Chapter 1

Comeon,youapes!Youwantaliveforever?

Unknownplatoonsergeant,1918

Ialwaysgettheshakesbeforeadrop.I’vehadtheinjections,ofcourse,andhypnoticpreparation,anditstandstoreasonthatIcan’treallybeafraid.Theship’spsychiatristhascheckedmybrainwavesandaskedmesillyquestionswhileIwasasleepandhetellsmethatitisn’tfear,itisn’tanythingimportantit’sjustlikethetremblingofaneagerracehorseinthestartinggate.

Icouldn’tsayaboutthat;I’veneverbeenaracehorse.Butthefactis:I’mscaredsilly,everytime.

AtD-minus-thirty,afterwehadmusteredinthedroproomoftheRodgerYoung,ourplatoonleaderinspectedus.Hewasn’tourregularplatoonleader,becauseLieutenantRasczakhadboughtitonourlastdrop;hewasreallytheplatoonsergeant,CareerShip’sSergeantJelal.JellywasaFinno-TurkfromIskanderaroundProximaaswarthylittlemanwholookedlikeaclerk,butI’veseenhimtackletwoberserkprivatessobighehadtoreachuptograbthem,cracktheirheadstogetherlikecoconuts,stepbackoutofthewaywhiletheyfell.

Offdutyhewasn’tbadforasergeant.Youcouldevencallhim"Jelly"tohisface.Notrecruits,ofcourse,butanybodywhohadmadeatleastonecombatdrop.

Butrightnowhewasonduty.Wehadalleachinspectedourcombatequipment(look,it’syourownnecksee?),theactingplatoonsergeanthadgoneoveruscarefullyafterhemusteredus,andnowJellywentoverusagain,hisfacemean,hiseyesmissingnothing.

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