Originally published in Remote Control 16, 2001
The Aladdin's Lamp Raid
The bazaar was hot, smelly, and crowded, a row of shops covered by tent canvas in a multitude of colors, with items for sale displayed on counters and shelves or hanging suspended from racks. The merchants hawked their wares in a combination of languages, mostly Arabic, of course, but with a flavor of German or English or Italian thrown in to turn the dusty street into a North African Tower of Babel. Camels and donkeys had preceded the strollers, leaving their own hazards and making it necessary to watch where to step, as well as keeping an eye out for pickpockets, hostile natives who thought nothing of sticking a knife between a man's ribs, or enemy soldiers in uniform or in disguise. Flies buzzed around some of the booths that sold food, hovered over the smelly gutter down the middle of the street, or got in a man's face.
It was hot enough to fry eggs on the hood of the jeep, and the borrowed German uniform Hitch wore was hot, scratchy, and ill-fitting. Sergeant Moffitt, whose officer's uniform fit rather better, had stopped to ogle the items of one stall, probably because they looked like archaeological artifacts. Even though Private Hitchcock wasn't exactly an expert in the subject, he'd taken a few history courses before the war came along and stuck him out here in the Sahara, giving him just enough knowledge to suspect that the vendor displayed a fine collection of fakes. But then the Professor would know that a lot better than Hitch would. Tully might even have known it. He'd claimed to have read Moffitt's father's archaeology book, after all.
Moffitt was deep in a discussion over something that looked like a broken statue or figure about the size of the palm of his hand. It resembled a stylized bug, not exactly a design Hitch would want to take home to his mom. He glanced away, eyes tracking up and down the street, the Luger tight in his hand. They hadn't seen any Germans yet this morning, and he preferred to keep it that way. In an hour, they had to rendezvous with Troy and Tully out past the wadi with whatever intelligence they could gain about German activity in the area. Moffitt spoke German and Hitch was blond and blue-eyed, the ideal Aryan, so they'd been the ones tabbed for the mission. So far, Moffitt hadn't found his contact yet. All they knew was that their man was one of the merchants in the bazaar and that he would give them information only when he was convinced of their identity. It could have been anyone they'd already met, deciding it wasn't safe to reveal himself. It could even be this oily old guy with the Santa Claus beard and the squinty eyes who called Moffitt 'effendi' and tried to jack up the price for the 'scarab' Moffitt held.
Another scan of the street failed to produce a single German uniform. Maybe they were undercover dressed like G.I.s or had their uniforms concealed under the djellabas everybody wore. Hitch narrowed his eyes behind his spectacles and squinted at the street before he turned back to the bargaining.
That was when he saw the lamp on the table with the rest of the merchandise. Not that he knew if it really were a lamp, but it looked just like those things that genies popped out of in the fairy tales his kid sister loved. Battered, filthy bronze, it had weird symbols carved in it that didn't look like those hieroglyphic letters Moffitt liked so much.
Hitch squinted at it, then he picked it up with the hand that didn't hold the Luger. It felt warm under his touchóbut then everything felt warm in this blazing, arid place. It felt almost alive. Like maybe he could rub it, have a genie pop out and grant him three wishes. In a whimsical corner of his mind, he started planning what to ask for. Weird, but the lamp almost purred like a cat under his touch.
You're losing it, Hitch. It was only a piece of bronze. It didn't have feelings. But he cast one quick glance at the lamp in his hand as his fingers curved around it. No, it wasn't doing anything. No genies emerged in a flow of mist, no vibrations, no reactions at all. Well, not quite nothing. There was almost a sense of awareness from it. Spooky. Yet he didn't have the slightest urge to put it down. Maybe he could buy it, take it home as a present for his sister....
Experienced as he was, he didn't let his attention slip enough to miss the action on the street. Moffitt was bargaining in earnest now in an undertone, gesturing impatiently with his hands like an Arab rather than an Englishman, while the sneaky Santa guy bargained back. He tried to look as if each of Moffitt's offers for the artifact would reduce himself, his immediate family, and his most distant cousins and uncles, to dire poverty. The guy was good at it.
Maybe it was a scam. Maybe the guy was their contact after all. He'd know how to play the game, and Moffitt was expert at the undercover stuff. Leaving them to it, Hitch turned in the other direction.
"Good morning, Private Hitchcock."
Son of a bitch, where the heck had Dietrich come from? Must have popped out from between the booths; no other way for him to get right up to him like that.
"Dietrich," he said, not so much in greeting but as a warning to Moffitt, who spun around, his hand going for his gun.
"I shouldn't," the German captain warned. "All I have to do is cry out. My men are near enough to hear a shot."
"And you would still be dead." Moffitt never pulled punches when the chips were down. He could be pretty ruthless in the name of the mission, and Dietrich had to know it. The German captain's eyes flicked once to the gun in Hitch's hand, assessed the fact that Moffitt held no weapon, and weighed the Brit's ability to draw or create a disturbance before Hitch could fire. That Dietrich didn't immediately cry out a warning was a compliment to both men, but Hitch knew their sneaky adversary hadn't given up and that his silence might simply be a case of biding his time, waiting for the proper moment. For all Hitch knew, he could have half a dozen men concealed nearby covering them.
And if Moffitt's Arab was their contact, Dietrich's approach had just ended his usefulnessóif not his life.
The lamp Hitch hadn't dropped pulsed in his hand. Weird. He'd forgotten he held it, but suddenly he was very much aware of it. If it could produce a genie on demand, maybe he could use the surprise to get the drop on Dietrich without having to fire and bring down the Captain's men.
I could use a little help here, he thought to the lamp, even as he knew how stupid that was. His eyes met Moffitt's and he saw warning there and the start of a plan. The Rat Patrol had been together long enough that they could read each other's signals without effort.
The lamp throbbed under his fingers, and then, son of a bitch, it did shoot out mist after all, a great, flowing burst of it. The Arab cried out superstitiously and grasped the blue bead he wore on a thong around his neck. Dietrich jerked back in momentary astonishment. That look of blank disbelief on the German's face before the cloud engulfed him would stay with Hitch a long time.
Then the mist coalesced and poured back into the lamp like wateróand when it was gone, so was Dietrich.
"Wallahi!" exclaimed the Arab as he made a sign against evil. "Allaho akbar." He spat into the dust on the street.
"What did we just see?" Moffitt asked sharply and then repeated the question in Arabic. His eyes scanned the street in both directions but that didn't stop him from grabbing the Arab's arm.
The man went off in a flow of words that Hitch didn't understand but that was full of references to Allah.
"Hey, Sarge," Hitch burst out, "what's he saying? What did it do to Dietrich? Can we get him out of there?"
"Inshallah," replied the merchant, adding in smooth, fluent English, "If Allah wills." He made departing gestures at them. "Leave now, before his men arrive." He passed Moffitt a small packageóthe guy was their contact after all. Moffitt tucked it hastily into an inner pocket.
Hitch stood with the lamp dangling from his fingertips. "What about this?"
The merchant took a step backward. "Take it. It is no longer mine." When Hitch stretched out his hand involuntarily, the man hastily folded his hands together beneath the flowing beard and refused to accept it. "It is thine. I accept no payment for it. Removing the enemy of my people is payment enough. Go. There will be questions. There will be searches. Thee must return to thy lines."
"Get that thing out of sight," Moffitt instructed Hitch in an undertone. "Come on."
Hitch tucked the lamp into the front of his itchy uniform and he and Moffitt made their way out to the edges of the town and down the path that led to the wadi. Troy and Tully were never going to believe this.
** *** **
The lamp sat on the hood of the jeep, glimmering faintly in the sunlight. Safely behind their lines, only a couple of hours drive from headquarters, Sergeant Sam Troy had called a halt for a smoke and coffee break. Heíd lit up a Lucky while Tully fired up the coffeepot. The mission was a success; Moffitt had the information theyíd gone in for, their contact was apparently uncompromised, although Troy had his doubts there, and theyíd come through it without having to do so much as crank up the fifty. If it werenít for the crazy story Moffitt and Hitch were trying to con him with, heíd be a happy man. But this weird line they were feeding him....
"Okay, run it past me again," Troy instructed. "This time without the mumbo jumbo."
"Iím sorry, Troy, but we both saw it," Moffitt insisted stiffly, with that British dignity he could evoke when his honor was questioned.
"Yeah, what you really saw was Dietrich hightailing it out of sight under the cover of that mist or whatever it was. Probably a trick, a smoke bomb or something."
"It wasnít a smoke bomb," Moffitt insisted. Back in his own uniform, he had the information packet tucked in an inner pocket. The mission was successful, but Troy couldnít help feeling the other two were covering something. How had they let Dietrich get the drop on them, anyway? Dietrich was sneaky enough for that, but there was more to their story than they were telling. There had to be.
"You donít know that. Come on, Moffitt, what else could it be? You telling me this lamp thing did an Arabian Nights number in reverse and pulled Dietrich inside? The opposite of the genie in a bottle? Give me a break." Heíd heard a lot of crazy stories in his time, but this one took the cake.
Hitch frowned. "Who was there, Sarge, you or me?" He pushed his French Foreign Legion cap back on his head. "I saw it and I can hardly believe it. Dietrich didnít get away. Heís in there. Iíd swear it on a whole pile of bibles. I donít understand it, but it happened."
"You sure that smoke wasnít opium or something?" offered Tully Pettigrew laconically as he poured coffee into tin mugs. "Maybe you were delirious. Or it was heatstroke."
Troy removed his bush hat and scratched his head. This was crazy. Things like that didnít happen. Not to say weird things couldnít occur out here in this ancient desert. Heíd seen a few mysterious, unexplainable things in his time. It was just that this particular claim pushed credibility way beyond its limits.
Moffitt frowned as he took his coffee, probably wishing it was tea. He was seriously considering the possibility, anyway. Then he shook his head. "No. I donít understand it any more than the rest of you do, but it did happen. I saw it. Dietrich was enveloped in the mist, and it turned him into mist and pulled him inside. It happened, Troy. I would swear an oath upon it."
"So, youíre saying Dietrichís dead?" Beside him, Tully shifted uncomfortably, his coffee untouched in his hand. The Kentuckian wasnít that superstitious, but it looked like this made him uneasy. Hell, it made Troy uneasy. It would make any sane man uneasy.
Hitch frowned and shuffled his feet like a kid summoned to the principalís office. "Sarge, Iíve gotta tell you something."
So now the truth would come out. Hitch looked pretty hesitant, and he wasnít a hesitant man. "Go ahead. This had better be good."
"When I touched the lamp, it felt...almost alive." He ducked his head, unable to meet anybodyís eyes. No wonder, with the crap he was dishing out. "It...it was almost as if it liked me. It was purring like a cat. Not out loud, but I could feel it. Even when Dietrich came, I didnít want to put it down. I had my gun on him right away, but I was still holding the lamp."
"Sounds like a hallucination," Troy snapped. "Some substance coating the lamp acted like a drug, maybe?"
"I was alert, Sarge."
"Alert, and Dietrich came right up to you?"
"He was alert, Troy," Moffitt defended Hitch. "He can only watch one direction at a time, and Dietrich came out from between two of the booths. Heíd probably been watching us and picked a time when I was talking with our contact and Hitch was looking the other way. The lamp didnít make Hitch ignore his duty."
"Thanks, Moffitt." Hitch took a breath so deep it vibrated through his whole body. "When Dietrich was there, I kind of...." Down went his eyes again, and his cheeks actually reddened. "I asked the lamp to help."
That won him the astonished stares of all three of the others. "You did what?" Troy stared at him. "Come on, Hitch, youíve been to college. You arenít the type to run away with these ridiculous superstitions."
"It wasnít a superstition, Sarge. I canít explain it. I just asked it to help, in my mindóand the next thing I knew...it did." He scuffed his boot toe in the sand. "I know it sounds crazy. I know itís impossible. But thatís what happened. I swear to God."
They all stared at the lamp.
It didnít do a thing, just sat there on the hood of the jeep. Troy couldnít feel a single weird vibration from it. He finished his coffee in one gulp and set aside the mug. Bracing himself, he went over and picked it up. Nothing. It felt like a brass lamp, no more. It didnít purr. It didnít vibrate. It just lay in his palm like the cheap tourist junk it probably was.
"Okay," he said and thrust it at Hitch, who took it reluctantly. "Make it let him out, and weíll haul him back with us as our prisoner." He felt like an idiot for saying it, but not as much as Hitch must feel, from the look on his face.
"Iíll try, Sarge." Still avoiding everybodyís eyes, Hitch curled both hands around the lamp and scrunched up his face in concentration.
"Sarge, itís not working." He heard how that sounded, and he threw them a wry grimace. "I mean, itís not like before. Itís just...a lamp now. Itís not doing anything. I canít feel it anymore."
"You sure that Arab you were dealing with didnít hypnotize you?" Troy asked. He took a last draw of his cigarette and spun the butt away.
"He wasnít even paying any attention to me," Hitch defended himself. "He was talking to Moffitt. And he was pretty shaken when it happened. I donít get it, Sarge. I just donít get it." He set the lamp down on the jeep hood and backed away from it. "What do we do now?"
"Bring that, and donít lose it. Weíll just keep an eye out for Dietrich."
"Heís gone, Sarge," Hitch insisted stubbornly. "Heís in there."
"Yeah. Weíll see." Troy slapped his hat on again and twisted his mouth up in a grimace. "This is nuts." He nodded at Hitch to pick up the lamp again, and urged him behind the wheel of the jeep. "Letís shake it."
** *** **
Two weeks passed, two weeks without a single Dietrich sighting. During those weeks Hitch checked out the lamp every now and then to see if it would react but it never did. Moffitt tried and failed to make sense of the weird writing on the surface whenever he had a free moment. Two weeks passed in a sense of growing unease.
"Itís no language Iíve ever encountered, Troy," the Englishman explained in frustration. "I knew it wasnít hieroglyphs, but itís not Demotic or Merotic, and thereís nothing in it to resemble the various cuneiform alphabets. Itís not Phoenician or Aramaic or any form of Greek Iíve ever seen before."
"Maybe itís not a language," Troy had responded. "Maybe itís just designs."
"No, itís a language of some kind because there are certain repeat patterns. It behaves like a language, rather than a stylized design. Itís simply one I have no knowledge of. It may be a language I understand but simply written in an alphabet I donít recognize. Itís not pictographic like hieroglyphs."
Troy grimaced. "Okay, thatís as much as I want to learn about ancient languages. We havenít seen or heard from Dietrich in weeks, and that intelligence report we got the other day indicates heís been reported missing. Nobody knows where he is. But...in there? God, Jack, I just canít let myself believe that."
Hitch, who hung around uneasily whenever Moffitt studied the lamp, frowned. It was crazy. It was making the whole team crazy. They kept looking uneasily over their shoulders, waiting to jump at the first whisper of the word Ďbooí. What kind of Halloween gag was this? How could it be real?
Hitch knew it was real.
Troy was so skeptical, as if he didnít dare let himself believe. Yet theyíd all seen crazy things, out here in the desert. In the vast, inhospitable climate, there shouldnít have even been a history, but history went back for thousands and thousands of years. Those giant pyramids outside Cairo, the waters of the Nile rising each year to give a narrow stretch of arable land, proved it. Hitch had studied ancient Egypt in school, and being out here had been pretty awe inspiring. Heíd sent letters, probably censored, back home to his folks and kid sister talking about it.
He didnít say anything to them about the lamp.
It was three missions later that everything went wrong. It happened so fast that he didnít realize it was falling apart until the jeep was upside down in the sand, Troy was sprawled groggily beside it, and the other jeep had topped a rise and hadnít yet circled back. The German staff car whizzed over the nearest sand dune, and two Germans grabbed a dazed Hitch and flung him into the back seat beside an officer, who covered him with his gun. They would have gone back for Troy but just then the second jeep came over the ridge, Moffitt blazing away at the fifty. A curt, incomprehensible command from the officerówho wasnít Dietrichóand they were speeding away. The half-track engaged Moffitt and Tullyís full attention, and Troy was too out of it to do more than force himself to his knees, shake his head to clear it, and watch Hitch be hauled away.
After a drive of about an hour in which the driver tried to set a new land-speed record, they arrived at their destination, a camp set under a sheltered overhang near a wadi. They stuck Hitch in a tent so carefully patrolled he didnít have a hope of breaking out of it before dark. He wasnít restrained, but there were troops all around him, and the tent was dead center of the camp, visible from everywhere. At the direction of the officer, two armed guards brought him in slowly, allowing him to take it all in, to make sure how hard it would be to get out without being seen. The officer who had grabbed him spoke a little English, and he had spent the entire drive to the camp reveling in the fact that he had captured one of the Rat Patrol.
"It will on my record look good," he gloated. "You are now a prisoner."
"Yeah, I figured that," Hitch muttered sarcastically.
One of the men who had grabbed him aimed a gun at him. Okay, so they didnít want him to mouth off. Fine. Instead, he concentrated on the layout of the camp as they marched him to the prison tent. Fuel dump to his left, supply tent to his right, command tent over there. Motor pool beyond the fuel dump. Good. A few grenades could make a spectacular fireworks display out of that. When the others came for him, thatís where theyíd head first, create a diversion. They knew he wasnít hit, that he had been on his feet when the Germans had grabbed him. Troy didnít look like heíd been hurt, only shaken up. Yeah, theyíd come for him.
But theyíd wait, survey the place before they tried to break him out, maybe come in after dark. That meant Hitch might have to go through interrogation first. Sometimes interrogation was just questions that he responded to with the required name, rank, and serial number. Sometimes it was far more...persuasive. Hitch shivered and tried not to anticipate it. He had enough problems without allowing his imagination to make it worse.
They left him alone for several hours. That either meant they were waiting for a big shot to come and question him, probably SS or Gestapo, or they were trying to make him sweat, anticipate what they meant to do to him.
The afternoon was moving on toward evening and Hitch was starting to get seriously bored when the tent flap liftedóand Captain Dietrich walked in.
Hitch scrambled to his feet, his mouth hanging open in astonishment. "Dietrich!"
"Yes, Private, I." Dietrich wore a really odd look on his face, the kind of complicated, confused, and purposeful expression Hitch had never before seen on the usually confident officer.
"But I thought.... I mean, you...." Okay, so he wouldnít win any awards for being articulate. But he couldnít quite bring himself to mention the lamp.
"Private Hitchcock, I have a bargain to make with you." The confusion in Hitchís face and voice apparently didnít surprise the German. Did that mean it had actually happened? How could it have happened? The lamp was back at headquarters.
"I donít make deals with the enemy," Hitch said steadfastly, standing tall.
"I do not ask you to betray your country or to reveal secrets," Dietrich replied impatiently. "I simply have a personal request to make of you."
Hitch stiffened. "Personal?" he echoed blankly. What was this all about? Some new trick? In a way, he trusted Dietrich; he trusted him to be as honorable as it was possible to be in a war. He knew that meant Dietrich might have to kill him one day or die himself in a skirmish with the Rat Patrol, but he also knew that the German officer would not resort to shabby treatment of a prisoner unless it was forced upon him. If Dietrich gave his word, he would keep it to the best of his ability. Troy trusted the man that far, and Hitch trusted Troy.
Dietrich hesitated, so obviously reluctant to speak that Hitch wasnít surprised when he finally asked his question. "Do you still have the lamp?"
"What did it do to you?" Hitch demanded. He hadnít meant to ask. Heíd meant to hold back, but the need to know pushed at him too hard to hold it in.
Dietrich made an abrupt gesture. "Never mind thatódo you have it?"
"Back where you canít get at it, yeah," he admitted reluctantly. Was there a trick in this? If Dietrich had slipped away in the smoke, why would he even mention the lamp?
"Excellent. Private, I am going to let you go."
That was weird. He thought Dietrich had just offered to free him. Nah, he couldnít have. "Why?"
"For one purpose. I want a promise from you."
"What promise?" At least heíd find out what was going on before he turned Dietrich down. He couldnít make promises to the enemy, not even Dietrich. There had to be a catch.
"I want you to keep the lamp. It is very important that you do so. After the war, take it back with you to America. Keep it safe and secure. And one day, perhaps in Nineteen Eighty-seven, I want you to give it to your nephew. At the time, you will understand why."
"Nephew?" Hitch echoed blankly. Okay, so something had happened with the lamp. It had made Dietrich nuts. "I donít have a nephew."
"Your sister Katherineís son."
"Katieís nine years old!" Dietrich must have gotten hold of his records somehow. How could he possibly know about Katie? Hitch didnít like the idea. It made him nervous. It would be just like Dietrich to find out everything that he could about the Rat Patrol so he could use it against them.
"She will be considerably older in Nineteen Eighty-seven."
"Well, yeah, all of us will be. What is this about, anyway?"
"It is the price of your freedom, Private Hitchcock. I have found you and your teammates to be men of principle. I ask you to give me your word that, in Nineteen Eighty-seven, you will take the lamp to your sisterís son. He will be living in New York City. He will be a scientist. He will know what to do with the lamp. If you fail to do this, I will not free you today."
"Huh?" Dietrich was crazy. Heíd probably been gassed unconscious and fallen out of sight, and now he had delusions. How could the guy turn him loose today if he had to wait and see what Hitch did in the future in order to know if heíd kept his promise?
But making a promise like that didnít compromise the war effort, did it? If Dietrich really meant to free him, what would it hurt to give the lamp to his proposed nephew in forty-five years? Assuming he was still alive then and Katie had married and had a son who had grown up to be a scientist....
Hitch couldnít think of a single reason not to agree to the promise. It gave nothing away that would hurt the Allies and it got him free, unless it were all a trick. And if it were a trick, agreeing wouldnít make the slightest difference. "Okay," he said. "Iíll do it. Nineteen Eighty-seven. Katieís son. Youíve got my word on it." He tried to imagine that far-distant world and little Katie with a grown-up son, probably older than Hitch was now. For an instant, he felt a surge of mortality and glimpsed the fleeting nature of life, then it faded again and he was young and immortalóand confused as hell.
Dietrich studied him thoughtfully, measuring him with his eyes, summing up what he could read of Hitchís character. Something about the look made Hitch stand up straighter. The desert war was a strange one; there was a respect between enemies. The Wehrmacht was a lot different from the SS and there were sometimes accommodations between enemies, nothing that would hurt one side or the other, but touches of humanity. Dietrich would do what he needed to do to ensure victory, but he would not do anything shabby or dishonorable unless it was forced upon him by the higher-ups, and even then, heíd sometimes find his way around it. As far as it was possible to trust an enemy, the Rat Patrol trusted Dietrich. Hitch could see in the Germanís eyes that the limited trust was reciprocated. When he gave his word, he wasnít just offering lip service to get away. He meant it, and Dietrich knew it, no matter how wild this whole thing was.
"So how do I get out of here?" he asked. It was a confirmation of their deal, an acknowledgment that there was understanding, trust, and respect between them. Troy knew Dietrich best, probably understood him best, but that feeling had spread to the other members of the team, and Hitch knew he would soon be free. There might be tricks in there but he didnít think so, this time. Dietrich would know there would be other chances.
To his astonishment, Dietrich set aside his gun. "Hit me," he commanded, and added wryly, "Only once."
"We must make your escape appear believable," the Captain replied. "Hit me."
"Well, if you insist." Hitch grinned, shrugged wryly, and punched him once, a hard blow that sent the German reeling back against the tent pole.
He came up rubbing his jaw. "You enjoyed that," he accused the private.
"Hafta be crazy not to." He scooped up Dietrichís gun. "Youíd have enjoyed it if youíd been the one to do it. So I walk out of here with you as a hostage?"
"The rest of your team will no doubt be waiting. When they see you, they will come for you."
And they did. When Dietrichís men saw the gun on their commander, they fell back, especially when he reinforced it with a stern bark in German. The soldiers lowered their weapons but they didnít drop them. It wouldnít be an easy escape. Escaping prisoner and hostage made their way through the German camp, and Hitch couldnít help feeling angry and resentful eyes upon him as Dietrichís men watched his every step in hopes of a chance to free their commander. Dietrich didnít do anything as undignified as struggle, but he held his head high and proud, and he occasionally reinforced his command with a sharp word or two.
As the unlikely allies neared the outskirts of the camp, Hitch saw the jeep coming in. His and Troyís must have been too badly damaged to use, but the other three men were crowded into the second one with Tully at the wheel and Troy at the Browning. They screeched in and slowed long enough for Hitch to leap in, his borrowed Luger covering Dietrich. Then Hitch gave the German a little shove, directly into the path of his men, and the four men in the jeep raced away over the nearest ridge and made a beeline for the American lines. It didnít take them long to elude pursuit.
"Was that Dietrich?" Troy asked as soon as they were clear and he could stand down from the fifty.
Hitch nodded. "Yeah. I was as surprised as you were when he walked into the tent where they were holding me."
"Told you he wasnít in the lamp," Troy said.
Hitch hesitated. Obviously he couldnít be in the lamp and in the German camp at the same time, but Hitch had a funny feeling that he couldnít explain. "You know, Sarge, I think he might have been in the lamp after all."
"Oh, for...." Troyís voice broke off in exasperation. "You just saw him. You got a little case of sunstroke here, Hitch?"
"I know I saw him, Sarge. But...well, I think Iím gonna keep the lamp, take it home with me when the warís over."
"You do that. But donít forget Dietrich got away in the smoke. If you believe anything else, youíre crazy."
Hitch accepted his Foreign Legion cap from Tully, who must have picked it up after Hitch had been captured, and settled it onto his head. "Okay, then, why did Dietrich let me go?" he challenged, and explained what had happened in the prison tent.
None of them had an answer.
** *** **
A slow afternoon, thought Janine Melnitz with a resigned sigh and she tossed aside her nail file. It was like that, being secretary for the New Yorkís famous Ghostbusters. Some days the phone rang off the hook and everybody from the President on down kept demanding their help in a major paranormal crisis, others there wasnít a ghost to be seen in the entire Tri-State area. This was one of the slow days. Janine had already filed her nails practically down to the quick, talked to her sister and two girlfriends on the telephone, trekked upstairs to the lab to ogle the object of her affections, Egon Spengler, and wandered down again to pester Peter Venkman, her personal pet peeve, no less than three times. The book she flipped idly through was boring, and there were still another three hours Ďtil quitting time. The only good thing about the afternoon was that the little green ghost, Slimer, had taken himself away for the time being and wasnít dripping slime on her computer keyboard or in her hair.
When the door to the street opened she raised her head quickly. Anything to break the monotony of the day. The man who entered and glanced around doubtfully was tall and if his hair was grey it had probably once been fair. His glasses were round and his hair was long on top. If it wasnít styled in Egonís peculiar flip, it was a style that could tend that way with a modicum of encouragement. Maybe in his late sixties, the stranger looked a little like a Spengler. Under one arm he carried a small box. Janine Melnitz regarded him with fascination as he made his way across the garage of Ghostbuster Central to her desk. Another of Egonís relatives?
"Hi," he greeted her. More casual than Egonís uncle Cyrus, that was for sure. "You must be Janine. Iím Egonís uncle Mark."
She hadnít known that Egon had an uncle Mark, but then she hadnít known about Uncle Cyrus until Egon had announced his impending arrival last year. Egon was circumspect about his family. Cyrus had manipulated Egon into leaving the business, and it had taken a great deal of effort to get him back from Cleveland. Janineís eyes narrowed. "You havenít come to take Egon away, have you?" she demanded suspiciously, her fingers lingering near the alarm button.
She heard Peter shift abruptly in his office on the other side of the file cabinets and a rustle of papers as he tossed aside the budget report heíd been pretending to study. Heíd be alert to a threat from the Spengler clan in a heartbeat. He didnít come right outóprobably biding his time, listening.
"No, Iím here to hire the Ghostbusters," Uncle Mark replied.
Her eyebrows shot up. "A Spengler believes in ghosts?" Well, Egonís mother did, but that was another matter entirely.
Uncle Mark grinned easily. "Iím not a Spengler, Janine. Iím Katherineís older brother, Mark Hitchcock."
His motherís side of the family. That brought Peter around the cabinets and through the gate in a heartbeat. "Iím Peter Venkman," he said and stuck out his hand in greeting. "Egon says good things about you."
Uncle Mark set his box on the corner of Janineís desk and gripped Peterís hand. "He says them about you, too."
"You shouldnít have admitted that," Janine whined. "Heíll never let Egon live it down." She cast a wary eye at the box, but it just sat there innocuously. Why didnít she believe it was really innocuous?
Peter ignored the putdown. He always did. Instead, he went over to the stairs and bellowed, "Egon! Company!" at the top of his lungs.
"You coulda gone up and got him," Janine pointed out.
"Aw, come on, Janine. Whereís the fun in that?" Peter objected. "Besides, walk up two flights of stairs when I donít have to? Itís not like Iím panting to see Spengs or anything, like somebody I could mention."
Janine shot him a very dirty look. "Donít push it, Doctor V."
Egon appeared at the top of the stairs, trailed by Ray and Winston. "Must you shout, Peter? I have told youóUncle Mark!" He clattered down the stairs with uncharacteristic excitement. "Itís been ten years." He stuck out a hand to his uncle, who ignored it and pulled him into an energetic hug and back-slapping session.
Ray trailed him down. "Hey, itís Uncle Mark."
"You know him, Ray?" Winston asked as he hurried down the stairs in Rayís wake.
"I met him once, years ago. Back at Columbia."
"Egon, Iím here on business," Uncle Mark said. "I want to hire the Ghostbusters."
Peterís eyes narrowed suspiciously, but then he was conditioned to distrust Egonís uncles. Egon looked intrigued, Ray delighted, and Winston neutral but willing to make nice. Janine didnít care what it was all about as long as Uncle Mark didnít want to take Egon away. She didnít go upstairs with them. If necessary, she could always get around Ray afterwards.
As Uncle Mark retrieved his box, and Ray offered to carry it for him, Janine picked up her abandoned nail file and prepared to while away the rest of the afternoon as constructively as possible.
** *** **
"What is this about, Uncle Mark?" Egon asked as they regrouped in the Ghostbustersí third-floor laboratory. "Does Mom know about this?"
"No, I never told her." Uncle Mark set his box on the lab table. Peter eyed it suspiciously. Mark Hitchcock wasnít a Spengler, but that didnít mean he didnít bear watching. Egonís mom was a pretty neat lady and this was her brother, but Egonís family hadnít approved of Ghostbusting, and his father had been pretty tough on Egon when heíd decided to pursue what he considered an alternate science.
"It was too weird a story. I never told anybody, and after Katie grew up and married Edgar, there was no way I would have told her. I wouldnít mind telling her now, but itís so unbelievable that I wasnít sure how sheíd take it. Iím not sure what youíll think, but you and your friends face the unbelievable all the time."
"We sure do," agreed Ray. "You can tell us. Weíll listen. We probably hear weirder stories every day of the week."
Mark shook his head with an amazingly boyish grin that pretty much said Ďwanna bet?í. "Egon, I was told to give this box to youóin Nineteen Forty-two."
"But Egon wasnít even born in Nineteen Forty-two," Winston pointed out reasonably. He exchanged a doubtful look with Ray and rolled his eyes.
"I know. Thatís whatís so weird. He said, Ďgive this to your sisterís son.í Egon, your mom was nine years old at the time. I told him so. He said, Ďsheíll be a lot older in Nineteen Eighty-seven.í"
"He? Whom are you speaking of, Uncle Mark?" Egon caught Peterís eye and shook his head. How did he always know when Peter was going to make a smart remark?
"You mean the German officer you encountered when you were a part of the Long Range Desert Group? I remember you told stories of some of your adventures." He got a faraway look in his eyes. "Mom always told me not to pester you for war stories, that war was not about exciting adventures, and of course I realize that now, but I did enjoy your tales of outwitting the enemy."
Peter had a good idea those stories had been cleaned up to make them Ďsuitable for viewingí. He knew from the odd tidbits that Winston let fall that war wasnít an exciting adventure but something that could twist a manís soul. Even now, Winston still had the occasional Vietnam nightmare when a bust turned dangerous enough to remind him of the perils of the jungle, or when somebody got hurt on the job.
"An enemy soldier?" Winston frowned. Probably couldnít imagine having a reasonable conversation with a North Vietnamese soldier. Peter wasnít a World War II buff, but Egon had once mentioned his uncle and the desert war and it sounded a lot different from Vietnam. No prettier, but with some respect on both sides.
"Dietrich was a Wehrmacht captain," Mark said reminiscently, his eyes clouding with memories behind his glasses. "He wasnít a Nazi. I know it was expedient after the war for German soldiers to claim that, to insist they were only following orders, but we had a number of encounters with Dietrich, and he was a man of honor." He opened his box, unwrapped something from a protective padding, and pulled out an old fashioned Aladdinís lamp. If a genie popped out of it, Peter wouldnít be happy. Theyíd had enough trouble with the genie Janine had loosed after her first bust with the team last year.
Uncle Mark set the lamp on the table. "I want to tell you a really weird story. Troy never believed a word of it. He wasnít the type to buy it. Moffitt and I knew what we saw, and as for Tully, I never quite knew whether he believed it or not. He believed it was what Moffitt and I saw but he might have thought we were wrong."
"Your teammates," Egon said. "I remember." For a second there was a flash of memory in his eyes, a little boy who had begged his uncle for tales of his adventures in the desert. A bit of normal childhood there for old Spengs, whose upbringing had been pretty rigid and unconventional. Peter would have bet good money that Egonís dad hadnít really approved of the tales, but that he had allowed them in hopes of provoking an interest in history in his son.
Uncle Mark gave them a quick rundown of the desert group. "There were four of us, out in the desert with two jeeps, going on raids behind enemy lines. It was mostly a British program, and thatís why we had Moffitt; he was a professor in civilian life but he spoke German and Arabic and knew the area. We werenít sure of him at first, but he was a good guy. Tully Pettigrew was the other private. He was from Kentucky. Not a talkative guy, but I got to know him. We got thrown together a lot because the other two were sergeants. Sam Troy was our leader. Damn good soldier. I drove his jeep. We didnít exactly kill the time out there discussing the philosophy of life, but you get to know a man pretty well in battle."
"We know," Peter said quickly. That kind of camaraderie came with busting ghosts, too, being on the front lines, protecting the innocent, facing down something powerful and evil. It was just a little more one-on-one on a personal level than fighting a war, although Peter had the idea that, out there in the desert, far from their lines, Uncle Mark and his buddies had come upon the enemy close enough to give it a face. The face must be this Dietrich.
His expression thoughtful, Uncle Mark was obviously deep in memories. "A part of me hated it, the casual killing, the constant danger, never knowing if youíd go over a ridge or down the street of an Arab village and come face to face with a half-track, or some Berber tribesman would try to stick a knife between your ribs." He caught himself. "I follow your cases. It must be somewhat the same; you donít know if youíll make it through a day."
Winston grimaced. "Yeah, and I was in Nam, so I know it both ways. In some ways weíre a lot safer than you were. Some of the ghosts we face arenít really dangerous, just a pain in the butt. And we donít have to deal with a possibly hostile native population. When somebody has a ghost, the Ghostbusters are their best friends. The cops mostly like us and back us. But sometimes, when weíre up against a major demon that could suck out our souls, I almost think fondly of Nam. Almost." He shivered.
"Then you understand. We got close out there in the desert. Never been closer to anybody since, not even your aunt Becky, Egon. She doesnít know about this. I never told her. It was just too weird. But you four know about Ďweirdí." He grinned.
"So, have you got a genie in your lamp?" Peter asked. "Weíve run into a genie before. It wasnít fun."
"No," Uncle Mark replied. "If anything, Iíve got Dietrich in here, although that shouldnít be possible. He told me to bring this to you," he said to Egon.
"Without knowing I existed?" Egonís eyebrows arched, but he hadnít closed down. It was a weird story, but Egon knew his uncle and evidently thought highly of him.
"He didnít tell me your name, just that you were Katieís boy, you lived in New York, and that I should bring the lamp to you in Nineteen Eighty-seven. He was back. There shouldnít have been any reason to bring it to youóbut if there werenít a reason, why would he insist on it? I was captured on a raid, and Dietrich let me go. The price of my freedom was that I bring this lamp to you."
"He knew about the Ghostbusters?" Peter asked skeptically.
"He never mentioned Ghostbusting," Mark replied. "I think he knew I would have thought it was crazy. He just said to bring this to you." He held out the lamp.
Ray snatched it out of his grasp. "Wow, look at that."
Egon arched an eyebrow. "I was about to, Ray," he pointed out.
"No, I mean, look!" Ray bent over it and squinted at the weird writing on it. "Egon, this writing is a mageís language. Itís a really ancient one, too. Wow, this is great."
"You can read it?" Uncle Markís glasses slid down his nose just like Egonís did. "Moffitt knew all about ancient linguistics and spent hours and weeks trying to translate it between missions. He never could. He said it was a language; he could see patterns in it. But he didnít know it. He said that wasnít a proof that it wasnít a language. He talked about the Rosetta stone and things like cuneiform writing and Coptic and things like that. But he didnít know the language."
"No, he probably wouldnít," Ray agreed. "There are a few mageís languages, like Enochian, things like that. Theyíre usually passed down secretly from one practitioner to another. You know, like wizards and sorcerers and the like. There never were that many of them to start with, but they didnít want what they did to become accessible to the layman, so they cloaked them in secrecy and didnít put them out there where linguists could get their hands on them."
Mark lifted an eyebrow. "Aw, come on," he said. "Thatís...." His voice trailed off. "Okay, I see what youíre saying, and it does tie in with what I saw, I guess, but itísó" He scratched his head. Not a trace of a receding hairline there. Egon must have gotten good hair genesóif weirdófrom both sides of his family. Peter remembered his own fatherís vastly receded hairline and his horrible toupees and wished for better chances.
He cut back to the basics. "You said you had this Dietrich in there?" he prompted with a gesture at the lamp.
Uncle Mark shook his head. "He canít be in there, but I think he is. Iíve had forty-five years to think about it, and I just canít come up with any other answer. I picked up the lamp. I was tense and watching out for the Germans, and the lampóitís almost as if it sensed what I was feeling."
"Can it do that?" Winston asked Ray.
"What? Huh?" Ray lifted his head. "This is great. What did you say, Winston? Oh, can it suck someone in? I think maybe it can. Itís not the lamp itself, itís these words." He ran his finger along them. "Itís a power spell."
Egonís face closed up. He didnít like spells, although the Ghostbusters had encountered a few of them over the years. "Thatís not rational, Ray," the blond objected. Uncle Mark nodded.
"No, not scientifically," persisted Ray. "But itís got its own logic, and its own rules. Iíd need to check my dictionary to be sure, but Iím pretty sure this is a protection spell. If the lamp responds to someone, it can grant wishes. Did you make a wish, Uncle Mark?"
Mark Hitchcock hesitated. "Ióuhóasked it to do something," he said, as if every detail of the encounter was so firmly attached to his mind that the forty-five years that intervened between the event and now had faded away to bring it back to life. "Dietrich had the drop on us, and I couldnít shoot without calling down his men on us; and he had the gun on me. Heíd have killed me even if I killed him. So I asked the lamp to do somethingóI sent it a thought to help me. I know that sounds crazy. I didnít believe in it, but it felt weird in my hand. And then it poured smoke out and sucked Dietrich back into it."
"Wow!" breathed Ray happily. "This is great."
"But Dietrich told you to take us the lamp, Uncle Mark," Egon frowned. "You said that was the condition for freeing you, when you were a prisoner. So itís not possible that he be in there."
"Uh, Egon...." Rayís voice was hesitant. "Yes, it is. Well, sorta. Itís weird. I mean, he got out, but maybe he didnít get outówithout our help."
"Explain, Ray." Something clicked in Egonís eyes. Peter had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
"Well, gee, itís kind of complicated. Time paradoxes always are. But maybe this Dietrich guy got out because Uncle Mark brought us the lamp so we could free him."
"But if he was freed, we wouldnít need to get him out of the lamp, because he wouldnít be in it," Peter objected. "My brain hurts."
"If you will try to use it unexpectedly, Peteró" Egon began automatically. When Peter gave him a nudge with his elbow and a dirty look, he favored Peter with a brief smile and turned back to Ray. "In other words, Uncle Mark brings us the lamp and we retrieve Dietrich and send him back to Nineteen Forty-two, but unless the lamp is brought to us, he doesnít get back there. So even though he was freed, he was not freed, not until now."
"I agree with Pete," Winston groaned. "Now my brain hurts, too. Can that really happen?"
"Can a Sumerian demi-god turn into a giant marshmallow man and squash taxis on the Upper West Side?" Peter challenged. "Never say something canít happen, Zed. Not when youíre a Ghostbuster."
"You mean Dietrich knew about you because heís about to come out of the lamp, now, today?" Mark Hitchcock caught his sliding glasses with a gesture reminiscent of his nephew. He took a nervous step away from the lamp. "This is weird."
Peter nodded. "Yes, but it was also weird for him to be sucked into the lamp in the first place."
Mark shook his head. "We kept running into Dietrich the whole time we were in North Africa. And he never once mentioned any of this again, just the one time."
"And he trusted you to keep your word?" Peter asked.
Hitchcock spread his hands. "Well, yeah. It was like that out there. I mean we tried to kill the guy and he tried to kill us because it was war. But sometimes we had more personal encounters. Once he and his men teamed up with us to save a child who had fallen into a well. We got to know him pretty well. He fought for Germany but he was an honorable guy, and when he gave us his word, he kept it. Worked both ways. Once I promised, I knew I had to keep it. I didnít even think about it for years, but it was always there in the back of my mind. You mean heís really been in there for forty-five years?"
"Gee, letís find out." Ray gave the lamp a rub just like somebody in A Thousand and One Nights, and said something so full of consonants that it must have hurt his mouth. "Step back," he urged hastily.
Mist spouted out of the mouth of the lamp, obedient to Rayís command. Peter felt his jaw drop as it billowed into the room, swirled around eerily and started to coalesce. Egon let out an amazed yelp and whipped out his P.K.E. meter to take readings of the process and Winston automatically reached for the labís proton pack so heíd have a weapon if things went badly. After all, the last thing this guy knew, he was fighting a war with America. He might come out shooting.
He very nearly did. As the mist solidified, it slowly resolved into a soldier of the Third Reich. Peter didnít know much about military rank insigniasóheíd been too young for Vietnam, and the little he knew about such things heíd gained from movies and TV. The newcomer was tall and slender with dark hair showing under his cap, and dark brown eyes. He emerged from his forty-five yearsí confinement wary, and his eyes narrowed as the Ghostbustersí lab came into view around him.
"Wehrmacht Captain," Winston said in an undertone.
Dietrich materialized with a Luger in his hand. Peter recognized it right away from episodes of Combat heíd watched when he was a kid. The Captain said something in German, but it wasnít one of the ten words of that language that Peter knew.
"Dietrich," blurted Hitch.
At the sound of his name, Dietrich whirled, studied Hitch in surpriseóPeter wasnít sure if he had recognized him or notóand then took in the lab, four other strangers, and the impossibility of being in a strange place. His eyes narrowed. Before anyone could do anything or reassure him that he was in no danger, he grabbed an astonished Ray, who was closest, got one arm around him to restrain him, and shoved his gun right up against Rayís temple. He barked out a command in German.
"Ray!" yelled Peter and Winston in anxious chorus.
Rayís mouth fell open in utter disbelief and he said, "Gosh, weíre not going to hurt you."
Egon responded in German to Dietrichís words and then repeated himself in English. "Weíre not armed. I know you speak English. Ray is no threat to you. Release him instantly." At the command, his voice hardened with concern.
"I think not," Dietrich replied in excellent English. "Explain this place! Where am I, and what am I doing here? Who are you?" He squinted at Uncle Mark. "I have met you before," he said positively. His grip on Ray didnít relax so much as a centimeter.
"Itís all right, Ray, we wonít let him hurt you," Peter said.
Uncle Mark spoke quickly, "Come on, Dietrich, heís not part of your war."
"And I know that voice." Dietrichís eyes bored into Markís. "You are kin to Private Hitchcock. His father?"
"I am Private Hitchcock," Mark replied before Peter could warn him to go slow.
"What madness is this? I saw you moments ago. Now you look old." He looked briefly down at the hand that held the Luger and his eyes narrowed. Maybe he was checking to see if he had done any rapid aging. Conscious of the P.K.E. meter beeping away in Egonís hand, he said, "You will lower this weaponóand explain its function."
Egon complied instantly. He set the meter on the lab table and took a wary step away from it. "Itís a P.K.E. meter. It measures psycho-kinetic energy, the levels of psi energy produced by your release from containment." When Dietrichís face hardened suspiciously, he added, "It is not a weapon. Iím a scientist."
That didnít reassure Dietrich one iota. The gun bored into Rayís temple and Rayís eyes widened in alarm. It made Peter wonder how much Dietrich had known about the experimentation performed by Hitlerís tame scientists. Not that Peter knew much, but he could imagine it hadnít been pretty.
Okay, Venkman, do something. Youíre the psychologist here. He spread his hands to show he was weaponless. "Captain Dietrich, weíre not gonna hurt you. Let Ray go. Heís harmless. Egonís not going to hurt you, either. Thatís Doctor Egon Spengler," he added, suspecting Dietrich might take some degree of comfort from a German name, and the doctorate might help.
If he did, it wasnít apparent in the taut face. Dietrichís eyes flicked back and forth from Egon to Peter, then he cast a suspicious glance at Mark Hitchcock. Peter plunged on and introduced the rest of them. "Iím Doctor Peter Venkman, the one you have a deathgrip on is Doctor Ray Stantzóand heís a good guy and would probably take your side if youíd stop manhandling himóand this is Doctor Winston Zeddemore."
"But Iím not aó"
"Quiet, Zed, Iím making a point here." He winked at Winston. "And you already know Mark Hitchcock, although heís getting a little long in the tooth these days." He grinned at Uncle Mark, who made a wry face but who didnít relax his guard. Somehow, heíd switched back into his military mindset at the first sight of the gun. He wasnít just Egonís pleasant old uncle any longer but a man who had come through a hard war and knew how to defend himself.
Dietrich studied their faces and then squinted doubtfully at Egonís uncle. "You are attempting deception," he announced.
"No, weíre not," put in Uncle Mark. "Come on, Dietrich, I know this looks weird, but you know me. You know the Rat Patrol. Troy and Moffitt and Tully. I look different because Iím an old man now. Itís Nineteen Eighty-seven, and I brought you here so that I could get you back where you belong, even if that means youíll be chasing us in half-tracks and trying to kill us all over again. Come on, you trust us, as much as anybody can trust the enemy. You know we always played fair with you. I know this sounds nuts, but I saw it happen and I brought you here to figure it out because my nephew and his buddies know more about this kind of thing than anybody I know."
"That sounds rather like Private Hitchcock," Dietrich conceded warily. "But you ask me to believe the impossible. I am not a gullible man."
"You got that right," Uncle Mark said involuntarily. "But this is real, and I can prove it to you. I donít buy into this mystic mumbo jumbo any more than you do, but it happened. You came up to me in the Arab bazaar and you had that gun pointed right at me. I had to protect myself and Moffitt and I was sure we were about to be captured, that you had your men all around us."
"I did," Dietrich replied, a look of satisfaction crossing his face. It faded. "What did you do?"
"It was the lamp," Ray volunteered. He pointed at the object in question that he still held. "Itís magic." When Dietrich received that in scornful silence, he added hastily, "Occult magic. I know it sounds crazy, and it probably sounds crazier to you than it does to me because Iím a specialist in the occult, but your Hitler was interested in the subject, after all."
"Uh, Ray," put in Peter, "thatís not exactly the best comparison, yíknow."
Dietrichís face tightened and Peter got the idea he hadnít been terribly crazy about Der Fuhrer.
"Uh, Captain, sir," Peter intervened, nudging Egon to keep him quiet and casting a warning look at Uncle Mark, "I donít mean to put down your leader if youíre all gung ho for him, never mind that he wasnít playing with a full deck, but he doesnít have anything to do with this. Ray says this lamp is very old and that there were spells on it. Okay, so that sounds crazy, and usually when somebody says something like that, theyíre a few grains of sand short of a sand dune." He tapped his forehead to explain his meaning. "But Private Hitchcock here," he clapped Mark on the shoulder, "had found the thing and activated it by mistake. When you jumped him, it responded to him. I know it sounds crazy, but how else do you explain the way he looks now when youíre still the same age? We donít want to hurt you here. If you let Ray go, heíll explain what we know of it and figure out a way to send you back."
"Back?" Dietrich echoed. His grip on Ray didnít loosen, and Ray had the sense not to struggle.
"Back to Nineteen Forty-two," Winston put in.
Dietrichís eyes lingered on Winston, then narrowed. Peter felt himself tensing up. Back in the old days, people had a lot of stupid prejudice, and Dietrich was a product of the Third Reich, with all that racial purity crap. If he did so much as raise an eyebrow negatively at Winston, Peter was ready to defend his friend.
But it wasnít bigotry Peter saw in Dietrichís eyes, simply curiosity. He let his eyes travel over their jumpsuits; even if each man wore a different color uniformóthat made it easier to keep track of each other on busts and readily identify a teammate even through a crowdóthe uniforms were the same design. Then he spoke to Winston. "If this is not Nineteen Forty-two, when is it? You are saying I have somehow entered the future without aging." He turned to Uncle Mark. "Private Hitchcock, if you are indeed he, I expected better lies from you."
"Itís no lie, Dietrich," Mark insisted. "I know how weird it sounds. Whatís more, I know youíll believe it eventually, because youíre the one who told me to bring the lamp here."
"I told you this? When did I tell you that?" He sounded like he were humoring a lunaticóin order to stall for time.
"A few weeks after you got sucked into the lamp," Hitch admitted.
Peter held up his hands. "Come on, Uncle Mark, letís not confuse the nice captain with time paradoxes. Best way to do it is to prove heís in Nineteen Eighty-seven."
"You canít prove it," Dietrich insisted and Peter could see his stubbornness kick in. He expected a carefully doctored movie set, designed for purposes of brainwashing. Peter had a better idea.
"Look out that window," he said and pointed to the only one that gave a good view north toward the New York skyline. With the others, buildings crowded in too close to give a view of more than a Chinatown street.
Dietrich migrated to the window, his face full of suspicion, tugging Ray with him. Ray didnít look remotely afraid, even with the gun in his ear, but that was Ray. He moved easily with Dietrich, probably as empathetic as only he could get, understanding the manís suspicion and fear. Uncle Mark might know the man, but nobody was more understanding than Ray Stantz.
Peter held up a warning hand. Nobody else should try anything. Dietrich was strung so tight that the slightest movement might set him off and Rayís brains would decorate the ceiling. God help them if Slimer chose the next moment to pop into the lab. Peter could feel his friendsí tension as they watched the German officer lug Ray over to the window. Ray gave them a reassuring grin.
"Donít try anything," Dietrich commanded before he glanced out the window. It was openóthe day was warmóand he had an unimpeded view of the towering cluster of buildings to the north including the top of the famous Empire State Building that had been constructed before the war. The sight made Dietrich tense, and the gun jerked in his hand. His breath went out in a long rush and he sucked in air as if he were starving for it.
"New York," he breathed. "I was here once, before the war. But it is...different." His eyes lowered to the street below. Probably taking in modern cars. He muttered something in German that might have been a curseóor a prayer. "Gott im Himmel. How is this possible?"
"It usually isnít," Peter said quickly. "Believe me, Captain, things like this are really rare. We donít mean you any harmóbut if you hurt Ray, youíll be sorry."
Dietrich glanced up at the skyscrapers again, and then his eyes came back to Uncle Mark. "Private Hitchcock, is that really you?"
Uncle Mark nodded. Cautiously, he reached into his sports jacket and pulled out something red. It proved to be a little cap that looked like the kind theyíd worn in the French Foreign Legion. He set it on his head. "Iíd chew some bubble gum for you, but I got out of the habit."
Dietrichís eyes practically fell out. "This canít be," he said. Then he lowered the Luger and let go of Ray, who took a quick step away from him. Peter lunged for Ray and yanked him out of range while Uncle Mark and Winston secured the weapon and Egon picked up his P.K.E. meter to take fresh readingsóafter one quick, measuring glance at Ray.
"You okay, Tex?" Peter demanded, checking Ray with his eyes.
"Gosh, Iím fine, guys. He didnít want to hurt me. But it was all so crazy for him. What else could he have done?" He turned to Dietrich. "I knew you wouldnít have hurt me. Itís okay, Iím not mad at you."
"Only you, Ray," Peter said fondly and slung a brief arm around Stantzís shoulders before he turned back to the German captain.
Dietrich stood beside the window, looking like a wild animal at bay. His frame of reference was so far off base he didnít know what to do next, but he stood tall with a dignity that Peter could respect. Time to squash down his resentment toward the guy for threatening Ray. Maybe in Dietrichís place, heíd have done the same thing. Didnít mean he liked it, but he shoved it behind him, for now. Heíd watch the guy like a hawk, just to be safe.
"This should not be possible," Dietrich insisted. "To be present in the future? Ió" His voice broke off abruptly. "I am in New York. You are speaking English. DidóGermany lose the war?"
The Ghostbusters exchanged uneasy glances. Would he try for the gun again when they told him thatís what had happened? Uncle Mark had claimed Dietrich was no Nazi, but he was German, and he had fought for his country, if not for the Third Reich. Bad enough to learn he was stranded out of time, and then to find his country had been defeated, partitioned, divided by Communism. There were a lot of hard years that this man would have to face if he returned to his own time. Peter arched an eyebrow at Egon, who was usually the font of wisdom for the team. This time, Egon bounced the ball back to Peter. Youíre the psychologist, Doctor Venkman. Peter heard that as clearly as if Spengler had spoken the words aloud.
He opened his mouth to reply, but Dietrich held up a hand to avert the flow of words. "No. Do not tell me. I will make assumptions, but perhaps, if I am to return to where I belong, it is better that I donít know. Tell me only this. Does my country survive?"
"It sure does," Ray insisted. "And I wonít say there havenít been hard times. But Iíve been to GermanyóI went over for a paranormal conference a few years ago, and it was beautiful. Still, I think youíre right, that we better not tell you any more than that, but gosh, we canít send you back without hope for the future."
Dietrichís eyes glittered too brightly for a second but he controlled himself with a fierce pride and dignity and stood tall. He said quickly, "Please. What is a bust?"
Peter grinned brightly. Time to distract the poor guy. "A bust. Thatís what we do. We track down ghosts and trap them. Weíre the Ghostbusters."
It was like hitting the poor guy with the second barrel. "This is a dream. I knew it could not be real." He looked about wildly for his Luger and took a step backward. That brought him up against the wall, and he caught himself before he could retreat further. Peter was pretty sure he wasnít the kind of guy who usually backed away from trouble.
Ray stretched out a hand to touch the Germanís arm. "Itís okay," he soothed. "Youíre not dreaming and youíre not crazy. Itís just a lot to take in. Even now in our time, there are people who think we are crackpots."
"Ignorant people," Egon muttered under his breath. He had a galloping aversion to being termed a crackpot.
"Hold it, Spengs," Peter corrected. "The guyís forty-five years from home and in another country to boot. Now we tell him we catch ghosts for a living. If I hadnít been around for forty-five years, Iíd hear a story like we just told him and send for the guys in the white coats." Dietrich looked blank at that, and Peter said hastily, "Psychiatrists. Youíll have to poke me when I use modern slang. I do it all the timeóit drives the guys nuts." He beamed at them happily.
Dietrich pondered Peterís words, his reactions, and the groans from his friends, and something within him relaxed. Maybe he could understand their teamwork and friendship, even if nothing else translated.
"I am not an ignorant or gullible man, gentlemen. You ask me to believe the impossible."
Ray murmured, "íWhy, sometimes Iíve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.í" Peter knew that was a quote, although he wasnít sure where it was from. Besides, Ray could believe twelve impossible things before breakfast without even trying.
"Through the Looking Glass," Dietrich returned. He stared at Ray in astonishment.
Ray lit up like a Christmas tree. "Youíve read it? Thatís great. Anyway, there really are ghosts and we really do trap them, but the bottom line is that weíre doctors of parapsychology. We study the mysterious, not just trapping ghosts. Thatís where the money comes from, but we sometimes get roped in to figure out other weird things, too. Like Aladdinís lamps that suck people in instead of popping genies out. Thatís why Uncle Mark came here, because he knows about our work from being related to Egon. Weíre going to figure out how to send you home."
** *** **
Explanations were over. Peter had watched Uncle Mark describe to Dietrich what had happened in that hot, dusty Arab bazaar back in Nineteen Forty-two, how he and Sergeant Moffitt had returned to their jeeps and explained to Sergeant Troy, who was in command of their team, and Pettigrew, the other private. Their skepticism was as huge as Dietrichís had been.
But when Hitchcock had explained to Dietrich how the German himself had urged Hitch to bring the lamp to Egon, Dietrich frowned narrowly.
"I actually said this?" he demanded. He was still wary, suspicious, even after Winston had demonstrated the lab computer and Egon had displayed some of his favorite Ghostbusting gizmos to prove they were in really the future.
"Yeah, I thought maybe youíd gotten hold of my records or something."
"No, we had no such information. We had information compiled from every encounter with the four of you, and as much personal data as we were able to glean through those encounters. To know oneís enemy is the only way to defeat him." He caught himself. "I should tell you nothing."
"Hey, doesnít matter, big guy," Peter said hastily. "Not much Uncle Mark can do from this end of history. He wonít have any way to go back and warn his younger self. For him, itís already happened. Youíre the one whoís going to know too much." He narrowed his eyes. "After all heís doing to help you go back to where you belong, I donít think youíre gonna use it against him, are you?"
Dietrich studied Peter thoughtfully. "You are a suspicious man," he said at length.
"Yeah, and your point is?"
Dietrich frowned. "My job is to defeat the Allies in the desert. It is not to use my knowledge of the fact that Private Hitchcock has a younger sister against him. I also know now that he survives the war, and I suspect, from what you refuse to tell me, that my side did not win the war. You do not behave as a captive people."
Peter licked his finger and drew a chalk mark in the air. "Point to you. Not that Iím admitting anything, mind you."
"I do not see how the knowledge that Private Hitchcock has a younger sister will have any bearing on the fate of the war," Dietrich admitted reluctantly. "And a knowledge that perhaps my side loses cannot stop me from doing my duty to my country when I return. I will not promise you anything different, even if that means you refuse to allow my return."
At least he believed he was in the future now. But he stood there, stubborn and proud, and refused to surrender, even if the war was long ended, even believing his side would lose. Peter discovered he respected the guy.
"You and your companions suspected long ago that I could not believe in the policies of Der Fuhrer," Dietrich said. He would not meet their eyes. "Yet, I love my country as fiercely as you love your own. I will fight for her, even in a losing cause. I can do no less."
"Yeah, figured youíd say that," Hitchcock replied. "We all knew you were an honorable man in a tough situation, and the best man we faced out there. We donít expect that kind of promise from you. Wouldnít be fair, and I know Troy would have said the same thing."
Dietrich studied him thoughtfully a long moment, then he inclined his head. "What must I do to return to the desert?" he asked.
Ray grinned. "Gosh, Iím glad you said that. Because Iíve been thinking about it, and itís gonna be tricky, but we couldnít do it unless you agreed."
"Did he say Ďtrickyí?" Winston asked. "I hate it when he says Ďtrickyí."
"I see the problem," Egon agreed. "We canít send him back into the lamp to return home."
"Why not?" Peter and Uncle Mark chorused.
"Because itís not his way out," Egon replied as if it were self-evident. "If he could escape from the lamp, he would not be in it to bring here to be returned."
Peter winced. "I know that makes sense in your pointed little brain, Spengs. Any way to explain it to those of us with IQís in the low genius range?"
"Peter, you must understand that Dietrich was in the lamp when he was brought here," Egon said, a faint twinkle in his eyes. Maybe he figured Peter wanted to know so it would be clear to the Captain. Or maybe he thought it was just part of their ongoing game. "Besides, the lamp was in my uncleís possession through the war. Should Dietrich have been released from the lamp at such a time, he would have been made an Allied prisoner, and he would not have been free to capture Uncle Mark to insist he bring the lamp to me. The lamp may be a confinement, vaguely similar in principle to our ghost trapsóin fact, I intend to study it at great length once we have found a way to return Captain Dietrich to North Africaóbut it is not a revolving door to the past."
"Youíll figure it out, Egon," Uncle Mark encouraged him. "Because if you hadnít done it, Dietrich wouldnít have been able to tell me to bring it to you now."
"A comforting theory," Egon replied. "And circular in reasoning. Yes, that may have happened, but that does not guarantee our success. It does indicate we will find a means, but it is not as if Ghostbusting has granted us the understanding of time travel. We have traveled into time on two separate occasions, once to Eighteen Thirty-seven and once to Nineteen Fifty-nine, but the first was due to the intervention of spirits and the second to a trap malfunction that we were unable to recreate, once we returned home. Not that we couldnít have done it again," he explained as if someone had faulted his science, "but controlling it for a specific time and destination would be difficult, if not impossible. The transfer returned us to the place we left, but since Dietrich was not brought here that way, it would not work with him. It would be risky since there would be a vast physical dislocation required as well as a temporal one."
"But heís not here because of science, Egon," argued Ray. "Heís here because of magic. I think we have to use magic to send him back."
"We arenít sorcerers, Raymond," Egon objected with a frown. "Yes, weíve made studies of the occult, and yes, weíve encountered spells on occasion, but surely you donít know any spells that will allow us to send Captain Dietrich home."
Peter noticed Dietrichís face narrow with suspicion and doubt at the mention of magic. It wasnít as if Peter liked the idea of magic; it was just that heíd seen so many weird things since they started busting that the concept wasnít an automatic turn-off, the way it must be for Dietrich, who was already straining his limits of credibility.
"I donít know anything like that off the top of my head," Ray admitted. "But, gee, guys, thereís bound to be something in my books. I know thereís a whole chapter on magic lamps in Tobinís Spirit Guide, and all this writing on the lamp itself might have answers. Itís written in a mageís language. I can pronounce it, but I canít read it easily. I knew enough to get Dietrich out of there. Maybe there is a way to get him home, if I can just finish translating it."
"Then you do that, Ray. Get Egon to help you. Heís good with languages. Put that linguistics degree of his to good use. After all, if the worldís leading expert in ancient Sumerian canít understand it, who can?"
"One of the top three leading experts," Egon said deprecatingly.
"Donít you love every hair on his modest little head," Peter kidded and proceeded to give Egon noogies. The physicist slid away with ease and joined Ray at the table. Blond and auburn heads bent over the lamp and Ray stretched out his arm and yanked over a notebook and pencil.
"Well, theyíre on Planet Ten," Peter said with a grin. "How about the rest of us scare up some lunch. Iíd be willing to bet our good captain has never eaten pizza. Winston, you call it in. Long as the spudís not here, we donít need to worry about buying a couple of extras."
The pizza was Slimer-free, so the Ghostbusters and their guests didnít have to defend it from spud attacks. Peter kept watching Dietrich. He felt for the guy, he really did; he couldnít imagine being stranded forty-five years in the future without his buddies. But the man had held a gun to Rayís head, and a part of Peter resented that, even if he understood it.
Ray didnít hold the slightest grudge, though. He was all gung-ho to solve the problem and return Dietrich to where he belonged. It was going to be Rayís show all the way, too. He was the one who was most familiar with mageís languages. One of Egonís degrees was in linguistics, but he didnít have a doctorate in it, just a masters. Yet he had never studied artificial languages, and Ray, in his study of the occult, had discovered that there were a number of invented mystical languages to enable occult practitioners to communicate among themselves. Peter thought that was pretty eerie, and he could tell Winston did, too.
Dietrich may or may not have eaten pizza before, but he didnít derive any excitement from it, not nearly as much pleasure as he did from the coffee Janine brought up after the mealóEgon had asked her to serve the guests, and she brought a pot and enough cups for everybody, even for Peter. Her surprise to discover there was someone upstairs who hadnít come in through the front door had provoked her into such unheard of secretarial behavior, and she would have stayed and ogled the tall captain if Egon hadnít all but patted her on the head and sent her off to play.
Peter treasured the stunned resentment on her face at her summary dismissal. Heíd let himself revel in it the next time she got the better of him in one of their verbal spats.
Dietrich had scarcely noticed Janine, other than to thank her politely for the coffee and to assure her it was good. Peter recognized the signs. He was boggled by the Nineteen eighties. Every little detail the guys took for grantedóthe computer, the lab equipment, the way Janine was dressed, Uncle Markís brand new cellular phone, all indicated a future he didnít know. It all added up in his mind to the defeat of his country in World War II. Made Peter wonder what Der Fuhrer would have done to the United States if he had won the war. Probably not a pretty thing to think about, considering all those concentration camps. If it came to that, Janine was Jewish, and Dietrich hadnít reacted to her at all. Not that she wore a Star of David or anything to give it away, but Dietrich hadnít displayed any suspicion of the possibility, even when he heard her last name. Still, he treated Winston just like he treated the rest of him. Heíd better. Maybe he really was a good guy, an honorable man, like Uncle Mark insisted.
"This is gonna be tricky," Ray said after the pizza remnants had been tidied away by Peter and Winston.
"There he goes with that Ďtrickyí thing again," muttered Winston. "Come on, Ray, we know weíre gonna be able to do it. Because if we hadnít done it, Uncle Mark wouldnít have known to bring the lamp to Egon in the first place."
Egon and Ray looked at Winston levelly. "If we canít solve this, that will never have happened," Ray argued. "I mean, parts of it will, I suppose. Youíll bring the lamp here anyway," he said to Egonís uncle. "But more as a curiosity and because you happened to think of it in connection with us. But that would mean the Captain would be stranded here."
Dietrichís muscles tightened. "Surely that is impossible, Doctor Stantz. I have already, in the past, instructed Private Hitchcock to bring me here. Therefore, I did that because I was here and returned, with knowledge of Doctor Spenglerís existence and his relationship to Hitchcock. It is a matter of cause and effect."
"Yeah, but timeís a funny thing," Ray argued. "We sure hope we can figure it out. And thereís another problem, too." He had the ecto-scopes pushed up on his forehead; heíd been using the specially polarized goggles to study the lamp. "This is Nineteen Eighty-seven."
"We know, Ray," Peter teased him.
"No, Peter, listen," Ray insisted earnestly. "Uncle Markís alive now. That means that Dietrich could well be alive now, too, in his older incarnation, over in Germany, or anywhere in the world."
"Ah." Egon snapped his fingers. "I see where youíre going, Ray. Captain Dietrich, that means there may be two of you existing in the same time. Itís possible that this could lead to problems. You have, in a sense, duplicated yourself, and the timeline might try to compensate."
Uncle Markís eyebrows shot up toward his near-Egonesque hair. "Compensate how?" He scratched the already-untidy mop, nearly dislodging the cap heíd forgotten he was wearing.
Ray ran his fingers over the lamp. "Well, the timeline might try to correct itself. It might only allow one of him here, and, right now, this one is the intruder, the duplicate. Time is used to the other one, the one thatís here naturally. Uncle Mark, do you know if Dietrichís still alive in this time?"
Hitchcock frowned. "Should I say in front of him?"
"I have a stake in this, Private," Dietrich snapped. "Tell me what you know."
"Well, I talked to Troy about six months ago. We call each other when we get the chance, and Tully and Moffitt, too. We had a reunion about a year ago, here in New Yorkóand you came for one day," Uncle Mark said. "Moffittís been in touch with you because he wanted to study something in a museum in Berlin, and he met you for the day, and told you about the reunion and you came." He grinned reminiscently, looking far younger than his years. "We had a great day. Talked about all the times we pulled things on each other. We laughed a lot. Thereís nothing like all those intervening years to weed out all the frustrations. We all had more in common with you than we did with guys who didnít go to war." He caught himself. "Should I be telling him this?" he asked Ray.
"Probably better not tell him any more."
Peter thought that was a good idea. If Dietrich knew the entire Rat Patrol had survived the war would it affect the way he reacted to them when he returned to Nineteen Forty-two? There was a thoughtful glitter in those brown eyes. The United States wasnít at war with Germany now, but Dietrich was still an enemy soldier who was determined to defend the Fatherland, even if he didnít buy into Hitlerís mad game. It was his duty to defeat the enemy. Uncle Mark had been the one to get him into this mess in the first place. No matter that Egonís uncle had taken steps to right it, heíd disrupted Dietrichís life, taken him prisoner, in essence, for either three weeks or forty-five years, depending on what Ray could figure out. He might go home all the more determined to defeat the Rat Patrol.
But Peter didnít think so. Heíd be determined to defeat them in battle, to stop their raids, but from what Uncle Mark had said and implied, Dietrich had been a fair man, an ethical man. He wouldnít go home and start taking pot shots at them to turn history around.
"I understand you canít tell me more than this," Dietrich replied, "but if I am twice in this timeline, what ought I to expect?"
"Are you familiar with the concept of entropy?" Egon asked
"I have heard the term, but I am not sure how you define it," Dietrich replied.
"Ah." Egon jumped at the opportunity to sound smart. "Entropy applies in a number of fields such as thermodynamics, cosmology, even matter transmission, but I believe Rayís concern is a progression in systems to a state of disorder or decay."
"Yeah, itís about systems," Peter put in, winning astonished glances from his teammates. "Things within a system interact with each other, and there are always consequences." He caught their stares. "Psychology, guys," he said with a grin.
"I thought entropy was about the eventual death of the universe," Winston muttered.
"Well, I think our problemís not so much about entropy as it is sympathetic magic," objected Ray. He turned away from the lamp and stared at them, wide-eyed. "In a way, the lampís magic." He saw Dietrich and Hitchcock regarding him blankly. "You know. In magic, itís a belief that events or objects can affect each other at a distance because thereís a sympathetic connection between them. Thatís what might be at work here, because thereíd obviously be a connection between the two Dietrichs, no matter how far apart they are. And the way theyíd interact is kind of like entropy, but itís also like, oh, gee, like the way the human body produces antibodies to fight a virus. Our Dietrich is out of place, and the other one, the one whoís lived all along up till this time has the right of place and the magic would try to oust this one."
"A form of entropy," Egon murmured stubbornly, although Peter suspected Rayís theory was probably the right one, considering the lamp itself.
"The system ousting a part that doesnít fit," Peter put in.
"Whatever." That was Winston. He gave Dietrich a sympathetic grin. "They go on like this all the time. Three crazy scientists. They get the job done, though. You can trust them for that."
Dietrich looked as if he wasnít about to trust anyone, let alone the Ghostbusters, but he gave Winston a fleeting smile in appreciation of his kindness. "If this Ďsympathetic magicí takes effect, what should I feel?"
Ray and Egon exchanged glances. "Ray?" Egon prompted.
"Well, it might just be that youíd eventually...fade away and not be here anymore."
"Is this a Back to the Future thing, Ray?" Peter asked. "Thatís a movie that came out a couple of years ago," he added to Dietrich. "You know. The cinema? Films? Where this kid traveled back into the Fifties. His arrival nearly meant his mom and dad didnít get married, and if he didnít fix it, he wouldnít have even existed."
"That was fiction, Peter," Egon reminded him. "But I do suspect that a similar thing might happen, not because Dietrich has changed anything; for him itís the future, or the present, for his current incarnation. However, if he cannot return to the past, his present incarnation would cease to exist, and all the years of events of his life would be changed. We have no way of knowing how this would affect the world as a whole. There would be changes, some minor, possibly some major. It behooves us to return the Captain to Nineteen Forty-two as soon as possible."
"And other options?" Dietrich asked. "Besides fading away?" He stood straight and tall, his shoulders squared. He must be afraidóhow could any guy not be?óbut he didnít let it show on his face. An honorable enemy, Peter thought. Made a nice change. Usually the ghosts Peter and his team busted were anything but. The ones they talked into dispersing peacefully, the ones who lingered because of something unfinished in their lives, could be honorable, but usually one didnít find integrity in a major demon.
"Well, there could be spasms of pain," Ray admitted reluctantly. "Tied in with a gradual fading away. Oh, gosh!" He snapped his fingers. "The destabilizer rectifier unit."
"That thingie we used when Egonís molecules were destabilized?" asked Winston. "It shot him into the Netherworld when you used it. I think Dietrich wants to go to North Africa, not a realm filled with ghosts and demons."
"That would certainly be my preference," the German said wryly. Something in his eyes suggested he had suspended disbelief and was prepared to go with the flow. It didnít sit well with him. He wasnít the type of guy to surrender control of his life. His mouth twisted.
"Hey, I know this is a toughie," Peter said hastily. "Even I think half of it sounds crazy, and I work with these two mad scientists every day of the week. Winston and I keep finding ourselves boggled by their theories. The thing is, Egonís smarter than Einsteinówell, maybe almost as smart," he kidded. "And Rayís a genius, too, even if he doesnít blow his own horn about it the way old Spengs does."
"Are you implying I am egotistical, Peter?" Egon kidded right back.
"Hey, if the shoe fits...." Peter winked at him before he turned back to the time traveler. "Weíve been up against entities that you wouldnít even want to see in your worst nightmares, and these guys come through every single time. Weíre still here to tell about it, and if you want proof, that gizmo right over there is a viewscreen that lets you look into the containment unit and see some of the ghosts weíve busted. Anyway," he concluded when Dietrich made no move in that direction, "never mind the ghosts. Just remember youíve got two of the smartest guys on the planet working for you. Never mind about this sympathetic magic thing or entropy or whatever, because theyíll probably have you home before dinner." He nudged Egon with his elbow. "Right, Egon?"
"It will depend on many factors," Egon responded. "Not the least will be Rayís translation. Ray, do you honestly believe the destabilizer rectifier unit will work?"
"Not by itself," Ray replied. "Thereís no way it could. I mean it was designed to emit energy waves to counteract Egonís destabilization. Captain Dietrich isnít destabilized. But...Iíve got a kind of idea, guys, but I really need to finish this translation first. Thereís a ton of energy in the lamp, but itís a kind we canít read very well with the P.K.E. meters. If I can figure out how to harness it...." His eyes blurred with concentration.
"Hmmmm," murmured Egon. "Show me your translations again, Ray. I think I understand where you may be going."
"Yeah, because we canít put him back in the lamp. Thatís the tricky part. Because if we do, weíll just have him in Nineteen Eighty-seven, and no way to get the lamp back to the past. So we have to translocate him and do a time shift at the same time. Weíve got enough energy to do it; we could even work something out the way we did when the trap malfunctioned and sent us back to Nineteen Fifty-nine."
"We never could duplicate that effect, Ray," Winston reminded him.
"And we didnít control the destination anyway," Peter reminded them. "Hey, could we summon the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and have them shift him back? After all, they were able to move us around in time wherever they wanted us?"
"How would you summon them, Peter?" Egon asked without looking up from Rayís scribbled translation. "If it were December, there might be a way of reaching them, but I doubt very much that we could contact them now."
"Wow, wouldnít it be neat if we could?" Ray beamed excitedly. "But we canít wait till December. Entropy would have taken effect by then, and Dietrich would have learned too much about the history after World War II."
"And we know he remembers what happened to him here," Peter reminded them. "Otherwise he couldnít have asked Uncle Mark to bring Egon the lamp."
"Yeah," said Ray. "Let me finish this bit of translation." He snatched up his pencil, drew back the notes from Egon, and pulled the ecto-scopes down over his eyes.
Egon frowned. "Much of what Ray translated is in the form of spells, but they are spells tied in with the use of the lamp. I believe there is an energy present in the lamp that has ties to its last usage, but at this point I am not entirely certain how to harness such energies."
"Remember when Janine had that other lamp?" Peter pointed out. "You know, the one with the genie and all his buddies coming out to take over New York? You sucked everything back into the lamp then."
"Yes, but we canít suck Dietrich back," Egon reminded him. "It would do nothing to relieve the situation."
Peter grinned. "I know. Just stick him back in, and Uncle Mark could probably do thatóno, maybe not, since heís not in a crisis now."
"You think the emergency of his situation triggered a link with the lamp?" Egon asked.
Hitchcock shook his head. "No, I donít know. I mean I could feel a response from the lamp even before Dietrich showed up. And I wasnít really in crisis then, at least no more than usual. We were trying to findówell, never mind, but we were on a mission, and they were usually pretty hairy. I wasnít any more scared than usual." He grinned boyishly. "When Dietrich showed up and had the drop on us and probably had troops all through the marketplace, I couldnít do anything; weíd have killed each other if we fired and what good would that have done? Just called down his troops on Moffitt. Maybe my adrenaline was a little high, but I donít think it was that. Iíd gotten out of worse situations before."
Peter shook his head. "No, thatís not what I meant anyway. Isnít there some way you could hook electrodes or something up to the lamp and use its energy some other way?"
Rayís head came up, listening, and Egon frowned. "I was considering that possibility already when Ray mentioned the destabilizer rectifier unit and the Netherworld."
"Yeah, but itís not nice to send Dietrich to the Netherworld," Peter chided.
"In truth, I would not prefer it," the captain replied. Poor guy. This had to be so weird for him. Peter had been stuck in a weird dimension once that was even stranger than this, and heíd gotten there inside a magic cabinet that had whole worlds inside it. Heíd wandered through a landscape that looked like a painting by Salvador Dali with no idea how heíd ever get home again. At least Dietrich was in a world with people trying to help him. At the time Peter was trapped, he didnít know the guys were working frantically to rescue him. Well, heíd hoped they were, but he couldnít know it. Dietrich did know the guys were working to help him, but he didnít have the trust for them that Peter did, and every word they said must sound like weird mumbo jumbo and convince him they were raving lunatics.
"What about the trans-dimensional portal?" Egon and Ray said in perfect unison, then stopped and stared at each other in surprise.
"Hey, what do you know, itís true," Peter said with a big grin.
"Whatís true?" Winston asked suspiciously.
"Great minds do think alike." He let his grin expand. "Okay, you want to clue in lesser mortals here, guys? I thought the portal thingie only went to the Netherworld. Didnít a terror dog come out of it once?"
"That could never happen again," Egon defended his invention.
"Yeah, we built all kinds of redundant safeguards and alarms into it," added Ray. "But it goes to the Netherworld because we designed that destination into it after we went to get Egon back from Tolay, when the destabilizer rectifier pushed him over there. We had readings of the place and used them in the design."
"Not the design, Ray, setting the destination," Egon replied. "We knew the readings of the Netherworld so we were able to set the destination grid. In this instance, we would need to set a destination grid for a place we have no readings for and set a temporal control as well. Iím not sure the deviceís energy could meet those specifications even if we knew how to set them."
"Even if we tied in the lamp and used the electrodes Peter was so gung ho for, it would be tricky," Ray agreed. His finger traced the weird lettering on the lamp.
"Can it with the Ďtrickyí, Ray," groaned Winston. He heaved a sigh and went over to the corner of the lab, where he started to remove the tarp that covered the trans-dimensional portal. Peter shrugged and went to help him.
"Think thisíll work, Egon?" he asked.
"Only if the lamp can provide us the destination coordinates," Egon replied. "And I do not know if it is programmed to do that."
Ray waved a hand to interrupt. "Hey, Egon, I think I can do it. The spells should activate the lamp and itís going to have a sympathetic vibration to the original usage. Sure, we opened it here, but there are still ties to the other half of the usage. I mean, we wonít be able to set the controls ourselves, except generally. But that might even be good." He pushed up the ecto-scopes and stared at his teammates. "Because there was a gap. What was it, Uncle Mark? Three weeks?"
"Something like that. Within a couple of weeks, we heard rumors that Dietrich was missing in action and I was sure it was because of the lamp, but Troy didnít want to buy it. Even if Moffitt and I had seen it happen, Troy and Tully thought we were crazy, that weíd got hold of some opium or something and hallucinated it. I wish I could let Troy know that it was real."
"Take a picture of the two of you together and send it to him when this is all over," Peter suggested and reached for the camera on the shelf. When the others all stared at him in surprise, he gestured with the camera. "Whatís the harm? Itís Nineteen Eighty-seven, after all. Not gonna hurt the war effort. And it vindicates Uncle Mark. Iíd hate it if you guys refused to believe me if something weird happened."
"If something weird happened, we wouldnít doubt youóweíd suspect you," Ray teased him.
"Thanks, Tex. Okay, weíre gonna immortalize this moment. Come on, Uncle Mark. Captain? This is a weird photo op for you. When we get the film developed, Iíll have Uncle Mark send a picture to the present day you. Hey, Iíve got a really great idea, guys."
"What idea, Peter?" Egonís voice was pregnant with suspicion. Okay, so Ray was right about the teamís reaction to something weird, but Peter was glad of it. He preened himself for his brilliance.
"Why donít we just put in a phone call to Germany and ask his present day self what we did?"
Everybody stared at him as if heíd suddenly lost his mind. Then hope flared in Dietrichís eyes and Uncle Mark grinned in sheer delight.
Egon shot him down. Egon seemed to like doing that. "Not possible, Peter," he corrected. "The solution must have a source. One of us must solve the problem."
"But he knows how you solved it," Peter argued.
"Unless we actually solve it, he wonít know it, Peter," Ray explained. "I know it sounds like a great idea, and we could probably do it, but if we havenít thought of how to do it, I donít think he would have an answer. He might not even be there."
"But then, would Uncle Mark be here?" Peter asked. "I hate time paradoxes. How about you hook up your electrodes to the lamp and the portal and use the lamp to set the destination and then call him and see if youíre right?"
"If we do that, Peter, we will bring the two Dietrichs into much closer contact," Egon pointed out. "Entropy will be engaged that much more quickly, since each will be aware of the other. So far, we have had no evidence of entropic decay. I should prefer to avoid it entirely if possible. Rest assured, Captain, we will use every precaution to make certain this will work. If it does not, it need not be our only solution."
"Your uncle trusts you," Dietrich replied. "And I trust Private Hitchcock to keep his word. I do not know you, nor do I understand your science. Iím certain the physics I studied in school is primitive compared to todayís knowledge. Your unlikely specialties appear directed toward solving my problem, and I sense honor in you. I will give you my trust."
That made Hitchcock produce that grin that made the years fall away. He was still wearing the silly red hat; he must have forgotten he had it on. All the better for the picture. Peter held up the camera. "Okay, guys, I need you to smile for the birdie."
Dietrich gave him a startled look but he stood obediently beside Uncle Mark. Peter wanted to suggest they sling their arms around each otherís shoulders, but he had a good idea Dietrich wouldnít go for that, so he just gestured them a little closer together. Egon gave a resigned sigh before he went over to a box of supplies and started digging out equipment. Ray watched the photo shoot with a broad grin, and then, when Peter had taken three separate shots, the occultist went back to his translations.
Mark Hitchcock looked satisfied, Dietrich wary and tolerant. The two of them moved apart immediately. Despite the mutual respect they felt, they had been enemies in a war. The Luger the German had used to hold Ray hostage proved that. Peter glanced around, wondering where Winston had put the gun. Not that he expected Dietrich to snatch it up and use it, but Peter was a lot happier with it out of sight.
When Winston had finished uncovering the portal, he didnít turn it on. Peter eyed the big device; it was man-high, door-shaped, with control panels, and an energy field to separate the lab from whatever weird location was on the other side. Peter gave it a wide berth.
Dietrich went over to study it. "This is the device into which I am to step?" he demanded.
Peter followed him and draped an arm around the captainís shoulders. "Yeah, but it wonít be so bad. Youíll be able to see through it to where youíre going. Thereís a kind of passage in there, and at the other endís the destination. We can regulate the length of the passage so you can see if itís the right place or not."
"I may see a desert, but how will I know if the time is correct?" The German slid out from under Peterís arm.
"Thatís up to the boy geniuses. And the lamp. I know magic lamps sound like something out of A Thousand and One Nights, but we saw one once before and it had a ton of power. Nasty stuff. This one does, too. So Ray and Egon plug it in, hook it up to the portal, set the destination grid and presto, youíre back."
"Somehow, Doctor Venkman, I do not believe it will be as easy as you claim."
"Heck, yeah. You casting aspersions on my buddies?" He angled a glance at Egon to see if heíd win any points for a big word like Ďaspersionsí. No such luck. Egon was playing with his pocket calculator like the fate of the universe depended on it.
"You are asking me to believe in magic, Doctor Venkman," Dietrich reminded him with a smile of wry amusement. "I am a German officer. I believe in facts."
"Okay. Fact one. Hitchcock sucked you into a magic lamp. Fact two. He brought you to the Ghostbusters and you popped out of the lamp in Nineteen Eighty-seven. Which part of this Ďmagicí donít you believe?"
"Any of it," said Dietrich, frustrated. "I know it occurred, therefore I cannot deny it. But tell me this, Doctor Venkman. How did you react when you saw your first ghost?"
Peter grinned. "I ran like a rabbit, and so did Egon and Ray. Yeah, I know where youíre coming fromóI understand what you mean. It takes a giant leap of faith to believe this is even real. Itís okay. Yes, itís real, but itís weird, too. Hang in there. Weíre all on your side." He saw the Germanís face change. "You, personally. This isnít about the war. This is about getting you home, even if you are on the other side."
"Even if I may have to try to kill Doctor Spenglerís uncle?"
"Maybe you wonít succeed," Peter reassured him. "Because he brought you here. Maybe itís that time paradox stuff againóand I donít want to think about that. But Uncle Mark knows you have to do your duty. He thinks youíll be honorable about it, and thatís what matters." He clapped the captain on the shoulder. "Just trust Egon and Ray. Theyíre two of the greatest guys I know, and they can do anything. I canít count the number of times theyíve saved my life."
"Or the number of times youíve saved ours," Egon said without looking up from his calculations.
Peter grinned widely. "See?" he said to Dietrich. "You can count on them. Youíre going home."
** *** **
"It was a great ride, wasnít it?"
Dietrich glanced away from Spengler and Stantz, who were engaged in connecting cables to the trans-dimensional portal, talking to each other in the language of science and magic, in terms he didnít understand. It was difficult to surrender control of his destiny to two American strangers in the future, but Doctor Venkman, who, in spite of his sarcastic tongue, seemed to possess a great deal of understanding, appeared ready to trust them with not only his life but his very soul. Dietrich had trusted few men like that in his life. His father, his first commanding officer, two school friends. Sam Troy?
That thought startled him so much that he frowned. And added hastily to Hitchcock, who had asked him the question, "It was definitely an experience, Private Hitchcock." Did he trust Troy that much? An enemy soldier? Of course there were restrictions in such a trust, because Troy had to try to kill him, to upset his plans, to destroy his supplies, to ambush his patrols. Yet, in the face of all that, there had come to exist a strange fellowship between him and the men of the Rat Patrol. He had tried to capture them, he had tried to kill them, he had been forced to turn them over for questioning and to stand by when the SS had wished to torture them for information. He hadnít liked doing that, but the warís expediency and his loyalty to his country had sometimes pushed him beyond what he would have chosen, given the freedom to act independently.
"You gave us fits," Hitchcock continued. "More than any other officer we ran up against. You were the smartest, the best. You came closer to stopping us than anybody else. And you always came back, if we got away, if we thought we had you."
"I am remarkably difficult to kill," Dietrich replied. "I am a stubborn man."
"Yeah, Iíll buy that. You know, it was crazy, but as we got to know you out there, we all developed this sneaking fondness for you. We knew you saved Moffitt that time." He grinned. "You donít have to admit it even now that you shot that SS officer. There wasnít anybody else who could have done it."
Dietrich didnít want to admit that, even now. The man had been a madman, deranged, willing to sacrifice innocent lives. Moffitt had not been the only one saved by Dietrichís actions, and he didnít regret them for a minute. He didnít admit it now, only inclined his head. "You and your team gave me a great deal of difficulty," he said in reply. "Yet I learned that you were far more of a threat than my superiors wanted to believe."
"We tried." Hitchcock rocked on his heels and smiled that boyish grin. He took off the red hat and stared at it in surprise as if heíd forgotten it. "We would rather have come up against you than anybody else out there," he admitted.
"Iím sure your superiors enjoyed it when that happened as well," Dietrich replied. Doctor Stantz was doing something with the lamp now, attaching connectionsóelectrodes?óto it, and running the cables from them over to Hitchcockís nephew. They worked together effortlessly, like a well-oiled machine, like a team that knew each other thoroughly. Like the Rat Patrol. With a team like that, what could Dietrich do in North Africa?
"No, it was something more than that," Hitchcock said with a thoughtfulness that his younger counterpart probably couldnít have emulated. Heíd been little more than a boy out there, like the boys who servedóand diedóunder Dietrich. Boys killing boys. Was that what war was really all about? Boys killing boys because grown men could not understand each other. A ludicrous example of futility, which left it for men like Dietrich to find what honor he could in the middle of it. He had found it in three Americans and one Englishman, out there in the Sahara. He hoped his feeling had been reciprocated.
Hitchcock continued. "Troy was the one who knew you best, and even though he didnít talk about it, I could see he liked you. Respected you. At first, I thought that was nuts. I was just a kid, thought I knew everything there was to know because kids always do. It was exciting and heroic, and the women loved me. I thought I had it all. Then it hit me; people were dying. They were dying horribly. I could be the next one to die, or one of the other guys could. I had to take it as simply as I could or I couldnít have stood it. Nobody could. Knowing there was a guy like you on the other end of the guns made it a little easier because I realized Troy was right. You had honor. Sometimes that put you in a real double bind, but you were as fair with us as you could be. You respected us and we respected you. When I was captured and you made a deal with me that youíd let me go if I would agree to bring the lamp here, I knew I could trust you to keep your word. And when you look at it, in the middle of the biggest war in the history of the planet, thatís pretty damned remarkable."
Venkman had been listening to every word, and at that, he nodded approvingly. There was a great deal more to him than the mouth. He might not want others to see that, but Dietrich had grown adept at reading people. Heíd needed to, in order to survive the war, the politics, the problems of the Nazi regime.
"I appreciate your honesty," Dietrich told Hitchcock. "I did trust Sergeant Troy, and I valued him. He was a good man, a shrewd man, a good soldier, but he was more than that. Across the barriers that divided us, I saw a man I could respect, a man I could talk to honestly, a man who might, under different conditions, have been a friend. War made us enemies, but that was an imposed condition. My responsibility meant that I had to try to defeat you, just as yours required the same of you. But those moments when we could step aside from the horrors and responsibilities of war and be simply men saved my sanity."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Hitchcock replied. "We had some good times, didnít we?"
"Iíve got it!" cried Stantz. "I think weíve got it."
"Indeed," responded Spengler. "Are you sure of the wording, Ray?"
"Iíve been over it ten times. And I know what weíre reading is the energy flux from the last time the lamp operated."
"So, you two great brains have solved it?" Venkman asked.
"We sure did." Stantz nodded excitedly at the lamp that sat on a small stand to one side of the trans-dimensional portal. There were times when he seemed younger than the wartime Hitchcock. "See, Peter, thereís an energy conduit, a flow of time factors through the lamp. It might be in Nineteen Eighty-seven now, but the currents and eddies of time can be directed to create a link to the last time it was used. Once we switch the portal on, it should draw those readings from the lamp and set the destination grid automatically. Egonís programmed the portal to take readings from the lampís energy. It should just narrow right in on the correct time and place."
"Way to go, guys," Zeddemore praised them. Dietrich had watched him assist in the linkages in complete equality with the others. He might not have a scientific background, but he had a military one. As a career officer, Dietrich could recognize the soldier in Zeddemore. In Hitlerís Germany, Zeddemore would have fared no better than the Jews. Dietrichís experience had taught him that a good man was a good man, regardless of his race, his color, his religion. His viewpoint was not a popular one in his own time and place, but he knew it was true. He had learned to conceal his beliefs because heíd been forced to do so. But the sight of Zeddemore working in equality with the others and so apparently a full member of the team of Ghostbusters said much for humanity.
Venkman turned to Dietrich. "Well, Cap, you ready to sashay through the portal and go home?"
"A part of me wishes it were unnecessary," Dietrich said honestly. "Your world tempts me. I know I cannot stay, and not only for the sake of this Ďsympathetic magicí or Ďentropyí that will affect me, should I do so. Even if I am to return to fight for a losing causeóalthough you have been careful not to say soóGermany is still my country, and my duty commands me." He turned to Hitchcock. "The next time I see you, I may have to free you, but after that, we return to the status quo."
Hitchcock nodded and grinned. "Wouldnít expect anything less, Captain. And I know Troy wouldnít either. Iím gonna get prints of those snapshots from Peter. One of them goes to Troy right away so heíll know I was telling the truth all these years. One to Moffitt because he was there and saw it happen, and to Tully, too. And weíll send one to the present-day you."
"I would appreciate that." He shook hands with Hitchcock like an equal.
"Too bad we couldnít get it developed right now and send one back with you," Hitchcock said regretfully. "But probably just as well not."
"Powering up now," said Spengler. He pulled a lever and they watched the empty surface of the portal quiver with energy. It bunched and flowed, and resolved into a transparent boundary to a narrow passage opening onto a dusty street bazaar. It looked very much like the one Dietrich remembered from the encounter with Hitchcock and Moffitt that had been, for him, only hours ago.
"Howís that look, Cap?" Peter asked.
"Hey, thatís the place, I think," Hitchcock cried. "It looks right to me, but itís been years for me. Dietrich?"
"I recognize that place." He took a wary step closer. "What am I to do?"
"Let me check the readings," Spengler said and activated the device he had called a P.K.E. meter. He frowned over the pattern that appeared on its small face. "Hmmm. Yes, residual energy is well within presumed tolerances," he remarked. "A remarkable feat. There is bound to be some slight time variation, but we were aware of that. It is safe."
Dietrich stepped toward it.
"Wait!" Venkman held up his hand. "What are you going to tell them when you get back? I mean, youíve been missing three weeks or so. Theyíll wonder where you were."
"Tell them you were captured and managed to escape," Zeddemore suggested. "Theyíll probably question you about what you saw in case you gained any strategic information, but you can work your way around that." He opened a drawer and took out the Luger. "Hereís your gun back. Youíll need it, once you go through."
Dietrich took it, holstered it, and offered his hand to Zeddemore. "Thank you, Mister Zeddemore."
"Good luck, man."
Venkman stuck out his hand, too. "See you on the other side," he said with a grin as if it were a slang phrase. "Just donít point the Luger at Ray again."
"I would not dream of it, Doctor Venkman." He clasped the psychologistís hand. "Thank you for your understanding."
"Hey, what can I say, Iím a sensitive guy."
Egon groaned. "And very full of his own importance. Captain Dietrich, you offered us an intriguing puzzle. We hope to study the lamp at some leisure and we should gain fascinating insights, thanks to you. Go well."
They shook hands, then Ray edged in. "Donít worry, I donít hold the gun against you. You didnít know we were the good guys. Gosh, it must have been so weird for you. Iím just glad we can get you home."
"Tell Miss Melnitz goodbye for me, and thank her for the excellent coffee." Dietrich stepped toward the portal and drew his gun. He might need it when he materialized on the other side.
He turned back just before he passed through the portal. The four Ghostbusters stood in a row, arms slung casually around each otherís shoulders, a team. No, more than that. Brothers. Brothers in arms in an unlikely war. They were strange men, all of them, but they were good men. Dietrich respected them.
Beside them, Hitchcock snapped to attention and raised his hand to his forehead in a salute. Dietrich smiled, returned it, and then drew a deep breath and stepped into the portal.
Energy pulsed through him and made him dizzy. He staggered on a step or two and then the energy shoved him forward into the heat and bustle of an Arab souk. The blast of the desert sun and the pungent smells of poor sanitation, masses of bodies, camels, frying foods, and the tang of engines nearly overwhelmed him.
He whirled. It was Lieutenant Leitner, one of his men. "Captain, we have been searching for you for three weeks. We believed you were captured by the Americans."
Dietrich straightened up. "I was," he said. "I have only now left the Americans. But I am unharmed and I gave them no information." And that was nothing but truth. "I must return to our base. It is imperative I discover the location of the Rat Patrol."
Leitnerís face lit in happy expectation. "Yes, sir," he said immediately. "It shall be done."
It was time to capture Private Mark Hitchcock and start a plan in motion that would culminate in forty-five yearsí time.
** *** **
The old man held the photograph in his hand and frowned. Then he raised his eyes to the slightly younger old man who stood in front of him. "This some kind of trick?" he demanded.
"No way, Sarge." Even after all this time, Sam Troy had never been able to break Hitch of the habit of calling him that. "I told you, all those years ago, that Dietrich went into the lamp. Moffitt saw it, too. You never believed us."
"Because it was unbelievable," Troy insisted. "What was I supposed to think? I thought you two were suffering from sunstroke. Now you show me a picture and Dietrich looks just the same as he did in the desert and you look the way you do now. Come on, Hitch, you can do all kinds of things with trick photography. You can even use computers and, what do they call it? Manipulate graphics. My son Jack's boy is a programmer. He could do something like this."
"This is real, Sarge. You can call the man who took this picture. Peter Venkman. He's a famous man. He'll tell you it was real."
Troy groaned in recognition and sheer skepticism. "Peter Venkman. He's a Ghostbuster. They're crocks."
"One of them is my nephew. Egon Spengler. My sister Katie's boy. Remember, when Dietrich let me go that time, he told me to give the lamp to my nephew? Well, it turns out my nephew is one of the Ghostbusters. And he figured out how to send Dietrich back. It's real, Sarge. And Dietrich sent you his best regards."
"I bet he did." Troy softened slightly. Dietrich had always been a good man. "But Ghostbusters, Hitch. Give me a break."
"Who was there, Sarge, you or me? I saw it happen."
Troy smiled at the familiar phase after so many years. The picture did look real. God, they'd been young in those days. Hell, he could always telephone Dietrich in Germany and ask him about it. None of them had brought it up at that reunion last year. There'd been too many other things to talk about, and they'd skirted around the edges of it. Was it really true? Sam Troy had lived a lot of years since the desert war; he'd seen a lot of strange things, then and now. He looked at the photo in his hand. The magic lamp even showed in the background. After all these years, Hitch had no reason to snow him. Okay, maybe it was true. He didn't like it, but maybe it had really happened.
Hitch saw the concession in his face and grinned. "I'm gonna send copies to the Professor and Tully. I know they'll get a kick out of it."
"Yeah, just like I did." Troy grimaced. "So, you're related to the Ghostbusters, Hitch. Okay, tell me this. What was all that baloney about a giant marshmallow man squashing taxis in New York?"
Hitch grinned. "That one's a lot bigger than Aladdin's lamp, Sarge. But here's what Egon told me...."
He went off into an eager spiel, and Troy smiled in amusement and listened, a corner of his mind planning his telephone call to Dietrich. It was long past due.