A WWI military unit is transported to an alien experimental world.
|Tunnel to the Stars
For almost 48 hours the Battalion had been fighting steadily, casualties were mounting and they were surrounded by several divisions of experienced German forces. They were deep into the depths of the Argonne Forest in northern France. The French were supposed to be advancing on their left flank, but for reasons unknown, they had failed to make contact.
The 308th Battalion was a member of the 77th Infantry Division, mostly recruited from the New York area. Company K of the 307th, and Companies C and D of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion were attached for this mission. Their training was held at Camp Upton. The camp was located a half mile from the town of Yaphank, New York, on Long Island in Suffolk County.
It was now six in the morning on October 3rd, 1918, and the Battalion, consisting of 554 soldiers, was hunkered down on Hill 198 in a large ravine they dubbed, ‘the pocket’ completely surrounded by heavy brush and thick trees. A heavy mist covered the area making it difficult for the unit commanders to communicate with each other.
The unit had already suffered many hardships. Food was short, and water was available only by crawling under fire to a nearby stream. Communications were also a problem, and at times they were bombarded by shells from their own artillery. Every runner dispatched by the Battalion Commander, Major Charles White, either became lost or ran into German patrols.
The last scout patrol reported into headquarters twenty minutes later, informing the Major there were no enemy forces to the left on Hill 205; they must have pulled out overnight, but the ravine to the right was full of Germans.
Major White called his company commanders, nine in total, to the headquarters section. “We are going to move in the direction of Hill 205,” he commanded. “Company A will lead, flanked by Companies B and C, and Company H will cover the rear. We must get out of these woods or the unit will perish.” He gave a solemn nod to each of the tired commanders.
For over an hour the Battalion made steady progress towards the top of Hill 205. No enemy units were encountered and the men were thankful for the respite. A few minutes later, a runner from A Company rushed back to the Headquarters staff. “Lieutenant Turner reports a strange object at the top of the hill,” the runner reported. “He thinks you should see it before we advance any further.”
Major White signaled for the units to hold in place, then, followed by his radio man, executive officer, and several staff officers, rushed to the top of the hill. Lieutenant Turner and several Sergeants were standing next to a large arch in a small clearing. The arch was approximately twenty feet wide, perhaps thirty feet tall, and was filled with a mirror like substance. Men were standing on all sides of the arch.
“What is it?” The Major asked, turning to Captain Holderman, his executive officer. Holderman shook his head in bewilderment.
“Don’t know what it is but it’s an oddity,” Lieutenant Turner stated. If you look at it from one side you can see through it to the soldiers on the other side. If you look at it through this mirror side you can’t.”
“Have you tried to walk through it,” Captain Holderman asked?
“Sergeant Blackburn walked through from one side to the other, but no one has tried going through the mirrored side yet. Private Begley stuck his hand into the mirror but no one could see it come out the other side. So we know the mirror isn’t solid.”
Have someone volunteer to go through the mirror,” Major White stated. “Tie a rope on him so we can pull him back if necessary.”
Corporal Rossum, a tall lanky soldier with sandy hair, quickly volunteered. He removed his pack and handed his rifle to Lieutenant Turner. Sergeant Blackburn tied a packing rope around his waist and gave a ready nod. Rossum grinned and stepped quickly through the shimmering surface of the mirror. The rope played out for about ten feet then stopped. The men waited silently for ten minutes, Major White then gave the order to pull Corporal Rossum back through the arch.
Rossum came back in one piece, his face shining and his eyes wide. He just stood there staring at the men around him. He looked as if he was in a daze.
“Well!” Major White snorted. “Speak up soldier, what did you see?”
Corporal Rossum wet his lips with his tongue. “It was beautiful, sir. I was standing on a small hill overlooking a wide white sandy beach. It was very warm but a cool breeze was blowing. I glanced around and saw a thick forest to my rear, and there was a large clearing and what appeared to be a small village perhaps six hundred yards to my left.”
“Did you see any indigenous people?”
“Indig….?” Rossum looked lost.
“Did you see any people at all?” Major White replied.
“No one, sir, just a beautiful place with a bright sandy beach.”
“Runner from Company H, sir,” Captain Holderman stated, pushing a winded private in front of him.
“Captain Grant reports a large enemy force is closing in on our rear, sir, at least Regimental, possibly Division strength.”
“Forward scouts report another enemy force to our front,” Lieutenant Turner stated. “They’re half a mile out and closing fast.”
Major White turned to Captain Holderman. “What do you think, Ned?” He was pointing towards the arch. “Do we give it a try?”
“Your call, sir. Personally I think it’s better than getting hit from both sided by the Germans.”
“Form Companies!” Major White ordered. “Send word back for all units to follow us through the arch.”
Within fifteen minutes the entire Battalion had passed through the shimmering arch. Captain Grant saluted Major White on the other side. “All present and accounted for, sir.” The unit was formed up in companies about fifty yards from the Arch.
“What’s to keep the enemy from coming through after us?” Captain Holderman questioned, nodding his head towards the shimmering arch.
“We’ll have the advantage of surprise,” Major White replied. “Get the Machine Gun unit dug in facing the arch. If anything will stop them they will.” He turned to look for Lieutenant Cullen, commander of the machine gunners. He suddenly noticed an intake of breath from half of the Battalion, while others just stood there with mouths agape. Turning back around, his eyes also lit up. The arch was gone. There was no sign that it was ever there.
“Well, for better or worse, we are here,” he spoke to those around him. He glanced upward towards the bright sun. He was shocked again. Instead of one brilliant bright spot, there were two. Two suns hung heavily in the clear blue sky. In addition to the two suns, a much smaller sun could be seen in the distance and a large ring-like object seemed to circle the entire planet.
“Dear God!” Captain Grant muttered, expressing the feelings of the remainder of the Battalion.
Major White ordered camp to be made. Their location overlooked the beautiful beach that Corporal Rossum had described and it was a very defensible position. The small village was a good six hundred yards away, nestled up against a giant forest of carboniferous trees. By nightfall, the men were still in a daze. Parties were sent out to gather firewood and rations were passed out. Orders were given to post observation and listening posts and to maintain unit integrity. A decision was made to wait until daybreak to try to make contact with the villagers. Once the men were settled in, Major White called all officers to his headquarters area to discuss the situation.
“We don’t know if the arch will return,” the Major stated, addressing the men around him. “We must assume that it may not. In any case, you all know we are no longer on Earth.” He paused to see the reaction of his officers. Most nodded their heads in solemn agreement; a few stared at the ground. “Regardless, tomorrow we must find a source of drinking water and scout the area for food sources. We have over five hundred mouths to feed and our rations will run out very quickly. We will also try to make contact with the indigenous natives. They may or may not be hostile, but we will treat them as if they are until we know otherwise. Most of all, you must maintain strict discipline in your units, including the use of slit trenches. Check their ammunition status, make certain their weapons and equipment is kept in clean and in orderly condition, and get me a count of grenades and other types of explosives.”
The majority of the unit was armed with the Enfield Bolt Action Rifle, and one company had new Springfield Rifles, all had the reliable Mills Grenade, often called the pineapple grenade. The officers and machine gunners carried M1911 Pistols. There were four Colt 1915 Vickers Machineguns with 5,000 rounds of ammunition for each. Most of the infantry soldiers carried a basic load of one hundred rounds each. In addition, several cases of small arms rifle and pistol ammunition were carried by the machinegun squad.
After a long sleepless night for most of the soldiers; many were frightened of the strange star patterns and double sun, dawn broke with a yell from one of the sentries overlooking the beach. The Sergeant of the Guard for A Company approached the officers who were tossing aside their blankets. “Sirs, there’s people on the beach below and strange happenings.” The Sergeant shrugged his shoulders and pointed back towards the overhanging cliff.
Major White and his staff forced themselves between the yapping men who aligned at the top of the embankment. On the pristine white beach below, a dozen large crab-like creatures were being herded inland by a score of native hunters. As they watched, several hunters rushed forward and pierced each creature with long spears with sharp points. They danced back and forth forcing the spears deeper into the body of the animals. After a ten minute struggle, the crab-like animals were forced on their backs where they continued to struggle until death finally overtook them. The hunters on the beach finally took notice of the men on the hills above them and many rushed to rearm themselves with one of the long spears. They backed away in a semicircle towards the ocean and quickly disappeared into the choppy waves.
Captain Holderman was ecstatic. “Did you see how fast they overcame those creatures?” He yelled. And they dove into those waves like dolphins.”
“Are they from the village?” Major White speculated. “Or, did they come from the sea?”
“I’d like to take a patrol down there and check those animals,” Lieutenant Turner stated. “They look like crabs from here, but their shells must be at least three feet wide.”
“Permission granted, Lieutenant. Bring one back if you can.”
Half an hour later, Lieutenant Turner returned with four men dragging one of the large animals behind them. The creature was indeed a standard crab, except for the fact that it was about four feet wide and probably weighed around four hundred pounds.
“Couple of these suckers will feed the entire battalion,” the Lieutenant stated, a wide grin on his boyish face. Turner was a graduate of West Point and very strict on his men. He was also a very competent officer and from an affluent family. He was tall, with green eyes, and had soft brown hair cut in close military style.
“That may be one answer to our food needs,” Major White grinned, “anything else?”
“The footprints in the sand were human like, but I could tell they were webbed. I brought one of their spears back.” He handed the long pole to the Major. It was about twelve feet in length but very light. There was a razor sharp tip on the spear around a foot long, made of metal, copper from the looks of it.
“They may have gone into the sea but they live on land,” the Major stated.” “The point on this weapon had to be forged in fire.”
“Either that or they may trade with the villagers over there,” Captain Holderman pointed in the direction of the small village near the tree line.
“Right after muster call, I want you to take a company over to that village and check it out, Ned. We need answers to a thousand questions, and we’ll begin with them. Make sure the men are well armed but see to it that the sergeants maintain discipline. We don’t need to start a war against people we know nothing about.”
“I’d like to join him,” Lieutenant Schenck asked? “As the Battalion Surgeon I think a report from a medical viewpoint might be helpful.”
“Don’t go and get yourself killed,” Major White smiled. “In this strange place we may need a medical officer more than ever.”
Two hours later, E Company was lying prone on a small hill overlooking the village several hundred feet below them. The place appeared empty, but there were several smoldering fires in front of the strange wicker-like huts. As they rose and entered the village, strange smells assaulted their senses. There was an overpowering smell of dead fish, mixed with a sharp peppery smell with a pungent minty undertone.
Towering trees and thick underbrush began just behind the last hut. There were perhaps twenty huts in all. There were tall drying racks with slabs of crab meat and fish laid out for the sun, suns, to slowly dry and large piles of crab shells off to one side. A thick crab shell full of boiling water was simmering over one of the slow fires. A glance told Captain Holderman that it was filled with an assortment of seafood.
“Heads up!” a sergeant yelled from the Captain’s left. He pointed towards the tree line, and signaled that he had seen something.
A few moments later, a man slowly walked from the thick bushes with his hands held out in front of him, palms up. No weapons were visible. He was very tall, at least six-and-one-half-feet, but very slim. He looked like an ordinary human with one major exception; he possessed a long three-foot tail, which was twitching back and forth behind him. He wore nothing but a loin cloth made of some woven material. His skin coloring was a light shade of green but his eyes were large and a startling shade of sky blue. His brown hair was cropped short. Overall, he was a handsome and well developed creature.
“Fall back to the edge of the village and keep a sharp look-out,” Captain Holderman ordered the soldiers. “Doc, you stay with me. I think perhaps this man is a chief or some kind of leader and I don’t want a hundred dirty infantrymen scaring him.”
The man slowly walked over to the boiling crab shell and motioned for them to join him. He picked up a paddle shaped stick nearby and dipped it into the stew and brought out a chunk of meat and, with a smile on his face, offered it to the Captain.
“He’s got webbed hands and webbed feet also,” Doc Schenck muttered. “I think the beach people and the villagers are one and the same. And, if I’m not mistaken, those slits beneath his arms may be gills allowing him to breath underwater. They may have both gills and lungs.”
After each had partaken of the food, which tasted like delicious snow crab, the man pointed to himself and stated, “J’nar.” He had a deep baritone voice. He also had no fear in his eyes, just a deep curiosity.
“Ned,” Captain Holderman pointed to himself. “Doc,” he pointed to Lieutenant Schenck. The man smiled back and waved his hands over his head.
Suddenly, scores of people left the thick bushes and tree line holding their hands out before them, face up to indicate they had no weapons. There were women and children mixed among them. All were well built and appeared to be in excellent health. The women were gorgeous, with long sinewy bodies and hair cascading down their backs. Their elegant tails swished back and forth as they slowly made their way into the village proper.
“Do we have anyone in the Battalion who picks up languages fast?” Captain Halderman asked Doc. “We need to communicate with these people as soon as possible. Like the Major said, we need information and lots of it.”
“D Company has a clerk who learned French in about ten days,” Doc replied. “And G Company has a Lieutenant who speaks five languages.”
Captain Halderman motioned for the E Company Commander, Lieutenant Cullen to approach the fire. “I want you to leave one armed squad as a guard and take the rest of the company back to the Battalion. Inform the Major that these people are not hostile and we are attempting to communicate with them. Tell him we need the clerk from D Company who speaks French and the Lieutenant from G Company who speaks five languages.”
“Yes sir,” the Lieutenant replied, ogling the beautiful native women.
One week later, Major White and his staff sat down around a fire with a representative group of the Sea People with Lieutenant Rogers and Private Grace. They did not call themselves by that name, but their name for their people was so difficult to pronounce Major White decided to stick with a simple, Sea People.
They learned over the past week that the Sea People were a very friendly race who drew most of their sustenance from the sea. There were villages scattered all along the coast line as far as one could walk or swim. Food was abundant and the Sea People did not fight against each other. Tribal gatherings were set twice a year primarily for families and friends to reunite and to find mates.
“They have one main enemy, sir,” Lieutenant Rogers stated. “A race of people who fly on giant birds often attack the settlements and kidnap the men. They do not know what happens to them as none have ever returned.”
“What else have you learned?” asked Major White. “What about the arch?”
“They say the arch pops up two or three times a year at various locations along the coast. Each time it pops up, it stays for a few days, then, disappears again. Every so often, someone will come through the arch like we did. Most of them head into the never ending forests and are not seen again. Several have tried to go through the arch; however, they simply walk to the other side. Obviously, the arch only works in one direction, that is, to bring people here.”
“What about these other people?” Captain Halderman asked.
“Other than the Sky People, the ones who kidnap the men, there are many other races,” Private Grace noted. “There is a race of giants to the South, all around twelve feet tall, a race of little people to the north with average height of three feet, a war-like race beyond the woods who wear metal clothing; armor I assume, and are always fighting with each other, and many others.”
“There are also many very dangerous animals,” Lieutenant Rogers added. “Twenty pound wasps, giant lizards, huge bears and a race of cat people who live in the forests.”
“What about this ring around the world?” Lieutenant ‘Doc’ Schenck asked.
“According to Chief J’nar, the Gods live there. They have been seen in their flying ships descending from the sky. They never bother the People though. I looked at the ring through my binoculars last night and was shocked at what I saw. The details were poor but If you look closely you will notice it is actually a ring world. There are mountains, seas, oceans, deserts, forests, even clouds floating around up there.”
“Giants, Little People, Armored People, Sky People, ring worlds, even Gods!” Major White blurted. “Just where in Sam hell are we?”
“Chief J’nar has a serious request to make,” Lieutenant Rogers stated, eying the Major with concern. “He has witnessed our men firing the thunder sticks and thinks we are like the Gods. He asks that you send some men to find the location of the Sky People and ask them to stop stealing his people. He offers to send ten warriors and has promised to feed the entire Battalion for as long as necessary.”
They sat around the fire for several hours learning as much about their new world as possible. Although the Sea People knew a tremendous amount, their knowledge of the far interior beyond the forests was limited. They had little need to leave the bounty of the sea and exploration did not seem to interest them. Major White promised to send a scouting party into the interior with the explicit purpose of locating the Sky People. He needed the good graces of the Sea People to keep the Battalion fed until they could become more self-sufficient.
The following day he called Lieutenant Rogers into his make-shift shelter, which was a canvas tarp suspended over two poles with a rope between them. He had to do something soon about finding or making shelter for the Battalion. The weather so far had been ideal, but, that could change at any time.
“Lieutenant Rogers reporting, sir.”
“Since you already know the Sea People’s language and you are a combat officer, I want you to take your platoon on this mission to locate the Sky People,” Major White stated. He glanced up into the Lieutenant’s steel gray eyes. He possessed the ideal physique for an officer, broad shoulders, a slim waist, a confident bearing and a hero like square jaw. The Major almost envied him his good looks. He was also very charming and intelligent and nothing but good reports had been filed on him.
“We have no working radios, so I want you to send a runner back after each ten mile stint. Your platoon has thirty-eight effectives, according to Captain Baker, so that should be enough men for a long range scouting mission. After fifty miles, if you have not located the Sky People base, you are to return to camp. Is that clear?”
“Clear sir,” Rogers replied. “Will I be taking any Sea People with me?”
“We must maintain good relations with Chief J’nar, so you will take his ten warriors. Try to keep them out of harm’s way if possible.”
They traveled through the thick forest at a slow pace. The trees were alien and gigantic. They resembled the oak trees of Earth, but the leaves were a pale yellow and the bark was a rusty green. The underbrush thinned out once they were inside the forest, so traveling was much easier. A sweetish smell permeated the air along with the loud buzzing of unseen insects and chirping of birds.
After three hours, Rogers estimated they had gone ten miles and sent the first runner back. Going was slow because he wanted to make certain they were not ambushed. Over the next three hours they hit some rugged terrain and ran into a good sized river that took them over two hours to cross. He sent the next runner back to tell the Major they were stopping for the night. They made a small camp about twenty yards from the river bank and as there had been no sign of any presence, he authorized small fires so the men could cook their rations.
As dawn broke, there was no sign of any enemy. The quiet and tranquility of the campsite was undisturbed. Private Begley was up at the crack of dawn placing fresh pieces of crabmeat on the smoldering fire for breakfast. A slight fog covered the ground along with a hint of chill. Rogers awoke to a full bladder and staggered into the underbrush to relieve himself. As he pulled his manhood out and started to empty his bladder he heard a noisy commotion in the camp. Assuming it was the normal awakening of Sergeant Blackburn, he continued to spray a steady stream of urine onto the ground.