"Soldier, you are content with what you are. Then that you shall remain until we meet again. As I go now to my Father, you must one day come to me."

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"Soldier, you are content with what you are. Then that you shall remain until we meet again. As I go now to my Father, you must one day come to me."

The wind screamed. Casca stood in shock and fear, the Jew's blood on his hand mingling with the falling drops of rain. Unthinking, Casca wiped his hand across his mouth, and one drop of blood touched his tongue, and Casca screamed. He doubled over in cramps. What felt like liquid fire raced through his veins to his brain, setting his whole being on fire. And still the others noticed nothing.

CASCA-doomed by Jesus to an endless life as a soldier.

CASCA

THE ETERNAL MERCENARY

ONE

Nha Trang, Vietnam, 1970...

A flight of three Dust Off Med Evac helicopters was bringing in the remnants of an infantry pla­toon that had been ambushed a little south of Nui Ba Den two hours before.

The Cong had really ripped their ass on this one, but had screwed up by hanging around a little too long-long enough to get caught between a unit of the First Cav and a company of South Korean Rangers. The copters, were bringing out the broken and dying humanity that had been the American platoon; the dead and wounded Cong were left to become part of the mud.

Such are the benefits of a modern nation's tech­nology: the Americans were even now being placed in an air-conditioned hospital clearing room at Nha Trang where rosy-cheeked young nurses could tell them how brave they were and how proud they made the free world with their noble sacrifices. (And on occasion the nurses might sacrifice a little of themselves by sleeping with such wounded heroes-but only, of course, if they were officers. .)

Colonel Robert Landries, tall and ascetic look­ing, the senior surgeon of the Eighth Field Hospi­tal, personally supervised the sorting of the wounded by the degree of severity. He was assisted in this humane endeavor by Major Julius Gold­man. The two directed which men would receive immediate treatment and which would have to wait or take second best from some of the orderlies. Goldman was examining one of the head wound casualties when he stopped suddenly, straightened up, shook his head as if confused, and called to Colonel Landries.

"Colonel, you better come over here and con­firm what I'm looking at-or get ready to put me in the rubber room."

Landries swore at him. "I have been ready to do that ever since you were assigned to this unit, but I'll look."

Landries made his way over to Goldman, stop­ping occasionally to give instructions about the dis­position of a particular patient, or to answer a question from one of the braless nurses. (The heat made bras develop a rash, so Landries had author­ized the only braless uniform in Indochina.)

"All right, Goldman, what the hell are you mumbling about now? Have you finally pickled your brain with specimen alcohol?"

Goldman nodded, consternation written across his face. "I hope that's all there is to it, Colonel. At least it would explain this." He indicated the prone figure lying before them.

The casualty was a stocky, powerfully built man, not unusual as human beings go. What was unusual about him was the wound. According to all the known laws of medicine he had no right to be living.

Around the corners of the battle dressing on the left side of his head the brain itself could be seen. Protruding from the exposed brain was a piece of shrapnel, a shiny sliver of Russian steel about a quarter of an inch in diameter sunk to an unknown depth in the exposed vital organ. The open area of the brain was about four inches long and three in­ches wide and ran up to where the part in a man's hair would normally be. This section of the skull had just simply been blown away; an adjoining sec­tion was held on by a flap of skin. A Chinese-made 60-mm mortar, firing Russian ammo, had obvious­ly scored a direct hit.

Landries bent over to take a closer look at the wound and the shrapnel. Blood covered the man's face and the tails of the battle dressing holding the bandage to his head. Landries squinted, looked closer, took out his glasses, and looked again.

"My God!" he exclaimed, face paling, as he turned to Goldman. "What...?"

Both men turned their attention to the exposed brain.

A wound like that, in the incubator climate of Vietnam, meant almost certain death, or, at the very least, that the man would be a vegetable if he lived. But ...

This wound was different. God, how different!

Slowly, but surely, as the two surgeons watched in disbelief, the open wound was taking steps to protect itself. The slender piece of shrapnel was being isolated and encapsulated by what appeared to be the same kind of calcification process that isolates TB bacilli in the lungs. For TB, it was known-as a ghom complex, but what the hell this was was something else. The dura mater, pia mater-the meninges-protective coverings for the brain and spinal cord, were making slow but visible progress growing back over the exposed regions of the brain.

Visible... Good God! Landrics turned to Gold-man.

"Get this man prepped and into surgery im­mediately." His voice rose to a piercing shriek. "Move! Get X-rays of every centimeter of this man from every angle-and do it now!"

The nurses and orderlies jumped at the com­mands, but Landries's voice still followed them: "I want blood work. I want urology and hemoglobin. I want every damned test this place can make-and some it can't. Move, you slugs! If this man dies I will transfer every one of you to the paratroops and send you fine young ladies to clean open sores at a leper colony. Move, damn it, move!"

He turned to Goldman.

"Goldman, you found him-so you can stay with him every second of every hour until I can personally relieve you."




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