Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thirty-Three

Larry had gone through the first part of the landing procedure successfully. The ship had not responded well; even though they scrambled, they had passed through each step, in order. Larry had put the unfamiliar ship through the sequence of evolutions to a high-altitude course. Natalie watched in awe as he did what frontier pilots do best.

The last part involved braking that would drop them straight into the landing zone. On the Mule II, Mo had a space in engineering that afforded protection against the shocks and jolts. On this ship, there wasn’t any place for Mo. They cleared out a heavy-duty equipment drawer, and Mo oozed in, filling the space with tentacles, eyes and a broad expense of head.

Larry and Natalie strapped in as the clock ran down the last minutes. The ship groaned and clanged as it continued to change shape. The grinding noises continued, but the high-pitched whistling of leaking atmosphere had gone down in pitch and volume.

“You set, Mo?” Larry asked. He glanced down at Mo’s eyes peering from the drawer.

“Was this built for a Cephalopod?” Mo’s synthesizer squeaked. Mo was no longer connected to the ship’s intercom, and the synthesizer was packed into the drawer under Mo somewhere. “Can we be optimistic?”

Larry grinned at Mo and gave the pilot’s thumb’s up.

“You sure can, Mo babes,” Larry said. “Optimistic is all we got.” The clock moved to the last minute. Larry made the final check on the braking airfoils. Since some sensors were destroyed, he was confident that the structure was weakened, and there was a chance that some or all of the airfoils might be damaged. He could use some of the gravity foils as a fallback, but they would be destroyed in the attempt, also. After that, he had thruster braking to fall back on.

“Hold on to what gifts God gave you,” Larry said. “This is going to hurt.” For a moment, he wondered if going back to this worthless rock had been the right decision. If he had tried to make Henry base, there would have been a rescue instead of a ditch. There also would have been a long, risky flight. He realized that he had traded the risk of a long flight for the risk of a difficult landing.

The clock ticked through to the last seconds. He reached up to the switches that would deploy the airfoils for braking. He counted along with the clock so that he would hit the switches at zero, as close to the center of the landing zone as he could predict. He preferred to automate these tasks, but there wasn’t time to configure the ship’s clock to execute the maneuver.

Right at zero, some of the airfoils came out smoothly. The ship immediately lurched and twisted. It shimmied along, writhing through the air as energy was transformed to heat. The noises immediately changed as the ship changed position. The intermittent clanging became a slow, steady wrenching groan punctuated by regular thumps. The background hiss of atmosphere leak dropped to a low whine.

The destroyed sensors made some of the status displays useless. However, the braking effect should have been more immediate. Larry brought up the power in the engines to start additional braking force. Something in the engine system began a loud, steady banging.

“What the hell is that noise?” Natalie shouted over the clamor.

Larry checked the display; he wasn’t sure how to correlate torque settings with atmosphere density, and had probably configured the engine improperly for the thin atmosphere of the desolate rock.

“It’s all good,” he shouted. “If it stops before we hit the ground, we’re done for.” She nodded. He was glad she had confidence in him, it made the job easier. If it stopped up high, they were doomed. The closer they got to the surface, the less it mattered.

Some part of the airfoil system deployed with a sudden bang. Almost instantly, the ship stopped its forward motion and began falling. The sudden change in direction threw everything loose up into the air.

The marines learned how to cope with this as part of planetary assault. Whiting grunted to keep her blood pressure up and the contents of her stomach down.

Holding onto his seat, Larry repeated “I hate this crap!” instead of grunting.

The ship rocked and lurched. Something outside broke away, banged once against the side of the ship and with a groan was gone. It was probably part of the airfoils. The indicators showed a steady, controlled descent. It was uncomfortably fast and noisy, but they ship was holding together.

Larry saw the weapons lock indicator. He knew that somewhere in the racket, the cockpit annunciator was saying “Weapons lock.”

“Now is not a good time,” Larry shouted. He watched the maneuvering clock and the altimeter.

The explosion from anti-aircraft artillery rocked the ship. The bang was clear and menacing, louder than the noise of the ship. The Cephalopods were shooting at them as they plummeted. The explosions were close, but didn’t seem to be damaging the ship any more than the descent through the atmosphere.

“Friggin’ Squids!” Larry shouted.

Whiting hoped that her marines would trace the shots and take out the Cephalopod weapons. She knew that the ship was breaking up. She had put up a status display for the landing, and could see the sudden change in the positions of the airfoils to compensate for one being ripped away. She knew that they were down to the critical minimal surface area for safe maneuvering. If anything else tore away, they’d have to compensate somehow. She wasn’t a pilot, but she was sure that they could use the main engines to prevent a crash.

“Nyah-Nyah,” Larry shouted, “Missed me!”

The clock was running to zero. She wished that he would focus more closely on the landing tasks. She was too busy grunting and straining to ask about the air foils. Larry was waiting for the altimeter to read the correct height to make the next change and deploy landing gear. Larry glanced at Natalie. He saw her gripping the seat, frozen in terror.

“Sweetie, can you find the intake cutoff, just over your head?” She stirred slowly, staring around the cockpit. Her eyes were wide, showing a complete state of panic. He couldn’t see if her breathing was shallow, but her mouth was open as she gasped for air.

“Intake cutoff,” Larry said. “Wait for my—look out!” He jinked the ship slightly to avoid a Cephalopod anti-aircraft rocket. “Wait for my countdown.”

She looked up at the switches without comprehension. She put her hands on them, wondering if this was the right thing to do. Had he missed something? Cutting off the intakes would cut the engines, forcing them to land under airfoils alone. Should she ignore him and leave the intakes open?

“Three...two...one. Power Slide!” Larry shouted. He hit several switches; Natalie hesitated, but couldn’t think clearly, so she closed the intakes as ordered.

The ship snapped sideways. Everything loose flew up against the wall. Larry and Natalie were flung against the webbing in their seats hard enough to break ribs and strain vertebra.


Gunnery Sergeant Mark Newman, called Gunney New Mark, had to keep the squids back from one of the Whitehall lighters long enough to transfer supplies to their makeshift base. The location had become hot since the squids had found a way down from the ridge. Gunney New Mark had been staring through his telescope, looking for some sign of squid activity on the northern rim. There were three deep arroyos that might cover movement, but he hadn’t seen any squids. He hated to waste time or equipment on something that was not a real target. Since fire from the south seemed to be more of a noisy distraction, New Mark looked north for the real assault. It was still possible that the squids were sneaking up the river valley from the east.

Rifleman JJ lounged against a stack of crates. He had been on duty for time out of mind. His world had narrowed down to hunger, blisters from his armor, and catnaps interrupted by squid attacks. He had reached the point where cost of staying alive was too much to bear; he had found a resolute acceptance of death that transcended fear and pain and doubt.

Less than a hundred meters west of their position, a spout of orange flame stabbed at the sky. New Mark recognized it as an anti-aircraft weapon, akin to a rocket, that the squids used. He was surprised that it was so close to their position. It meant that the squids had moved some heavy weapons in very close to the base.

“How’d the squids get over there?” New Mark wondered aloud.

JJ roused himself and stood up. He walked out from the shelter of the crates and stared in the direction of the weapons launch. JJ shrugged around in his armor to settle it more comfortably.

“That’s too close,” JJ said.

New Mark looked at JJ’s back, exposed to enemy fire, uncaring. New Mark had heard about the changes that happened to men who were in combat too long. He had never seen anyone so numbed that they were reduced to an empty husk filled only with combat skills.

“It’s more or less our sector,” New Mark said.

JJ picked up his rifle and checked the status. He rooted around in his storage bays for a moment.

“Whadda you got left?” JJ asked.

Overhead they heard the whoosh of a low-flying aircraft rapidly grow to a roar with a background thumping clang of broken parts being beaten into junk. They both leaned back in their stiff, cumbersome armor to look up and see what was passing overhead.

“What the hell is that?” New Mark asked.

It was an Outer Rim scout ship with parts of a Core Planets scout ship still attached. The Core Planets scout had a neatly stenciled “Horicon” clearly visible across the side.

The scout ship spun completely around, using the last of its energy as a braking force, neatly stopping just over the spot picked out for landing. It was the traditional rounding up maneuver, executed at a speed well outside the design envelope for that class of ship.

“One of our and one of their humping,” New Mark said.

“Look out they don’t land on us,” JJ said, looking back at the squid position, ignoring the ship hovering almost overhead.

New Mark tried to gauge the landing zone for the ship. An Outer Rim scout would be a complete idiot to land in the middle of a reasonably well-secured Core Planets base. New Mark could only imagine that they were utterly desperate for help and planning to surrender rather than die slowly in space.

“Whadda you got left?” JJ asked.

New Mark looked at JJ for a moment. JJ was still staring at the squid position. New Mark realized that they had an advantage for a fleeting moment if the squids were also staring up at the ship.

“Two clips and some grenades,” New Mark said.

“Gimme the grenades,” JJ replied.

New Mark opened his cargo bay and took out three of his last four grenades. JJ loaded his gun with an incongruous absent-minded focus. Every motion was precise and methodical, even though he looked up at the ship about to land nearby. The ship’s failing engines clanked at a furious pitch, clearly the pilot was trying to squeeze all of the remaining thrust out of them. The ship was falling fast, the racket increasing in volume as it neared the ground. In a heroic last-ditch effort the stabilizing jets were thrown on to attempt to generate enough thrust to prevent a crash.

The engine system failed suddenly and catastrophically. There was a final ringing clang. The engines spewed bits of metallic crap down onto the planet; parts were sprayed in every direction. In the sudden silence, the ship dropped the remaining hundred meters onto the ground with a towering bang. The remains of the Core Planets scout peeled away to form a mountain of wreckage. The structure of the Outer Rim scout crumpled and then slowly tipped over to lay on the one working landing strut.

New Mark peeled his eyes away from the wreckage. They needed to get the jump on the squids.

“You set?” he asked. The intercom was too loud in his ears now that the ship had crashed and become as silent as a tomb.

“Hoo-yah,” JJ replied.

They had done this before, but never together. It was the standard assault that every Core Planets marine practiced in endless drills. They shouldered their weapons, putting them in a position that made the weapon’s sights their only view of the world. The simple principle was to reduce the delay between perception and action by seeing everything through the weapon. It narrowed their world into the simple task of neutralizing threats.

They ran down the short slope toward the remains of a cargo lighter that the squids were using for cover. The rule of thumb was that it took four seconds for someone to see, understand, form an intention, and then act. So the marine assault cadence was up, run for two and down.

After two seconds of sprinting, New Mark said, “Hit the deck.” He threw himself onto the ground. JJ paused long enough to fire a grenade into the lighter wreckage. New Mark waited for the earth-shaking explosion and then fired two rounds into the cloud of dust and smoke to destroy whatever else was behind the hole JJ had made.

They used their rifles to lever the heavy armor off the ground on the count of one. They ran for two more seconds to the fallen scout ship. They threw themselves up against a towering pile of debris that had once been a space ship. To their left, a hundred meters north of the crashed lighter, a pod of squids rose up to take aim at the two marines. New Mark and JJ had no idea that they were squid prey. They hadn’t seen the movement, and weren’t looking in the right direction to see it. The Cephalopods had Core Planets rifles, fully charged: New Mark and JJ didn’t have a chance against such overwhelming force.

The same rocket launch that had alerted New Mark to the Cephalopod penetration to the very edge of the secured area, had alerted others at the base. The area had been under close scrutiny for the past few minutes. New Mark had missed the Cephalopods, but a cannon operator on one of the grounded frigates had not missed them. The cannon crew was grateful that New Mark and JJ had risked their lives to flush the squid into the open. The cannon tore the Cephalopods into flaming masses of burned flesh. The weapons that the squids carried detonated with a number of residual explosions, assuring the complete destruction of everything near their position. It was a small victory, but very satisfying to the struggling Mammals.

The unexpected explosion knocked JJ and New Mark from their feet. The hull of the grounded spaceship was no use as cover. Dirt and debris continued to rain down on them as the weapons detonated.


Whiting opened her eyes to see the weapons control panel bent double only a hand’s breadth from her face. Before she had an actual thought, she knew she had to get out of the ship and get help. The higher-order parts of her brain noticed that the displays and indicators were all blank and lifeless; she was surprised to see one weapon safety indicator still glowing green. The ship didn’t know it was dead, yet. Controlled from somewhere in a deeper part of the brain, her hands undid her safety harness, shaking from the adrenaline. The silence was overwhelming. The last few minutes of flight had been a hellish racket as the ship fell apart around them during the landing. Now she could smell ozone and lubricants and the gritty dust of the planet.

She needed to get out of the seat and get help. She didn’t want to look around the cockpit, afraid of what she would see. Tentatively, she rolled her head to the side. Her neck and back seemed to work. Turning her head, she saw that Larry’s space in the cockpit was gone. It had been replaced by the surface of the planet a pile of rocks and dirty pushed up through the body of the ship where Larry’s console had been. He was completely gone; she looked around at the rest of the cockpit for blood or remains. Her half of the cockpit was crumpled but intact. The other half of the cockpit had been replaced by the planet. She reached out and touched the unfamiliar sand, scooping some up and dropping it onto the shattered deck of the bridge.

A piece of twisted metal dropped with the dust. She flinched away, flinging dust everywhere. She realized that Larry’s or Mo’s remains could be anywhere she looked.

She heard a faint explosion from somewhere nearby, muffled by the ship. She twisted around in her seat, trying to climb out. As she bent, she felt something stabbing her. Deep within her, below the level of thought, this was already known, and was not a surprise. The feeling condensed into the thought that she was seriously injured; the stabbing was a bad thing and she should minimize it. Hesitantly, she felt around the seat; she didn’t find any shards of metal stabbing her, but felt the warm wetness of blood pooling underneath her. This recognition became fear. She had to get out of the ship and find help.


JJ and New Mark carefully worked their way around the crashed pair of scout ships, and located an exit hatch. A pile of metal parts formed a wall just behind the hatch. New Mark snapped a look around the corner and back, taking just a quick glance at the next part of the ship. He caught the flash of a weapon and felt the explosion after he had ducked back around the piece of wall.

New Mark brought up his weapon, stepped around the corner and dropped to a knee. He fired near where he thought he’d seen the flash. The explosions threw the dirt around. There was no return fire.

“Gotcha!” New Mark said, then ducked back to join JJ. “Clear. Open her up.” JJ pried open the access panel, reached in and pulled the emergency release lever. He stepped back as the panel dropped onto the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust. New Mark turned on his gun lights and helmet lamp. He leaned inside, staring through his sights and the ship’s interior while JJ made sure that they weren’t attacked.

The inside of the ship was spattered with blood, rapidly clotting into sticky masses. It was bright, red human blood, not pale Cephalopod blood. New Mark recognized it as the crumpled remains of the bridge. Deep within the bridge, the gore moved slightly. New Mark put the gun on it and realized that he was looking at an injured Mammal, trying to breathe.

“Civilian,” New Mark said, more to himself than JJ. “How you doing?” he asked.

The civilian rolled around in his seat a bit, squinting into New Mark’s lights and the bright sky behind him.

“I’ve been better,” the pilot said.

JJ leaned in the door and said, “Hey, if your attitude’s intact, you’re good to go.” The civilian lay back in his own blood, closing his eyes and sighing an impossibly long breath. He struggled a bit, trying to get comfortable.

“Not me,” he said quietly. “I think this is it. We shouldn’t have turned back.” New Mark had to agree. The Sacroon had tried to run back to Henry base, but hadn’t gone far before it was disabled by Dieskau in the Champlain. It had barely managed to ditch men and equipment onto the rock before breaking up. Many of the marines felt that they should have attacked instead of running. There was rarely any opportunity to go back to safety.

“You did better than your crew,” New Mark said, shining his light around the blood-spattered cockpit.
Larry tried to lift his head and look around. He was tired and feeble; barely able to move. While the sticky blood taste filled his mouth and throat, he couldn’t quite catch his breath. There was so much that he needed to know; he could envision a number of outcomes of the crash, none of them good. He focused all of his concern down to a single word, something the marine would be able to understand and act on.

“Natalie?” Larry asked.

New Mark looked around again at the blood and broken equipment. There wasn’t even another seat in the remains of the cockpit.

“Sorry, sir, not me,” New Mark said.

New Mark flipped open the visor on his armor. He knew that the injured and dying didn’t like the anonymous face-plate. He knew that the men who were dying in service to the Core Planets deserved a final moment of human contact. The stink of blood and dust was powerful. He turned off his pressure regulator so he wouldn’t bleed away all of his oxygen into the thin atmosphere of the rock.
“Where’s Lieutenant Colonel Whiting?” Larry croaked.

New Mark shook his head There didn’t seem to be anyone above the rank of captain on the whole planet.

“No brass on this bloody rock,” JJ said from the doorway.

Larry sagged back into his seat. They distinctly heard the popping of distant small arms fire. It was followed by three explosions somewhere nearby on the hull of the ship. Larry saw JJ saunter out, rifle on his shoulder, at the ready. New Mark ducked and slammed his visor shut.


JJ was looking east, starring at a small crater. New Mark looked around the bend in the wreckage. A few hundred meters away, he saw something move. It was small, and provided a random glint, reflected from the blood-red sun. But it was not a dust-covered piece of the planet.

With the telescope, New Mark could clearly see the sensor, nestled between two rocks. The squid had to be nearby. Mark searched around carefully until he saw another movement a few meters away. The squid was probably sighting in on JJ. For an instant, deep within New Mark, he had the urge to tell JJ to get under cover. Before he could even articulate the words, JJ’s complete disregard for his own safety stopped him from saying anything.

Ammunition was precious. If there was a supply ship nearby, he would have put half a clip into their position. As it was, he put two rounds into the squid’s position; hoping to leave the sensor as bait for other squids.

The droning wind shifted for a moment, changing the swirl of dust. Then the wind began whipping in every direction at once. New Mark looked up to see an intact hovercraft. He wondered which ship had a hovercraft, and how it had survived an ambush and a crash landing. “Whitehall” was clearly visible down the side of the craft, but the origin and meaning of this didn’t penetrate into New Mark’s understanding. He was narrowly focused on survival and not ready to form the idea of a rescue.

New Mark caught a motion at the edge of his vision. He turned and saw JJ waving the hovercraft off. JJ showed an “X” with his arms. He made a big “4” with his fingers and pointed over to the squid position. Before New Mark could turn to confirm that this was the right position, the hovercraft did its vast, slow pirouette and then rained down cluster bombs and flaming chemicals onto the squid position. The rolling explosion blasted dust and rocks into the air and shook the ground. Sand rained down on his armor and cascaded in streams off the ship.

Slowly, New Mark stepped out from the protecting wall of smashed ship to survey they entire area around them. A column of smoke rose from a squid position a kilometer or more away. New Mark felt a wave of relief wash over him: the smoke meant they were holding their own against the squids. With a little more hard work, they might secure the valley again.

A few meters down the side of the ship something clanged; it sounded like the explosions were making the wreck settle. New Mark stepped away from the structure a bit. He would need to get a crew of corpsmen to extricate the poor civilian from the wreck so he could die in comfort. The ship clanged again. Only a meter from where New Mark stood, an access panel dropped into the dust. New Mark spun and pointed his rifle at the opening in the ship.

JJ saw the movement, and brought his rifle up to the ready to back up New Mark. JJ stalked after him, prepared to kill anything that threatened a fellow marine.

Larry had felt the explosions jarring the ship. He heard New Mark and JJ moving away, but he was too tired to turn his head and look. He wondered if Natalie and Mo had died instantly in the drop, or were they trapped somewhere in the wreckage, dying slowly like he was.

New Mark dropped his weapon and made a rough salute. JJ saw this and accepted it without understanding it. New Mark stepped back a little further from the ship. A Lieutenant Colonel struggled out from the pile of metal debris, bleeding heavily, and sat down on the opened access hatch.

“You don’t look good, ma’am,” JJ said. She looked like she’d been stabbed in the ribs or back with a piece of shrapnel. She was pale and shaking and really needed to stop the bleeding and lie down. He’d seen many marines walking around as she was, with fatal injuries, driven by adrenaline and instincts that didn’t have names.

“It’s just broken ribs,” she wheezed. In this thin atmosphere, she was gasping. Her injuries made it impossible to breathe deeply. Even though the atmosphere was oxygen-rich, they needed regulators.

“Ribs don’t bleed, ma’am,” JJ said. “If you can hang on, the hovercraft will be back for us.”

JJ looked over at New Mark. New Mark had switched over to his long-range radio. He was gesturing, pacing in a small circle as he talked with the base, trying to negotiate an evacuation for the injured.

“I want to,” Whiting began. “I need to,” she couldn’t catch her breath but stood up and started to wander away.

JJ could see that she needed to find something, something she couldn’t name, something so fundamental, so deeply seated that it wasn’t described by words or rational thoughts. It was something that existed in her as an urge to take action, not as a name or a title. JJ had lived in this world from time to time; a world where intention and action merged together, but couldn’t be explained or rationalized as orders or instructions; a world where things just were. She was driven to action, but she might kill herself rather than accomplish her intentions.

“Ma’am, I suggest you wait for evac,” JJ said.

Whiting leaned against the ship and eased herself back down to sit on the access panel. She leaned back against the side of the ship and closed her eyes. JJ thought the pain was making her weep. He had to admire her for gutting out a compound fracture of the ribs, possibly a collapsed lung, or worse.
New Mark relaxed and walked back to the civilian in the cockpit. He leaned in the dark doorway. The bloody wreck of the civilian pilot stirred as the light swept around the cockpit.

“You still with us, Ace?” New Mark asked.

His eyes flickered around, lost, blank. “It hurts to breathe,” he croaked.

“I think I found your light colonel,” New Mark said.

The pilot said something small and inarticulate. He was weak, and having trouble with the thin atmosphere. New Mark looked around the cockpit for any emergency breathing apparatus. He opened the access panel under the seat, but it was empty.

New Mark saw the cloud of dust swirling through the blood-soaked cockpit before heard the roaring of the hovercraft. He backed out of the access hatch and surveyed the landing zone they were using. He took a few steps away from the protecting bulk of the downed scout and looked at JJ. JJ had his weapon up and was scanning the horizon to the north. New Mark started scanning the other horizon. They were particularly visible and vulnerable at this moment.

Once the hovercraft settled, a pair of corpsmen came running over toward JJ. The weapons turret popped up on the craft, and the sensors started scanning. New Mark had seen nothing; that meant the squids were probably waiting until all of them piled into the hovercraft to attack. They would need a smart evac plan to avoid giving the squids a high-value target.

Corpsman Mary Beth was the only corpsman with pediatrics experience on Lyman base. She had moved to the frontier to help children in bases filled with soldiers, explorers and frontier merchants. She knew a little about battlefield triage, but had not been prepared for the carnage she found on the desolate, bloody rock on which the fleet had been grounded.

New Mark’s second scan showed nothing. He glanced over at JJ. The corpsmen were leading the Lieutenant Colonel down to the hovercraft. New Mark gave a shout and pointed at the access door to the cockpit.

Leaving one corpsmen supported the light colonel, Corpsman Mary Beth slogged back through the dust to the marine. Both were clearly healthy and intact. This one had some armor damage, but he was the Core Planets’ icon of doom: a fully armored and armed marine, standing in front of a ship on a desolate planet, protecting the occupants. His attitude of readiness projected a menacing determination that Corpsman Mary Beth found intimidating.

Then she saw the open hatchway into the ship. This probably meant there were more survivors of the crash. She took out her hand lamp and ventured into the wrecked ship. The cockpit was splattered with too much blood and gore. She had to clamp down hard, wear her calmest face and catch her breath. She was not squeamish, her surgery rotations cured her of that; but she was still reluctant to see the monstrous, horrifying injuries that the various combatants inflicted on each other. Some of the Outer Rim weapons were particularly cruel, and she didn’t want to consider how this poor marine might have suffered in his dying moments.

She searched the cockpit, braced for the horrors that were brought out by the awful and senseless need to fight and kill. She found a dead pilot, sprawled in a seat. He had been battered by the fall; he had suffered blunt trauma from some part of the ship falling on him and crushing him near the pelvis; he had been lacerated by shards of metal probably from a smashed equipment bay. The cause of death was the crash.

The corpsman backed out of the access hatch into the bright light pouring down onto the lifeless sand. Sergeant New Mark looked over at her. She shrugged, the pilot was dead.

“I was just talking with him,” New Mark said, incredulous.

“I don’t see how,” Mary Beth said.

She looked back at the black hole into the ship. Drover coughed, gurgling up some blood.

“I told you,” New Mark said, triumphant.

Mary Beth threw down her first response pack, dragged out a syringe and dove back into the ship. She stabbed Drover in the heart with the stimulants. He gasped and began to cough feebly. She crawled out, got a suction tube, scissors and a roll of bandages.

New Mark watched her root through her bag; he could see that the pilot had saved his crew, and earned his own chance at survival, slim as it was. If nothing else, the pilot deserved a moment of optimism that he might survive. New Mark had cradled more than one dying marine whose last moments were eased by the idea that they might survive.


Mary Beth looked at up New Mark. “Poor bastard,” she said. There was little she could do put prepare him for evacuation and hope that the Whitehall or one of the other large ships had doctors who could help him.