Through the Hole by James Rumpel
Through the Hole by James Rumpel
“It is amazing how fast the human mind can think,” thought Michael Shultz. A concept that was exquisitely demonstrated by the fact that it occurred as Michael was plummeting to certain death. He had no one to blame for his imminent demise but himself. Having finished another painfully monotonous closing shift at Stuedemann’s Grocery Store in Stillwater, Minnesota at shortly after ten in the evening, he was spent and in a foul mood. Michael felt confident that most recent college finance graduates, who found themselves wasting away at the customer service desk of a small-town grocery store would be in a poor state of mind. Add in the fact, that his co-worker, Amanda, had been her usual annoying self and it became understandable that Michael had been in an ill-advised rush to reach home and the comfort of a cold beer.
The early March weather had also contributed to Michael’s predicament. Fine sleet was sliding down from the sky, covering the road with a paper-thin layer of ice. The few days prior had been rather warm, but, apparently, winter was not ready to surrender. Michael’s route home found him driving along one of the many curve-filled roads in Washington County. This particular one happened to run along the bluffs overlooking the St. Croix River. Just as the rust speckled Chevy 2009 HHR reached the crest of Martin Hill Road, the highest point on the route, it escaped Michael’s control and slid across the pavement. Try as he might, Michael could not regain command of the wheel. The car effortlessly busted through the deteriorated barrier and flew off the edge of the precipice, plunging downward, toward one of the deepest channels of the expansive river. Here the water had plowed the channel to a depth of over one-hundred feet. No one was there to witness the car plunge through an open hole in the ice and begin sinking into the freezing waters of the mighty river. The vehicle sunk to the bottom of the incredibly deep channel prodded downstream by underwater currents. The body of the twenty-three-year-old driver was never found.
Yes, Michael had no one but himself to blame for his death; at least the first one.
Michael lurched into consciousness, a scream gurgling in his throat. He remembered the car careening out of control. He squeezed the steering wheel, but it wasn’t there. He was not in the car. He was on a chilled, unforgiving cement floor. Blinding lights and whirring claxons added to his state of disorientation. Without warning the room darkened and the noise stopped. Michael heard a voice, “Got him. Sedate him and take him to the recovery center.” A hand grabbed Michael’s shoulder and he felt a needle enter his arm. He did not resist.
When Michael awoke again, he found himself strapped into an uncomfortable bed. Raising his head, the only non-encumbered part of his body, he examined his surroundings. Michael found himself in what appeared to be a low rent college dorm room, minus the Star Wars posters. The room was only about twelve feet by twelve feet in size. It featured a single door and no windows. As he took all of this in, an older gentleman wearing a white coat, entered and approached Michael. The man appeared to be in his seventies and moved very gingerly, reminding Michael of his late grandfather. This man, however, had an air of authority about him that, Grandpa had never displayed. The stranger was, clearly, a man in control.
“I see you are awake, Mr. Schultz. I know you have many questions and they will all be answered in due time. You are in for quite a shock, young man. We want to explain what has happened, but we want to make sure you can handle it.”
“Is this heaven?” asked Michael. This was nothing like what he had ever imagined the afterlife to be like, but anything is possible. The last few moments of his being conscious had demonstrated that.
The man smiled a wry smile and replied, “Oh no. Not at all. In fact, it’s closer to Hell, but not that either. You see, Michael, may I call you Michael?” At this Michael nodded. “You died forty-three years ago. At least, that’s what everyone thought. I will pause now until you are ready for me to continue.”
To Michael’s recollection, the accident with his car was only a few minutes ago. As he and the car plummeted to the river, he had known he was going to die. Had he not? That fact alone was a lot to take in. Hearing all of this occurred forty-three years ago stretched the bounds of his sanity even further. Michael had always been a curious soul and while he silently wished he could wake up from this nightmare, he had to learn more. “Go on.”
Again, the man smiled his crooked little smile, “Very good. Very good, indeed. You see, Michael, time travel is possible. It is more than possible; it is a reality. It was discovered, out of necessity, about five years ago, or to your perspective, thirty-eight years from now. Time travel is extremely complicated. Nature has put precepts in place to protect the one truetime line can. What has already happened, cannot be altered. If I were to attempt to go back in time and do anything that would change the future, I would not be able to. However, if I go back in time and do not perform any action that would affect future events, I am able to do so.”
The man waited to see how Michael reacted to this information. Maybe it was because he was in a state of shock, but Michael was not astonished by this revelation. He had read enough science fiction to accept the possibility of time travel. He remained curious as to what all of this had to do with him. Michael simply nodded and the man continued.
“The amount of energy required for time travel is very large. The further back in time you wish to travel, the more power required and the less likely to succeed. We have nuclear facilities that generate enough energy to allow us to go back up to fifty years. What we have been able to do, is look at records of previous events to find people who died in such a way that their body is never recovered. We found you through old newspaper files and were able to go grab you just before your car hit the water. We saved your life.”
“Did you, really?” thought Michael. His parents and friends still dealt with his loss, apparently years ago, but he died to them. Michael, himself, was going to have to deal with everything and everyone that was his life, no longer existing. His world was destroyed. A cascade of memories, hopes, and regrets jumped to the front of Michael’s mind. For the first time, he realized how dramatic all of these events were. He started to shake a little. “I need to be alone,” he said tersely. Michael needed time, maybe forty-three years’ worth. The time travel and rescue were unbelievable stories, but they weren’t what he was having difficulty dealing with. He suddenly felt very alone.
Later, he was served a nearly tasteless meal of vegetables and bread. Without warning, the sole bulb in his physical cell went dead. Darkness conquered the small room. It was bedtime. Sleep was near impossible, not just because of the restraints on his arms and legs, but also, because of the cavalcade of thoughts racing through his mind. He was, definitely, not completely acclimated to his situation, but Michael did not refuse to continue the conversation when the old man approached him the next morning.
Michael started the conversation. “Why bring me back?” That one simple question, voicing so many of the mysteries circling his brain. What made Michael worthy of this second life? Why bring anyone back? What was going on?
The man took a deep breath and waited an inordinate amount of time before exhaling and speaking. “This is where the story takes a nasty turn. You see, for the last ten years, Earth has been fighting off an invasion of alien creatures. The war has been devastating. The combined forces of all the countries on the planet have not been able to defeat this enemy. Yes, we were able to destroy many of their forces. They are getting weaker. But the cost has been dramatic. A few years ago, we reached the point where we did not have enough soldiers to maintain the effort. We were on the edge of defeat. Scientists working around the clock in attempts to come up with a weapon that could eliminate this enemy. We failed to do so. What we did discover was time travel, as limited as it was.”
The gentleman, who had yet to even tell Michael his name, knew that Michael understood the direction the tale was taking. He waited for a response, but he did not get one. Michael was already trying to decipher his reaction to the news that he believed would soon be delivered. The story continued, “We have been able to bring back thousands of people to serve as soldiers in the war. Many of those we retrieve from the past cannot perform as we hoped. Their minds can’t handle it. Sometimes they simply refuse. Understand, we are not a cruel people, but we are in a cruel time. Those that cannot help, have to be extinguished. We don’t have the resources to support them.” Michael knew what he was being told, even if the older man was presenting it in a mild manner. Michael had to obey or he would be eliminated.
“We are close to finally winning this war. We can defeat the aliens if our next incursion goes well. All I can do is ask you for your help. You would not be alive if not for us. We are allowing to have your life mean something. You have the chance to be a hero and help save the planet. I will give you a short time to think about it. Remember, there is a chance you will survive.” With that, the man turned and slowly walked away.
Shakespeare would have had a field day writing about the internal conflict Michael struggled with. He was not a soldier; he was a disappointed customer service provider. In the end, Michael made the same decision that a majority of the time travel recruits made. His life wasn’t here. He didn’t belong here. He might as well try to make the most out of his extended existence. True, this death may be painful, but he never had to experience the pain of his last death. At that thought, Michael chuckled a little. “There’s a thought I never expected to have.” He would do it. He would fight for his planet.
The final offensive was going to commence in five days. A strong push to bring back as many fighters as possible had gown the number of combatants into excess of ten thousand. There were a finite number of retrievable candidates. Attempts had even been made to bring back the same person multiple times, but that, too, was something Nature would not allow. No timeline could have the same person living multiple existences.
The training was intense, though abbreviated. Each of the new soldiers was trained in the use of powerful rifles. They were informed that it would take multiple shots to bring down an enemy fighter. Being in, what for him, was the future, Michael had hoped he would be issued some form of advanced laser gun, but it was explained to the soldiers that the rifles were just as effective and easier to produce. Each soldier was also issued several small explosive devices. It would be impossible to defeat one of the aliens in hand to hand combat. If you were matched up individually against one of the large bug-like creatures it was more effective to simply set off a grenade, killing both you and the enemy. It made sense that this type of kamikaze behavior was easily acceptable to this particular band of soldiers.
The new recruits also learned about the alien invaders. A woman in a wheelchair conducted the lesson. Twelve-thousand newly trained soldiers crammed into a poorly lit auditorium for the presentation. She began her presentation, her voice strong and committed. “The name of the race or races that invaded Earth is the Manti. They have many unofficial names, but this is the least vulgar. No one knows the true name of these creatures, ‘Manti’ simply caught on after a reporter in California coined the term because he thought they resembled a praying mantis.”
“The invasion of Earth came without warning. One day a multitude of space ships dropped an estimated two billion Manti onto the planet. Their reason for coming was painfully obvious. Major cities fell in the first few hours. It was clear, their intention was to exterminate the human race. They also made it obvious that they were not planning on leaving. They quickly destroyed and salvaged their space ships, constructing bases from the cannibalized crafts. Since that first day, no additional creatures have arrived from wherever it is they originated.”
“The Manti did not attempt to communicate with the human race. Any attempt to communicate with them was unsuccessful. We don’t know why they have come and why they are out to destroy us. Maybe they are colonizing Earth. Maybe, we are unwilling participants in some sort of intergalactic game. We do know this; the human race is on the verge of extinction.” The speaker paused, letting this dire news sink in. “Earth’s population which once bordered on nearly ten billion is now less than one hundred million. Most of that population is centered in, what we still, nostalgically, call the United States. The Manti population has also been dramatically reduced. However, there is a terrible event on the horizon.”
“Approximately five years ago, the Earth forces were on the verge of victory. We were in a position where we had the advantage. The Manti have advanced technology but prefer to use it only for defense. They have ways to neutralize nuclear weapons. We have not been able to set off a nuclear warhead in their vicinity. They are also able to shoot down or stop most of the non-atomic missiles we fire at them. In combat, however, they favor hand to hand battles. They carry guns and explosives but rarely use them. Because of this, and because of the bravery and efforts of hundreds of millions of soldiers and fighters, we had the Manti population reduced to the point where we thought victory was imminent. It was not.” Anyone sitting close enough to the stage would have seen the tears welling in the eyes of the speaker.
“Shortly before we launched the final incursion, the Manti had, for lack of a better word, a hatching. Out of their main base, which at the time was located in China, nearly a billion more full grown-fighting troops appeared. Almost instantly, the enemy population grew to the point where we were the ones greatly outnumbered. Through advanced reconnaissance techniques, we have determined that the new troops had been incubating in caverns under the base. They may have been new hatchlings or they could have been clones. It didn’t matter. The tide of the war turned against us.”
“Now, after nearly five more years of sacrifice and death, we once again have managed to put ourselves in position for victory. Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that there is going to be a second hatching very soon. If this hatching is successful, we will have no chance to survive. But we can stop it. We can still win. I believe that. I have to believe that. You have to believe that. We will win” As she concluded, she simply raised a fist to the air and repeated her final sentence. Slowly, the thrown-together crew of soldiers followed suit. Soon, everyone in the entire arena was standing, fists to the sky, and chanting, “We will win.”
The next part of the presentation was a more detailed description of the Manti. What they looked like and how they acted. There were three types of Manti. The foot soldiers were called Alphas. They were massive, standing over eight feet in height. Their two forearms were nearly five feet long and, ended in what could only be described as claws with opposable thumbs. These creatures were incredibly strong and didn’t need weapons to be deadly. As noted earlier, they did carry weapons. While nowhere near humanoid in appearance, they stood upright and moved quickly on four legs. Though their numbers were reduced, they still employed a tactic of mass assault on the battlefield. These aliens did not wear any sort of discernable clothing but had a thick exoskeleton. It usually took multiple shots to the body to drop one. A well-placed bullet to the head could prove effective against them.
The Betas could best be described as the officers. While not as imposing as the Alphas, they stood over six feet in height. Their appearance was similar to the Alphas except for their size and their lack of a strong exoskeleton. At least one Beta could be found for each platoon. Betas were usually seen wearing ebony-colored body armor. The armor seemed impenetrable, though an accurate rifle shot to an exposed body could still do the job. They carried weapons but usually avoided combat, taking a position behind the Alphas. The most accepted theory is that these creatures coordinated the battle, relaying orders to their larger comrades.
Not surprisingly, the final type of Manti was called Gammas. They were the true leaders of the invasion. Gammas were very limited in number. Best guess was that there were only three or four on the planet. They controlled everything that their forces did. The humans had very few major victories in this war, but when they did it was because they successfully eliminated a Gamma. Gammas were very rarely seen outside of the base and were always extensively protected. They were nearly human in form. They had two arms, two legs, and a head that featured a face with multiple eyes and a circular mouth. They too, always were covered with body armor.
After the information about the enemy had been presented, the old man Michael had met on his arrival, took the stage. He introduced himself as Dr. Ellefson. “I won’t keep you very long,” he began, “but, I feel you deserve an explanation of how you were brought here. I promise to not get too technical.”
“It turns out the four-dimensional travel is a reality. The fourth dimension being time. It is nothing more than digging a four-dimensional hole. Doing so is, however, very complicated and it has its limitations. If I dig a hole in three dimensions, say a hole in sand. I simply break the surface and remove the sand. I have the option of whether or not to return the sand and refill the hole. In four-dimensional travel, that option does not exist, the hole must be refilled.”
“Think of time as a river. It flows in one direction along a main course. Sure, it deviates slightly, turning wider because of erosion or perhaps it is narrowed slightly by a fallen boulder. Time is like that. There is only one course for time and it must follow that course. Small, very small, deviations can happen, but only very slight ones. We discovered that with the right amount, and kind of power, we could dig a hole and move through all four dimensions: space and time. We also soon discovered we could do nothing which would significantly alter the course of time. The power in charge of the universe, whatever you want to call it, Nature, or God, or my favorite, Physics, will not allow it to happen. The very moment an action, taken during time travel, would have too great of an effect on the time between then and now, the travel simply halts. Whoever or whatever traveled back in time is returned to the present. It is a hard-fast rule, there is no way around it.”
The doctor seemed to be aware that he was losing the attention of some of his audience. Michael was proud of himself for successfully following along. “The further back in time you travel,” continued Ellefson, “the greater the chance of taking an action that affects time. With more years between the past and the present, there are more opportunities for changes to take place. The possibility of change increases exponentially. If I step on a butterfly, yesterday,” a small smile pierced the doctor’s lips, “it would probably have very little effect on today, but if I stepped on a butterfly thousands of years ago, much could end up being changed. For that reason, we are limited in how far back we can go.”
“The hole digging analogy works on a second level. If you are going to dig a hole, your first shovel has to be strong enough to break the surface. That is true with our four-dimensional hole also. We need a fairly large amount of nuclear power to break the surface of time, because of that we find ourselves pushing deep into time. We cannot go back any less than 10 years.”
“We sent drones back to observe and discover the best moment and location to rescue you from death. At that precise moment, a drone was sent to grab you. That is how you were brought here. I think you know why you were brought here. It has taken much time and effort to compile the force we have present here today. Some of you have been here for months, waiting. Others have only been here a week. It is, in all of you that our hope now rests. Without retrieving more valiant and capable fighters like you, the war would already be lost.” Here the old man seemed to start to raise his fist but thought better of it. He didn’t have the flair for the dramatic that the first presenter had. He simply walked off the stage and was replaced by the military leader who was to reveal the strategy for the upcoming assault on the enemy main base.
The plan didn’t take long to explain. It was very simple. The final few Gammas and the main forces of the Manti were now centered in the abandoned remains of Toronto, what used to be Toronto. A very large contingent of soldiers was to make a head-on onslaught of the alien base. With the aliens occupied by this attack, a smaller force would be able to use the remnants of the subway tunnels to move deep into the command post. The objectives of the smaller unit would be to destroy as much of the enemy’s technology and to assassinate the powerful leaders who occupied the inner confines. A few successful reconnaissance drones had given the human troops a sufficient idea of the layout of the enemy base. Troops would begin transport shortly. Each battalion leader would share specific assignments with their charges during transport. Through, pure random luck, Michael and his group were selected to be part of the small patrol.
Michael and the remainder of the invasion squad paused outside of the building that housed the Manti headquarters. Getting to this point had not been easy. The size of the smaller incursion force had dwindled from over five hundred to barely fifty. The battles had been bloody and terrifying. Michael witnessed many acts of valor that could only be performed by soldiers with nothing to lose. As they waited for the next command, everyone prepared for what was about to happen, silently catching their breath. The remaining officer waved his arm and gave the order to move forward. All fifty soldiers abandon their quest for silence, screaming defiantly as they burst into the Manti base.
So much happened, so fast, that Michael couldn’t take it all in. The crumbling building, which had once been a bank office, was filled with Alphas and Betas. The opposite wall was covered, end to end, with what appeared to be a computer of some sort. A strong stench, like rotting fish, permeated the air. About half of the humans started throwing grenades immediately. The remaining soldiers provided cover with rifle fire. Michael was in the latter group. As he blindly fired into the crowd of aliens, Michael noticed the soldier next to him being hit by laser fire just as he was about to throw an explosive. The grenade fell near Michael’s feet. Survival instinct taking control, Michael dove behind an overturned metal desk. The concussion of the explosion rang in his ears, but Michael was uninjured.
He then noticed that he was not alone behind the tipped desk. Next to him was one of the few recruits he had conversed with during the last week. Her name was Shelby. She had been a soldier deployed in a Middle East military intervention during the early 2020s. She had been reported MIA; her body never found. As Michael was about to begin rise and begin firing again, Shelby tapped him on the shoulder and pointed down a hall to the left. Quickly moving away from them were two Gammas, guarded by a contingent of six Alphas. Gesturing for Michael to follow, she began to chase after the Manti leaders. Michael obeyed.
The aliens noticed their pursuers, almost immediately. Two of the Alphas turned and began scurrying towards the two humans. Shelby countered by running towards them, rapidly firing rifle shots into their thick exoskeleton. After a brief moment of shocked delay, Michael did the same. He found himself screaming a war cry as he did so. The two sets of combatants closed on each other quickly. At, what seemed to be the last possible moment before impact, the two alien attackers stumbled and fell, finally overpowered by the multitude of rounds fired into their naturally armored bodies. Michael and Shelby barely had time to hurdle their fallen foes and continue their chase.
They caught up to their remaining prey in what appeared to be another control center. This room also had a large computer, but was devoid of creatures, except for the six escaping Manti, who were about two-thirds of the way across the room. With catlike quickness and agility, Shelby jumped up on a nearby desk and began firing. Three of the Alphas returned fire, the fourth took out an explosive and tossed it towards the humans’ side of the room. Busy, firing his rifle, Michael tried to follow all that happened in the next seconds. The device exploded just as Shelby managed to get off a perfect shot, hitting one of the Gammas in the head. It fell, lifeless. The grenade exploded as it struck Shelby. Knocked back by the force of the detonation, Michael found himself disoriented for a brief moment. Regaining his senses, he looked to the location where Shelby had been perched. There was no sign of her. Michael then noticed that two of the Alphas were now standing motionless. Apparently the death of the Gamma had confused them. Inspired by the valor displayed by his fallen comrade, Michael dispelled the two alien creatures with multiple rifle shots. Unfortunately, this action exhausted almost all of his ammunition.
Now, only two Alphas and one Gamma remained. The Gamma was still retreating, heading towards a door on the far side of the room. The Alphas were moving to block Michael from following. Michael fired his last bullet. Miraculously, the shot caught one of his assailants in the perfect spot and it slumped to the floor. The other was now nearly upon him and the Gamma was nearly out of the room.
Trying to reach the Gamma, Michael sprang forward. Using his best junior varsity football move, he tried to bypass the Alpha by faking to the right then going to the left. It almost worked. He was nearly past the behemoth creature when it swung its arm knocking Michael off balance. Fortuitously, the blow propelled Michael towards the Gamma. Turning the fall into a dive, Michael was able to grab the smaller alien by the ankle. The Gamma, its foot snared, stumbled and fell to the ground. Michael pulled forward, climbing the fallen enemy till he reached, and grabbed it by the waste. The smell was nearly unbearable. In addition, the Gamma started making a loud, high pitched wailing sound. The sound was extremely annoying, but Michael had other issues to deal with.
While trying to figure out what to do with his prone captive, Michael suddenly felt a flash of pain in his leg. The remaining Alpha had grabbed him and was pulling. Michael resisted, but even with the added weight of the grasped Gamma, the Alpha was lifting him off the ground. Somehow, still holding his captive, Michael reached for his belt. He removed a grenade and stuck it into the Gamma’s ugly, gaping mouth, pulling the pin as he did so. There were two immediate consequences of this action. First, the grenade muffled the irritating scream. Second, there was a huge, deadly explosion.
Michael startled into awareness. Bright lights and ear-piercing noise made it impossible for him to get his bearings. After a few seconds, the light and sound dissipated. Michael found himself, once again, lying on a cold concrete floor.
“Congratulations, we won the war,” a familiar voice proclaimed.
Turning his head, Michael saw two people entering the room in which he lay. One was Dr. Ellefson, looking noticeably older than Michael remembered him. The other was Shelby.
“But how, I thought you could only time travel if you didn’t affect the timeline?” asked a bewildered and still disoriented, Michael.
“Apparently this is the timeline,” replied Ellefon, a smile wiping away whatever additional years Michael had sensed before. “That, or, just maybe, Nature decided to reward you for your valor. It really doesn’t matter. We’ve been bringing back heroes for days. Will you come join us? There is quite the party going on downstairs.”
Copyright James Rumpel 2019