My Celestial Brother
Thomas Calabrese …The two giant asteroids were on a collision course, one was almost six hundred miles across at its widest point, the other was slightly less than five hundred and they had been floating through the infinite vastness of the Whirlpool Galaxy for thousands of years, but destiny had other plans for them. When they collided the impact was so immense and incalculable that the largest piece left of both asteroids was less than a mile across and billions of particles were dispersed over millions of square miles of infinite space.
Centuries passed until a one hundred ton orphan rock drifted into the earth’s atmosphere, it was a beam of blinding light as it blazed across the sky, burning and disintegrating at a rapid rate as its own speed and gravity cannibalized and devoured it, but unlike other meteors that vaporized, the core of this one made it all the way to the ground.
It exploded into the Hindu Kush mountain range and burrowed through solid rock until it imbedded itself eighty feet below the surface. The meteor emitted a humming sound and an orange glow, but the meteor’s location prevented it from being seen from above although it could be heard on quiet nights. That was June 7, 1952 and for decades the Pastun tribes of the region knew there was something different about this area, some called it cursed and others said it was sacred because they could hear the humming, feel the vibration under their feet and the ground was warmer to the touch in this location. Opinions and rumors varied from underground hot springs to a dormant volcano, but over the years the humming grew inaudible, the orange glow turned to a dim flicker and the ground returned to normal temperature and then there was nothing to indicate what lay below.
Firebase Viper was a small forward operating base that consisted of fifteen bunkers and a landing zone and was located three miles from the Afghanistan Pakistan border. Third platoon, Lima Company 26th Marines had just relieved Bravo One Nine a few weeks earlier.
Corporal Mike Hoffman was playing cribbage with P.F.C. Ron Pickering while Lance Corporal Norman Muhl was sending an e-mail to his girlfriends and since both were named Gail, he always consulted his notebook to avoid sending extremely personal information to the wrong person and in his mind it was a great accomplishment to keep two woman dangling on the strings of his verbal deception.
PFC Frank Summers was browsing through a Popular Mechanics magazine and Corpsman Griswald was catching some zzzzz’s.
Sergeant Ted Van Zandt entered, “Hoff, patrol…ten mikes,” and was gone without waiting for even a nod of acknowledgment.
Everybody gets a nickname in a Marine Corps grunt unit. It’s a rite of passage; Hoffman was Twister because he was from Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley and had an uncanny sixth sense when it came to predicting bad weather.
Pickering was “Samaritan” because it was just his nature to try and help anybody who had a real problem or a problem that Pickering perceived they had. He was often called “Sam.”
Summers was Pseudo, short for pseudo-intellectual because he was always searching for explanations even when there weren’t any to be found and liked to think that he was smarter than he really was.
Muhl was “Ab” not Abe, but Ab. No Marine is ever going to be called Norm Muhl by his buddies so ab was added and abnormal became Ab.
Griswald was called “Lampoon” after Clark Griswald in National Lampoon’s Vacation and also because he was kind of a dufus.
Van Zandt was the “Bear” not just for the obvious reasons of his size and strength, but also because of Teddy Roosevelt who coined the phrase “Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick” and who had a great affection for the American Grizzly Bear. Teddy just didn’t fit a man like Van Zandt and the other reason was that a Marine would be better off ignoring the roar of an angry Grizzly than disregarding an order from Sergeant Van Zandt. Nicknames have their own twisted logic and rules of application, but if the name sticks, that’s good enough, especially in combat.
Bear pulled out the map, set it on the ground and put rocks on each corner to keep it from blowing away, “This is our sector of search,” and pointed to a place on the map.
“What are we searching for?” Samaritan asked.
“Some soldier walked off his post last night, left his weapon and all his fighting gear behind,” Bear answered.
“He deserted, picked a hell of a place to beat feet…ain’t nothing out here except rocks and Taliban,” Lampoon laughed.
“Maybe he was sleepwalking and had a dream about donuts and lattes and went out looking for the nearest Starbucks,” Ab interjected, “kind of like the last time you had a dream about marshmallows and when you woke up and half of your pack was missing,” Ab tapped Samaritan on the head.
“You know how those Army dudes are, he probably decided to go after the Taliban on his own to protect us poor Marines,” Twister said.
“Without his weapon?” Ab questioned.
“All Army dudes are hybrid models of Captain America, Audie Murphy and John Wayne. Hand to hand combat appeals to their rules of fair play,” Lampoon explained.”
“I sure would like to know his motivation,” Pseudo rubbed his chin.”
“You can ask the bonehead if we find him, saddle up, you got point, Twister,” Bear ordered, “The sooner we get out there, the sooner we get back.” “Roger that,” Twister responded.
The patrol was almost at the end of its grid search when Twister felt something, not anything physical, more like a hunch and instinctively looked up at the partially clouded sky.
When the patrol stopped, Twister walked back to meet Bear. “What’s up?” Bear inquired.
“We got a storm coming our way,” Twister answered without hesitation.
Bear instinctively looked up, “How long?” “An hour, maybe two.”
Every Marine who had ever served any amount time in this mountainous area knew that storms could be hellacious in their ferocity. Bear also knew from past experience that it was a safe bet to listen when Twister warned him about the weather, so he quickly scanned the terrain, “Let’s make that next ridge line, that’ll give us a good view of the valley and if we don’t see him, we’ll double-time back.”
Twister continued to walk point while alternating his line of sight between the steep trail and the ominous skies above him. He came to the top of the trail and was only out of sight for a few seconds when a lightning bolt flashed across the sky and hit Twister with a thunderous and deafening boom. Ten million volts ripped through his body and knocked him twenty feet into the air and when he landed he bounced against a rock formation and fell in the same hole that the meteor made fifty years earlier. Nearly every bone in Twister’s body was broken or crushed by the impact of the eighty foot fall which also caused massive internal injuries and serious brain damage when he landed on top of the rock.
By the time the rest of the Marines made it up the incline, they had no idea where their squad member had disappeared to, “Where’s Twister?” Bear asked.
I don’t know,” Psuedo replied.
“Search the area,” Bear ordered.
It only took a few seconds before Lampoon called out, “Over here!”
The Marines rushed over to look at the place where Twister was struck by the lightning bolt and stood dumfounded as they looked down at a black spot on the ground, the M-27 automatic rifle was melted and the ammo magazines had been turned to a puddle of liquid metal. There was nothing else to be found and when Bear reached down and touched the blackened area, he quickly pulled his hand away because of the intense heat.
“I’ve read about spontaneous combustion, the lightning bolt must have exploded every cell in Twister’s body,” Pseudo shrugged, “Poof.”
Nobody else had a better explanation and since the storm was bearing down on them the squad had no other choice, but to reluctantly leave the area and get back to their firebase.
Far below the surface, Twister’s electrified blood, fluids and brain matter flowed out of his body and into the crevices of the meteor. This transfusion regenerated the meteor which was actually an extraterrestrial creature who had been in a state of suspended animation for decades. This was an epic phenomenon where a creature from another world was saved by a Marine on the brink of death and the alien reciprocated by expelling a celestial energy source that methodically repaired Twister’s body in a matter of seconds, his bones became denser like a combination of tungsten and titanium. The Elastin and Collagenous fibers of Twister’s muscles were magnified many times in strength and new flesh grew to cover the gaping wounds until there wasn’t the slightest indication of injuries. A light entered Twister’s broken skull and moved through his brain matter, regenerating and heightening every sense and capability and when it was done the energy source remained inside Twister’s brain and his head wounds healed around it. This was a technology that was millions of years advanced from what is currently available in today’s medical technology and the symbiotic relationship was a once in an eternity occurrence. When Twister opened his eyes, they were bright and alert, he was still the same person emotionally, but everything else had been magnified many times over.
Back at Firebase Viper, the mood was somber as Twister’s squad mourned the loss of their friend and comrade. They were seasoned combat veterans and accepted the fact that death was an occupational hazard of their profession, but this was something totally different. Because they had never seen disintegration by lightning before, the uniqueness of the situation added to their grief.
Bear entered, “I just wanted to give you a heads up that I notified Battalion about Twister and they’ll be sending some people out to take our statements.”
“Statements, we don’t know anything, Twister was there and then he wasn’t, what else are we supposed to tell them?” Samaritan said.
“It is more complicated than that,” Bear responded.
“I’m confused,” Lampoon interjected, “What do you mean, more complicated?”
“Battalion is going to want something that they can kick up the chain of command without getting their own butts in a sling, so telling them that Twister got vaporized during a lightning strike is going to be hard for them to believe, hell, we were there and we’re having trouble believing it,” Bear explained, “I’ve been in the Corps long enough to know that the truth and what pencilnecks want to hear collide with each other, the truth is the one that gets medevac’d.”
“So are we supposed to lie?” Ab nervously shuffled from foot to foot.
“I’m just warning you that when they get here, they’re going to try and get you to change your story. They’re going to say; “why don’t we make up a different story that’s easier for his family and the public to believe, and what difference does it make now.” Be especially alert when they smile and say, Trust me.” Once one of us goes down that rabbit hole of changing our story, there will be no climbing back out and before you know it we’ll all be busting rocks in Leavenworth.”
“What do you want us to do then?” Pseudo stammered.
“We all tell the truth and stick with it no matter what they say or how much they threaten us,” Bear advised.
Twister was being nourished by the orange glow as he lay completely naked on the meteor as he communicated telepathically with the extraterrestrial creature. When the meteor crashed to earth, it created a smooth cylinder through the solid rock, similar to a piston sleeve in a engine and it would have been impossible for any normal human being to climb up the eighty foot hole without special equipment but not for Twister who jammed the fingertips from his right hand through the rock to create a handhold then did the same with his left hand and repeated the process all the way to the surface and in less than a minute, he was standing on the same ridgeline where he had been struck by lightning earlier.
The winter storm was in full force, the wind was blowing fiercely and the cold rain was horizontal in its direction, but it had no effect on Twister who casually looked about as if it was a calm summer day. The ground began to shake and rumble and the meteor elevated out of the hole then hovered in front of Twister. They communicated with a bright green beam coming from the meteor and a white one from the Marine. The alien meteor rocketed skyward and was out of sight in less than three seconds.
Back at Firebase Viper, the squad huddled in their bunker as they waited for the storm to pass.
“Did you feel that?” Lampoon asked as the entire bunker rocked back and forth.
“Felt like an earthquake,” Pseudo replied and pulled his blanket tight around him, “must be at least a six point eight if we can feel it through this storm.”
Major Matthew McStay and Captain Ryan Frost were JAG officers and had been working as an investigative team in Afghanistan for the past six months and were at Battalion Headquarters waiting out the storm so they took the time to discuss Sergeant Van Zandt’s initial report.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Major McStay commented.
“A lightning strike is definitely possible, but I’ve never heard of one where the victim totally disappeared,” Captain Frost seconded, “We need to get to the location where Corporal Hoffman was last seen as quickly as possible.”
Twister felt immense power coursing through every fiber of his body while his senses picked up everything around him; his eyesight was so acute that he saw the distinctive markings of an eagle sitting on a rock over a mile away. The extraterrestrial creature was telepathically transmitting essential information to his human brother whose brain now had enhanced capabilities. Twister felt a minor change in the barometric pressure so he knew the storm would be over in about fifteen minutes so he began walking back to his unit’s location.
Back at Battalion Major McStay and Captain Frost boarded a CH-53 helicopter and headed to Firebase Viper now that it was clear to fly.
The Taliban enemy patrol of ten fighters exited the cave where they had gone to wait out the storm. One of the fighters scanned the area with his binoculars and saw Twister walking naked down the road and at first they couldn’t believe what they were looking at, but after a good laugh the patrol prepared to capture the crazy American.
Once Twister got within twenty five yards of a rock formation that was located just to the left of the trail, his instincts detected the presence of a hostile force hiding behind the boulders. When one of the Taliban fighters looked down the road, the naked American was there, but by the time he turned to the man next to him then looked down the trail again, Twister was gone. The ten heavily armed Taliban fighters stood up and scanned the area, but nobody saw anything. Suddenly Twister was standing among them and before any of them could react he grabbed the Kalashnikov assault rifle from the Taliban fighter nearest to him and shot all ten fighters in less than two seconds.
Lampoon was leading the patrol back to where Twister was struck by the lightning bolt with Major McStay and Captain Frost in the middle of the column when he abruptly stopped and Samaritan ran right into him.
“What the hell, you need to get your brake lights checked.”
Lampoon pointed off into the distance and the Marines instinctively went into their defensive positions and began watching through their rifle scopes.
“You see what I’m seeing?” Ab asked.
Lampoon said, “What are you seeing?”
Bear stood up, “Cover me,” and walked out to investigate and when he got close enough to be absolutely sure what he was seeing, he called out, “What the hell happened to you?”
“I underestimated how close the storm was,” Twister shrugged, “I’ll have to be more careful next time.”
“A villager gave them to me because my other stuff got burned off,” Twister lied and knew that he had to keep his explanation as simple as possible.
“I assume that you are Corporal Hoffman,” Major McStay said when he approached; “You don’t look so bad for a guy who supposedly got hit by lightning. Not a mark on you, in fact you look damn good for a Marine walking barefoot over hard rock. Would you like to explain how that could happen?”
“Yes Sir I would,” Twister replied.
“Then please do,” Major McStay said.
“I would, but to the best of my recollection, I don’t recall, sir.” Twister knew this reply was a standard legal one and remembered hearing a politician use it during a congressional hearing.
Over the next few days Twister was interrogated repeatedly after being examined at the battalion aid station, but since no crime had been committed and he was completely consistent with his story, Marine Corps Command had no choice but to return him to his unit.
“I’m sure glad that you’re alright,” Pseudo smiled as Twister stepped off the chopper.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but we were sweating bullets worrying if Command was going to buy the story on what happened to you,” Ab interjected, “Thanks for not dying.”
“I’m glad I could be of assistance,” Twister smiled.
After everybody had their opportunity to speak, Sergeant Van Zandt pulled Twister aside, “You can bullshit those officers back at battalion and these other knuckleheads, but just for the record, I know that you ain’t the same.”
For the next few months, Twister’s unit experienced a string of exceptional good luck and they didn’t suffer another casualty during the rest of their tour. Sergeant Van Zandt kept his suspicions to himself, but he knew that Twister’s intuitive nature with weather had extended to everything else now.
When the unit got back to Camp Pendleton, Twister knew it was time for him to leave the Marine Corps even though he still had two years left on his enlistment so he immediately researched the software used by administrations and records until he was capable of hacking into the system and gave himself an early discharge.
When Twister notified his unit that he was getting out of the Corps, Sergeant Van Zandt approached him, “I looked at your service record book, there is no way they would have given you a two year early out.”
“You know what they say, it’s not for us to question why,” Twister shrugged.
“I’ve kept my mouth shut since Afghanistan, but whatever you’re into, I’d like to be part of it,” Sergeant Van Zandt offered.
Twister quickly evaluated the pros and cons of confiding in Bear, ‘What I’m going to tell you is going be hard to believe so I need you to keep an open mind.”
Bear waved his hand in front of his face, “I just made my mind a blank slate…easier than you might think.”
It was an hour later and the two Marines were sitting on a bench behind their barracks after Twister gave a detailed explanation. Bear rubbed his chin, “That is one hell of a story, “
Two months later, Twister was renting a house off North River Road in Oceanside that had a view of the San Luis Rey gate of Camp Pendleton. He supported himself by doing online stock trading and when Sergeant Van Zandt put in his paperwork to leave the Corps, Twister used his computer hacking skills to expedite his separation.
Sergeant Van Zandt had less than a half mile to drive when he left the base to drive to Twister’s house, “You couldn’t find another house in Oceanside that wasn’t this close to Pendleton?”
“I didn’t know how well you were going to take leaving the Corps,” Twister smiled, “This way if you get homesick, you can go in the backyard and gaze out at the panoramic view of the base.”
“So now that I’m here, what do you want me to do?” Bear asked.
“Nothing for the time being, I’ve just been getting ready…not sure for what, but I know it must be important.”
End of Part One