by Eric Ellert

A young US soldier in WWII is caught up in a strange experiment that keeps sending him into parallel worlds.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E





The war was nearly over, though the shooting hadn't stopped. Lt. Riv St-Vith was plucked from his leave by MPs and dropped into a chair in Major Kahler’s tent.

“What project?” Riv asked.

“You realize you’re in a lot of trouble, son.” Major Kahler pushed the papers towards Riv.

“Yes, yes, sir.” Riv lit a cigarette and stared at the tip.

“You don’t seem overly concerned.”

“There’s not much you can do to me now.”

“You might be surprised. I can send you to Leavenworth, son, but there are circumstances, I’m told. I’d like to hear it from you.”

“Five guys I served with ended up blind. We developed a gas. I think they were going to let it go near Hitler and blind him. Good plan. It got out.”

“Million guys I worked with ended up dead. What makes you so precious?”

“My eyes healed.”

Kahler checked the records on his desk. “You left the hospital, stole a uniform and joined a tank crew. Admirable, maybe, but not permissible. You know why you’re here and not in a stockade?”

“You need me?”

“We can use you. When your sight returned, you said the stars were different. So they kept you in that hospital. Then one of your doctors figured out that the sky you kept drawing would be our stars as seen from space. Like the Jodie says, ‘Far, far away.’ They didn’t like that one bit, but I thought you might be useful. Sign here.”

He did. “What does that mean?”

“We own the old you and the new you.” His face became less formal. “You’re a Captain again.”

“Tanks or Dirty Tricks Department?”

“Don't worry. Just do what they tell you.”

* * *

They drove through the lines. The war was over, but the lines between the Allies and the Soviets had not gelled yet. A wild madness filled the air as people dribbled west.

The Russians were coming, but hopefully, not before they got their share of German rockets. Verner Von Braun had an underground V2 factory. Riv was supposed to deliver the blasting caps for the TNT they’d use to seal off the mountain when they’d gotten all they could carry. Riv thought any idiot could hold a box of caps on his lap in a bumpy truck. He dropped them and knew only an idiot would. He was assigned a driver, no A-driver, just Curtis. Curtis didn’t like to talk.

A Colonel poked his head into the back of the truck, requisitioned half the caps and disappeared. Riv didn’t even get to see the mountain. He wasn’t really sure where he was, somewhere in the Black Forest. That applied to Hansel and Gretel as well.

Things got quiet. Chilly raindrops leaked through the canvas top.

“Hey Riv,” the Colonel said.

They were informal here. “Yeah, sir.”

“You speak Polish?”

“No, sir.”

“You that crazy SOB who went blind, then didn’t go blind?”

Riv laughed. “Yes, sir.”

“That’s not funny. I say you speak Polish and you’re going to the Sudetenland.” He tossed him a folder. “Read it over and give it back. “Derring, you are to find him. Convince him to come west, or kill him. If the Russians try to stop you, eat cyanide, by the way.” He tossed him rubber pills. “That’s the cyanide. Two just in case you have a strong constitution.”

“Am I coming back this way, sir?”

“I hope so, nothing personal, but you’re the only guy I got who don’t know nothing.”

“It’s typical of a number of PhDs.”

“I’ll remember that, smart ass. Krauts won’t fire at you now. Might want to surrender. Don’t bother them. You see Russians, you get on the radio before they take you, and they will take you 'specially if you get smart ass and go all PhD on 'em. Got me? Get going. Take this truck and my vehicle.”

* * *

The town had a beat up look as if it hadn’t prospered since the last war. They called it Lingen Berry, something like that. They had to dig the sign out of the mud. Houses gave off smoke, bathtubs hung in the air from apartment buildings missing two walls. A guy was doing his ironing just above Riv, as if the wall was there and he had his privacy. Riv grabbed a passerby and asked for General Derring. Lot of good it did him. The man ran away

He set off a small charge with a blasting cap he’d stolen. “General Derring, show yourself or I will leave your name for the Russians. They will come.”

Boom. “Wouldn’t you?”

A window opened on a fire damaged house up on a hill overlooking the town, someone waved a white flag. A messenger brought Riv to a stone house, at the end of its own path, atop its own scrubby hill.

Derring still wore his unique pink and blue uniform and polished cavalry boots. He smoked from a long cigarette holder. “I do not like your face. It is a stupid face. Cognac?” He poured.

“You have to come with me.”

“The ‘Lilac Genie’. You must destroy it. Promise me that.”

“I’ll promise you three squares till you get a rope.”

“You want my knowledge, you go East. There is work that must be retrieved.”

“I see papers, pictures and piss ants.

“You break the ‘Genie's’ neck, yes?”

“I’m late as it is.”

“Here, you will see.” He dug out a slide holder from his desk. “I asked for you personally. Your brain is excellent, your work vicious and jumping into tanks, ought to be in pictures. That is the correct phrase?”

Derring went to a cabinet and opened his safe. A foldable pistol lay on top. He removed it in one motion. Riv had his rifle off his shoulder, but Derring only held the pistol dangling between two fingers.

“Souvenir? I thought of shooting you. I really did, but I have no place to go. And the ‘Genie’, she’s the work of a lifetime.”

He removed four thick folders and a stack of slides. “What keeps you here, Riv, may I call you Riv?”

He pushed the papers around to examine them better. “I don’t speak Kraut.”

“Look at these.” He placed a slide into a lensed hand holder and lit a candle.

Nothing too impressive. An underground bunker, a bell shaped device, probably electrical, certainly well guarded.

“I want a good life. A house, my family comes with me. I’ll need a Swiss bank account.”

“Hold on, we already got ‘Von Brain’, what we need you for? Remember the hangman, he’s busy, but you’ve got an appointment, unofficially.”

“The facility you are looking at; we did anti-gravity experiments. Higher, faster, farther. That is the goal. We made a flying machine. I would call it more properly a floating machine.”

Riv laughed at Derring, really hoping he could get his decorations as souvenirs to send home. He laughed again to see if he could anger him. “Bad photos, blueprints I don’t understand.” He’d sell the foldable pistol and its glove holster. “Where’s the poof?”

“You know your science.”

“Yes.” He knew a little chemistry.

“I know more.” He held up a deck of cards. “There’s the doubling of matter, you see; endless universes, all linked, all slightly different. We put a hole in space. The Genie, it’s neither here nor there, but between the endless earths.”

Next slide, the thing was floating in the air. A woman in coveralls stood taking a photo, the angle made it seem she was photographing the cameraman. It was just his imagination; for a moment, he thought she was shooting him. The next few slides were ruined from the flash. The last few showed it passing through the ceiling and dropping back down to its cradle.

“Go on,” Derring said.

Next slide, and there it was, a photo of the stars as Riv remembered them. He dropped the viewer.

“You would know more?”

* * *

Showing initiative or breaking orders, he’d split the difference in two. He took Curtis and the sedan and cut the truck and driver loose. Just in case, he requested a plane to retrieve them at a large farm five miles west of their destination.

* * *

Aladdin's Lamp was marked over the blast door that lead into the mountain. Dead lay fallen just outside the compound's entrance. They pulled the car inside to hide it from the air. Water came half up the tires and rising.

Riv went in alone, afraid of Curtis with a gun and no witnesses.

He pulled on a gas mask he’d retrieved from a shelf in the wall. It settled his nerves. He walked blocks into the night.

The tunnel lead to a machine room. A Geiger counter lay on the ground; the dead outside had had them. The readings were hot.

Deep under the heart of the mountain, a thick lead door stood partially open, water flowed from inside.

In the center of the room stood a machine shaped like an upside down, flat brimmed bell, the Lilac Genie, he supposed. It stuck up two stories beyond the railing around it; perhaps a half story down, the Wehrmacht Eagle marked its top.

Portals ringed its sides. Someone had taken a hammer to its guts. A mauve colored metallic liquid spun in a type of centrifuge inside the Genie. Bits of the material overflowed the spinner’s edges, dripping into the water, making steam when they hit.


A tool crashed against the piping that lined the walls. Riv pulled back the charging handle on his M1.

He crossed the catwalk and entered the control room.

She turned, staring fiercely. The woman in his slide. He’d put one of them in his pocket. That fantasy popped into his mind of being the last man and woman on earth and yes, she was beautiful and probably a killer.

“This will be flooded,” she said with an accent he couldn’t quite place. She smashed the pipe again, cracking it, speeding up her drowning. “You’d better leave. They've set charges in the tunnels.”

“Come on, I’m with the U.S. Army. I’m authorized to save you.”

“That’s silly.”

Water rose from below, coming to her chest. Her leg was stuck to the stairs.

He dove under water. The handcuff on her ankle was loose, but he couldn’t free her.

When he came up for air, she’d grabbed on overhead light bulb, smashed it and tried to draw the naked innards into the water.

“Stop it.” He pulled it from her hand. “You trying to electrocute yourself, or me?”

“I’m afraid of drowning. They made me swallow the key.”

He slid down into the water. He had to come up for air a few times, but he cut her boot down to the skin. She pulled hard, he heard her ankle break.

She forced herself to walk. She retrieved blue prints from the control room office, and a sample of the lilac metal.

* * *

Curtis looked like he’d shoot her. Riv had to threaten him to make him back down. Out here, fat chance of making it stick, but it worked, just. Riv sat up front to keep an eye on him.

Derring whistled when they got into the car.

“It was just so crazy to be here,” Curtis said. “These dead people floating in the water. I seen you coming down the tunnel. You and her. You know, sir. Her eyes glowed. Just for a second.”

“Must 'a been the light.”

“Sure, sir. Couple of Russians down in the valley. Coming up this way.”

The woman tried to run back inside. Riv dragged her into the car. Where were the charges, but he didn’t have the time to worry about it.

“The Lilac Genie, you did not destroy it!” Derring yelled in German.

“’Nough of that,” Riv said, “Get your hands off her.”

They drove car wrecking fast.

“What’s your name?”

“Jenna Rowan. That’s the English version, since I’ll never go home again.” She tried to slap him.

“Hey, hey.”

The car swerved, they bottomed out, the transmission gagged, Curtis cursed and pulled the car over. Guns fired in the distance, seeming to come from all directions.

You wandered out here alone, who knows what they might do to you in this lawless land, between peace and war, between red star and white?

“Get out.” Curtis took Riv’s rifle and yanked out the ammo. “Cross the hedgerow. There’ll be a Lysander waiting for you.”

“Where you going, Private?”

“We gotta lead the Russians away.”

“You sure about that?”

He took a badge from Jenna’s coveralls. “Russians might like a souvenir. Better not let 'em know who she worked for. I’m gettin’ tired of this. Maybe you didn’t come outta the tunnel of love. Who's gonna know? I was heading home. ‘Screw you’, Kahler said, ‘Get the secret Kraut. Me, I’m getting home, you just hope Kahler ain’t the bastard his mother says he is. Good luck, Captain.” He gave a flippant salute and made Derring drive.

They’d put a splint on her ankle, but Jenna couldn’t keep up. “I’ll carry you.”

There was no plane.

He hurried to the next field. She put her hands over his eyes. She smelled of lilac water and old hay... He fell.

“What the...”

She laughed. “I’m sorry, I was just thinking, I may never dance again.”

They lay there in the hay. She hummed some song of the day, the day in Deutchland.

“I don’t know what to do,” Riv said.

Her face became so calculating for a moment, then so happy. “Maybe your Private doesn’t like us so much. He really call a plane?"

He dare not ask it; he would not believe it. Did she gas those soldiers, was her secret so important?”

* * *

After weeks of water from ditches and scrounging for food, they got through the Russian lines, just lucky. It took a week to find a command that knew what to do with them. They clung to each other as if they’d developed a peculiar nationality.

* * *

Riv was sent to the Midwest.

The tent was dark, but for a desk lamp. Major Kahler leaned forward into the light and offered a cigarette, a break in the questioning, a kind of peace offering. “We got a number of problems, Captain. I have read the documents, remarkable, but like a lot of this Kraut science, it borders on the tomorrow. Lots of ideas nobody knows how to build. Verner can shoot his rockets, but our SS Colonel, he can’t prosper. He got dirty pants, and what he proposes, it’ll all take years and millions. Me, I wouldn’t spend either. If I was sure the Russians didn't have it, I’d just hang the SOB. Why didn’t you blow the place up?”

“I only stole a little blasting cap, sir.”

“I told you about the weisenheimer, boy. However, we’ll give him a desk. Right here, ten miles from Taos, New Mexico, 100 or so from anything else. I call it the desk of the sleepy PhD. Then there’s the girl. Funny girl, isn’t she?”

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“She’s had a hand in much of this work, clear to me your job is to keep her happy. You love her?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Soldier, wake up.” He went to the window. A veritable movie set version of an American town was being built below. “Son, these people are Na-hz-ies. They can build us good rockets, but I ain’t lettin' 'em move to Cleveland. You, on the other hand, if you’re gonna leave, it better be now. I’m giving you a chance.”

As if on cue, Jenna strolled down the new avenue and got into a pink convertible they’d given her.

“Now, son, no good-byes, no exchanging addresses, no postcards. Tough call. Thing is, once you decide, sticking to it, that’ll be done for you.”

He did love her, perhaps because she was so strange, and also because she loved him only partially.

“You can order some civvies, we’re going to be informal here, matter of fact, it'll be downright casual," Kahler said.

“For the guards, you mean.”

“There’s something I can’t figure.”

“You don’t like how we got out, sir?”

“It was fortuitous. That’s another word for near impossible. And with a woman that beautiful.”

“Sir, it was like she knew the places they’d catch us.”

“Hope it’s a good marriage. You two’ll be together quite some time.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You gonna fall in love with her?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Maybe you was better off in tanks. People talk.”

“Thought so, sir.”

He offered him a cigarette. “It’s called project Paperclip. Budget ain’t much, dare I say, it makes things float. Only you are shadows, shadows must behave. You were told to kill her, if the Russians got close. My point is, your loyalty better stay right here. There’ll always be questions about her. G’day, Riv.”

* * *

A few years passed, the breakthroughs finally came, a town had grown up around the work.

They’d moved from tents to Quonset huts, from huts to split levels. Jenna and Riv married; their kids were five and six now. Jenna had lost her accent.

They had shown their engine worked, that they could, indeed, lift any weight. They wished they could ask for a lot in return and after the War, there was much one could ask for.

Industry couldn’t chop the War's spare ships into razors fast enough. Riv had done it, convinced them to cut an old destroyer into ten pieces and put it back together in their hangar, in their desert in their kingdom.

Six months from now they wouldn’t just put something in orbit, they’d put a dang destroyer in orbit around the moon.

He was so happy. Space, his kids, Jenna, who would want to leave here?

Jenna had her doubts. Soon the work would outgrow them. They would not be needed. Good, it had to end.

Lately, she and the other techs couldn’t sleep. For a week at a stretch, sleeping pills just put them in a trance at night and a hangover in the morning.

They said crazy things. They argued with ghosts in the corner of the room, ghosts they claimed were images of themselves. They claimed they shared each other’s dreams.

She swore she would escape right after the last experiment.

She would convince Riv to follow if she could.

* * *

“The kids got sent home from camp today.”

“No big deal, so they got in a fight.”

She slammed her drink down. “They tell me they tried to run away.”

“Kids do that, they play.”

“Two older boys, boys they had not seen before, beat them up.”

“No. There aren’t any kids here they don’t know. Why you talking like that?”

“I tried to leave with them last night. We were stopped. Private security, what is private security?”

“I’ll ask around.”

“It is the SS, I think. They brought us back.”

“I don’t believe that. We’re not prisoners. Sure, there’s security.”

“But as soon as the experiment goes up, then they won’t need me.”

“Jenna, what could be better than success? They’ll give us a house by the sea.”

“Like Derring got.” She turned the lights off hard.

"By the way, Ike's comming to dinner."

She slapped him.

* * *

Drinks and dinner were good. He was so happy. Ike gave him a gold lighter. Said he’d carried it all through the war. Now came the hard part.

“Mr. President.”

“Last half hour you called me Ike.”

Jenna put the kids to bed by shush.

They went upstairs and sat down close to the fireplace. “Mr. President, I need a favor. It’s not of a personal nature, mind you. I need all the electricity in Nevada and Arizona, for twenty minutes.”

Ike got real quiet. A little vein popped in his head. “Jenna, what’s your opinion?”

“Derring hanged himself. Maybe he had a bad conscience.”

“Your test made your team sick. If you can’t do this work safely on a small scale.” He held his hands out as if describing a small fish. “How are you gonna do it on a large scale?”

Mr. President could be aw shucks, but he had a cold spine. He was going to close them.

“This idea Derrings? Much of the crazy world was destroyed when you started. And we weren’t armed so well by today's standards. It's not worth it, if you're reaching."

“Please, Ike.”

“Young lady?”

“Please, let us go.”

“I’ve been debriefed. Don't you want to help your new country?”


“Well, just explain your reasons to me.”

She stood and drew on the table. “Each circle represents a galaxy. The laws of time began at some point after the Big Bang and the universe we recognize. Not at the Big Bang’s instigation.”

“Why not?”

“The Big Bang is a constant notion; it happens constantly. Each galaxy is another universe, or rather, the same universe in different points of time. We might step out of this moment into the next, without the aid of time. We might, we believe, go anywhere.” Her eyes glowed a shade of lilac in the candlelight. "One might travel great distances, for all practical purposes, instantly."

"For argument's sake, why would I want to do this?"

"There might be others, trying to come here. Certainly, every time we try to send a small object out, someone sends a simillar object back.

“We do?”

“I am from one of those places. I must go home. And these others, would you meet them at a disadvantage? We will show you this method of travel. When we do this for you, then let us go."

* * *

Over cigars and brandy, Ike reluctantly agreed to get them electicity. He apologized, that test or no, she would never leave here. “Don’t tell me you weren’t aware?”

* * *

She talked to herself in the bathroom. “They know, they know everything. It's an imaginary town in an imaginary place.”

They got their power. The Lilac Genie glowed. The magic metal spun and glowed but the Genie didn’t lift off the ground. Circuits popped and shut off all around the room. They left for the smoke.

* * *

"Nothing happened." The phone rang. He was afraid to answer it clueless.

Jenna looked at him strangely, kissed him on the cheek and left.

He followed her. Guards grabbed him and led him to the Commandant’s office. The rain fell endlessly. Everything was green, almost tropical.

“Where are we?”

“New Mexico. Where you been, Mack?”

* * *

Major Kahler stared as if to pierce his heart. He started to speak then thought better of it. “Dismissed. I just wanted to get a look at you.” He wore a standard issue uniform, but one cut of gray cloth.

Riv got to the door.

“Riv was my friend. Who are you? The experiments worked.”

Strangely he was not guarded. He went to the mess to get a cup of coffee, it was empty as if he was being isolated. Everything smelled of damp canvas and mold.

Jenna entered.

“Garbo wants to be alone.”


“I take it you had no records in Germany because you were not from Germany. That stuff you said to Ike true?”

“I told you not to do the experiment.”

“Where am I? You must be thinking of someone else. ‘Separate in essence from your world, yet linked like two fish tanks plugged into the same outlet.’ You said that, I think.”

“How many times did I try to tell you? You are in yesterday.”


She looked around. “We are being recorded. But I can tell you this. We became aware of your experiments. We had to monitor them.”

“You helped.”

“No, I slowed the work down. Your plans were perfect. In 1945, you were perhaps a year away. Our work, our work here is even further along, and I’ve learned from our mistakes. We’ll be able to correct the side effect.”

“Just one.”

She kissed him.

“And you left our children so easily?”

“That life is a shadow. Besides, I have children here.”

“With me?”

“Of course, or with someone essentially like you. Of you? We have much to learn,” Jenna said. “You’re the alien prisoner now, but they’ll let you continue the work.”

“And do we love these children?”

“Come meet them.”

He lit a cigarette with his lighter.

* * *

It took a few years but they trusted him, within the confines of the base. He was free to pursue the work. At dawn they would receive all the power in three adjoining states.

The Genie hummed. A fine vapor cloud surrounded it. The air smelled of lilac.

“My Lilac Genie,” Riv said.

They were to stay behind a lead shield. Riv ran forward, and dove into the cloud. The cloud surrounded the Genie, then filled the room. “No, Riv!” Jenna yelled.

* * *

He came to lying face down in the water filled tunnel exactly as it was in 1945. He ran to the control room and pulled Jenna free.

They made it to the car after driving a few miles. Curtis hit the breaks and ordered them out at a different spot this time. He stole a patch from Jenna’s sleeve.

Riv got his rifle. “You SOB, why you always around?”

“Riv, don’t do it.”

Jenna and Derring ran toward the field.

Curtis put his head on the steering wheel as if he’d given up on life. "They’re gonna shoot me for this."

“We beat 'em.” Riv showed him the camera in the lighter. “I filmed everything. Boy, are they way ahead of us.”

“Yeah, wise guy.” He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out ten patches. “I know you both so well and you don’t know her at all.”

“She’s my wife, she’s not a spy. The rules are different.”

“She’s the yesterday girl, you idiot. Life is not moments as if spewed from garden hoses; moments strung together like snapshots. Each past moment is destroyed, but Jenna figured out a way to jump from her moment to ours. She doesn’t exist, properly. She is extra.”

“She’s mine. She loves me.”

“She pushes another Jenna out of the way. Back and forth, back and forth, you’ve done this at least ten times. She is but an image but she wants to live forever. The same seven years over and over again. But you’re knocking things out of place. For all I know you’re killing some Riv and Jenna who were just minding their own business, sitting in their own time and place. You were supposed to go back where you came from. Now they’re gonna kill you. Best idea I ever heard.”

Riv backed off. He raised the rifle.

“They figured that angle. You’ll hang.” He put the car in gear. “Come on, we’ll sort it out. Let Derring kill her. Those were your orders: ‘destroy the Lilac Genie’. You ain’t home. They're gonna kill you. The stars jerk, the stars. That film's your death warrant."

“Does it rain in New Mexico?”

“Heck, it snows most of the year.”

Riv ran.

“Where are you gonna go? They’ll be watching. They know all about you. You're dead in ten different worlds, you don’t wise up.”

Riv ran after Jenna. He fired at Derring, who fired at Jenna. Jenna ran fast as if she could run on top of the grass and out run yesterday.







Copyright © 2007 Eric Ellert

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Eric Ellert was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.

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