The first shots spat into the water, kicking up tiny gysers. Soldiers dove in every direction for cover. Percell grabbed and hauled a stumbling Hockenbury easily through the water after him and they threw themselves down in a sandy splash as a mortar kicked up chunks of dirt. As Percell lobbed a grenade into the tall grass, Doc clutched his medi-pouch close to his chest. Ruiz dropped to his belly as he hit the sandy shore and levelled the 'pig' at the tree-line, answering the enemy muzzle flashes with his own. Taylor saw Griner go down on one knee in the water as a bullet took a chunk of flesh out of his thigh. He grabbed the man's webbing and dragged him to cover. Anderson whirled around to check on his men risking a bullet in the back. The men had all cleared the water except for the Lt. and his RTO.
"Cover me!" he screamed at anyone who was listening and charged back through the river's strong current to reach Goldman.
The RTO grunted weakly and shuddered once before flopping backwards into the water, a crimson stain spreading rapidly across his chest. The Lt. stood a moment startled at the speed at which the man had been taken.
"L-tee!!!!" screamed Anderson, legs pumping through the water.
"Saaaarrrgggge, INCOMING!!!" yelled Taylor hearing the hollow 'ponk' of a mortar shell leaving it's tube.
Zeke reached out a blunt, calloused hand, grabbed Myron's webbing and began dragging him down into the water to get below the shell's impact. There was a sudden blinding flash of light and time seemed to fold in on itself, to stand still and blur away from him all at the same time as the air was pressed painfully from his lungs and he was lifted into the air and tossed. Then there was nothing. Only silence. He never felt the landing.
The fire fight ended as quickly as it started. The RTO was dead. The heavy radio strapped to his back was the only thing that had kept his body from being carried down river.
The two men had been blown about 15 feet from where they had been standing, into a shallow eddy when the mortar shell hit.
Their bodies lay together in a tangled heap.
He lay still for a moment trying to get his bearings. He had an arm curled tightly around a O.D. fatigue-clad body and his head rested against an expansive hard chest. He could hear the steady powerful beating of the heart beneath the ribs, its rhythmic thuds under his ear comforted him, calmed him.
Reluctantly he raise up on his elbows and have a look at the face that went with the body he was sprawled on top of. He squinted, annoyed at the slightly blurred vision. He stared, eyes going wide. He blinked rapidly to try and erase the confusing picture he saw before him. He looked around to orient himself.
'It's going to be okay, this is still Vietnam, I'm still in the boonies, it's going to be okay' he tried to himself before slowly sliding a second squint at the face below him. "Lord Almig . . . !" he began to declare in disbelief, clamping a mucky hand across his mouth as he shoved himself off the body beneath him.
'what in the hell . . .!' he thought to himself. He sat back on his heels, licked at his lips nervously, staring down at his own body sprawled in the river mud in front of him, out cold. He wiped the back of a trembling hand across his cheek and came away with a smear of blood. He glanced down at it and began to absently wipe it away on his pants but he stopped and looked down at his forearm. He drew the arm nearer, traced the unfamiliar delicate lines of the bones beneath the smooth skin. He wrapped supple long fingers around the fine delicate wrist, flexed the fingers experimentally. They moved with grace and ease. His looked down at the hands on his prone body. Calloused, jagged-nailed, scarred. The hand he manipulated before him belonged to a school teacher, not a soldier His jaw dropped as his hands flew to his face. Narrower, smaller. He ran his mucky hands through his hair. Softer, finer.
'jesus christ!' he thought, using profanity he usually managed to contain. 'what the hell . . . ' He had to fight to keep from falling over as he became more and more light-headed, not feeling the blood running from a gash across his forehead It was starting to come to him just whose heels he was sitting back on.
Trying to stay focused on the experience, he became more curious than scared about what was happening to him. He was sure it would only be temporary and he'd be back home in his own battle weary body soon enough.
"Sarge?! L-tee!?" came the calls of disembodies voices of the men of Team Viking.
"Over here!" he croaked, surprised at the voice he heard come out of his mouth and he shook his head weakly in amazement.
'what the hell is the Nam doing to my mind?' he thought, resting his hands on his thighs, staring down at his prone self.
'Hope I ain't hurt too bad' was his last thought before he toppled over in a dead faint.
"Taylor! Get over here, we found 'em!" Percell yelled.
Zeke came to in the echoey cavern of the Huey, feeling the corner of a poncho flapping against his cheek.
'Oh, lordy, I gone and got m'self killed, yes, sir, they're gonna box me up and ship me home.'he began to fret. But too weak to move, he quietly faded away, lulled by the helicopter's chanting blades.
Myron suddenly sucked in a deep breath like he'd just broke the surface after been submerged for hours. The vibrations of the helicopter's engine came up through the floor into his back. It's deafening noise pressed against his ears. How the hell did he get up in a chopper? What the hell was going on? What was wrong with his chest? It seemed to take such effort to suck in a breath. Like it was, like it was too heavy. Too big!? Had he been lung shot? Was he dying?
'Jesus Christ! what the hell's happening?'he began panicking.
Had he gone on another bender? Where the hell was he? He tried to rise but didn't seem to have the strength to move his body. It was too heavy, he was too disoriented to coordinate his limbs enough to move. He only managed to flap about weakly and nothing more....
"Hey, Doc! Can't you give the Sarge something, he looks bad, man." asked Ruiz seeing the man's going into spasms.
Hockenbury grabbed a 'surette' of morphine and plunged it into his arm.
"Hang in there Sarge, we're almost home." yelled Doc over the chopper's noise.
'Sarge?. . I'm not . . . , what in the hell is go. . . ?' Myron's head began to swim as the morphine seeping into the blood stream, did what it was intended to do. He drifted into a void, no longer concerned with how his body was fitting or why Hockenbury was calling him 'Sarg'.
The men of Team Viking carried their wounded into the dispensary and deposited the three men on gurnies. Taylor staying by Griner's side, easing the young soldier's fears that they were 'gonna take his leg if'n he fell asleep'.
The rest of the men waited quietly and patiently in the tiny waiting area for word of the condition of their Sargent and their Lt.
The tiny vile of amonia cracked under his nose and he was gasping for air, batting at the offensive smell, head pounding.
"Nice to have you with us again Sargent Anderson." smiled the tired looking doctor.
"Sargent Anderson?"he parrotted the doctor. Not understanding the what the man was saying to him. Morphine still swirling about in his blood stream.
Concerned creased the doctor's forehead.
"Sargent. Do you know where you are?" he asked taking a closer look at the prone man's eyes.
"Hospital? ... How'd I get here?" he guessed looking around.
"By chopper. Do you know where the hospital is?"
"Well, yes, sir, I reckon I'm still in Vietnam." answered Anderson more coherently as his head finally started coming together.
"Good. You were pretty lucky, Sargent. Just a nasty bump, but you're gonna have to take it easy for a few days."
"Yes sir." he grunted as he sat up and swung his feet off the bed. Felt the familiar stiffness in his joints as he got to his feet.
He raised a hand up before his face and looked at it. Curled the fingers into a tight fist. Heard the faint pops from the stiff joints he was so familiar with. He shrugged and rolled his shoulders, smiling at the way the muscles bunched between his shoulder blades, just like they always did. He scratched at his porcupine hair with his thick calloused fingers. Everything felt just like always. Felt like the broken-in body he'd been living in all his life.
'It's going to be okay.'