When Andrew Bennett had first answered his country’s call to join the fight against tyranny, defending a cold ditch in the dead of night was not quite the action he’d had in mind.
And yet, for the third consecutive night, that’s precisely where he found himself: on patrol in a low-priority stretch of trench in a battle-scarred Belgian forest.
The assignment was a lonely one. On this night—as with the preceding nights—Andrew had only his rifle, a pack of cigarettes, and the full moon for company. I hope it’s quiet tonight. He shivered, and yawned, and tried not to think of the German soldiers manning their own muddy trenches a stone’s throw away across No Man’s Land. Biggest lesson I’ve learned since arriving in Europe is I’m no soldier, and few men really are.
Suddenly a soft rustling in the shadows some twelve feet down the trench sent a cold tremor rippling up Andrew’s spine. He steeled his war-weary nerves and aimed his rifle into the darkness. “Halt!” I hope I sound braver than I feel. “What’s the password?”
The question was met by a deafening silence, and for a split second Andrew was convinced he’d just threatened a rat. The fellas can never hear about this. But then a quiet voice floated towards him from the shadows.
“I’m sorry. My records are incomplete. I don’t possess any military passwords.” The voice was unmistakably female, rich and caramel, with the faintest trace of an English accent.
Andrew lowered his gun. What the hell is a woman doing out here?
“Come out,” Andrew said, his pulse racing. “I can’t see you.” He heard a slight cough, and then the crunch of gravel underfoot, and finally a young woman emerged into the moonlight. She was tall—easily as tall as Andrew—and slender, and wore black gloves and a flowing black tunic over grey leggings. Long black hair framed a pale, angular face. Emerald eyes seemed to regard Andrew with warmth and fascination. I’m either dead or dreaming. This kind of beauty is unearthly.
“This is no place for a lady.” This is no place for anyone. Andrew slung his rifle over his shoulder.
“I’m not a lady. I mean, I grant you, I’m female, but—” she paused, smoothed out her tunic with her gloved hands, and pulled herself up to her full height—“I am a temporal anthropologist from the 22nd century.”
“A temp—huh?” I probably should feel fear or horror or something other than the delight I’m feeling right now.
“A temporal anthropologist,” she repeated. Her face and tone of voice were serious but Andrew detected levity in her eyes. “Well, I will be, once they accept my thesis. What is your name, please?”
“Andrew. Andrew Bennett.”
From a small canvas bag hanging at her side, the young woman produced a silver box no bigger than a canned ham and held it on one palm. She tapped it once. “Bennett…Andrew,” she said with no trace of emotion. The device hummed for five seconds before beeping, at which point the woman brought it close to her face. “Andrew Patrick Bennett. Born October 27, 1895 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Private First Class, 4th Division, Royal Canadian Infantry Corps.” Her emerald eyes shot up to his. “Is that correct?”
“You’ve got all my information in that little gizmo, eh?” He cocked his head towards the device. “You must be a Martian.”
“A Martian? I live on Earth.” She scrunched up her nose like an indignant child. Beautiful. “I’m a temporal anthropology graduate student in the University of Terra Nova’s Gaian history department.”
“I’m going to need more than that,” Andrew said sternly as he suppressed a smile. “I’m only understanding every other word as it is.”
The young woman sighed and twisted a strand of hair around a gloved finger. “This is the first time the Gaian history department has sent a human researcher into the past.” With each breathless word, her excitement seemed to grow. “To date the university has only sent digital data collectors—too big a risk to send an academic, let alone a lowly grad student, they argued—but I made the argument that historians can see and experience things that machines can’t and…well, here I am.”
Her enthusiasm was contagious. I don’t understand her, but I want to make her happy. Andrew folded his arms in front of his chest and for a few seconds pretended to mull over her explanation.
“If you’re real—really real—I want a kiss,” he announced finally.
The young woman’s eyes widened. “A kiss! But you’re dead!”
“I knew it!” Andrew exclaimed triumphantly. “So I’m dead and you’re an angel.”
“That’s not what I mean, and I’m sorry for my insensitivity.” Andrew noted her mounting agitation with amusement. “You’re alive in your own time, but now, at least for me… I digress. I’ve come from the future to study men at war.”
“Aren’t there men in the—what century are you from?”
“22nd. Yes, there are men, but there’s no more war.”
“No war? None at all?” It seemed a ridiculous notion to entertain in a cold trench in the middle of the deadliest war the world had ever seen.
“In my time, war is an aggressive business tactic reserved for boardrooms.” She sniffed and seemed to regard him skeptically. Somewhere in the distance, a man coughed, and Andrew wondered if the cougher was friend or foe. “You’re playing with me. You’re not afraid. I was told to expect fear and disbelief.”
Andrew shrugged. “I’ve decided this is a dream. Ask me anything you’d like.”
She smiled gratefully and took a step towards him.
“Careful, lady!” She froze mid-step. Terror spread across her face. Andrew pointed at her bare feet. “You’re not wearing any shoes!”
“Oh, that.” The fear drained from her cheeks. “I’m perfectly safe.” She continued towards him until she stood a couple of paces away. “I took a Synthderm bath before I de-materialized.”
“Synthderm?” I’m not even going to ask about “de-materialized.”
She nodded. “It’s a liquid synthetic skin protector comprised of nonporous microfibers. It can easily withstand most 20th century projectiles and viruses and—well, pebbles and mud.” She waved her hand dismissively above her head as if swatting a fly. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to know this, or anything about me.”
“I beg to differ, Miss… Miss… I’ve forgotten your name.”
“I haven’t told you my name.” She sounded slightly annoyed. I’m not following her script. “I’m here to hear your story, Private Bennett.”
“Andrew. See, I told you my name. It’s only fair that you tell me yours—especially if you want me to spill my guts.”
She hesitated, and seemed to debate with herself before sighing. “Tessa.”
“Tessa. That’s a beautiful name. Tessa.” The name passed his lips with a singsong lilt. “They should write poems about girls named Tessa. Bet I could write one now. I’d start with your hair as black as night, and your eyes…”
“I require the kind of anecdotal data our remote collectors have been unable to obtain,” Tessa interrupted.
“I’ll do my best to help you, Tessa. I hate to mention it because chatting with you is the”—he wracked his brain for a word that would suitably reflect the cocktail of buoyant emotions swirling inside of him—“dandiest thing that’s happened to me in a long time, but I’m just a private. I’m no general. I have no idea what’s going on with the peace talks or strategy or—“
“But I’m interested in what you have to say.” Tessa placed her gloved hand on his arm. He gulped and stared deep into her emerald eyes. “My research is centered on the psychological impact of trench warfare on early 20th century men.”
“I’m an early 20th century man,” he said quietly.
“I—I know.” She removed her hand from his arm and with the other raised the silver device so that it was an inch from his lips. “It’s also a recorder,” she said quickly before he could ask. “What do you think about your general’s latest tactics on the Belgian front, specifically with regards to Passchendaele?”
He chuckled. “Tessa, I march where they tell me to march, dig where they tell me to dig, and shoot where they tell me to shoot. I look out for my friends. I try to make it to the next day.”
“But historical records tell us your commander’s plan to engage the enemy here at Passchendaele was controversial amongst the soldiers.” Her inquisitive eyes were as big and bright as the moon.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I just want to go home.”
“You don’t discuss war strategy with your comrades?”
Andrew shook his head grimly. “We discuss strategies to fight the boredom and—you know, how to stay alive.” Tessa bobbed her head eagerly, and he chided himself for not possessing more thoughtful answers to her questions. “Sorry I can’t be more helpful.”
“This is helpful,” she objected and bit her lip thoughtfully. She’s the smartest person I’ll ever meet. This realization made her even more attractive. “Perhaps, instead of war strategy, we could discuss your personal—wants.”
That’s easy. “All I want is a single kiss.”
“You’re—this is most—this is highly—” Tessa’s voice trailed off. Her eyes fell to the ground.
Andrew shuffled forward until the tips of his muddy boots touched Tessa’s Synthderm-covered toes. “You smell tropical. Like a banana daiquiri.” Last place I had a banana daiquiri was that dive bar in Halifax the night before I shipped out. My date for the evening couldn’t get enough of them.
“I’m not wearing any perfume.” The hand—and the recorder it clutched—fell to her side. Clearly my 20th century charms work on 22nd century women. “It must be the Synthderm.”
“Do people still kiss in the 22nd century?” He brushed his lips against her cheek. Her skin was as smooth as porcelain.
“I…yes.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
“I’m an early 20th century man.”
“You already said that.” Tessa’s eyes were half-closed.
“As an early 20th century man, I want what you want and what every person who’s ever existed wants: I want to feel alive.”
“Alive.” Now her eyes were completely closed, and she swayed slightly as if in a trance. Andrew leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. Her lips did not move. She seemed—frozen.
I’ve made a mistake. She’s going to kill me with her silver gizmo.
But at that moment Tessa threw her arms around his neck and parted her full lips, and Andrew collapsed into the most intensely electric kiss of his life.
A minute passed. Suddenly Tessa dropped her arms from Andrew’s neck and pushed against his chest with clenched fists. He staggered backwards and frantically searched her face for insight. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I—I meant no harm.” She covered her face with her hands. “I’m a researcher. I wanted to know what it was like in the trenches. I shouldn’t have kissed you.”
“No harm done,” Andrew said gently. “I don’t know much about temporal anthropology, but I would guess this counts as field research.”
She kept her eyes averted as she brushed the tears from her cheeks with the back of her trembling hand. “I have to go.” She fumbled in her bag.
“Please stay.” I don’t care if that makes me sound weak. Andrew hadn’t grasped much of anything Tessa had said during their brief interaction, but he’d understood enough to know that, once she left, it was over. “What if I die tomorrow? What if this is the last happiness I’ll ever know?”
She looked him straight in the eye. “You survive this war. You return to Canada and become a banker. You die…decades later.”
Andrew reeled from the revelations. “So I’m not going to die here? That’s incredible news! I don’t have to be scared anymore.” He resisted the urge to kiss her again.
“I’m afraid you do, Andrew. Look here, please.” She produced a new silver disc from her bag and held it in front of his nose. His eyes focused on a blinking red light. “I’ll remember this, even if you won’t.”
“It’s a memory wiper, Andrew. Thank you for—the lesson.” And before Andrew could protest, Tessa tapped her finger against the silver disc, and there was a flash of red light, and then—a void.
Andrew awoke from his dreamless catnap groggy and sore. Fell asleep standing up again. Good thing no one found me this way. He rubbed his neck and checked his pocket watch. Five hours and then he could head back to camp. “What I wouldn’t give for a banana daiquiri,” he muttered, and then scolded himself for the random thought. That’s not the drink of a soldier. And with that, he cocked his rifle, furrowed his brow, and began another agonizing countdown to first light.