Dawns Early Light
Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by Ken Barber and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
18:30 EST 13 November 2012.
USS Ronald Reagan
International Task Force Neptune
Castle Harbor Bermuda.
As Admiral Norris climbed the ladder leading up to the F-18 cockpit he glanced to the rear seat at Will, smiled and almost laughed when he realized a crewman had duct taped a flight ops tech manual to the seat for Will to sit on. Norris just shook his head and rechecked that Will was strapped in correctly. Will looked slightly annoyed until the Admiral climbed in and connected his restraints before a crewman checked them. Once in the fighter Norris put his helmet on and spoke to Will over the internal comms.
"You ready to have some fun?"
"Be more fun if I was in your seat sir?"
"OK you cocky little shit, I am sure it would be. Let's get ready for launch. You ever done a carrier launch?"
"No sir, and only ever did one carrier landing and had hoped to never do another one. You carrier pilots are crazier than us U.N.I.T. kids."
"I don't know about that, but this launch should give you a bit of a thrill. Ok, let's see what this bird can do." He pressed a button on the console and the canopy slid into place with a thunk. Norris switch channels . "Ronald Reagan this is Neptune 1 ready for launch."
"Roger that Neptune, the deck is clear and we are ready for launch. Follow the commands of the deck crew."
Will looked out the window and saw the crew giving hand signals to the Admiral and after a couple Norris gave a thumbs up. "Ok, Will, be prepared this thing will reach 165 MPH in about two seconds flat. The g-force is a little intense at first but will ease up once we are clear of the deck and resume normal acceleration."
The excitement in Will's voice betrayed his cockiness a little. "I am sure I can handle it."
Norris smiled. "Don't say I didn't warn you." Norris reached down and powered the engines up to full throttle. They could feel the plane vibrate under the restrained power, like a dog tugging at its leash with all its might but unable to pull it out of it master's hands. Norris gave another thumbs up. "Hold on!" The chocks clicked off at precisely the same time the steam catapult reached its peak level. The plane rocketed down the deck and threw itself in the air.
Will could not help himself. "HOOOOLY FUCKING SHIIIIIT. WOOOOOOO!!!!!!"
Norris laughed as he went through the post launch procedures. "Reagan, this is Neptune 1 climbing to 15,000 feet. Ready to begin recon flight of task force."
"Neptune 1, this is Reagan you have air space priority, enjoy your flight gentlemen."
Norris switched back to the internal channel. "So Will what did you think of the cat launch?"
"Holy Shit sir, I mean fuck, Admiral, Damn I am sorry but holy shit fuck, I think I had an orgasm."
Norris started laughing hysterically. "OK you might be surprised to hear I think I said the exact same thing on my first launch."
Will laughed. "So sir, what is our mission?"
"That's what I am asking, what are we doing here?"
Norris shook his head. "Will, there is no mission, we are up here to remember how much fun flying can be. We are here purely to have a little fun in the air."
"Umm sir, I have never flown just for fun."
"What the fuck, are you being serious?"
"OK, stop with the sir shit it makes me feel old. So this flight is way past overdue for you. Will sometimes it's important to remember why we fly. We don't fly for missions, we don't fly for kills, we don't fly because someone tells us to. We fly because we love flying, the rest of that shit is just a means to an end. OK so lets do this, you are in the most advanced fighter jet in the known world... Hmm that has a different meaning than it used to but anyway... you're in the most advanced fighter jet in the world, fully armed and fully fueled, with no mission specs. What do you want to do?"
"Go find Ashwood and put a missile down his throat."
"Well, me too, but I mean as far as flying. You want to take this thing to max elevation and get a bird's eye view for hundreds of miles around? Max speed and feel the g-force pushing against your body?"
"I am not sure, sir."
"Okay, I give up." Norris threw both hands in the air and the jet immediately began to turn nose down. "You might want to grab the stick."
Will grabbed the stick and leveled the plane out. "Sir that wasn't funny."
"Will, it's Aggy and it wasn't meant to be funny, its meant to be fun. Now come on fly this bitch like it was meant to be flown. Do some barrel rolls, some loops, whatever you want, you control the jet."
Will giggled and the plane nosed over and started diving straight down. Norris laughed.
"OK, watch your airspeed and rate of descent they are both increasing exponentially. How far down do you want to go before you pull up?" The g-force was making it harder to talk.
"How far can we go?"
"All the way to the deck if you decrease your descent by about 10%."
Will pulled the nose up a little and some of the g-force decreased. "I can't see to know when to pull up."
"Use your altimeter. This baby can do a sharp turn and climb from about 100 feet off the deck, the tires might get a little wet but we will make Adam dry them for us, deal?"
Will was laughing. "OK, approaching 1000 feet... 750... 500... 250..200...150." Will pulled back on the stick hard and pushed flaps to full the jet reared back and almost turned up on a dime.
"Nicely done, my turn taking the stick." Will released control and Norris leveled the plane out at about 750 feet above the water. "There she is, the Charles De Gaulle, the pride of the French Navy."
"She looks big from here. At least bigger than the Reagan looked from the air."
Norris could not help but laugh "Reagan is about 15% longer and 10% wider."
Will didn't say anything just stared and then started laughing. Norris flew the plane alongside the giant carrier and Will could see some of the crew waving at them. Norris rocked the jet left to right causing it to look like it was waving back to the crew.
Norris stopped laughing and took the plane down really low. "OK Will, we are going to push the speed and fly really low for a minute or two. We are below the task force radar bubble and this is going to get a lot of people sweating but I think we both need to do this."
"What exactly are we doing."
They flew low and fast for a few minutes. After a minute or two the chatter began. "Neptune 1, this is Reagan what is your status. Over."
Norris ignored it for a few minutes and the plane began to slow. Will looked out the window and Norris rolled the plane a little. There under the water was a long dark shadow.
Will leaned closer to the window. "What the hell is that?"
Norris smiled. "That is the remains of German U-boat 158, sunk on June 30, 1942 after firing on the Hospital Ship Hope the night before. The US Navy sent all available destroyers in search of U-158 but she was found and destroyed by the USS Breckenridge commanded by Commander Niles Norris, my grandfather."
"Did you say USS Breckenridge? You know I was at Breckenridge, TX right."
"Yes, I know I read the reports. The battle between the USS Breckenridge and U-158 was three long hours of cat and mouse. The Breckenridge was hit once by torpedo but the Commander and crew would not give up the battle. They eventually hit U-158 with a depth charge and forced her to surface. Neither commander would surrender and they began using surface guns to finish the battle. During the battle my grandfather never left the bridge and the last shell fired by U-158 took out the bridge killing all inside. My father was two-years-old. Both of us only know Niles Norris through stories but both of us are career Navy officers because the Norris's will always serve our country.
"Breckenridge was named after a person but it's the same point we are tied together in more ways than one.
"Everything we do and say affects people around us like ripples in a pond. It's a tough burden we bear but we do it for our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. We are soldiers and we will not stop, we will not put down our sword and shield until every last one of them is safe no matter how much it takes from us."
"I think I understand sir."
"I know you do Will. We will get back to the Reagan and you will lift your damn head up and act like the best damn pilot I have ever met, because you are the best damn pilot I have ever met. Quit moping around because one aerial feat scared the shit out of you. It will happen again and again and each time you will learn to be an even better pilot from it. Yes you might have to change your drawers a few times but Will for Christ sake we are defying gravity up here.
"The very laws of nature say we shouldn't be doing this but here we are flying over crystal blue waters, white clouds above our heads. Men dream of this and we, the chosen warriors, the guardians, get to do it, why, because we risk our lives and minds to do it.
"Now take the stick and take us back to the Reagan and damn it Will, have some fun flying this thing."
The jet rocketed almost vertical as Will pulled back on the stick and hit the afterburners. He laughed a little. "Admiral, did you have a big lunch?"
Norris shook his head and chuckled. "If you can get me to lose my lunch I will personally pin a medal on your chest for it."
Will giggled as he executed a perfect double roll at super high speed. He leaned forward and looked over Norris's shoulder to see that the Admiral had pulled a tech manual out and was thumbing through it. Will smiled and tip the jet into a perfect nose dive. Norris looked up at the altimeter and watched it falling. "500 feet, 300 feet, 200 feet, 150, 125." Just as he was about to shout pull up, Will pulled back on the stick and leveled them out.
"Nice flying, Will. How about we see what this baby does in combat?"
Will paused for a minute. "How do we do that sir?"
Norris held up his finger for Will to wait a second as he switched radio channels. "Ronald Reagan, this is Neptune 1 requesting live fire exercise, over."
“Neptune, this is Reagan roger, stand by."
"They will send some targeting drones up for us to fire at so we can have some fun."
"Cool, will I get to shoot them?"
Just then the radio blared to life "Neptune Command this is HMS Defender on patrol 34.027038, -67.680055. We have a flight of F-14's from the East Coast on an intercept course with us. Defender requesting assistance."
Norris looked at the chart. "We are the closest air assets. Defender is a Daring Class Air Defense Destroyer but an entire flight of F-14's is a little more than she can handle. Will, you up for this?"
"We are soldiers and we will not stop, sir."
Norris smiled. "Ronald Reagan, this is Neptune 1, changing bearing to 141 to assist Defender over."
"Neptune 1, this is Ronald Reagan, we strongly advise you to fall back immediately.”
"Reagan your advice is noted, thank you. Neptune out." He switched channels. "Will take us to 300 feet and come to bearing 141."
"Defender, this is Neptune 1, flight of one coming in low on bearing 141."
"Thank you, Neptune 1 you are below radar. Stay clear of our forward air defence arc."
"Roger that Defender"
"OK Will, she is turning to point her bow towards the bogies, that puts her best missile systems into play. I want to come from behind her ."
"OK sir, we are on bearing 141, going low."
"Will I am going to take the stick and I want you to watch the radar. We are not going to pop up until the last minute. The F-14 is a slower, older jet, most likely Air National Guard. These pilots are not going to be used to air to ship combat, so once they see Defender they will think she is a fat juicy target. I want them focused on her so they don't see us coming. Once we pop up I am going to activate the targeting radar. Look at the screen in front of you, see the red circle and the red triangle?"
"I see them."
"When they line up and your hear a shrill tone, press the fire button with your right thumb."
"Missile systems are going active now."
Will looked out and could see the jet skimming over the water barely above the wave tops. "Damn sir, I took a bath once today I would rather not take another."
Norris laughed. "OK, there is Defender." Will looked out at the speck on the horizon and felt the plane slow.
"Are we slowing down?"
"Yup, at that speed we would have reached her before the bogeys. "
They watched the speck get closer and closer and closer. "Neptune 1, Defender, this is Black Knights leader we are two minutes out."
Norris listened as Defender responded. "Roger Black Knights, be advised we do not have a fixed position on Neptune 1... Surface Contact! Surface Contact! Bearing 157, unknown surface contact."
"Fuck" Norris shouted. "This is Neptune 1, Black Knights move to identify and engage surface contact. Defender maintain course and speed." The plane rocketed forward as Norris raced into the battle.
"Vampire, Vampire, unknown surface contact is engaging bogeys."
"This is Neptune 1, Black Knights you are weapons tight on that contact."
"Defender engaging bogeys."
Norris yanked back on the stick and brought the plane up. "Engaging targeting radar, Will fire when ready."
"I have tone, Firing."
"This is Defender splashed two bogeys chutes are open. Unknown has splashed one. "
"Neptune fox 1." Norris turned the jet onto its side and accelerated even more, as the missile tore away.
"Bogeys are turning to engage unknown contact."
"Neptune, you got one, that's four down. Bogeys are breaking off, bogeys are breaking off."
"This is Neptune 1, do not pursue. Black Knights do you have a visual on the unknown vessel. Defender deploy search and rescue for those downed pilots."
"This is Black Knights should have a visual in about 30 seconds."
The standard Maritime channel crackled to life. "US and British Naval forces operating in the area, this is United States Coast Guard Cutter Cyclone. We are standing down our weapons systems and are prepared to receive your boarding teams."
"Coast Guard Cutter Cyclone, this is Neptune 1, assist in search and rescue and then come to bearing 053 maintain weapons tight and make for Bermuda Castle Harbor, HMS Defender will escort you. Cyclone, one warning you attempt to deviate off course, flee the area or engage any forces and we will sink you do you copy?"
"Neptune 1, we understand, Cyclone deploying S & R Helo"
"Ronald Reagan, this is Neptune 1, we are bingo fuel and coming home."
"Roger that Neptune. We have dispatched a Marine team to secure USCG Cyclone."
"Understood, they are cooperating and will be treated as friendly as long as they continue to cooperate is that clear?"
"Aye sir understood."
"Have transport ready to take me to the U.N.I.T. Base. I want Bucky and Adam together for a private briefing before the command briefing."
"Vehicles will be ready and we will relay the message."
"Neptune 1, out."
Much to Will's relief, Norris landed the jet on the carrier like the pro he obviously is. The crew raced to get them out and into debriefing where Norris and Will were grilled, politely by the Deputy CAG about what they saw and did. Norris explained that it was all forwarded to the intel team for analysis. After they were done and changed out of their flight suits, they headed topside but were stopped by Captains Miller and Hollway and Lieutenant Payne.
"Admiral, we have some intel you need to see from the Gulf of Mexico," Lieutenant Payne handed him a tablet. Norris watched for a few minutes. "Where is this? And when?"
Lieutenant Payne stepped forward and pointed at the tablet. "That sir is USS Buchanan and USS Winslow firing sarin gas missiles on Austin Texas, last week. Then USS Worden and USS Read attempting to intercept the missiles and then firing on and sinking the Buchanan and Winslow."
Norris nodded and the knuckles on his hands turned white as he fought to control his rage. "Where is Read and Worden now and how did we get this."
"The Brits have had a sub watching for a while now. This is a low light video from its periscope. The Read and Worden are still on station in the Gulf."
"Josh, Jay what do we know about the officers on those two ships?"
Josh Miller shook his head. "Personally not much sir. British Commander Wrens claims he has known Commander Kopland, skipper on the Charles Read, since they were both O-1's. They were teamed up for a year in an exchange training program. Sinclair knows the Read's XO a Lieutenant Commander Bickford, says there is no way he is on Ashwood's side."
Norris nodded again and took a deep breath.
"Payne get with Rosewood, I want some drones over there ASAP. Recon and Comm drones, we need to reach out to them and let them know they are not alone. I want it up and running before I get back from the U.N.I.T., understood?"
"OK gentlemen we have a shit load of work to do, let's get to it."
All three responded in unison. "Aye sir.”
Norris and Will continued to the pier where they met Bucky, Myers, Sinclair and a couple of Marine drivers with a pair of Humvees .
Will sat in the back of one with Norris as Myers rattled off a long list of logistical issues and concerns, supply reports and schedules. Norris just nodded through most of it and stared out the window. Finally, Norris looked over at the driver
"Lance Corporal Downey?"
"What do you think son? Are we doing the right thing?"
The Lance Corporal was quiet for a moment. "Sir, if by the right thing you mean, trying to save innocent American civilians, fighting against a tyrant and trying to save the country I love so much, I would willingly sacrifice my life for it. Then yes sir, it is this Marine's opinion that we are doing the right thing." He paused. "Sir, may I speak frankly?"
"Of course, say what's on your mind."
"Sir, you should know that the men, the grunts, Army and Marines, and even the Navy guys we have talked to, almost all of them say the same thing about you. If you led us through the gates of hell we would march proudly with our heads held high. I am honored to serve under you sir."
"Thank you Downey, thank you very much."
Norris looked over at Will who was smiling from ear to ear. "It is far easier to make war, than peace."
The rest of the ride was quiet until they pulled into the U.N.I.T. camp and began piling out of the vehicles. Will began to walk a way.
Norris jogged after him. "Will, hold on a sec. I just wanted to tell you I would be honored to be your second seat anytime."
Will smiled and his eyes lit up. "Thank you sir, that means a lot. And thank you for the flight and talk. I am ready to get back in the air."
Norris laughed. "As soon as your chief medical officer clears you, I have heard she is pretty tough. Let's keep our flight between us, no need to get her mad at me. Besides, if she finds out I will just blame you."
Will laughed and then stuck his hand out for the Admiral to shake.
Norris turned and saw Adam, Logan, Bucky and Sinclair all talking. By the dark clouds over their faces he knew they were talking about Tigger. He walked over to them and they all snapped to attention except Adam. Norris noticed and gave him a slight nod and smile.
"General, Bucky I need a few minutes of private time with the two of you please."
Adam nodded. "Of course Admiral, let's use the command office. Major Sinclair, Logan will you excuse us please. Logan would you mind giving the admiral's staff a tour of our new home."
The three went into a rather large, mostly empty room, with a desk, some folding chairs and a large pile of unpacked boxes.
Norris pulled his tablet out of his brief case, unfolded a chair and sat down. "Adam, Bucky what I am about to show is for your eyes only. Only four other people in the task force know about this and honestly even Bryce doesn't. It's bad and if it gets out the outrage would be uncontrollable. You may brief your people but the existence of this video must be kept secret. Am I clear?"
Adam nodded. "I understand Admiral."
Bucky looked at Norris with curiosity. "Very clear sir."
Norris loaded the video and handed the tablet to the two of them. "What you are watching is Cadet Matthew Peters and his family of Veterans, Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather, on the national mall in DC getting ready to take part in the Veterans Day Parade, Sunday." Norris stood up and walked to the windows and watched as a couple helicopters were coming in. He tried really hard to shut out the sound of the video playing and watched as the helicopters slowly came to a landing. That would be Colonel Shelton, the new Brigade Combat Team Commander that Bryce was sending to take command of the southeastern theater. One more group of soldiers and officers Norris would have to worry about. Colonel Shelton was the youngest Colonel in the army and his reputation preceded him. Colonel Rodriguez had great things to say about him and was looking forward to meeting him. All Norris could think was another command staff and a whole battalion of infantry he might have to write to the parents.
The gun shots ringing out from the video startled him. He heard a chair fly across the room and impact a wall. Funny he thought to himself I don't know which one that was, Bucky or Adam. Then he heard a solid thunk like someone hitting a wall. He turned and looked at them both. Bucky was staring at the chair thrown so hard it was actually bent. Adam was looking at the hole in the wall. Good thing it was concrete otherwise the hole would have gone to the other side. As it is, Norris was sure Adam had pulled the punch a little.
"Gentleman please take your seats. I know how pissed you are. That video, coupled with the loss of Tigger and being ambushed on what should have been a simple snatch and grab mission is more than most Commanders can handle. We need to hit back and we need to hit back hard. Enough reacting! It's now time to act. When we hit Orlando we are not going to slap them in the face we are going to break their fucking noses. But one thing I am going to make very clear this Navy, this Army, this U.N.I.T... This family does not leave its brothers and sisters behind. Cadet Peters, while just a Cadet is a truer soldier with more backbone than I. He stood there with that flag knowing damn well what was going to happen. Yet he did not leave his post, he did not surrender, he did not retreat."
Norris paused to check his anger. He looked at the two men facing him, the fury etched on each face was clear. "Cadet Peters is alive and being held in Orlando. I don't care how, I don't care what it takes, bring your brother home. That's an order." Norris rose and walked out without saying a word. Leaving the two of them sitting there staring at the wall.
Norris walked outside and watched as Major Sinclair and Myers, with Logan and some of the U.N.I.T. were walking back towards the building with Colonel Shelton and some of his staff. They all stopped a few feet away and snapped to attention and saluted.
"Colonel Bryan Shelton, reporting to take command of the new Bermuda Brigade Combat Team, Sir!"
Norris returned the salute and walked over to the Colonel and extended his hand. "Welcome to Bermuda Colonel."
"Thank you sir and may I say it's an honor to serve under your command, Admiral Norris, Sir."
"Thank you Colonel."
Shelton introduced his staff and Norris caught Myers making notes on everyone. They stopped at a beautiful young woman.
"Admiral, may I present my wife, Sandy, my two sons, Bryan Jr. and Gavin"
"Mrs. Shelton, I must say it's an honor and a privilege to meet you. And someone once said Bermuda could not get any more beautiful, they were wrong. "
Mrs. Shelton blushed. "Admiral you are very kind sir."
Norris smiled his most charming smile. "Please call me Aggy, I hear you will be working with the refugees."
"That's correct sir."
"Myers after tonight's briefing let's get the Colonel and his wife up to the Reagan for dinner and get Dr. Harlow as well." Norris looked back at Mrs. Shelton. "Dr. Harlow is the regional Refugee Director he needs all the help he can get. Oh, and of course, please bring your sons along as well. I am sure young Gavin would love a tour of an aircraft carrier."
"That would be fantastic Admiral." The young boy beamed.
"Excellent we will make a Naval Officer out of you yet son."
"Oh no sir, I am Army all the way just like my dad."
Everyone chuckled. Norris looked at the Sheltons. "Mrs. Shelton may I have a moment of your husband's time please."
"Of course Admiral."
"Walk with me please Colonel." He turn to walk out towards the parade field but stopped and held his hand up for the rest of the staff, his and the Colonel's, to wait there.
"Bryan, President Bryce's people have briefed you fully on the U.N.I.T. correct."
"Good, they are a very unique bunch but never forget while they may be engineered killing machines they are still kids."
"I would love to say I understand but frankly sir, the whole things still baffles me."
"Me too. You have a hard task ahead of you and I don't want to take a lot of your time. If you need anything you contact me directly. Tonight we have the briefing on Operation Black Pearl. I want you there for that. "
"Let's head back to the rest of the group, they are going to get nervous if we are out of their sight for too long."
Shelton laughed. "Something else I guess I still have a hard time with is all the handlers that follow a senior commander around."
Norris chuckled. "I think you add about five - ten per rank. I have never gotten used to it and never will."
As the approached the main building they noticed the U.N.I.T. kids gathering around front. Norris looked over to Shelton."You are going to want to hear this, Adam the U.N.I.T. commander is going to address the U.N.I.T. on something I just briefed him in on."
They approached the back of the group and just quietly listened.
Adam started to speak still sitting on the steps. "One of the things that has always made our group so tight is that we are family. We hold each other up when someone is down. We'd attack Hell itself if one of our own was in danger. It's who we are, and it's what makes us a force of nature.
"I found out today that the military here is much like we are. The term 'brothers in arms' is not just fancy words here. It truly is how many of them feel. The blood they have shed together makes them as tight as we are. It truly is remarkable to see it... it's almost like the family we had at home. They don't know us, but because we fight on the same side, we are family. And it's more than just words... it's... it's comforting."
Adam jumped to his feet and started to pace. His voice hard as steel and rising as he spoke. "We have all seen some of what President Ashwood and his ilk will do. Well, I have seen more, and frankly, even with everything that I have seen in my days, I do not think I have ever been more disgusted." He paused as he tried to find words.
"Last Sunday, while we were at Camp David, the United States, of this universe, celebrated a holiday called Veterans Day. As you can guess it's a holiday to celebrate the sacrifices that veterans have made, and are making every day. Here, it is a celebration of the freedom this country has, because of those sacrifices. On that day, several veterans went to the nation's capitol to honor their fallen brothers and sisters. Including one man and his family. This man had just turned one hundred years old. He was part of what is called the D-Day invasion. One of the most bloody battles in the history of the world. He was there, and survived.
"He was there with his son, who was also a veteran. His grandson, who was also a veteran. And his great grandson, who was a cadet at West Point. Instead of honoring the veterans, like they should have done, the agents loyal to Ashwood cut them down." Almost everyone either gasped in shock or muttered angrily.
"Imagine if we went to the place where we buried members of our own family after the attack in Montana, and while there, our own people opened fire on us." He paused before speaking loudly. "YOU CAN'T! BECAUSE NO ONE FROM OUR UNIVERSE WOULD EVER THINK OF THAT! Yet, it happened here. So many of our BROTHERS have lost their lives because of Ashwood's hatred, his greed, and his lust for power."
Adam paused taking a deep breath to try and calm himself. "You have all heard about the mission that we will be on soon to rescue the people in Orlando. Well what I just found out is that the West Point Cadet, the one pushing his great grandfather's wheelchair, survived. Not only did he survive, but he was taken to Orlando. I am sure you can all imagine what is going to happen to him there. When we take Orlando, he is our top priority. He is our Brother, and we will bring him home. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that he does not have to live through the hell that Ashwood has in store for him. He is family, and we WILL bring him home!"
Adam took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. Then spoke again. "Logan, I don't care what it takes, I don't care what you have to do. FIND HIM! We know he was taken to Orlando, but we don't know where."
"Yes Sir!" Logan said. It only took a look before he, Daileass and the Chipmunks took off into the house, to the command center.
Norris looked over at Shelton and the rest of the officers. "I will brief you in later Colonel in the meantime, I am headed back to the Reagan. I am taking Adam with me as we have a lot to discuss but you need to get settled in here."
20:45 EST 13 November 2012.
It took a few minutes but soon the small convoy was headed back across the island to the Ronald Reagan. Norris was in the passenger's seat of the second vehicle with Bucky and Adam in the back. No one said a word as the convoy moved north. About halfway through the drive Norris looked back at Adam and Bucky.
"Payne has most of the Intel on Cadet Peters, get with him when we get back."
Bucky nodded and then smiled and looked over at Adam. "I bet a bottle of Scotch our guys find out first where he is."
Adam looked at Bucky with his head cocked. "You do realize I am too young to buy a bottle of Scotch right."
Bucky laughed. "Good point"
Everyone, including Lance Corporal Downey, the driver chuckled. Norris turn back to face forward just as an explosion ripped open the ground beside the left front tire. The force tore through the front of the vehicle ripping off the front quarter panel and sending it flying upward. The sound that thundered in the late afternoon air was deafening as if 1000 lions all roared at the same moment. Time slowed as the passengers felt themselves being thrown up and sideways. The heat sucked the air out of the Humvee as it was violently tossed onto its side. Debris ripped through it like a million little needles stinging everywhere they hit flesh as Norris instinctively brought his arms up to cover his face. The vehicle crashed onto its side, the occupants tossed around like rag dolls unable to control themselves or the situation. The horrifying sound of the vehicle sliding on its side across the pavement could be heard for miles. Finally it came to rest against a street light, the occupants jerked back into their seats by the restraining harnesses. Norris, confused and disoriented, opened his eyes and looked out past the now missing windshield and watched as a strange hunk of smoldering material that looked like a piece of a Humvee crash down onto the road a few feet away. The world seemed to be closing in on him as he focused on the smoldering hunk. He struggled mentally to get his mind to tell him what was going on and what happened but he could only see that piece of the vehicle and fear began to descend as his vision faded.
The first thing Norris felt was something dripping on his face. Then he heard voices, but couldn't make out what they were saying, as his ears were ringing so badly. The entire left side of his body seemed to be hurt, like he was sunburned. His right shoulder burned deeply, where he had been thrown against that side of the vehicle.
What he was seeing didn't make much sense. People were all around. Moving very fast and all of them seemed to be yelling, even though he couldn't make out what they were saying. Norris felt, rather than heard, the top of the Humvee coming off. Hands grabbed him and pulled him out of the Humvee, dragging him away from the crash, then laying him on the ground. Someone threw a blanket over him. That's when he noticed how cold he felt. Somewhere in the dim recesses of his mind, he knew he was in shock and why the blanket was on him. He tried to sit up, to see who else was injured, but someone pushed him back down. They weren't too gentle about it either. He raised his left hand to his face, felt the slightly sticky mess, pulled it away and looked. His hand was wet with blood. He wasn't sure it was his own or someone else's. Maybe both, as he remembered the dripping.
There were more sounds now, as the ringing began to lessen. He could hear emergency vehicles in the distance. They seemed to be coming closer. Norris felt, rather than saw, another body being dragged. He turned his head and saw the kid, Adam, being placed close to him. A Marine placed a blanket on him, but didn't cover the teenager completely.
The next few minutes became a blur. Images rolled into his mind. The boy on a stretcher. Two men, one who was completely covered by a blanket. The loud stuttering of something chopping the air. Several Marines running across the flight deck with Norris on a stretcher of his own. Sight and sound fluttered away, as darkness descended once again.