Nine, above Germany, 4/10/45
Jack hated Fleming. He didn’t even have time to change out of that Nazi uniform, still stained with Mordecai’s blood. And he was right, the only way to catch the train was by plane, and that the only way to board from the plane was by parachute.
Jack hated parachuting, mostly because you were at best a sitting duck as you fell from the sky. Unless a bullet tore a big enough hole in your chute…
And none of that took into account the fact that the train was traveling faster than he could hope to fall, so they were going to have to make a guess about where the train would be, and he’d have to aim there. Off by a second one direction, and he was going to get hit by a train. A second in the other direction and he would miss entirely.
The plane wasn’t going to be able to follow for much longer, without being met by German planes or anti-air guns, so if he couldn’t land on the train, they were going to lose those prisoners, and it could be weeks or months before they found where they were taken.
“Go!” the pilot yelled, and Jack kicked out of the open door. The train was nearly a mile back, but rushing towards him quickly. Top speed for a train was around 120 miles per hour, roughly the same as a human’s terminal velocity. Jack streamlined his body, so he would drop faster. He needed to close the distance, or the train was going to pass him by.
He and the pilot had gone over the math several times. He needed to cut the distance quick, line himself up before and open chute at the last possible minute. Open too early, and he’d watch the train fly by a few feet below. Too late, and he’d smack into it and bounce off.
Jack used his arms to guide himself into a straight shot along the train’s tracks, then angled his body straight down. The train was behind him, but overtaking- he had to cut into its lead as much as he could. He forced himself to go limp as he pulled the string and the chute dug into his shoulders. He’d opened too soon, he could tell, from how much momentum he lost. It wasn’t even going to be close.
“We improvise, then,” he said, and used his knife to cut the chest strap from his chute. He had to cut one more arm loose before he could wriggle out of the other. He was still thirty feet up as the train started to pass beneath him. He let go, and fell.
The impact hurt his knees; it had been the better part of a decade since they hurt like that, but he couldn’t control his momentum, and rolled back towards the very last car, angling slightly towards the right. Jack rolled over the side of the train car. His fingers caught on the edge as he crested it, hanging almost limply from his arm.
Jack knew the radio would be located at the front of the train, so he couldn’t just make his way from back to front. He climbed back on top and started to run against the blistering winds towards the front of the train. As he leapt from the fourth onto the third car, a Nazi’s head poked up from the ladder. Jack clipped his head, and he fell, onto another Nazi standing below. Both men fell into the gap between cars and rolled beneath the train, the sounds of their deaths mostly muted by the scream of metal and the steam from the engine.
As Jack reached the engine car, he saw the conductor’s compartment. Unfortunately, the conductor saw him, and went right for the radio. Jack ran along the edge of the coal car and leapt at the doorway into the conductor’s compartment, swinging inside. He caught the conductor with a kick that sent the man hurtling through a large glass pane on the opposite side of the room and out of the train. “Come again?” a man asked in German over the radio.
“Nevermind,” Jack said. “There was a cow on the tracks, but it moved.” Jack set the radio down, only to be struck in the back with a shovel. Jack rolled out of the way as that same shovel struck the floor where his head had been. “Forgot about the fireman,” Jack said, and rolled into a crouch. He tackled the fireman before he could bring the shovel around again. Jack delivered several blows to the fireman’s solar plexus, and he collapsed to the floor, wheezing. “Now, how do I slow this thing down?”
The fireman put his thumb between his middle and index fingers and shook it defiantly at Jack. “Auf wiedersehen, then,” Jack said, and threw the fireman out the door, into the field they were passing. “Now, if I were a regulator…” Jack said, staring at the massive machinery of the steam engine. Jack found a valve and twisted it shut. He could feel the engine beginning to slow.
He pulled the pin attaching the engine to the rest of the train, and the engine began to rapidly pull away from the rest of the cars. Jack leapt over the gap, and pulled himself up along the edge of the coal car.
Jack looked overhead, and saw parachutes opening in the sky all around him, as Allied planes turned to return west. Jack sauntered over the top of the coal car, and dropped down.
Through a windowed door, Jack could see a Nazi officer holding a young woman at gunpoint. “Let us go, or we start shooting your beloved Juden,” the Nazi screamed at a sharp pitch. Jack nodded towards the field on either side, where squads of American soldiers were making their way through the tall grass towards the slowing train.
“Got a counter-offer. Surrender, and we won’t tie you down to the tracks before we put this train back in motion,” Jack said. “And that relatively quick, clean death, that’s presuming you don’t harm a hair on that pretty little lady’s head; you do that, and I let this train full of Juden decide what to do with you.”
The NCO beside him put a gun to the officer’s head. “Put it down, Hauptman, or I will shoot you myself.”