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Won't You Come Home

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"Now, let's get you back to where you need to go."

 

          Lieutenant John Danko gave the flat tire on the troop truck a swift kick, then sucked in a vituperative curse when his toe caught the metal rim of the wheel, bending back his toenail.  The remainder of the Dirty Dozen stood behind him, wise enough to refrain from commenting.

          Painfully, Danko swung around and faced his troops – what was left of them, anyway.

          Since they had left England, everything that could possibly go wrong, had, with Swiss-watch precision and timeliness.

          He pushed the blond, slightly-gray streaked hair off his forehead and glowered at Feke.

          The Hungarian commando glanced away, black eyes refusing to meet Danko's piercing blue.  Janos Feke was convinced – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that the Dirty Dozen were cursed, with a capital "C."

          With a deep sigh, Danko reluctantly acknowledged that the man might be right.  Early that morning, a quarter-mile out of their Glouchester training camp, the gum-chewing transport driver had nearly run an old woman and her goat-drawn cart over.  She had stumbled off the side of the wet road and into the mud, and her goat, bleating like the Devil had pulled her tail, headed for the open pastures that lined the roadway.

          Danko had been sitting in the back of the truck with the rest of the Dirty Dozen.  He had seen Feke visibly pale as they watched the old woman from the opening between the flapping tarp that covered the vehicle.  She raised a warped and gnarled walking stick, shook it vehemently at them, and screamed in some language even the Hungarian couldn't identify.  Feke claimed that he did not need to know exactly what she had said, the tone was more than sufficient – that and the evil glint in her eye.  The Evil Eye.

          They were cursed.  He told Danko so, came as close to begging the lieutenant to call off the mission as his pride would allow him, but Danko would not be budged.  The mission was a go, he had said, curse or no curse.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          The officer's blue eyes narrowed now, daring the Hungarian to mutter "I told you so," under his breath, but Feke was studiously examining the local trees and shrubbery.

          "Get your gear," Danko growled at the seven remaining men.  "It looks like we're gonna do this the old-fashioned way.  We're gonna walk."

          Feke shook his head sadly, no doubt lamenting the fact that they were all doomed, and Danko appeared hell-bent on escorting them there.  Well, he didn't believe it.  He wouldn't believe it.  But, as much as he hated to admit it, Feke might just be right.

          Danko considered the series of accidents that had plagued them.  The original transport blew a fuel pump a few miles down the road.  Meyers had tried to fix it, but the truck slipped off the jack and broke his leg.  Forced to walk to the airfield, they arrived an hour late.

          What was next?  Oh, yeah, the emergency landing they'd had to make in France.  That was probably a better clue about their state of cursed-ness, but once they had managed to climb out of the thick pea-soup fog that had rolled in from nowhere and put out the fire in the cabin, it looked like they were in for a regular milk-run flight.  The lieutenant silently hoped that the coast watchers had been awake and had seen Mitchell when he had panicked and jumped.  At least the parachute had opened.

          And then?  Oh, yes, the flash flood at the airport where they had landed in Italy was the next road-sign to disaster.  Still, he had plowed on ahead, heedless of the curse.  If they were lucky, the local resistance would find Harper before the river carried him all the way to the Mediterranean.  He paused, wondering briefly if the new man could swim.

          And then they finally found the Yugoslavian resistance leader who was supposed to provide them with arms and directions.  The resistance fighter who had amnesia, and shot Schultz before they could explain who they were.  The kid did look German.  All in all, he was probably damned lucky it was only a flesh wound.

          Oh, and lest he forget, the landslide that nearly killed all of them several miles up the road.  At least no one had gotten hurt… badly.  Maybe the curse was fading, the further they got from England?

          But this was the third flat tire in two hours, and they only carried two spares. No, it was definitely still in full force.

          Okay, so maybe the Hungarian was right.  Maybe they were cursed, but they still had a mission, and he would be damned if he turned back because of one ugly old woman who could out-screech a gypped whore.

          The seven commandos lined up, Sgt. Cutter in the lead, followed by Feke, then LeBec, Leeds, Ferrell, and the two Beaubuff brothers, Roy and Vern, bringing up the rear.

          Danko studied them.  Cutter and a half-Dirty Dozen.  He smiled thinly.  Well, even if they were cursed, they had a mission, and half-a-Dozen should be more than enough to infiltrate one small cottage and recover some pieces of a crashed airplane.

          His smile widened.  His maniacs were always ready for anything.  A crash of thunder and lightning had them all dropping toward the ground, then a crack and they scattered as a tree fell.

          Danko's smile faded.  He hoped they were ready for anything, because it was surely on the way.

          Could you ever really be ready for a curse?

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Harrison Blackwood blinked and swore softly under his breath.  This incessant bouncing around history was getting to be more than he could take.  Over the past few days they had been chased, beaten, shot, and treated like criminals.

          Damn the aliens.  And damn their blasted technology, the astrophysicist fumed to himself.  And damn whatever it is they're trying to do to the past.  The anger fell away.  It didn't really matter what the aliens were doing, they had to be stopped.

          He waited for the last waves of dizziness to fade, then squinted into the dense foliage.  The blue eyes widened.  No.  Absolutely not.

          "Get down."

          Harrison grunted as his shoulder impacted soundly with the hard ground moments before a deafening explosion left him uncertain of permanent aural damage.  The earth trembled and sighed before hands swiftly helped him to his feet, and Blackwood brushed ineffectually at the dirt, leaves and twigs clinging to his clothes.

          His clothes.

          He was still wearing the same homespun shirt and wool pants he had picked up in Colorado Springs.  He glanced around, his eyes wide.  But this wasn't Colorado.  In fact, he would be willing to bet it wasn't even North America.

          What now?

          He looked to his companion.  Colonel Paul Ironhorse's lips moved, but no sounds came out.  Blackwood's brow furrowed.

          "What was that?" he demanded.

          "Shell of some kind," the colonel said a little louder.  He grabbed Blackwood's arm.  "Come on, we've gotta move."

          The scientist trailed along, trying to make sense of it all.  Paul was still wearing buckskins, and was apparently none the worse for his experiences at the hands of the United States Cavalry.  Why transitioning through time should heal their wounds made absolutely no sense to the astrophysicist, but he silently thanked whatever gods responsible that it did.

          But where the hell were they?

          So far they had been confined to the 19th century, and the western United States.  First it was Wyoming, then Montana, then Colorado, and each stop had been within a couple decades of each other, but the wooded hillsides and foreboding rundown castle didn't look 19th century, or western.

          What in the world could the aliens want here?  So far they had only appeared in an area where an alien warship had recently crashed.  That must be the case here as well.

          Ironhorse motioned Blackwood to stop, sinking into the cover of a thick hedge row.

          Blackwood squatted next to and slightly behind the soldier.  "What?" he whispered, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in his still-ringing ears.

          Paul shook his head.  "Noise, I—"

          The colonel fell silent as a clanking metallic rattle lumbered out from the trees.  A tank of some sort followed.  They watched as the machine progressed closer to the castle, and Ironhorse nodded at the slightly faded black swastika on the side of the tank.

          The colonel dropped lower in the bushes, Harrison following his lead.  Both men watched as the clanking contraption rolled down a small hill, up the far side, past the castle's main gates, and disappeared inside.

          "I'm afraid to ask," Harrison whispered, "but was that a German tank?"

          Paul nodded.  "Vintage 1941 to '43, and not in particularly good condition."

          "That's comforting," Harrison muttered under his breath.

          Ironhorse ignored the barb, scanning the surrounding countryside, then shook his head.

          "Idea?"

          "No, a guess, and I'd rather wait for more information before I explain."

          Blackwood nodded, already feeling overwhelmed.  This time he could wait.  "What next?"

          "We dig-in until it gets dark, so I can get a fix on our location."

          "Northern or Southern hemisphere?"

          "Vegetation's northern.  We're in Europe, all right, the question is where."

          "The stars going to tell you that?"

          "They're not, Doctor," Paul said with a hint of a smile.  He nodded at the castle.  "I'm going to go in there and let them tell me."

          "Oh," the scientist replied.  "I suppose that's one way, provided you speak the language."

          "Why, Doctor, don't you speak German?" the colonel asked in the language.

          "I'm afraid not."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          "A what?"

          Jean LeBec forced the grin off his handsome Cajun face, and repeated, "A castle, Lieutenant, and it's a big one.  Everything but the moat."

          Danko's eyes fell shut.  Well, that was the icing on the cake.  It was probably a typo – cottage, castle, they both started with a "c" after all.

          The blue eyes popped open.  "What about guards?"

          Ferrell picked up the explanation, the actor's boyish face belying his intensity. "We couldn't get a good look over the walls.  It's like something right out of an Errol Flynn movie, parapets, and—"

          "People, Ferrell.  I'm interested in people."

          "Three guards walking on the wall," the Dozen's first sergeant supplied in his Arkansas drawl.  Cutter shoved in closer.  "They have to have more inside, but there's no way to find out without someone goin' in."

          Danko studied the set to Cutter's square jaw.  It was clear that the ex-MP sergeant didn't think that was such a great idea.  He took a deep breath.  "Okay, the wreckage is probably being held inside the castle, with guards…"

          The three men nodded.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Dylan Leeds, the unit's resident forger and general all-around con artist, chewed on the end of his unlit cigar and grinned.  "Betcha I could sneak in there and have a look around without the Krauts being the wiser."

          "Looking for antiques to steal is more like it," Ferrell countered.

          Leeds gave the actor a dismissive scowl.

          "I should go in," Feke said.  "I'm the only one who speaks German."

          Danko nodded.  "Right, but take Vern with you."

          The younger and much larger half of the Beaubuff brothers paled noticeably. His older, wiry half replied, "Lieutenant, Vern doesn't speak German."

          Vern shook his head to substantiate the validity of his brother's statement.

          Danko sighed.  "I realize that, Roy, but Vern looks like every good little German wants to."

          The hulking blond frowned.  "I do?  Mama said I looked like Uncle Frank."

          Roy rolled his eyes and patted his brother's arm.  "I'll explain it later, Vern."

          Turning to Feke, Danko continued.  "Just get in, look around, and get out.  If you get caught tell them you're SS and you're there to check out their security."

          Feke nodded, then added, "If I don't come back…"

          Danko's eyes narrowed.

          "…promise me you'll find a gypsy, pay whatever they want and get something, a charm, a potion, anything to break the curse."

          "Feke," the lieutenant growled.

          "Please?  Humor me."

          "I'll think about it; now get moving, it'll be dark soon."

          The Hungarian shrugged and headed off into the deep shadows of the woods. Vern paused, then followed after the retreating figure.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Ironhorse eased up next to the rough castle wall.  He didn't recognize it, so they probably weren't in England or Germany.  Extended stays with the Special Forces in those countries had provided him with plenty of time to sightsee.

          The countryside didn't remind him of France, so it might be Italy or the Balkans.

          Moving through the darkest shadows, he continued to make his way around the large structure, looking for a way in.  He found it, an old wooden door with an equally old, rusty lock that gave way under the battle baton.

          Once inside, the colonel moved slower, following the distant echoes of German voices.  Given the undisturbed dust and cobwebs that decorated the passages he navigated, he knew the castle hadn't seen residents or visitors for quite some time.

          Turning a corner, Paul found the distant glow of a light and slowed further.  Edging cautiously toward the illumination he concentrated on listening.

          "If all goes well, we'll have the Americans by tomorrow night," someone gloated.

          A second, more nervous voice replied, "If not, it'll be our necks."

          There was a short laugh that grew somber.  "What do you think that crash could have been?"

          "A new American weapon?"

          A grunt.  "Perhaps.  A new aircraft that failed, I think."

          "It doesn't matter," the nervous voice resumed.  "What was left is with our scientists.  They will determine what the Americans are up to."

          "And the commandos sent after the wreckage will soon be destroyed.  Perhaps they will have a few answers for us, yes?"

          Ironhorse stepped back into the darkness, crouching down to stay out of the direct line of sight.  Two men passed by the open end of the hallway and the colonel nodded to himself.  Nazi uniforms.

          Time to get back to Blackwood and brainstorm their next move.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Dropping into the cover of a hedge row that had long ago been left to grow wild, Feke nearly swore when several thorns bit into his leg.  Vern grinned and stifled a giggle.

          "It's not funny."

          "You really think we're cursed?"

          "I know we are."

          The two men fell silent.  A distant crack and mumble echoed softly on the night air.

          "What was that?" Vern whispered nervously.

          Feke shook his head and motioned for the big man to follow him.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Harrison paced in the darkness.  Where the hell was Ironhorse?  He had been gone at least an hour.

          The astrophysicist jumped when a hand closed vice-like on his shoulder, another clamping over his mouth.

          Shit!  Ironhorse! he called silently.

          Blackwood felt the barrel of a gun nudge against his ribs and raised his hands, waiting.  There must be a second man.

          A young dark-haired man stepped out of the shadows, a weapon in hand.  At least it wasn't a three-armed alien.

          "Who are you?"

          Harrison smiled thinly and tried to look innocent.  He didn't understand the language, but he could guess what the question had been.

          The man stepped closer, his eyes narrowing.  "What are you doing out here?" he demanded in a quiet, measured tone.

          "Freeze, right where you are.  Let him go – now.  Or you're both dead."

          Harrison recognized the second voice that swirled in on the warm night air, and the nature of the threat the hard tone carried, even if he didn't exactly understand the contents.

          The dark-haired man with the gun froze, his eyes locking on Harrison's.  "Who are you?" he called.

          "Let him go," Ironhorse commanded.  "Or we open fire."

          The dark-haired man nodded carefully to the one holding Harrison.  "Let him go," he said softly.

          "You speak English?" Blackwood asked before he could stop himself.

          "You're American?" Harrison's guard asked in a boyish voice.

          "Yes," the scientist replied when he saw the relief wash across the dark-haired man's face.  "You?"

          The guard glowered and replied suspiciously.  "Isn't that a coincidence, us meeting an American way out here."

          Harrison turned and looked up at the man-mountain behind him.  "Harrison Blackwood," he said, extending his hand.

          "Vern Beaubuff, and that's Feke.  He's Hungarian."

          Ironhorse emerged from the trees, the two men staring at him wide-eyed.

          "Are you a real Indian?" Vern whispered in quiet awe.

          Ironhorse's lips twitched, but before he could answer Feke shook his head and waved his hands in submission.  "That's it," he lamented.  "I've lost it, totally and completely lost it."

          "No, Feke," Vern said earnestly, "he's an Indian, you know, like Tonto.  He's on our side.  He can break the curse."

          The colonel's expression turned sour.  "Who are you?" he demanded.  "Where's your commanding officer?"

          "You want to see the Lieutenant?" Vern asked, confusion making him look like a paddled puppy.

          "Why not?" Feke replied to no one in particular.  "I mean, the next thing you know, Hitler's going show up in a dress and ask me out for a drink!"

          Ironhorse's eyebrows climbed.  Whoever they were, they certainly were weird.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          "Huh, Lieutenant?"

          Danko turned from his conversation with Cutter and met LeBec's concerned gaze.  "What is it?"

          "I was checking the my bags, to get some of the charges set…"  He trailed off.

          "And?" Danko prompted, casting an exasperated "what now?" look at his first sergeant.  Cutter smiled and shook his head.  With the Dirty Dozen you could never be sure.

          "They packed plenty of boom, but no blasting caps."

          "For cryin' out loud!"  Danko turned away and contemplated shooting something.  He took a deep breath, but was interrupted when Leeds skittered across the small clearing to join them.

          "Roy signaled, they're on their way back."

          "This soon?" the lieutenant demanded.

          The forger shrugged.  "Maybe it's the curse."

          "We are not cursed," Danko growled plaintively.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Feke paused and whistled, the sound the passable imitation of a cardinal.  A blue jay called back and the four men proceeded into a small but hidden clearing in a stand of trees.

          One man separated himself from a small unit and strode over to meet them. Ironhorse watched the approaching figure, a growing sense of recognition assailing him, but he couldn't quite place the face.  Whoever he was, he was not a happy man.

          "Feke, Vern, what–?"  He broke off when he spotted the two trailing Project members.  "Who's this, the Lone Ranger and Tonto?"

          Ironhorse growled low in the back of his throat.

          "Harrison Blackwood," the astrophysicist said, stepping past the colonel and extending his hand.

          "Americans?"

          "We found them at the castle, Lieutenant," Vern explained.

          "We are cursed," the officer mumbled under his breath.

          Ironhorse's eyebrows climbed.  A lieutenant?  At his age?  The man was completely incompetent or something very strange was going on.  He didn't look stupid, so the colonel settled for strange – not that that was all that unusual of late either.

          "What's your business at the castle?" the lieutenant asked politely, but Ironhorse was well acquainted with the demand that lay behind it.

          "That's need to know, Lieutenant," the colonel replied smoothly in his best command tone.

          "Lieutenant," an urgent voice called, a young man following it into the clearing to join them.  He paused, looking form Harrison to Ironhorse.  "Tonto?" he asked seriously.

          "Never mind, Ferrell," the lieutenant snapped.  "What's going on?"

          Ferrell shook his head.  "Cutter said there's a small group of Krauts on the move.  They might have spotted us."

          "Damn," the lieutenant breathed.

          "You plan to infiltrate that castle?" Ironhorse asked.

          The officer swung around.  "Why?"

          "I was in there.  They know you're coming.  It's a trap.  They have an old tank and troops waiting for you."

          "A tank?"

          Ironhorse nodded.  "Not great shakes, but a big gun."

          "Damn," Danko breathed.  "What else can possibly go wrong?"

          The distant rumble of summer thunder was his immediate reply.

          "You had to ask, didn't you, Lieutenant?" Feke accused, then stalked off to join the others who were rapidly breaking camp.

          "Don't mind Feke," Ferrell explained, "he thinks we're cursed."

          "Cursed?" Harrison asked.

          "Not now," Danko interrupted.  "Let's take care of the Germans first."  He pointed at the two Project members.  "Then I want to know who you are and why you're here."

          Danko headed off, Ironhorse and Harrison trailing.

          "And what do we tell him?"  Blackwood asked softly.

          Ironhorse shrugged.  "As little as possible, Doctor."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          "Whose great idea was this?" Roy asked quietly.  "It's the curse, Lieutenant.  It is."

          Danko and Ironhorse shot the young man a deadly look.  The Dirty Dozen, Harrison and the colonel sat, tied in chairs in the castle's large dining Hall.  Across the long wooden table a German major and his lieutenant sat, scowling at them.

          "So, these are the American commandos," the major said with a sneer.  "I don't think we needed to worry," he told his junior officer.  They laughed.

          The major stood, walking around the table to pace in front of them.  He stopped in front of Danko for a moment, then moved to Ironhorse.  "Are you the leader of these men?"

          "No," Danko answered for Paul.

          "Silence!" the major snapped, back-handing Danko and turning his chair over.  The lieutenant fell with a grunt.  He looked back to Ironhorse.  "Well?"

          "I am," Paul answered in German.

          "I thought so," the major said, stepping closer.  Reaching out, he fingered the fringe of Ironhorse's buckskin shirt.  "But you certainly don't dress like it."

          With no explanation, the colonel remained silent.

          The major stepped away, his back to the men.  "Does it have to do with the experimental aircraft?"

          Ironhorse's mind raced.  That craft had to be an alien warship.  The aliens might already be there.  The major himself could be an alien, but he didn't think so.  He needed to be sure, and he needed time to find a way to get them out.  "Maybe."

          The German laughed.  Turning, he stepped up to Danko and righted him in his chair.  "Maybe?  No, I'm afraid that won't do at all."

          Ironhorse met the man's eyes.  "Perhaps if I saw this… aircraft."

          Another laugh.  He motioned to his lieutenant.  "Take them to the cells."  Stepping up to Ironhorse, he stared down at the man, studying him for a long moment.  "You are different.  What is your name?"

          "Ironhorse.  Paul Ironhorse."

          The man grunted, then marched out.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          "Now what, Lieutenant?" LeBec asked as he checked the bruise that discolored half the man's face.

          "We try to find a way out of here," he replied, trying to find a more comfortable position sitting on the cold damp stone floor and leaning against the equally cold and damp stone walls of their prison.  "And the sooner the better.  Before this damned curse really has a chance to work."

          Ironhorse moved over, sitting down next to Danko, Harrison following.

          "Who are you?" Danko asked softly, his blue eyes piercing Ironhorse's.

          "I'm afraid I can't tell you, Lieutenant," Paul replied, his voice low.  "But I can tell you that I'm… with the Army."

          "That much I could've guessed," Danko muttered.  "Why are you here?  Did they send you after this experimental plane?"

          Harrison and Ironhorse exchanged glances.  "We were… a failsafe," the colonel said.

          "I see.  And would you care to tell me what's so damned important about this plane that I wasn't informed of a dual mission?" he hissed under his breath.

          "It's not exactly a plane," Blackwood offered.

          Ironhorse shot the scientist a warning glare, but Harrison ignored it.

          "It's a rocket."

          "A rocket," Danko breathed.

          The two Project members watched as the officer turned that over.

          "So this is related to the work being done in Norway?" he asked.

          Blackwood and Ironhorse nodded.

          "I see."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Forty-eight hours later the German lieutenant arrived and had Ironhorse and Danko brought back to the dining room.  A feast was laid out on the table, and the major sat, enjoying a meal.  He looked up and smiled at the two men as they entered.

          "Gentlemen, come and sit, I'm sure you must be hungry."

          The lieutenant and their guard walked them to the table and forced them to sit.  Neither man made any move toward the food.

          The major gave them a pitying look.  "Otto, pour them wine."

          The lieutenant did so, setting the cups in front of their plates.

          "Drink, gentlemen, our time is almost over, and I've been a poor host."

          "I'm not that hungry," Danko said.

          The major's eyebrows rose.  "I see.  Still stubborn, are you?  Well, that is your choice.  I just wanted to inform you that members of the SS will arrive tonight to escort you to Berlin, along with the remains of your new war machine.  They have many questions for you.  Of course, you could save yourself a great deal of pain if you simply told me what the machine is, and why it is so important that commandos were sent to retrieve it."

          "Go to hell," Danko snarled.

          The major shook his head.  "I see you are a most unreasonable man."  He waved to the guards.  "Take him back to the cell."

          The pair grabbed Danko's arms, jerking him to his feet and taking him away. Ironhorse continued to sit, his face unreadable.

          "And now, how about you… major?"

          "Colonel."

          The major's eyes widened.  "A colonel, is it?" he asked, the fact that he thought Ironhorse was lying clearly evident.  "Well, Colonel, would you like to tell me about this machine?"

          Ironhorse sat in silence.

          The major's eyes narrowed.  "You leave me no choice.  I must have answers before the SS arrive.  I do so like this place, and I'm afraid that they will not think me worthy of it if I don't have some answers."  He stared into the black obsidian eyes, unable to pry the smallest secret out.  With a short jerking motion, he signaled the lieutenant.

          "Take him to the interrogation room, have Karl start."

          The lieutenant bowed and motioned to the remaining guards to take Ironhorse.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          The passageway was long and dim.  Two guards held his arms, the lieutenant walking behind them, his Lugar ready.  Ironhorse waited until they reached the darkest section of the hall before he made his move.

          Stepping out, the colonel jerked the two men forward, snapping his arms free and slamming his fists into their faces.  Before the lieutenant collected himself and drew a bead on the colonel, Ironhorse lunged to one side, a roundhouse kick snapping out to kick the gun away.  Stepping in, he pounded the man into unconsciousness.

          It was time to locate Blackwood, get the others, find that damned warship and get the hell out of Dodge… before the curse got to Blackwood and him as well.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Moving silently down the hallways, it didn't take the colonel long to locate a passage down to the basement and the cells.  Moving up on the single guard, he was able to take him down before the young man knew he was in danger.

          Removing the keys from the soldier's pocket, he opened the door.  "Let's move, people," he said softly.

          "Wow, he really is Tonto!" someone enthused.

          The Dozen filed out, followed by Harrison.  "Are you okay?" Blackwood asked.

          "Fine, but we have to find the wreckage and get out of here.  The SS will be here soon."  He stepped up next to Danko.  "I think it might be better if your men found a way out and met us.  With this many people we're sure to draw attention."

          Danko nodded.  "Cutter, LeBec with me.  Feke, take the rest and head back to the clearing."

          "But—"

          Danko interrupted the Hungarian.  "Now."

          "Yes, sir," he grumbled.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          The five Americans moved through the castle carefully and quietly, taking cover when they had to.  The guards were thinned out, most of them out looking for the escapees in the countryside.

          "Paul," Harrison whispered, nodding down a small hallway to where two soldiers stood, guarding a closed door.

          "That looks like what we want," Danko said, a feral grin in his lips.  Maybe they were going to beat the damned curse after all.

          "Sergeant," Ironhorse said to Cutter.  "Stay with Dr. Blackwood.  At the first sign of trouble, you get him back to your people."

          "But, Paul—"

          "Yes, sir."

          "Ready?" he asked Danko.

          "Always," the lieutenant replied.

          "Then let's go."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Danko walked between the two long tables littered with bits and pieces of a machine.  What the thing's purpose was remained a mystery.  If it was supposed to be a rocket or some kind of aircraft, there was certainly nothing to indicate that.  He watched Ironhorse as he also prowled though the debris, pausing eventually, and moving several warped bits of metal to uncover a black pyramid.

          "What is that?"

          Ironhorse reached out and hefted the object.  "I'm not exactly sure, but I know it's important."

          Danko removed the burlap sacks he had brought and began filling them with the pieces.

          "Someone's coming," LeBec said softly several minutes later.

          Ironhorse grabbed a towel and wrapped the pyramid up and tucked it under his arm.  He and Danko moved to the door, the lieutenant handing LeBec two of the sacks.

          They listened as two men walked up to the door and paused, speaking in German.

          "They're wondering where the guards are," Ironhorse translated.  "Get ready."

          The pair pushed the door open and stepped inside and right into the waiting trap.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Crystal in hand, Ironhorse moved with Danko and LeBec as they made their way through the castle.  Waiting until twilight, they saw the arrival of the SS and heard the gunshots.

          "I think the major was been relieved of his command," Ironhorse said.

          Danko snorted.  "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."  He paused, studying Paul in the gathering darkness.  "Are you sure you don't want to tell me who you work for?"

          The colonel grinned.  "I wish I could, Gen— Lieutenant."

          LeBec looked over his shoulder, noting the almost slip.

          "It's time to go," Paul said, easing out through the same door he had used to infiltrate the castle the first time.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          LeBec whistled, and what was left of the Dirty Dozen emerged from the trees.

          Blackwood stalked over to the Colonel.  "Well?"

          Ironhorse handed the astrophysicist the wrapped pyramid.  "I think this is what they've been after all along."

          Harrison peeled the cloth back and nodded slowly.  "It's like the artifact from Brazil, and—"

          "And we have to get back to our arrival location."

          "Arrival location?" Vern asked.

          "Where you found us," Harrison explained.

          "But that area is crawling with Germans," Feke said.

          "We don't have a choice," the colonel countered.  "Gentlemen, it's been… a pleasure."

          "Wait," Vern said, reaching out to snag the colonel's arm.  A quick glare and he let go.  "You're a real Indian, right?"

          Ironhorse nodded.

          "Well, we're cursed.  Can you get rid of it?  Please?  I know Tonto could do it, to help the Lone Ranger."

          Blackwood stifled a laugh at Ironhorse's startled expression.

          "I'm not a shaman, I don't think—"

          Danko leaned in next to Ironhorse.  "Just do anything."

          The colonel considered.  "Okay," Paul said.  Taking the battle baton out of its scabbard on his belt, he motioned for the Dozen to circle up.  "Okay, men, I'm going to prick your fingers and draw a drop of blood.  You smear it on the blade."

          He made his way around the group, just breaking the surface of each man's fingertip.  They smeared their blood along the blade, and he moved to the next man.  When he was done, Paul stepped into the center of the circle, presented the knife to the four directions, then said solemnly with all due ritual, "This blood is the blood of warriors.  It carries the poison of the curse laid upon these good men.  I return this curse to the underworld from whence it came."

          With that he leaned over and plunged the blade into the ground, forcing it in to the hilt, then jerked it free.  "The curse is broken."

          Feke mumbled something in Hungarian, looking much relieved.  Vern hugged his brother; Roy punched him.  The others looked half-amused, half-grateful.

          Danko stepped up to Ironhorse and shook his hand.  "Thank you.  I was beginning to believe in that curse myself.  Now, let's get you back to where you need to go."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Harrison blinked, the head-rush worse this time.  Hands reached out to steady him.

          "Dr. Blackwood?"

          "Colonel?" Harrison heard someone say.

          The world slowly focused, and he recognized the old structure where they had been tracking aliens, the same place where they had begun their trips through time.  "Coleman?"

          "Yes, Doctor, can you sit up?"

          Harrison sat, looking over to where Ironhorse was also sitting, supported by Goodson.

          "Thank God you're back," the NCO breathed.  "You've been gone for… seven minutes."

          "Seven?" Harrison breathed.  He and the colonel had lived for twelve days, three each in four different times and places.  How was that possible?  He met Paul's startled gaze.

          "Huh, sir," Goodson asked.  "Where did the buckskins come from?"

          Ironhorse looked down at the clothes, then back up to Harrison.  "It's a long story, corporal.  Let's get the hell out of here."

The End