There was a drunk on the other end. Billy could almost smell his breath—mustard gas and roses.

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On the night of his daughter’s wedding day, Billy cannot sleep. Because he has traveled in time already, he knows he will be kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians’ flying saucer in an hour. Billy gets out of bed by the light of a full moon and wanders down the hallway and into his daughter’s empty bedroom. The phone rings, and Billy hears the voice of a drunk who has dialed the wrong number. He can almost catch the scent of mustard gas and roses on the man’s breath.

Downstairs, Billy picks up a half-empty bottle of champagne from a table. He watches a late-night documentary on American bombers and their gallant pilots in World War II. Slightly unstuck in time, Billy watches the movie forward and backward. Planes fly backward, magically quelling flames, drawing their fragmented bombs into steel containers, and sucking them back up into their bellies. Guns on the ground suck metal fragments from the pilots, crew, and planes. Weapons are shipped backed to factories, where they are carefully disassembled and broken down into their constituent minerals. The minerals are shipped to specialists all over the world who “hide them cleverly” in the ground, “so they never hurt anybody ever.” In Billy’s mind, Hitler becomes a baby and all of humanity works toward creating two perfect people named Adam and Eve.

Billy heads out to the backyard to meet the saucer that will arrive soon. A sound like a melodious owl heralds the arrival of the spacecraft, which is 100 feet in diameter. Once on board, Billy is asked if he has any questions. He asks, “Why me?”—a question that his captors think very typical of earthlings to ask. They tell him that there is no why, since the moment simply is and since all of them are trapped in the moment, like bugs in amber.

Billy is then anesthetized. The crush of the spaceship’s acceleration sends him hurtling through time. He is back on a boxcar traveling across Germany. The men take turns sleeping and standing. No one wants to let Billy sleep beside him because Billy yells and kicks in his sleep. He thus sleeps standing up.

By the ninth day of the boxcar journey, people are dying. Roland Weary, who is in another car, dies after making sure that everyone in the car knows who is responsible for his death: Billy Pilgrim. A car thief from Cicero, Illinois, named Paul Lazzaro swears he will make Billy pay for causing Weary’s death.

On the tenth night, the train reaches its destination: a prison camp. The prisoners are issued coats, their clothes are deloused, and they are led to a mass shower. Among the prisoners is Edgar Derby, a forty-four-year-old teacher from Indianapolis. When the water begins to flow in the shower, Billy time-travels to his infancy. His mother has just given him a bath. He is then a middle-aged optometrist playing golf with three other optometrists. He sinks a putt, bends down to pick it up, and is back on the flying saucer. He asks where he is and how he got there. A voice reiterates that he is trapped in a blob of amber. He is where he is because the moment is structured that way, because time in general is structured that way—because it could not be otherwise. The voice, which is Tralfamadorian, comments that only on Earth is there talk of free will.