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Vikings

Rollie Lawson

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Vikings

 

Copyright

Vikings

Copyright © 2021 Rollie Lawson

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-6671-4798-7

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Chapter 1 - “Row For Your Life”

The Near Future

Torvald Gunnarson considered the situation as calmly as he could. Succumbing to the panic that was just below the surface of his thinking would doom everyone on the Frijhof. They might only have a few hours left to live but he was not about to give up before then. He would continue sailing his longship right until the waves came over the gunwales.

That wouldn’t be more than a few hours, though. Torvald had spent half of his forty years at sea, and the gale they had come through was probably the worst he had ever seen. The small fleet he had led from Olaf’s Fjord had consisted of six snekkjas of various sizes, from twenty to almost thirty benches, all headed for the southern islands. They were part of the colonization and conquest of the southern islands; more than simply pillaging and returning home with the spoils of the sack, Torvald was leading a sizable portion of his clan to fertile new lands.

Shortly after the gale started, the Gotvolk was capsized by a rogue wave. The Gotvolk was the smallest of the ships, a snekkja of just twenty benches, but she was just the start. Over the next twelve hours Torvald lost track of the other four ships in his fleet. It was entirely possible that the fleet had been dispersed by the storm, and the others were simply spread out so far from Frijhof that they couldn’t be seen. Torvald didn’t think so, though. It seemed much more likely that they had been lost, also.

Frijhof would be next. At the height of the storm the mast had snapped neared the mast fish. The sail had been dropped and reefed at the start of the storm, but it didn’t matter. The storm had ripped the mast apart and dragged it and the sail overboard. Three men had died when that happened, two being dragged overboard and the third killed as he tried to cut the rigging loose. Just as bad, his cousin Nori had his skull crushed by the spar as it went over the side.

Now they rowed for their lives, but when the mast had gone, the hull had sprung. Frijhof was a well-built ship, and he had taken her to sea many times, but the clinker-built construction tended to leak under normal usage. This was not even remotely normal usage. Even as every man aboard was rowing, every woman and child were bailing water from the bilges - and they were not bailing fast enough. Frijhof was settling in the heavy swells; it was a race between the water coming in and the water being bailed out, and the water was winning the race.

“Torvald! TORVALD!”

Torvald looked forward to where his lookout was standing. Sven Halstrom was pointing to port, and Torvald turned his eyes in that direction. A half-circle of bright light had appeared in the relentless gray of the storm, and through the circle he could see a calm sea. If they could reach the calm patch, they might be able to stave off sinking. He adjusted the tiller to aim for the circle and cried out, “Róa! Róa! Róa fyrir þinn lif!” {“Row! Row! Row for your life!”}

Only a few of the men looked over their shoulders to see what Torvald was yelling about, but when they saw the circle of light and decent weather, they added their voices. ‘Róa! Róa!’ they cried out, and the exhausted rowers put their final strength into their oars.

It was the longest half hour of Torvald’s life, but as they sailed through the half-circle into sunlight the seas suddenly calmed. Within minutes the water seeping through the joints slowed, the winds dropped, and the waves stopped trying to swamp the ship. Ahead of them he could see land, a shore on the horizon. “Róa! Land!” he cried out, pointing over the rowers’ heads. He adjusted the tiller to aim Frijhof towards the land, and the ship slowly approached the land. The land resolved into a small island, then a beach appeared, and then the exhausted crew could hear the surf hitting the sand. With their final dregs of strength, they rowed until Frijhof grounded on the beach.

***

“Doctor Stevens, are you seeing this? I’m getting a blip on the locus.”

Doctor William Stevens, the physicist responsible for overseeing the locus system’s monitoring, glanced over at the doctoral student who had called for him. He was watching two different screens of his own. “Yeah, Joey, I’m catching it. Something is going on. I’m calling Hammersmith.”

“I don’t know what’s happened, but something happened,” said Joe Magliotti, Stevens’ main assistant and the senior tech involved.

Stevens nodded and picked up his phone. He hit a button and was connected to the research team leader, Doctor Paul Hammersmith. The phone rang twice and then it was picked up. “Yes, Will?”

“It’s the locus, Doctor Hammersmith. It’s very unstable and we are picking up some blips on the recorders,” said Stevens.

“How bad?”

“It’s not the bad, it’s that we can’t explain it, and I don’t like that. The noise level in the system is an order of magnitude greater than normal, with blips to another order of magnitude.”

Stevens could almost see Hammersmith nodding to himself. “Let’s shut it down. We can run a full diagnostic on the system and see if we can make sense of the system noise. We shouldn’t be having the noise level we are seeing, let alone a higher level.”

“Agreed, Doctor. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Will. I’ll see you at the review tomorrow morning.” Hammersmith disconnected.

Stevens turned back to his assistant. “We are shutting down the locus and initiating a full system diagnostic.”

“We need to figure out the noise issue,” said Joe Magliotti, the assistant. “If our calculations are anywhere near correct, we shouldn’t have anything like the noise levels we are seeing.”

“That’s what Hammersmith said, too. Call it up on your screen, Joey, and let’s shut the sucker down.” The two men began pulling up screens on their computers and shutting down the locus system. Five minutes later the system went down.

Nobody on the Frijhof noticed the dark half-circle on the horizon behind them disappear.

***

“Ma’am, I just got a hit on the pulse doppler,” said the sergeant into his microphone.

“Anything more specific, Sergeant Bannister?”

“Very low and very slow, and I swear it wasn’t there a minute ago,” was the reply.

“How low and slow?”

“Like sea level and moving at only a few knots. Small, too, like a cabin cruiser.”

Flight Lieutenant Amelia Bulrush got out of her seat and headed to the station Sergeant Max Bannister was sitting at. “Nobody’s running around in a cabin cruiser around here,” she commented. “Could it have been a periscope?” They were northeast of the Shetland Isles.

“Wrong signature, and too close to land.”

“Show me.” The young flight lieutenant pulled a rolling chair closer to the sergeant, who was old enough to be her father. He pulled up the radar capture on his screen and ran it. “You’re right, that’s odd.”

“Can we circle around and check it out?” he asked.

Flight Lieutenant Bulrush shrugged and changed the switch on her headset. “Skipper, this is Flight Lieutenant Bulrush. Sergeant Bannister has an unusual contact northeast of the Shetlands and I concur. Can we circle and check it out?”

The voice of Squadron Leader Frank Tennison, mission commander on the E-3 AWAC bird, said, “Hold one.” He came back online two minutes later. “Negative, Flight Lieutenant. We’re fighting headwinds and Flying Officer Munro says we are too low on fuel. Where was the contact?”

Bulrush gave her the coordinates and added, “It’s near that training base that is in the no-go zone.”

Tennison grunted an acknowledgement, and said, “I’ll call it in. Somebody downstairs can check on it.”

“Roger that, sir,” replied the lieutenant. She broke the connection and turned to Bannister. “No go, Sergeant Bannister. We don’t have enough go-juice to circle around. We’re heading back to the barn at Waddington. They’ll call it in, though.”

“Yes, ma’am. We’ve done our part, at least.”

She nodded and headed back to her regular station. She was still curious about the contact, though. The radar return had been for something the size of a cabin cruiser, but nobody in their right mind would be sailing a cabin cruiser in the middle of the North Sea northeast of the Shetlands. Nobody was that crazy!

***

Torvald wanted to collapse like the rest of the survivors of the Frijhof, but he knew they needed to get off the boat and onto land. He had lost track of time during the storm, but if they had grounded on the beach at high tide, they would be safe. If, however, they had grounded at low tide, when the tide came in, they could well be lifted off the beach. The Frijhof was too damaged to survive that without major repairs. They needed to get off the ship and their possessions above the high-water mark. They could worry about the ship afterwards.

Af! Af! Fá eigi á bátrrinn!” {“Off! Off! Get off the boat!”} he cried out. He began pushing the exhausted survivors towards the bow, ordering his sailors to help the women and children off the ship. They splashed ashore and he ordered them to form a line and begin unloading what they could.

Gunnarson counted the survivors. The Frijhof had twenty-eight benches, which meant fifty-six rowers. About half his men had been single, but the other half had been family men, and had brought wives and children. Three of the men and one of the women had died during the storm, and one of the children had died during the night after hitting his head and falling overboard. He counted fifty-three men, twenty women, and eleven children.

Sven came up to him. He looked as exhausted as Torvald, but he had a smile on his face. “Loki gerði eigi fá oss, eh, Torvald.” {“Loki didn’t get us, eh, Torvald.”}

Vér munu fá til Valhallennr, Sven. {“We will get to Valhalla yet, Sven.} replied Torvald. Only a warrior who died in battle, weapon in hand, qualified for living in Valhalla with Odin and the Æsir.

The two men clasped forearms, then Torvald ordered his friend to lead a small group of warriors inland, to see where they were. Frijhof wasn’t going anywhere without a total rebuild. He would begin organizing a camp near the shore and begin drying out their belongings. Sven nodded and moved off, to organize a half-dozen of the warriors. They gathered weapons and dry clothing and climbed off the beach.

It was difficult to build a fire, for the simple reason that there was little fuel. There were no trees visible, just a hilly bog area. They scraped up driftwood and broken spars and oars to build several fires. Sven returned a few hours later, smiling. He and his men were carrying several sheep carcasses.

Torvald smiled when he saw them. “Velkomnir!” {“Welcome!”}

Sven smiled in return and pointed at the sheep. “Vér vitumk matr! Þat var réttr ganga of. {“We found dinner! It was just walking around.}

Torvald snorted out a laugh and led the men to the fires. The sheep were quickly and expertly butchered and the women began preparing a meal. Torvald took his friend aside and said, “Ok? Hvat gerði þú vita? {“And? What did you find?}

Sven shrugged. “Mang sauðum. Ok roaðr. Vætki ella. {Many sheep. And a road. Nothing else.} He explained further. The road was a good road, wide and graveled and flat, not rutted, so people must be around. It was a good road, too, not a rutted mud path like was common back home or in the southern islands. That meant it was the road of a rich people, but he hadn‘t seen any people, none at all. The same went for the sheep. They were just wandering around, without fencing or marking or branding. A people rich enough to keep a well-maintained road but who let their sheep wander around? It made no sense to either man.

The final act of the day was to gather every able-bodied man, woman, or child, and drag Frijhof as far onto the beach as possible. Then everybody collapsed and fell asleep around the fires.

The next morning, the survivors of the Frijhof ate a frugal breakfast while Torvald talked to a few of the men. Before they could do anything, they needed to have a look around and see what they could find. They needed to find wood to repair the ship, shelter, water, and more sheep. It was decided that Sven would take a party of men to the west while Torvald would take another party to the east. The women, children, and injured would stay at the campsite.

Torvald’s daughter, Helga, said, “Faðir, ek em ganga ok. {“Father, I am going also.} Helga was his only surviving child, sixteen, beautiful, and headstrong. She was like her late mother that way, and Torvald was more indulgent with her than he knew he should be.

þú eru skjöldrmær? {“You are a shieldmaiden now?} Torvald smiled down at Helga. She had her mother‘s fierce attitude, but unfortunately she also had her mother‘s small stature.

Faðir!" {“Father!"}

He smiled and shook his head. “Þú munu sitja ok raða þessi út. {“You will stay and sort this out.} He pointed to the campsite. Helga wanted to argue, but he told her she was to take command of the campsite and finish moving everything out of the ship. That would need to be done before they could ever repair it.

Helga sighed and nodded. She wished she were a shieldmaiden like in the sagas. She wanted to be like Lagertha or Brynhildr. Instead, she was going to be just another wife and mother. Then Torvald hugged her and followed Sven up the trail and off the beach. She turned back to the campsite and she and the others began organizing and cleaning up.

Sven led the warriors to the gravel road. He showed it to Torvald, who agreed it was a much better road than any they had back home. There must be good pickings nearby. Only a rich lord would have a road this good. They split the men into two groups and headed in opposite directions. It was time to go aviking!

***

Joint Training Base Cudlow was located on a pair of unnamed and unloved islands twenty miles northeast of Unst Island in the Shetlands. The two islands were originally unnamed but were now called Cudlow A and Cudlow B. Cudlow A was the larger of the two and the closer to Unst and was generally considered a bleak and unpleasant place. Cudlow B was smaller and so awful that Cudlow A was considered nice and civilized by anybody assigned to Cudlow B.

The two islands had been taken over by the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II. There weren’t more than a dozen families on the two islands, eking out a threadbare existence herding sheep. The Royal Air Force planned to put in a reconnaissance airfield, so they confiscated both islands and moved the locals out. The locals dutifully complained but silently thanked God and moved to the Shetlands with most of their flocks. The Royal Air Force then took a more detailed look at the islands and decided the place was too boggy and barren even for them and cancelled their plans quietly. Nobody wanted to move back, and for several decades the two islands moldered away, populated by nothing more than the sheep that had escaped their owners during the evacuation and had found ovine love in the bogs.

The two islands were remembered by the Royal Navy in the 1970s as being among the most godforsaken places in the British Isles. As such they were the perfect place to train SAS and SBS commando-types. Joining in with them were the US Marines, looking for a place to train for deployment to Norway in the event the Soviet Union got frisky. It was cold, wet, boggy, and foggy - and those were considered the good qualities! Likewise, nobody knew who Cudlow was or what sins he had committed to be immortalized with a base in such a place. Those who had been there figured it had to be pretty spectacular. Maybe he had gotten drunk and hit on the Queen. It was agreed that it had to be at least at that level.

Since then, the base had developed a reputation as the perfect place to train high-end operators in an awful location. The US Army joined the Marines by occasionally sending Rangers, and the British added the Paras every once in a while. The training was hard, and those selected came away with two deep beliefs. The first was that if they could survive Cudlow B, they could survive anything; combat at the North Pole would be better than Cudlow B! The second was that their commanding officer must have committed an unspeakable crime for them to have been selected for training there.

The Cudlow Islands Operations Group consisted of a small detachment of permanent personnel, mostly stationed on Cudlow A, and the training groups, mostly stationed on Cudlow B. The training was split between both islands, though B was considered tougher. Cudlow A had a number of warehouses, a few barracks for transitioning troops and permanent staff, a small engineering detachment from the Royal Engineers, a small communications group with elements on both islands, a medical detachment to handle the routine complaints from everybody involved, and a detachment of Wildcat helicopters to handle transport and assist in the training. Cudlow B was a lot skimpier, with just a few warehouse and barracks buildings, a small field kitchen facility and laundry, and a tarmac pad for the helicopters. The Engineers had built, at considerable expense, a pair of large piers near the permanent structures, one for each island; several times a year a transport barge would show up to offload supplies. Finally, around the edges of both islands the Engineers brought in a zillion tons of gravel and laid down graveled roads. Both islands had the requisite trucks and transport needed. Whatever homes the original occupants had were long gone, rotten and decayed and blown away in the ceaseless winds and storms.

Even getting to the Cudlow Islands was difficult. Since everything everywhere was wet and boggy, it would have cost a fortune to have put in an airfield on either island. To get there you had to first fly into RAF Lossiemouth in northeast Scotland, then transfer to a C-130 or smaller plane. A medium load C-130 could land at Sumburgh Airport near Lerwick in the Shetlands, from which point a helicopter would take you to Cudlow A. Nobody flew direct to Cudlow B.

For several reasons that basically added up to somebody at RAF Waddington dropping the ball, Cudlow wasn’t informed of the potential intruders until the middle of the next day. The signals group on Cudlow A got the message and promptly informed Lieutenant Colonel William Fowler, commanding officer of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Colonel Fowler and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Rangers were stationed on Cudlow A; the other elements were rotating in and out of Cudlow B. Currently stationed on Cudlow A was Bravo Company.

On hearing a Priority message was waiting for him in the signals shack, Fowler went there and received the message from the Royal Signal Corps sergeant. “When did this come in, Sergeant?”

“Five minutes ago, tops, Colonel.”

“So, the part about the contact being detected yesterday?” asked Fowler, a curious look on his face.

The signals sergeant shrugged and answered, “No idea, sir. Then again, it’s the Royal Air Force, so unless it was a Russian bomber, they probably didn’t care.”

The Ranger didn’t figure he would ever learn the answer, so he dropped it. “Have we heard anything from B since then?”

“Nothing.”

“Well, no news is good news. Get in touch with B and Captain Kowalski and inform them. Tell them I want a search.”

“Roger that, Colonel.”

“Thank you.” Fowler left the signals room and went back to his office.

Two minutes later Captain Joseph Kowalski had orders in his hand. He stared at them a moment and then yelled out, “Top!”

First Sergeant Drake Baker was the Company Sergeant for Bravo Company, the topkick, the senior non-commissioned officer in the company. Like most of the other senior noncoms and officers, Sergeant Baker was a combat veteran, with two tours in Afghanistan under his belt. He had two colors. First, he was as black as his Polish-American captain was white. Second, he was camo-colored. Of the two, the camo was the important color. He was almost never more than five minutes away from Captain Kowalski. Thirty seconds after being called, he was standing in Kowalski’s doorway. “Sir?”

“The Colonel just forwarded a message from the Brits. It seems that somebody was near here, maybe, in something the size of a cabin cruiser, maybe, yesterday, and they want us to have a look around.”

Baker was as disbelieving as his captain was. “A cabin cruiser? Here? We’re a little away from the regular vacation spots, Captain.”

“Hey, what do I know? For all we know, the Brits lost an aircraft carrier and want us to look for it. Where is everybody?”

“One and Two are out on a training hike on the west side, Three is replenishing supplies in prep for their next round, and Weapons is over on the east side playing with their mortars.”

“Well, get One and Two heading clockwise on the road from where they are. Roust out Three and load them into some Humvees and send them the other way around; they can pick up Weps when they meet up. They can join up just in time for the Russian Army to put a division ashore.”

“Roger that, Captain. And you?”

“Tell the Brits to launch a search bird. If anybody finds anything, you, me, and a squad will go out and help.”

Baker nodded and repeated back the orders, and then went to make them happen.

There was massive grumbling at the platoon level at the change of orders. First and Second Platoons were in full gear and about a kilometer inland from the perimeter road, heading towards a small-arms firing range. The hike was wet and muddy, and most of the Rangers had fallen into the muck at least once. One of the privates complained that Cudlow B was the only place on Earth that you could drown on dry land; his squad leader told him to shut up and keep moving, and then slipped and fell himself. Now they had to turn around and head back towards the road. On the plus side, this meant they would probably get out of playing in the mud for the day, but they would assuredly make up for it in the future.

Third Platoon grumbled the loudest. They had just come off a three-day hike through the interior of the island and were now catching up on dry sleep and replenishing their supplies. Instead, First Lieutenant Bradley Hmong was ordering them to gear up and head out to the parking lot, to grab their Humvees and trucks and go searching for something.

Weapons Platoon had it easiest of all. They had been practicing on the heavy weapons range on the east side of the island, with prepared positions and a relatively dry location. They already had vehicles, at least for the weapons. Now they simply had to pack up their gear and wait for Three to show up.

First to begin searching, however, was a Wildcat helicopter from the British Army. They were in the air before any of the Rangers could pack their gear and make it to the gravel road. While they didn’t have a search radar, they did have the original Mark I Eyeball available, and the sky was clear, even though it was somewhat overcast. From two-thousand feet up they could see almost all of Cudlow B, so they began circling the island searching for a cabin cruiser. The two pilots weren’t expecting what they found.

Moving clockwise around the island, they had circumnavigated about two-thirds of the way around when the copilot said, “Jerry, check right. It’s a boat of some sort, I think.” He pointed, and the pilot, Jerry Thompson, twisted the helicopter around so he had a better view.

After a second, Thompson responded, “It’s not a cabin cruiser, though.”

“I think it’s a boat, though. What is it?” replied Jimmy Hyde, the copilot.

The two men looked at each other. “Got me.”

“Go lower?”

“No. I don’t know why anybody would be boating here, but we can’t be sure. Call it in, though. Let them know they might have company down there.”

 

Chapter 2 - Capture

Sven! Hvat er at? {“Sven! What is that?}, asked Haldir Lothfrom.

Sven turned to look at what Haldir was pointing at. Haldir was pointing at the sky to their right. Several miles away was some sort of flying creature, but it didn’t look like any bird he had ever seen. It had no wings, for one thing, and it moved and twisted strangely. He was on the verge of saying he didn’t know when another man said, “Dreki!” {“Dragon!”}

Could the rich lord have dragons to guard this land? Sven didn’t know but he warned his men to take extra care. They continued along the road, but more warily, and they kept an eye on the flying creature as it moved away. Something seemed very strange about this land.

***

Captain Kowalski’s phone rang. It was 1SG Baker, and he said, “Captain, you’re needed in Signals.”

“On the way.” From Kowalski’s office to the radio room took eight seconds. Inside, Kowalski found Baker and a British signals sergeant chatting. “What’s up?”

The Brit answered, “It’s Watchdog Two, Captain. They reported they found what they think is a boat, but didn’t want to approach without calling it in. They estimate they are about a kilometer away.”

Kowalski’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked at Baker. Baker shrugged, clueless. Kowalski turned back to the signals sergeant. “Hold on that. First tell the platoon leaders that they might have uninvited visitors. Does he see anybody?”

The signals sergeant held up a finger in delay and first passed down the word to the platoon leaders that somebody had landed on Cudlow B. Then he got through to Watchdog Two, the helicopter. He looked back at Kowalski. “Not yet. You want them to move in?”

“Very slowly and very carefully.”

***

The copilot of Watchdog Two looked at the pilot and said, “They want us to move a little closer and see if anybody is around.”

“They say who they think might have come by for a visit?” asked Thompson.

Hyde shook his head and replied, “No. Sounds like they are as curious as we are. They did say to be careful, though.”

“Well, there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old and bold pilots, and I want to become a very old pilot. Keep your finger on the flare button and weapons.”

“Too bad we don’t have a flare dispenser; or flares; or weapons.”

“It’s that negative attitude which keeps you from becoming a command pilot,” said Thompson.

Hyde just snorted at that. He had almost as many hours as his friend, and frequently flew as command pilot himself.

Thompson made a few microscopic movements on the controls and the helicopter slowly dropped down and approached the wreck of the Frijhof. “Jimmy, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that looks like the pictures of a Viking longship I saw in a history book once.”

Hyde nodded and said, “It’s sure no cabin cruiser, that’s for sure. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Call it in?”

“Affirmative.”

***

“Captain, I have Watchdog Two again. They are reporting the ship looks like a Viking longship,” said the Signals sergeant.

“What in the world?” Kowalski muttered. “Can you put him on speaker?”

The signals sergeant didn’t answer directly, but flipped a switch and said, “Watchdog Two, I have you on speaker here with Captain Kowalski of the American Rangers. Will you repeat your report, please?”

“Roger that. We have what looks to be a wooden ship, long and thin, maybe fifteen to twenty meters long. It looks damaged, too. It’s on the beach.” He gave GPS coordinates and the sergeant pulled that up on a computer overlay of Cudlow B. It was on the northeast side of the island. “Wait…Hold one…What was that?”

Kowalski, Baker, and the sergeant looked at each other with concern. Kowalski was about to ask what was happening when Watchdog Two came on again. “Command, there are people down there. They look like they are trying to hide, but not being too successful at it. I also see what looks like a fire on the beach.”

“A fire?”

“Roger, a fire. It looks like a campfire, though not burning at the moment. You want us any closer? Not real thrilled with the idea, mate.”

“Negative, Watchdog Two. Back off for now,” said Kowalski.

“How are you on fuel?” asked Baker.

“One hour until Bingo.”

Kowalski nodded to Baker, and said, “See if you can find anybody else. Do not approach but let us know.”

“Roger that.”

The connection broke and the two Rangers looked at each other. “What the hell is going on?” asked the sergeant.

“I don’t know, but I think I need to talk to the colonel.”

***

“Colonel, there’s an urgent request to come to Signals,” reported Command Sergeant Major Glendale Pearson. The sergeant was the senior noncom in the battalion. He was to Lieutenant Colonel Fowler what Drake Baker was to Captain Kowalski. The colonel stood up from his desk.

“We’ve heard from Captain Kowalski, I take it.”

“Yes, sir, and they have intruders. He’s not sure what, but he’s asking for a gunship!”

Fowler stopped in his track. “A gunship?”

“Yes, sir. There’s a large wooden boat wrecked on the island with an unknown number of people at the boat, and two groups of people on the perimeter road going in opposite directions from the boat.”

“Huh!”

The two men walked quickly to the communications office, where the colonel was put on the phone to Captain Kowalski. “This is Ranger Six. Who is this??”

“Colonel, this is Bravo Six.”

“Joe, what’s going on?”

“Not completely clear, Colonel. When we got word of a possible intrusion, I pulled my men off their assignments and had the Brits send a helicopter to look around. They found multiple groups of intruders and what they thought was a Viking longship.”

A Viking longship?” Fowler asked incredulously.

“That’s what we said, too, sir. The helo was an unarmed transport bird and wasn’t feeling too brave. I had them RTB to refuel. Maybe they have something at the base there they can prep with a machine gun or something.”

“No vehicles seen?” asked Fowler.

“No, sir. They might have MANPADS though.” A MANPAD was a MAN-Portable Air-Defense system, a small shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rocket like the American Stinger or the British Starstreak.

“Your current deployment?”

Kowalski told Fowler the locations of his current forces. He had First and Second Platoons on the western side of the island, still several kilometers away from the intruders on their side of the island, and most of Third and Weapons Platoons on the east side of the island in a similar formation. There was enough roll and undulation in the terrain that neither group was in sight of the intruders. He had two squads of Rangers from Third Platoon with him and planned to move out as a reserve as needed.

“Okay, Joe, let me make a call or two. I don’t think you need Apaches, but maybe the Brits have something.”

“Yes, sir. Just trying to keep you informed. Something about this sounds really hinky.”

“Roger that. Ranger Six out.”

“Bravo Six out.”

The connection broke down and Fowler looked at his master sergeant. “A Viking longship?”

“Yes, sir. That’s what he said. Colonel, Captain Kowalski is right. This sounds hinky. Not to speak out of turn, but the Captain isn’t one to get nervous or scared. He’s a good man.”

Fowler nodded. “No Master Sergeant, he’s not somebody who gets rattled. If he thinks something strange is going on, then something strange is probably going on. Well, let’s see how we can help.” He turned back to the signals sergeant and asked, “Any idea where Major Boothright is?” Alistair Boothright was the senior British officer in the Cudlow Islands, and the person who would need to authorize arming one of the British transport helicopters.

Before the sergeant could answer a British captain answered, “If he’s lucky, he’s home in Wales. He medicalled out the other day.”

“Really? What happened?” asked Fowler.

“Cudlow A happened. He stepped off the tarmac into a soft spot and tripped in the bog. He broke an ankle, and they flew him home for a medical furlough. Major Smythe is running things until he’s back. I just saw him in his office.”

“Thank you.” He left the communications office and headed towards the British offices. It being a slow day, like most days on Cudlow, they were ushered into Major Smythe’s office quickly.

“Colonel Fowler, pleased to meet you. I was hoping to come by and meet you today, but things got busy. You heard about Major Boothright?”

“Yes, thank you, Major. I just heard about Major Boothright a few minutes ago. Nothing serious, I hope.”

Major Smythe shook his head and smiled. “No, he wasn’t that lucky. A few weeks from now he’ll have to come back here. Maybe I can break my ankle by then. How can I help you?”

“I have a company of Rangers over on B at the moment, and the Royal Air Force informed us this morning that they had a contact yesterday that might have been a boat approaching the island. My captain over there sent out one of your transport helicopters this morning and they found a bunch of people wandering around, but the pilot didn’t want to get too close. My guy wants to know if you have anything over here we can put some weapons on in case we need a backup.”

Major Smythe stared for a moment. “You’re serious?”

“Yes, Major, I am.”

“Huh.” He thought for a second and then answered, “I don’t know. I doubt we’d have anything more than a few machine guns. We don’t normally worry about enemy armor in the bogs around here. Let’s go find out.” He stood and led the way out of the headquarters building and towards the helicopter detachment, which was set up in its own building nearby. Four helicopters were on the tarmac outside, though one of them looked like it was partially disassembled.

Smythe led them into an office, where a young captain popped up from behind his desk and snapped to attention. “At ease, Captain.” The captain relaxed a touch but stayed standing. “Let me ask you. Any chance you can arm one of your birds?”

“Arm, sir?” The captain’s eyes popped out at that.

“Weapons, Captain. We have anything here we can do that with?”

“Uh, not really. We’re not set up for that. Certainly, no missiles. We might have flares, but they’re buried. We can always order something shipped in, but it will take a few days.”

“We need this now, Captain,” responded Fowler. “We have intruders on Cudlow B, and we want to prepare a welcome, if needed.”

“Intruders?” The young officer looked stumped for a second, but then straightened up and gave a firm nod. “They’re just transport birds, but they have standard door mounts. Give me half an hour and I’ll have two with machine guns rigged, and a third a half hour after that. The fourth one is tits up until we get a new engine. I’ll fly lead.”

Fowler smiled at the captain. “That’s the answer I was hoping for, Captain…”

“Jones, sir, Malcolm Jones.”

“Captain Jones. Thank you. We’ll be back here in thirty minutes. We’ll be going along with you. With any luck this will all be much ado about nothing, and later you can tell everybody at the club how you helped the silly colonials.”

Both British officers grinned at that, and Major Smythe answered, “We do that anyway, Colonel.” He turned back to Jones and gave his blessing on the plan. Captain Jones began scrambling to get his helicopters armed and fueled. Fowler and Pearson headed towards their quarters to gear up as well. Along the way Sergeant Major Pearson found the Commanding Officer of the Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company and requested a squad of heavily armed and armored Rangers ready to move out immediately. Captain Wilson gave him a curious look but only for a moment. If Pearson was asking, then Fowler was asking, and if Fowler was asking, then the only response desired was how many and how soon. He pointed to a lieutenant and a sergeant first class and told them to get it done. Pearson thanked him and went off to his quarters.

Thirty-five minutes later, Raven One and Raven Two lifted off from the tarmac on Cudlow A. The HHC captain and lieutenant had both volunteered to go along, but Fowler had turned them down. “We’ll have more chiefs than Indians. I think Pearson and I can handle a squad of Rangers.”

“Roger that, sir,” they both answered. Then they saluted and watched as the Rangers boarded the newly armed Wildcats. The HHC captain then told his lieutenant, “I’m going over to Signals and listening in.”

“Keep me informed, sir. Let me know what we need to do.”

***

Raven One and Raven Two were nearing Cudlow B when Captain Kowalski contacted Colonel Fowler. “Ranger Six, this is Bravo Six, how do you read me?”

“Bravo Six, Ranger Six reads you five by five. Say status.”

“I have a squad in Watchdog Three orbiting the west side of the island. The west group seems to be the closest to contact. I have Platoons One and Two on opposite sides of the road in echelon formation. We’ll wait until they’re in the bag and then come in at the open end to grab them.”

“Roger that, Joe. Sounds good. What do you want us to do?”

“Pick up the pieces if I have this fucked up, Colonel.”

Fowler laughed loudly at that. “I repeat, roger that. If that really is a Viking longship, I’ll be sure to give you a Viking funeral.” He laughed some more at that thought.

Two minutes later, Captain Kowalski came back on the radio, but this time sounded much more serious. “Bravo One, Bravo Two, it’s time. Initiate entrapment. Watchdog Three coming in from behind. Go, go, go!”

***

Sven Halstrom was beginning to wonder if they might have been better to stay with the sinking boat. This was a very strange land they were in. Where were the people who owned the sheep they had seen and where was the lord who had built such a fine road? Most importantly, did he own the dragons that were flying around. It had been bad enough when they saw the first one earlier, but it had flown away. Now it had come back, and it had brought two more! They were flying over the water, but what if they came closer? Rich men with dragons would probably not want Sven and the rest of his band on their lands.

Sven! Sven! Líta! {“Sven! Sven! Look!}

Sven turned to look at what Floki Tuvaman was pointing at. Suddenly he knew they were in trouble. He and his men had been marching down the road, since going through the bogs on either side would have taken three times as long. Now, rising from those bogs were men in strange green and brown clothing, with painted faces and strange growths on their heads. Some of them were standing and some were kneeling and some were laying on the ground, but they all were pointing odd-looking sticks at them.

Floki looked sideways at Sven and asked, “Eru þau krossboga? {“Are those crossbows?}

ég veit ekki. Hvar eru örvar? {“I don‘t know. Where are the arrows?} This was not good, not good at all. Skjöldur! Fara frá síga. {“Shields! Back away slowly.}

Dreki! Dreki!” {“Dragons! Dragons!”} Sven looked backwards and found one of the dragons was coming in from back down the road, slowly. It made a strange sound and was moving side to side.

“Smíða skjöldveggr. Ek munu líða ok mæltilr þau. {“Form the shieldwall. I will go and talk to them.}

The strange warriors were making many noises in a strange language and pointing at the road. Sven lifted his shield into place, and with his spear in his right hand went up the road. He called on the strangers to speak with him, even trying to speak in the language of the peoples in the southern islands, but they refused to move. They just kept pointing the strange sticks and gesturing him to get on the ground. He just shook his head, and they began yelling angrily at him.

He turned back to his men. “Þat er góðr dagr til líðtilr Valhalla. Þat er tími til bjóðja þau. Standa fast. {“It is a good day to go to Valhalla. It is time to challenge them. Stand fast.} Sven turned back to the strange warriors. He didn‘t know what weapons they had, but it was time to find out. He smiled and pointed at the nearest, a man on his left side. Bellowing his vilest curse, he faced him, moved closer, and threw his spear!

***

Private First Class Justin Turner wondered what was happening, but he had been in the Army long enough to have learned that if he was supposed to know something, a sergeant would tell him. He had also learned that asking ahead of time was never a good idea. The Army would let him know what they wanted him to know when they wanted him to know it. In the meantime, he was to keep his mouth shut and do what he was told. In his case the person doing the telling was his fire team leader, Sergeant Bishop Willsey, a veteran of Afghanistan who was about the toughest man Justin Turner had ever met! Sergeant Willsey was a good fire team leader, in that PFC Turner had never once been able to get away with anything without the sergeant being in his shit two seconds later. Still, Turner thought he was a fair man; Willsey got in everybody’s shit!

PFC Turner had only been in the Army about eighteen months, and had joined right out of high school, when he was still seventeen. He had just turned nineteen. He was bright enough to go to college, but his family was dirt poor and the Army had been the only way he could see getting enough money for college. He was a big kid, and strong, and the idea of becoming a paratrooper and then becoming a Ranger had been mystical to him. The reality was somewhat different but, so far, he was not sorry he had joined.

The one thing the Army and the Rangers had drilled into Justin Turner, from just about the moment he got off the bus at Fort Benning, was that you never left a man behind, and you always made sure to avenge their death. He watched, curious, what the strangely dressed people on the road were doing. He couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the big fellow in front was acting pretty angry. Then, dumbfounded, he watched as he threw a spear at them! He wasn’t the only one who stared either. Sergeant Willsey was standing just a few feet away from PFC Turner, and he didn’t even turn away as the spear hit him square in the middle of his chest and knocked him to the ground!

Turner stared at his dead squad leader, and then turned back to the stranger on the road, who had now pulled a sword out and was running towards him. The lieutenant had ordered ‘Weapons tight!’, which meant nobody was supposed to shoot, but this was too much for the young man. He immediately raised his M-4 carbine to his shoulder, got a sight picture on the man with the sword, and flicked off the safety. He tapped the trigger and instantly three rounds went into the man’s chest. He dropped like a stone.

“CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE! WEAPONS TIGHT! WEAPONS TIGHT!” was heard all around the perimeter. Everybody was nervously pointing at the mass of men on the road, but they seemed as astonished as the Rangers.

Then Turner saw the most amazing sight. He looked over at the body of Sergeant Willsey and found the sergeant sitting upright and cursing up a storm! “Jesus fucking Christ! Do you believe this shit? Turner! Give me a hand and don’t shoot me! SHIT!”

“Sarge? You’re alive?”

“I am but you won’t be if you don’t pull me out of this swamp! Fuck!” Turner helped his team leader to his feet and stared at his chest. Willsey’s protective gear was cut but otherwise unharmed. Willsey picked up the spear and said, “Jesus fucking Christ! A SPEAR? A FUCKING SPEAR?”

By then Lieutenant Smith had arrived. Smith was the senior of the two platoon leaders on the western road, and Captain Kowalski had named him the ground commander. He was the commander of Second Platoon, and Willsey and Turner were his men. He hustled over and checked that they were alright, and then ordered Second Platoon closer. While First Platoon stayed in an overwatch position, Second began to angrily point to the strangers and the road in front of them. One by one they were ordered forward, where three of the Rangers rudely stripped them of any weapons they might have. Lieutenant Smith called it in to Captain Kowalski and Colonel Fowler. “Bravo Six, this is Bravo Two Six. We’ve got them, but I’ll be damned if I know what they are. They don’t speak any language any of us have ever heard, and they don’t have anything other than swords and spears!”

“Bravo Two Six, this is Ranger Six. Say again, son? Swords and spears?” interjected Lieutenant Colonel Fowler.

“Roger that, Ranger Six! Swords and spears, and a couple of bows, you know, bows and arrows. Lots of knives, too. Probably going to miss a few unless we strip search them,” admitted Smith.

“Hold one.”

The line went dead for a couple of minutes, and then Bravo Six, Captain Kowalski came back on. “Bravo Two Six, keep them where they are for the time being. Don’t let them near their weapons. We’re going to go sort out the others, and then transport them back to base. Keep it frosty and weapons tight.”

“Roger that. Bravo Two Six out.”

“Bravo Six out.” With that the three helicopters flew eastward.

Smith turned back to his men and reiterated the command to ‘Stay frosty!’ and then went off to find his counterpart in First Platoon. This was shaping up to be one weird fucking day!

***

Torvald Gunnarson was thinking the same things that his friend and second-in-command Sven Halstrom had been thinking shortly before they blundered into the trap. Things were too quiet, no birds were around, and even the sheep had moved away. Worse, he had seen the things flying around, too, and while he wasn’t sure they were dragons, his men certainly thought they were. Now there were more of them, and they were between his war party and the camp where the Frijhof was beached.

Then he knew they were trapped. They were approaching a small rise when men stood up from the bogs, strange men in green and brown clothing, carrying strange sticks. Like Sven he decided to stop and begin edging backwards, but that wasn’t going to work. The three dragons had approached while the warband was watching the strange men. Torvald turned to face the dragons and some of his men shot arrows at them, a few even hit the nearest dragon. The dragon didn’t even notice, though, and he watched as fire came down from the dragons to cut the road behind them. They turned back to the hill, and several bolts of dragon fire cut the road in front of them. They were trapped.

Torvald watched as some of the strangely dressed warriors came closer. When they motioned for him to come forward, he left his shield and weapons behind and went to meet his captors. The dragons flew away.

***

“Colonel, pardon my language, but what the hell is going on? They were shooting arrows at us, like bows and arrows from one of your Western films!” said Captain Jones on the intercom to Colonel Fowler, flying in the back with half the Rangers. Jones was piloting Raven One; his senior lieutenant had Raven Two with Pearson and the rest of the squad of Rangers.

“Hell if I know, Captain Jones. We have one more stop to make, back at the boat. We’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way, though. You’ll need to drop us off, so we can approach on foot and wrinkle them out.”

“Tallyho, Colonel.” Raven One moved to the nearest point the road made to the beach. They stood overwatch while Raven Two dropped off its load of Rangers, then Two returned the favor. Captain Kowalski then landed with his group, and they formed up as two absurdly over-officered squads.

“Joe, this is some of the weirdest shit I have seen in a long while,” commented the colonel.

“Roger that, boss. Bows and arrows? Swords and spears? I’d say it was some weird movie except we got us a dead Viking, if that’s what we got!”

Fowler pointed to the edge of the drop-off to the beach. “Go down there and find anybody still hanging around and get them up here. We’ll stay up here to greet them.”

“Yes, sir.” Kowalski took his squad and split them into two groups, with the squad leader taking half. He took his men and walked a hundred meters east and then climbed down to the beach. The other group was doing the same to the west. If anybody panicked, they’d run to the top where Fowler and Pearson would nab them.

The word of the day was ‘Stay frosty!’ The only weapons anybody had seen were swords and spears, but people could still die from that. The groups slowly merged on the boat, and the only resistance was from a teenage girl with a spear. A couple of men kept her distracted while a third crept up behind her and grabbed her. She fought fiercely but unsuccessfully, and she found her hands tied behind her with a few zip-ties. The captives were mostly women and children, and a couple of injured men. They were all led up to the road, where the screaming and terrified captives were tied up and loaded unceremoniously into the helicopters. They were taken back to the base.

Sergeant Major Pearson had the best opinion on the whole day. Saying it loudly but to no particular listener, he summed up the day’s events with, “This is the weirdest fucking shit I have ever seen in the Army! Period!”

Nobody argued with him.

 

Chapter 3 - Vikings?

The three helicopters were the first group to return to the base on Cudlow B; they were dropped onto the road just to the east of the base. The prisoners, so terrified to get on the helicopters in the first place, were now terrified to get off. One by one they were pulled off and pulled to the side. Watchdog Three lifted off first and returned to the Cudlow B landing pad.

Colonel Fowler spoke on the intercom to Captain Jones. “After you drop us off head over to the landing pad. We’ll replace the ammo you fired, simplify the paperwork.”

“Sounds good to me, Colonel.” The paperwork in having the Brits fire in support of the Americans, and transferring the costs around, would be a nightmare.

Then it became a nightmare for real. Colonel Fowler sent as many trucks as could be had to the west, to pick up the first group of prisoners. A medic came up to him and Captain Kowalski immediately afterwards. “Sir, we have a problem.”

“What’s that…Sergeant Harris?” He didn’t know the man, but he read his name off his uniform. He could also see he was a medic.

“Sir, are these really Vikings?”

Kowalski shrugged and gave a perplexed look. “No idea, Doc. Why? Trying to figure out how time travel works?” replied Kowalski.

“Sir, I flew out and in with Raven Two. I had a good look at a few of the…whatever, prisoners, Vikings, who knows. Sir, they have fleas and lice.”

Fowler began to get a bad feeling. “And?”

“Sir, if these guys really are Vikings, from the Middle Ages and all, we need an immediate quarantine! Fleas are carriers for bubonic plague, among other diseases! We need to wash up immediately, them and us, and disinfect anything they might have contacted.”

Fowler stared at the medic for a few seconds, and then swore under his breath. He turned to Captain Kowalski and said, “Joe, get over to the landing pad and keep them from lifting off. Bring that helo pilot back. This just got even more complicated.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And get some trucks after those other prisoners or whatever.”

“Yes, sir.” Kowalski took off before the colonel could give him any more jobs. He got to the helipad as the two helicopters were getting some ammo cans to replace what they had fired earlier. They had fired some NATO standard 7.62mm with tracers mixed in to cut the road behind and in front of the second group; they had been suitably cowed into submission. It was vastly simpler for the Rangers to replace the rounds fired from their own stocks, which could be listed as ‘Used in training’, than to go through the rigamarole of having the Brits report the usage and then bill the US Army.

Kowalski flagged down Captain Jones before he had the chance to go anywhere. “You need to come back to see Colonel Fowler before you can leave, either of you.”

“What’s up?”

“He’ll explain it, but you can’t go yet.” Kowalski didn’t want to be the one to tell Captain Jones that he and his crews were now quarantined for plague!

Jones shrugged and told his copilot, then climbed into Kowalski’s Humvee. He got back in time to see the first trucks begin trundling down the gravel road towards the first group of prisoners. Jones did not take well to the idea of a medical quarantine. “You’re telling me that my guys might have fleas and lice with disease now?” he asked incredulously.

Sergeant Harris answered for his colonel. “Maybe, but we can’t be sure. Captain, I am sure that the British Army inoculated you just like they did all of us, so you are probably quite safe. However, fleas and lice tend to jump around a lot. If they were on the prisoners, and I can tell you I saw them, they are now in your birds. You fly home, they will jump onto the next sorry bastard who climbs on board.”

“That’s if these people really are time-traveling Vikings, right? You do realize how crazy that sounds,” Jones commented.

Fowler nodded and said, “Better safe than sorry.” He turned to Kowalski and said, “Captain, did you go on that ship or whatever it is?”

Kowalski looked around and caught the eye of one of the troops who had flown with him and motioned him over. “I looked it over, but Specialist Beekman actually climbed in to look for anybody trying to hide.”

Specialist Walter Beekman nodded and said, “I mean, I don’t know what a real Viking ship looks like, but I can tell you this thing didn’t look modern. It looked hand-made, for one thing.”

“What do you mean? I’ve seen people build boats. You can buy kits,” replied Fowler.

‘Yes, sir, but those kits have regular lumber, you know, cut with saws in a lumber mill, everything a standard size. The boards and wood I saw looked irregular and had tool marks.”

“Huh.”

“Another thing, sir. I was looking everywhere. I didn’t see any engine. A boat that size, even if it’s a sailboat, wouldn’t they have an emergency engine?” asked the Specialist.

Kowalski and Fowler looked at each other in confusion, but it was the British pilot, Jones, who answered. “No engine of any kind?”

“Not that I saw. Maybe they were hiding an outboard somewhere, but I doubt it. And if they had one, why not use it? They had only part of a mast, and what looked like a lot of water in the bilges. If the motor was for emergency use, wouldn’t that count as an emergency?”

Jones looked at the others. “You said the Royal Air Force reported a cabin cruiser?”

“They said it was something the size of a cabin cruiser,”, said Kowalski, “and that thing is bigger than a cabin cruiser.”

“Maybe, but they were basing that judgment off a radar return. A wooden ship without any metal in it might give off the same return as a smaller boat with an engine,” replied the pilot.

Everybody was looking at each other in disbelief. It was Fowler who made the final decisions. “Okay, we don’t know what we really have here, but it sounds pretty strange. Captain, you and your guys are just going to have to stay the night, at least until we figure this out. Tell them they can’t tell anybody what they saw. I want a total blackout on this until we know more. I’ll call your Major Smythe when I go inside. For one thing, you need to tell us how to disinfect and fumigate a helicopter! Captain Kowalski, we need to figure out someplace to put these people where we can keep them under control. Right now, they are prisoners, but I don’t want them to think we’ve got them in prison. When they get here, we want to examine them and their clothing and weapons. Same for that boat. Send a crew out there and strip it bare, bring it back here.”

“Roger that, sir,” said Kowalski.

“Yes, Colonel, understood,” added Jones.

“Captain, I know you’re British and not under my command, but give me a chance to talk to Smythe. I don’t know what we have here, but if it is time-traveling Vikings, we have a major problem, don’t you think?”

Jones swallowed and nodded. “Yes, Colonel, I think that will be the understatement of the century!” Kowalski had a driver take the pilot back to the helipad to try and figure out how to fumigate three helicopters.

***

Helga Ingesdottir had never been so scared in her life. She had been left in charge of the small encampment while her father and the men had gone in search of whatever was on the island, but that hadn’t been a problem. No, the problems had started when the men hadn’t returned, but the dragons had come looking for them. One had flown in from the sea, but had then flown away, only to return later with two more dragons. Then men had come down to the beach and captured her small group and forced them up from the Frijhof to the bluffs above them. That was when she found the dragons sitting there, with more men around them. They had all screamed and tried to run away, but they were all herded towards the dragons.

Helga and her group were all thrown into the bellies of the dragons and were followed by the strange men. They wore green and brown clothing, and their faces were painted in strange colors. The men tied them up with odd white bindings and then tied them into the bellies of the dragons. The men weren’t cruel, but they spoke in a strange language that nobody had ever heard before and ignored the wails and pleading of the women and children.

Then the real fear grew! The dragons roared, and their wings began moving too fast to be seen, and the dragons lifted into the air and began flying. The cries became screams and the strange men had to grab some of the women who began struggling to escape. It was only a few minutes later that the dragons landed near some odd-looking buildings. The men untied the women and pulled them and the children and the injured men from the dragons. They were pulled to an area where more of the strange men were standing, and then the dragons flew away. Even though nobody was cruel to them, it was obvious they were prisoners and were to stay where they were put.

A short while later more dragons showed up, though these dragons crawled along the ground like giant wagons. They came from the west, and the women discovered the dragons were full of the men in the search party. All their weapons were missing, and the strange men were carrying a large green bag. The western group was turned loose and directed towards the women. Helga looked around for the leader of the group, Sven Halstrom. Sven was her father’s second-in-command and had been leading the western group. When she didn’t see him, she found another of the men and asked, “Hvere er Sven? {“Where is Sven?}

Viggo Berg replied sadly, “Sven er ínn Valhalla. {“Sven is in Valhalla.”}

Sven!” she wailed.

Viggo simply shook his head and gestured at the strange green bag the oddly dressed men were carrying. He told her what had happened, and then repeated it to Sven’s niece and nephew. The two groups mingled together and told how they had been captured.

The last to arrive was the eastern group, which included Torvald, Helga’s father. She ran to him as soon as he was unloaded from the rolling dragons and the groups mingled together, telling what had befallen them. Unstated but understood was that they were now surrounded by the strange men with the magical sticks that had killed Sven Halstrom, and that could easily kill them all.

***

When the first group of men were brought in, both Lieutenant Colonel Fowler and Captain Kowalski went over to the commanders of First and Second Platoons. “Gentlemen, how did it go?” asked the colonel.

The two lieutenants grimaced. Lieutenant Smith of Second Platoon explained what had happened with his sergeant being attacked by a man with a spear, who was then killed in turn by a young private. While both Kowalski and Fowler had already heard about the fatality, both still grimaced and shook their heads. It was Lieutenant Buckbottom of First Platoon who asked what everybody wanted to know. “Sir, are these really Vikings?”

Fowler answered, “Lieutenant, I just don’t know.”

“For what it’s worth, sir, my guys started talking to these guys on the ride back, in every language they could speak. None of them seemed to understand us.”

Smith agreed. “My guys did the same thing, and some of what they said was pretty raw. If they understood us, they didn’t react, and they must be the world’s greatest actors. My guys tried everything!”

Buckbottom said, “Mine, too. We have guys who can speak a dozen different languages, and it was like none of it was real.”

Fowler and Kowalski shrugged. While Spanish was the most common second language among the Rangers, another dozen or more languages were known to some of the soldiers. Some were learned as children from immigrant parents and grandparents, and some were learned as children before they came to America. The Rangers drew from the elite of the Army and was as diverse as the nation.

The two senior leaders moved away from the two platoons and back towards the command area. “Colonel, we are going to have to get these people under cover. We need to contain the situation,” said Captain Kowalski.

“Agreed, Captain. Your suggestion?” replied Fowler. He had an idea of his own but wanted to see what his young captain came up with.

“We need to get some sanitation going. We need to get them out of their clothing and cleaned up. We need to get them fed and bunked inside somewhere.”

Fowler nodded. “Don’t forget we need some medical treatment, too. And we probably need some women, maybe female nurses.”

“Yeah, that too. All of us, you included, need to wash and get into clean clothing while our old stuff gets washed and sterilized. I don’t know if Viking fleas are going to give us Viking diseases, but I’d prefer not finding out. Even if they aren’t Vikings!”

Fowler nodded again. “And your plan is?” he asked with a smile.

“Let’s clean out the new warehouse and bunk them in there. We run them through the showers in the barracks and then dress them in clean uniforms and march them over to the warehouse. Meanwhile we bring over a couple of port-a-potties. Once they are cleaned up, we can figure out bunks and bedding. Then we can bring in the doctors and nurses, check them out.” Kowalski shrugged. “I am more than grateful for any suggestions, boss. This sure wasn’t covered at Hudson High, you know.”

Fowler laughed. “No, no it wasn’t! That sounds good. I am going to have to get with the Brits and order up a bunch of support. You start sorting these guys out. Just remember, don’t let your guys go into their barracks area until they’ve showered. That includes me and the guys we brought over from A.”

With that, Captain Kowalski was able to sort out his troops. First Platoon was designated as guards, and while some just sat down and discussed the amazing events of the day, one squad was arrayed around the visitors in a guard position. Second and Third Platoons were ordered to the barracks area but were told to strip bare outside and leave their clothes behind. Then they were ordered to take a quick shower and dress in fresh clothing. Afterwards they brought their mesh laundry bags out and unbathed personnel loaded clothing up to be washed. Freshly dressed, Second and Third Platoons were designated as labor; some were directed to empty the warehouse, some set up tables for clothing, some broke open stores and laid out uniforms and boots. Meanwhile Weapons Platoon was sent out in Humvees and gun trucks to scour the gravel road for anything the visitors might have dropped, and to bring everything possible back from the longship.

When talking about it later that evening, some of what occurred seemed like low comedy to some of the Rangers. A couple of the soldiers drove port-a-potties over to the prisoners with forklifts, whereupon other soldiers prepped them for use. Unfortunately, none of the prisoners seemed to understand what they were for. Finally, one sergeant ordered a few of the prisoners over to watch as he dropped his trousers and sat down and went to the bathroom. All that was done with gestures since nobody could speak the same language. Afterwards, the prisoners were ordered to use the portable privies. That required a few of the other Rangers to use the port-a-potties on occasion, especially since none of the prisoners understood what toilet paper was for.

It didn’t always work. One of the prisoners refused to use the privy and undid his trousers and pissed in the bog. That resulted in his being yelled at by a Ranger sergeant, and when the Viking ignored him, the sergeant took a more practical response. Reasoning that housebreaking a prisoner and housebreaking a puppy couldn’t be all that different, he decided to smack the puppy with a newspaper, yell at the puppy, and rub the puppy’s nose in his mess. He reversed his carbine and slammed it into the Viking’s stomach, and then when the prisoner doubled over, he kicked his feet out from under him. The Viking fell to the ground and the sergeant rubbed his face in the bog where he had pissed, all while he yelled at the prisoner. Then he was hauled upright and pointed at the privy.

Shower time proved just as amusing. After the Rangers and Brits managed to strip down and then clean up, small groups of Vikings were taken over to the barracks. Using the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ method, one Ranger would strip down while the other Rangers yelled at the prisoners to do the same. Then the naked Ranger would lead the way into the showers and show the prisoners how to shower and wash up. Afterwards towels were provided, and the Vikings were led outside to a table where they were ordered to dress in uniforms that had been broken out of stores. Their old clothing had been taken away, to be both examined and sterilized; it also served to separate the prisoners from any weapons they had managed to hide. It was uniformly agreed that the Rangers involved were probably the cleanest Rangers in the entire battalion!

Fortunately for the Rangers, a helicopter from Cudlow A brought in the detachment medical officer and a pair of female nurses. They had been getting the male prisoners cleaned up, but nobody wanted to have to order the women and children to strip down. The Afghan vets all knew just how calamitous it could be ordering the local women around, and they could already see that the female Vikings were all in various family groupings with some of the men. Almost from the first moment the nurses climbed down from the helicopter, they were summoned over to the women, where it was explained that somebody needed to take the women and children through the shower procedure.

That didn’t start out all that well. One of the women, a teenaged girl, started arguing about being taken away from the group. Even though an older man pointed towards the barracks and gently pushed her in that direction, she resisted. Then one of the nurses took her by the upper arm and tried to pull her in the direction of the barracks. The young women lit into her with some vitriolic, if unintelligible, remarks and then swung a fist at the nurse. Lieutenant Doris Goodhew let out a squawk and fell back on her rear. Several of the Rangers jumped forward to help her up, but she ordered them back. Climbing to her feet she walked back to the now-smirking female Viking. Then, surprising everybody, she pulled back her arm and punched the girl square in the face. The girl turned her head but was still going to end up with a black eye and it was her turn to fall on her butt. The older Viking simply shook his head and helped the girl to her feet, and then pointed towards the barracks. Around them both Rangers and Vikings were laughing at the confrontation. The nurse led a group of women and children to the showers, with the teenage girl in tow.

What wasn’t so funny was when Major Thomas Cooper, the doctor in charge of the medical detachment flown in, ordered a complete quarantine of the entire island. “What’s up, Doc?” asked Captain Kowalski, followed a split second later by his boss, Lieutenant Colonel Fowler.

“Gentlemen, I don’t know if these people really are Vikings or not, but if they are, bubonic plague is the least of our problems. I can cure the plague. I can’t cure smallpox!”

“Smallpox!” said a shocked Kowalski.

“Smallpox was a common disease during the Viking period. It was incredibly dangerous and very contagious. We have managed to eradicate it around the world since then, to the point that we no longer vaccinate against it! If these people really are time-traveling Vikings, and if just one has smallpox, we are all in danger!” he replied.

“Oh, shit!” said Fowler quietly. “And I thought Covid was bad!”

“It goes the other way, too. There are scads of diseases that we routinely vaccinate for nowadays that Vikings would have never been exposed to. We have diseases now that didn’t even exist a thousand years ago.” When Fowler gave him a confused look, the doctor continued, “Syphilis, for instance. Syphilis evolved in the Western Hemisphere and was brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus and his crew. That was hundreds of years after the Vikings. We need to give all of these people a full round of vaccinations, immediately!”

“We’ll need to set up a shot line,” Kowalski commented to Fowler, who simply nodded.

“And set up a complete quarantine, like I said earlier,” finished the doctor.

Fowler rubbed his face and turned towards Sergeant Major Pearson. “I am going to need to speak to all our senior people ASAP, including all the Brits. Especially the Brits! Get it set up, but we are going to need some major support. Cudlow B has nowhere near the necessary supply and shelter that is going to be needed.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned towards the command post, but then turned back. “Vikings, sir? For real?”

Fowler shrugged. “I don’t know, Sergeant Major, but this just feels too weird. Pass the word, this just went beyond Top Secret. Have everybody put their cell phones in the bottoms of their packs, and request that from everybody else.”

“Yes, sir. If this is just a fake, sir, you mind if I just skin them all alive?”

“That will be fine. Kowalski and I will hold them down for you.”

Pearson sighed and went to work.

Over the next twenty-four hours the military presence on Cudlow B grew exponentially. An expanded medical team arrived with refrigerated pallets of vaccines and antibiotics. The medical team took one look at their new patients and ordered up a dentist. A British Army field kitchen was brought in, expanding the existing facility. The Royal Engineers were called in to set up additional housing and a supply base. In one amusing incident, a helicopter pilot was ordered to drive to the nearest store and buy all the disposable nappies he could find. To support all of this, the Royal Air Force began shuttling a mountain of supplies to Sumburgh Airport in the Shetlands, and the helicopters began flying directly from Sumburgh to Cudlow B, bypassing Cudlow A. Even the Royal Navy was involved; a small tender was contracted to be loaded with supplies and sent north.

Cudlow B was rapidly becoming a major headache for both Great Britain and the United States.

 

Chapter 4 - The OWS

Travis Shockley picked up the desk phone when it rang. The display showed it was his boss, so he answered, “Yes, sir.”

“Come see me, Travis. Something has come up.”

“Yes, sir.” Travis hung up the phone and silently groaned. He knew that his weekend plans had just been trashed. He stood and left his office and went down the hall. The offices simply had numbers on the doors, without names or titles. When he went into his boss’ office the admin sitting at the desk, Marianne Jennings, just nodded her head towards the inner door. Travis knocked on the door and went in without waiting for a response.

“We got us a weird one, Travis,” said Walt Brickhouse.

“That’s sort of the job description, Walt.”

“Humor. Ha! Ha!” was the non-laughing reply.

Travis simply shrugged. He had joined the Central Intelligence Agency six years ago, after graduating from West Point and doing six years in the Army, first in the Rangers and then in Intelligence. That wasn’t a terribly unusual progression for an intelligence agent, but what followed was. Rather than being assigned to field operations or analysis, Travis found himself assigned to a very small group, the Office of World Science.

It was also known as the Office of Weird Shit.

“What’s up?”

Brickhouse tossed a thin file folder on the desk, but Travis didn’t pick it up immediately. “We’ve got a case of time travel. Congratulations. It’s your problem.”

Travis stared for a moment. “For real?”

Brickhouse just gave an exasperated sigh and nodded. “So far, anyway. That’s one of the things you’ll need to verify. Just a few days ago, what looks like a Viking longship rowed ashore at a joint British-US training base in the North Sea. Nobody speaks any language anybody has ever heard. They were wearing homespun wool and furs and carrying swords and spears. One attacked a sergeant by throwing a spear at him and got killed for his troubles. Now they have these guys bottled up and the island quarantined.”

“Vikings?”

Travis received a nod in return. “It’s official, too. They got some blood samples from this group and tested them.”

“You can test for old time DNA?”

“No, but you can test for isotopes. None of the blood samples had any strontium-90 or cesium-137 or any of the other isotopes you get from nuclear bombs. Everybody has some level of nuclear fallout in them since the 1950s, when we started building and testing atomic bombs. The same thing happened with leakage from power plant accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. These guys? Zip!”

“Huh.”

“It’s in the file. Review it and figure it out,” said Walt.

Travis stood up and picked up the folder. “If these guys really are Vikings, we need to find somebody who can speak Viking.”

“This is your top priority.”

Travis headed for the door, but then stopped and turned back. “Who knows about this so far?”

“You, me, and the Army. Do you really want any politicians learning about time travel? It’s the same over there. Nobody is telling Number Ten Downing Street about it.”

Travis rolled his eyes, said goodbye, and went back to his office. As expected, the file folder had nothing in it other than the file locations in the computer system. Travis sat down and logged into the system and then began pulling up files. After reviewing everything, he knew he would have to visit the site, and he would need an expert or two. First on his list was finding somebody who spoke Viking. Too bad the Agency’s databases didn’t list anybody who spoke Viking.

It was time to get serious. He cranked up Wikipedia and typed ‘Viking language’ into the search bar. That redirected him to a language called Old Norse, which basically stated that Old Norse wasn’t spoken any longer but had evolved into most of the Northern Germanic languages. The most intriguing possibilities were Icelandic and Norwegian. Those were languages he could search for in the databases.

The CIA had a huge analysis department; they boasted that they had an expert on tap for just about anything. If, for whatever impossible reason, the CIA needed to know something about medieval French plumbing, they had somebody they could ask. That didn’t mean he was an actual CIA employee, but was somebody listed as being knowledgeable and willing to answer questions. Travis pulled up the search system and typed in Norwegian and Icelandic expertise, as well as Old Norse, which he considered a long shot at best. He also specified that he wanted a male under the age of thirty-five; they would be working in somewhat primitive conditions with a somewhat primitive society.

Much to Travis’ amazement, a name came up on his screen, Lars Knut Ropstad, a nineteen-year-old student at Manchester Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Travis wasn’t at all sure how the Agency came up with their lists of experts. How in the world did a New Hampshire teenager end up on their list of linguistics experts?

Travis hit a few keys and called up the details on Lars Ropstad. Despite the Scandinavian name, Lars was born and bred in the United States. He was born in Boston to a Norwegian father and an Icelandic mother, who had emigrated to the United States twenty years ago. A couple of years after he was born, the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, where they still lived. That must have been how Lars learned his foreign languages, thought Travis, but it didn’t explain the other languages listed. Lars was noted as being completely fluent in Norwegian, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Faroese, Old Saxon, and Old Norse. Travis had never even heard of Faroese!

He needed to talk to this kid. He called up a telephone app on his computer and found the Ropstad’s home number, but it simply rang three times and then went to voicemail. Everybody was at work, he figured. Time for Plan B. From IRS records, he learned where the Ropstads worked. He first tried calling Ropstad Construction, the contracting business the father had built, but only got an answering machine. Time to call Mom.

“Manchester Independent Insurance, how can we help you?”

“Can I speak to Marta Ropstad?” asked Travis.

“I’m sorry, we don’t have a Marta Ropstad. We do have a Marta Ellensdottir.”

Travis remembered that in Iceland, most women had a last name based on their mother’s name, and that they often didn’t take their husband’s last name. “That’s probably who I’m looking for.”

“Let me get her for you. Please hold.”

Travis waited a bit longer until the line was picked up. “Manchester Independent, Marta Ellensdottir, how can I help you?” The voice was a soprano, with a light but definite accent.

“Mrs. Ellensdottir, my name is Travis Shockley, and I am trying to get in touch with Lars Ropstad. Are you his mother?”

“Yes, Lars is our son. Is there a problem?”

“No, ma’am, no problem. I just need to talk to him, but I don’t have a phone number for him. I thought maybe his mother might,” he said smoothly.

“Well, he’s at work right now, and they don’t like it when people call the employees there. He can’t take calls at work.”

“And where is that? Maybe I can swing by and talk to him.”

Marta responded, “Well, maybe he can take a break. He works at Burger Express.”

Travis was typing as fast as Marta was telling him where Lars worked. He pulled up a map of Manchester and determined which Burger Express the teen was working at. “When is he working till? Maybe I can swing by when he gets out of work,” he said.

“He gets off at six.”

“Thank you.” Lars hung up and then immediately picked up the phone and dialed an internal extension. “I’m going to need a plane for an immediate flight to Manchester, New Hampshire.”

“Yes, sir, we’ll have a plane prepped at Dulles.”

“I’ll be there in an hour. Also, I’ll need a car in Manchester.”

“It will need to be a rental. We can’t get anything special to Manchester in that time frame.”

“That will be fine. Thank you.” Travis went to his office closet and pulled out his ‘go bag’, a small backpack he had preloaded with items he might need in a hurry, ‘on the go.’ He had also heard it called a BOB or bug-out bag. His was packed with some spare clothing, a small first aid kit, a couple of MRE rations, some bottled water, and other odds and ends. He opened it and checked the contents, and then pulled out the pistol and spare magazines he normally packed. He wasn’t traveling to a war zone.

From his office Travis drove to Dulles Airport. Dulles was a large and modern airport, and he drove in through one of the back gates and headed towards a hangar away from any others. He parked and went inside, where he was stopped by a guard. Travis had to show not just a driver’s license but also his CIA identity badge before he was allowed in.

Once inside the hangar, he found a white Gulfstream 650 with the doorway open, and the steps folded down. A man in a pilot’s uniform was standing near the doorway talking to somebody inside the airplane. Travis walked to the plane. “Are you waiting for Travis Shockley?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. You Mister Shockley?”

Travis showed his identification and said, “That’s me.”

“Jack Trencher. I’m the pilot and Harry Reed is the copilot. We were told you would give us our destinations when you got here, but otherwise we are ready to go. I was told our first stop was Manchester, New Hampshire, but nothing beyond that.”

Travis nodded. “The plan is that I will pick up a passenger there, and then we will be heading to Scotland.”

Trencher nodded. “Manchester is a feeder and divert airport for Logan in Boston. We can land and gas up before we fly to Scotland. Where in Scotland?”

Travis shrugged and shook his head. “No idea. My ultimate destination is in the Shetlands. Beyond that, I don’t know anything.”

“We’ll figure it out. Any idea when?”

Travis smiled at that. “Let’s just say that I’m going fishing, and as soon as I land the fish, we are going!”

“Mister Shockley, pick your seat. The nice thing is that we have priority status and this baby hauls ass. We can be there in a couple of hours, easy.”

Travis smiled. “I like how you think, Captain, Let’s go.”

Travis spent the entire flight reviewing the scant details he was able to access on the…phenomenon. He was tied into the CIA’s databases, but not the Army’s, and had to run his queries to the Army through the CIA. One thing he learned was that the training base was now on total lockdown. Nobody was entering or leaving except for freight trips. At that point he went to the cockpit. “I need to ask about where we’re going to. What’s the shortest landing and takeoff distance for this plane?”

“Where are you trying to get to? That’s the real question,” replied the pilot.

Travis nodded. “The Shetland Islands. They’re north of Scotland, but outside of what I can find on Wikipedia, I know nothing about them.”

“The Shetlands? Christ, Harry, dial up the Jepps!”

Jepps were aeronautical charts made by the Jeppesen Company of Colorado, world renowned as the gold standard for navigational charts for pilots. At one time the charts were printed on paper, but most pilots now used digital versions and most modern airplanes were able to display the digital versions. It only took a few minutes for the copilot to answer, “The only real airport in the Shetlands is a place called Sumburgh, and it’s too short. We might be able to land but we’ll never take off again,” said Harry.

Jack looked over his shoulder at Travis and said, “I don’t think the boss wants to leave us there forever.” To Harry he asked, “What’s nearby? What’s in Scotland?”

“We can fly into Inverness, and then fly commercial to Sumburgh. There’re probably some turboprop operators serving the Shetlands. Or…” The copilot fiddled with his display and then said, “The RAF has a base at Lossiemouth, which is a bit closer to the Shetlands, but that’s military only. Maybe you can catch a flight north. Nothing commercial, though.”

“Let me work on that.” Travis went back to his seat and was able to determine that supply operations to Joint Training Base Cudlow were supported through Lossiemouth and Sumburgh, but before he could tell the pilots, they were on final approach to Manchester, and he needed to stay in his seat. Once down, though, he informed the two pilots that they should figure out flying to the RAF base.

“Yes, sir. We’ll fill the gas tank and check the oil. We’ll need to contact the Agency to get permission to land at a military base. When do you think we’ll be leaving here?”

“Yesterday.”

“Roger that, sir. We’ll get to work on it.”

Travis left the private hangar and found a generic sedan waiting for him. Ten minutes later he was in the parking lot of Burger Express. He parked and went inside, to find the fast-food version of hell. A grossly obese woman in her early forties was trying to corral half a dozen kids of various ages and failing monumentally. An equally obese girl who looked to be about eleven or twelve was mouthing off to her mother, telling her to ‘Go fuck yourself!’ Mom was just as disgusting in her response. A pair of babies were screaming loud enough to be heard outside the restaurant. A five-year old had thrown dozens of foil packets for ketchup on the floor and was amusing himself by jumping on them, bursting them and spraying ketchup all around. Another boy, a couple of years older was playing with the drink machine, pushing the buttons and causing ice cubes to bounce around and soda to spray out. The final child was retaliating by throwing food at his brothers.

Management wasn’t handling the situation well. The store manager was arguing with the woman, trying to get her to leave, but her response was the same as her daughter. ‘Go fuck yourself!’ Then she would demand her order be bagged up, and no, she wasn’t paying for all the stuff her kids were doing. Meanwhile one of the store clerks, wearing a red tunic and a white cap with ‘Super Burger’ embroidered on it, was vainly trying to clean the floor, hampered by the two brats who were spraying him with soda.

“LADY, GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I CALL THE COPS!” roared the manager.

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!” was the least objectionable response from the fat woman.

The two continued screaming at each other until she gave him the finger and dragged the kids out of the burger joint. The manager then told the kid in the tunic and cap to clean up everything and quit wasting time.

Travis simply shook his head in disbelief. “Rough day?” he asked.

The young man, who looked to be in his late teens, replied, “Like you wouldn’t believe.”

“ROPSTAD! QUIT THE JAWING AND DO IT RIGHT!”

The young man cringed and said, “Yes, Mister Burns.” He turned back to Travis and said, “Welcome to Burger Express! How can we make this a Super Burger day for you?”

Travis bit his lip to keep from laughing, and asked, “Are you Lars Ropstad?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Excellent! I came here to talk to you. My name is Travis Shockley.”

Before Lars could respond, Mister Burns called from the back of the store. “ROPSTAD! GET BACK TO WORK!”

Lars cursed under his breath, and Travis asked, “Do you really like working here?”

“What do you think?”

“Interested in talking to me about a different job?”

“Something better than selling Super Burgers?”

“Lots better!”

“ROPSTAD!”

“I’m taking a break, Mister Burns,” replied Lars. He walked outside before Burns could yell anything else. Travis followed. Lars led the way to a picnic table and sat down. “You want to hire me for a job? McDonalds is going to make a better offer than Burger Express?”

 

That was a preview of Vikings. To read the rest purchase the book.

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