Am I my brother’s keeper?
How think ye? If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
How much then is a man better than a sheep?
In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful … whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.
—The Koran, S?rah V, 32
Each year we gain a little. You have to keep a sense of proportion.
“Time, sir.” My j.o. under instruction, Candidate or “Third Lieutenant” Bearpaw, stood just outside my door. He looked and sounded awfully young, and was about as harmless as one of his scalp-hunting ancestors.
“Right, Jimmie.” I was already in armor. We walked aft to the drop room. I said, as we went, “One word, Jimmie. Stick with me and keep out of my way. Have fun and use up your ammo. If by any chance I buy it, you’re the boss — but if you’re smart, you’ll let your platoon sergeant call the signals.”
As we came in, the platoon sergeant called them to attention and saluted. I returned it, said, “At ease,” and started down the first section while Jimmie looked over the second.
Then I inspected the second section, too, checking everything on every man. My platoon sergeant is much more careful than I am, so I didn’t find anything, I never do. But it makes the men feel better if their Old Man scrutinizes everything — besides, it’s my job.
Then I stepped out in the middle. “Another Bug hunt, boys. This one is a little different, as you know. Since they still hold prisoners of ours, we can’t use a nova bomb on Klendathu — so this time we go down, stand on it, hold it, take it away from them. The boat won’t be down to retrieve us; instead it’ll fetch more ammo and rations. If you’re taken prisoner, keep your chin up and follow the rules — because you’ve got the whole outfit behind you, you’ve got the whole Federation behind you; we’ll come and get you. That’s what the boys from the
“Don’t forget that we’ll have help all around us, lots of help above us. All we have to worry about is our one little piece, just the way we rehearsed it.
“One last thing. I had a letter from Captain Jelal just before we left. He says that his new legs work fine. But he also told me to tell
“And so do I. Five minutes for the Padre.”
I felt myself beginning to shake. It was a relief when I could call them to attention again and add: “By sections … port and starboard … prepare for drop!”
I was all right then while I inspected each man into his cocoon down one side, with Jimmie and the platoon sergeant taking the other. Then we buttoned Jimmie into the No. 3 center-line capsule. Once his face was covered up, the shakes really hit me.
My platoon sergeant put his arm around my armored shoulders. “Just like a drill, Son.”
“I know it, Father.” I stopped shaking at once. “It’s the waiting, that’s all.”
“I know. Four minutes. Shall we get buttoned up, sir?”
“Right away, Father.” I gave him a quick hug, let the Navy drop crew seal us in. The shakes didn’t start up again. Shortly I was able to report: “Bridge! Rico’s Roughnecks … ready for drop!”
“Thirty-one seconds, Lieutenant.” She added, “Good luck, boys! This time we take ’em!”
“Check. Now some music while you wait?” She switched it on: