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TOC Files 10: Devouring Time

Title: 10. Devouring Time
Series: <The TOC Files
Word Count 9328
Summary The TOC are assigned to the Western Front



X. Devouring Time

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws
And make the earth devour her sweet brood
Shakespeare, "Sonnet XIX"


The three men and the woman stood facing the table behind which sat the men holding their future. The head of the committee, a four-star general and career military, cleared his throat and straightened the sheaf of papers in front of him. The four standing knew he was about to speak. "After much deliberation and consideration, the Committee has decided on your next assignment."

"Somewhere quiet, I hope," murmured the woman.

"Western France--"

"Lovely country, France," whispered the captain.

"--in August 1917," finished the General.

"But that's right in the middle of World War I," said the civilian. "Probably the bloodiest war in Earth's history."

"True, Doctor, but it is also one of the most idealized wars ever. Young, innocent boys left home for the first time in their lives to fight in places they had never even heard of. I want you to bring back the reality--either through still photos or video. Get to know the soldiers, but whatever you do, you mustn't do anything that could change the outcome of the war."

"But, sir--"

"I know it will be hard for you, Major, but anything, however slight, could change all of history. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir."

The four members of the Temporal Observer Corps walked out of the Committee Room. "Why can't they ever send us to a time that's a bit more peaceful?" asked the woman. "We always seem to be going to war-zones."

"We are soldiers, Shane," said the captain. "That's where we're supposed to go."

"Speak for yourself, Eric," said the man with glasses. "I'm more comfortable in a lab than in a trench somewhere in no-man's land."

"You're our token scientist, Gil," remarked the major. "You're the only one who understands the intricacies of your own inventions. Without you around, we could possibly end up stuck somewhere in the past."

"Leave it to Alan to put it so nicely," said Eric with a smile.

"But World War I?" said Shannon. "It was one of the worst wars in history. Millions were killed and that was when a million really meant something. We just have to make sure we get functioning gas masks."

"It will be an interesting experience," murmured Alan. The others looked at him. "At least from a pilot's point-of-view."

A slow smile spread across Eric's face. "I'm beginning to see what you mean."

"Would it hurt you to share it with the rest of us?" asked Gil.

"It was during WWI that planes were first used in combat. Before, they were only a novelty, used in air shows and t eh like. No one thought they'd ever amount to anything during wartime," said Eric.

"The pilots were looked on in awe and respect. They had to be exceptional fighters due to the abnormal stress they were put under. Probably one of the most famous names out of the war was Manfred von Richthofen--the Red Baron."

"Immortalized in song and comic strip," said Shannon, who was originally from the late 20th century. "When I was little, I never knew he was real."

"Oh, he was real all right. Eighty men can testify to that," Eric said. "He was the Allies worst enemy."

"Enough of this," said Shannon. "We're going to have our fill soon, so let's enjoy this while we can."

"Okay," said Alan with a laugh, "the drinks are on me!"

* * * *

The next morning they reported to their indoctrination. The researchers had gone through the archives and pulled out all relative information they would need on their assignment. It included the politics and customs of the time, the circumstances of the war, as well as the slang employed by the pilots. Jason, their liaison with the Committee, met them when they were done. "We've found a vehicle for you to use on your trip. After all, it would appear strange for you to arrive in the middle of war-torn France on foot." He handed Eric a camera. "Take as many pictures as you can. Say it's a hobby if anyone asks. It looks like a camera of the time, but the technology is ours."

"Needless to say, I won't let it out of my sight."

"You've got it. Good luck, you guys. Take care."

"Don't get sentimental on us, Jason. Just be prepared to buy a round of drinks when we get back," Alan told him as he said good-bye.

Jason watched as they walked down the hall to the departure room. He had seen them go on assignment before, but this was the first time they were go into the middle of a war.

They arrived in France 1917 amidst the mud and craters. "Christ, it looks like it's rained for days on end," said Eric.

"With more on the way if you believe the sky," Gil said.

"Let's get started," said Alan. "Take out the transmuter, Gil, and let it do its stuff."

Gil took out a translucent wand and touched it to his clothes. The wand glowed softly and changed his clothes into a British Army uniform with doctor's insignia. "Not bad." Alan and Eric became lieutenants and Shannon, a nurse. "It would be the only reason a woman would be here so close to enemy lines," Gil tried to explain.

"A nurse!" She was indignant. "I don't know one thing about nursing!"

"It's an inherent part of female nature," said Eric. "All women know a bit, kind of like maternal instinct."

She tried to take a swipe at him. "Would you rather fight with a rifle or bayonet?" asked Alan with a smile.

"On second thought, I could always learn."

They drove into the airfield and spotted the hangars and the barracks. "Well, here it is, our home away from home," said Alan.

"For a time, anyway," said Eric.

"How many are stationed here?" asked Shannon.

"About four squadrons," said Alan.

They had stopped in front of the commander's office. A young pilot backed out of the building and nearly ran into them. "Oh, hello. You must be the new lads."

"Yep, that's us," said Eric.

"You're a Yank! Smashing. Name's Allistair Waverly."

"Eric Rader, Alan Kelly, Dr Connor, and Miss Flynn."

Waverly looked appreciatively at Shannon. "Haven't you seen a woman before?" she asked.

"They're few and far between out here, miss. There are two older matrons at the Red Cross Station and I would assume there are nurses, but access is limited. I assume that's where you're going?"

"I'm certainly not a pilot!"

"Just follow the road and you'll come to it."

"Thank you, lieutenant," said Gil. "Gentlemen," He nodded to the others as they got out of the jeep.

"Thanks for the lift, Doc," said Eric, trying to fulfill Waverly's idea of the brash American.

"Good day, Miss Flynn," Alan said, tipping his hat. Gil and Shannon drove off.

"Pick up your packs and come meet the C.O. He's a decent enough chap, a bit long-winded, but a great pilot." Waverly led them inside the hut. "The new pilots, sir," he said, saluting.

"Thank you, lieutenant." Waverly left.

Alan and Eric saluted then presented their personal files that had been created in Research. "At ease, gentlemen." They relaxed as he read them over. "I see that the both of you have flown Camels. Maybe we can send you up on an easy flight so you can get used to them." He closed the folders and rested his elbows on the desk. "We are an easy-going group here, not too formal, but we do our job. Life is hard here, I don't need to tell you that, and we all have to work together. Things are tense and we all have our own hobbies to keep us relaxed. Some play music, some write poetry. Albert Ball--God rest his soul--planted vegetables. Just as long as it doesn't interrupt the running of things. Any questions?" Alan and Eric looked at each other. "Good. Waverly will find you a bunk and fill you in on the routine. I don't expect you to do much on your first day unless we absolutely need you." He saluted. "That will be all, gentlemen."

They returned the salute and walked out of the office. Waverly was there waiting for them. "Give you his usual speech, did he? He likes the Book but he doesn't live by it, if you know what I mean." They walked along the compound, Waverly pointing out things of interest. He stopped in front of a tent. "Here we are, gents. Home Sweet Home." Alan held the flap aside as Waverly entered first. He nodded at some of the figures reclining on cots. "Some of your flying mates. If you want to stow your things in the trunks, I'll show you the planes."

"Great!" said Eric. "When do you think we'll get to go up?"

"You are anxious, aren't you?" Waverly said with a laugh. "Probably you can make your first flight tomorrow. It depends when you're scheduled."

"When will we meet everyone?" asked Alan.

"Tonight at mess. Some of the fellows are really on edge, so be careful what you say. Ready?" He took them on an inspection tour.

* * * *

Shannon and Gil had a harsher welcome. The matron took an immediate dislike to Shannon, who returned the favor. She found fault with her hair, her uniform, and, above all, consorting with a doctor. Shannon thought her a stupid, old biddy with nothing better to do than stomp on her nurses when she ran out of patients. "I'd rather die than face her bedside manner," she told Gil.

"Charm her, Irish. Give her that winning smile and you'll be friends for life."

"Yeah, go on and tease. You don't have to face her ever day. How long do we have to stay here, anyway?"

"Not too long, I should think. Stick it out, it can't be that bad."

Matron had one of the other nurses escort them around the wards to bring them up-to-date on the patients. Shannon couldn't believe some of the wounds she saw; limbs missing, men blinded, and insides almost gone. What amazed her even more was that some of the men were quite cheerful about their disabilities. Granted, they'd be going home, but they'd also be marked for life. Being a new face, the men smiled at her and tried to get her to stop and chat, tell them what was going on back home. There were a few men from Dublin and Ireland and she listened to them more than she spoke herself. If she could spend time with the men, it would definitely counteract Matron Sourpuss.

* * * *

The next day Alan and Eric were assigned to a routine patrol lead by "Mick" Mannock--the local ace. They knew they were going to be under close scrutiny because they were "novices" and Sopwith Camels were especially difficult for beginners. Alan loved feeling the wind in his face and the ability to look out onto the ground below. It wasn't as confining as the flying he was used to.

As they approached the German border, he saw specks in the distance. He got Mannock's attention and pointed out the planes. They tightened formation and waited for the Germans to come within range. Eric signaled to Alan and they decided to show that they weren't as green as the others thought. As the Germans got closer, they split into pairs so one could always cover the other. Alan pretended to be in trouble in order to lure a German after him and Eric came up from behind and shot him down. They used the same tactic with variations and shot down two planes each. The Germans retreated and the men of the 74th Squadron flew back to base, their newest members fully initiated.

That night in the mess, Mannock introduced them fully to the rest of the squad and told them what happened in the air. "They handled the Camels like they were mere toys. You'll have to teach us some of those maneuvers, they were fantastic."

"Wait until the Baron gets a look at our new secret weapons," said Lt. Havers. "If we can teach every pilot to fly like that, the war will be over in no time." The others sobered at the thought of the infamous "Red Baron", Baron von Richthofen, a man who would die with 80 kills to his credit. Alan and Eric looked at each other, wondering if they would ever face him.

Walking back to their tent after dinner, Alan asked, "Why do your friends have it in for the Baron? I know he's the enemy, but you seem to made it personal."

"He shot down one of our best pilots only two months ago. His name was Albert Ball and he was 20 years old. He just went up alone as usual, and we never saw him again." He stopped in front of an empty lot. "He used to grow his own peas and cucumbers there." Waverly cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, it's just that he was only a kid."

"There seems to be a lot of that goin' on," said Eric.

"Yeah, and most of them grow-up real fast," Alan added.

Lying on his bunk that night in the dark, Alan thought on what Waverly had said. The young men of the world at this time hadn't seen war and didn't know what could happen. They only saw the glory, the cut of a uniform, and the lure of foreign lands. Too bad so many had to die before they realized their folly.

* * * *

The next morning Shannon went through the wards giving the soldiers their breakfast. She had a ready smile for them and a cheerful greeting. She opened some windows to allow a cooling breeze to flow through the rooms. Some of the soldiers asked her to talk with them. "Just for a little while."

"Maybe after my rounds. If I stop now, Matron will have my head." Very literally, too, she thought to herself. She found that being useful and helping out made her feel wanted and she no longer felt left out in being separated from Alan and Eric. She hadn't seen Gil yesterday, but he was probably doing "doctor stuff".

She saw Matron coming in her direction and she tried to escape. "Miss Flynn, are you done with the breakfasts?"

"Yes, Matron," she said, afraid of what was coming.

"Miss Meyers needs help airing out the linens. Will you go help her?"

"Yes, Matron." She turned to leave.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Shannon looked back to see Matron pointing to an overflowing basket of laundry. Reluctantly, she turned back to pick it up. "When you are done with that, you can relax until this afternoon."

Shannon didn't think she'd be done until midnight! She went out behind the buildings where a temporary line had been set up. A young woman close to her own age was already hanging some sheets. She was thin with shoulder-length blonde hair. She slowly walked over. Miss Meyers saw her. "You must bee Miss Flynn. I'm Anne."

"Shannon." They shook hands.

"You arrived with the new doctor, didn't you? He's quite handsome."

"Do you think so?" asked Shannon. She never really thought about it.

"And I'm not the only one," said Anne. "A lot of the others thought you were quite lucky, riding with him from Paris."

"Too bad Matron doesn't think so," she said, hanging one of the sheets.

"I think she's just jealous because she's not young anymore and none of the men even give her a second look."

"I'd be surprised if they gave her a first look," Shannon laughed.

"Don't worry about how she treats you. We all get a piece of her tongue."

"Has anybody ever given her a piece of theirs?"

"If they have, they aren't here anymore."

"I'd better not tell her about the two pilots, then."

"What? You were with two pilots as well?" Anne looked at her with admiration.

"I'd better set it straight. We all grew up together and hadn't seen each other in a long time until we found out we were assigned to the same area. It was only natural that we drive together."

"Why didn't you tell Matron?"

"Do you think she would have believed me?"

"No, not really."

"Well, I don't feel as bad now, knowing that she picks on you as well." Shannon smiled and whistled as she and Anne finished hanging the laundry.

When they were done, she went around to the front and looked over to the airfield. She was on her own time now so Matron wouldn't be able to do anything. It couldn't hurt to go over and see if Alan and Eric were free. She looked behind her to make sure no one was watching as she headed across the field.

"Hey, Shane, hold up!" It was Gil. She stopped and waited for him to catch up. "Where are you going?"

"For a walk. It's a nice day."

"And your feet just happened to be pointing in this direction, right?"

"They're this close, Gil. Why can't I go talk to them?"

"I don't think that Matron or their commanding officer will approve of a woman being on an airfield with a bunch of men who haven't seen a woman in God knows how long."

"I'll have an escort. They can't say anything about a nurse accompanying a doctor, can they?"

"Oh, no. I will not be a party to your little scheme! You could get both of us in trouble."

"You want to see them, too, don't you? They might have some new information for us. Besides, we're already there." She was right. As Gil was arguing with her, they had kept walking and had arrived at the field. Some of the pilots stared at Shannon as they walked along. "Where do you think they are?"

"They probably have a bulletin board somewhere with a roster of sorts. Once we find that, it should tell us where they are."

A passing officer heard this and stopped. "May I help you, doctor?"

"I hope so. I'm looking for two new officers, Kelly and Rader."

"I can take you right to them. I'm going to see them myself. They went up with Mick Mannock and shot down two Huns each. As a matter-of-fact, they're giving pointers on some techniques. I guess they were part of a flying circus or something."

"Or something," murmured Shannon.

"Excuse my poor manners. My name's Jim Carstairs."

"I'm Gilbert Connor and this is Shannon Flynn." He shook Carstairs' hand. "Two on their first flight. Quite impressive."

"Right. Here we are." They had stopped outside a hangar where twenty men were gathered around a plane. Shannon could just pick out Alan and Eric. "If you'll stay here, I'll tell them."

They watched as Carstairs threaded his way towards the plane. Alan kept talking as Eric bent over to hear what Carstairs was saying. He spotted them and waved. He jumped down off the plane and made his way over. "What are you guys doing here?" he asked, giving Shannon a quick hug.

"Someone was getting antsy about waiting to hear from you," said Gil. "She dragged me with her."

"What's all this about giving flying tips? I thought you were new pilots."

"New to war, anyway," said Eric, catching on to the pretence. "But since we flew in shows, we know a few tricks they don't. After seeing us fly yesterday, they asked us to show them how."

"What kind of planes are they? They look as if I should know."

"They're Sopwith Camels, the newest planes from England. They handle like a dream."

Shannon started laughing. "I've a great nickname for the two of you," she said. "Snoopy."

"Where did you get that from?" asked Gil.

"A comic strip character. A beagle who dreams he's an ace and goes up against the Red Baron in a Sopwith Camel."

"Oh, great, now you're comparing us to dogs."

"How have you been otherwise?" asked Gil. "Any info or photos?"

"A few. Next time up, I'm going to try and get some from the air. That should be an interesting perspective."

"So what's it like having two kills your first time up?"

"It was an absolute thrill. I don't know when I've ever felt anything like that before or if I ever will again."

"I think Alan's trying to get your attention," said Gil.

"He probably wants me to continue so he can come talk to you. Take care." Eric left to take Alan's place.

Alan came over and asked the same question as Eric. They gave him the same answer. "You took a bit of a risk. What if we're attacked while you're here? I'd be worrying about you the whole time I was in the air. That's not to say I'm not glad to see you. How are things at the hospital?"

"Primitive," answered Gil. "It's amazing to see what they had to work with at a time like this. Other than that, not bad. I'm sure I'll pay for it after the next battle."
Alan looked at Shannon. "What about you?"

"I'm convinced that the Matron is either a spy or the Kaiser's sister. She's an absolute ogre. I made friends with another nurse today and she told me that I was the envy of the others because I arrived with such a good-looking doctor. Don't let that go to your head," she said to Gil. "I also found out that some of the soldiers are Irish. I have to try and remember my history in order to talk to them. I even found out that one of them was in the Easter Uprising in 1916!"

Alan heard his name being called. "Sorry, got to go. Take care and I'll visit as soon as I can!"

"You, too, Snoopy!"

"What?" he called back, a puzzled look on his face.

"Ask Eric!" Shannon and Gil watched as the crowd swallowed him. She turned around and started back across the field. Gil followed without saying a word.

* * * *

At dawn the following morning, Alan was shaken awake by Waverly. "The Germans are about to attack. Wake up the Yank then head for your plane."

Alan put on his boots, grabbed his coat, and shook Eric. "Get up!"

"I am. I heard." Eric was pulling on his boots. "Let's go get us some Jerrys."

"Wrong war," whispered Alan as they ran to the planes.

They taxied out onto the runway, trying to avoid the German gunfire. Mannock was the first in the air. Eric and Alan were further down the line. Each pilot called out a battle cry upon take-off, and when the man in front of him went, Alan finally understood the words: "He must fall, remember Ball." The "He" in question had to be Richthofen. He shouted it as well. Even though he never knew Ball, he was expected to know of his exploits.

Flying up in the sun, Eric could barely make out the shape of a triple-decker. He couldn't tell what color, but it wouldn't be surprised if it were the Baron. He checked his camera, making sure that the fitting he and a mechanic made was attached firmly. He couldn't pass up this shot. Realizing he had one on his tail, Eric did a mix of a dive and spiral taking his pursuer by surprise. Taking his mind off the camera and putting it back on the battle, Eric spotted two planes buzzing over the compound and followed them. Careful not to hit any of the ground crew or the ammunition shack, Eric shot at them, hitting one in the tail. He scared the other off. He returned to the others in time to help Waverly be deterring a German from flying close. Waverly waved his thanks. Eric tried to spot Alan, but found the Baron instead. Pausing to take a quick photo, he banked to the left and tried to get behind him. The Baron, however, treated him like an insignificant fly. He was after larger game: Mannock. Eric wasn't the only pilot who recognized this. They all tried to run interference to give Mick enough time to prepare for the attack.

From his vantage point, Alan watched. He knew that neither would die in this fight, records proved that, but it was still a tense moment. They slowly approached each other, sizing each other up like boxers in a ring. He could see that Mannock was ready for a fight, as was the Baron. He wondered if Eric had his camera out. This would be the perfect opportunity for unforgettable photos. He heard shots, but didn't know who fired first. He guessed Richthofen. Anyway, they began to fight, dodging and banking. All the other pilots watched, waiting to see who would be the winner so they would know whether to fight or flee.

Unable to wait, Alan flew around the area of the dogfight. This was a risky move, considering that he might get hit himself. He saw Mannock's engine start to smoke as the pilot tried to continue his fight. Alan tried to tell him it was useless. With his hands, he signaled for Mick to turn back. Reluctantly, he did so. With the loss of this kill, the Baron turned on the nearest plane for a replacement.

Seeing that he was next in the Baron's sights, Alan was ready to give him a fight like he had never seen, nor ever would again. He flew straight at him, propeller-to-propeller, in a twist of the game of "Chicken". Who would be the first to swerve away? The Baron, unused to such a forward opponent, turned away to the right. Alan's adrenaline began to pump. This was one of the greatest pilots of all time! By the time of his death in 1918, he would have 80 kills to his credit. Mannock would have 73. Considered an "ace" in his own time, this would be an unparalleled accomplishment if he could do it now.

The other pilots, running low on fuel, began to turn back. Eric, aware of the rush Alan was experiencing, tried to get his attention. Shooting down the Baron would be an amazing coup, but it could also mean suicide. If the Baron didn't shoot him down, he would die when he ran out of gas and crashed. His attempts failed. Alan had tunnel vision. Eric had no choice but to turn back with the others.

Richthofen was shocked that this pilot would actually risk running out of fuel to follow him. He motioned for the other pilots to leave him alone. The Englander was his. Alan saw the others continue on as the Baron turned to face him. It was not unusual, he knew, for one-on-one encounters. In a sense, it made him more nervous--there was no one there to back him up if he failed. Then and there, his mind made the decision to get the Baron or die trying.

* * * *

Shannon busied herself, trying to make the patients comfortable. She was glad they didn't need her as an operating nurse, there was no way she could have handled it. She tried to keep Alan and Eric out of her mind, knowing that her worrying wouldn't help anyone. As the morning progressed, however, it became harder to ignore. Where were they? What could have happened?"

Some of the soldiers knew that she had close ties with two of the pilots and tried to put her at ease. John Fitzhugh, a veteran of six months, tried to get her to read to them or sing. "Shannon, why don't you sing something? I'm sure some of us could use some cheering."

"I don't know. I'm not really in the mood for singing."

"Please, Shannon," said David Barnes, one of the new recruits, a boy of just eighteen.

She couldn't refuse his plea. "What should I sing?"

"Something cheery," said one.

"What about Tipperary?" asked Fitzhugh.

"Fine. I'm a little shaky on the words, so you'll have to help." She cleared her throat and tried to think back to all those family sing-alongs.

It's a long way to Tipperary
It's a long way to go
It's a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know


"God bless her," sang a baritone.

Goodbye to Picadilly
Farewell Leicester Square
It's a long, long way to Tipperary
But my heart lies there


She took a quick bow and the soldiers applauded. "Encore! Encore!"

"Planes comin' in!" cried one by a window. "Can't tell who they are." Shannon grabbed someone's binoculars and rushed to a window. She scanned the faces. None were Eric or Alan. She saw Waverly. She'd have to talk with him, maybe he knew what happened. "It's Mannock. He's smoking pretty bad. I wouldn't be surprised if he met up with the Baron."

"It's a good thing he's coming back, then, isn't it? He can get a second chance this way," said another.

"Hey, he's coming over here. Looks like he needs to get patched up."

"I thought he was the type to fight to the death to get the Baron," said Shannon.

"He would have, if his plane were in good condition. You see, he has this fear of his plane crashing and burning to death. He always carries a pistol with him, just in case," Fitzhugh told her.

She went to the door of the building to help with Mannock. One of the pilots relinquished his hold so she could take him to the infirmary. Mannock was scratched in a few places and had a terrible gash on his forehead. "Sit here while I get some antiseptic."

She came back with a small bowl of peroxide and cotton gauze. "This might sting a bit."

He winced as she touched the cotton to his head. "You have a light touch," he remarked.

"Part of the training. It's not as bad as I first thought. You won't need stitches."

He looked at her. "You came with Rader and Kelly, didn't you?"

She was surprised. "They talked about me?"

"Waverly brought you into conversation. You seem to have made a great impression."

She finished bandaging his head. "Are they all right? I didn't see them when we watched the returning planes."

"I don't know. Kelly talked me into turning back when my plane got hit. I don't know what happened after that. I'm sorry."

Gil found them sitting there quietly. "Hello, Captain, Shannon. Why the long faces?"

Shannon looked at his bloodied smock and swallowed. "Alan and Eric haven't come back."

"Oh." He wiped his hands. "I'm sure they're okay," he said unsteadily.

"I wouldn't know what to do if anything happened to them," said Shannon, burying her head in her hands.

"You'd think of something, Irish, but you don't have to."

Shannon looked up, eyes wide. "Eric! You're alive!" She ran over and gave him a hug.

"Did you ever doubt it?" He hugged her back. "Glad to see you in once piece, Captain."

"Thanks to Lt. Kelly. Is he with you?"

Eric shook his head. "No. I tried to get him to follow me, but he was determined. The last I saw, he was following the Baron into German territory."

Nobody said a word. In their hearts and minds, they each said prayers for their friend and compatriot alone in enemy territory.

* * * *

Alan kept the Baron in his sights, firing intermittently to let the Baron know he meant business. Part of him knew this was just stupid bravado and wanted to turn back, discretion being the better part of valor. The other half called the first half chicken and kept on, across German lines.

Richthofen was amazed that this mystery pilot had lasted this long. He surely must be low on fuel. He had given him every chance to turn back, but he had continued on. Enough was enough. He turned to face his opponent. The sun was almost at its height so there was no great advantage in that. He would have to base his attack on suddenness. He fired.

Alan guessed that this would happen and banked to the left. The bullets hit just behind his seat. Alan felt the wood splinter. He only had enough petrol for a few more passes before he had to land--or crash. He looped under the Baron, shooting at the belly of the plane. Richthofen easily outmaneuvered him by zigzagging away. Alan saw him smile as he passed by. He fired again.

Alan was not so lucky this time. His engine was it and began to smoke. On the way down, he shot at the Baron in a last futile attempt. He then turned his attention to trying to land the plane. There was no parachute--the Allied Command scorned them. He spotted a field and tried to head for it. The Camel bounced twice on landing and he jumped out before it blew up. He lay on the ground, playing dead, as the Baron passed over checking the damage. Satisfied, he flew away.

Alan slowly stood. The plane was a total write-off. He had to give the Baron credit, he knew his job. Now that he knew the Baron's tactics, he could get him. Richthofen never had to worry about that before. He looked around to check his bearings then headed west, following the sun, to France.

* * * *

Mid-afternoon and still no word on Alan. Shannon got herself some free time and went to her room. The other nurses--even Matron--left her alone. It was the not knowing that was driving her crazy.

"Knock, knock." She looked up to see Eric standing in the doorway. "Mind if I come in?" She didn't say a word so he sat on the edge of her bed. "We thought you might need some cheering up."

" 'We'?"

"Yes, we." Gil came in with a tea tray. "We couldn't leave you alone. It wouldn't be right."

"I guess what they say of misery loving company is true," she said, trying to smile.

"It'll be okay. Alan's tough. He can make his way back," Eric said.

"I know. It's just waiting for some word either way. Then I'll be able to laugh or cry."

"Come on, we came to cheer you up, not for you to get us depressed," said Gil. "Let's think positive."

There was a polite cough from the direction of the doorway. It was Waverly. "We just heard word from HQ. The Baron's had a confirmed kill of one lone Camel across German lines."

"No!" cried out Shannon. "That can't be!"

"I'd rather not have had to tell you at all, but I thought it would be better coming from me. I'm terribly sorry."

"Thanks for telling us yourself. Now the worst part is over," said Eric.

Gil held Shannon in a comforting embrace as she cried on his shoulder. "Is there any chance of recovering the body?"

"It could be done through a special request. The Germans don't have to honor it, however."

"If you would let me know the proper channels, I'd like to go and bring him back."

"I'll get right on it." Waverly gave them a final look then left.

Anne Meyers had heard the news and was ready to lend support. "It's time for your shift. If you want, I'll cover for you."

Shannon wiped her tears. "No, I'll do it. It'll keep my mind off...things. Moping and grieving won't help."

"I've got to get back to the field. I'll come back when I can." Eric gave her an awkward kiss on the cheek then took his leave.

"You sure you're okay?" asked Gil.

"I'll be fine. There are soldiers out there that are worse off than I am. They depend on me to help and I can't do that if I'm wallowing in self-pity, can I? I'll be professional and grieve on my own time."

Gil knew she was putting on a brave front. He had known Alan since they were children and was having a hard time holding back the tears and disbelief. Shannon, however, began her new life due to meeting Alan when he was a fugitive in Dublin, 1990. Since then, they had traveled together, he being the closest thing to a family for her. Now he was gone. After this was over, she might call it quits and return home. Kelly had a lot to answer for.

* * * *

Alan didn't know how long he had been walking, or even if he had crossed into France. He was tired and hungry and ready to collapse. He had come across a deserted farmhouse and changed into the former owner's clothes. Walking through the fields in his flight gear was like a blinking neon sign saying TAKE ME PRISONER, I'M A BRIT! . Only the thought of his friends back at camp and the chance to get back at the Baron kept him going. The sun was starting to set. Best keep to the roads. Won't get lost that way. He looked up at the sky to check for stars. Once the sun went down, that would be all he had.

He didn't see the car until it was almost on top of him. "Idiot!" the driver yelled in French. "Why don't you watch where you're going?"

French! Thank God! Alan tried to make out the uniform in the twilight. The driver stood and Alan saw his red trousers. French Army. "Where am I?" he asked in French.

"Malzeville," answered the officer, puzzled.

"Thank the Lord."

"You are English? Why are you in such clothes?"

"I'll explain. Can you drive me to St Mihel?"

"Certainment. You will tell me your story, no?"

Alan obliged and the French flier could not believe it. This Englishman certainly had luck to survive a crash like that and cross the German lines unhurt. "It wasn't luck, just determination. You don't happen to have anything to eat, do you? I'm starved."

* * * *

After clearing the dinner trays, Shannon sat by one of the windows in the ward and looked up at the star-filled sky. They always seemed to look the same, no matter where or when she looked at them. It filled her with awe and made her think how insignificant man seemed in comparison.

David Barnes began to play softly on his harmonica. Shannon recognized the tune as Londonderry Air, which seemed most appropriate. She began to sing

Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer's gone and all the flow'rs are dying
Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide


Barnes continued to play in earnest as Shannon went on

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh Danny boy I love you so


She wiped a tear from her cheek and turned to look at the soldiers. All were silent. Some were even crying. They knew that the song was charged with emotion and passion and that they would never hear it sung exactly the same way again. She turned her eyes back to the stars.

"Shannon Flynn." She turned grudgingly. Gil and Eric, plus other members of the staff were facing her. "We've had enough of this moping about. We've all lost friends, comrades, people we've cared about. Life goes on. You have to realize that."

"How can you be so cold? Gil, you've known him since you were children! Eric, you've flown together! Why am I the only one who cares that he's gone?" She buried her head in her hands. Someone walked over and handed her a handkerchief. "Thanks."

"No problem, Shane."

She lifted her head, not wanting to deny what her ears heard. "Alan! You're alive!" She jumped up and hugged him. "But how?"

"I jumped out before the plane crashed then walked to France. A French Army officer found me and gave me a lift."

"I think this calls for a celebration," said Mannock, who had come to have his bandages checked.

"Just as long as I get some nourishment. All that officer had was cheese and hard bread."

"Set yourself down in this seat of honor and we'll give you a feast like you've never seen," said Eric.

As it was, Alan didn't get to see much of his own feast. His trek finally caught up with him as he fell asleep after a couple hours. They found a spare bed for him--many were willing to give up their own--and let him rest in quiet.

* * * *

Alan stretched and opened his eyes. The lights were on in the ward and one of the nurses was bringing out meal trays. He pulled himself into a sitting position and stretched again. The nurse came over with a tray for him. "Did you sleep well, lieutenant?"

"I feel like I've slept for days."

"One, at least," she said with a smile.

"Pardon?"

"You've been asleep for almost 24 hours."

"I must have been more tired than I thought."

"I thought I heard your voice," said Gil, strolling into the room. "How're you feeling?"

"Fine. Give me a shower, shave, and a fresh uniform and I'll be great."

"You had us all worried, you know. Shannon was beside herself. You know we're the only family she has outside her own time. I think she looks on you as her big brother, kind of a protector."

"If anything happened to me, she'd always have you and Eric."

"I don't think we rate as highly as you. She'd probably turn around and go home to Dublin."

"You really think so?" Alan never realized how much she relied on him. "Where is she now?"

"Sleeping. The waiting took a lot out of her."

"And Eric?"

"Back at the airfield. I think they might be planning to attack the Germans this time."

"Let me at them!" Alan climbed out of bed.

"Wait a minute. They won't be going out until morning, if at all. They might not even let you fly."

"Gil, I know the Baron's tactics. I survived a fight with him. I can beat him, I know I can. They'll have to let me fly."

"You're just as stubborn as ever." Gil slapped him on the back.

"Thanks." Alan pulled on his boots and headed for the door. "Don't tell Shannon. She won't understand."

"I think she'll understand all too well," said Gil softly.

Alan was greeted with cheers when he entered the mess. He made a mock bow and found his seat had been left empty. "How come no one's in my seat? I would have thought some rookie would have taken it."

"Custom. When a man's been shot down, his seat is left empty as a memorial," Mannock answered.

"Good. Then I guess it doesn't matter if I sit down." Alan sat and poured himself a mug of beer from the pitcher on the table. "So, when are we going after Richthofen?"

"What makes you think we are?" asked Mannock.

"You want to get back at him and his jasta. The quicker the better."

"Even if we do, I doubt the CO would let you fly," said Waverly.

"Why not? I've flown against the Baron and lived. I know his moves. Why shouldn't I? Can any other pilot make that claim?"

"He does have a point," said Waverly.

"Ssshhh, here comes the old man now."

"Glad to see you back with us, Lt. Kelly."

"Thank you, sir."

"I hear you had quite a remarkable journey. You must tell us sometime." He sat down at the table. "The weather should be favorable in the morning for an attack on their base. Mannock, I want your lot up first."

"Yes, sir. Sir?"

"Yes?"

"What about Kelly? Will he be allowed to join us?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"But why, sir?" asked Waverly. "He's fought the Baron and lived. Certainly that should count for something."

"That is the exact reason why he isn't going. There will be a de-briefing so he can tell us what he saw on his journey home."

Alan stood, opened his mouth, thought better of it, and then stormed out of the mess. Waverly made to follow but Eric held him back. "He's gotten like this before. He won't listen to reason now. Let him cool down. Besides," he whispered, "I think I have a plan."

* * * *

The next morning, a little before dawn, Alan sat on his cot watching the others prepare for the mission. There was nothing more humiliating than being forced to sit out a mission. Being wounded was one thing, but being kept out just so a bunch of pencil pushers could ask him questions made him chafe at the bit. "What are you doing?" asked Eric.

"Moping. What else can I do?"

"Put on your boots and flying gear, of course."

"What scheme have you cooked up, Eric?"

"It wasn't just me. Waverly and Mannock put in their two cents as well. We've decided to keep you in a plane fitted with extra gas tanks so you won't have to worry about running out. We figure that once we isolate the Baron, you can come up and get your revenge. What do you think?"

"It has potential as well as a few wrinkles. How are you going to get me and a plane out of here without the old man noticing?"

"The plane's already camouflaged in a field waiting for you. We just have to get you to it somehow."

"You are just too much. If you were a girl, I'd kiss you!"

"Save the kisses for Shannon. Since you're not going out, you can sleep. They won't even come looking for you. Fashion a dummy out of pillows and cover it with the blankets. When we all leave, you follow Hazelton to the plane. Good luck."

"See you in the air."

"All right, chaps. Let's go. You know the plan," called Mannock, with an almost imperceptible wink in Alan's direction.

Alan and Lt. Hazelton, a young officer from Bath, went out the back while everyone's attention was on the airstrip. They crept along the hedgerows until Hazelton stopped. "Here it is, sir."

Alan had to look hard to spot it. They did a good job. "Help me with this netting, will you, Hazelton?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't call me 'sir'. We're both of the same rank. 'Alan' or 'Kelly' will be fine."

"Yes, s--Alan."

They had the cover off in no time and Alan inspected the spare tanks and their connections to the engine. "Everything looks good." He jumped into the cockpit. "You'd better head back before they find you missing and start to suspect something."

"Sure you'll be all right?"

"I'm a lot safer here on the ground than up there. I'll just wait for the signal from Rader, then the show begins."

"Good luck." Hazelton ducked back into the hedges and disappeared.

Alan smiled as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, put one in his mouth and lit it. Somewhere up there, he mused, is one of the best pilots of all time. Imagining the Baron in a modern fighter sent chills through him. He thought of the showdown that he was waiting for. What if he shot Richthofen down? How would he be able to keep the man from dying? Some would say that the easiest answer was not to shoot him down at all. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance that he couldn't pass up. Besides, he felt he had something to prove. Nothing macho, he just wanted to know if he could do it. Kind of like falling off a horse, he had to get back on and try again.

In the distance, he could see them. He pulled a pair of regulation binoculars out of the cubbyhole in front of him and looked up. Yes, there was Eric, showing off as usual. Wait, one of them was breaking away, coming in his direction. This was it. He started the engine and taxied out from under the trees. The pilot saw him and waved. Alan took a deep breath and took off.

He could feel the drag of the extra tanks, but that shouldn't prove too much of a problem. At least this time he had back up. He spotted the Baron being distracted by Eric and Mannock. Alan's first plan of attack was to let the Baron know who he was up against. He charged at him head-to-head just like before. There was no way he'd have forgotten that move. He then did a lateral loop to the right, firing all the while. Once behind the Baron, he began to fire at the tail of his plane. He thought he scored a few hits because it looked like the Baron was finding his plane hard to control. He then moved in underneath, hoping to hit the links to his rudder.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a German plane coming towards him. Before he had a chance to react, it burst into flames and crashed. Eric flew by and gave him "thumbs up".

The Baron's guns were still working, however, and he refused to go down without a fight. Alan tried to put them out of commission and succeeded, but only after two planes fell to the Baron's marksmanship. With his guns inoperative, Richthofen tried to get away from the mad Englishman who took too many risks. He never made it. Alan's next shots hit the engine. It began to smoke and the red triple-decker, the most-feared plane in the skies, spiraled down to meet France the hard way.

Alan flew over the crash to make sure that the Baron had survived. He stood away from the burning wreck, shaking his fist and--Alan guessed--swearing at the pilot who should have died two days ago. Mission accomplished.

* * * *

Alan was one of the last to land and was hoisted onto the shoulders of his comrades and cheered as the man who proved that the Baron wasn't invulnerable. The CO came over and Alan was set to the ground as everyone came to attention. "You went against orders, Kelly. I specifically told you that you were grounded for this mission."

"Yes, sir," he said, chastened.

"I also have a feeling that you did not devise this plan on your own." Alan tried no to smile. "As it would be hard to ground everyone who helped in this escapade, I had to find some other suitable arrangement. After much consideration, I decided that you will all be confined to the Officers' Lounge until further notice. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!" they all shouted.

Waverly ran over to the Red Cross hospital. "He's down!" he shouted. "The Baron's down!"

A shout went up from the patients. "Who did it?" asked Fitzhugh. "Was it Mannock?"

"No, it was Kelly. What a way to become an ace."

"What's going on?" asked Shannon, entering the room.

"Great news, Shannon," said David Barnes. "Your friend Lt. Kelly shot down the Baron!"

"He what? When did he leave?"

"Last night around dinner. Dr. Connor let him go."

Shannon stormed off in search of Gil and found him in his room. "Why didn't you tell me Alan left?"

"What good would it have done? You only would have worried. How did you find out?"

"Waverly came to tell everyone that Alan shot down the Baron."

"That's fantastic. You've got to understand. He would have kept on trying. He couldn't have left it undone."

"I guess you're right."

A doctor entered. "Gil, I've something to tell you. Miss Flynn, you should hear this too. I've received orders that the both of you are being transferred."

"Transferred? We've only been here a few days," said Shannon.

"I know. It's strange. But orders are orders. I'll have a car ready for you." He left.

"Right on schedule."

"What? You planned this?"

"Of course. How else could we get out of this? At this point in time, Alan and Eric are getting their orders, too. We'll meet up with them and we're home free."

"Do the others know this was your doing?"

"No. I do like to keep some secrets," he said with a smile.

After saying their farewells, Gil and Shannon drove over to the base to meet up with Eric and Alan. They saw them coming out of the barracks with their duffle bags. "Hey, flyboys, need a lift?" called Shannon.

"You got a transfer as well?" asked Eric. "What a coincidence." He climbed in.

"It's amazing, isn't it?" said Alan as he jumped into the back seat. "Did you have some part in this, Gil?"

"Could be," said Gil, noncommittally. "You all set?"

"Home, James," said Eric.

"Yes, sir." Gil drove out into the fields and they each programmed their machines for home.

* * * *

"Knock, knock," said Alan. "You in, Jason?"

"You guys made it back," said Jason, welcoming them into his office. "How was it?"

"Pretty tough. Things were quite primitive. The medicine was almost non-existent," said Gil.

"What about the lives of the pilots?"

"The average life expectancy of a new pilot from posting was eleven days. They never knew when death might get them. They started to become paranoid. Some had nervous breakdowns. They tried to hide their fears by acting like the dashing pilots the public expected them to be," said Alan.

"The people made heroes out of them which added even more pressure for them to perform. There is a definite thrill to flying in the open air. I can see what the attraction was. In a sense, the fliers were the elite of the war. They had to pass intense tests and go through rigorous training," added Eric.

"The Committee will be expecting a report from you, but I think it can wait until you've freshened up. You look done in."

"What do you expect from two WWI aces," said Shannon.

"Really? That's news."

"You might want to get this developed," said Eric tossing Jason the film. "Should prove interesting."

They strolled through the Base in their WWI uniforms. People stopped and stared, seeing museum pieces up close. Once they recognized the elite team of the Temporal Observers, they saluted.

"Kinda sends chills through you, doesn't it?" said Alan.

"Yeah, it does," agreed Eric, straightening.

Shannon smiled and began to sing softly. "It's a long way to Tipperary..."

The others joined in as they walked to their respective quarters. "What do you say we all meet up in two hours for the briefing," said Gil. "I could do with a hot shower and nap."

"Sounds ideal to me," remarked Shannon. She yawned. "See you all then." She went into her rooms.

"I hear my bed calling me," said Eric. "See you two later." He left.

"You've been awful quiet. What are you holding back?"

"Oh, nothing. See you later, Gil." Alan went inside his quarters and smiled. From his duffle, he took out a flat wooden box. He flipped open the top to reveal a medal lying on a bed of velvet: the coveted Victoria Cross. He placed it in a display case with his other medals and souvenirs from previous missions. It would be the most treasured item of his collection. Time to tell the others about it later.

11. Even Such Is Time.

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