The unseasonably warm weather had given way for a day to something more like winter. Wind whipped across the campus, blasting breath away. With the Flanders-like damp of the last week, Eran had forgotten how to hunch and huddle. Shivering, he entered Wilson and made his way up to his carrel.
In the hour and a half between his classes, Eran had fifty pages to read. He fired up his Kindle, thumbing to the page he needed, while opening OneNote on his laptop. Within minutes he was reading, typing notes one-handed, darting his other hand over to the laptop if he wanted to record a comment for the next seminar.
The heavy class load was doing him any favors. The reading was in one eye and out the other. He was often too tired in class to respond even when addressed directly. His two presentations thus far had received acceptable feedback from his professors, but it was clear to him that he was jeopardizing his otherwise secure future of tenure-track intellectual-dom in his attempt to cram his remaining coursework into a single semester.
Eran tried not to think about this. He thumbed to the next page.
There could not have been more rain. Great gray sheets of it curtained the world from view. Standing in the downpour was like occupying a partially opaque bubble that an extended arm would pop.
The sergeant had them crawling forward toward the fort. It seemed impossible that they had not been fired upon. Perhaps, said Emil, they can’t see us. The rain.
Perhaps they’re asleep, Eran’s host – Konrad – replied.
Perhaps they’re planning something.
They’re going to kill us. We can’t keep going!
The sergeant, unworried and unhurried, was crawling inside a coffre. There’s a door! he shouted.
Konrad hung back as if frozen. Emil knocked into him and he stumbled. His knee landed hard on a bare, wet stone. The skin split. Blood pearled and blossomed from the opening.
The sergeant turned back. His face was inscrutable. Then I’ll go on without you.
Eran came back to himself. Of all things, he was resentful. He had, of course, lost no time, but it would take him ten minutes to collect himself, and he would fail to complete his reading.
He did find himself wondering: Konrad and Emil. R2-D2 and C-3PO?
February 25, 1916: In the first week of the Battle of Verdun, German troops take Fort Douaumont without a single casualty.