Note: A few months ago I rediscovered Hogan's Heroes and Carter, one of my first TV land crushes. (I was a strange kid.) This time around, while watching the episode, Go Light on the Heavy Water, I gasped, (I really did, boy, I mean Sir) when Carter tasted the heavy water. Later that evening I couldn't get it off my mind, so I googled "heavy water" and a fanfic was born.
The effect of drinking heavy water wasn't known during WWll, I guess because only Carter was dumb enough to volunteer to drink it. The symptoms I used for this story are based on controlled experiments where the subjects drank a liter of heavy water and their reactions were recorded. Drinking heavy water can be fatal if 50% or more of the water in your body is replaced by heavy water. Of course in true fanfic style, I gave Carter all the most common symptoms and severe reactions to drinking it. Poor boy.
I also read about the actual plant in Telemark, Norway that was manufacturing heavy water. In 1943, the Norwegian underground during Operation Gunnerside destroyed the plant so thoroughly that it has been called the most efficient sabotage of WWll. Fascinating reading for WWll buffs.
One last note on Sergeant Wilson. Eddie Firestone played a POW named Scotty in this episode and Medic Wilson in another. So Sergeant Scott Wilson was morphed in my fic. You can call him Scotty or Scott or Wilson or Doc, if you want. Just give him an Oreo, he'll be happy. It's a testament to this wonderful actor that a few dramatic lines in Operation Briefcase, created an unforgettable character used in many fics to give medical aid to the Heroes.
He Ain't Heavy
In front of barracks two, the sunrise was spreading gold and crimson light through the leaves of the forest beyond Luft Stalag Thirteen. Colonel Hogan was already standing in his usual place in the roll call formation.
Hogan took a moment to allow the sunrise's beauty to warm his shivering body. If he ignored the glint of new light striking the barbed wire fence, he could imagine he was home. He could almost hear his mother humming in the kitchen as she shuffled pots to find her favorite cast iron frying pan for the bacon, the first step in cooking breakfast for her hungry boys. He could smell the coffee percolating in the pot as his father whispered something in his mother's ear to make her giggle like a girl. He could imagine he was home tucked in his colonial style bunk bed, piled high with fresh smelling quilts and pillows.
Hogan closed his eyes and pictured a younger version of himself snug in bed reading the Batman comics he hid under his pillow. He recalled the sound of his older brother below him snoring softly and whispering the name of his current girl, which little Robbie would use later to torment him.
Hogan opened his eyes as the sun rose higher above the horizon and his real life began. He still had the bunk beds. This time filled with many brothers, all as dear to him as his own. LeBeau would make the coffee and give him the best breakfast he could. And he still had the sunrise. The Germans could never capture that.
Corporal Newkirk frowned at his bunk mate's still slumbering form. Sergeant Carter had slept through Sergeant Schultz's rousing bellow and Newkirk, before his cuppa and morning cigarette, was not in the mood for giving his friend a gentle nudge. Newkirk pulled on his boots and gave Carter's bunk a good kick.
"Get up! Wakey, wakey, Technical Sergeant Carter. This 'ere lowly Corporal ain't got the time nor the inclination to be your ruddy valet!"
The sarcasm was lost on his slowly awakening friend. Carter groaned and blinked. Carter turned a bright smile up to Newkirk, who couldn't help but let the shadow of a smile pass his own lips. Carter was always able to make him smile, but he refused to allow it before tea. Carter yawned through his words.
"Thanks, buddy. Boy, I still feel tired. I mean… I know I just woke up, and it's early and back home I probably woulda still been sleeping, unless I was goin' fishin'... but I feel really tired… and I feel like I've got a cotton boll in my mouth." Carter smacked his lips and reached for his canteen, which happened to be empty.
"A cotton wha'?" Newkirk knew better than to engage in early morning conversation with Carter, but he still couldn't help himself. Newkirk pulled on his jacket and placed his blue uniform cap jauntily on his head. Newkirk watched Kinch and LeBeau walk out the door, the taller man shifted and placed a hand on LeBeau's shoulder as they shared a brief joke.
"A boll, you know the plant where cotton comes from. North Dakota is too far north to grow cotton, but Indiana has some farms that grow it and this one time…" Newkirk held up a hand and walked to the door to hold it for Carter who was now struggling with his left boot.
"Andrew! Not. Bloody. Now! Come on!"
Newkirk shut his eyes and shook his head. They were going to be late and for no good reason.
Carter gave Newkirk another even sunnier smile. "Sure. I'm comin'."
Newkirk left the door open and sauntered over to his spot next to the Colonel.
When Carter stood, the room began to move around him. He stumbled to the door and shook his head to clear it. That made the vertigo worse. He held onto the doorframe and glanced outside. The camp looked like it was awash in the brightest light he had ever seen. He squinted and tried to focus on the trees beyond the barbed wire. He waited for the dancing trees to take root once more.
He took a deep breath and walked outside and headed towards the solid, steady figure of his pal, Kinch. The world tilted again and Carter found himself being held up by strong arms and he heard a deep careworn voice asking him questions he was unable to answer.
"Hey! Whoa there, partner. What's the matter, Carter? You okay?"
Carter gave a half smile, "I guess I'm still tired. Feel a little dizzy, that's all. I'm fine now, Kinch. Thanks, pal."
The vertigo did seem to have run its course now that Carter was standing still. Kinch frowned and decided to keep close and watch his little pal in case he felt dizzy again. After roll call he'd tell the Colonel, whether Carter wanted him to or not.
Kinch thought of Carter like a little brother and secretly worried that someday he'd find Carter passed out in a tunnel from inhaling the fumes of some noxious potion he'd concocted or worse, blown to smithereens by some unstable explosive.
No one noticed, but Kinch spent a lot of time keeping track of Carter's more dangerous experiments and trying to keep him out of trouble. Carter was blissfully unaware of his guardian angel, as was Colonel Hogan and the others. Kinch watched them all, his big heart never wavering. Kinch stepped even closer to Carter and placed a large firm hand on Carter's back, adding silent support.
Colonel Hogan, hands behind his back and feet lightly bouncing on the cold hard ground, was beginning to grow concerned. Sergeant of the guard Hans Schultz, his rotund gray shape blocking the morning sun, had counted the prisoners twice. No one was missing. Hogan had just successfully completed his latest mission. The heavy water from Norway, concealed in a truck and parked smack dab in the middle of the camp, had been changed out for some of the camp's finest water into which the boys had added the flavoring of some really rancid socks. It was on its way to be used in nuclear experiments now doomed to failure. Hogan allowed himself a satisfied smile as he thought of how he manipulated Klink into thinking the wasser was from the fountain of youth.
For a refreshing change, Hogan and the boys were actually not up to some monkey business. The camp's guards were clustered around Schultz, seemingly confused and deep in conversation. Kommandant Klink was late. He was never late. Schultz looked up at Hogan and then nodded to the other guards. They all began to drift away and Schultz waddled over to Hogan.
"Colonel Hogan." Schultz announced loudly in his best 'trying to sound official' voice. "The Kommandant is… under the weather… today and will not be here this morning. All is in order and your men are dismissed."
"Dismissed!" Schultz yelled and each guard echoed the command. The POW's relaxed and headed back to their barracks or to the mess hall for breakfast.
Hogan didn't move. He had a bad feeling, which was reinforced by the hairs standing up on his neck and the shiver running down his spine.
"What's wrong with the Kommandant, Schultz?"
Schultz chuckled and leaned into Hogan. "He thinks he was poisoned by the heavy wasser you made him drink. But do not worry. He couldn't keep it down. And he is not really sick. I had some too and I feel better than fine. He called a doktor who told him he had no idea what the effect would be."
Schutz's whole face lit up in a jovial smile. "Herr Doktor said the Kommandant should think before he should drink. It made me laugh." Schultz did just that.
Hogan swallowed. He felt terrible that a scheme of his might have actually killed the hapless Colonel Klink. He kicked himself for not thinking it through.
"What symptoms does he have?"
"None. He is a big baby. He does not wish to drink or eat anything. But I brought him some warm milk and strudel last night and he ate and drank it all. Big, big, baby. He is fine. Herr Doktor said only to call him back if severe symptoms of poisoning occur. And even then, there is nothing that can be done."
"Are you sure you feel fine, Schultz?" Hogan placed a hand on Schultz's arm.
"Ja. I am a big man. I take a lot of wasser to fill me up." Schultz patted his massive tum. "I feel very good this morning. Do not worry."
Schultz suddenly frowned. "Should I worry. Colonel Hogan?"
Hogan shook himself. The only thing he knew about heavy water was that it was used for atomic bomb experiments. He honestly didn't know what that entailed, but he certainly didn't want it in the hands of that madman Hitler. Just about the only person he trusted with any sort of bomb was Carter.
Hogan shivered as if someone had walked on his grave.
"Oh, no. Carter drank some of that water." he mumbled.
"Colonel Hooogan? Should I be worried? You have not answered me!"
"Huh? Oh, no. No, you don't need to worry. It's not like it's poison. Just another kind of water. Like tonic water or seltzer water. Like spring water from Norway. Don't worry about it."
Schultz smiled like a satisfied child and walked away. His worry melted away as he looked forward to a peaceful day and a nice quiet game of cards with the other guards.
Hogan took a deep breath. He needed to get through to London and talk to an expert in atomic science. He needed to check on Carter.
Hogan entered the barracks and headed for the coffee pot. Carter, Newkirk and Kinch were sitting around the table finishing their breakfasts. LeBeau looked up from his coffee cup and started filling a plate for Colonel Hogan.
"Blimey, Carter. You are a moron, ya know that?"
"Geez. Thanks, Peter."
"I mean... ya shoulda told your old mate if you were feeling poorly. I woulda given ya a hands up."
"You woulda yelled at me like you do every morning before you've had your stupid… cuppa."
"Now, no cause for casting aspersions against me national beverage. Why, where would you bloody Yanks be without tea…"
"Hey! We threw that tea into Boston Harbor…" Carter pointed a gloved finger at Newkirk.
Kinch held up a hand. "Don't you two start fighting the American Revolution all over again…"
LeBeau handed Hogan his breakfast with a smile and joined in. "You Americans were just copying the French… now we know how to throw a revolution. Tea parties… c'est pitoyable."
"Hold it," said Hogan quietly. "Who started this?"
Carter and LeBeau both cried, "the British!"
Newkirk stood and waved his empty cup towards the Colonel. "See? See what I put up with, Gov'nor? I ask you how is a bloke supposed to get along with such abuse?"
Kinch chuckled then turned to the Colonel. "Carter woke up feeling dizzy. He was almost late for roll call. He nearly passed out."
"Heck, Kinch. It wasn't that bad. I feel fine now, after Louis's breakfast."
LeBeau beamed, "Oui, mon Colonel, Andre' was just famished."
"Andrew wasn't hungry, 'e was thirsty." Newkirk's tone was all concern, the American Revolution forgotten. "Then 'e nearly took a header after tripping at the doorstep. We got 'im sittin' and 'e was right as rain after that, Colonel."
Carter was sitting across from Hogan, looking pale. He brought his hand to his head as if in pain, but thought better of it and sent a smile to Hogan instead. "I don't know why the guys are makin' such a fuss, Colonel. I'm fine."
Hogan smiled back. "I'm glad to hear it. But nothing's going on right now, so why don't you get some rest. Maybe it's just a cold or an earache sneaking up on you."
"Yeah! An earache. That explains the vertigo. 'Cause it's weird, Colonel, I'm not regular dizzy, like when I get blown up. I feel fine, but the whole world spins. If I just hold on to somethin' it stops after a while , Colonel, I'll just rest up a little and it will be gone."
Hogan was glad he had put Carter at ease. He didn't want him to worry. Hogan was doing enough of that himself. He had a sinking feeling in his gut. How much of the heavy water did Carter drink?
Hogan took a slow sip of coffee. "Newkirk said you were thirsty, Andrew. You want some more coffee?"
"No thanks. I already had two cups. I don't know why I'm so thirsty. I drank my canteen dry last night. I don't really remember doing it, though. I'm okay now. As a matter of fact, I need to use the facilities, if you know what I mean."
Carter stood and all eyes were on him as he walked to the door. He turned at the last moment and said, "Don't worry, I feel fine, guys."
As the door shut, Hogan turned to Kinch. "I need you to radio London and get me an expert on heavy water. An atomic scientist or… or… a doctor who's familiar with… with... radiation poisoning."
Kinch was already heading for the tunnel. "Right away, Colonel." But then Kinch stopped and turned. "Colonel, what's wrong?" Concern leaked from his question.
Newkirk added softly, "Is something wrong with Andrew?"
LeBeau looked from Newkirk to Hogan. "Radiation poisoning? What has this to do with our Andre'?"
Hogan stood and started to pace. "I asked Carter to taste the heavy water from Norway, before I knew what it was. It was a really stupid move on my part. Klink and Schultz drank some too. Schultz is fine and Klink appears not to have absorbed any of it. He's fine, too. I hoped Carter wouldn't be effected by just a sip or two… but he used his canteen to get the sample…"
"Andrew drank 'is whole canteen last night! Musta forgot it was that Norway water. You know 'ow 'e is. Bloody fool!"
Newkirk went to Carter's bunk and picked up the empty canteen, then threw it against the wall. He turned, his face fallen, his lips quivering.
"Oh, no. Not Carter." Kinch whispered.
"Andre'! Mon Dieu!" Lebeau cried.
Hogan dropped on Carter's bunk and held his head in his hands for a moment. "We don't know for sure if the heavy water will kill him. Let's not jump to conclusions. Kinch, you know what we need to find out."
"Yes, Sir." With that, Kinch was gone.
"Newkirk, LeBeau, I want the two of you to keep an eye on Carter. But don't let him know what's going on. I want at least one of you with him at all times. Don't let him out of your sight for a moment. Newkirk, go now and find him, remind him to come back here for a rest. If he gives you lip, tell him I ordered it."
"Yes, Sir!" Newkirk was out the door and heading for the latrine as fast as he could run.
LaBeau crossed to Hogan and placed an arm across his shoulder. Hogan grasped his hand. "Oh, Louis. What have I done?"
"You have done nothing. It is that filthy Hitler who is trying to destroy the world. Playing God. You on the other hand are very human. You can not see every outcome to every thing you do. Take your own advice. Do not think the worst. Our Andre' was given to us for a reason, mon Colonel. I can't believe he would be taken from us in such a way as this."
Hogan nodded. "I hope you're right."
It had taken Kinch almost two hours to get Dr. Frishman, an atomic physicist, on the phone for Colonel Hogan. Kinch was a smoldering fire of controlled rage when he finally was able to connect Hogan to Dr. Frishman.
Kinch leaned in across the table while Hogan took up the line and tried to calm both Kinch and himself by forcing his voice into a professional tone. Kinch hung on every word of the one-sided conversation.
"Thank you so much, Dr. Frishman, for taking time to talk to me."
"Yes, Sir. I'm sure your time is very valuable. I'll try to be brief. You know my situation?"
"Yes, One of my men has...ahhh… ingested about a quart of Norwegian heavy water."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Frishman. You were told by my superiors that this is confidential information. I can't tell you why it was here or even where here is."
Hogan glanced at Kinch. Kinch took off his hat and rubbed at his hair. He was frustrated beyond belief at this point.
"Dr. Frishman. What we need to know is if heavy water is poisonous."
Hogan repeated the doctor's words to Kinch: "Heavy water is not H2O, but D2O, the D standing for Deuterium. It is Deuterium oxide and it is used to cool atomic reactions. It is not radioactive if it has not been used as a coolant. D2O is organic. It is not a known poison."
A long pause, then,"You only have data on rats? An exclusive diet of heavy water was fatal in all cases?"
"How long did the rats live?" Hogan asked.
The normally cool colonel glanced at Kinch, no longer able to hide his growing concern. "Two weeks at the most. What about humans, Dr. Frishman?"
"There have been no tests on humans. No one knows," Hogan continued to repeat the doctor's words.
"But, Doctor, my man. Can you venture a guess?"
Hogan waited while Kinch tensed.
"You have a theory that the body may be able to handle low doses, but if fifty percent of the body's water is replaced with heavy water, the vital organs would start to break down," Hogan intoned.
"You don't know what would happen with lower percentages."
"Yes, I know. Just a theory."
Then Hogan had an idea of his own. "Sir, my man is young and slight. Would he be more susceptible than, say a middle aged man of three hundred pounds?"
"Yes, Sir. Only stands to reason."
"Is there something we can do?" He asked. "Some way to get the blasted stuff out of his body?"
"You're a scientist, not a miracle worker," Hogan said through gritted teeth. "I know, Sir. Wait and see. Yes, Sir. Thank you, yes, if he's lasted this long. If he improves in three days, we may hope. No guarantees. Yes, Doctor."
Another pause that had Kinch ready to burst.
"What? Oh, It's been about twenty four hours. Symptoms? Thirst. Dizzy. Vertigo."
"So far… yes, so far. Of course. Vital information. Sure, Doctor, high priority. Sure, I'll be in touch. Thank you, Dr. Frishman.
Hogan put down the phone and unclenched his hands. He hadn't realized he had been holding the phone base in a death grip.
"Colonel?" Kinch choked out.
"They have no information to give us. There is nothing we can do. Nothing." Hogan pounded the table in an uncharacteristic display of frustration. "Andrew may recover in a few days… or he may die of massive organ failure. The only way we will know is if he survives and improves."
Kinch looked up and rubbed his mustache absently. "Colonel, what did Dr. Frishman say at the end there?"
"He said he wanted me to send him all the data on the subject whether or not the subject survives."
Kinch stood and started to pace. "The subject? Our Andrew? The subject?"
Hogan closed his eyes and rubbed them. "Our Andrew. The first human guinea pig for the effects of ingesting heavy water. Dr. Frishman was actually excited by the prospect," Hogan sighed, "and I made it happen."
Kinch growled, took up his metal stool and flung it at the tunnel wall. "Andrew is not a test subject. He's… he's… my little brother." A puff of dust filled the air and falling dirt was the only sound as the two men looked at each other's grief.
Hogan reached for the big man and embraced him, patting him on the back. "I know Kinch. I feel the same. He's why we are here. Why we are fighting this war. We need to be strong for him. You know he'll try to be strong for us."
Kinch pulled back and wiped his eyes. "I know, Colonel. What should we do now?"
"Let's see what Andrew is up to."
"Andrew! So help me! Get in your bleedin' bunk or I'll… I'll… knock ya out and tie ya down!" The shout came from Newkirk.
"Oh, yeah? Like to see ya try, hot dog."
Carter was sitting on the table, his third cup of coffee in his hand.
LeBeau shook his head. "Andre'. You are to rest, remember?"
Carter took a deep breath. "I'm fine, Louis."
"Sure, 'e's just peachy keen. That's why I 'ad to practically carry 'im back to the barracks."
"You did not! I was just… I just…"
"Couldn't keep 'is breakfast down and 'e was so dizzy 'e didn't know topsy from turvy. Ain't that right, Andrew? Ain't that right?"
"Peter… thanks for your help. But I'm fine now. Okay, buddy?"
Newkirk stood in front of Carter and pointed. "In. Your. Bunk."
The false bunk leading to the tunnels creaked open and Hogan appeared, followed closely by Kinch. Kinch banged on the bunk to shut it down again.
Hogan went straight to Carter and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What's going on, Andrew?"
"Gee willikers, Colonel. I just don't want to lie down. I'm wide awake. Newkirk is actin' nuttier than a fruitcake, if you know what I mean. Too much tea, I think."
Newkirk sighed, "Cor. Blimey."
Kinch caught Newkirk's eye. He could tell Newkirk was at the end of his rope and worried sick.
"What do you feel like doing, Andrew?" Kinch asked gently.
Carter looked around the room. He wasn't really mad at Newkirk. He wasn't mad at anyone. They were his buddies. Newkirk always took care of him when he was sick. Just like LeBeau always told him about their planned trip to Paris and tried to teach him French when he was homesick. And Kinch always came looking for him when his experiments backfired with that certain look in his eyes.
Carter looked at Kinch and there it was. That look that said, I care if you blow yourself up, pal.
Carter put down his tin cup and stood. Hogan tightened his grip to help him get safely to his feet. That's when he knew for sure.
"Hey! What's going on? Why are you all acting so nice to me? You guys never even pay attention to me most days, for Pete's sake."
Newkirk tried to cover. "Andrew! We're just concerned about you being sick. You might be contagious…"
LeBeau tried to help,"You might have blown yourself up once too often…"
Carter, his blue eyes bright and trusting, turned to Kinch.
Kinch glanced at Hogan who gave a solemn nod. Kinch sighed and and faced his friend.
"Andrew we just got off the line with London. The Colonel spoke with a Dr. Frishman. An expert in atomic science. We had questions about the effects of drinking heavy water."
"Effects of… you mean the water I tasted… the water Klink…"
Newkirk came up behind Carter, touching his shoulder and rubbing his back lightly.
"Andrew, the water in your canteen was heavy water. You drank it all, and woke up with vertigo…" The Brit explained gently.
Carter's eyes opened wide. "My canteen! I forgot! I was so darn thirsty. Kinch? What did the doctor say?"
Kinch looked at the floor to avoid Carter's frightened eyes. "He said they don't know the effects on...people. You seem to be the first… I'm sure you'll be fine in a couple of days… Klink and Schultz are fine..." Kinch looked up and Carter gasped.
"I'm gonna die, aren't I?" Carter turned to Hogan when the group remained silent.
"We just don't know, Andrew. I thought…" The leader's job is always the hardest, Hogan thought to himself grimly.
"You weren't gonna tell me. You're my Colonel and you weren't gonna tell me. I deserve to know! You had no right…" Carter's eyes filled with tears and the answering glimmer in Hogan's eyes told him everything he needed to know.
Newkirk wound his arms around his friend trying to comfort him. "Andrew…" he murmured softly.
Carter broke out of his embrace and headed for the tunnel opening. He slammed on the bunk as a sob escaped through his gritted teeth. He disappeared down the ladder. Newkirk went to follow, but Kinch caught his arm. "Give him some time." Newkirk covered his face with his hand and nodded. Kinch slapped the bunk and secured his friend in their underground world.
Carter hit the ground at the bottom of the tunnel and collapsed in a heap. He pulled his knees to his chest and rested his pounding head. He tried to hold back his tears, but he couldn't. The dark shadowy walls of dirt swirled in front of his vision and he knew he was scared. Scared to death.
I'm gonna die. I drank that stupid water and now I'm gonna die.
Carter cried for a few minutes, till the vertigo subsided. Then he actually felt somewhat better.
Andrew. Pull yourself together! Enough of this feeling sorry for yourself. You are a Sergeant! You always knew you might die for your country. You were brave to drink that water. The Colonel needed to know what it was. It was real important. But, boy, it was pretty stupid of you to drink more.
Carter sighed. He thought of the faces of his friends when they told him the truth.
They shoulda told me. If they told me it would not have been such a shock. I woulda let Newkirk fuss, LeBeau cook and Kinch coulda read to me. But they saw me fall apart. Now I kinda wanna die, just to avoid the embarrassment. Some brave soldier I am. Afraid to die.
Carter heard the soft sounds of his friends' footfalls on the floorboards of the barracks above him. Other than that, the tunnel was silent. Usually there were whispered conversations, the ticking of the transmitter, the hum of the radio, the clacking of machinery. But right then the silence spoke of the grave and the dirt walls seemed like a tomb. Carter glanced at the escape hatch which led to freedom for so many.
I could escape. I could do it right now. Everything I need is right down here. My friends in the underground could make the arrangements. I wouldn't have to go through the Colonel.
Carter thought of Colonel Hogan's grief stricken face when he said, "We just don't know, Andrew."
What if you get caught, Andrew? What if you got dizzy and fell and the Gestapo found you? Do you want to put the Colonel in that position? Do you want to put this whole operation in jeopardy? Do you want going AWOL to be your last mission of the war?
Carter was proud of his part in winning the war. He knew they would win. In his mind there could be no other outcome. He had met the enemy and most were… just folks. But some were evil. And good had to conquer evil or what was the point?
Andrew. Buck up! When the Colonel writes that last letter home to mom, he can say you lost your life keeping the atomic bomb out of Hitler's hands. And that's the truth, the mission was a success. That's worth dying for.
Carter stood and this time the wave of vertigo was brief. He placed his hands on the ladder leading to barracks two. Then stopped.
Boy, I sure made a fool of myself. I should go up there and report for duty. The guys are probably worried. I would be if it was one of them dyin'. Oh, gee whiz. I'm tearin' up again. I just need some time to myself. It's gonna be hard seein' the guys all… you know… concerned and sad… and… they sure are the best friends a guy could have… I sure will miss them… I sure do love them. Oh, darn, I'm not ready. I need… I need… my comic books.
Carter smiled and took off running through the tunnels like a rabbit, heading for Carter's comic cave.
Hogan walked across the compound heading for the tight cluster of men in front of barracks two. Hogan had checked on Klink and was relieved to find him dressed, enjoying tea and sandwiches at his desk. Klink assured him he was feeling fine and Hogan left him with a compliment on his youthful appearance floating in the air.
The manufactured smile left Hogan's face as he noticed Kinch, Newkirk and LeBeau were as far from smiling as you could get. As Hogan neared his men, Kinch made the first report.
"LeBeau and I searched all the tunnels, Sir. No sign of him."
Newkirk added, "I looked all over the ruddy camp. Even solitary and the cooler. I got all the barracks chiefs keepin' an eye out. And I checked Klink's guest quarters, just in case Andrew fancied a lie in on a real bed. You think he scampered, Sir?"
LeBeau shook his head, "Andre' would not do that to us. Anyway, nothing was missing. No uniforms or money gone. No maps or papers missing."
"What about explosives or weapons?" asked Hogan as he looked down and dug the toe of his worn boot in the dirty snow.
The three friends exchanged looks before Kinch answered. "Only Carter would know if any explosives were missing, he keeps the inventory on that. There were no weapons missing. Colonel, you don't think Carter would… do himself harm?"
Hogan threw up his hands. "I don't know what he would do. I should've locked him in my office and stayed with him till he calmed down. I have been making a lot of those types of mistakes with him lately…"
LeBeau interrupted, "Mon Colonel, Oscar seems to be looking this way."
Hogan glanced at Oscar Schnitzer, the animal doctor and trainer, who was standing by his truck. Oscar caught his eye and held it a moment. That was enough. Hogan saluted his men and headed for the dog pens.
Hogan leaned casually on Oscar's truck. "Do you need something, Oscar?"
Oscar smiled, "I'm sorry to bother you, Colonel. It is not important. I was looking for Andrew and did not see him about. I have something for him." Oscar laughed. "Really, Colonel, it is nothing."
Hogan grew curious. "It's no bother. Andrew isn't feeling well. I… I ordered him to rest."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. That young man always makes my day with his stories of America. He has invited me to his visit his North Dakota. Imagine that? Wants to show me his favorite horse, Marvel. He is a delightful boy."
"Yes, he is." agreed Hogan, "What have you got for him?"
Oscar looked around, then opened the back of his truck. He reached into a burlap bag of kibble and pulled out a waterproof bag with some papers in it. Oscar handed it to Hogan. "Hide them in your jacket. Quickly now."
"What is it?"
"A comic book. As you must know Herr Hitler has seen fit to ban them in Germany and France."
Hogan's eyebrows rose into his cap. "Oscar! This is dangerous! It may seem trivial, but if you are caught with these you could get a stiff fine, or even be investigated. Or even, God forbid, arrested."
Oscar shrugged, "I like comic books. I like giving them to my son. I like giving them to Andrew. To see him smile. There are many others in the underground who pick these up for him." Oscar laughed again. "Tiger has a liking for Superman comics in French!" Oscar closed the door to his truck.
"No, I see now, Andrew would not tell you. You would make him burn them like Herr Hitler would?"
"No! Of course not. But why risk drawing attention to yourself over… banned comic books?"
"We need heroes, Colonel. Imaginary, real and… unsung. It makes me happy to do such a thing. You should have Andrew show you his Captain America socking Hitler right in the jaw. Most entertaining."
Hogan patted his jacket, a germ of an idea forming in his head. "How many comic books do you think Andrew has?"
"Oh, quite a few! He is quite generous in lending them. I would guess a hundred? I must go now, Colonel Hogan. Tell Andrew I have heard a rumor of an American Batman comic making the rounds in Dusseldorf. I hear it is the one where Batman takes all the Axis alliance leaders to task. That will cheer him up."
"Sure, Oscar. Thanks."
Hogan walked back to the waiting trio and announced, "Okay, who knew about Carter's comic book underground?"
Silence and sly looks greeted Hogan. LeBeau was the brave one who addressed the Colonel.
"Mais oui, I knew. But he understood the dangers, he was very discreet. Never brought them out of the tunnel. I only knew because he had a Superman in French that he wanted to read. I made it a French lesson for him. It was most educational." LeBeau smiled and winked," Besides Tiger loves Superman in French."
"So I've heard. Don't worry, I'm not mad," Hogan smirked. "This could be good. I bet Carter is with his stash right now. Do any of you know where he hides them?"
Three heads shook negatively.
"Well, it has gotta be in one of the tunnels. You know what a little digger Carter is."
Kinch nodded. "That's true. Maybe he extended one of the abandoned tunnels just enough for him to sit and read his wouldn't be hard to do."
"Well, let's get crackin'. I gotta know if Andrew's alright, I'm goin' round the bend," said Newkirk.
Carter closed his treasured Captain America, 1941 #1 and stroked the cover lovingly. This particular comic book had been through everything with him, tucked safely in the lining of his bomber jacket on all his missions until he found his home at Stalag Thirteen and allowed it to rest with his other books in his comic cave.
They were forced to abandon the tunnel adjacent to tunnel four when they hit not just some rocks, but several huge boulders. The tops of which could be seen as buried rocks in a sea of scruffy grass topside, if you were looking. Carter loved rocks and caves and in his spare time he attempted to dig around the boulder to see how large it actually was.
What he eventually found was several boulders and lots of smaller rocks where sometime in the past an underground spring had flowed. Between the boulders was hidden a smooth bed about six feet by ten feet. Carter cleaned out bits of stone and pebbles and made for himself a hideaway where he could read his adventure stories undisturbed.
Carter shifted in his comfortable nook. He lay on an old mattress he'd stuffed with straw. He rested his head on several pillows made from ripped parachutes. He was covered by a fine old German quilt saved from the trash heap by Klink's secretary, Frauline Hilda who had given it to Carter one snowy winter's day as he was working around the office. Carter repaired the torn, ancient patchwork squares, adding bits of discarded German uniforms and more parachute silk.
He'd stored a box of candles, matches, old empty soup cans and a few hand grenades in a corner in case he ever had to quickly destroy the evidence of his disobedience to the "smut and trash" decrees of the Third Reich. Near the entrance, a small fire pit made of a circle of stones kept Carter warm in bitter cold weather. Wooden crates held Carter's treasured comics, each carefully wrapped in waterproof fabric.
Across his neck lay a short piece of a light blue woolen scarf that Newkirk had started to knit for him, but never finished. Carter petted it and remembered Newkirk saying, "It matches your eyes, Andrew, and knitting keeps me 'ands from strangling you on a short winter's day."
Carter smiled and brought his attention back to the cover of his comic. He never got tired of seeing Captain America and his splendid stars-and-stripes-covered form knocking the stuffing out of a surprised Adolf Hitler. Carter looked up at his boulder wall where he had painted Captain America's shield with the red, white and blue words, Carter's Comic Cave, above it.
"Well, Cap," Carter whispered, "I guess I'll never get to throw a punch at old Hitler, but I sure did my best to throw a wrench into his works."
"You sure did, Andrew. I'm not Captain America, but may I join you?" Colonel Hogan's question echoed out of the depths of the tunnel.
Kinch had found the cave and was overjoyed when he peeked in and saw a very much alive Carter lost in a comic book. Hogan had decided it was about time to have a heart to heart with Carter. Kinch and Newkirk would wait in the barracks and help LeBeau cook a festive meal of all Carter's favorite foods.
"Uhhh, sure, Sir. I guess." Carter straightened and moved to the side, letting Hogan have part of the mattress. He was surprised when Hogan sat right beside him and threw an arm around him. Carter smiled when Hogan fluffed his pillows and fussed with his quilt.
"This is cozy, Carter," Hogan picked up the Captain America comic. "Oh. This is a classic. I like Batman, myself. Uses his brain, not his brawn." Hogan tapped his brow.
"I've got one Batman, but it's in French. I've got a bunch of Superman in French. The French take American comics and finish the stories themselves. 'Cause it's really dangerous to write a comic in France, nowadays," Carter sputtered excitedly. "I have a lot of Canadian comics too. Those are real good, but only the covers are in color. The insides are black and white. You know it's harder to get American comics over here that it is to get Canadian?"
Hogan smiled at Carter's unique blend of earnest enthusiasm. "No wonder the whole underground is sending you comics. Here. This is from Oscar."
Carter reached tentatively for the packet the Colonel had handed him. He opened it and his blue eyes grew wide as he saw Nelvana Of The Northern Lights emerge. " Oh! Boy! Nelvana! She's a Canadian Indian demi-goddess. She has awesome adventures. Well drawn too, if you know what I mean, Sir." Carter winked and Hogan leaned over Carter's shoulder to take a good look at Nelvana.
Hogan gave a wolf whistle and Carter laughed.
"Sir, I know you probably don't approve. But you never ordered me not to trade comic books with the underground. I would never go against your direct orders."
"I know Carter, that's why you never told me. And that's why I think you are a valuable asset to my team." Hogan looked around and smiled. "You think outside the box."
Carter chuckled, "Yes, Sir." he started to put Captain America back in his protective sleeve and box. He brought his gloved hand to his mouth to stifle a yawn.
Hogan gave Carter an affectionate squeeze. "How are you feeling, Andrew?"
"I feel really tired for it being just after four in the afternoon. But I haven't been dizzy for a while. I feel pretty good, Sir. I mean it. I wasn't so good earlier. I… I… I thought about escaping. But after I calmed down. I figured I'd rather die an unsung hero who helped keep Hitler from getting an atomic bomb, than a deserter, who blew a secret operation for no good reason," Carter's admission was touching in its humble sincerity.
"Andrew, you are a hero. And when the war is over, I'll make sure everyone knows it."
"Thanks, Sir. My family would like that." Hogan noted how Carter's thoughts were for his family rather than himself.
"Andrew… I want you to know… how sorry I am. If I had only thought my plan all the way through. Kept everyone away from the water till I knew more about it. If I wasn't so damn smug." Carter's honesty deserved Hogan's honesty in return.
"Colonel. Don't. You did what you had to do. We didn't have much time. You already saved my life too many times to count. I wanted to help. I'm proud I could help. Maybe keeping Hitler from getting that water is the very thing that will win the war for the Allies. Don't call what we did a mistake."
Hogan pulled Carter closer. "I'm so proud to be your Colonel, Andrew. Andrew?"
Maybe it was just as well Carter had fallen asleep, his head on Hogan's shoulder, so he wouldn't see the moisture glisten in his commanding officer's eyes. Hogan pulled the quilt over them both and settled down to read about Nelvana and her Amazing Adventures, until the rest of the boys came to get them for dinner.
Newkirk felt his heart squeeze in his chest when he discovered his Colonel and his best mate sleep, snuggled together under a threadbare old quilt. It was just six and dinner was ready.
Blimey. When did I end up through the lookin' glass? First, I get to watch Kinch to teach LeBeau how to cook American, now Andrew and the Colonel are cuddling in Carter's Comic Cave, by the looks of it.
Newkirk glanced around the cave and smiled.
You're a bleedin' magpie, Andrew. I expect to see shiny foil and pocket watches tucked away.
He spotted the box with shiny tin cans and hand grenades. He held back a laugh.
Only you, Andrew. Only you.
His gaze fell back on his sleeping brothers-in-arms. Hogan was partially propped up, his cap over his eyes and a comic book open on his slowly rising and falling chest. Carter's body was turned towards his Colonel as if seeking his warmth. The man-child Sergeant's head was on Hogan's chest and he held a piece of something blue and wooly up to his face.
That's the ruddy scarf I was knittin' for 'im. I wondered what became of that. Aw, no.
Newkirk closed his eyes as tears threatened to spill. He backed away a few steps, looked awkwardly toward heaven and tilted his head. He sent up a silent prayer.
Lord above, remember me? Mrs. Newkirk's little boy, Peter? It's been quite a while and I ain't in no bl… bloomin' church, but if you can lend me your ear for just a tick, I got a favor to ask. Oh, It's not for me. Even I don't 'ave the bal… I mean nerve to ask a favor for me. It's me mate, Lord. Andrew J. Carter. An American bloke. Drank somethin' 'e shouldn't have and it's killin' him. Andrew don't deserve to die, Lord. Andrew is good as gold with a 'eart so big it could never be filled. I'm askin' ya, save 'im, please. I won't bother ya again if ya do.
"Newkirk?" Hogan stirred.
"Oh, Colonel. Dinner's ready. You think we should wake 'im? 'e looks so peaceful."
Hogan smiled down and gently pushed Carter's sandy blond hair out of his eyes. "He needs to eat to keep his strength up. Anyway, I thought I'd have Wilson take a look at him after dinner. Maybe we can think of something…"
"I know you guys will come up with something," said Carter as he emerged from a dream. He slowly opened his eyes, lifted his head and grinned. "Hey! No vertigo. And I'm hungry. See? I'm better already!"
Newkirk reached for Carter. "Easy there, I got ya. Let's see if you can walk without fallin' and smashin' ya pretty face."
Newkirk maneuvered Carter out of the cave, through the tunnels and up to the barracks without mishap. Hogan was right behind them, happy to listen to Carter chatter away. It gave him hope.
"Yum, yum, yum!" Carter exclaimed for the fourth time as he rubbed his belly. "Oh, Louis. Thanks. This dinner was great. Just what I needed."
"Do not thank me!" Louis had been sulking with his arms crossed throughout dinner. "Fried chicken, terrible thing to do to a lovely fresh poulet. Mashed potatoes. Boring. Biscuits and country gravy. Country gravy. No wonder you Americans keep what country a secret. No one would want to admit they came up with it. Bah."
Kinch popped another gravy-soaked biscuit in his mouth. "Do not be bad mouthin' my Grandma's recipes, LeBeau. I got to admit, though, you did an excellent job duplicating them. Very self-sacrificing of you."
LeBeau wiggled and smiled. "I did it for our Andre'. To see him smile again is worth making disgusting food."
"Now, Louis, don't sell yourself short. This meal is quite passable. If only you could learn to make decent chips." Newkirk grinned as he pulled apart a fried chicken wing with the dexterity of a card sharp.
Hogan wiped his fingers on the napkin provided. LeBeau had gone all out with a red checkered tablecloth, matching napkins, white candles and a beautiful vase of yellow mums that Hogan had seen a few days before in Klink's quarters.
Hogan drank his coffee, unobtrusively watching Carter, as the boy ate, joked, laughed and ate some more. Carter seemed… normal. Hogan let himself have half a smile at the thought. He was awoken from his thoughts by a cry from Carter.
"Oh, boy! Oreos! Real Oreos! I haven't had an Oreo in years!"
Kinch belted out a laugh. "Don't ask what I had to do to get them. I'm still reeling from the deal I had to make. Just enjoy."
"Look Colonel! 's plenty for everyone!" Carter said expansively.
"You can have mine, Andre'. I think I would choke on such barbaric pastries." LeBeau remarked.
Newkirk smirked. "Ya gotta dunk 'em, Louis, like the biscuits I used to get in a tin back home. Likely to break a molar if ya don't dunk 'em in ya tea."
Carter nodded, smiled and dunked an Oreo in his glass of milk to demonstrate.
LeBeau threw his hands up and began a tirade of rapid fire French.
Hogan chuckled then looked up as the door opened a crack and Sergeant Scott Wilson, the camp's medic, walked in. He was greeted by all in the barracks and at the table offers of food and coffee abounded.
"No, fellas. Thanks. I'm good. You guys sure know how to enjoy life." Wilson spied a cookie. "Hey! Would you save me one of those Oreos?"
LeBeau shook his head in disgust and started to clear the table.
Hogan stood and Wilson shifted his black leather doctor's bag to his left hand and belatedly saluted. "You wanted to see me Colonel?"
Hogan returned the salute and looked the Sergeant over. They were about the same age but Wilson was shorter and stockier. For a medic he always seemed a bit scruffy, but the care he gave to the men in the camp more than made up for the lack of care he took in his appearance.
Wilson's wavy brown hair was hidden under his worn olive green cap. His eyes were brown and in their depths was the evidence of a man hardened by war and duty but softened by humor and compassion. Hogan sighed, it was the same look he saw in the mirror every day.
"I want to speak to you for a minute, Wilson." They headed for Hogan's quarters.
Hogan filled Wilson in on everything that has transpired since the Norwegian heavy water showed up at camp. Hogan asked him to examine Carter. Wilson did not take the news well. He paced and wrung his cap in his hands.
"Damn, Colonel Hogan. I never should have let Carter drink that water. To think I was right there and could have stopped it. I should have dumped out that canteen and reamed out Carter's rear for even thinking about drinking it!" He stopped and scrubbed his head in frustration. "I don't blame you, Sir. You don't think like a doctor, you think like an officer. It's up to me to make sure the men don't pull stupid stunts like this and get themselves killed!"
"Scotty, we can share the blame if you want to. But I need you to be calm. I need you to think about this and maybe come up with a treatment…"
"What treatment? There is no data to work with. Even if we were in back home in a state of the art hospital, there would be nothing we could do!"
"I don't want to hear that from you, Scotty. Examine him. Keep an open mind. Start from scratch. You know Carter. You've treated him enough times. Maybe something will come to you."
Wilson nodded slowly. He straightened his hair in resolve and put on his cap.
"Alright, Colonel Hogan. I'll keep an open mind. At least, I can make him comfortable if he is…"
Hogan stood. "Don't say it. I'll send him in."
Wilson cleared off Hogan's desk and covered it with a sheet from the bunk to make an examination table. He was used to making do. By the time Carter knocked and entered, Wilson had put a warm smile on his face.
"Strip, my boy. Down to your skivvies and your dog tags. This should teach you never to volunteer for anything!" Wilson joked.
Carter smiled shyly and started to peel off his many layers. When Carter was ready, Wilson patted the desk. "Upsy Daisy." Carter hopped up on the desk, then lay down looking uncomfortable.
Wilson gave him a thorough examination, all the while chatting with Carter about sports and places he'd visited. Wilson was from Chicago and Carter had been there once and caught a Cubs game. They both kept the banter light. When Wilson was satisfied he helped Carter sit up and threw a blanket around his bare shoulders. Wilson watched him carefully.
"Are you still feeling the vertigo, my boy?"
"No, it seems to be gone. After I took that nap with the Colonel in my comic cave, the vertigo stopped."
Wilson's eyebrow went straight into his cap and he snorted. "Nap with the Colonel?"
"Yeah, well, I was hiding out in the tunnel where I keep my comic book collection and Colonel Hogan found me. We got to talking and before I knew it I fell asleep. I guess the Colonel didn't want to disturb me. He's been real worried about me and he dozed off, too. It was strange that I fell asleep. I never take naps in the afternoon. Never. Then I had that great dinner and I feel pretty stuffed, but not dizzy or sick or anything."
Wilson was used to Carter's rambling stories. This time he listened to his voice more than the story. There was something. Wilson took Carter's head gently in his hands and looked into his eyes, noting the size of his pupils.
"Are you tired after that big meal?"
"No, Scotty, I feel real awake, like I just woke up after a good night's sleep. I… I feel like I could run a mile, you know?"
"Try to forget for a moment about the vertigo, about why you are here, and just tell me how you feel. As if it were any other day."
Carter looked down at his hands nervously.
"What? What is it, my boy?"
Carter looked up and his eyes grew wide and twinkled. "After that nap, I woke up feeling great. I feel… invincible. Like I never need to sleep again. Scotty, I kinda think that maybe that atomic water did something to me… made me," Carter leaned in close and whispered, "superhuman!"
"That's ridiculous!" Wilson strangled a laugh.
"I know I sound nuts, but that's how it always happens. There is some kinda awful accident in a lab or something and the regular guy gets really sick and passes out. Then he wakes up… and whammo! He's got superpowers. It's always quite a shock to his friends and loved ones. That's why they keep it a secret most times. I understand now." Carter nodded solemnly.
"Andrew… " Wilson stopped and thought about his options. He grabbed his light and shone it into Carter's eyes, searching for an answer. He was certain Carter's behavior was related to the heavy water still in his body, but he was quite hopeful now. The symptoms were odd, frightening even. But not life threatening. If Carter was energized and couldn't sleep, well, eventually the body's clock would insist on it.
Wilson smiled. He had a hunch he had the answer. But what to tell Carter?
"Andrew. Let's keep this between just you and me and the Colonel for right now. If you are changing into a superhero we need to take it slow. You could turn into a valuable asset to our side. I want you to promise me you will not try to use your powers until we know more about them. Absolutely no heroics without my permission," he humored him. "And let me know if you have any new symptoms."
Carter grinned. "Oh! Boy! I mean, I swear, Scotty."
Hogan walked Wilson back to his barracks as the last light of the day played with the colors of the sky.
"He what?" Hogan stopped in his tracks.
Wilson popped the rest of his Oreo in his mouth. "He thinks he's turning into a superhero with superpowers. Too many comic books I'd say. But better he think something absurd like that than worry that he may be dying. It can only help his attitude and keep him from... taking matters into his own hands."
Hogan shook off the disturbing image Scotty had subtly suggested. "Okay, but what did you find out when you examined him?"
"His pulse is faster than I would like. The vertigo is gone. But his eyes still show signs of pupil dilation similar to what is found with patients on amphetamines. You know, pep pills. There were no indications of internal injuries or problems such as kidney or liver failure. All hopeful signs in a poisoning case."
"What Carter describes as feeling invincible is actually a symptom of his circadian rhythm going haywire. His body is telling him day is night and night is day. It will lead to an incredible case of insomnia."
"Carter on pep pills. God help me." Hogan shook his head and rubbed at his tired eyes.
Wilson chuckled. "Worse! Carter on pep pills, thinking he's a superhero. God help us all!"
"You seem happy about this."
"It's a hunch,Colonel. But there is hope. If Carter doesn't exhibit any new symptoms, when he crashes - and he will crash - he should wake up with his inner clock reset. We'll have to watch him closely while he sleeps, making sure he doesn't slip into a coma. If he wakes up with no complications, he'll be back to normal… or as normal as Carter gets."
"I take great stock in the hunches of my unsung heroes, Scotty. Thank you."
Wilson, unused to such praise, cleared his throat awkwardly before he continued.
"Keep an eye on the boy. Don't let him alone for a moment. I don't want him to harm himself thinking he's invincible. I'm sure he'll be up all night. Maybe more than one night. Warn your team that they'll have to keep him entertained and out of trouble. He may crash at any time. Someone needs to be there when it happens. Come get me if you need me to Cartersit."
Carter sat at the worn wooden table in barracks two. The table was still adorned with LeBeau's red checkered tablecloth brightening the center of the room with homey charm. The two white candles, now burned so low they were sputtering a warning of their imminent demise, provided the only light.
"Gin," whispered Carter laying down his cards and fanning them out for his buddy to see. But it was pointless. Newkirk was fast asleep, his head on the cozy tablecloth. He snored softly into his losing hand, making the cards flutter.
Carter chuckled softly. "Only way you'd ever let me win."
The candlelight reflected in Carter's wide awake eyes. He glanced at his watch to check the time.
"Three? Three, a.m.? Boy, oh, boy. This not sleeping superpower is gonna need some gettin' used to," he mumbled to himself.
He smiled at his sleeping buddy. All his friends had tried so hard to stay awake with him, even the Colonel. They played cards and even sang some campfire songs after Lebeau asked what on earth a campfire song was. It wasn't long till LeBeau had taught them all the words to La Marseillaise and Schultz had stomped in to see if there was going to be a French uprising in the camp. But, one by one, everyone in the barracks had nodded off, including Newkirk who had tried the hardest to keep him company during this long night.
Carter stood and crept quietly behind Newkirk. He lifted him and whispered in his ear, "Come on sleepy head. Into my bunk. I won't be needing it."
"Andrew, I… I gotta stay…" Newkirk muttered.
"Shhhh, buddy. You're just dreaming. Go to bed now. It's alright. There you go."
Carter helped Newkirk into his own unused bunk and covered him up with his blanket. He stopped to pull off Newkirk's boots and grabbed another blanket from the top bunk to cover his feet. Newkirk sighed contentedly.
Carter knew how worried Newkirk was. Newkirk always yelled at him when he was late coming back from a mission or got himself lost in the woods. That's how he showed his concern. But tonight Newkirk had smiled at him, tipping his head and blinking his big blue eyes at him as he listened to his stories. That's how Carter knew Newkirk was worried sick. He gazed fondly at his pal's face, so peaceful in sleep.
Aw, Peter. Don't worry. I'm better than fine. I'm goin' to take care of you now. I swear I'll use my powers only for good. And I'll protect all of you with my life.
Carter leaned over and pulled Newkirk's blanket up to his chin. Then he looked around watching all his pals sleeping soundly. He took the extra blanket that Wilson had put around his shoulders earlier and placed it on LeBeau, who grabbed at it with a dreamy smile. He leaned over Kinch who was frowning and curled in a tight ball, smoothed his hair and whispered, "Shhhhh, pal. Everybody's safe" until the other man sighed and relaxed.
With a quiet hiss the candles blinked out and the barracks changed from fluttering shadows to darkness. Carter watched in awe as his vision adapted to his surroundings. Moonlight crawled from each crack in the wall and the door was wrapped in a halo of light. The windows, like all-seeing eyes, stared back at the moon in defiance. The light from the guard tower was a great silver plane of moonbeams that swept across the barracks endlessly searching for the enemy.
Carter reflected on his young life and what had brought him to this point in time. His older brother, Sammy, was a pilot who had been shot down and killed in action a few short years ago. After that, Carter had lied about his age and enlisted. At the time he had only wanted to take Sammy's place in the air. To continue what his brother started. To give meaning to his death. But little brother had taken a different path. Now he was an unsung hero and proud as punch to be here.
Carter removed his cap and bowed his head reverently. "Sammy, help me to be brave, not make dumb mistakes and keep my new brothers safe from harm."
"Andrew?" Hogan drifted out of his quarters wearing an olive drab tee-shirt and fastening the belt to his uniform pants. His dogtags caught and hung the moonlight around his neck. Hogan was struck by the otherworldly sight of his Technical Sergeant who seemed to be glowing in the light of the frosted windows. .
Carter shook himself. He had no idea how long he had stood deep in thought about his new powers. He turned, ducked his head and smiled. And, just like that, he was just plain Carter again.
"Sorry if I woke you, Colonel. It's still a while till roll call."
Hogan walked in stocking feet to where Carter was standing. He took Carter's cap from his gloved hand and placed it back on his head, pulling it down over his eyes to make him chuckle.
"It's chilly by the window, Andrew. Come sit down. I'll make some coffee and keep you company."
Hogan looked at the remains of the candles on the table. "You don't have to sit in the dark. I have a lantern hidden under the bunk in my room. We'll light it and keep it low."
"Okay, Sir. I'll fetch it."
"No, I'll get it and finish getting dressed. You start the coffee."
Half an hour later, the old stove was stoked and glowing with heat. Hogan's lantern bathed the two men in soft light. Carter and his Colonel warmed their hands around steaming cups of coffee. They slurped the first satisfying sips and spoke quietly.
"Newkirk was supposed to wake LeBeau when he got tired. I don't want you to be alone, Andrew."
"It's not his fault. He fell asleep with his cards in his hand. I put him to bed. He's so worried about me, Colonel. They all are. I wish they wouldn't be."
"Of course we're all worried, Andrew. But Wilson's given us a lot of hope. You just hang in there." Hogan patted his arm. "How are you feeling? Any new symptoms?"
"I feel great. Wide awake and full of energy, Sir." Carter leaned in a little closer as if sharing a secret. "Sir, I'm getting the hang of my new powers. See, I'm not stronger. I tried to break a log in half with my bare hands earlier and all I got was a splinter. I don't have x-ray vision. I stared at Newkirk until he started to twitch. But that's not unusual. He usually twitches when I stare at him. Then he usually yells at me. I mean I couldn't see his brains or read his mind or anything."
Carter stopped to take another sip from his blue tin cup.
Hogan slowly brought his favorite brown mug to his lips. He was following Wilson's suggestion to keep Andrew's mind off of his possible death. But as serious as that thought was, he was having a hard time keeping his laughter under control. He swallowed his coffee.
"So, what powers do you have?"
"Well, Sir. Just the one. I no longer need sleep. I'm thinking that will come in real handy with the work we're doing." Carter went to take a sip of coffee and was surprised to find he had emptied his cup. He stood and walked over to the pot bellied stove and reached for the grey speckled coffee pot.
"Like I could spend all night in the woods looking for downed flyers and never get tired." He wordlessly offered Hogan more coffee and Hogan lifted his cup to be refreshed.
"I could blow up a bridge every night and you'd never have to give me a night off to rest." Carter raised the coffee pot, almost spilling it in his exuberance. He then refilled his own cup to the brim and replaced the coffee pot on it's warmer.
Carter returned to his seat across from Hogan. Carter's enthusiasm came through even though he kept his voice low. "I could make bombs all night long and start long experiments and report my findings to London. And when we're on a mission I could stand guard over the others all night and keep them safe. I bet there's lots of things my power will come in handy for."
It wasn't lost on Hogan that all Carter's uses for his superpower were selfless. Hogan suddenly needed to stare into his coffee cup instead of the twinkling blue eyes across from him.
"I'm pretty sure I still need food. This coffee tastes real good and I'm beginning to wonder if there are any biscuits left from last night." Carter sniffed the air. "I still breathe air and I don't have super smell or even super hearing."
"Don't think I'd like to have a super sensitive nose around here." Hogan commented as he looked around.
Carter laughed. Then reached to the end of the table to examine a plate he had spied that had a checkered napkin draped over it. "Hey! Biscuits! Want one Colonel?"
"Sure. The sun's rising. Care to join me in watching the show? It's different everyday and always spectacular."
Carter nodded, shoved a biscuit in his mouth and handed one to the Colonel.
The new dawn brought with it a busy day. Hogan was forced to push his worry for Carter to the back of his mind when Kinch approached him with the latest mission from London. Hogan had organized a lively volleyball game with ever changing players to keep Carter busy.
Carter played game after game with boundless energy. Hogan sat on a bench outside barracks two and watched as Carter jumped at least two feet in the air to save a volley, then bounced around in a victory dance while the opposing team slumped under the winter sun.
Hogan had to come up with a plan to destroy a local clock factory that had been secretly retooled to manufacture anti-aircraft gun parts. It seemed there was a great need for them in the area surrounding Stalag Thirteen. The factory planned to reopen the next week, so tonight would be perfect for a bit of sabotage.
It seemed straight forward. The tricky part would be convincing Carter to let Kinch and Newkirk set the dynamite without him. He knew how much Carter loved to blow things up.
Hogan crooked a finger at Carter who threw the volleyball to Newkirk and sauntered over to the Colonel. Newkirk handed off the ball and followed.
"You need somethin', Sir?" Carter smiled and hung his gloved thumbs from his pockets.
"What's up, Gov'nor?" Newkirk stood behind Carter one hand lightly on his shoulder.
Hogan came right out with it. "Carter, you know the cuckoo clock factory on the South road?" Carter nodded. Newkirk, knowing what was coming, rubbed his hand on Carter's back. "Well, it's been retooled to make gun parts and we're taking it out tonight. You know the size of the factory. I need you to get the charges ready to go. Simple does it, nothing extravagant."
Carter grinned like he'd opened the door of a toy store. "Oh! Boy! I bet they still have cuckoo clocks in there as a cover. It'll be a blast watching them get blown up! I wonder if all the cuckoo birds will fly up in the air all goin'... cuckoo… cuckoo… I can't wait!" Carter bounced up and down energetically.
Hogan sighed so it was Newkirk who spoke up. "You know you can't come, Andrew, ol' son. Me and Kinch will set the charges and…"
Carter shrugged off Newkirk's comforting hand in disappointment. "Colonel! That's not fair! You know I can help! You know what I can do. Heck, I could go by myself and none of you would have to take a chance…"
"Carter, until Wilson clears you, you're not going anywhere. You're lucky I don't throw you to the cooler just to keep track of you!"
"You know I could break out of the cooler and follow you guys, Sir! You need…" Carter lowered his voice to a whisper. "You need a man with my powers…"
Newkirk threw his hands up in the air. "Balmy, Sir. Balmy. Thinks he's Captain Bloody America!"
"I do not… although… he was also a chemically enhanced soldier…"
"Andrew! You bloody little bastard! You're gonna get yourself killed and then wha'? Huh? And then wha' do we do?"
"Enough!" Hogan stood and crossed his arms. His position was not to be ignored. Both of his men backed off and hung their heads.
"You two check in with Kinch in the tunnel. He's got the layout of the factory. LeBeau and I will be taking out the guards while Newkirk and Kinch set the charges. Get what we need ready for tonight."
Hogan turned to Carter. "I'm depending on you to make it simple and make sure Kinch and Newkirk know what to do. You'll be spending the night with Sergeant Wilson. He wants to give you another exam. Do I have to order him to sedate you to keep you in the barracks?"
"No, Sir, " Carter grumbled.
Hogan placed a hand on Carter's shoulder. "Andrew, I need to know you'll be in good hands. I can't be worrying about you while I'm on a mission."
Carter slumped and headed towards the barracks. Newkirk patted Hogan's arm in passing. "Ruddy hard this is, Colonel. Ruddy hard to watch."
"King me, Scotty." Carter said dejectedly.
Wilson looked down at the checkerboard and picked up a black crown embossed wooden checker to give Carter another king. They were playing in Colonel Hogan's quarters to give the impression to passing guards that the Colonel was in.
The extra hour of electric light Hogan had finagled out of Klink was coming in handy, since Carter still showed no signs of fatigue. Wilson was losing, mostly because his mind was busy observing his opposition.
Wilson's exam had showed no change, which in Wilson's opinion was an optimistic sign. The only new problem was that the usually buoyant Carter was depressed.
Wilson smiled. "You're a good player, Andrew. I concede. What's the score? Three games to one?"
Carter started to collect the checkers. "I've won four games now."
"Want to play again?" Carter shrugged at Wilson's suggestion.
"Scotty? What use is a superpower if the Colonel won't let me go on missions?"
"You just need some time, my boy. It's a miracle you're sitting here playing checkers and feeling fine. You must understand, it's still possible you may… suddenly lose your power. Colonel Hogan doesn't want to take a chance on that happening on a mission."
"Well, when are you going to clear me for duty?"
Wilson sighed. "Okay, Andrew. The human body can only go for so long without sleep. If you stay awake with no other problems for say… five more days, I'll certify you as an a secret weapon with superpowers. The hero part you already have down pat."
"Gee Willikers! Thanks!"
The door to the barracks was flung open and Schultz entered calling for the Colonel. Carter exited the Colonel's quarters, leaving the door open a crack so Wilson could listen.
"Hey, Schulzie! What's going on? It's not time for lights out…"
"No, Carter. I need to see Colonel Hogan."
"Well, he's not feeling so hot. And he finally fell asleep, so can you just please tell me what's wrong?"
Schultz frowned and went back to the door. He dragged in a young boy of about ten or eleven years of age. The little boy looked like a scrawny, frightened angel with a halo of blond curls that framed a pale, innocent face. His soft brown eyes were wide with fear. Clutched in his fingers was a dog leash, which was attached to a young, blonde German Shepard.
Carter immediately recognised the boy as Oscar's youngest son, Kurt.
"Well! Hi there, Kurt. What are you doing here?"'
The boy shook himself loose from Schultz and smiled at Carter. The dog placed herself between the boy and Schultz and wagged her tail.
"My Papa told me if he were ever to be arrested I should go to the camp and find Captain America. This is Nelvana." He patted the dog's head. "Papa said I should always take her when I walk alone. Are you Captain America, Sir?"
Schultz chuckled. "What a sweet boy, what a good boy. Wait… arrested? Your Papa was arrested?"
Carter waved his hand. "Hush, Schultz. Who arrested your Papa, Kurt?"
"The new man at the Gestapo office. The new man was… beating up a boy, an older boy I know from school. Papa tried to stop him. They said he was iner… interfering with Gestapo business. My Papa is so brave… but I am afraid. You are Captain America, aren't you, Sir?"
Carter smiled. He placed a hand on the boy's head and ruffled his curls. "Well, your papa calls me that sometimes. I guess you can, too. I suppose I'm as close as we're gonna get on such short notice."
"Then you can help Papa?"
"Sure thing, pal. Now here's what I want you to do." Carter knelt and whispered in Kurt's ear as Kurt nodded and whispered back. Kurt smiled and gave Carter a hug. "Danke, Sir." The dog stood and wiggled knowing her boy was ready to go.
Carter stood and turned towards Schultz. "You can walk Kurt and Nelvana back to the gate now, Schultz. They're going home. It's late you know."
Schultz's round face turned red and he began to puff like a steam engine going uphill. "What? What? What? What did you say to him, Carter? What are you up to?"
"You really wanna know?" Carter placed his hands on his hips. "Well, ya see, Schultz, I'm a chemically enhanced super hero and I'm going to help spring Oscar from the clutches of the Gestapo. It's my purpose you know. To help the innocent."
Kurt clapped his hands in glee and his dog growled excitedly.
Schultz closed his eyes. "I see nothing. I see no little boy. I see no Captain Americas. Come, little one, you must go home! You should be at home in bed, not up to monkey business."
Kurt waved at Carter and took Schultz's hand. Schultz raised his eyes to heaven then placed his helmet on the boy's head, making him giggle with delight as they left. Carter closed the door behind them.
"What are you up to, my boy?" asked Wilson as he stepped from behind Hogan's door.
"Well, you heard. They arrested Oscar. But luckily, the Gestapo guy is new. He thinks Oscar is just a concerned citizen. Wants to scare him probably. That guy doesn't know who he has and it's really important he doesn't find out."
Carter folded his arms and tapped one gloved finger on his chin as he considered his options.
"Kurt told me Oscar is being held in the local Gestapo office by the school. Low security. They usually just handle students. So all I gotta do is dress up like a German General, bust in there and demand Oscar's release."
Wilson covered his face with his hand and shook his head in disbelief. Carter ignored the gesture, his voice picking up speed and excitement as he continued on.
"I'll say I'm his nephew. I'll scare the stuffing out of the Gestapo agent and he'll leave Oscar alone. I told Kurt to meet me up the road by the twin boulders. I'll see he gets home safe. Piece of…"
"Whoa!" Wilson held up a hand. "You're not going anywhere! Especially dressed as a German General!"
"Scotty, I have to. If this new guy looks too close into Oscar's movements it will lead him right here to our operation."
"Andrew! Enough of this!" Scotty finally erupted in concern. "You are not a superhero! You have no powers! You push yourself too hard and you will crash and burn! Do you understand?"
Carter went to Wilson and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Crashing and burning is what got me here in the first place. I'm not afraid to die, Scotty. Heck. I play with dynamite for fun. I'm not afraid to die. The only thing I'm afraid of is not having a purpose. My purpose is here and I'm willing to die to defend it."
Wilson hung his head and sighed. "Alright. I'll let you go but I'm coming with…"
"Oh, no you're not. Colonel Hogan will be mad enough at me for doing this without his permission. I hate to think what will happen to me if I get the camp medic killed. Besides someone has to tell the Colonel what's going on when he comes back."
That logic, Scotty couldn't argue with.
"Oh, I'm looking forward to that." came Wilson's sarcastic reply.
Carter felt confident and invincible. He felt like he could do no wrong. Dressed as General Schnitzer, puffing out his chest and showing off his medals, he quickly convinced the new Gestapo agent that his poor Uncle Oscar was a little crazy, a closely guarded family secret. He flattered the young guard by acting as though he was being taken into the general's confidence and assured him that he would make Oscar promise to stay out of trouble. From now on, Carter/Schnizter told the guard, "Crazy" Uncle Oscar would tend to his doggies and not meddle in the affairs of the Gestapo.
Then Carter went a step further. He offered the unspoken promise of a whisper in Hitler's ear about the efficient young agent before him.
The agent was only too happy to promise not only to release Oscar, but to keep the man's illustrious relative a secret so as to protect the Schnitzer family name and keep little Kurt from possibly being a victim of kidnapping.
Little Kurt was splendid at pulling at the agent's rusty heartstrings with his quivering lip and big tearful eyes as he said he wished to grow to be an agent just like him.
Safely back at Oscar's home, Carter refreshed himself with coffee and apple cake while Kurt found some clothes for his new-found hero to wear back to camp. General Schnitzer's uniform would be hidden in the back of the dog kennel to be returned on Oscar's next visit to the camp.
"Andrew," asked Oscar, "are you sure you do not want me to drive you back?"
"No. I think you should lay low for a while. I'll just slip out the back and head for the trees. If you are being watched, it will seem like the General is staying the night with his folks. But I doubt you'll have any trouble. Between me and Kurt, that agent never knew what hit him." Carter grinned crookedly.
Oscar grabbed his son and tickled him, causing him to throw Carter's change of clothes in the air. Carter smiled and gathered them up, eager to be on his way. Oscar kissed his son's glowing cheek. "I am so proud of you, Kurt. But now you know you must not tell anyone about Captain America, not even your best friend, Rudy."
"May I tell Rudy I am on Captain America's team? If I don't tell of the mission, that is?"
Oscar and Carter exchanged looks. Then Carter spoke up. "Well, you know you can't tell him about where I live or who my alter ego is. I know you are a smart fella. How about you tell Rudy that Captain America said you could both be on his team if you both swear to never tell anyone else about it."
Kurt flung himself at Carter and hugged him hard. "I swear, I swear! I love you, Captain America," the little German boy said fervently.
"Captain America loves you too, Kurt," returned Carter fondly.
Dressed in warm civilian clothes and full of good cheer, Carter made his way back to camp. He had heard an explosion to the south earlier in the evening and knew that his brothers-in-arms were successful in their mission, too.
He hoped Colonel Hogan would not be too mad at him or Wilson after he heard that Oscar had been released. All he had to do now was keep an eye out for patrols, which most likely would be south of town at what remained of the cuckoo clock factory. Carter was confident he would be able to get home without incident.
Piece of pie.
The moon was brilliant in the sky, just a day or two from full. A light dusting of snow was falling. Carter was cozy in a thick wool sweater and jacket. He'd walked home from the movies in North Dakota in much colder weather than this.
He took care where he was stepping and the thin blanket of snow beneath his feet silenced his footsteps. The wind kicked up and sent swirling snow in front of his eyes. He stopped a moment to get his bearings and found that the snow was still swirling and now so were the trees.
Oh, no. I'm dizzy again. Colonel Hogan's gonna kill me. The guys are gonna kill me. Heck, Newkirk is gonna yell at me loud and then kill me. Take it easy, Andrew. It will pass. You don't want to get turned around.
Carter grabbed onto a tree to steady himself. He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. He started to tremble. Slowly the vertigo lessened and he was able to see clearly again.
Okay, Andrew. It's pretty much a straight line from Oscar's to the camp. You've traveled this way lots of times. And the moon. The moon will help. Keep it on your right. Head east. You'll be fine. It's not far.
Carter strode slowly from tree to tree, moving between the snow-sprinkled trunks and branches as silently as he could. His breathing grew harsh and his legs and arms began to feel like lead. Waves of fatigue flowed through him, making the back of his skull tingle and his eyes mist over.
He stopped to wipe his eyes with the bright red and white striped, home-knit mittens Kurt had given him. Carter suspected they were a pair that the boy was not particularly fond of. Or perhaps he thought the colors were better suited for Captain America. The thought made Carter frown.
Oh! No, no, no. I'm losing my powers. I'm so tired, I could sit right here under this old pine tree and sleep forever. Maybe for just a minute? A minute wouldn't hurt.
Carter slumped to the ground before he could talk himself out of it. He leaned against the trunk of the tree and breathed in the brisk scent of pine needles and fresh snow. He began to shiver as the cold, wet wind tugged at his clothes and whispered half-words in his ears to lull him to sleep.
I wonder if this is what dying feels like?
Hogan and his team, camouflaged against the night in black-out gear, were invigorated after their mission had gone off like clockwork. The light snow did nothing to dampen their spirits.
Hogan took the lead on the way back to camp and Newkirk whispered, "I can't wait to see Carter's face when we tell 'im about those ruddy cuckoo birds exploding all over the landscape. The locals 'll be findin' them in their fields for years to come, along with those bloody gun parts."
LeBeau rubbed his hands together and blew on them, "I miss Andre'. It is not the same blowing something up without Andre' there to cheer and make boom, boom noises."
"Yeah," added Kinch. "I miss telling him to shut up and watch where he's goin'."
"Right before he trips and I have to tell all of you to shut up," Hogan smirked.
"Andrew's gonna be alright. I feel it in me bones. Ain't that right, Guv'nor?" Newkirk sounded more optimism than he felt and didn't really expect an answer.
Hogan held up a black gloved hand. His team stopped on a dime and listened. They all heard nothing but the breathing of the wind hiding in the branches of the trees. They continued on in silence, eager to get home.
As Carter hugged himself against the cold, he gave in to the pull of slumber. He had never felt anything like it. He felt the need to sleep even in his very bones. He e couldn't fight the grip weariness had on him. He closed his eyes and let his head fall to his shivering chest.
The moon slowly moved across the sky, playing hide and seek in the sparse clouds. It illuminated the man sleeping on the forest floor one moment, then plunged him into shadows the next. Moonlight flickered across his eyes adding depth and movement to the forest before him.
Carter entered into the world of dreams.
He looked up towards the moon. The sky began to shimmer as many colored rays of light filled the sky. Carter recognized the Northern Lights from North Dakota. He had watched them on the reservation with his Grandpa.
They spent many nights together sitting under the rusty old Aermotor windmill and gazing at the sky. His Grandpa always said that the Gods were having a celebration. That a brave but weary warrior had finally gone to his final resting place in the sky.
Carter continued watching the sky as Nelvana of the Northern Lights grew closer and closer until she finally touched down in front of this young but weary warrior. She gazed at him with kind, dark eyes. Her raven black hair was alive with the glow of the northern lights and her head was crowned with a simple headdress of beads and feathers. Her soft green leather boots made no noise on the forest floor and her cape, the color of the forest itself, drifted behind her blowing gently in the frosty breeze.
Nelvana smiled and leaned over Carter, lightly stroking his cheek over and over with the fingers of her long gloves that were the color of pine needles. Her short blue, fur-trimmed gown tickled Carter's chin.
Carter opened his eyes and looked at her in awe. "Nelvana? Have you come to take me to my final resting place?"
"No, Andrew. I have come to awaken you. You have many, many, days ahead of you and many, many nights left to walk under mother moon."
"But I am so tired. And so cold." He drew his legs in closer to his chest and tightened his arms around them.
"I know, Andrew. I know you want to rest. And I promise someday I will come for you and take you to a great celebration in the sky. For you are a brave and true warrior and many wait for your return to the lights."
"You mean like Grandpa? And Sammy?"
Nelvana made a sound like a sad sigh. "Yes, Andrew. Many watch over you… and your brothers."
"You mean Colonel Hogan and the guys?"
"We watch over all the brave warriors. Andrew, it is time for you to awaken. Your brothers are worried about you. They will come looking for you. They will face grave danger on your behalf. It is better if you go to them."
"Nelvana, I kinda want to come with you. I don't know if I can wake up. Can't I follow you and still watch over the guys?"
Suddenly, Carter heard a loud swoosh behind Nelvana, and a muscular man dressed in red, white and blue and carrying a shield appeared to stand beside the demi-god from the sky.
Carter recognized him right away. "Captain America? What the heck are you doing here?"
"Technical Sergeant Andrew J. Carter!" The hero addressed him sternly. "Quit all this goldbricking. There's a war to be won! On your feet, Sergeant! Up and at 'em!"
Nelvana continued to stroke both Carter's cheeks, her caress becoming more insistent. "Awake, now, brave warrior," she encouraged.
"That's an order, Sergeant!" Captain America added.
Carter's eyes popped open. He blinked several times before his fuzzy vision cleared. The two mythic characters were gone.
Carter raised a red and white mittened hand to rub his eyes and was immediately assaulted by a wiggling dog, whining her pleasure at his awakening. The dog's rough tongue licked at his cheeks and warm, furry head tickled his chin. Then dog turned her attention to the mittens and started a game of tug o' war, growling happily as she pulled the mittens off Carter's hands.
Carter smiled and grabbed onto the dog, hugging her close and rubbing his cold face and ears in her fur. He instantly warmed.
"Nelvana? What? What the heck?"
Nelvana shook the mittens and spit them back into Carter's lap. She sat beside him sharing her body heat and seemingly waiting for an order. Carter pulled the mittens back on his reddened hands, then stroked Nelvana's thick, golden blonde coat as he glanced around.
The snow had stopped and the wind had died down. A thin blanket of pristine snow covered the forest floor and the only sound was the panting of the eager, young pup at his side.
Carter looked up at the moon that had moved quite a bit in the now clear sky. He was still feeling dizzy, disorientated and very cold. He wasn't sure exactly where he was. He yawned and tried to fight the urge to curl up against Nelvana and go back to sleep.
"Looks like I've been asleep for a while. I guess I didn't die, huh, girl."
Carter smiled as he thought of his dream. Because it had to be a dream, right? It had seemed so real. He thought how Nelvana told him that he and the others were being watched over by those who had gone before. He remembered Captain America admonishing him that there was a war yet to be won. And he remembered his brothers waiting for him at camp.
Nelvana pushed her moist nose at Carter's hand.
"Oscar must have sent you to find me. Do you know the way to camp?"
Nelvana stood and let out a low bark. She stood very still and Carter used her strong back to help him to his knees. He closed his eyes for a moment and waited for the forest to stop spinning. Then he got to his feet holding on to the pine tree he had been sleeping under and the leather collar around Nelvana's neck.
Carter was still feeling heavy and weary, but he focused his blurry vision on the dog. "Show me the way to camp, girl. I really want to go home."
As if Nelvana had understood perfectly, she headed off towards Stalag Thirteen, turning her head every few feet to make sure Carter was following.
Oscar hung up the phone and shook his head. Sergeant Wilson had taken a big risk calling him to find out if everything had turned out alright, and when Carter had left for camp. It broke all protocol and Colonel Hogan was sure to be quite angry.
But the worst part was that Carter had not made it back to camp. Nelvana had been sleeping with Kurt, but at the sound of the phone had plodded over to Oscar and watched him with sleepy eyes.
Oscar absentmindedly petted the protective animal. He would hate it if anything happened to Carter because of him. Hate to hear the news that another sweet young lad had met death in this war and perished by her cruel hand. He glanced at the picture of his older son, killed at the hands of yet another young man, a German soldier, during an anti-war rally at university.
He looked down into the trusting eyes of Nelvana. He much preferred dogs to humans. Nelvana was special. He had been training her to use to send messages to other local underground members. He had sent her with Kurt all over town and to the POW camp to get her used to all the routes she would need to take.
Kurt would tell her over and over where they were going, so that now the dog could be commanded "to the butcher shop," or "to the camp," and she would run ahead of Kurt obviously understanding.
Her collar was slit underneath with enough space to slip in a note. She was untested, but Oscar had high hopes. He had told Carter of his plan over coffee and showed him her collar. Carter was very enthusiastic.
Oscar reached in his pocket for the gloves Carter had worn earlier. Oscar had been planning to hide them with the rest of the General's uniform before retiring for the night. Oscar walked with the dog to the back door. He showed the gloves to Nelvana and let her sniff them thoroughly.
"Go to the camp, girl. Find that nice boy Andrew and go to the camp. You understand me?"
Nelvana whined with excitement. He felt certain the clever dog understood him. Oscar opened the door and Nelvana took off across the backyard and straight to the spot where Carter had entered the forest. She sniffed the area, then took off at a run into the dark. Oscar smiled and chuckled. Amazed yet again at how smart a dog could be. Maybe somehow she could help his young friend.
Hogan and Wilson stood toe to toe and eye to eye in the crowded tunnel under barracks two. The barracks above them was empty except for one man who was watching the door.
Hogan was livid. Wilson was unflinching.
"Who the hell put you in charge, Wilson? How dare you contradict my orders and let Carter leave the camp! What ever made you think I would even consider sending you out on a rescue mission? Answer me, Sergeant!"
The Colonel was angrier than Wilson had ever seen him. Yet Wilson saw the worry through the anger. He was a Colonel, true, but he was also just a man.
"I did what I had to do with you traipsing all over Germany. I took charge. You aren't omniscient, Colonel. You can't be in two places at once," Wilson reminded him. "If you were that worried, you should have stayed here, your team is more than capable..."
"My team is missing a man, a vital man, who is now missing entirely!"
Baker had had enough of the officers' shouting match. "Colonel Hogan, we all wanted to help when Carter didn't return. We couldn't sit here and do nothing. We do enough of that as it is. Sergeant Wilson was more than careful, he studied the map, he had a plan…"
Several of the men of barracks two, who had been getting ready to head out and search for Carter when Colonel Hogan and his team returned, mumbled their agreement.
"Baker, did you or did you not call Oscar Schnitzer, a member of the underground without authorization from me?"
"Yes, Sir. I did."
"I ordered him to call, Colonel. These men were willing to risk their necks…" shouted Wilson.
"And you, Wilson, were ready to risk this whole operation? How were you going to explain an empty barracks? What were you going to say to Klink if one of the guards picked up one of the men? What would you have told their family if they were shot?" Hogan was furious, his veins throbbing in his neck. His team stood behind him, while the rest of the barracks moved closer to Wilson.
"Carter has been gone five hours now... Colonel." Wilson spat out the word. "He must have crashed. Is this what you consider acceptable now? Leaving an American soldier to die alone without comfort on enemy soil? It's not acceptable to me!"
The tunnel exploded with angry voices. Hogan's voice was ranting about finding Carter himself, taking him to Switzerland, and never returning. Several others were volunteering to search for Carter immediately. A few were defending Wilson, and a few taking Hogan's side. In all the shouting and angry confusion, one soft voice was almost lost completely.
"Hey, guys. What's all the hubbub?"
Kinch had been nearest the tunnel entrance. Arms folded, expression grim and silent, ready to step in if fists were thrown. A small noise and movement behind him made him turn and his face immediately broke into a brilliant smile.
"Carter! Oh! Man! It's Carter!"
Newkirk heard Kinch's shout and stopped in mid-tirade.
"Cor Blimey! Andrew!"
Carter still had his hands on the ladder, not feeling steady enough to walk further into the tunnel. He tilted his head and smiled weakly. "What's goin' on fellas?"
Angry shouts turned to whoops of joy. Carter was pulled into a tearful hug by Kinch and Newkirk. LeBeau was next, showering Carter with non-stop French-style kisses on both cheeks. After a few minutes, Newkirk and Kinch helped Carter to a nearby stool while many hands slapped him on the back and greeted him like a long lost brother.
Colonel Hogan came up to stand before Carter, then slowly knelt. He placed a hand on Carter's knee and looked him over. As loud as it had been, the tunnel became silent except for the sound of shifting feet and soft coughs.
"You alright, Andrew?" The commanding officer spoke, not bothering to mask the concern and relief plain on his face.
"I'm real tired, Colonel." Carter tried to smile, but his eyes filled with tears. "Real tired."
Carter nodded, knowing the Colonel understood what he meant. "Guess I'm just dopey old Carter again, Sir."
Hogan pulled him into a fierce hug and whispered, "Thank God. Thank God. That's exactly who I need."
Carter returned the hug just as fiercely, then closed his eyes. Hogan continued to cling tightly to Carter as he gave in to his exhaustion safe in his Colonel's arms. Carter crashed and burned once more, but this time leaving warmth like glowing coals behind.
Carter slept for seventy-two hours. At first Wilson and Carter's concerned friends took turns waking him briefly every two hours, forcing a weary Carter to tell them his name. They received an assortment of Andrews, Andrew J. Carters, Sergeant Carters and a even a few Captain Americas, which always made his watchers smile.
After twenty-four hours Wilson woke him every four hours, just long enough to drink some sweetened tea and slurp some French-style chicken soup. Newkirk complained that it was like feeding a baby bird in a shoebox, but Wilson noticed he wouldn't let anyone else feed his bunk mate.
Hogan was quite proud of his cover story for Klink, that Carter had fallen victim to a latent case of North Dakota sleeping sickness. He even convinced Klink that South Dakota's sole purpose was to make sure North Dakota's populace didn't all fall asleep while smoking in bed and set the state on fire.
After seventy-two hours, Carter smelled LeBeau's coffee and woke up naturally, feeling refreshed and hungry.
Carter and Newkirk leaned up against barracks two, enjoying the sunshine and the company. Newkirk held out his cigarette for Carter to finish. LeBeau and Kinch were sitting on the rickety bench playing checkers.
"Thanks, buddy." Carter took a puff and exhaled. "Now where was I… oh, yeah, so then Nelvana, the dog, not the demi-goddess, led me right to the tunnel entrance. I gave her a good pet on the head and told her to go on home… and she did. Then, well, you guys know the rest."
"I am glad you are better, mon ami. I was quite upset. I couldn't even think about making a souffle. It would have fallen flat."
Carter smiled and took another drag of the shared cigarette. "I was pretty scared at first. But it was kinda nifty having a super power."
Kinch looked up from the board. "Carter, I explained all that to you, remember? You didn't really have a super power."
"I don't know, Kinch. I think maybe we all have super powers. Like LeBeau is a super chef, Newkirk is a super... magician and you are like Electric Man."
"Yeah, and you have the ability to turn a grown man to jelly by talkin' 'im to death." sniped Newkirk.
"Haha. I think I still have some pretty good powers. I can blow up anything. I can make just about anything in my lab and… I can make Newkirk cry." Carter threw the remains of the cigarette into a red tin bucket marked "butts" and waited with a smirk on his face.
"Why you little bloody bastard! I'll show you who'll be cryin'!"
"I did so make you cry when you thought I was a goner…" Carter started to back away.
"It ain't too late for that circumstance to come to fruition, ya balmy yank!" Newkirk began to advance.
"Admit it! You like me and can't live without me!"
"You ain't gonna live another hour!" Newkirk sounded dangerous, but the twinkle in his eye gave his amusement away.
Carter took off running with Newkirk right behind him.
Hogan walked up to Kinch and LeBeau and asked, "What's that about?"
LeBeau shrugged. "Things are back to normal, mon Colonel."
"King me," said Kinch.
Hogan watched as half of his team disappeared behind the delousing station.
"Normal? What's that?"