What one knows and what one thinks one knows are the same only for a fool.
The Elysium Commission, Chpt 19
L.E. Modesitt, Jr
Dark is space around us. Dark is the space in which we operate. There are three. Three, here in our listening post. We know there are three more of us several hundred paces north of our position. We listen and watch over the darker, blacker, waters between us and the main land.
Always in the dark, always listening and watching. Always at night. We wait. We are very good at waiting. And listening, and watching.
The mangroves rustle, whether lizard or dog one may not see. You hear it, turn your head toward it – it’s gone. It is quiet again. All is well.
There is little attempt at conversation among we three. We’ve been together for a life time, or near enough to count as a life time; besides, we watch and listen, and it is dark. And now, silent.
Earlier, as we were slipping by the other out post, the leader there had told us he believed there was someone or something out there in the water.
The man had been in that same hole in the ground every working night, listening and watching, almost since the he had arrived in-country. I was prepared to believe him. Besides, he was the only NCO I had ever seen using binoculars on a listening post. Although, it did make a great deal of sense to use them. Night vision was a tiny infant in those days. And weighted twenty pounds, or near enough once rifle mounted and ammo loaded. They called them Starlight Scopes.
The binoculars were one of those things one kicks their own butt for not having thought of, and also never gets around to doing one’s self, even granting points for smart thinking. Besides, the armory didn’t know a damn thing about the scopes or how to maintain them. They never worked, so we didn’t carry them unless some officer felt the T.O. demanded.
So, the hours slipped away.
Some time between too much quiet and not enough silence, the radio I carried shattered the peace, asking me, personally, if I would investigate the water area – command post had received reports of vague movement and splashing out there.
I considered. It was low tide, would probably stay that way for another hour or so, and the bottom was sand. I told them I would do a sweep, they acknowledged and I went over the sand bags, down the slope into the mangroves.
One of the K-9 pups begged to go also. Most of those guy’s were so damned young it made a guy puke. This one was a product of too many hours alone in the boonies, too much piss and too much vinegar. The silly bastard went as far as tying his dog to a mangrove and saying “Please, take me.”
Well, yeah. You’ve probably figured out what I was thinking listening to that.
Or, maybe, I just didn’t have my mind on the subject at all, because I told him to come along. I didn’t like it. I’m much easier when I’m separated by considerable distance from my fellows on this kind of problem, and even better when alone.
When I was alone I at least had the option of starting the fight or letting it pass. When you are with some one you don’t know. . . Well, you don’t know.
I whisper briefed the over eager little shit that he was to remain to my right all the time, no matter which way I took off – or let me know he’d lost me. Don’t get more than five yards from me. And if he shot me, whether intentional or not, I’d haunt his ass until his never to be brilliant great-grand kids were moldy bones buried beneath his parents living room and the ground turned to bedrock.
I worked through the mangroves and paused at the slush mud flats edge and told command post not to launch mortar flares until I called for them, and set out hunting “someone or something.”
What I found was two someone and something’s. I knew I had a delay between calling for the flares and on target, so I called flares waited for the thump of the mortar, counted five and called challenge. Worked pretty well, really.
My challenge alerted the someone’s and took their attention, and the flares burst. The challenge was ignored, the someone’s hit out for their single person boats on the run. I put a round between the leads legs, but he wasn’t hearing or seeing anything except that boat.
I had started to move toward the someone’s when the K-9 puke opened up from behind me. Lord, Christ Almighty.
The flares showed me one round kicking sand in front of my foot; one round kicking sand and water about five feet in front of the kid; another about twenty-five feet out in front and a couple more going who the hell knows where into the dark beyond the flare range.
I saw, with the advantage of the flare, a group of three men all clustered together, coming from my right down the mud flats.
There I was screaming at the K-9 to cease fire, took five times me yelling before he stopped – though later I found he’d burned through a magazine (twenty rounds) and had to stop.
It was probably a good thing the puke was such a lousy shoot because he’d turned toward the group approaching from the right. That group turned out to be the three ranking NCO’s that night and no one had told me they’d be out in the water.
Jesus cried. The lead NCO commenced chewing my ass for “You almost shot me.” Needless to say, I’d fired one round, I knew where it had gone and had fired deliberately low anyhow. He remained un-convinced and didn’t seem apologetic for glory seeking without notifying other folks.
Being senior, I couldn’t very well hang the K-9 for stupid, could I?
Oh, they hit the boats and were gone into the dark as the flares burned out.
The rest of the night was dark and the water darker. Quiet, too.
From the reaches,