Chapter 1

Sometimes you win,

sometimes you lose,

sometimes you play the game.

Some games have no end.

Those you play until you're tired of it.

I'm tired of this one.

"Who is David Austin?" she asked.

"Who is Grace Austin?" I asked.

"So ... you're a psychologist now?" she asked.

A question answers a question with a question.

I looked at the sky and said, "I don't want to play."

There was a shimmer and a shake ... C-130's are loud

There's one thing you never forget about a C-130; the noise. There's five Air Force Crew ... two pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer and a loadmaster. The pilots do what pilots do ... in a C-130, they drive. The navigator tells the pilots where to drive, the engineer is supposed to know how to fix whatever breaks and the loadmaster tells the ground crew where things load and sees to the various tie-downs and nets.

The pilots are failed fighter jocks and they resent it.

Generally, the navigator didn't do everything right in flight training or he has some defect ... like glasses ... but he's good with spherical trig.

The flight engineer isn't a real engineer ... he doesn't build bridges or set up electrical power stations. They won't let him fuck with chemicals or stuff like that. He watches dials and readouts and the very last thing you want to hear from him is 'Oh Fuck!'

The really important guy is the loadmaster. It is one of the major mysteries of life in the Air Force that the guy responsible for the balance of the load is a Sergeant. If it's not right you will never get a second chance.

Our particular C-130 has a cave they call the cargo hold: 40 feet of comfortable luxury. It's tall, 9 feet ... in the middle. The important part about this one is the rear ramp ... the rear ramp is where crazy people leave a perfectly good airplane and trust their lives to a scrap of nylon and a few itty bitty pieces of nylon cord. Dumb people ... Airborne! ... Ooorah! No ... wait ... that's Marines ... Airborne! Hooah!

A full load of Airborne is 64 of the dumb-asses.

Even though there's only 12 of us about to take the BIG STEP, the C-130 can carry 45 thousand pounds ... we are a very light load.

The noise I mentioned ... yeah ... up there ... at the front ... comes from four Allison T56-A-15 turboprops, with 4 propellers that are 13.5 feet in diameter ... each propeller tip is exceeding the speed of sound and that is a bunch of noise at 366 miles per hour at 40 thousand feet.

Our C-130 is a 'special.' It's painted flat black, has uprated engines, carries a lot more fuel and will fly just a tick shy of 46 thousand feet ... with all the comforts of home ... if your home happens to be a foxhole.

12 out the door and Kelly. Kelly is the thirteenth man. The thirteenth man is the Jump-master. He says GO! and we do.

Since I know no one can hear me when I shout, we all have nifty throat mikes and an earpiece ... but we are in a place we weren't supposed to be so the radios were off.

I checked the man in front ... I picked him up by his harness and shook him ... hard ... the man behind checked me ... I slapped my guy on the shoulder, he turned and I gave him a thumb. The guy behind slapped me on my shoulder and gave me a thumb. All through the C130 checking and slapping and thumbing was going on. The ramp is down now ... and it's really loud ... and breezy.

No static lines ... this was to be my very last jump ... altitude and free fall. Our breathers were cute ... little oxygen containers about the size of a CO2 cartridge that screwed into the sides of a cute little nose mask. Stupid things looked like huge silver boogers.

Master Sergeant Kelly had a chute but he was tethered to the bay. Sarge wasn't going with us ... no matter how badly he wanted to go. Nope ... Master Sergeant Kelly was going straight to the Stockade for thinking he was smarter than the Army. A real waste of thirty years. I couldn't have stopped it if I wanted to. Kelly didn't know he'd been caught. The arrest would happen on landing.

It was me who caught him ... I was highly disappointed with Kelly. The Provost wasn't sure how long he'd been recycling weapons over the back fence, but it had been a long time. Millions of dollars worth of the latest weaponry had gone missing ... all of it over the fence.

Kelly plugged into my personal com, "Wish I was going with you, Colonel. We been together, what? fifteen years?"

"Pretty close, John. You babysat me through some hairy shit. Remember the time..." And so it went. We reminisced about good ones, bad ones and pure disasters. He, a Sergeant, and me, an officer.

I couldn't help but think how wasteful this was. He was a good man ... except when it came to money ... and horses. And betting on the ponies is where it started. Well ... it was over. I was retiring. Colonel was as far as I was going ... too much blood on my hands for the REMF's. I never was a politician ... not even at the Point.

Yup ... my last jump ... middle of the night ... to a country we had no business in ... doing a mission that never happened ... by personnel who were officially listed as dead ... concluded by a withdrawal to a submersible that was never built.

No one was married ... but we had had a string of successes that were legend ... and unheralded.

"Yellow light." Not that anybody announced it ... but we can see.

We all huddled near the ramp. Kelly said, "Colonel ... one of your boogers is loose. Hold on." He fumbled with a box of them, jerked the loose one out ... touched it, really. It fell out and rolled off the ramp. It was that loose. He screwed a new one past the push point ... I just had to slap it for seven good breaths ... between the two 'boogers' I had fourteen good breaths. Plenty for a drop from forty thousand feet. I only needed the extra breaths to eighteen thousand. After that I could drop unaided to our cord altitude of three thousand.

Kelly looked at the light..."Green" He saluted. As I started over the lip he said, "Stupid shit," jerked his com connect free, and pushed. What on earth did he mean by that?

I let out the breath I had going off the ramp and slapped my 'Booger.' At 15 thousand I expelled my last breath.'


The Assistant Director of the Second Chance Unit of the Bureau of Reclamation, a branch of Nine Lives Institute, a governmental front for a black ops section, was sitting at his desk reviewing the 3D of the latest "difficulty."

'This isn't right. Who screwed up?'

He reached out to the home of his executive secretary, contacted her mentally and thought, 'Pull up the contract for Colonel David Austin.'

"I have it, Sir," Grace said.

"Read it back to me."

"Pursuant to Federal..."

"Not that part ... The disposition."

"Subject, having information detrimental to the Security and Safety of the Office of the President of these United States, is ordered terminated. Collateral damage is authorized."

"I thought that's what it said. Thanks, Grace. How's your vacation going?"

"We're packed and ready to head out. Koocanusa Resort & Marina, Montana."

"If you need anything, I'm just a thought away."

"We'll be fine, Sir. Delta to Great Falls, the Maytag to Polson, Beaver floatplane from Polson to the Lake. Our Catalina 36 is in the water and waiting. Thanks for arranging the boat transportation. 30 days of exploring ... Jim bought an old homestead with a gold mine that's within a mile of the water."

"Gold mine?"

"Yes Sir ... it's been closed since the war ... We're going to pan the tailings."

"That sounds exciting."

"I'll bring you a nugget ... unless it's the only one. Gotta go, the driver is here."

"Bye, Grace ... have a good time."

"We plan on it."


'Somebody fucked up, ' I thought as the water activated life vest inflated.

Time passed.

"Hello," a female voice with an Irish lilt. "Do you need a hand?"

I could hear the slap of halyards against an aluminum mast and the putt putt of a small diesel. A life ring and rope splashed next to me. I grabbed on and was pulled to the stern ladder.

She was tiny, redheaded and nude.

"How did you end up out here?" she asked.

"I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. Have you heard any others?"

"No ... should I?"

'Yes, ' I thought, 'There should be 11 more. They'll be much easier to find in the daylight.'

"Where am I?"

"Where are you supposed to be?"

"I can't tell you," I said.

"You are dressed oddly ... all military like ... probably a top secret mission." She nodded knowingly.

"Get out of those wet clothes ... I'll go below and find you something. You are a big one."

I was very wet and seawater ... yes ... seawater ... seawater itches like crazy when it dries. I was down to my skivvies when she came back. She had dressed ... if you can call the two postage stamps and a cork bikini dressed.

"All of it, soldier," she motioned at my boxers and wifebeater. They hit the deck with a splat.

"Yes indeed ... a big one," she said cryptically. She pointed at a deck shower, "Rinse."

I made a quick pass.

"I have a water maker ... rinse ... hair too. Salt in the wrong places is the very devil."

I cycled through again.

"I couldn't find anything that would fit those shoulders," she held out a sheet, "Toga?

"Good Lord, Colonel ... you never went to a toga party in college? Give me that."

She fussed and poked, prodded and tucked, and inserted a huge safety pin.

"How's that?"

"Ok," I said. It was surprisingly comfortable ... if a little breezy. "Where are we?"

"Jamaica is about four hundred kilometers that way." She pointed. "That way is northish. Columbia is six hundred that way. Nicaragua is about 1200 kay that way. Ooo ... you don't like that."

"Not very much ... if the coast was a couple of klicks that way," I pointed west, "This would have been an accident. The middle of the Caribbean Sea is NOT an accident."

"Coffee?"

She turned away and the half inch strap that comprised the back of her suit drew my eye.

There was a knock on the hull.

"Hallo the boat. Permission to come aboard?"

"That would be Peterson," I said, "Make it two cups."

Chapter 2 ยป