Adage – free short story (Science Fiction)

ADAGE by Travis Hill – Copyright 2013

“Comm check,” Sergeant  Horowitz called over the radio, even though we were all bunched together in a side room of the temple.

“Aw, Sarge, you can smell us, we’re all here,” Pvt. Hoskins complained without keying his mic.

“Private, test your radio properly before I put your name on a report,” Horowitz replied with no malice. “Radio checks are essential in case we get separated. You know this.”

“Aw Sarge, you can smell us, we’re all here,” Private Hoskins said in his Georgia twang, this time with his mic keyed. The rest of us had a silent chuckle, and even Hardass Horowitz allowed the corners of his mouth to turn up a little. The squad chimed in one by one, then double-checked weapons, webbing, flak jackets, and Kevlar helmets.

Sergeant Horowitz sighed quietly and stepped out into the temple’s main room, the rest of the squad right behind him in single file formation. Some of us were scared to death, some were still bewildered at where we’d ended up, but all of us had a job to do, and we weren’t going to let fear of the unknown rob us of what the United States Army had instilled in us.

Horowitz stopped about ten yards from where a dirty man was holding congregation. The click of twelve boot heels died away as we all came to a stop on either side of our sergeant. The dirty man and his dirty congregation turned to look at us. Instant fear showed on every face except the one we’d come looking for.

“Jesus of Nazareth, I seek conference with you immediately,” Horowitz said in his most diplomatic voice, the bass of it booming off the temple’s stone walls. He stood at attention, with his M-4 assault rifle at half-attention diagonally across his chest. The congregation and their leader just stared at us. A few seconds of uncomfortable silence ensued, then Horowitz tried again, but this time in what I guessed to be Hebrew.

A look of confusion on the target’s face confirmed he understood the words Horowitz had spoken, or at least got the gist of them. He replied in a strange language that none of us had heard before, and we’d been exposed to numerous languages and dialects while prepping this mission. This had to be the ancient Aramaic that we’d been told no one in a couple thousand years had heard spoken aloud. Sergeant Horowitz didn’t reply, and Jesus tried again, with what sounded almost like what Horowitz had said in Hebrew.

The Sergeant glanced at me to his right, and said under his breath, “Sounds like ancient Hebrew, I can make out a couple of words I think…I hope.”

He turned back to Jesus of Nazareth and spoke again, and soon it seemed these two might be old friends they way they were going on. After another small exchange, Horowitz spoke to all of us.

“Okay, looks like he gets what I’m saying. I told him we needed to take him to a place where his help was being sought. I don’t know if he really is the son of God, but he damn sure answers to Jesus of Nazareth.” Hardass Horowitz looked a little pale to me, and I wondered how messed up he must feel inside at this very moment, being a Jew and all.

Jesus was explaining to his flock what these strange men wanted when one of them broke ranks and ran at full speed towards Horowitz’s back, hands raised. Five assault rifles instantly came to attention on the man’s chest, red laser dots flitting around in tight patterns. The man stumbled to a halt, almost comically, eyes slowly turning down to see what the red dots on his tunic were. As one, the five of us all kicked the bolts on our M-4’s, ready to help this ancient dude meet his maker if he took so much as one more step.

The man looked up from his chest to us, then back at Jesus. The flock had eyes as wide as ostrich eggs, probably wondering what this devilry was. Jesus couldn’t have had a clue what M-4 assault rifles were, but I think he understood the unspoken violence from the five of us about to come. He put up a hand, and spoke to the man about to attack us, who quickly fled back into the ranks of the flock. We all lowered our guns, matching Horowitz, who never even seemed to blink during the entire thing.

Our target spoke for a few moments to his flock, probably explaining again that he was leaving with us. He made his way around, touching each man and woman gathered to hear his words, either on the forehead or on the arm, talking softly with them. When he was finished, he approached Horowitz, and I sensed the sergeant tensing up next to me. Jesus spoke a few words to Horowitz, then smiled at the rest of us before leading us out of the temple.

We’d sneaked our way across the old city, sticking to the shadows, trying our best to not be seen. The lab boys had been off by almost a mile, but I don’t think any of us minded much. How often do you get to see ancient Jerusalem? I mean, you can see it anytime, as it pretty much still looks like it did two thousand years ago, but instead of stoplights, neon signs, electricity, and automobiles, this was the real deal. The smells ranged from rank, sweet decay of rotting meat, to raw sewage, to the incredible scents of strange spices and herbs from a market that sounded like it was nearby. The people, the animals, the noise, it was almost to incredible to believe.

The return trip to the extraction point was turning out to be a much different story. The flock that had been in the temple followed us out, and though they didn’t shout or cause a commotion, they began to spread the word that something was up. Jesus pretended that it was just an ordinary stroll through the streets, greeting those that knew him and those that had no clue he was soon to be one of the most famous men in the history of Earth. About to be even more famous than before, I thought, growing nervous about the crowd that had begun to trail us.

By the time we’d made the mile distance to our extraction point, an unused warehouse on a quiet block, the crowd had grown to at least a thousand strong. I’d raised the worry with Horowitz as to what would happen if any of the Roman soldiers patrolling the city tried to interfere with us, and he’d admitted that he had no real answers other than to let it play out, hoping our Latin was good enough to either explain our presence away, or threaten them sufficiently to where they would stand down. We didn’t have to worry, as about a tenth of the crowd seemed to be made up of Roman soldiers.

Horowitz spoke to Jesus again, probably explaining to him that we had stand within the crude chalk circle that Pvt. Nelson had drawn on the floor seconds after our arrival. I wondered exactly how Sarge was going to explain this to a man who had no concept of electricity, quantum computing, time travel, and astrophysics. Hell, I didn’t even understand it, and I’d had it explained to me in detail, dumbed-down detail at that.

“Two minutes, Sarge,” Cpl. Runkle said and we all heard it in our earpieces as well as his voice rebounding from the stone of the warehouse.

“Roger,” Horowitz acknowledged.

Jesus said something to Horowitz, and the sergeant agreed. The dirty, bearded man stepped out into the sunlight and greeted the still-growing crowd. He began to speak to the crowd at length, and as a unit we all turned to Horowitz to give us the running translation.

“Something followers, I bid something goodbye, I think,” Horowitz said softly over the comm. “The time has arrived for me to depart. Uh…I have no idea what he said there. Now he’s talking about being true to each other, helping hands and such.”

“Sarge,” Cpl. Kinsey whispered, “are you guessing?”

Horowitz turned to the young redhead and smiled, his perfect teeth shining in the shadows of the warehouse. “You goddamn right I’m guessing. If you happen to speak ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, then step up and be the man.”

Kinsey frowned and turned his attention to the man just outside of the doorway.

“One minute,” Runkle announced.

“He’s wrapping it up,” Horowitz said, but he didn’t translate anymore for us. None of us but the sergeant knew what Jesus said at the end, but it had definitely affected him. Horowitz looked more pale than I’d ever seen him, and he’d been my C.O. for two terror-filled tours through Indonesia plus another three when our squad had been picked to run this mission. No one asked. All of us wanted to, I’m sure, but we knew protocol. More than that, we all loved Horowitz like a brother, yarmulke and all.

“Thirty seconds, Sarge,” Runkle said.

Horowitz stepped forward to collect the son of God while the rest of us did a final check of our gear, everyone making sure they were inside the chalk line with at least six inches to spare. The lab techs assured us that the temporal bubble was a single atom thick, but none of us were willing to take the chance that we might end up back in 2038 with a cleanly cauterized stump where a hand and forearm should be.

Jesus smiled at all of us as he stepped inside the chalk circle. Runkle announced a ten second mark, and I wondered if the crowd outside would see our departure the same way it looked to those of us traveling. Just as the air around us began to glow and tiny tendrils of electrical discharge began to wind around the invisible temporal bubble, I couldn’t help but think maybe this Jesus guy was the son of God, and he knew before we even showed up what was going to happen. That made me wonder about what Jesus had said at the end of his little speech that had made Horowitz look extremely uncomfortable.

One moment we were all standing inside the chalk circle, the next our bodies were rising from the floor, straight into the sky. The temporal bubble moved through the solid roof with us inside it, though we didn’t feel anything. Something about different phases or dimensions, technical stuff that I didn’t really pay much attention to.

I looked down, my heart leaping into my throat for the second time today as I realized our feet appeared to stand on nothing. I watched the ground and the massive crowd that had gathered to see what was going on fall further away until there was nothing but blackness.

Just before the shift into our original timeline, I had two thoughts. The first was that I hoped to God, literally, that the techs were as good at getting us back to 2038 as they were at transporting us to ancient Israel. The second was that this must be where the story of Jesus ascending to heaven to take his place next to God must have come from.

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