one saw.
“Alright” said the sergeant, “Let’s get a burial detail and then we can get moving; we want to make Renage before sundown.”
Rayn walked over borrowing a tri-fold shove from Andre. She started to dig with the burial detail. The sergeant removed West’s dog tags, and they started to shovel dirt on the body. With each shovel of dirt Rayn poured onto the body, Rayn feel the pain of sorrow. A cloud of depression and weariness seemed to draw all of Rayn’s features downward. Uncontrollable, tears started and she began to weep.
Once finished, Kowalski removed the action from West’s rifle, and they placed it as a marker, with his helmet on top. Andre gave a prayer.
“At times we are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. West was an incredible person to face the possibility of death in this war. His death was given while fighting evil, and while saving the lives of people he had never even met. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
The group formed a two by two line once again and started up the road. Miller took point, while the sergeant and Rayn took up the rear. They walked along for a time without talking. Then the sergeant spoke to Rayn.
“I’m sorry for hammering you so hard. Just pulling the trigger is a difficult action to take. It’s clear to me now, that you are bound by certain rules of engagement that differ from ours, and we need to respect that.”
The sergeant had developed anger because he attempted to save her life, risking his, and then she ended up saving his. He just used West’s death as a reason to display his anger. There was nothing she or anyone could have done to save him.
“It’s okay,” Rayn replied, “I know the men wonder why I didn’t shoot. I’m sorry too, that I couldn’t do more.”
“As long as you do what you know is right, you should have no regrets”
“It is hard not to have regrets. The whole point of the laws I spoke of, is to preserve life when the lack of action places the risk of loss at 100 percent. However, while we engaged the sniper, the risk had not yet reached that point. None-the-less, it seems to me that, had I fired earlier, the risk would be reduced to zero.”
“I understand your confusion. I can only tell you that the rules, and laws, don’t always cover every situation. As a sergeant, I am paid to make decisions. I believe that my job is to make those decisions so my men don’t have to. The burden is entirely on me when I do. They give me rules to go by, but if the situation calls for me to disregard the rules, I do so. In that, my men are not held responsible for my decisions, and I find comfort in knowing I did what was right.
The sun lay low in the sky as they reached the edge of Renage. The group moved quietly and cautiously from one cover position to another. They remained low so as not to be seen.
They followed the river which runs north and south along the edge of the village. Several times along the way they encountered Nazi soldiers, managing to pass unseen. Finally they reached a church.
“This is it” said Rayn.
The soldiers were concealed by several buildings and the shadows of dusk. They peered out of their position to see an old church: a single story structure with a tower and a separate chimney stack attached. Nazi soldiers and the staff car outside caught their attention.
“Here?” exclaimed Miller. “This is a Nazi command post. How do you propose we get inside; knock on the door and ask?”
“Knock it off, Miller” the sergeant said sternly but in a hushed voice.
“Sergeant, I’m the only one who needs to go inside” Rayn said. You and your men don’t have to take the risk.”
“That’s fine except we do need to go inside. The command post will have the information we need concerning troop strength and positions. We just need to figure out how to do that.”
“I can help you with that” said Rayn. “I’ve been here already, and I have spent time in this church. I know the layout and all the ways in and out. There is a door for a store room at the base of the tower which leads to the stairs and into the choir’s dressing room.”
“That will work” said the sergeant. “Kowalski will take the radio and climb the tower, holding that position as an observation point. Andre, Miller and I will move to the choir’s dressing room. From there we can quietly take out the others and collect any intelligence.”
“What about me?” asked Rayn.
“You’re to stay here and stay concealed. We’ll call for you when we’re sure it’s safe.”
The sergeant wanted to play it cautiously so Rayn could stay within her boundaries, and Rayn knew this. Still, Rayn felt frustrated.
“Sergeant, I know every room in that building. At least let me come with you so that I can advise you on where the different rooms are.” The sergeant thought about it.
“Alright, you can come along.” Rayn smiled. “But we will need to move quickly. Will the things you need to do there take much time?”
“Maybe five minutes at the most.”
“Okay, let’s move out; quietly. Everyone stick to the shadows. No guns!”
The group moved together, crossing the meadow between the forest cover to the tower door. They bypassed the guards outside by entering through the unguarded storage room door. Kowalski headed upstairs; the rest went into the choir’s dressing room. They entered the main sanctuary and took the command staff there off guard. They were able to tie them and retrieve as many documents as possible.
“What should we do with them, Sarge?” asked Miller.
“Just keep an eye on them and watch the door. We’ll be done and out of here in six minutes.”
The sergeant had Rayn accompany him into the tower. He had Kowalski leave the radio for them and return to the first floor to help defend it.
“I’m sorry for being so much trouble” said Rayn. The sergeant looked out the window as he answered.
“It’s not that your trouble as much as I don’t know how I’m going to get you out of here. I don’t know how any of us are going to get out of here.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Rayn replied, “You just concentrate on getting yourselves out.”
Rayn walked to a brick wall near the stair well. She started to push on the bricks in a particular order. A mechanical noise followed and Rayn took a step back. A portion of the wall rotated. What appeared held the sergeant speechless. A computerized panel and a glass looking platform appeared. The sergeant had never seen anything like it.
Rayn activated the transport system. A computer monitor started to scroll information. She turned towards the sergeant.
“It’s a breach of our rules for me to tell you this, but I think I owe it to you. My planet is a great distance from here. We have entered into a war” she said. “The problem is we have not had any conflicts for fifteen hundred years. A power has arisen which will claim our home, our people, if we don’t fight back.”
“Who are your people?”
“We live in a planetary system in another part of the galaxy. My people believe in liberty. My research here has revealed that your cause in this great world war, as you call it, is nearly identical to ours.”
“Why are YOU here?”
“Six of us were sent out to learn about combat tactics. Through observation, we discovered that both sides use the same basic tactics. I adopted a French identity so that I could move around both sides and not be regarded as a threat. I watched and found that despite the similarities, there were clearly good and evil factors. In the year I have been here, I have learned a great deal. Most importantly is that despite both sides using basically the same tactics, your side respects the values of human rights and dignity. Theirs does not.”
“So how are you going to get home?”
Rayn turned back to the computer and picked up a pair of metal wrist bands.
“You need not worry about that.”
“What of the other five?”
Rayn remained facing the computer. Her eyes lost focus and her eyelids drooped, the corners of her mouth fell.
“They will not be returning. They have all lost their lives in this conflict. Of all that I learned, the pain of death; the ugliness of innocent lives lost has impacted me the most. It’s the one thing I have learned that I don’t know how to teach my people.”
“You won’t have to teach then about loss. It’s a part of fighting that you have to experience to know. Others who have not had a loss may try to understand but can’t; and they can’t accept that. They will try to give you answers to why, and tell you what should be done. However they don’t have a frame of reference. They think it’s better to stop fighting.”
“But isn’t that better. It seems that the cost is too high to fight.”
“When there is an evil that oppresses, abuses, and enslaves humans, then to fight for freedom and liberty is not only required; it is mandated. A famous American named Thomas Paine once said those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Rayn smiled, and then her eyes grew wide.
“Why don’t you come with me? You could be an advisor to my people.
The sergeant smiled too.
“Thank you for the compliment, but my duty is here, to my men and to my country.”
Rayn understood. Suddenly gunfire broke out below.
“Sarge” yelled Miller, “their on to us!”
The sergeant quickly turned the generator crank to the field radio.
“Foxtrot two-six, this is Johnny Bravo. Copy coordinates” he said.
Heavy gunfire could be heard. The American’s were surrounded on all sides. Rayn turned back to her computer. If she did not teleport now, no one would get back home. She looked back at the sergeant. She realized his request for the American Howitzers so as to shell the enemy positions in this village. That probably would include this church.
“Foxtrot two-six, again begin shelling immediately, and fire for full effect” she heard him say. She knew there would be no escape for them.
“They got us boxed in” yelled Andre. The gunfire continued. “At this rate the ammo will be gone real soon.”
Rayn looked out the window. She knew the gravity of the situation. She slipped on the metal wrist bands and activated the transport. She turned back to face the sergeant one last time.
“I have one question. At the grave, Andre spoke words from something call John 15, 13.”
The sergeant looked into her eyes; his heart touched by her innocent words. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a book. The cover was bent and he pushed it back in place. Then he handed it to her.
“This will explain what you are looking to know. And maybe it will help your people to know why things like liberty and freedom are so important.”
“I’m sorry I cannot stay help you fight.”
“That’s okay. It’s our job and we all knew the risks.”
Tears once again started to form in Rayn’s eyes. She brushed them away, and spoke in a broken voice.
“In the kitchen there is a pantry. You will have to break through it, however behind it are stairs which lead to a tunnel. The other end of the tunnel is a basement into the orphanage. It is next to the forest line. From there you may be able to get back to the forest.”
The sergeant looked out the window. He could hear the familiar sounds of the howitzers starting.
“The orphanage is the building to the right” said Rayn. The sergeant looked at it and saw its location seemed very close to the forest tree line. “They moved the children out the day I left here.”
The sergeant looked back at Rayn.
“After I’m gone there will be a signal from space,” Rayn warned, “which will destroy this device and the entire tower. You need to gather your men and go. Good luck sergeant. After this war is over and you’re sitting in your rocking chair, look up from time to time at the stars, think of me. I am glad to have known you.
A kind of hum could be heard and built with intensity. The sergeant hesitated, looking at Rayn; wanting to speak, but didn’t know what else to say. He then blinked back to reality, and headed down the stair to his men. Rayn smiled and closed her eyes.
The fighting grew loud and obvious as he reached the bottom of the stairs. He ordered the men to follow, and they made their way to the kitchen. Using the butt ends of their rifles, they broke through the pantry. As Rayn had described, they found the stairs. Once through, the sergeant reached to throw a grenade closing off the route for anyone to follow.
“What about Rayn?” asked Andre, with wide eyed concern. The sergeant looked up at the ceiling.
“She’s gone” he replied.
In space, a large starship orbited earth. Inside, a command member greeted Rayn.
“How are you doing, lieutenant?
“I’m not sure. Their world is so much like ours; it felt like I was home; except for the lack of our technology.”
“Did you find out anything useful on how to fight?”
“Yes. Most of the tactics we have research before this mission are being used by both sides. However the real advantage is our purpose. We must fight using the spirit of liberty and freedom. We must fight because it’s mandatory!”
“What’s that?” asked the commander referring to the book in Rayn’s hand.
“It is a book given to me by an army sergeant. I’ve only had a chance to glance at it, but it seems to be written for us.”
The commander peers over her shoulder.
“It has something written by hand inside the cover.”
“It’s a sentiment of his. It reads ‘This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.’ It’s written by someone called Elmer Davis.”
“What’s that other name there?”
“Oh, that’s the sergeant’s name.”