The Forever Engine – Snippet 28

Gordon stood there for a while, his anger running out of fire, and then he looked out into the street at the line of bodies.

“The Marines said you . . . who are you, Fargo?”

That was a pretty good question.

“I’m exactly what I told you. I’m a history professor from the University of Chicago. I specialize in the ancient world. When I was younger, I was a soldier, like you.”

“Not like me,” he said.

“Okay, not exactly like you. I was a warrant officer, not a commissioned officer. I was a translator, Middle-Eastern languages — Arabic, Pashto, Turkmen, and Daric Farsi. I’m not sure how useful that’s going to be.”

“We usually hire a local Johnny to do the translating.”

“Yeah, how’d that work out for you in Afghanistan?”

His face clouded with anger again, and I could have kicked myself. He hadn’t been to Afghanistan, he was ashamed of it, and I’d just rubbed his nose in it. If he froze up, either with anger or shame, this was the end of the road. Thomson was gone. Without Gordon there was no expedition, and then how would I save my world? How would I save Sarah from oblivion?

“You speak German as well,” he said after a moment.

“Spanish and French, too. I’ve got an ear for languages.”

He gestured out toward the bodies.

“And that? You didn’t learn that as a translator, I’ll warrant.”

“I got carried away.”

“Bloody hell, I should say so! Like some sort of whirling dervish, to hear those Marines tell it.”

“Yeah, I know what it looks like, but I’m no super-warrior from the future. I’m a guy pushing middle age who did three tours in Afghanistan, went to school on army money, and made a pretty good life for myself. My passion is history, not homicide, and all I really want is to go back home.”

He looked at me and he wasn’t buying it, but it was the truth, sort of the truth — a simplified, sanitized version of the truth, but that was good enough for me right then.

“How did I learn to swing a pipe like that? It had nothing to do with the army. As an historian, I got interested in ancient fighting techniques, and I studied kendo. You’ve heard of it?”

He shook his head. He’d probably never heard of karate or kung fu, either.

“It’s Japanese fencing with long two-handed swords, although we use a shinai — a bamboo stick — and practice in padded armor. I just went on autopilot and started cracking people’s skulls.”

“Autopilot,” he repeated. I started to explain, but he waved me to silence.

“Very well, I suppose you may be useful for something. I’ll at least need a German translator I can rely on. Right now I have to sort through Thomson’s papers, see if there’s any hint of a detailed plan there. You’d better come along in case any of them are in German.”

I got painfully to my feet and started to follow him back into the hotel.

How much faith did I have in Gordon to pull this off? Absolutely none. Hopefully he could get me close enough that I could accomplish . . . what? What did I expect to find at the end of this road? A doorway back to my own time? That for starters, but it wasn’t enough. Tesla might be the only guy who could figure this out, but how inclined to help was he going to be? I’d have to come up with some leverage, a bargaining position, some way to make him willing to help me or a way to force his hand.

That might mean preventing this expedition from killing or capturing him, which could be interesting.

And Thomson — somehow I had to get him out of this in one piece. I owed him too much to just walk away, although . . . if I was going to have to scrub this whole world anyway to save my own — this was getting very complicated.

“I suppose,” Gordon said almost to himself, “the first thing we need is some tea.”


Two hours later, Gordon and I had Thomson’s papers and maps spread all over the table in his room, trying to figure out what resources we had and whether he’d actually come up with any sort of plan.

“What I don’t understand is how they knew where we were staying. For that matter, how did they know we were even in Munich?” Gordon asked.

“Lousy security in London is my bet.” I could have mentioned that Thomson had let slip to Tesla that Munich was our destination, but figured the old Scotsman had enough troubles right now.

Gordon tossed aside the folder of news clippings he had been looking through and shook his head.

“I’m more inclined to think that French tart had something to do with it.”

“The charming Mademoiselle Courbiere? It’s possible, I suppose, but not likely. This was a very elaborate operation, with people in place on the ground and the zeppelin in position to extract them. I don’t think it was thrown together in a day. They knew we were coming in advance and had at least a couple days to get ready.”

“And how did they know where we were staying?”

“That’s the easy part: a guy on the ground watching to see where we went from the Fliegerplatz.”

Gordon thought it through for a while, frowning the whole time, but he ended up nodding reluctantly.

“Very well, the information probably came from London, not Mademoiselle Courbiere.”

“I am grateful for your confidence, Capitaine Gordon,” Gabrielle said from the wardroom’s doorway, and Gordon jumped in surprise. The events of the morning had pushed last night’s dream out of my mind, but seeing her standing there brought it all flooding back.

“How long have you been here?” he demanded

“I arrived just this moment. The concierge showed me the way. You are injured, Monsieur Fargo. How serious it is?”

“I’ll be okay. Tesla has Professor Thomson.”

Oui. This I hear. The expedition, it is done?”

“Is that all you care about?” Gordon asked, anger in his voice.

Non,” she answered. “But about that, it is my duty to care. Yours as well, oui?” She spoke without resentment, as if answering a question about the weather.

“The expedition is not done,” I said. “Captain Gordon is now in command.”

Her eyebrows rose slightly in reaction, but then she nodded.

“Of course. Our agreement, it is still good?”

“I’ll have to think about that,” Gordon answered.

Gabrielle shrugged and started to leave.

“Wait,” I said hastily. She stopped, and both of them turned to look at me.

“It’s your call, Gordon, but you can see what we have here to work with. Unless the Bavarians can loan us a battalion of flying monkeys with death rays, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Despite the tension of the moment, Gordon smiled.

Flying monkeys with death rays? I don’t think that very likely, so under the circumstances — yes, Mademoiselle Courbiere, I will be pleased to honor the agreement made between you and Dr. Thomson. We will be most grateful for any assistance you can provide in finding and apprehending Tesla.”

He even made a little bow.