Sitting in the cargo hold of a C-130 as it buzzed over the Indian Ocean, Private First Class Clint Holden kissed the crucifix around his neck and tucked it back into his fatigues.
He glanced around at the nervous faces bathed in the red glow of a the jump light.
As soon as it turned green, his First Sargent, Palmer would scream at them.
“Jump, you mothers! Jump!”
The eleven other men sitting in the half light would jump out of a perfectly good airplane along with Holden, and they would drop through the pitch night to the sandy desert below.
Somewhere, underneath them, a Somalia War Lord was waiting to be captured.
At least that’s what Palmer told the men as they loaded into the cargo hold of the plane.
Holden was a good soldier.
He believed everything his First Sargent told him.
Each of the men had a nickname, except for Holden.
He wasn’t as new as two of the other privates in their small platoon, but he hadn’t earned one yet.
So they just called him “meat.”
Not even by his name, just “meat.”
“Red”, the square jawed grunt in front of him looked back over his shoulder.
“You ready meat?” as if he knew Holden was thinking about it.
Palmer tapped the com unit on his headset and looked around at his men.
He twirled two fingers in the air, pointed to the red light that suddenly blinked green.
The men stood together, like a puppet master clipped them up on strings.
The back door of the plane trundled down, hydraulics whining even in the scream of the airstream roaring through the now open door. Palmer moved to the edge of the ramp, ready to see his men down. He raised his left hand- and it disintegrated as a rocket ripped past the open door, eclipsing his hand, and out the side of the plane.
Palmer fell screaming, clutching at a bloody stump.
Chaos erupted as the plane banked sharply, spilling the men across each other.
Red grabbed Holden by the strap of his parachute.
Holden inched toward the open door, which now was sideways, and growing vertical.
Patch, one of the other new Private’s lost his grip and slid past Holden to crumple at the cockpit wall.
The plane continued to dip vertical, and the screams of his platoon washed up to him as the men trapped inside realized they were going to crash.
Holden’s left hand lost his grip, and he dangled just shy of the opening.
His right fingers clamped onto the exposed rib inside of the plane, and instantly starting cramping.
The fingers slipped off one at a time as he fell-
A strong hand grabbed his boot, keeping him aloft.
Holden glanced down to see Red holding him up with one arm, gripping hard with the other.
With a shout, he shoved Holden up and out, through the open cargo door.
Suddenly, he was whipping through the cloudy night sky as orange tracers chased the flame silhouetted plane.
Somewhere, below him, the ground was rushing up, thirty feet per second square, and he had no idea how soon he would hit.
He grappled his ripcord, and pulled.
Holden lurched to almost a stop, as the plane rocketed past him.
He floated above the tracer fire, above the flaming jet, above the madness for just a moment before it hit, and his world turned into a flaming ball of fire, rising up out of the ground to grab him.
He swirled around in the vortex of hot gases, twisting, spinning for the earth that rushed up at him.
Seconds before he hit, it was all too much, and he lost consciousness.
The world swam into view, all sterile white and cotton bandages.
He was in a hospital, in a bed, alone.
His leg was in traction, immobile, and his head was wrapped like a mummy, but otherwise, he felt alive.
It hurt to breath, bruised ribs, he supposed, as he blinked away the cobwebs.
A pretty ARMY nurse walked over to him, glanced at the chart on the end of his bed.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Crash.” She winked as she hung his chart back on the end of the bed.
He finally had his nickname.
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8. True Nature
10. False Flag
11. Burn Bag
12. Credible Threat
13. Tin Trooper
14. Nazi Nukes — guest appearance
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4. A Double Shot of Revenge
5. Death by a 45
7. Back to Business — sequel to Touched
8. Friends Like These — book three in the Touched trilogy
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