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Time Ranger
Eingestellt am 17. 12. 2005 02:34

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Time Ranger

Ron was surprised to find a letter from the pentagon in his mailbox. And it wasn’t exactly a pleasant surprise, either. The notice was short and informed him that he had been drafted back into service and he had been reinstated into his former rank as First Lieutenant. He was to report to duty the next Monday, at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of Berkley, California. A one way ticket for an airplane was said to be deposited at the O’Hare Air Port. Departure scheduled at four a. m.
“Thank you, bastards, could have been a full night’s sleep otherwise.” It was Saturday afternoon. The order did not leave him much time to organize his life.
In the same mail he found a letter from his lawyer that his divorce trial was scheduled for the same Monday, nine thirty a. m., here in Chicago. Really funny, he thought. He returned into his house, packed his shooting gear and took off for a pleasant hour on the range. He could make no sense of being ordered to report at a university college for Physics, but another hour of target practice would never be a loss. Another good thing was that he would meet his lawyer there who was an excellent Olympic shooter who had made a habit of placing twenty-five out of every thirty rounds of .22 into a two-inch circle at twenty-five yards. He would not like the news, but you can’t resist Uncle Sam’s calling.
He blew out the first two or three magazines just for the sound, but then regained his composure and resumed his training program. When he made a break, he found his friend and asked him if he could make any sense out of the draft notice. He was a fellow Marine and they had met during a brief stay in Somalia, where Uncle Sam did not exactly splutter himself with honor and glory.
They had liked each other from the first day and had been friends ever since. Geoffrey had gone to Law school on his GI ticket; Ron had got a doctorate in History. Ron’s divorce was a mere complimentary favor for a friend, as Geoff had specialized in contracts. Nevertheless, he had turned out to be sufficiently qualified to respond to his parting wife’s more esoterical quests. She was about to leave her husband for another woman, and they were fighting with all means about the custody of their only son. Ron was not fond of him living in a lesbo-liberal community.
He would have to leave this to his lawyer friend, whether he liked it or not. He had copied the draft notice at home, so his lawyer would be able to explain his absence. On his way home, he spent his time composing free-rhythm lyrics in which only a few words had more than four letters.
His old uniform was still hanging in his closet, unstained and ironed sharp enough to cut a finger with the edges. He found it a little narrow at the waist, but still bearable. He liked the thought that he had been keeping his shape although he used to spend most of his time behind a desk.
The recent years, he had been working as a free-lance author and a consultant for a TV station. His favorite period were the sixties ad the seventies, a time during which the world had undergone dramatic changes.
Nothing still made any sense to him, but hey, it’s the military. He had learnt not to expect too much sense in orders, but this was one of those he understood least.
When he returned from the range, he broke a restraining order issued by the same court he would have to attend on Monday, and called his son. The boy enthusiastically accepted an invitation to a fishing trip on Sunday and promised, he would find a way to escape from the place his mother held him. Gerald was only thirteen, and this might be considered an abduction, but Ron would be unavailable for a while after. Never excuse, never explain, just do it and let them howl.
Especially this attitude was what his ex-wife-to-be hated most at him. She would whine for hours that she just could not control him. After all this time, he mused, why in hell had she married him in the first place? He had been showing this attitude long before, so why this divorce war now, after almost fifteen years.
The fishing trip was successful, they had a good time on the river and they even grilled the prey on a campfire. When he reluctantly delivered his son to his wife’s hideout, he saw her standing at the door, talking to the Sheriff, fuming, yelling at that poor man, as he would not do anything unless a twenty-four hour period would have expired. And now, that the missing kid was no longer missing, he would do nothing at all. Ron thought of sending him a bottle of rare old malt whiskey for Christmas, but this might have been considered bribery. His lawyer would have a bad day at court right now, so he’d better think twice.
Audrey turned from fuming to foaming and frothing when she discovered the camp fire smell on the boy. She slapped the boy’s face twice and started yelling at him.
This time, the Sheriff acted: he read her the Miranda rights and arrested her for domestic violence, his face split by a broad grin.
“Take your son with you, Ron. Forget the restraining order. That’ll be canceled anyway. Have a nice day!”
“Won’t be much of a nice day I’m going to have, Sheriff. Tomorrow I’ll have to report back to duty, in California. I have no bloody idea when I’ll be back.”
“Murphy’s having a good time with you. Anyway, he can spend a few days with us and maybe I’ll let him visit his mom in jail...”
“Dad, can’t I spend the days with he Zelman’s, their youngest son is in my class.”
“Let’s get this arranged. I’ll help as your daddy’s going to be busy. I’ll just call the patrol car to get this f.., angry lady to the office. Get organized, Ron.”
“Thanks a lot, Sheriff, and you, Gerry, take it easy. I’ll be back ASAP, and then, we’ll straighten this out.”
He gave his son a hearty hug and departed.
Ron spent the better part of the night writing e-mails to all the people who were expecting something from him to tell them about the draft notice and his unforeseeable absence. When he was ready, it was too late to go to bed, so he switched on the TV and enjoyed a strong coffee.
Traffic was not too tight at two a. m., and surprisingly, when he showed up in uniform with a military ticket, the controls were practically nonexistent. He spent a boring hour after check-in and had a pleasantly boring flight, most of which he spent sleeping. A stewardess woke him up to tell him the rituals for touchdown were scheduled, and he felt slightly better. Oakland airport greeted him with a blazing hundred degrees and a clear blue sky.
The Marines greeted him with two Sergeants and a limousine as an escort. They took him straight to Berkley University, Department of Theoretical Physics. They knew nothing else, of course.
He was escorted straight to the office of a man who introduced himself as Professor Sergej Prigogin. A USMC General stood by his side, but remained silent.
“I’m pretty sure you wonder why you’ve been chosen for this task.”
“Well, Professor, first I’m wondering for what task I have been drafted into service after almost ten years of civilian life.”
“Didn’t anybody tell you?”
“Not a word.”
The professor, a lean man in his fifties, clad in jeans and pink tee-shirt with a green smiley on its belly, gave the General a queer look. The senior officer kept a petrified poker face.
“Military is the same, wherever you look. OK: here’s your mission, and you don’t have much of a chance to refuse it: The Viet Nam war was a development which should not have taken place at all. The last chance to avoid our military engagement was gone when John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, on November 22nd, 1963. I think, we all agree on this point. What, if we could turn back the wheels of history, prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK and let Kennedy’s legislation fail in Congress, preventing him from constructing a welfare state AAAAND, preventing him from going to war in Viet Nam. I have built a device for exactly that purpose.”
“Wouldn’t that change the course of history?”
“Of course. And on purpose. No Viet Nam war would mean that the worst black stain on Uncle Sam’s vest would disappear and our politics would have changed towards a free economy system. Most calculations show that this would have accelerated the downfall of the communist systems by two decades.”
“Why me?”
“Because in January 1966, First Lieutenant Ronald Lansing, died in Viet Nam. His son, you, had to grow up without a father. Here in that box is a 1962-style uniform, the dog tag and several personal items of your father’s possessions, like photos from his wife and his little boy.
When he died, he was of your age, looked quite like you do right now and if you change uniforms and haircut, you’ll look exactly like him.
To prevent JFK from getting killed, you’ll have a chance not only to save some sixty thousand soldiers from dying in South East Asia, but your father as well. You were his only son, maybe you’ll get a brother or a sister, who knows.”
“That’s perfidious.”
“It sure as hell is, son.” So the general could speak. “But son, it is a chance to o something for your country what nobody else could do. You are the best-qualified man for this job, you were a good officer, though always on the brink of being court-martialed for disobedience, but you always accomplished your missions and got more of your soldiers home alive than anyone else in Somalia. And you are an expert in history of that special period. You see, you’d better not let us down, because we can’t find anyone of that qualification.”
“Let’s go to the details.”
“That’s simple enough. We will send you back to Nov. 22nd, five minutes before Lee Harvey Oswald can fire his first round. You will persuade him not to shoot and vamoose. That’s all, basically.”
“With what means of persuasion?”
“Well, I thought of an UZI, but this gentleman here,” he pointed at the General, “insisted on a contemporary weapon. So you’ll get a Thompson MP in .45 ACP cal. Much better persuasion factor than the UZI.”
“So all I have to do is shoot him and get away.”
“Basically, your task is to stop him. Any way you want, as long as you can save the President. Shoot him if you think you can’t avoid it, but if you just talk to him long enough to miss the opportunity, it’s as good as anything else.”
”A textbook example of clear orders.”
“What do you expect, it’s a first for us all.”
“Let’s go into details, if there are any.”
“You know, Oswald was shooting the President from a window of a Warehouse. You’ll materialize some twenty feet away from him, keep him from shooting Kennedy and we’ll help you vamoose in a wink.”
“That’s plan A.”
“You’ll get a standard issue M1911, issued well before 1963, a standard issue uniform and original papers. It might be necessary to operate with mission planning in real time, so you will get five hundred US Dollars, hell, that was a bitch of a time to get bills from pre-63. Private items, all cleared that nothing can give you away as a time traveler. What we can’t brush off is your language. That requires intense training, which can’t be done in the required secrecy. You’ll even get a wristwatch from that time, a new set off glasses, the coating of yours might give you away. We have thought of almost everything. You’ll get your father’s dog tag, which is registered to a USMC lieutenant, as you are. Learn his number by heart and forget yours for the time being.”
“OK, what’s plan B?”
“If you aren’t back after fifteen minutes, we’ll send a probe with a camera and a special transmitter to look what has happened. But I’m quite confident that a: you’ll get your chance, b: you’ll get away without being noticed at all. The US Army does not expect a soldier existing as his own copy, so they won’t look for one. Your dog tag number is original, if they try a lie detector test they’ll see that you are the genuine article, so what.”
Ron was all but convinced, but he could not find any way out. He entered the anteroom, stripped, put on the new uniform, filled his pockets with the items Prigogin had prepared for him. When he came back, the general whistled.
“What a good-looking guy you are. Authentic to the bone. I’M sure you’ll do the job. Let’s proceed.”
“Will the gentlemen please follow me, we don’t have much time to waste.”
Prigogin showed them to another room in the cellar, where complicated machinery glowed, hummed and looked wicked. A small compartment of the size of a telephone booth was waiting, door invitingly open, for Ron.
“Nothing ceremonial, this will not be transmitted on global TV like the Apollo 11 mission.”
Ron closed the compartment door behind him and Prigogin hacked a code into a keyboard. A low popping noise and the compartment was empty.
“You are not great in waiting? Neither am I. So I’ll get him back right now. He won’t be affected by the missing fifteen minutes if he ever notices the difference at all. That’s one of the advantages of a time machine.”
His fingers dancing across the keyboard, he was looking more like a youngster engaged in a computer game than like a professor.
Another “pop”, and the compartment was filled again with a slightly confused soldier.
Ron stepped out of the compartment, sat down on a chair and said loud and clear: “SHIT.”
“May I insist on a complete report or did the entire gadget fail?”
“Not exactly, sir.”
“Don’t let me pull each word out of your nose with a cork screw. I can see by the look in your face, that we’ve botched it. How? Could you prevent Oswald from shooting the Pres or not?”
“No, sir, all I could do was watch, how Kennedy was shot. I could do nothing at all but watch.”
“Why, were you paralyzed or so?”
“No sir, I was not restricted in my actions. I simply could not do anything but watch Kennedy die.”
“Why? What about Oswald?”
“Well, I materialized three steps away from exactly the window from where allegedly Oswald had fired three rounds at Kennedy. I had drawn my gun as soon as I materialized, but there was no-one present in the room. I stepped aside, so that Oswald would not see me when he would arrive and waited. A few minutes later, I heard four shots being fired, to tell by the sound from at least three different rifles. I could watch how Kennedy got hit by three of the four shots, like in the old newsreels.”
“What about Lee Harvey Oswald?”
The general showed him a newspaper from 1963, November 23rd, where Lee Harvey Oswald was presented as the assassin.
“How do you explain this? Why did you nothing to stop him?”
“Quite easy, sir. That bastard did not keep his appointment with history. He did not show up at all.”

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