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Thursday, August 31, 2023



With the collapse of the cliff tunnel behind them, Major Blaine and his Spartan 300 face asphyxiation. 

It is not the worst way to die, but the Spartans would rather skip it, thank you very much.


“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.”

 - Ulysses


Of course, Stew Taylor had another question. “Ah, Major, are we going to run out of oxygen?”

“Doc” Tennyson chuckled,

“Asphyxiation is not so bad a way to die. Shortness of breath, quick breathing to get the oxygen that isn’t there, dizziness, and then loss of consciousness. As dying goes: a piece of cake.”

Reese snorted, “Doc, your bedside manner stinks.”

“Wh-What he said,” gulped Porkins.

Sgt. Savalas snapped, “None of us is suffocating to death.”

‘Are we?’ I mind-asked Sentient.

No answer. Long heartbeats of silence. Merde. We were on our own it seemed. Why was I not surprised?

Lt. Stein, sounding worried, asked, “Are we, Rick?”

“Sentient didn’t lead us here to die. We march until we get to the end of this tunnel.”

Floyd asked, “Is that a guarantee, Major?”

Sgt. Savalas huffed, “You know better than to ask for guarantees during a battle. The only guarantee in war is death.”

“How long will the march … OW!” yelped Taylor.

Eric Evans growled, “So help me, you ask one more dumb question, and you won’t have to worry about suffocating. I’ll strangle you myself.”

“Here, here,” laughed Johnny Knight.

“And I’ll sell the tickets for the show,” added “Kit” Carson.

André Friedman leaned in close to me and whispered, “This is the oddest unit I have ever marched with. You are not the typical officer to allow this bickering.”

Lt.  Stein, directly behind me, whispered, “Rick isn’t a typical anything. But he got all of us back alive from Sicily.”

I didn’t say anything to that. There was nothing to say. It was Sentient who had gotten them and me home alive. And Sentient was elsewhere for the moment.

But I had gotten myself through St. Marok’s alive by myself. I would just have to do it again … and bring the Spartans alive with me.

And my next miracle would be establishing world peace.

To face the question of what makes us who we are with courage, lucidity, and fulness of feeling is to face, with all the restlessness and helplessness this stirs in our meaning-hungry soul, the elemental fact that in giving us free will, the Father couldn’t stay true to His Word and still send plays in from the sidelines.

For all intents and purposes, we were in the scrimmage of life alone … mostly.

But I wasn’t above praying for a miracle right about then.

Yet, prayer was a dangerous endeavor.

When you pray, your soul goes out to the utmost rim of life … thought … existence. Who knew if your soul would make it back or stay within the endless wonders of the Gateless Realm?

Amos whispered at my back. “These shadows are getting denser. Gehenna, you never feel safe when you have to navigate shadows which are completely directionless.”

On nautical charts you see the symbol for shoals and beside it the letters “P.D.” The initials stand for “Position Doubtful.”

In my mind, I placed “P.D.” beside all of us on this march into darkness.

As always, when shadows intensify in my life, I thought of Mr. Morton.

Nobody can fall so low unless he has a great depth. That depth corresponded to a former height, his utter darkness to a lost light.

And as always when I thought of Mr. Morton, things got worse.

It felt as if I walked into an invisible wall of gelatin. I rocked back on my heels and stumbled, regaining my balance with an effort.

André hissed low, “What is this?”

I whispered back, “I only look like I know everything, mister.”

Apparently, it was more of a wave than a wall as cries of alarm and surprise swept down along the ranks of my Spartans.

Taylor’s voice was muffled by a hand as Evans snapped, “Don’t you dare! If the Major knows what this is, I’m sure he’s about to explain. Right, Major? Right?”

Sentient thankfully chose that moment to slide back into my mind, bringing answers I knew would not lighten the hearts of anyone … me included.

I was right.

Merde. How was I going to explain this without lying to them?

I gave them the bad news first as I, myself, always wanted to hear about surprises.

“It’s going to get worse.”

There was an explosion of protests that was cut short by Sgt. Savalas’s curt, “Quiet! Let the Major finish.”

I continued trying to sound like the officer I wasn’t, “This is war, gentlemen. Accept the fact that nothing is certain, and no hour is guaranteed.”

I drew a deep breath, wondering how politicians weaved a basket of truth out of the unpleasant threads dumped into their laps.

Maybe they didn’t, but I would try.

“In a world filled with chaos, uncertainty, and change, we must cultivate the ability to be adaptable, resilient, and in harmony with the ever-changing currents of life.”

“Just spit out the bad news, Major,” groaned Reese. “We’re big boys. We can take it.”

I hoped so and said, “There was a Nazi Wunderkind scientist, Reinhardt König.”

“Was?” quavered Taylor who grunted as Evans popped him on the side of the head.

“Yes, was. As the quaint village of Oradour-sur-Glane is past tense. Both it and he are victims of his hubris and experimenting in areas even demons are intelligent enough not to touch.”

“A francba,” muttered André.

“One among other things König wanted to do was alter the human body so as to make Hitler’s Master Race a reality.”

“Doc” Tennyson frowned, “Surely, he did not do it?”

“He came close, but he was impatient and eager to prove his theories true to the older, established scientists of the SS.”

I sighed, “Too eager. He cut corners in logic and advanced mathematics, rushing ahead when a cooler, more sane head would have run double-checks.”

Lt. Stein narrowed his eyes. “What does this have to do with this invisible force pushing back against us?”

“Not a force … but another dimension all together, generated by the circuitry, devices, and mechanisms – all of König’s design – lining the walls of this tunnel. Fortunately, Sentient has aligned them properly.”

The Spartans all exploded in cries of alarm. Not all. Nurse Reynolds remained icy calm as if she suspected what I would say all along.

She pulled off her diminutive Spartan helmet in a fluid jerk and snapped at the immobile men around her.

“Did you not hear the machinery has been fixed? Would you show some measure of composure? Theo has told me how repeatedly Major Blaine has led you out of one death trap after another in Sicily.”

She stamped her tiny boot. “Do you think he left his ingenuity and cleverness back there across the ocean? Do you?”

She turned to me royally like a Spartan Queen. “What do you suggest we do, Major?”

“You follow me as we march straight ahead, enduring the pain, lightheadedness, and discomfort until you can bear it no more. Then, take off your packs, use them as pillows and sleep until I awaken you.”

André said, “I have no pack.”

“You’ll use mine.”

Theo eyed me narrowly. “What will you be doing all that time, Rick?”

“I’ll be standing watch. Remember we are deep in enemy territory.”

Theo said, “We’ll take turns.”

I shook my head.

“Sentient has … fortified me when she gave me these artificial hands. By the time, all of you have drained yourselves, I will still be able to stand guard while none of you will be in the shape to do so.”

They grumbled, but I hushed them. Actually, I think it was Nurse Reynolds' glare that did it.

And so began our long trek into hell.

My eyes watered; my legs trembled, and my breath was a fire in my lungs as the very shadows seemed to be cooking me alive.

On and on and on our feet trudged.

My hands began to feel as if I had dipped them into bubbling lava.

‘Sentient, what is wrong with them?’

‘Within your hands and fingers are devices, mechanisms, and components which can monitor fluctuations in ionic activity, magnetic fields, and biometric flux.’

Taylor groaned, “Major, I can’t go no more.”

I heard the smack of flesh against flesh as Theo rasped, “You hear a sound out of Rachel? Do you?”

Rachel snapped, “Spartans you dare to call yourselves? Look at your Major’s hands. They are trembling with agony.”

She rushed to my side. “Come, Richard. Lean on me. Let me do what your Helen would do for you. It’s what she would want me to do. You know that.”

I looked down at her and felt shame. Perspiration beaded like liquid pain and exhaustion under her hollow eyes and upper lip.

She was the true Spartan among us.

I wished Helen might somehow get to know her … maybe even become friends with her. Helen had been so alone in New Orleans.

I also desperately wished to let Rachel support me if only for a minute, but I merely lightly kissed the top of her Spartan helmet and stepped away on legs I no longer felt.

“I also know that if I did that Helen would give me a good swift kick in the … rump when next we met.”

I staggered away from her.

“Gentlemen, it is time we act like gentlemen and let our valiant nurse rest. And you might as well take the load off your tired feet yourselves.”

Rachel drew herself up in her best Head Nurse outrage. “You can barely stand. What kind of watch will you give your men?”

I stiffened as Sentient murmured to my mind, and I sighed, “My Dark Passenger agrees with you. So, I am called elsewhere.”

Theo and Amos both turned to me, alarm plain on their exhausted faces.

Theo managed to get out. “You’re not dying on us, are you?”

“No. Ah, though I might just get shot where Sentient is sending me.”

Cloverfield frowned, “And where would that be?”

“To doctor President Roosevelt’s martini.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2023



Major Richard Blaine and his Spartans find themselves, not up against a brick wall, but facing a sheer, unclimbable cliff.

The Nazi reinforcements are soon to arrive. What will they do?


“Legends die hard. They survive as truth rarely does.”

 -Helen Hayes


Death is the only god that comes whether you want her to or not.

I knew that because she was right on my and André’s heels.

No legend matters. But man forgets reality and remembers legend.

I wonder what legend would be born of André’s photos of this day. Not that Life Magazine would publish his photos of Sentient as the Angel of Death.

Too sensational. Too unbelievable.

‘No. They would not which is why I have sent them to the McCord News Service and its attendant newspapers.’

‘But they have just been taken.’

“You have yet to learn? Time is meaningless to me. I flit from age to age as a pollinating bee from flower to flower.’

‘Sounds like a disconcerting way to experience life.’

‘And your way of experiencing it seem to me as static and frozen as a fly caught in amber.’

Sentient must have been playing her games with Time for André and I caught up with the other Spartans while they were still a third of the way to the cliffs.

We caught up with Stew Taylor first, of course. He did a double take when he saw André.

“That’s ….”

“That’s André Friedman. His true name. I will never tell you or any other Spartan a lie. I save that for the Army and politicians.”

Nurse Reynolds slowed to get by his side. “Mister, I can take my own clothes off. I don’t need any help from your eyes.”

Then, she sped up to run by Theo, who glared at our newest Spartan.

André flicked nervous eyes to me. “The sergeant is … dangerous, no?”

“Dangerous, yes,” surprisingly growled Porkins. “I’ve lost count of the men he killed right in front of me … and some of them had been too fresh with our nurse.”

Reese looked amused at his “brother.” “Yeah, and we don’t take too kindly to passes thrown at her neither.”

By that time, all of us had made it to the sheer cliffs above which where smoked the ruins of the machine gun emplacements.

 The ashy fingers of the flames reached up to the unfeeling cloudy skies as if in mute pleas for the slain souls of the German soldiers.

I could actually smell the stench of burnt flesh and spent cordite on the breath of the beach breeze.

Speaking of heavenly pleas, I saw Johnny Knight and Jace Mercer of all people take one look at the sheer, unblemished cliff, seemingly impossible to scale, and bow their heads in brief prayer as they crossed themselves.

Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

We are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to push back the darkness of our doubts and fears.

We should proceed with utter caution, for the God we think asleep may actually be awake and take offense, drawing us out to where we can never return.

Agent Cloverfield snorted, “Hell’s Teeth, I left my mountain scaling boots in Auckland.”

A screech as loud as a diving, burning bomber pierced our ears.

I  glanced behind me and shouted, “Hit the dirt!”

All fifteen feet of the Angel of Death swept down upon us. Any atheist looking up at that sight would have immediately reconsidered his life options. I know I did.

The black wings, trimmed in flickering fingers of crackling fire, were thirty feet wide if they were an inch. So riveting were they that I barely took in the high-cheek-boned face.

All I saw were the slanted lids, half-closed over twin pools of white-hot lava. Then, with a hot WHOOSH! she was flying low over me and the others …

Straight into the sheer face of the cliff.

A massive explosion that Krakatoa might have envied vibrated the marrow of every bone in my body. All of us were covered in a heavy shroud of white pulverized cliff stone.

We coughed heavily like three-packs-of-cigarettes-a-day smokers. We probably would have enjoyed it more. At least we would have the boost of the inhaled nicotine.

From the shouts of all the Spartans, they felt much the same way.

I stiffened at what Sentient murmured in my mind.

“All right, Spartans. On your feet and into the tunnel the Angel of Death has just made for us. And do not touch the sides of this new tunnel. They are white-hot.”

Predictably, Stew Taylor asked a question: “How come the floor of it won’t melt our boots?”

“Ant” Vincent scoffed, “You ever run out of questions, Taylor?”

“Hey, it’s just who I am is all.”

Dusting himself off with a series of hacking coughs, Chuck Dickens said in between them, “C. G. Jung wrote of  this very characteristic: the persona he called it.”

He spat up a clot of phlegm as a cat would a hairball. “It is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society.”

Dickens blinked his eyes to clear them of the flying dust which his slapping had only made worse.

“It fittingly is a mask designed on the one hand to make a definite impression on others, and on the other hand, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

Eric Evans groaned, “Would someone please translate that into simple English?”

Cloverfield shook his head. “I am suddenly very afraid, for I understood most of that.”

Rachel once again earned her reputation for being unflappable as she calmly put back on her tiny Spartan helmet and mused, “Well, you do not see that every day.”

Theo snapped, “You heard the Major. Get your as ….”

Rachel raised an amused eyebrow, and he did a midcourse correction, “ … ah, rears into gear and head into that tunnel.”

Lt. Stein moved to my side. “Any further orders, Rick?”

“Like Noah, we go in two by two, staying safe in the center, keeping our fingers off the sides and on our hands unburned.”

As Mercer and Floyd teamed together, Dimitri asked, “Any particular pairing?”

I was suddenly at a loss. Having huge chunks of missing memories from our time in the past was truly inconvenient … and unsettling.

“You know your pairings from Sicily. If you bicker, Sgt. Savalas will gladly assign you a partner.”

The sudden outbursts of groans and protests let me know I had guessed correctly. Each of them would have rather gargled penguin urine than have Theo pick for them.

“André Friedman and I will march in the lead.”

He protested, “Why in the lead?”

“You are our Lowell Thomas to my T. E. Lawrence. Any charging Nazi’s we will meet head on, and you can take the pictures, becoming legend.”

He paled and looked longingly behind us.

We had marched only a few yards, when he slowly turned to me. “Any chance I could go back on the ….”

With a low rumbling, the tunnel’s opening collapsed in on itself, leaving us trapped.

Fortunately, the glow from the white-hot walls illuminated the darkness somewhat.

Predictably, Stew Taylor whined, “Major. what are we going to do when those walls stop …. Ow!”

Eric Evans, next to him, snapped, “Maybe we’ll set your hair on fire! Make me joyful beyond dreams, Taylor, and keep the idiot questions to yourself.”

And so, staying true to our personas, we started our long march into darkness and legend.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023



Major Richard Blaine is about to pluck his latest Spartan from one of the eerie walls of water that border a stretch of dry sand upon the shore of Omaha Beach ...

much as Arthur pulled Excalibur from the grasp of the Lady of the Lake. 


“You win by fighting one more round than you think you have in you. You win by getting up one more time than they knock you down.”

– Richard Blaine


There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.

I had made some bonehead mistakes in New Orleans. It would be nice if I could counterbalance some of them right now.

But then, what had Marcus Aurelius written:

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

I decided to act.

I might be wrong. But I would be doing something. Besides, doing nothing always leads to nowhere.

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.

I ran up to the eerily moving wall of water, reached in, and pulled out a strangely dry man. I had expected a lot of resistance. 

I got none.

I smiled. I had never gone fishing. What had the poor fish ever done to me that I should end its life? Me having no money shouldn’t translate to the fish having no life.

But here, I had gone fishing for the first time and landed a man.

I recognized him.

He was the photographer to whom I had supposedly lost money on the USS Samuel Chase.

I could see why Ingrid Bergman had fallen for him. He would have given Agent Cloverfield a run for his money in the good looks department.

“About that money I owe you ….”

“Istenem! Keep the money. Just take me back.”

“No can do. I didn’t bring you here, so I can’t take you back. Talking about taking. We need you to take some of your infamous photos.”

He stiffened. “Istenem! My camera!”

He looked down at the camera around his neck and began patting his clothes.

“Kiszáradtak a ruháim!”

“Yes, your clothes are dry and so is your camera. Let’s put some muscle to the hustle before the Nazi’s ….”

“You speak Hungarian?”

“And Sanskrit and a dozen other languages. We have to get and get NOW!”

“Then, you know my name is ….”

“Is André Friedman for as long as you are with me and my Spartans.”


I ground my teeth and fought the urge to thump the man over the head with the butt of my Desert Eagle, throw him over my shoulder, and race towards the cliffs and what safety they afforded.

“Because that is your true name, and I refuse to deal in lies. That is the purview of the Army and politicians. Now, we have to run. It won’t be safe here for much longer.”

“No! I refuse to go with you. Take me back.”


He chased anything in a skirt, but he refused to budge for me. Maybe Sentient should have sent Rachel to get him.


André’s voice shot up three octaves. “Szar!”

I turned around. Merde, indeed.

The Angel of Death was hovering right at our face level. She had to have been fifteen feet tall if she was an inch.

Her face ….

I could speak fifty languages, and I still had no words for it … except it would have looked natural on the door of an African witch doctor’s hut.

‘You silver tongued devil you.’

For André, she oozed through the air until their noses actually touched. I heard a buzzing as when a fly is caught behind a wire window screen.

“Th-That is when I will die? So young?”

The Angel of Death smiled. At least that is what I thought she believed she was doing.


Despite his profession, he didn’t look suicidal, so when I took off towards the cliffs, I wasn’t surprised when he followed.

Making his living taking photos in war zones must have kept him in good shape, for André actually passed me.

Monday, August 28, 2023



With the help of an ancient entity, Richard Blaine has already seen the slaughter awaiting soldiers on Omaha Beach.

Now, that entity has promised to keep him and his men safe. But how?


“There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

- Ernest Hemingway



The ramp thumped down hard, but …

There was no splash of water.

Only a stretch of eerily dry pockmarked beach lay beyond the opening revealed by the lowered ramp.

All the towering seven-and-a-half-foot tall metal Belgian gates were gone.

No long rows of hedgehogs, five-foot structures of three crossed metal beams.

No lines of tall log posts, most of which had mines affixed to them.

I would wager no buried mines in the beach sands either.

The Belgian gates and log posts were designed to blow up entire transports of troops.

And hedgehogs were designed to pierce the bottom of landing craft and make them easy targets for the German machine gunners on the cliffs above.

No. I was mistaken. They were not gone.

They were flying.

Along with what appeared to be sharp spools of concertina wire that had lain in ambush beyond the shingle stone behind which Lady Churchill and I had hidden in that time now not to be.

It was a mouth-drying sight.

All the Belgian gates, the hedgehogs, the long log posts, the spool of barbwire, and hundreds of mines were sailing through the air as if spit from the mouth of an angry God …

Straight for the dug-in machine gun emplacements.

I and the other Spartans were blown back on our heels by the concussive force of those mines going off in the contained area of those machine gun nests.

I shook my head in dazed shock. Then, a question hit me.

Where was the ocean?

Over my head, Sentient as the Angel of Death flew shrieking like a demoness smelling fresh-shed blood.

“Tod dem Dritten Reich! Death to the Third Reich!”

The Angel of Death pealed in wild laughter like a hungry harpy swooping down on blind children,

“Hitler! Du hast gegen den Wind gesät. Jetzt werden Sie den Wirbelwind ernten.

Hitler! Thou hast sown to the wind. Now, thou wilt reap the whirlwind.”

‘Go! I cannot hold back the ocean forever. GO!’

I got a very rude slap on my butt from invisible fingers. But I went, calling out to the Spartans behind me.

“The Angel of Death has plowed the field and drained the marsh for us. It won’t last long. Follow me!”

I ran out of Rocinante and would have frozen but for another slap of invisible fingers on my rump.

But I had cause.

Sentient had spoken true. As in Old Testament times with the Red Sea, the ocean had parted for us.

The sound was terrifying and enormous … like a thousand Niagara Falls booming right on either side of us.

The ocean was not static but rippling up and down in a gut-freezing impossible manner all along the pushed-up walls of waters .

But then, this whole thing was impossible.

‘If only we had a photo of this.’

‘We do. Robert Capa is currently taking one as we communicate. He is wondering how you left the USS Samuel Chase where he and you had just been playing poker. I had you lose to him, by the way.’

My rump was slapped again. Harder. I barely felt it.

‘Now, move it or lose it!’

I moved it.

Sentient gave Capa a photographic moment by posing mid-air in front of us for a chilling heartbeat. Then, she flew off in a blur of black wings towards the cliffs shrieking again.

“Tod dem Dritten Reich! Hitler! Du hast gegen den Wind gesät. Jetzt werden Sie den Wirbelwind ernten.”

“Gentlemen and lady! Please do not shoot me in the butt! All the obstacles on this part of Omaha have been dealt with!”

‘I believe you may be anal retentive what with your fixation on your hind parts.’

‘Very not funny.’

D-Day planners chose 06:30 as 'H-Hour' because this was when the tide was at its lowest.

At low tide, most of the deadly obstacles the Germans had placed on the beach would be exposed, allowing landing craft to avoid them while also making it easier for demolition teams to clear them.

It also meant the soldiers would be exposed, too, and for longer. But then, when had generals ever cared for the lives of those under them as long as the objective was obtained?

Serving under a general is an exercise roughly akin to picnicking with a tiger. You might enjoy the meal, but the tiger always eats last.

Sentient sneered agreement in my mind as I ran for all I was worth. I was not eager to have tons of ocean come crashing down on me.

‘If not for me doing this, by this early afternoon, Omar Bradley would be ready to call off the invasion. Omaha Beach would be so bad that they were ready to say, “All right, we cannot do this.”

Sentient was living contempt in my mind. ‘Omaha Beach is the worst of the Normandy beaches simply because of the natural defenses that are here facilitates this sort of defense.’

I saw Porkins stumble, his helmet falling off. I dropped back to snare his arm. Reese stepped beside him and did it for me.

“Watch where you place those clodhoppers, Franklin.”

And a wisp of a memory from Sicily breathed out from the darkness of those days.

Reese had just finished sneering at Porkins, and I slipped up beside him, murmuring, 

“You lost your kid brother on that camping trip. The Army has given you another. Watch out for him this time. I don’t think Life will give you a third.”

Then, the image was gone.

I watched Reese hand Porkins his fallen helmet and tousle the man's hair, racing on ahead.

Amos raced beside me near winded. “Father and his synagogue will never believe this.”

Cpl. Sam Wilson, taking hurried strides, panted, “Hell, lieutenant, I don’t believe this.”

Way in the rear, Stew Taylor was running as if expecting to be riddled by bullets any second when he tripped, and I raced to his side, steadying him.

As soon as I touched him, another memory from Sicily misted before my eyes.

Stew was huddled by a feeble campfire. He wrapped his threadbare blanket around his thin shoulders. His eyes seemed filled by some ancient hurt and loss. He was trembling.

I could see myself sit by him and whisper, “Hey, do you know what one snowman said to the other?”

He wordlessly shook his head, and I whispered, “Is it me, or do you smell carrots?”

He laughed so loud it awakened Reese who swore at him, but Stew kept on laughing. It wasn’t that funny a joke, but I guess it caught him out of the blue, or he really needed the laugh.

Back on Omaha Beach, I smiled and said, “Is it me, or do you smell carrots?”

He didn’t laugh, but his steps firmed.

I raced ahead.

Theo ran up beside me. “You know each of these men would die for you.”

“I want them to live for me.”

‘To your right, sentimentalist. You see that shape struggling in that wall of moving water?’


“Latch onto it and pull in our newest Spartan to join in the festivities.’

We were halfway to the cliffs, and I didn’t want to spare the time. Who knew when replacements for the snipers and machine gunners would show up.

‘How long can you tread water?’

I sped to my right.

 * Listening to the below while reading helps a bit. :-)


 In a realm where space and time are constructs without meaning, Richard Blaine and the Spartan 300 head for their destiny on Omaha Beach.


“Our wills and fates do so contrary run, that our devices still are overthrown; our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.”

– William Shakespeare


“Now, what?” Nurse Reynolds cried, echoing my own question.

‘One school of Celestial Thought actually negates time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory.’

‘Say again?’ I mind-asked Sentient.


Sentient’s murmur took on a musing tone. ‘As I played God just now, I also had a dream simultaneously.’

‘You can dream?’


My cheek stung as invisible fingers slapped it.  

‘A dream of a long game of chess. The players were not two persons, but two mysterious families. The game had been going on for centuries. Nobody could remember what the stakes were, but it was rumored that they were enormous, perhaps infinite. The chessmen and the board were in a secret tower, whose turrets slowly began to take shape.’

Sentient’s voice grew sullen. ‘And then ….’

‘And then, what?’

‘And then, that shrill voiced Nightingale asked that inane question.’

Our perpetual questioner cried out, “Major, where the hell are we now? Back where we were?

“No, Taylor. That was the Outer Realms, a place that was not even a place. According to Sentient, this … region is beyond space and time … where those constructs don’t even exist, much less have meaning.”

Reese snorted, “I’m so glad Stew asked, Major. That cleared everything right on up for me.”

Amos frowned, “Why are we here then?”

I turned to him. “Rabbi, isn’t that the question you’re supposed to answer, not ask?”

“Very not funny, Rick.”

I ironed my face with a bandaged palm.

“Right now, those battleships and destroyers are shelling Omaha Beach. Sentient wanted to prevent rattled officers from blasting us to bloody rag dolls by accident.”

“Or on purpose,” muttered Porkins.

I nodded. “Or that, Franklin. What’s worse is that those shell are landing in the water, killing fish but no Germans … or landing beyond the cliffs. NONE are hitting the beach and creating fox holes for us to hide in or destroying the gun emplacements.”

Theo started to order Porkins to drop and do fifty for speaking out of turn.

I shook my head.

“Everyone, keep hold of those scooter handles. They are actually Inertia Dampeners … as is the whole of Rocinante. The handles just intensify the effect, keeping you from flying over the sides.”

“What would happen to us, then?” asked Pvt. Kent.

I shivered at Sentient’s answer within my mind.

“Alfred, you would stall in mid-air, looking as if you were in a still photograph. All of your essence would … stall. Caught endlessly experiencing your past, present, and possible futures all at once … for all eternity.”

Pvt. Evans snapped, “Ah, Franklin, hold onto those damn handles!”

Porkins rasped, “My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there not hanging in some hellish limbo.”

Reese grumbled, “I’ve noticed what we plan often takes a nose-dive into the ditch beside the road of life.”

Dimitri scowled, “Yes, I have noticed what we will is sometimes merely soap bubbles blown by fate elsewhere.”

Pvt. Dickens nodded. “I concur. I think there's great potential for autonomy, but we have to remember that we live in a world where people may have free will but have not invented their circumstances.”

Evans groaned, “Chuck, you know what my idea of Hell is? You explaining life to me for eternity!”

Pvt. Stew Taylor shook his head negatively (for the 1000th time that I could recall).

“Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.”

Amos chimed in, being a rabbi how could he not? “Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness; on the confines of the two everlasting empires, necessity and free will.”

Sentient mocked them in my mind. ‘I would laugh to hear ants wax philosophic if it were not so tragic.

‘As far as I can see, Sentient, it's not important that we have free will or not, just as long as we have the illusion of free will to stop us from going mad.’

I mind-sighed, ‘Besides, can’t you see? They’re scared through and through down to the marrow of their bones. All this talk of free will is to distract them from the fact that they have none in avoiding Omaha Beach and the death awaiting them there.’

I called out, “Make sure your packs are cinched tight and your rifles stay slinged! I don’t want to get shot in the butt until I tell you to unsling them.”

Theo grinned lopsided, “Language, Major.”

I turned to Amos and froze. He was as pale as a leper … and trembling. If he was like this, how were many of my Spartans reacting to our approach to Omaha Beach?

Sentient murmured in my helmet, and thus, in all of the Spartans’ helmets.

“You shall not be the worse for this - I promise you. You will be much the better for it. Just believe what I say and do as I tell you.”

Beside me, Amos was spilling all the bullets he was trying to push into his pistol clip.

I smiled sadly at him. “A good friend listens to your adventures. A best friend makes them with you.”

I gently took the gun from his trembling fingers, and my artificial fingers tingled as if touched by a live wire. I felt bullets form in my palm.

I started thumbing them into the clip of his .50 caliber Desert Eagle.

He rasped, “Th-There were no bullets in that hand a second ago.”

“It’s a kind ….”

“Of magic,” he weakly grinned. “I know. I’ve heard it before.”

I took his shoulder gently, for I no longer knew how strong my new fingers were. 

“The most beautiful people I have ever known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”

I squeezed his shoulder a bit stronger and since he didn’t wince, it was just enough.

“Amos, you, Theo, and the others will make it through this. I don’t know exactly how, mind you, but ….”

I stiffened as Sentient told me. It was wild, crazy. Like something out of the Old Testament. But she had never lied to me.

“All right, Gentlemen! That ramp is just about to drop. When it does, I want you to run onto that beach as if the Angel of Death were right at your heels … for she will be.”

I cleared my closing throat. 

“The path will be cleared for you. Do not stop for anything. If a brother stumbles, however, you pull him back up onto his feet and run with him. We are a family, and family leaves no one behind.”

Suddenly, Helen Mayfair’s delicate, haunted face appeared before me, and I smiled with all the love I had for her as if she could actually see me.

Sentient murmured within my mind.

‘How lucky you are to have someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.’

I took a deep breath. “That ramp will drop at the count of three."

 "One …. Two ….