derring-doo, noun (dair-ing-DOO)
1. daring action, daring
A solider from the Second Gulf War understood what was happening the quickest. I am trained to explain the situation as best I can once I capture them, but, predictably, the message doesn’t take right away. For most, a few weeks in our time convince them it’s real. A poor few never accept it; they don’t last long. But I’ll never forget that American soldier’s immediate reaction to my explanation.
“Oh, like that show Deadliest Warrior?” he asked.
I was stunned. It was exactly like that show Deadliest Warrior. In fact, it was based off that show, despite the fact that it hadn’t aired in centuries. Some grunt found that old television program in an online archive and suggested to the head of the studio that we try it, except, you know, for real. The next few years were spent wading through the bureaucracy of time travel: the proper forms were filed, permits were obtained and the principals, including myself, went through the standard background-screening procedures, finally earning the highest level of security clearance possible. I was given a license for Temporal Travel, which is kind of useless on its own, and a time machine built for two.
I was picked in part for my past military experience. The government and the studio found me trustworthy enough to place such an expensive piece of equipment under my responsibility. But really, I’m expendable. If I die in the past the machine is programmed to self-destruct. Dozens of other guys like me would be ready and available to take my position.
Stealth is crucial. The machine’s cloaking devices keep it off old, inferior defense systems like radar. Then it’s up to me to land it silently in an out-of-the-way location. From there, I lug a hunk of matter that’s mostly oxygen with me until I find a small unit I can attack. The American soldier I encountered in Iraq was part of a three-man bomb detection unit. They are good about keeping each other in sight, so there was no way to do it without killing two of them. I tranquilized the third, bound his hands, extracted a sample of his DNA and injected it into the blank hunk. I don’t know all the science behind it, but somehow stem cells make the hunk genetically identical to the person I just tranquilized, so when the authorities discover the scene, it will seem as if he had died with the others.
I brought him back to the machine and waited for him to wake up. When he did, I got to explaining.
“Do you remember what year it is?”
“Okay, good, you are lucid enough to hear this. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in less than 1,000 years, it will be. I am from the future.”
His face remained blank. Usually they would interrupt me at this point.
“I work for a television company. This company airs a program that pits soldiers of different historical eras against each other in fights to the death.”
Now he interrupted me. “Oh, like that show Deadliest Warrior?”
His response threw me off, but I had to stick to the main talking points. “Yeah. Just like that. And you have been selected for this program. The other men in your unit are dead, I’m sorry about that. I have used technology from the future to ensure that the U.S. Army thinks you are dead, too. You are now in my time machine, and you have a choice: you may come with me and participate in this program, or you may die now. Just know that the soldiers on this show are some of the biggest celebrities in our society if they are successful, and they never want for anything.”
No one before or since threw themselves so completely into the idea. He pandered to the crowd and won in thrilling fashion; he was the biggest star in the history of the program. His earnest amazement at technological advances endeared him to women. After a while the studio grew concerned that he would become bigger than the program, forcing them to fix matches in his favor. If that happened, interest would wane. The studio needed a new star, someone who would buy into the concept and enjoy this peculiar limelight.
I found him in the Netherlands, shortly after the onset of Operation Market Garden, near the end of World War II. He was a British paratrooper, and I first encountered him on guard duty with a few others. He was regaling them with tales of his exploits—exploits which, going by their frequent laughter, stifled by necessity but genuine nonetheless, must have been humorous.
“As I was saying, I was in a real quandary. But you know I’m always good for a little derring-doo. So I stepped toward her, hands raised, and asked her if she had another cigarette. She gives me a good, long look…and smiles.”
“Oooh, what a saucy little minx!” One of his fellows was visibly pleased by his storytelling. “And the daughter of a Nazi Colonel, who would have thought?”
“We share a smoke and a talk, and before she goes back inside, she gives me a kiss. But she bumps into a table when she goes back inside, waking that Nazi bastard up. He sticks his ugly face out the window just in time to see me sprinting for the woods.”
“Fuck off, Davies. I don’t lie. When we assault the town tomorrow, maybe you can ask him. Now excuse me, boys, nature calls.”
He walked into the woods to relieve himself. I lied there, waiting, unsure how I was going to make his death look plausible, but sure that he had the right personality for the job. He already had a way with audiences.