This story is by C. W. Murphy and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“ALPHA TEAM IS PINNED DOWN! REPEAT, ALPHA IS SURROUNDED AND PINNED DOWN! REQUEST IMMEDIATE EVAC, OVER!”
The sound of heavy gunfire nearly drowned Captain Maxwell’s voice from the headset. The chopper lurched in the direction of Alpha team’s landing zone while I checked the load on my M16. No instructions were given or necessary. The pilot knew his job. So did I.
The dense Vietnamese jungle screamed past the chopper’s skids, so close it looked like we were surfing on a green ocean. I blinked twice and the green melted into the familiar infrared hue. Another blink and a half-dozen red images indicating Alpha Team zoomed into focus. A large circle of Vietcong soldiers slowly converged onto their position.
Now it was time for instructions, “Half a klick. Head for the west side of the LZ. We’ve got less than five minutes. Don’t bother slowing down.” The pilot gave me a slight nod and pushed the Huey’s engine to its limits. I blinked twice and the green ocean returned, my enhanced vision fixing onto a large opening in the jungle’s endless canopy indicating Alpha Team’s landing zone.
I shouted my final commands into the mic, “Give me exactly seventeen minutes before landing for evac.” My headset was off before the pilot gave his response. The chopper flew directly over the clearing, slowing slightly as we approached my preferred entrance point. My heart threatened to beat itself through my sternum as I plunged through the treetops.
I landed on two North Vietnamese soldiers, breaking both of their necks before my full body weight came to rest on their corpses. The rest of the surrounding soldiers joined them in a hail of .223-caliber justice long before their brains could process what their eyes were showing them. My internal clock reached fifteen minutes when the last of the attacking force fell.
“FLASH!” I could feel my heart rate return to normal when I turned in the direction of Captain Maxwell’s booming voice.
“THUNDER!” My countersign was greeted by a squad of Marines rising from their makeshift cover.
Maxwell was the first to reach me, the grin on his face barely masked the look of relief in his eyes. “I knew it had to be you, Tran.” He grabbed my outstretched hand and pulled me into a bear hug before releasing me. “When didja get back from the states?”
I had to yell my answer over the Huey’s arrival, “This morning. Colonel Piper sent me after you as soon as I touched down.” I gestured toward the landing chopper, “I’ll fill you in on what the Langley boys did to me when we get back to camp.”
Maxwell waved his team toward the waiting chopper and watched them sprint for their salvation, “The colonel briefed us yesterday on most of it but I couldn’t tell you half of what he was talking about.” He gave me a curious look, “You’re gonna have to explain what nanotech is.
I grinned, “Honestly, I’m not sure I fully understand it.
Maxwell put his arm around my shoulder and escorted me toward the waiting chopper, “Well, whatever they did to you, they’ve created our very own super hero.” He slapped me on the shoulder before jumping onto the Huey, “Thanks for saving our skins…” He paused for a second and gave me a wink, “…Captain Vietnam.” The chopper lifted from the jungle floor with the entire Alpha Team praising and saluting me when the scene suddenly disappeared into a bright white light.
Cold hands removed the visor from my head and began pulling the connectors off of my bare chest. My eyes were still adjusting to the room’s fluorescent lighting when a man in a lab coat moved into my field of vision, “Vitals are normal. CT scans show no cerebral hematoma or hemorrhaging. The simulator is fully calibrated. Everything is green, Mr. Crowe.”
“Thank you, Doctor Silas.” An immaculately dressed elderly man stepped into view. He leaned forward on a thick ebony cane, “How are you feeling, Thomas?”
I’m sure my expression answered his question before my response did, “You definitely undersold your services, Mr. Crowe. That was…” I paused for a moment to gather myself. “…it was indescribable.”
The elder man straightened to his full height, “Excellent news, dear boy.” He tapped his cane on the tiled flooring, “And the program? No issues with the simulation?”
I nodded toward a wall of monitors and smiled at the young Asian woman seated in front of them, “The realism was incredible. I swear I could feel the heat and smell the jungle.” My emotions threatened to overwhelm me, “I haven’t been to Vietnam since I was a boy but every detail was exactly as I remembered. My father is going to love this.”
“That is precisely why I built HEvAN, Thomas.” The elderly man moved slowly toward the monitors and addressed the young woman, “Excellent work, as always, Miss Le. Your attention to detail is unmatched.” He patted the woman’s shoulder, “There is, however, one tiny detail I would change. The countersigns used by the Maxwell character are from the second world war era, not the Vietnam war. I’ll have Linda send you a file with the appropriate details.”
“No need, sir” She responded, “I realized that mid-simulation and have already pulled the correct data. I’m updating the program as we speak.”
The old man patted her shoulder again and whispered “very good” a few times before turning to the doctor. “Well, Dr. Silas, are you satisfied?”
The doctor was studying the readouts on several of the monitors when I joined them. Silas pointed to a specific screen, “Mr. Tran’s test results have shown he is entering the final stages of dementia with more cerebral deterioration over the last few weeks. But his vitals are very strong for a man of his advanced age.” He glanced at me before giving the older man his full attention, “I see no reason to delay his insertion into the simulator, Mr. Crowe.”
The elder man nodded and turned to face me, “Well, Thomas, are you certain this is the program you want for your father?
“I have never been more sure of anything in my life.” I wiped the unexpected tears from my cheeks. “Just promise me his final days will be filled with the kind of experience I just had.”
Mr. Crowe smiled and extended a weathered hand towards me, his calm voice chased the last tendrils of doubt from my mind, “I can promise you far more than that. Before your father leaves this life, he is going to have the adventure of several lifetimes.” He nodded toward the simulation bed, “As I said, that is why I created this ‘Happily Ever After Network.’” His smile was quickly colored with a hint of sadness, “After my wife’s passing, I swore I’d find a better way for people to live their final days besides the cold environments of nursing homes or hospice care.” He quickly collected himself and the smile returned, “Of all the successful businesses and companies I’ve built over the years, HEvAN is my masterpiece.”
Before I could respond, the sound of gurney wheels rolling on tile flooring brought my attention onto the frail, gaunt figure of my father. I fought back a new wave of emotions as the technicians gently placed him in the simulation bed and carefully attached the connections to his pale skin.
The young woman moved to the bed to make her final adjustments. “Program V122 is loaded and ready for activation.” She turned to face me and glanced at the small tablet in her hands. “We are ready whenever you are, Mr. Tran.”
I smiled sadly at my father one last time before nodding. A monitor above the simulation bed flashed to life and was suddenly filled with a squadron of Hueys flying across the jungles of Vietnam.
Mr. Crowe leaned on his cane and whispered, “You are a good son, Thomas. Take comfort in that fact and in the knowledge that today your father is realizing the dreams of his lifetime.”
The tears came without restraint as I watched my father, in the prime of his life, single-handedly taking on an entire company of North Vietnamese soldiers. As his lifelong enemies fell before him, I heard his raspy laughter coming from the simulation bed.
It was several minutes before I realized the young woman had moved next to me. I leaned in towards her, “Thank you for this, Miss Le.”
Her deep brown eyes caught mine and my heart skipped a few beats when she whispered back in flawless Vietnamese, “It is my pleasure. And please call me Mai.”
Mr. Crowe smiled at us both before turning to leave the simulation room, “Your father is in good hands, Mr. Tran.” He stopped at the door and gave me a wink, “I’d say it’s finally time for you to begin your own happily ever after.”