Steve

DAMN! THE OCEAN…coming up fast!

Steve grabbed a few belongings from the side tray and stuffed them into the pockets of his flight jacket. He barely had time, but that picture of Lisa…how silly to think of anything but survival now! His jet plummeted toward the ocean. Eight hundred feet, six…

One minute before, the enemy round that took his jet out of the sky had made a round hole in two parts of his cockpit, drove through his helmet and creased him at the hairline. Way too close! Blood immediately began to run down both sides of his head followed by shock and pain!

Bastard scalped me.

No more time! He hit the eject button. The cockpit blew away and his breath whipped out of his body as the bomb they put under the seat kicked his ride up two G’s.

He blacked out but came out of it quick. Thank God the hatch had gone the other way. Steve didn’t like the idea of a broken neck.

The seat dropped away and his chute billowed, caught screaming air. It pulled him up with a jerk just in time. He crashed into the salty water and bellowed.

“GODDAMN THAT HURT!”

Wrong choice. His mouth filled with water. He gagged and coughed. He opened his eyes now. It couldn’t get any worse, right? Salt water stung but the blood leached away and he began to get a hazy picture. Island off to the left as he came down.

“Where?” Somehow the sound of his voice gave strange comfort, made things real.

He looked around as the shroud settled over him into the water. Kicking told him he was a hurtin’ unit, but luckily nothing major broke. Then another sharp pain!

“Damn!” Finger or wrist on left.

He pulled on the shroud cables with his right hand and got out from under. Treading water, he yanked the cord on his life jacket, which obligingly filled with air. Better. Now he turned in a circle until he could occasionally see a green top appear and disappear in the chop. Then he looked at the sky. Clear. He’d been low on gas.

Probably the same for his airborne enemy, he thought.

Situation serious but not urgent. The islands nearby were uninhabited according to his earlier briefing. Hope the Commander kept track on radar. They’d know when they lost him. Would they send a search party? Probably not right away. Navy Lieutenant Commander Steve Greco guessed Admiral Maynard had orders to beat feet, get his carrier the hell out of there. Still, they’d check back as soon as they found relative safety. They’d send low level recon when they could.

“Meanwhile, Stevie baby, it’s you and the elements.”

He judged he had about a half mile to swim. He’d have to be real careful of the coral breakers. All these islands had them. Coral had to live, too. And sharks. And octopi. His survival manual said warm waters were well occupied. He’d have company, all right.

His head cleared rapidly. Blood would draw the varmints and he didn’t fancy becoming a meal. That would spoil his whole day, not like it wasn’t screwed up enough already. How many guys drop forty million in the ocean?

“Okay, Steve, you made them pay. You got two of them suckers before they ganged up on you. Two for one.”

The “why me” thing didn’t work. Stretch and Charlie coulda taken it same as him. Hope they got away. He’d had no time to look for them.

“Swim, you moron. You like being in a puddle of blood?”

He ducked under, now that he could see. The salt ocean didn’t hurt like it did before. Either numb or body compensating. Looking around carefully he didn’t see anything near, but the experts said sharks can smell blood two miles away. They’d be coming.

He disconnected the harness and buoyed by his life jacket, swam tentatively toward the white foam he could see at the top of an occasional swell.

A strong swimmer, Steve paced himself, gradually moving toward the surf. He found it tough to swim with flight boots, but he gave no thought to dropping them. He’d need them over the reef, and walking barefoot in the sand sounded nice, but not inland. Fine way to pick up something like snakebite or a disease. Instructional vids at the ship showed jungle rot’s not nice, either.

The sun dropped low over the horizon. He squinted. Still two hours before it would get antsy. Plenty of time! He ducked under again and peered around. Did he see a shadow to the right? He looked and looked while treading water. He couldn’t be sure.

Another half hour. He hadn’t been attacked. A wary shark? Nah, no such thing.

Swimming stronger now, Steve began to feel cross currents. The reef, very close. He had to find a sluice way. He cut to the left. After five minutes he thought he saw it. Narrow and fast. Not much depth. Beggars can’t be choosy. He inched up on it, tested limbs and endurance. He wished he’d cut away part of the parachute to wrap around his flight gloves for extra protection.

“Dumb, Stevie!” His brain worked okay now but he still railed at his earlier stupidity.

There! The waves beat back and forth over it like a saw blade. Steve put his body in the middle of the sluice and when he got that extra push from what he knew to be the proverbial “seventh wave” he pushed with all his might. He kept an eye on the coral below. Over! Get over! Watch out! He tried to grasp the coral on any nub he could see and watched for spines. The sea urchins in this island chain were poisonous.

Razor sharp coral ripped at the flight jacket. Buffeted by changing currents, his gloved fingers tore away from the targets his hands sought more than once. He couldn’t ignore the pain in that finger, either and he couldn’t look too closely just yet. He’d rather hope that no bone stuck through the skin and find out later.

Ahh! Deeper water. He swam through, ignoring the pain. Multi-colored fish scattered when they perceived the invader. He made directly for the shore, three hundred feet away. Ten minutes later he arrived, dragged his body onto the sand and gratefully collapsed. At the moment he couldn’t care less if natives surrounded him.

Ragged breath, raw throat. Salt water didn’t help. Not exactly a triumphant entrance, but he’d landed.

Minutes later, after his pulse slowed and he’d caught up to his breathing, he got onto his knees and looked around. Small island, maybe twenty-five acres from what he could see. Rounded green top. At least it had a little elevation. Not bad. Might be longer, he couldn’t remember from the maps. He’d find out. The greenery looked promising. Might be banana trees, mangoes or papayas. Plenty of tropical palms.

Steve inspected the beach. No footprints. Did he think there would be? Just as well. The commander who’d done the pre-flight briefing said that weather in the area had been stable pretty near forever and that it would continue that way. What, exactly, would he think?

They called it Doldrums. Funny how the word seemed to fit the place. Doldrums…dulldrums…ho-hum… There’d be weather either side of ten degrees north and south, but it couldn’t decide what to do here.

He smiled. Astronomy had been his childhood predilection. With that came knowledge of the Earth and how it fit into the cosmos. He remembered it all, Coriolis force, weather patterns, they way things spun in the north being opposite from those in the south and the equator being the dividing line. Had to be a line somewhere.

Storms would be rare or nonexistent where he’d crashed. Gravity did it all and speaking of gravity, he’d better get started finding some food or he’d starve to death.

Steve didn’t want that. He’d just spent half a day surviving. He didn’t want to ruin his record.

Moving initially caused him to reassess his condition. Knocked down and dragged out fit best. Unfortunately, for life to go on until the U. S. Navy found and returned him to the pleasures of non-combat required that he discover a way to stay alive.

“Succinct. Guess my brain’s okay.”

He removed his helmet. He felt his head for the first time since he’d arrived.

“Ow!”

How could something so numb as his head felt suddenly become all nerve endings? Okay, major loss of skin. A nice crease started above his left ear and dug in. A new part? Not sure he liked that. Salt water had helped stop the blood, that and his natural hemoglobin, but he needed his first aid kit.

He felt his side. Blood, oozing, slowing. He unzipped his pants and pulled them down. Open wound, thankfully superficial. He left it uncovered.

Reason having returned along with some strength, he unzipped a left lower pocket and removed his first aid kit. He peeled away the plastic seal and dove into the contents. Holding the kit with thumb and first finger he went about bandaging his broken left third finger.

Everything had survived. He decided, how lucky. Steve patched his injured parts over the next twenty minutes, being particularly careful with the antibiotic ointment. He finished with gauze and bandage strips, checked his inventory and put everything carefully away.

His waterproof watch said twenty-one hundred hours. The huge red sun sat on the horizon. It would disappear soon. With what light he had left he made his way to the tree line. The nearby palms had no coconuts. Maybe in the interior?

Steve kept his eyes open and stayed wary. He penetrated about one hundred yards, saw no wildlife, discovered a stand of date palms and decided that now he needed rest and he’d better get it on the beach.

Before leaving the tiny jungle he picked up a few short sticks and dumped them where he planned to settle for the night. Arranging them like a tripod, he undressed to his skivvies and tee shirt. His clothes were still wet, but he wouldn’t strip down before he felt relatively safe, like now. He laid them over the sticks to dry.

In a right pocket he found a soggy energy bar. He spent inordinate time devouring it.

Supper over, Steve settled down at his spot ten feet from the tree line and twenty feet from the ocean. Finally, he laid his side arm next to his body within hands reach and allowed exhaustion to overcome him. Tomorrow would take care of itself.

His last thought was of Lisa.