Authors: William W. Johnstone
Tags: #Science Fiction
Lamar looked at Ben for a long time, then slowly shook his head and turned, walking away without another word.
Jersey strolled up to stand beside Ben. “Dr. Chase looks pissed, boss.”
“It’s the way of the world, Jersey,” Ben said. “The strong exploit the weak. The educated often take advantage of the uneducated and less fortunate.”
“I’m glad I missed that conversation,” she said. “On a lighter note, Cooper says he’s dying and wants somebody to witness his last will and testament.”
“Cooper will be dying for a couple of weeks,” Ben said. “And as soon as his boots touch soil, he will be miraculously cured of his seasickness. It never fails. Just leave him alone and let him wallow in his self-pity.”
“Which he does so well,” Beth said, walking up.
The ship just then gave a great lurch and somewhere forward Cooper cried, “Oh, my God. I’m dying!”
Jersey sighed. “It’s going to be a long trip.”
The Rebels cleaned equipment, sharpened already razor-sharp knives, read books, studied maps of Africa, played various card games, and caught up on sleep during the sea voyage across the Atlantic. Cooper managed to make everybody miserable with his constant moaning about being sick … until a group of Rebels threatened to keelhaul him if he didn’t shut up about it. Cooper suffered in silence after that … except when around the Team.
And everybody got caught up on their shots.
“I have never received so damn many shots in all my life,” Ben bitched one calm sunny morning, as he stood in line on the deck with his team, waiting to get stuck in both arms. “My ass still stings from those damn shots the other day.”
“Oh, shut up, Raines,” Dr. Chase chided him. “I’m saving the best for last.”
“I’m not sure I want to know about it, you damned old quack,” Ben responded.
Lamar chuckled at Ben’s antics. “I have never seen a man so goosy about taking shots, Raines.”
“I wouldn’t be if you sadists would cool it with the square needles!” Ben fixed his long-time friend with a hard look. “And what is this crap about ‘saving the best for last?’ “
“Oh, you’ll see, Raines,” Chase replied, a wicked look in his eyes. “You’ll see.”
“Seeing is one thing, you old fakir. Feeling is quite another.”
Chase walked away, chuckling.
“What the hell’s he talkin’ about, boss?” Jersey asked.
“I don’t know, Jersey. But you can bet your boots it isn’t going to be pleasant.”
“What were those shots they gave us in the butt yesterday?” Anna asked. “My rear end still hurts.”
“I asked one of the medics,” Beth said. “She just smiled and said it might help if I was real careful and didn’t stand in swamp water for too long.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Corrie asked.
“Who knows?” Cooper said. “I know only that when we get through, if there’s a way to catch a plane back, I’m going to take it. You can bet on that.”
“How many more of these damn shots do we have to endure?” Ben asked a passing doctor.
“Only a few more, sir,” the doctor replied. He smiled. “Tomorrow is the last one.” Then he hurried on.
“I didn’t like that smile worth a damn,” Jersey said. “Those doctors are about to spring a surprise on us.”
“It’s all for your own good, my precious little cactus flower,” Cooper needled her.
“Stick it up your kazoo, Cooper,” Jersey told him.
“Women to the left, men to the right,” a medic yelled from the front of the line. “Women step behind that canvas and drop your britches.”
“Aw, shit!” Jersey hollered. “My ass still hurts from yesterday!”
“What you need is some tender loving care,” Cooper told her. “And I am just the man for the job.”
“What you’re going to get is a rifle butt in the teeth, Cooper,” Jersey responded. “I hope they break the damn needle off in your arm.”
“Now, now, my beauty,” Cooper smiled. “WHA-HOOO!” Cooper yelled as a medic jabbed a needle into his upper arm and popped the vaccine to him.
“I just wish I knew what lay in store for us tomorrow,” Ben muttered through clenched teeth.
“The last one, General,” a medic said, popping the needle into Ben’s arm.
“I suppose I should take some comfort in that,” Ben said with a grimace as the medic pressed a piece of cotton against his arm.
“Hold that there for a few seconds, General. That’s it. Move along, please.”
From behind the canvas, Jersey yelled, “What the hell did you just jab me with, you blacksmith? A friggin’ railroad spike?”
The next morning, Ben looked up from studying maps, as Lamar Chase approached.
“What do you want?” Ben demanded.
“I will spare you the indignity of having the troops watch their commander sink to his knees, Raines. Stand up and pull up your shirt.”
“Just do it, Raines. Don’t argue. This shot is very important.”
Ben stood up and pulled up his shirt. “What is it?”
“A combo.” Lamar swabbed Ben’s stomach with alcohol and opened a small black case.
“Did you take one of these things, you old goat?”
“We all did, Raines. Untense your stomach muscles. That’s it. Now this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me.”
“Thanks so very much.” Ben grunted as the needle went in, then a burning sensation overwhelmed his stomach area. “Jesus H. Christ, Lamar,” he groaned,
grabbing hold of the edge of the small desk in his quarters.
“Not very pleasant, is it?”
Ben sat down in a chair and groaned, both hands holding his stomach. “What was that?”
“A combination of vaccines, Ben. Well, I’ve done all I can do to protect us … including boosters for us all. Probably overkill, really. But we don’t know what we’re heading into, do we?”
The pain had lessened in Ben’s stomach and he exhaled in relief. “For a fact, Lamar. What all have we been inoculated for?”
“Oh, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis, meningococcal meningitis, anti-rabies, anti-venom. The pills you all started taking several weeks ago and will take every day for as long as we are on the continent are for malaria. Let’s see … well, we all took some experimental shots for dengue fever. I don’t know whether they’ll work or not, but they damn sure can’t hurt …”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” Ben interrupted.
“Oh, shut up, you big baby. Let’s see, what else? Well, you all got some pretty heavy duty shots of gamma globulin. You received some shots that will help-supposedly-in warding off some afflictions as elephantiasis, hydatid disease, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis …”
Ben held up a hand. “I don’t want to hear any more about it, Lamar. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about anyway. I only hope you do.”
“Do any of us have a choice in the matter.”
Lamar smiled. “Actually, no.”
From the restored Port of New Orleans in the nation of SUSA to Africa is not an overnight cruise. With the ships heavily cargoed, the trip took days. Luckily the
seas were unusually calm and the voyage uneventful… except for an occasional case of seasickness and a whole lot of bitching from Cooper.
The Rebels on each ship exercised daily to keep the kinks out of their muscles and to give them something to do … and to bitch about.
Ben worked on deck whenever possible, even though his quarters were private, airy, and very nice.
Beth spent much of her time studying books out of the cases she had brought with her on Africa. On the voyage over, she was boning up on Morocco.
One sunny morning she sat down beside Ben, the team gathered around her, and opened a map. “Where are we going to land, boss?”
Ben stuck a finger on the map. “Right there, Beth. Tangier.” He looked at the date on his watch. “In two days. The battalions will start stretching out immediately. Ike and his 2 Batt will travel across the top of North Africa to Egypt. We know that the northernmost part of Libya is relatively secure. Israel took care of that … with some assistance from Egypt. Egypt is secure and prospering. We confirmed that when Israel finally opened up lines of communication with us.”
“How about those other mideast countries that were sworn enemies of Israel?” Corrie asked.
“So far as we have been able to determine, they have been neutralized,” Ben said. “They are no longer a threat to anyone.”
“So we don’t worry about them this run?” Cooper asked.
“I don’t think anybody will ever again have to worry about those terrorist nations,” Ben said softly. “Not for a long, long time.”
“So we’re taking the west side of the continent?” Jersey asked.
“That’s it, gang. When the battalions have stretched out west to east, we start working south.”
“What’s the time factor on this, General Ben?” Anna asked.
“There is no way of determining that, Anna. We might be over here for years. I won’t even make a guess. Hell, we might be tied up in North Africa for months fighting our way through highly organized resistance. Then we still must face our main opposition.”
“Bruno Bottger,” Corrie said softly.
“Yes. Good ol’ Bruno and his Nazis. Jesus, I wish I could have killed that son of a bitch in Europe.”
“We gave it a pretty good shot,” Jersey reminded him.
Ben sighed. “Yeah, we did. Well, better make sure you’ve got all your gear together. Forty-eight hours is going to pass pretty quickly.”
After his team had left, Ben sat for a time, deep in thought. Then he folded his maps, tucking them away in a waterproof map case, his other papers going into a briefcase. Then he went in search of the SEAL team who would be going in first.
Forty-eight hours was ticking down toward jump off time.
“Looks peaceful enough,” Lamar Chase remarked, standing beside Ben at the rail. The doctor lowered his binoculars.
“SEALs have determined the docks are secure,” Ben replied. “They also reported that the city itself, at first glance, does not appear to hold any hostile forces. But the team leader also said he has a very goosy feeling in the pit of his stomach about the situation.”
“Well, if that’s the case, you can’t lead your people in, Ben.”
WMiam W. Johnstone
“Listen, you hard-headed …” Lamar bit the remark off, knowing there was no point in arguing with Ben. He sighed and shook his head.
“1 Batt into the landing craft,” Ben said to Corrie, standing by his side.
She immediately transmitted the orders and the Rebels began going over the side, climbing down into the landing craft that were tucked in close to the huge ship.
Ben stuck out his hand and Lamar shook it. “Break a leg, Raines,” the doctor said.
“You wish,” Ben replied with a smile, then went over the side and seconds later was in a landing craft, his team right with him.
The landing craft pulled away from the ship and into the channel, beginning a circling/holding pattern until all the other landing craft filled with Rebels were ready to go.
Ben, Jersey, Corrie, Beth, and Anna were carrying CAR’s, Cooper was carrying a SAW (squad automatic weapon). Every Rebel was heavily laden with equipment, for no one had any idea how long they might have to hold the dock area before supplies could reach them.
Ben cut his eyes to his team. Jersey was calmly chewing gum, her expression bland. Corrie was listening intently to the SEAL team chatter on the docks. Anna was adjusting her battle harness. Cooper was talking softly with Beth. Ben smiled. His team had been through this many times.
“Ship is signaled 2 Batt is ready to go,” Ben was informed. “All 1 Batt personnel in landing craft.”
“Take us ashore,” Ben ordered. “2 Batt will hold until my orders.”
“General Ike says for you to watch your ass,” Corrie told Ben.
“Tell fatso as big as his ass is, it’s in far more danger than mine,” Ben responded.
“Right, boss,” Corrie said. “You know I’m going to do that.”
Ben laughed as the landing craft headed for the shoreline.
“The SEALs are coming under fire,” Corrie reported.
“I wondered when that would come.” Ben looked at the coxswain, who was looking back at him. “Put the pedal to the metal, son. Get us ashore.”
The young coxswain was not used to commanding generals being in his boat and was just a tad on the nervous side. Ben moved to his side and patted him on the shoulder. “You’re doing just fine, sailor.”
“Thank you, sir. Sir?”
“Would you please get your ass down behind cover?”
Ben laughed at the expression on the young sailor’s face. “You mean it wouldn’t look good on your record if I got killed while riding in your boat?”
“Something like that, sir.”
Ben chuckled and moved away, rejoining his team.
“Boss?” Cooper said.
“You know I’ll follow you through the gates of Hell, don’t you, sir?”
“I know that, Coop.”
“But I have got to draw the line at one thing.”
“I refuse to ride a goddamn camel!”
Cooper had such a serious expression on his face, Ben and his team howled with laughter, breaking any slight tension.
The dock area drew closer.
Ben was the first one out of the landing craft and onto Moroccan soil-or concrete and wood to be more accurate, since the coxswain put the craft into a slip right up against the docks.
Ben and team ran to a row of large metal shipping containers and crouched there. So far, they had received no hostile fire in their direction.
“1 Batt coming in,” Corrie reported.
“Tell them to spread out left and right and secure the port area,” Ben ordered. “If an unknown points a gun at them, drop him.”
But whoever had been attacking the small SEAL team cut and ran when hundreds of Rebels began pouring all over the port area and spreading out.
“SEALs report a number of shadows fading back and disappearing into alleyways and buildings,” Corrie said.