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"Top, looks like the CO is .......?”


Corporal Bass ceased speaking in mid sentence.


“Looks like what, Corporal, out with it!” demanded the First Sergeant as he crawled over to take a look, the zings of small arms rounds whizzing by overhead.



“Well…wait a minute, First Sergeant.  I thought he was dead but the biomeds just flicked back on.  Suit must have momentarily malfunctioned from the blast.”


Bass placed his visor over Ames’, peering through the fractured ballistic shield.


“He appears groggy but looks OK now."


Ames’ eyes snapped open and his nostrils flared as he let out with a blood curdling, tormented shriek.  The corporal jumped back with a start, falling on his butt, startled not only by the yell, but also by the wild look about the captain as he began to slap at his body, all the while screaming, “Fire, fire.” 


The First Sergeant leaned forward, firmly grasping the flailing arms.


“It’s all right, sir.  It’s all right.  You’re not on fire.  That mortar round just knocked you for a loop.  Settle down.”


“Doc,” yelled the First Sergeant.  “Doc, get your skinny ass down here!  Now!  Bass,” ordered the senior NCO, “go get him.”


Ames was disoriented, eyes momentarily unfocused.  He couldn’t see anything.  Where was he?  Hadn’t he just been crushed by a massive wooden beam within a raging inferno?  His head was throbbing from what seemed to be a concussion and energized nerve endings were transmitting a numbing pain from his seriously bruised and battered body.  Yet, the voice he heard, through the incessant ringing in his ears was somehow soothing, familiar.


Slowly, as the First Sergeant worked to get his commander’s attention, Ames began to become more aware of his surroundings…the sights of armored, dirt encrusted, and exhausted Rangers; the sounds of battle, the long bursts of crew served weapons interlaced with the single shots of small arms rifles, the periodic karraph of mortar rounds, RPGs, or hand grenades detonating; the smell of sweat, cordite, fire, diesel…even of fear.  And, embracing it all was the overwhelmingly pervading stench of death.  It was different, yet the same.  Familiar, as though he belonged.


As the First Sergeant released and raised Ames’ shattered visor, the Captain squinted hard, focusing on the face that began to take form before him.  The two Rangers stared at each other.  Farther down the trench, the aidman was hurriedly making his way towards them.


Ames broke the silence between the two, first.


“Top, how the hell are you?” he asked of his senior NCO through a mouth so dry and filthy that he felt as though everyone in the trench had marched through it.  Where had he experienced that before?


“Been better, commander.  Damn fine to have you back from the dead, sir,” answered the First Sergeant, pulling out his canteen to offer a swig.


Ames appreciated the feel of the canteen against his lips and began to drink…and think of another, distant, but similar episode.  Finishing off the last drop…along with spitting dirt out of his mouth, he put the thought…was it only a dream?…to rest and indicated his desire to sit upright.


“Careful, First Sergeant,” cautioned Ames as he struggled to a sitting position with the assistance of the NCO, “you might break into a grin.  We wouldn’t want you ruining your reputation, now, would we?”


“What reputation, sir,” asked the medic as he crawled up to Ames.


“Why, the First Sergeant’s, of course.”


“Sir, you mean about being a hard ass, never laughing, never smiling?”


“Sergeant Richardson.  If you’d be so kind, attend to the commander and stop with the small talk, Ranger,” warned First Sergeant Dart.


“Seemed to have touched a nerve, huh?” whispered Ames as he let the medic take a look at the readouts then run a hand over his armor and body, poking and prodding, eliciting a few grunts and groans from Ames along the way.


Thirty seconds later, the captain had enough.


“Thank you, Doc, but it’s time to get back into the war,” stated Ames rather mater of factly as he pushed the medic away and maneuvered onto his knees. 


“Sir, I’m not finished, yet!” pleaded the junior NCO.


“Well, sorry about that for time’s up.”




“Doc.  Did you find any holes in me?”


“Well…no, sir.”


“Did you find any blood, other than the normal cuts and abrasions?”


“…no, sir.”


“Are there others back on the line all around us who are in worse shape than I?”


“…yes, sir,” conceded the medic.


“Done deal, then,” the captain indicated with a wave of his hand.  “Much appreciated.  Now, if you’d please, crawl back to your little cubbyhole and assist those who truly need your services and stop making me look and feel like a candy-assed ‘Leg.’”


With a defeated nod of his head, the sergeant yielded and began crawling back to the makeshift aid station.


“Hey, Doc,” yelled out Ames after the medic had moved ten meters or so down the trench.  The Ranger halted, looking back over his shoulder.


“Thanks.  Not only for me but for all those you’ve been able to save or comfort in their suffering.  You’ve been a real…angle of mercy…”


Abruptly, the captain dropped his head, thinking to himself, “I knew an angle of mercy…once?” he pondered.  By the time he glanced back up, Richardson was gone.

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