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This is the fourth installment in my Sentinel At War series. Comments are always welcome.
Sentinel at War: Battlelines
"Man, I can't believe how quiet it is." Blair stated between bites of the first hot meal he had eaten in days.
Jim nodded. "Yeah, but it's probably just the calm before the storm."
They were standing down for the first time in weeks. The battles had been brutal but effective. The 164th had split into three battalions and assisted in a major victory. They had trapped at least 1500 enemy soldiers who had hours before landed at Koli Point. The Japanese had not been prepared for such a swift response. Over half of the enemy was killed during the two-day fight, the rest managed to escape into the jungle. They were headed toward Mt. Austen. The two men had been utilized as scouts. The Captain's abilities had given him an edge, and their casualties were limited.
The younger man sat his mess kit on the ground and stretched. "You know, I could go for a weeks worth of sleep about now."
Jim shook his head. "Maybe a day, but not a week."
Blair's gaze sharpened. "You heard something?"
"Yeah, this morning. I caught part of the battalion commander's briefing." The Captain had the firm opinion that limited information caused casualties and tried to listen in as often as possible to briefings. "Looks like the Japanese are going to attempt another landing of reinforcements. Depending on how successful the Navy is at stopping them will determine how soon we go out again." Jim explained to his guide.
"Do they know when we'll get reinforcements?" Blair asked.
"No, they're still waiting for word." Jim answered. Both men could see the desperate need for replacement troops. The lines for sick call lengthened every day. Blair cared for his Sentinel, by using native herbs; he had managed to prevent a recurrence of the Malaria symptoms that had felled the big man months before. The younger man shared his knowledge with anyone who would listen. Only a handful were willing to try the native medicine Jim had labeled "horse piss". Henry and Rafe were among the select group, and Major Banks had ordered his son to do the same.
The two men sat with their backs against a tree watching the normal business of camp move around them. There were a large number of soldiers who had fallen asleep where they sat, heads down with their chin's resting on their chests. Others were eating; a few were taking advantage of the time to wash their socks and air out their feet. Jim noticed that his companion had joined the ranks of the sleeping. He carefully shifted the younger man until he was lying with his pack under his head. The big man then removed his guide's boots and socks, quickly dialing down his sense of smell. Heaven in a battle zone could be something as simple as a pair of dry socks.
He turned back to people watching. He watched Daryl Banks walking across the compound with a couple of fellow soldiers. The younger Banks was now attached to his father's unit. Simon knew he couldn't send the boy home, but by God he would keep him as safe as possible. He wanted his son fighting alongside men he could trust. Jim had heard nothing but praise for the young man's courage under fire. Most of his fellow soldiers forgot who his father was. It took all of Simon's strength to not hover, but his pride in the man his son was becoming prevented him from treating him like a child.
Jim had started to drift off when he overheard his and Sandburg's names mentioned. His attention was alerted by the level of threat in the voices. He recognized one as being the voice of Sgt. Macklin, the medic who had been put in the stockade for his attempted attack on Blair.
"You know what to do right?"
"Yeah, Mack, I got it. Next time we go out, they don't come back. Don't worry, it'll look like the Japs did it I swear."
"It better. Those two cost me a beating from their MP friend." He gave a dark laugh. "They're gonna pay."
Jim recognized the voice of the second man. He was a member of their unit; his name was Michael Harrington. Harrington was a quiet man; he may have seemed sullen at times but had always fought well. The Sentinel knew he couldn't do anything now but was on the alert. With that thought he drifted off knowing they were safe for the moment.
"Hey, big guy, time for chow."
Jim opened one eye and looked at his young friend. "Is your stomach the only thing you think about?" He grumbled, not willing to return to the waking world just yet.
"Come on, all of the good stuff will be gone if we don't get a move on."
Jim looked at him in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding, "good stuff," what mess hall have you been eating at?" Jim asked.
Blair grinned. "It's all a matter of perspective. Just think about what we could be eating."
The big man remembered some of the meals the younger man had described while they were on the island and shuddered. "You're right, even GI eggs are better than that." He struggled to his feet, stifling a groan at the aches and pains making themselves felt. As they walked to the mess hall Jim filled Blair in on the threats against them.
"Do you really think they will try anything?" Blair asked worried. He had known that Macklin carried a grudge, he just hadn't realized it had gotten so bad.
Jim shrugged "It's possible, but we are forewarned. They won't be able to get the drop on us." He patted the younger man on the shoulder. "Come on, let's eat." He handed Blair a tray.
Simon watched the pair and waited until they finished their meal before calling them over. "Ellison, Sandburg!" He yelled motioning for them to join him. They moved to his side.
"Yes, sir?" Jim asked curious to find out what new assignment the Major had for them.
"This probably isn't news to you." He looked meaningfully at the Sentinel. "We will be moving out again tomorrow." Jim nodded. He had heard the plans for the attack planned for the 18th. "I'm assigning a few new men to your unit."
"Which men?" Jim asked.
"Privates, Willson, Jefferson and Banks." Blair looked closely at the major.
"Are you sure, Sir?" Blair questioned. "You know we will be right in the middle of everything."
Simon answered confidently. "Yes, I know. He will be on the line anyway, but I believe he is safe with the two of you than any one else."
Jim prayed the Major's confidence wasn't misplaced.
The next seven days fully qualified as hell. On the 18th the attack toward Kokimbona and the Japanese troops entrenched there resumed. Two battalions of the 182nd Infantry and a marine regiment joined the 164th. Captain Ellison's unit with the addition of Private's Banks, Willson and Jefferson and PFC Harrington were sent to scout the Japanese positions.
Harrington watched as the Captain took the point watching carefully for boobytraps. The concern Ellison had for his men was evident, but would not let it dissuade him from his mission. He had an unreasoning hatred of both Ellison and Sandburg. In ideals Harrington would have felt right at home with Hitler's third Reich. Ellison had come to his attention when he took over the unit with his young Jewish friend at his side. The PFC included the younger Banks in his plans when the young man was assigned to Ellison. He considered it a heaven sent opportunity to attack the Major; hopefully the death of his son would drive the major out of command.
Jim could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He knew it was hazardous to have Harrington behind them, but felt they would be safe until the bullets began to fly. They quietly moved through the jungle. Jim motioned for them to fall back. Once they were out of range of the Japanese patrol, the Sentinel and Guide quietly talked as they moved through the undergrowth.
"Did you hear anything more before we left between Macklin and Harrington?" Blair asked.
"Just a lot of racist garbage. It's amazing how much filth can be spouted by one man." Jim glanced back over his shoulder toward Harrington. "No definite plans, but I think we need to get him out from behind us when we run into the Japanese."
Blair agreed wholeheartedly. A thought suddenly occurred to the younger man. "This means that Daryl is at risk too."
Jim was momentarily startled. His first thought was to wonder why the young private would be a target. He had stopped seeing color when dealing with others. "You're right."
Blair could almost feel the mantle of protection strengthen in regards to the young man. Jim heard movement in the brush ahead of them and motioned for them to take cover. They melted into the cover the jungle provided. Ellison split his attention between the Japanese patrol ahead of them and Harrington who despite his best efforts was still behind them.
Harrington stayed focused on the possible soldiers ahead. He knew a lone patrol would not provide the cover he would need to get away with killing the three men in front of him. When the patrol cleared the area they circled back to their lines taking with them an extensive report on enemy positions. After reporting the battle plans were drawn and the men were ordered in, despite the warning of the opposition they were facing.
The days began to run together. The American troops had managed to advance only a mile before the attack stalled on the 25th. The casualties were mounting rapidly. Ellison's patrol had for the first time lost a man. The attacker had slipped through the lines. The enemy had noted that the most accurate fire was coming from that sector. He circled around the patrol's position and moved in from the rear. The soldier was aiming at the Captain when Daryl Banks spotted him. Daryl yelled and fired at the enemy soldier. The soldier fell to the ground mortally wounded. With one last reflexive squeeze of the trigger he fired. The bullet tore through Private Willson's throat killing him instantly. The battle raged on not giving those remaining a chance to grieve. The blow was doubled for Banks and Jefferson; they had been with Willson since boot camp. Blair kept an eye on the two young men as best he could knowing that once the battle was over would be the worst time, when rage was no longer supporting them.
The Sentinel became more concerned as the battle continued. Harrington was blatantly watching the three men. Every once in a while Jim would see the hate filled looks aimed at them. The big man watched until he felt the racist private wouldn't be able to wait any longer. Jim moved out of sight ostensibly to check their limited perimeter.
Harrington decided this would be his best chance to begin his personal campaign for racial purity. He had planned it all out in his mind. He would kill Sandburg first, then the Bank's kid. He figured that Ellison would be so upset by his friend's death that he would become an easy target. Harrington's only regret was the necessity of killing Jefferson but he couldn't leave any witnesses.
He watched as Sandburg moved closer to Banks. //They're making this easy.// He thought to himself as he rose up on his knees and brought his riffle up to aim at the older of the two. He had Blair in his sights and was about to pull the trigger when he felt a pressure at the back of his neck.
"Safe your weapon, Now." The ice-cold voice of the man behind him said quietly.
Harrington almost wet himself when he realized Ellison had crept around behind and now had the drop on him. He weighed the satisfaction of knowing his last act would be killing the younger man against his certain death. After a tense few seconds he lowered his weapon. He turned and looked at the man behind him. The captain looked as if he were about to rip him apart with his bare hands.
Blair had watched the confrontation from the corner of his eye. When his Sentinel motioned he moved back with a length of rope from his pack. After securing Harrington's hands they moved back into position.
"Come on Captain. I wasn't doin' anything." Harrington argued.
"Don't even try to lie." Jim warned with a glare. "We know all about your plan with Macklin." He heard the man's heart rate increase. "Now personally, I wouldn't mind seeing you catch a bullet." He turned back to watch for enemy soldiers. Harrington paled having read the truth in the big man's eyes. He shut up and seemed to withdraw into himself, flinching every time he heard a weapon fire. Blair watched taking a grim satisfaction in the man's fear. Daryl and Jefferson weren't sure what was going on but were willing to follow the lead of their captain.
The firing from the enemy grew increasingly more intense and their attention was focused on their defense of their lives. Jim could see the enemy soldiers moving closer. While the team was focused on the Japanese in front of them, Harrington used the confusion of battle to make his escape.
Blair fell back with a cry. He looked down at his arm. "Damn it." He exclaimed as he checked the wound. "It's only a flesh wound." He said as he pulled out the first aid kit quickly tying a bandage around his arm. When the young man cried out Jim's eyes had been immediately drawn to him. The Sentinel was relieved to see it was only a minor wound. His eyes widened as he looked past his guide the where they had left the tied Harrington.
"Shit.'' He quickly scanned the area and breathed a sigh of relief when he couldn't sense the assassin. He returned his attention to the now sporadic battle going on around him. Jefferson took a round in the thigh and Blair quickly bandaged the wound.
"Banks, keep pressure on this while I get some morphine." Blair dug into his pack and pulled out a surette of the pain-killing narcotic. The young man relaxed as the drug took effect. Jim turned up his hearing to check on the Japanese positions during a lull in the fighting. He could here them starting to retreat, he was so focused on the soldiers moving back he didn't catch the tell-tale sound of a mortar being fired, his hearing was wide open when it exploded next to their position.
Jim fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Blair rushed to his Sentinel's side. "Jim. What happened?" He turned the big man expecting the worst. He didn't see any visible wounds. "Come on man, talk to me."
Jim looked up and tried to focus on the younger man. He couldn't hear a word. He looked around panicked; his world had gone totally silent.
"Jim?" Blair didn't get a response. "Oh shit, you can't hear me, can you?" He reached out taking the older man's face between his hands forcing him to focus. "Jim." He said as soon as the big man was looking at him.
"I can't hear you, Chief." Jim said desperately. He reached out grasping the smaller man's arm. "How can I stay focused if I can't hear you?"
Blair took the big man's hand and placed it against his neck. Jim closed his eyes as he felt the familiar beat of his guide's heartbeat against his fingertips. He could feel the rumbling vibrations and opened his eyes knowing his friend was speaking.
"Okay?" Blair asked, exaggerating the word. Jim nodded. The younger man motioned for Jim to wait and moved over to his pack. He dug around for a minute. "Yes." He said under his breath as he pulled out a notebook. Settling back by his Sentinel's side he began to write.
"Is your hearing completely gone?" He turned the page toward Jim. The big man nodded. Blair thought for a moment. "Are you trying to dial up your hearing now?"
"Yeah, but it's not working." Jim answered frustrated.
Blair motioned Daryl over. "Daryl, I need for you and Jefferson to keep an eye out while I try to help the Captain with his hearing." Daryl nodded. "Remember it's not only the Japanese we're watching for." Blair said looking over at the tree where Harrington had been left.
"No problem Lieutenant." Daryl said before taking his position.
Blair turned back to his Sentinel. "Okay, we're safe for the moment. I want you to dial everything except touch down to zero. When I tap you on the shoulder start turning up the dials one by one. Leave your hearing for last."
Jim nodded and closed his eyes picturing the dials in his mind; he turned them all the way down keeping the younger man's pulse as a focal point. Keeping his eyes closed Jim spoke. "Okay, Chief, everything is turned down." Blair tapped him on the shoulder and Jim opened his eyes. He slowly turned up the dial on his sight until he could clearly see his guide. He then moved on to smell bringing it up only far enough to be sure it was working. Taste was next; he turned it up until he could recognize the baking soda with which he had brushed his teeth. Finally he started to turn up the dial he mentally marked as hearing. He soon passed the point he recognized as normal. Blair could see the tension building. He tapped Jim on the shoulder to get his attention. He quickly wrote another note. "Where is the dial?"
"It's at normal, but I can't hear anything."
"Okay." Blair wrote. "Slowly keep turning it up, once you hear something stop." Jim nodded and slowly continued to turn up the volume. He stopped when he could hear the subdued popping of gunfire. A smile of relief brightened the big man's face.
"Can you hear my voice?" Blair asked.
"You sound muffled but I can hear you."
"Where is the dial set?" Blair asked.
"About three fourths of the way to max." Jim answered.
"Looks like you're going to be just fine." Blair grinned. The realities of war soon intruded on their moment of celebration and they were ordered to move out.