Countdown: H Hour
little cramped.” A trace of doubt clouded his features. “I was hoping for a patrol boat to defend the Bland .”
    “Yeah, me, too,” replied Warrington. “My boss asked for it. Regiment said, ‘Fuck off.’ Along with a couple of troop carrying helicopters. Also, ‘Fuck off.’ And one of the mini-subs. Likewise, ‘Fuck off.’ Be a bitch if it turns out we need them.”
    “Be a bitch if we had them and lose our home base because of it,” Stocker said. “Eh?” And my local boys are not even a little bit happy about being dragged out of their own country, which everyone suspects is about to be attacked, to sail to some other country about which they know nothing, to do something they really don’t give a shit about.

    Through multiple decks, through the sound insulation provided by five to six layers of forty-foot containers, Warrington could still feel the vibrating whine of the central, starboard side, crane, lifting some cargo— Probably one of the Elands —aboard. That, or maybe the troops’ baggage. No matter, that’s the “Navy’s” problem so long as it all gets aboard. My problems, on the other hand . . .
    Warrington turned his attention to A Company’s chief medic: Gary Cagle, short, very nearly as wide in the shoulders as tall, and with only one good remaining eye and a pronounced limp, both injuries the result of being shot down in a helicopter, somewhere over Chalatenango, El Salvador, in the late Eighties.
    “Fuck . . . fuck . . . fuck,” Cagle said, small drops of sweat flying from one quivering hand, said hand pointing at the contents of what was supposed to have been a twenty foot refrigerated container. “Fuck.”
    “It’s all bad, Gary?”
    Cagle’s head and hand dropped simultaneously. His hand “silenced,” the quiver moved to his voice. “It’s been sitting there, in oven temperatures, for anywhere from two weeks to six months. I just can’t tell. Would you want us to shoot you up with any painkillers or antibiotics that have been sitting in an oven for up to six months?”
    Warrington shook his head. “Put that way, no. What do we do about it?”
    “Incinerate it and get more,” answered Cagle’s wife, Beth, standing slightly behind Warrington in the passage formed by containers. She went by the handle of “TIC Chick,” for Toxic Industrial Chemicals, and knew whereof she spoke. She was also chief doctor for the enterprise, and, where drugs and medicine were concerned, her word was law.
    “That, and get a storage reefer that works. Or get this one fixed. I’ll see if regimental medical has sufficient to spare, but I can tell you now that they really don’t. Neither does Guyana, all things considered.”
    “Here’s the really messed up part,” Warrington said. “Before I came here I checked up on the mess stores. Three dozen forty-foot reefers, every one of which is humming. We’ve got twice as much food as we need. And this one, the one key one, has gone tits up . . . ummm”—Warrington’s face reddened—“pardon me, TIC Chick.”
    “I’ve heard the word before,” she said.
    “Yeah . . . I suppose. Anyway, this one, the one we really need, is fucked . . . ummm –”
    “Heard that word before, too.”

    The bridge was lit only by a faint red glow as the first of two CH-750’s allocated to the mission touched down on the temporary angled flight deck constructed atop the topmost layer of containers. The pilots and ground crew had had a lot of practice by this time. A light touchdown and two bounces and the thing was stopped, not more than a couple of feet past the flight deck’s midpoint. Three minutes after the engine stopped, its wings were folded; its propeller oriented upper left to lower right; its tail was turned around; and a four-man ground crew was easing it, ass end first, into the container where it would reside until needed. Unseen, two of the ground crew tied it down to half-rings welded to the inside of the container.
    The red glow of

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